Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 2
January 10, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
The charter expulsion flap
Who speaks for the strivers?
A big tent for charter schools
"No excuses" for limiting the charter sector
Reforms, shots, and brawls
Measures of Effective Teaching: Final Reports
The Gates Foundation found the secret sauce—or did it?
A TKO to the status quo
State Policy Report Card 2013
Mirror, mirror, on the wall
Michael J. Petrilli / January 8, 2013
Predictably, the anti-reform crowd is having a field day with Sunday’s Washington Post article (and related video), which reported the relatively high rate of student expulsions in D.C.’s charter school sector. There’s some legitimacy to this exercise in schadenfreude, considering how many of us reformer types have used the success of high-flying “no excuses” charter schools to bludgeon middling (or worse) district schools with the accusation that “if the charters can do it, so can you.” The retort—well-founded, in my view—is that most, if not all, of these high-flying charters aren’t serving the same population of kids as their traditional public school peers. They inevitably do a bit of creaming (even if unintentionally) on the front end and a number of them push out disruptive students on the back end. Apples-to-apples comparisons are made difficult by this “selection bias.”
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents.
The reason to celebrate these schools and the role they play is because the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families—as have been many charter critics. Magnet “exam schools,” such as those recently profiled by Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett,
January 10, 2013
Eric Grannis: "The charter school concept ... [is] about providing families with a wealth of choices."
Deborah Meier recently lamented that the charter school movement has been co-opted by people she terms “Reformer/Deformers”—folks who favor high-stakes testing, merit pay, and overly strict “no-excuses” school models and undervalue socioeconomic integration. While Ms. Meier and I come from somewhat different philosophical perspectives (she is a Socialist and I am, well, not), I must confess sympathy for an aspect of her critique: Our focus on test scores is alienating many educators and parents with more progressive educational philosophies. Her message is one that school-choice advocates should heed, lest we wind up shooting ourselves in the foot.
The charter school concept is about the organization of our school system. It’s about providing families with a wealth of choices and creating schools that can be more innovative and responsive to families because they are independent. It’s not—or ought not to be—about a particular method or philosophy of education. There shouldn’t be an official charter school pedagogy any more than there should be an official state religion.
There shouldn’t be an official charter school pedagogy any more than there should be an official state religion.
However, many parents feel that charter schools only provide a no-excuses option—an ironic twist, as
The Education Gadfly / January 10, 2013
Achieve released the second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards this week. Project-leader Stephen told Education Week that the new draft is quite different from the old one. Here’s hoping that’s true. Stay tuned for a review from our own science experts.
In a study released at last weekend’s American Economics Association conference, researchers argue that mandatory vaccination programs—in addition to reducing morbidity rates from the relevant childhood diseases—effectively increase students’ likelihood of graduating from high school, possibly because of the weeks of school that ailing kids would miss. Interestingly, this effect was twice as strong among minority students.
The tiff over teacher evaluations in New York City turned into an all-out brawl after Mayor Bloomberg likened the United Federation of Teachers to the NRA in his weekly radio show last Friday. The timing of this particular analogy may have been unfortunate. Still and all, the overarching point he sought to make was valid: Teacher-union leaders, like those of some other interest groups, might be out of sync with their membership. Bloomberg seems to have fallen victim to an old political landmine: Telling the truth.
Last week, the Atlantic ran a moving story by the mother of an autistic child whose public school teachers, despite the best of intentions, were largely unequipped to help him. In the end, the best option for her child
After three years, $45 million, and a staggering amount of video content, the Gates Foundation has released the third and final set of reports on its ambitious Measurements in Effective Teaching (MET) project (the first two iterations are reviewed here and here). The project attempted to ascertain whether it’s possible to measure educator effectiveness reliably—and, if so, how to do it. According to the project’s top-notch army of researchers (led by Tom Kane), it ain’t easy but it can be done and done well.
First, the research team used predictive data from the 2009–10 school year to randomly assign about 800 teachers in grades four through eight to classrooms (within their original schools) for 2010–11. The data showed a strong correlation between the predicted achievement of teachers’ students and their actual scores, as well as the magnitude of success. That the study randomly assigned teachers offers credence to the researchers’ contention that teachers’ success can be determined (and isn’t merely a byproduct of the quality of students who enter their classrooms in September). Second, they conducted a series of weightings to determine the ideal mix of past student-achievement data (value-added metrics, or VAM), classroom observations, and student surveys to identify the most effective teachers. Ultimately, the authors determined that a model that relies on VAM for between 33 and 50 percent of total teacher evaluation is best, with student surveys comprising 25 percent and classroom observations the
Brandon Wright / January 10, 2013
Rick Hess has added an important piece to his shelf-busting bibliography with this new book, which seeks to dismantle conventional thinking about education leadership at all levels. Hess begins by presenting the problem: Ideological traps prevent leaders from adopting simple, widely used leadership tactics that are almost universally effective outside the world of education. Among these “cage-dwelling” ideological traps are the notions that improvement is only possible with more dollars, that hands are so bound by outside forces as to make improvement impossible, and that a district is good simply because it “sucks less” than the average. The rest of his pages give leaders the knowledge and strength they need to chisel through the bars of antiquated, platitude-heavy thinking. For example, he urges them to optimize funding, assign faculty according to their strengths, and know their districts’ collective-bargaining agreements—and work with lawyers to find creative contractual workarounds. This last point may be Hess’s most interesting contribution (and is similar to what he argued in Leadership Limbo): Union contracts, laws, and regulations don’t tie edu-leaders’ hands nearly as much as these leaders (and reformers) assume. They have the discretion and authority to change policy and practice, and they need to find the courage, creativity, and wherewithal to do so. (Reformers, too, would be wise to target energies toward this end, rather than continuing
Greg Hutko / January 10, 2013
This inaugural (and comprehensive) StudentsFirst education-policy report card grades all fifty states, plus D.C., on their reform orientation. The report focuses on three “policy pillars” of contemporary school reform: elevating the teaching profession (use of evaluations for personnel decisions, alternative-certification pathways, etc.); empowering parents with data and choice (comparable resources for charters, opportunity-scholarship programs, etc.); and spending wisely and governing well (teacher pensions, governance flexibility, etc.). The results are bleak. Louisiana and Florida topped the list with grades of B-minus. But two-thirds of states received Ds or Fs. For the “data and choice” pillar, only five states earned a C-minus or better. Still, there are some rosier points: Louisiana and Florida are lauded for policies mandating that teacher effectiveness be used as the primary driver of personnel decisions, and Indiana—catapulted by the charter and voucher reforms of superstar Tony Bennett (now gone to Florida)—received accolades for empowering parents with data and school choice. The report has understandably stirred much controversy in eduville (some of which surfaced during the release event yesterday). Many question how states that underachieve on NAEP, like Louisiana, could so outdo high-flying jurisdictions like Massachusetts (which earned a D-plus). (Others have less-astute responses to the report.) Some individual policy rankings have also catalyzed much discussion: The fiscal and governance pillar, for example, is built of all non-teacher and non-choice policies, making it difficult to interpret. (Policy objectives in this pillar range from removing class-size restrictions