Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 33
September 6, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Maintenance of inefficiency
Our absurdist approach to special education
Is grit enough?
Who speaks for Democrats on education?
Cracking at the seams
New teachers abound and TFA’s not all to blame
Kick-Starting Reform: Three City-Based Organizations Showing How to Transform Public Education
Local control, education-advocacy style
Grit, Luck and Money: Preparing Kids for College and Getting Them Through
Matriculating is not enough
Oceans of Innovation: The Atlantic, the Pacific, Global Leadership and the Future of Education
A global education-reform manifesto
Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education
yes Nathan Levenson / September 5, 2012
This groundbreaking study uses the largest database of information on special education spending and staffing ever assembled to uncover significant variance in how districts staff for special education. The report concludes that if the high-spending districts studied reduce their staffing in this area to the national median the public could save $10 billion and offers clear recommendations for improving special-education quality and efficiency.
In November 2010, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan presciently observed that, in coming years, educators would “face the challenge of doing more with less,” but warned against discouragement: “Enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo.” The budget challenges Mr. Duncan foresaw are now reality: States and districts face tough decisions about education spending as revenue declines and federal stimulus spending dries up. But officials who have attempted to do more with less have often found themselves stymied in one key area by the intransigence of the very agency that Mr. Duncan leads.
Special-education spending is consuming an ever-growing slice of schol budgets.
Photo by Dinner Series.
The roadblock? A federal “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement in the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA, the federal special-education law) that handcuffs states and districts by requiring that special-ed spending never decline from one year to the next. In times of plenty, this mandate discourages efforts to make productivity gains; when revenues shrink, it means that special-education spending will consume an ever-growing slice of school budgets.
For one brief shining moment, Secretary Duncan appeared ready to end
Robert Pondiscio / September 6, 2012
The premise of Paul Tough’s excellent new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character—that cognitive ability matters, but character traits like tenacity, curiosity, and optimism matter more—is a strong challenge to my long-held notion that, when students struggle, whether in high school or college, much of that is attributable to their lack of academic preparedness. How Children Succeed largely argues otherwise, but there is a brief but fascinating account late in the book that suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to worship at the altar of grit alone.
Is school just like chess? Perhaps not.
Photo by Adam Raoof.
The first half of Tough’s book unpacks clinical research that demonstrates the importance of parents protecting children from adversity in the first years of life. But it is the ability to persist in difficult tasks that ultimately seems to lead to success. Tough’s book, broadly speaking, makes the case that, insofar as there is any formula for success in life, it starts with a child’s need for protective, nurturing parenting, followed by independence and challenge to develop resiliency and “grit.”
A chapter entitled “How to Think” describes in vivid detail the remarkable success of
Tyson Eberhardt / September 6, 2012
The Democratic National Convention will wrap up tonight, likely with a shower of balloons and a call for solidarity from President Obama, as the campaign enters its final phase. Solidarity was anything but apparent on Monday, however, at a showing of the controversial film “Won’t Back Down.” DNC delegates who attended passed parents and teachers who picketed outside on their way to listening to uber-reformer Michelle Rhee discuss the movie inside. The screening of the Hollywood tribute to the “parent trigger” had the blessing of the White House and party higher ups, but certainly not of the AFT’s Randi Weingarten and others in the Democrats’ traditional labor base also in Charlotte this week. As Rhee pointed out, “There is no longer sort of this assumed alliance between the Democratic Party and the teachers unions.” With a strike that would pit a Democratic mayor (and Obama’s former chief-of-staff) against the Chicago Teachers Union looming next week, the uneasy Democratic alliance over education issues will only be strained further. It seems that a week after Republicans signaled that they had found their way on education, Democrats took one step closer to coming apart over the issue.
RELATED ARTICLE: “Teachers unions’ alliance with the Democratic Party frays,” Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2012.
The Education Gadfly / September 6, 2012
California legislators abandoned a bill that would have overhauled state rules on teacher evaluations and reduced the role of test scores in them. Apparently the California teacher union's power has limits after all—and Golden State children get to enjoy the benefits of them.
As school starts around the country, students are more likely to be taught by rookies than ever before. The cause is a rising teacher attrition rate: Forty to fifty percent of new teachers are likely to leave the profession within five years. How high must turnover rates go before districts, unions, and the public realize that compensation systems stacked in favor of veteran educators through rich retirement benefits and seniority-based pay scales do little to keep the next generation of teachers in classrooms?
