Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 32
April 11, 2007
"Highly Qualified" a Dubious Designation
Uncommon Unity on Common Subjects
Lessons of Charter School Sponsorship
Charter School Boards Vital to Charter School Quality
By Quentin Suffren
Bringing Teach For America to Ohio: Opportunity and Challenges
By Kristina Phillips-Schwartz ,
April 11, 2007
A new study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that the “highly qualified teacher” (HQT) designation required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act fails to carry much weight in the classroom. Observations of 5th graders in 20 states revealed that students of “highly qualified” teachers spent the bulk of their time focusing on basic skills (as opposed to problem-solving and higher order skills). The study’s author Robert Pianta wrote, “This pattern of instruction appears inconsistent with aims to add depth to students’ understanding, particularly in mathematics and sciences.” In short, more credentialing doesn’t necessarily translate to better teaching. Robert Yinger of the Cincinnati-based Teacher Quality Partnership noted, “If we really want to deal with the issue of good quality teaching…we’ve got to get serious about some more rigorous way of looking at teacher performance.” Sadly, Ohio Governor Strickland’s budget bill doesn’t do it. Instead, it would require charter school leaders to hire only teachers meeting the “highly qualified” status (never mind high quality teachers). Let’s hope lawmakers see things differently--while “highly qualified” may have a nice ring to it, that’s only because the words are hollow.
“Study Casts Doubt on Value of ‘Highly Qualified’ Status,” by Linda Jacobson, Education Week, April 4, 2007.
April 11, 2007
Ohio recently joined eight other states in a pilot effort to develop a common Algebra II assessment (Algebra II is required under the Ohio Core), as well as a uniform set of standards to go with it. The effort is led by Achieve, Inc., a national education reform group led by governors and CEOs, and includes (besides Ohio) Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Among its benefits, the pilot could help set a rigorous, across-the-board standard for student scores of “proficient” or better. And participating states are discussing ways to report scores to college placement offices in order to align testing standards with the expectations of college-level coursework. Achieve’s president Mike Cohen sees the Algebra II pilot as just the tip of the iceberg. “Now we’re open to talking with the participating states as to whether they want to take this further,” he said. We hope they succeed (see here ). After all, core content subjects shouldn’t mean different things in different places. The Buckeye State and its cohorts deserve much praise for showing some uncommon unity (and leadership) on some common academic subjects.
“9 States to Give Common Math Test,” by Nancy Zuckerbrod, Washington Post, April 10, 2007.
Quentin Suffren / April 11, 2007
As a sponsor of nine schools in Ohio, we have learned (the hard way, at times) that effective charter school management and governance require four essential elements: sound state policy, including appropriate funding; diligent and attentive sponsors; well-trained and highly capable school leadership; and an engaged and knowledgeable governing board. A host of views (including our own--see here) have been expressed about the first three, yet precious little attention has been paid to charter school board governance (at least in Ohio). Such attention is long overdue, as we can attest that quality oversight often begins, and sometimes ends, with the quality of a charter school governing board.
Under state law, Ohio’s non-profit charter school boards are tasked with governing and overseeing the management of the school. They are ultimately responsible for selecting its teachers and curriculum, managing its finances, ensuring it performs academically, and answering to the charter school sponsor which “licensed” it. Sometimes these governing authorities outsource the school’s day-to-day operations to other groups, non-profit or for-profit, but they remain ultimately accountable for the school’s success. This is not unlike the role that traditional school boards undertake. The main difference is that district school boards are elected, whereas charter school boards are comprised of individuals who are invited or volunteer to serve.
Yet in both cases school board members freely elect to take on the momentous, time-consuming, and often unappreciated duty of seeing that schools provide
Ask folks interested in the business of education to name the top reform efforts across the country, and it’s a sure bet Teach For America (TFA) will rank among them. TFA recruits and trains promising future leaders, all first-rate college graduates from a variety of programs and majors, to spend two years teaching in some of the nation’s neediest urban and rural schools. During their time in the TFA corps, these young teachers work in low-income communities to close achievement gaps and inspire learners in their classrooms--with some impressive results. In 2004, Mathematica Policy Research found that students of TFA corps members attained “significantly greater gains in math than the other teachers in the study, even when compared only to certified teachers and veteran teachers” (see here). More specifically, TFA-instructed students gained a month’s worth more progress in math than other students.
Since first entering classrooms 17 years ago, TFA members have been recognized as national, state and district teachers of the year, Disney Teacher Award winners, and Milken Educator Award winners. TFA’s impact, however, transcends the classrooms where they teach. The program’s alumni include over 200 school principals and a number of well-known and respected social entrepreneurs, including the founders of KIPP, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, and the CEO of the New Teacher Project Michelle Rhee.
We’ve lamented the absence of TFA in Ohio for some time now (see here).
April 11, 2007
The latest report on the 2006 High School Survey of Student Engagement tells a somewhat predictable, not to mention disheartening, story about how teenagers approach their education and school environment. Turns out forty percent of students reported spending two to five hours per week on homework, and another 40 percent reported spending the same amount of time playing video games. Forty-two percent say that “socializing with friends outside of school” is a very important activity, more than any other category, including working for pay” and “reading/studying for class.” Unsurprisingly, nearly half of all students surveyed report being bored in class every day, attributed to a combination of factors including a lack of interesting (75 percent), relevant (39 percent) or challenging (32 percent) material.
Yet Yazzie-Mintz contends that a rigorous curriculum isn’t the way to cure teenagers’ disaffection for high school coursework. He creates a distinction between academically challenging and intellectually challenging curricula, and claims that the survey results reveal a “desire for a different kind of schooling” based on “discussions and activities that push students to think and interact on a deeper, more conceptual level.”
Readers shouldn’t be fooled by such parsing--a sound, rigorous curriculum meets both criteria. And ample grounds for such an academic curriculum lie in the student responses at the end of the report, many of which paint a disturbing picture of just how far students lag in even basic skills such as vocabulary, diction and