Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 1
January 3, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
Real lessons from Finland
Hard choices, rigorously implemented
Gifted students have "special needs," too
Invest in the game-changers
Trapped in Mediocrity: Why Our Schools Aren't World-class and What We Can Do About It
Another governance-reform convert
Why Superintendents Turn Over
Not always why you think
The Magnitude, Destinations, and Determinants of Mathematics and Science Teacher Turnover
Speaking of turnovers…
Strategies for Smarter Budgets and Smarter Schools
yes Nathan Levenson / December 12, 2012
This new policy brief by Nathan Levenson, Managing Director at the District Management Council and former superintendent of Arlington (MA) Public Schools, offers informed advice to school districts seeking to provide a well-rounded, quality education to all children in a time of strained budgets. Levenson recommends three strategies: prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency; make staffing decisions based on student needs, not student preferences; and manage special-education spending for better outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.
Kathleen Porter-Magee / January 3, 2013
Finland—the tiny land of reindeer, snow, and saunas—burst onto the American education scene in the past decade as the unlikely poster child for the anti-reform movement. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t implore reformers to learn from this nation with low poverty, high achievement, and virtually no standardized tests—and abandon our support for standards- and accountability-driven reform. After all, Finland’s education system today is characterized by few top-down regulations, broad teacher autonomy, and virtually no centralized accountability. Given its success on international assessments, it must follow that U.S. schools would do better if we copied the Finland model.
Finland: Land of reindeer, snow, and a world-famous education system.
Photo from RukaKuusamo.com
First, there has been some recent evidence that Finland’s successes may not be as miraculous as once thought (it slipped on the recent TIMSS math test). But more than that, to understand what is going on in Finland, a good place to start is with a November 2010 McKinsey study entitled, “How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better.”
As part of their research, the McKinsey team studied twenty school systems around the world that had seen “significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes as measured by international and
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 3, 2013
Are our national education-reform priorities cheating America's intellectually ablest girls and boys? Yes—and the consequence is a human-capital catastrophe for the United States. It's not as dramatic or abrupt as the fiscal cliff. But if we fail to pay attention, one day we'll be very sorry.
You don't have to search hard for evidence that teachers and school systems are neglecting gifted students.
Photo by Krissy.Venosdale
In a recent New York Times column, I explained how America could benefit from more schools and classes geared toward motivated, high-potential students. Here, I want to look more deeply at why such initiatives are unfashionable, even taboo, among today's education reformers.
We'd like to believe that every teacher can do right by every child in each classroom. But let's be serious: How many of our three million–plus teachers are up to this challenge? The typical class is profoundly diverse in ability, motivation, and prior attainment. In most cases, instructors—under added pressure from state and federal accountability regimes—end up focusing on pupils below the "proficient" line, at the expense of their high achievers.
You don't have to search hard for evidence that teachers and school systems are neglecting gifted students. Take, for instance, our longstanding failure to get more than a few percent of U.S. students scoring
The Education Gadfly / January 3, 2013
In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?
In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.
Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.
In a month characterized by tragedy and loss, the Foundation for Child Development provides us with a breath of fresh air: Child well-being, despite rising poverty, is up more than 5 percent since 2001. The improvements were “driven primarily by the children themselves”: They are less likely to do drugs
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 3, 2013
The latest addition to the swelling chorus singing the tune that “governance is a major part of what’s wrong with American K–12 education” is University of Washington economist Katherine Baird, who has just published a perceptive and worthwhile book on how to harmonize our discordant school system. The author brings some unusual economics-style analysis to bear, including identification of the “two principal shortcomings” of today’s governance structure, which she dubs the “Principal-Agent Problem.” The “Principal” is “society as a whole, but parents and students in particular” (that is, those who benefit from the system), while the “Agent” is the mix of adult interests, structures, and organizations that run the system. The Agent is supposed to advance the interests of the Principal but mainly doesn’t, in part because the Agent has way too many levels, components, and competing interests. Baird’s remedy is to raise standards radically—national standards—and decentralize control of the system to the building level. (She insists that national standard-setting does not also require “the federal government to determine schools’ coursework, textbooks, hiring choices, or even instructional practices.”) There’s more to her analysis and prescription, of course, but the governance parts alone repay attention.
SOURCE: Katherine Baird, Trapped in Mediocrity: Why Our Schools Aren't World-class and What We Can Do About It (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2012).
Andrew Saraf / January 3, 2013
That urban superintendents have short tenures—an average of three years—is well known in the education community. But little empirical research has been done to ascertain why or to determine whether this trend holds for suburban and rural supes, too. This study by Jason Grissom (Vanderbilt) and Stephanie Anderson (Washington University) seeks to do both. The authors analyze survey data (of both superintendents and school-board members taken during the 2005-06 school year), as well as administrative and student-achievement data for 100-plus randomly chosen California districts, to identify factors that predict whether superintendents will still be at their jobs three years later. Some of their findings—such as positive correlations between superintendent turnover and district poverty levels and between turnover and board-member dissatisfaction—are fairly intuitive. Others, however, are surprising: There was no significant relationship between turnover and student-achievement growth, for example. Further, district size was only associated with increased turnover in the biggest districts, with the largest 10 percent of districts averaging turnover rates 4.5 times higher than all others. Otherwise, turnover was no more likely in urban than rural districts. Nor does the study yield any evidence for the claim that superintendents generally move to districts with fewer disadvantaged students or higher academic achievement. As more attention is paid to the impact that district leaders have on student achievement, research of this stripe will become ever more relevant—and necessary.
SOURCE: Jason A. Grissom and Stephanie Andersen, “Why Superintendents Turn Over,” American Educational
Greg Hutko / January 3, 2013
This new paper adds another frigate to Richard Ingersoll’s flotilla of research papers on teacher turnover. Co-authored with Henry May, it spotlights the reasons why “qualified” math and science teachers—meaning those with a math or science degree—move to a new school or leave the profession. The authors analyzed data from the 2003-04 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the 2004-05 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS), unearthing some interesting findings. Contrary to popular wisdom, STEM teachers do not exit the profession at significantly higher rates than do educators of other subjects, nor do they seek non-education jobs at higher rates. Rather, they opt to remain within the education sector but in non-teaching roles, such as administration. That’s the good news. (Interesting sidebar: Though salary increases reduce turnover for science teachers, they have little effect on math-teacher attrition.) The bad news is that Ingersoll and May found higher attrition rates at high-poverty schools and those in urban areas because of their “organizational characteristics” (such as salary structure and teacher/faculty influence over school policies like student-performance standards, curriculum, and school-discipline policy). If policymakers want to get serious about keeping their math and science teachers around, fixing these organizational issues would seem to be the place to start.
SOURCE: Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May, “The Magnitude, Destinations, and Determinants of Mathematics and Science Teacher Turnover.” Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis 34, no. 4 (2012): 435-464.