Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 43
November 15, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Three ways to create integrated schools in newly gentrified neighborhoods
Keeping mixed schools mixed
Local taxpayers say yes to charter schools
All politics, and some revenues, are local
Tough decisions ahead for the Philadelphia public school system
$300 million in the hole
Of choices, truants, and taxi medallions
The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Prinicples and Lessons of Chartering
Bravely voyaging to a new world
School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A symbiotic relationship
How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement
Right back where we started
How Teens Do Research in the Digital World
The two faces of technology
Mike and Kathleen wonder what will happen to the Common Core after Tony Bennett’s defeat, and ask why so many students miss so much school. Amber ponders whether teacher turnover harms student achievement.
The Diverse Schools Dilemma
yes Michael J. Petrilli / November 13, 2012
Lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach to education? These quandaries and more are addressed in this groundbreaking book by Michael J. Petrilli.
Michael J. Petrilli / November 15, 2012
Heather Schoell, a white, college-educated, stay-at-home mom living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was incredulous when a friend suggested that she should send her daughter to the local public school. “Honestly, I was like, ‘Right, D.C. Public Schools—we’re not even looking at that,’” Schoell recalled later. Maury Elementary wasn’t much to look at; its drab 1960s-era building had opaque, yellowing windows that made the place feel desolate. One hundred percent of its students were African American, most from low-income families. Schoell pictured mayhem behind those dreary windows, poor kids just running around. But her friend, who had volunteered at the school for twenty-five years, continued to press her: “Give it a chance, go inside and see,” she would say.
Research shows racially and socioeconomically integrated schools benefit all students.
Photo by the Knight Foundation
So Schoell did, when her daughter was two and a half. And what she saw wasn’t at all what she’d imagined. The principal at the time, an army veteran, exuded a confidence that put many of Schoell’s concerns to rest. The school was disciplined, teachers had high expectations for students, and the administration was eager to welcome new students.
Schoell was relieved to find that the school might be a real possibility. She and her husband couldn’t afford private school. And the couple, both raised
Adam Emerson / November 15, 2012
Charter schools in at least six cities and counties will benefit from local bonds and levies that voters approved on Election Day. Collectively, that means more than $500 million of local tax dollars over the next several years for charter-school facility or operating costs in Cleveland; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Metropolitan Denver (including school districts in Denver proper, Aurora, and Jefferson County). Why the sudden generosity in places that (with the exception of Denver) historically have barely tolerated charters, if that? Some charter leaders say school systems might have realized that it’s become harder to ask parents to pay higher taxes only for district schools when so many more of them are choosing charter schools for their children. Indeed, voters in these regions have joined a handful of other cities that, over the past few years, have set aside local dollars for charters by ballot initiative, when most districts and state legislatures still refuse to do so. Of course, voters might have never seen these ballot questions had it not been for legislators (like those in Colorado) who rewrote laws a few years ago, forcing districts to “invite” charters to discuss the needs of all public schools before requesting bonds or levies. But whatever the reason, the response from voters is encouraging: A whopping $350 million share of a $2.8 billion bond in San Diego will aid charter-school facility needs over the next
Pamela Tatz / November 15, 2012
The School District of Philadelphia, which has been leaking students even as the city’s school-age population has risen, is now scrambling to keep its sinking ship from capsizing. The city’s School Reform Commission (SRC), which operates in place of a board of education, will close forty schools next year and an additional six every subsequent year until 2017—a tough sell, but the right call when many schools sit half-empty. Meanwhile, the SRC has also announced that it will borrow $300 million to keep the district above water through the end of the school year, a fact that underscores how important it is that the SRC make wise choices with their planned school closures. Previous downsizing efforts by the SRC have raised red flags. For example, when Pepper Middle School was shuttered in March, there were complaints that students had been reassigned to schools of lower quality. In way of allaying such fears, the SRC does claim that these upcoming school closings will be “more informed by academic performance than previous rounds of closures.” We certainly hope so. They don’t need to look far for a solid example of how to navigate the downsizing process.
“Philly schools borrow $300M for expenses,” The Associated Press, November 8, 2012.
The Education Gadfly / November 15, 2012
Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.
Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.
Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for 2013, which proposes to shrink Gotham’s budget by $1.6 billion, caused an uproar earlier this week. It all began when a court stopped the city from selling additional taxi medallions as a revenue raiser, leaving a $635 million deficit. To
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 15, 2012
Andy Smarick had all but completed this swell book when he was snapped up by Chris Christie’s team to fill the number-two job in the New Jersey Department of Education, which he did with much success over the past two years. During this time, the manuscript ripened. Now, as a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Senior Policy Fellow here at Fordham, he’s been able to polish and publish it. And, it’s even better than the original draft, thanks to Smarick’s latest experiences in the trenches.
Smarick’s starting place is the irrefutable contention that yesterday’s urban school system is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced by something radically different if today’s children are to be soundly educated. What he would replace it with is a version of a “portfolio district” headed by a mayor-appointed “chancellor.” This sounds like the systems in D.C. and New York, but Smarick goes notably farther in three directions: First, he really does mean that all the schools in the city, not just a subset, would be run, charter-style, by outside operators, not by a municipal bureaucracy. Second, at least where constitutionally possible, he would include the city’s private schools in this arrangement, too. And third, he focuses laser-like on school effectiveness, finding some successful schools (for poor kids) in all three of today’s sectors (district, charter, private)
School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / November 15, 2012
Nine months ago, the School Choice Demonstration Project delivered its final treatise on the Milwaukee school-voucher program, known as the MPCP (capping a run of thirty-seven reports on the topic). It concluded that “the combination of choice and accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years.” This study by analysts at the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky and Furman University corroborates that encouraging assertion. Here, authors examine three years of achievement data—two years before and one year after stricter testing and public-reporting requirements were passed in Wisconsin for private schools accepting voucher students—to ascertain the impact of these new accountability provisions on student achievement. They found large increases in the average math and reading scores for students enrolled in voucher schools. Further, voucher students outperformed their traditional-school peers in reading in 2010-11 and narrowed the gap in math. Using value-added and other rigorous models, the research team was able to demonstrate that achievement increases in the neighborhood of 0.1 to 0.2 standard deviations reflect the impact of the new accountability policies as opposed to pre-existing trends and/or selective student attrition (think: counseling-out or expelling more difficult students). With only one year of data available since the stricter requirements were implemented, this research by no means concludes the voucher-accountability discussion (we’ll offer our own remarks on the topic in coming months, in fact),
Andrew Saraf / November 15, 2012
What happens when teachers drop out? Conventional wisdom has long said that the costs associated with such transitions (e.g., the loss of routine and the loss of an experienced teacher) harm student achievement. Yet the leading research on this topic concludes otherwise: In 2010, Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin revealed that teachers leaving schools tend to be less productive than those who stay, suggesting that turnover may in fact be beneficial. This brand-new study from Stanford’s Susanna Loeb and colleagues restarts this debate—and sides with conventional wisdom. Drawing data from 850,000 NYC fourth and fifth graders during the 2000s, the analysts found that within schools, pupils in grades and years with higher teacher-turnover rates scored lower in both English language arts and math, even after controlling for a number of student characteristics—including achievement—and a host of other teacher, school, and classroom variables. Though the drop in achievement is modest, the effect was more pronounced in both lower-performing schools and those with more African American students. What’s more, it was not confined to students of exiting teachers: Indeed, “bystander” students experienced the largest drop in performance, as opposed to those whose teachers left or who were new to the school. (Rebutting Hanushek’s and Rivkin’s original work, the authors find mixed effects on students of “leaver” teachers—likely because, while teachers who leave may perform worse than those who don’t, their successors are not guaranteed to be any better.) This impressively detailed
Greg Hutko / November 15, 2012
This recent Pew study—the first in a series of three on the role of technology in the classroom—investigates how the Internet has affected middle school and high school students’ research skills and strategies. While this survey of 2,500 AP and National Writing Project teachers (presumably those in the most advanced classrooms) does offer a peek into this complicated issue, the window remains opaque: Teachers report complex and contradictory views on how technology has shaped student research. Seventy-seven percent believe that digital technology has had a “mostly positive effect in the classroom,” while 64 percent opine that “technology does more to distract students than help them.” Specific concerns raised by teachers include students’ dependence on search engines (94 percent report that their pupils use Google to conduct research, while only 17 percent report the use of online databases), inability to judge the quality and veracity of information, and perceived loss of critical-thinking skills. But these deficits, the authors suggest, may reflect educators’ and administrators’ own inability to reshape the learning environment to suit today’s connected world—a point with larger implications for teacher training for the modern classroom.
Kristen Purcell et al., How Teens Do Research in the Digital World (Washington, D.C.: Pew Internet and American Life Project, November 2012).