Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 44
November 29, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Jeb Bush on education reform
Putting kids first
Lead the way, Newark
It’s do or die time for the district
Changing one million lives
Closing troubled schools and opening great new ones
Here's to optimism
Teacher Pension Choice: Surveying the Landscape in Washington State
Not as adverse as you’d think
The State of Teacher Evaluation Reform
Napoleonic ambition isn’t enough
Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools
No more "taking the good with the bad"
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.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 28, 2012
Jeb Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first.
Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images
I don’t know whether his hat is edging into the 2016 presidential election ring, but I do know that Jeb Bush gave a heck of an education keynote on Tuesday morning at the national summit convened in Washington by his Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.
At this annual bipartisan-but-predominantly-Republican soiree aimed at state legislators and other key ed-policy decision makers—this year’s was by far the largest and grandest of the five they’ve held so far—Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first and did so in language plainly intended to appeal across party lines. A later session, which I had the pleasure of “moderating,” brought much the same message from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress. Though nobody expects Podesta to vote Bush for president (or anything else), in practice they agree on about 90 percent of the ed-reform policy agenda and maybe 70 percent of the strategy for attaining and sustaining it.
Bush opened by citing Charles Murray’s new book and lamenting the loss of upward
Andy Smarick / November 29, 2012
The new teacher contract in Newark has rightfully caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders, and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.
Gov. Chris Christie has shown that he is committed to helping Newark schools improve.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The history of urban school improvement efforts suggests, however, that we ought to temper our enthusiasm. The roadside is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.
But if reform leaders are willing to exploit the opportunity that lurks in the Newark contract, this could turn out to be a pivot point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.
This contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors: It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved teacher evaluations and enables change in the lowest-performing schools. It allows for greater school-level decision-making and removes bureaucratic barriers to reform.
The district will now be better positioned to attract and retain the best educators. Its leaders will have added flexibility to make decisions that
Terry Ryan / November 29, 2012
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.
Figure 1: Number of Ohio charter schools in the lowest 15 percent of state performance.
Source: 2011-12 Ohio Report Card Results.
At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:
- Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
- Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
- Placing performance expectations for charter renewal into state law,
- Empowering authorizers to close schools that fail to meet the expectations set in their charter contracts,
- Holding authorizers accountable for the performance of their schools and their authorizing practices, and
- Creating automatic school closure laws that make it impossible for education failure to
The Education Gadfly / November 29, 2012
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced sixty-one finalists in its Race to the Top–District competition. In this iteration of the Race, each district contender was required to procure its union’s signature—a condition that nipped some applications in the bud. But by-and-large, charter schools don’t have that problem, and they made off with merry gains: 10 percent of the finalists were charters, while only 4 percent of K-12 public school students attend charter schools—though that number is growing.
Five years after Missouri stripped the St. Louis Public School District of its accreditation and took over, that school system—in which students in times past were “almost as likely to drop out as earn a diploma,” according to the Wall Street Journal—is starting to rise from the dead. The difference? Kevin Adams, the unassuming, data-driven schools chief hired by the state-appointed board. Under his tenure, the graduation rate rose 18 percent and the debt fell by $25 million; attendance is up, misbehavior is down, and optimism runs high for St. Louis.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation will invest $25 million to expand high-performing charters in New Orleans and create new ones—the group’s second investment in the Big Easy. Pre-Katrina, 83 percent of New Orleans schools were failing; after the proliferation of charter schools, that number has dropped to 40 percent. “"High-quality public charter schools have changed the landscape of public education in
Greg Hutko / November 29, 2012
Generous pensions—one of the main “perks” of public-sector employment—come at a steep price: After years of can-kicking, state pensions face funding shortfalls that total in the trillions. Yet many are hesitant to restructure them. Among the reasons cited is the backlash expected from teachers facing a loss or diminution of their long-established defined-benefit (DB) pension plans. This new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues suggests, however, that teachers may be more receptive to new pension structures than previously thought (echoing findings from a New York poll conducted earlier this year). Researchers analyzed teachers’ pension preferences using data from Washington State over two time periods during which educators could opt for a DB or hybrid plan (which combines a DB and an employee-funded defined-contribution [DC] plan). During both periods, the majority of teachers—both new and experienced—opted for the hybrid plan. (Only teachers over age fifty-five preferred the traditional DB option.) The researchers then examined the association between choice of pension program and teacher effectiveness, measured by value-added. Compellingly, teachers choosing the hybrid plan were 2 to 3 percent of a standard deviation more effective than those opting for the DB plan. This is equivalent to the difference between a teacher with one or two years of experience and a novice—and hints that the composition of the teacher workforce (and its overall quality) is likely to be influenced by pension structures. The political will to revamp teacher-pension plans remains buried.
Andrew Saraf / November 29, 2012
A flurry of legislative activity in 2010, spurred in part by Race to the Top, left many states with new teacher-evaluation systems, performance-pay metrics, tenure protocols, and more. This report, authored by Patrick McGuinn for the Center for American Progress, suggests that states are now struggling to implement and sustain these muscular policies. He looks closely at the implementation of revamped teacher-evaluation protocols in six states: Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. How have they managed their increased role in what has long been a local pursuit? The process has proved slow and frustrating: New units (created to provide services like evaluator training and to track teacher effectiveness) have faced difficulties coordinating their work with that of local education agencies. Administrators skilled in teacher evaluation are scarce, forcing states to lean heavily on outside organizations. The see-saw between state policy and local control has proven particularly difficult to balance: Do states impose statewide evaluation systems (as in Delaware and Tennessee) or grant districts more flexibility? Still, these challenges are not insurmountable. McGuinn offers a number of common-sensical yet sensible recommendations to that end: For example, he urges officials to reflect on which tasks state education agencies are best-equipped to undertake and to think carefully about the tradeoffs between hiring outside organizations and building their own capacity. McGuinn’s report is a valuable reminder that any successful
John Horton / November 29, 2012
In education, only two things, once gone, cannot be replaced: Time and excellent educators. So argues TNTP (née The New Teacher Project) in this tag-along to its blockbuster August report, The Irreplaceables. While the August report assessed how schools and districts could retain top-flight teachers, this case study of the District of Columbia school system (DCPS) scrutinizes whether its new teacher-evaluation system, known as IMPACT, is effectively weeding out the bad and retaining the good. Evidently it is. In 2010-11, D.C. retained 88 percent of its irreplaceable teachers (those who were rated “highly effective” by IMPACT), compared to just 45 percent of its low-performers. Impressive, when compared with the retention patterns of other districts studied by TNTP, which retained, on average, 85 percent of low and high performers alike. But improvements are still possible. For example, two-thirds of DCPS principals do not consider smart retention a top priority. Further, D.C. Irreplaceables are 30 percent more likely to teach in the District’s lowest-poverty schools than its highest-poverty ones. (Conversely, while only 3 percent of teachers in the lowest-poverty schools are ineffective, 36 percent of educators in the highest-poverty schools are.) As D.C.—rightly—continues to identify and nudge out weak teachers, it must take a keen look at where replacements are needed, and enact policy to help get them there. How much more aggressive the district will be on