Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 11
March 14, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
Searching for Charter School Excellence
A five-city, cross-state comparison of charter school quality
Alabama school-choice fight as Theater of the Absurd
Farce doesn’t even begin to describe it
Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children
The definitive story of New Orleans school reform
Do First Impressions Matter? Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness
Bad teachers, like bad schools, don’t get better with time
Evaluation Report: Special Education
Minnesota shines a light into the SPED-cost black box
White smoke over Fordham
Wondering what Congress should be doing about pre-K, why Boston has switched to a new school-assignment system, or why an Alabama judge doesn’t seem to care about the separation of powers? Mike and Daniela are, too! Amber talks tenure reform—and Mike has a great new show to pitch Donald Trump.
Charter schools are booming. From zero charter laws and zero schools two decades ago, there are now more than two million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools in more than forty states plus the District of Columbia. In seven cities (New Orleans; Detroit; Washington, DC; Kansas City; Flint; Gary; and St. Louis), at least 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in another eighteen cities, including five in our home state of Ohio, charters serve at least 20 percent of the public school–attending kids. It is safe to say that charters are no longer a boutique reform.
But for all of the progress on charter quantity, there’s been disappointingly little progress on charter quality. While there are hundreds of high-performing charter schools across the country serving some of the nation’s neediest students, there are an equal number of charters failing to deliver. It was in recognition of this mixed performance that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched its One Million Lives campaign in late 2012. (Fordham, a charter authorizer in the Buckeye State, is a proud NACSA member.)
In order to better understand charter school performance and how to improve it, we asked the crack research team at Public Impact to take a fresh look at the performance of charter schools in five
March 14, 2013
Alabama governor Robert Bentley signed into law a comprehensive school-choice bill that will equip those parents who wish to send their kids to another public or private school with tax credits—but not before a series of events too ridiculous to even be termed a farce.
Farce doesn't even begin to describe what happened last week in Alabama.
Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate, both controlled by Republican supermajorities, passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at private schools. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape even the worst of public schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed, the AEA decided to lawyer up before it even reached the governor’s desk.
Initially, the bill was called the School Flexibility Act and did not include tax credits. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, the conference committee added the tax-credit provision and changed the name. The restructured and renamed legislation then passed 51-26 in the House and 22-11 in the Senate on party-line votes.
Horrified after realizing that a program increasing options for children trapped in failing schools had
The Education Gadfly / March 14, 2013
A fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.
South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.
Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally dismantling the remnants of the notorious [1970s] busing plan.” Mike Petrilli is optimistic; for his take, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.
The opposition to KIPP DC’s plan to build a new high school is indicative of challenges that
Andrew Saraf / March 14, 2013
The Friedman-ism that “every crisis is an opportunity” has, in the eyes of many, found dramatic and fitting vindication in the city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union was washed away, while the city’s traditional public schools were almost entirely supplanted by a host of new charters, many of them answerable to a new state-level governing body. The value of these changes has been frequently quantified by test scores, college-attendance rates, and similar informative (yet reductive) data. Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope offers a rare view from the ground—one that humanizes education reform in the Bayou City. She profiles a trio of figures (a novice teacher, a veteran principal, and a high school student) as well as a handful of charter schools. The conflicts at the core of Carr’s book—between different measurements of and causes for student success (or failure) and between guarding community culture and finding pathways to the middle class—transcend the Big Easy. But do not look for conflict resolution here. Carr’s intent, instead, is to articulate vividly what’s at stake. Her vignettes, particularly her story of a popular and promising teen’s fateful night out (and subsequent incarceration), show how out-of-school factors can easily destroy students’ futures—simultaneously reminding readers that school quality is not the whole story and that intensive efforts
Greg Hutko / March 14, 2013
With findings reminiscent of those from the Gates Foundation’s recent MET study or Chetty’s teacher-effectiveness research, this CALDER paper widens an already well-worn trail. Using a comprehensive, five-year dataset of student-test scores for beginning teachers in New York City, the authors find that early value-added results (though imperfect) are strong predictors of educators’ long-term effectiveness and that relative teacher performance (based on student test scores) remains fairly constant. Among math teachers whose performance was in the lowest quintile after their first two years on the job, 62 percent still performed in the bottom two quintiles in their third through fifth year and only 19 percent ended up in the top two quintiles. Similarly, if a school adopted a policy of firing the bottom 10 percent of new teachers (averaged over years one and two), it would rid itself of almost one third of the future lowest-performing teachers and absolutely none of the future top performers (according to years three, four, and five averages). They also find that value-added in years one and two explained 27.8 percent of the variance in average future performance (compared with only 2.8 percent explained by a number of combined “input” metrics including teacher demographics, credentialing scores, and competitiveness of undergraduate institution). The implications are clear: Cage-busting leaders should simply not keep the low performers around long enough to let them gain tenure.
SOURCE: Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, “Do First
Daniela Fairchild / March 14, 2013
Special-education funding is a thorny landscape, within which lie sundry footpaths whereby dollars are allocated via intersecting trails of state, local, and federal statutes and regulations. More difficult still is that few states offer trail maps for this complex terrain. Data are cumbersome; evaluations of program effectiveness are rarely undertaken. This is what makes this account from Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor so refreshing. The mixed-methods report explains the characteristics and costs of special education in the Gopher State, as well as the practical effects of the state’s special-ed requirements—and offers recommendations for the state legislature on how to lower special-education costs and streamline compliance regulations. In Minnesota, for example, the number of special-education students increased 11 percent between 1999–2000 and 2010–11, and spending on this group bumped up 22 percent (this while overall student enrollment dropped 3 percent). According to district leaders, this has meant that “school districts have had to divert a substantial portion of general education dollars and local operating levies to pay for special education expenditures.” The report offers the legislature a number of suggestions for how to counteract these trends. For example: Supply districts with comparative data on different staffing patterns and their costs. As special-education costs rise (even as disability identification in the nation continues to decline), more such mapping and bushwhacking must be done. Expect more from Fordham on this front in the upcoming months.
SOURCE: James Nobles, Jody Hauer, Sarah