Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 10
March 8, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The conservative case for the Common Core
Stop obsessing with the "tight" and start rallying around the "loose"
Do we need a “virtual” education ministry?
A social sector solution to the "capacity" conundrum
ED’s causation confusion
Duncan skipped a step on minority discipline
Kudos to the techies
With DREAM deferred, philanthropists step in
Welcome to Ohio, Wendy Kopp
TFA, teacher evaluations, and a lot of letter writing
Letter to the Editor
Two cheers for teacher evals
Principal power is a priority, but it's not everything
New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities
Makin’ it look (big) easy
MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy
I can’t get no…satisfaction
Virtual Schools: A New Policy Challenge
Now it's time to walk the walk
Save the podcast!
Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.
The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011
Reviewers evaluated state standards for U.S. history in grades K-12. What they found is discouraging: Twenty-eight states—a majority—deserve D or F grades for their academic standards in this key subject. The average grade across all states is a dismal D. Among the few bright spots, South Carolina earns a straight A for its standards and six other jurisdictions—Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia—garner A-minuses. (The National Assessment's "framework" for U.S. history also fares well.) Read on to learn how your state scored.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 8, 2012
Writing last about the “war against the Common Core,” I suggested that those English language arts and math standards arrived with four main assets. (In case you’re disinclined to look, they boil down to rigor, voluntariness, portability, and comparability.)
Let me now revisit a fifth potential asset, which is also the main reason that small-government conservatives should favor the Common Core or other high-quality “national standards": This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers, and parents.
Common Core or other high-quality “national standards” are the best path toward getting Uncle Sam to back off from micro-managing how schools are run.
Photo by DonkeyHotey.
It’s the path to getting “tight-loose” right in American K-12 education, unlike NCLB, which has it backward. (I refer to the well-known management doctrine that large organizations with many parts should be “tight about ends, loose about means.”)The proper work of conservatives going forward is to stop doing battle with the Common Core and instead do their utmost to ensure that the “loose” part gets done right. This could also be the path toward a viable political compromise on
Michael J. Petrilli / March 6, 2012
The conventional wisdom among reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have the political will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most policies aren’t self-implementing, we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to add up to more than a hill of beans.
Those of us at the Fordham Institute (and our partners at the Center for American Progress) have been making the case that the governance structures of U.S. public education impede our ability to do implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards, susceptibility to interest group capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into real change on the ground. I’ve wondered out loud whether we should abolish school districts and run the whole kit and caboodle out of state departments of education.
Think of it as a private-sector department of education.
That’s still a tantalizing idea, but probably too radical for anyone to take seriously in the immediate future. So here’s an alternative: How about creating a “virtual" education ministry that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily? (Creating more than one of these entities would even better.) Think of it as a private-sector department of education, but run much more efficiently and with higher-quality staff than the government ever could manage.
Such a ministry would be akin to the comprehensive
Tyson Eberhardt / March 8, 2012
The Education Department fired up civil rights advocates this week with the release of new data showing that schools subject black and Latino students to discipline at higher rates than their white peers. "The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school,” lamented Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The statistics are indeed troubling—black students made up 18 percent of students in ED’s sample, but were 35 percent of students suspended once, and 39 percent of students expelled—but so is Duncan’s spin, which was echoed even more starkly by sundry civil rights groups and commentators. What we know: Minority students are disciplined more often than non-minorities. This may be, as Duncan implies, because schools punish them unfairly and undeservedly, perhaps the result of institutional racism, inexperienced teachers who struggle with classroom management, or countless other explanations. But that doesn’t mean U.S. schools are run by racists. It may also be because black and Latino students commit infractions more often than white students and are therefore disciplined at a higher rate. It may be because teachers and principals are appropriately attentive to the rights of well-behaved youngsters who are eager to learn without disruption. The truth is probably a mix of these and more—but we just can’t tell from ED’s data. Rather than pretending to have the answers on this crucial issue, the Education Department should redouble its efforts to find them.
Kimberly Hefling, “Report: Minority students face harsher punishments,” Associated Press, March 6, 2012
Tamar Lewin, “Black Students
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 8, 2012
I'm a longtime supporter of the "DREAM Act" and other measures to make the American dream achievable for young people whose parents brought them into the U.S. as babies or young children without benefit of legal immigration papers. To qualify for such special handling, these children would need to successfully complete school in this country, then college or military service, while keeping their noses clean. This would create for them a path to citizenship—as well as to Social Security numbers, bona fide drivers' licenses, and the other paraphernalia of life in the American mainstream, rather than in the shadows.
With Congress paralyzed or hostile, however—the DREAM Act is decried on Capitol Hill as a version of "amnesty for illegals," even though these kids are wholly innocent of the wrongful immigration decision that their parents made many years ago—a few states have quietly done their part to help, such as allowing them to pay in-state rates in state colleges and universities. (California, to its great credit, is one such.) Others, despicably, have intentionally hiked the price for these young people to discourage them from attending. (The argument, of course, is that "the taxpayers should not subsidize such behavior," though that's the norm in the K-12 system.) Now a group of wealthy Silicon Valley types (including Lauren Powell Jobs and Intel's Andy Grove) are pooling private dollars to assist such young people. Their vehicle is "Educators for Fair Consideration," which supplies sundry services (legal, financial aid, etc.) to eligible individuals in the Bay area. Bravo for them—and may
The Education Gadfly / March 8, 2012
- Utah's superintendent of public instruction sent Arne Duncan a letter this week reminding the Secretary that as much as the state wants a waiver, it can't be forced to stick with the Common Core. Of course, he's right, and Mr. Duncan is to be commended for correctly (and astutely) agreeing in a letter of his own.
