Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 7
February 14, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
Obama for Governor!
But first clean up Head Start
The four biggest myths of the anti-testing backlash
The case against testing is remarkably weak
Good news for people who love bad news
Second-Generation Americans: A Portrait of the Adult Children of Immigrants
The American dream is alive and well
Measuring Up the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws, Fourth Edition
State policy environments continue to improve
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program
Big impacts, big financial returns
Debunking the Myths of Standardized Testing: A CTU Position Paper
I’ll see your “debunking” and raise you the truth
Getting picky about choice
Mike and Adam discuss school-choice regulations with John Kirtley of Step Up for Students. Amber talks up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / February 14, 2013
Most of Obama's education-policy wishlist can't be done successfully in Washington—but can be done in a well-led state.
Photo from Policymic
Maybe Barack Obama should follow the Pope’s example and resign—but then he should run for governor, presumably in Illinois (where he would definitely be an improvement on the last dozen or so)
Because, at least when it comes to education policy, just about everything he wants the federal government to do involves things that can’t be done successfully from Washington but that well-led states can and should do: raise academic standards, evaluate teachers, give kids choices, and more.
His latest passion in this realm is “quality early childhood education for all.” And as post–State of the Union specifics seep from the White House, we see more clearly what he has in mind: a multi-pronged endeavor, including home visits by nurses, programs for poor kids from birth to age three (“Early Head Start”), more Head Start (mostly for three-year-olds), lots more state-sponsored preschool for four-year-olds (subsidized up to twice the poverty line), and full-day Kindergarten for all.
All are plausible undertakings by states. Only one, however, could be satisfactorily carried out by Uncle Sam: a thorough and much-needed makeover of the five-decade-old Head Start program. But that isn’t likely to happen. The retrograde Head Start
Kathleen Porter-Magee / February 14, 2013
Standardized testing and engaging pedagogy are not mutually exclusive.
Photo by woodleywonderworks
Across the United States and beyond, the anti-testing movement seems to be reaching its crescendo. Yet the case against testing is remarkably weak, resting on a foundation of four fundamental misunderstandings of the role that assessments play in our schools.
Myth #1: Teachers’ instincts should guide instruction
Perhaps the most common anti-testing refrain is that we should get out of the way and just “let teachers teach.” The idea is that teachers know best and that standardized testing—or any kind of testing, really, other than the teacher-built kind—is a distracting nuisance that saps valuable instructional time, deflects instructors from what’s most essential, and yields very little useful information about student learning.
What you don’t often hear is how research has consistently demonstrated that, absent independent checks, many teachers hold low-income and minority students to different standards than their affluent, white peers. This bias is rarely intentional, but it has been found time and time again.
Standardized tests not only help us unearth these biases but also put the spotlight on achievement gaps that need to be closed, students who need extra help, schools that are struggling, and on. And by doing so, they drive critical conversations about the curriculum, pedagogy, and state and district
The Education Gadfly / February 14, 2013
We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.
Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.
Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless.
Andrew Saraf / February 14, 2013
In 2006, we wrote, “The policy debates over [immigration] in the halls of Congress will go on, but the hard task of blending millions of immigrants (legal or not) into American society marches on daily, at least in the nation’s schools.” While that hard task continues, this Pew study on second-generation Americans offers some assurance that the work is not for naught. It tracks census data from the 20 million second-generation Americas above the age of twenty-five—and supplements them with Pew’s own survey data—to compare the educational and economic status of these second-gen Americans to both their parents’ generation and the broader populace. Bottom line: Children of immigrants are climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Second-generation adults fare better than those in the first generation in median household income (by $22,000), college degrees (by 7 percentage points), and more. They’re also 16 percentage points likelier to have finished high school. And most of these favorable comparisons hold within racial subgroups. This may be partly because fully three quarters of both Hispanic second-gen’ers and Asian second gen’ers (groups that comprise three-quarters of this population) believe that “most people can get ahead if they work hard.” By contrast, only 58 percent of the general American public feels the same way. That said, Pew analysts also point to some worrisome trends. Among them, second-generation Hispanics were considerably worse off than their Asian counterparts on such gauges as economic achievement and educational attainment. Our 2006
Angel Gonzalez / February 14, 2013
As state legislatures pass new charter school laws and tinker with the old, this National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) rating of such laws increases in worth. Now in its fourth iteration, the report ranks all relevant states’ charter laws based on the NAPCS’s own twenty-part model—and explains that charter laws are generally improving across the land: By basing its statute on the NAPCS model, Washington State’s newly minted law now ranks third. (Minnesota and Maine top the Evergreen State, taking spots one and two, respectively.) Louisiana, which enacted sweeping charter reform this year, bumped from thirteenth to sixth on the state rankings. Further, three states (HI, ID, and MO) lifted caps on charter school growth, three (CT, HI, and UT) improved their support for charter funding and facilities, and ten strengthened their authorizing environments. That said, more progress is needed: Only Maine and Louisiana received the top rating (four of four) for components of their charter-authorizing legislation—Maine for requiring performance-based charter contracts and Louisiana for requiring a transparent application, review, and decision-making process. Yet quality authorizing is pivotal to creating and running successful charter schools (and shutting those that don’t measure up).
SOURCE: Todd Ziebarth and Louann B. Palmer, Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws, (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, January 2013).
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program
Brandon Wright / February 14, 2013
Three years ago, Patrick Wolf and colleagues published a powerful defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP): In an IES-funded, gold-standard study, they found that merely offering a student access to a voucher through OSP increased that student’s graduation rate by 12 percentage points. Those who actually used a voucher saw their grad rates jump by 21 percentage points. This article resurrects that research—but with a twist. The authors reanalyze the data against the work that several economists have done to estimate the value of a high school diploma (based on lifetime earnings and tax payments, lifespan and health, and crime rate). Using these metrics, Wolf and co-author Mike McShane estimate the societal return on investment for the increased graduation rate afforded to the District of Columbia by the OSP. (Remember that the program is federally funded; DCPS was held financially harmless when students exited for private schools, meaning that the program’s price tag—$70 million—represented a real additional cost to all U.S. taxpayers, not just those in the District.) Analyses show that the OSP marked a net societal value of about $183 million over the lifetime of the graduates, or $2.62 in benefit for every dollar spent (though Wolf and McShane admit to working with imperfect metrics; depending on how they sliced the data, the benefit ranged from 36 cents to $7.82). Just further proof that D.C.’s voucher program is well worth it.
SOURCE: Patrick J. Wolf and
Greg Hutko / February 14, 2013
Awash in logical fallacies and pro-labor ideology, this position paper from the Chicago Teacher Union takes a swing at “corporate reform groups” (hat tip to Advance Illinois and Stand for Children for making that list!) and the accountability reforms that they support. And it whiffs. Time and again. The paper is premised on the notion that “as much as 90% of variation in student growth is explained by factors outside the control of teachers” and, therefore, evaluating educators based on student growth is roundly unfair. Yet myriad studies have shown that teachers are the number one in-school factor for student success. And gobs of educators—many of them unionized—have shown that, in fact, demography is not destiny. (The CTU authors also ignore the latest value-added techniques that make it possible to identify the best teachers regardless of student background.) The eight pages of this skimpy screed are rife with diluted or twisted truths that downplay the importance of a high-performing teacher in every classroom (and do little to prove that standardized testing would harm any but the lowest performing teachers—which harm might well turn into great good for their oppressed pupils). Still, there is one line in the brief with which the Gadfly can agree: “Research shows students who are tasked with intellectually demanding work that promotes disciplined inquiry…score higher on standardized tests.” Good thing that the accountability movement doesn’t preclude (and, indeed,