Students and educators in Hong Kong are protesting a new curriculum they say is intended to brainwash children into supporting the Chinese government. This episode offers a good example of what many conservatives fear from a national curriculum—and how little the Common Core resembles such a curriculum, despite what critics claim.
Teach For America corps members started work in Ohio the same week that the New York Times hosted a Room for Debate on whether TFA actually works. The status quo certainly doesn't and getting bright young people invested in Ohio's education challenges may help build
John Horton / September 6, 2012
With a string of state-level victories behind us, much of the school-reform action is shifting to the local level. Enter the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), a fast-growing network of local foundations, nonprofits, and mayors’ offices committed to edu-reform. (Fordham is proud to be a policy partner.) This new report from CEE-Trust profiles three of its members: The Mind Trust (Indianapolis), New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), and the Skillman Foundation (Detroit)—offering keen, concrete, and constructive insights into how each worked within their unique local contexts to leverage funding and resources and attract talent to their cities. NSNO, for example, invested specifically in “talent providers” like TNTP, New Leaders for New Schools, and TeachNOLA; The Mind Trust created an entrepreneurial fellowship and a venture fund to bring innovative people and ideas to Indy; and Skillman fostered community engagement through the Detroit Parent Network. The three organizational histories in the report deliver valuable lessons and perilous alerts for likeminded city-based education-reform organizations; the overall recommendations at the end of the report are worthwhile as well. While there is no “perfect customized strategy,” as CEE-Trust acknowledges, these three experiences offer a viable template for other organizations angling to play a similar role in their respective cities.
SOURCE: Ethan Gray, Joe Ableidinger, and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, Kick-Starting Reform: Three City-Based Organizations Showing How to Transform Public Education
Asa Spencer / September 6, 2012
“No excuses” charter schools have shown themselves to be immensely successful at educating low-income and minority students. But how successful have they been at preparing these youngsters for the rigors of college? This American RadioWorks documentary profiles the YES Prep charter network in Houston, which is wrestling with that exact question. YES Prep runs eleven sixth through twelfth grade schools, serving 7,000 students in Space City. The charter network boasts a 100 percent four-year college-acceptance rate—but only a 40 percent college-graduation rate, which has YES Prep staffers confused. Their students all take AP courses—and pass them at rates over double the national average. The school's curricula seems like it should prepare graduates for college. YES Prep staffers are now investigating the role that “grit”—the willingness to work harder and longer than most others would consider rational—may play in determining college success. They found, for example, that those who most struggled in their YES Prep schools fared the best when they got to college, showing that academic perseverance may matter more than innate smarts. Documentarian Emily Hanford also reminds us, however, that these students may have also succeeded because they were able—and knew how—to find and receive help on a college campus. The documentary asks more questions than it answers, about the right balance between knowledge and perseverance and between grit and the willingness to ask for help. But they are important questions indeed.
RELATED ARTICLE: Emily Hanford, Grit Luck
Daniela Fairchild / September 6, 2012
Despite economic and educational premonitions, the twenty-first century does not inevitably belong to the Asian or Pacific nations. In this lengthy essay, Sir Michael Barber and colleagues explain how these nations must revamp their education systems to ensure continued growth and competitive edge. (Presumably the essay’s lessons would benefit the U.S. and other Atlantic nations as well, but those are not the targeted audiences for this piece.) Barber and his colleagues find innovation to be the doorway to twenty-first century global leadership. Yet, as they state, “this philosophy of everyone as an entrepreneur and innovator is not what underpins education anywhere in the world right now.” To unlock this potential, Barber calls for systemic reforms to current Pacific education systems: On the governance front, he pushes for an end to top-down bureaucracies that stymie innovation, the creation of autonomous schools, and private-school growth. He calls for strong academic standards for all (though he wades dangerously into the sullied waters of “twenty-first century skills” acquisition when doing so). He urges schools not to neglect the educations of their best and brightest. And he warns that, without prudent and thoughtful implementation, these would-be dramatic shifts will fizzle. Barber also laces the text with concrete examples of successful systemic shifts. But one has to wonder, why target this advice to the Pacific nations? Many in the U.S. are receptive, indeed eager,