- From Wendy Kopp to Diane Ravitch, classroom teachers to mayoral candidates, the criticism of the release of New York City teacher ratings is piling up. Here’s hoping that rigorous teacher evaluations survive the storm.
- On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new website that will track the progress of districts statewide as they hash out new teacher evaluation plans. Kudos to Cuomo for keeping the public’s eye on a process so susceptible to stagnation.
- Teach For America will (finally) debut in Ohio this fall, and Fordham wants to be the first to welcome the new corps members to the Buckeye State; Gadfly is optimistic that it’s the start of a relationship that will pay big dividends for Ohio’s school children.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 8, 2012
Kathleen Porter-Magee is half right, maybe two thirds. Principals should indeed be responsible for evaluating the teachers in their schools—and should have the authority to engage, retain, deploy, and dismiss individual instructors (and other school staff) according to their best judgment.
That does not, however, mean "education reformers [should] get out of the business of trying to improve the civil service rules of our broken education bureaucracies...." Surely she doesn't want the system's present HR rules and practices to endure intact. And surely they're not going to be wiped away altogether. So they need to be reformulated. And one crucial area of reform (among many) does involve teacher evaluations and the appropriate use of student achievement information—test scores and more—within such evaluations.
No, teacher evaluations should not be based entirely on student test scores. No, I don't think such evaluations should be made public (though significant portions of them should be accessible to parents, especially the parts linked to student achievement within teachers' classrooms). But chaos will reign if there are no district or statewide practices, templates, model programs, and suchlike for teacher evaluations. Though I can picture an education system consisting entirely of charter-like schools, each with the freedom to determine its own evaluation system—more or less what I believe Kathleen has in mind—I cannot picture a traditional district where neighboring schools follow radically different protocols for evaluating their teachers. Imagine, say, having student value-added scores count for 35 percent of a 5th grade teacher's evaluation at the Jefferson School but for 65 percent for a comparable teacher at the nearby Lincoln
Layla Bonnot / March 8, 2012
After a decade of tragedy and rebirth, New Orleans (America’s best city for school reform) stands as a unique model for districts looking to reboot their frozen K-12 systems. This report explains how other cities can replicate NOLA’s impressive transformation. Written by Public Impact for New Schools for New Orleans (and paid for from a federal i3 grant), it focuses on three key areas of reform needed to develop a successful, predominantly charter system: governance and accountability, human capital, and school development. Under each heading, the reader receives specific policy recommendations, as well as key lessons and insights from New Orleans’s own experience. (Example: Ensure strong political footing early—something the authors say didn’t happen for NOLA’s reform effort.) Without hubris, the authors acknowledge that this guide is but a starting point. Even in New Orleans, much work remains by way of recruiting and developing quality teachers and finding the path to long-term sustainability. Still and all, the quick uptick of student achievement under the Big Easy’s reinvented public education system is impressive: 2005 to 2011 saw the percentage of students attending “academically unacceptable” schools decrease by 38 percentage points—even as standards went up. The guide deserves attention from those interested in reforming education in other American cities: Make its “preparedness checklist” your first stop.
Dana Brinson, Lyria Boast, Bryan C. Hassel, and Neerav Kingsland, New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities, Lessons Learned 2005-2010, (Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, January 2012).
Lisa Gibes / March 8, 2012
For the better part of three decades, MetLife has taken the pulse of American teachers. (We at Fordham have offered summaries of recent iterations of this work.) This latest check-up—which diagnosed how the economic downturn has affected teachers and schools—yielded some disturbing news. Since 2009, teacher satisfaction has dropped more than fifteen percentage points; at 44 percent, it’s now at its lowest in two decades. Though MetLife doesn’t look for causation, a few correlated (and common-sensical) data points offer possible explanations: Low job satisfaction is linked to feelings of job insecurity and experienced most commonly by teachers in financially strapped schools. Moreover, teachers with low job satisfaction are 21 percentage points less likely to feel that they are treated as professionals by the community. (These trends persist regardless of teachers’ demographic characteristics.) Worse still, teachers in schools that have experienced budget cuts are less likely to be optimistic about improved student achievement: Forty-six percent of those in schools experiencing cuts don’t believe that student achievement will increase over the next five years, compared to 35 percent of those in schools with steady or increasing budgets. On a brighter note, parental involvement is strongly linked to educator contentedness: Fifty-seven percent of teachers who cite high parent engagement are happy in their jobs, compared with 25 percent of those whose parents are minimally connected. These are but a few of the nuts cracked by this report (which also surveys parents and students). It’s well-worth partaking of the whole thing.
Harris Interactive, » Continued
Daniela Fairchild / March 8, 2012
Those familiar with our own working-paper series on digital learning may feel a slight sense of déjà vu when reading this piece by freelance writer and Pioneer Institute contributor Bill Donovan (who, in fact, references one of our own papers). But for those just dipping their toes into the digital-learning pool—or looking to stay in the shallow end—this short paper is helpful. Donovan explains how current funding, enrollment, credentialing, and accountability policies hinder the growth of online education, using state-specific examples to illuminate these issues. For instance, Colorado and D.C. fund schools based on attendance rates. But what about a child who learns at odd hours, or off the school calendar, but still chalks 180 days of learning during the year? Some states fund based on seat time. But what does that mean for the high-flying pupil who covers two years’ worth of material in a single annum? Does her school then only receive one year’s worth of funding? In the end, Donovan offers a number of sane recommendations for policymakers looking to expand the reach of digital ed: Require that schools generate more reporting data and devise new tools to analyze these data; create performance-based “smart caps” for online-ed programs; explore student savings accounts; and learn from the policymaking experience of charter schools. Concrete and sage advice, all—but not altogether novel. Donovan and others have sketched a smart series of policy recommendations. It’s now time for policymakers to act.
William Donovan, Regulating Virtual Schools: A New Policy