June 18, 2013
Already plenty predictable reactions to this new, and important and significant, report from NCTQ and US News about teacher preparation. Read it for yourself here.
Already plenty predictable reactions to this new, and important and significant, report from NCTQ and US News about teacher preparation. Read it for yourself here.
I recommend this measured Sarah Carr look at New Orleans and education change there. One aspect of the New Orleans story frustrating to a lot of people close to the schools there is that nationally there have been two dueling narratives about veteran educators in New Orleans in an effort to score points in the national education debate.
One – told by some national reformers – highlights all the new talent that has come to New Orleans and the many positive educational results. The other -told by national teachers union leaders and reform critics – highlights teachers who lost their jobs and argues it’s all outsiders as well. Both misstate the reality and overlook the great work by veteran New Orleans educators after the storm, as a result both are disrespectful to them. Carr doesn’t dive deep on this but provides some context.
New survey results from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey (pdf). ESEA, Common Core, student loans and pending legislation on the Hill. Note the movement on the right track/wrong track numbers for Common Core assessment consortia and this acid take from one Insider:
“Smarter Balanced is full of bad ideas competently organized, PARCC replete with good ideas incompetently managed.”
A former Chicago student, now in college, weighs-in on Teach For America.
Common admissions with charters and district schools being discussed in Newark. Look for more of this sort of thing.
The Times takes a look at ed tech.
A common complaint is that education is too slow to change and react. That’s arguably true in some instances but also arguably as much a benefit as a problem given some proposals for change.
Still, anyone saying education is always slow isn’t paying attention to the debate about standardized tests and accountability. Just a few years ago we heard many people arguing that the education field isn’t against accountability, it’s just against the current batch of standardized tests. With better tests – like the next generation Common Core ones now being developed by the two state consortia – and people will embrace accountability! Yet now, with those tests not even deployed and any consequences at least several years away we’re already hearing calls for moratoriums, opt-outs, and other ways to dilute the impact.
Hard to argue the field is slow to the ball on this one.
Not a lot of fireworks so not a lot of news, but against the backdrop of much of the parent trigger and charter school acrimony, here’s a story from Florida about a charter conversion.
Parent Revolution ED Ben Austin has penned a Huffington Post piece responding to some starkly personal blog posts Diane Ravitch wrote calling him, among other things, “loathsome,” saying there was a “special place in hell” for supporters of his “parent trigger” organization, and accusing him of doing his work for “filthy lucre.” Ravitch was outraged by a “parent trigger” campaign at a Los Angeles elementary school that resulted in the removal of a principal based on the wishes of a majority of parents. Others have weighed-in on the rhetoric, which is simply deranged and unworthy of serious consideration.
But something else caught my eye and is unintentionally revealing of a larger problem. In her apology/non-apology to Austin (and the pattern of outrageous rhetoric followed by apology/non-apology here is becoming routinized) Ravitch notes that she lost her temper and attacked Austin based on:
All I know about [the principal] is what I read in this article in the Los Angeles Times.
Seriously? If you’re functioning at a high level in the education conversation, commenting on the issues of the day, and confronted with a situation like this one you can/should (a) check any available data underlying the issue (b) look for alternative viewpoints to learn more (in this case there were many on all sides readily available), and (c), augment that by talking with people with a firsthand knowledge of the situation – for instance a teacher, administrator, or close observer in Los Angeles to learn more. I’m not saying that someone is obligated to report out every blog post or that relying on and citing a newspaper account isn’t adequate in many instances. But before you start unleashing this kind of rhetoric, calling people “malevolent” and worse you ought to do more homework than one article. Especially if you’re a trained historian.
In this particular case, whether you support, oppose, or are the fence about the “parent trigger” the performance at this school is troubling enough that while there are clearly valid viewpoints on all sides about the best course of action, something needs to happen. That’s called context. And in a complicated and fluid situation like this there is room for nuance. It’s not clear to me how anyone can be so sure of anything at this point about what the parents’ action means for this school, or parent trigger more generally. Meanwhile, it should go without saying that everyone up in arms about this wouldn’t put their own children in a school with this persistently low level of performance.
So we’re again left with irresponsible rhetoric, casually tossed around, in a debate about what’s good enough for other people’s kids. Ridiculous.
Past Eduwonk posts on the parent trigger and its evolution here.
Last September Sara Mead, Rachael Brown, and I published – via an AEI human capital project – a paper on what we saw as problems with the push to reform broken teacher evaluation systems (pdf). The paper, “The Hangover” sparked a healthy discussion in policy circles about what was working, not working, and where there was consensus and divergence around key issues.
Friday, Governing ran a story on the charter specific aspects of teacher evaluation It’s a real issue – and one we addressed in the paper. Whether and how charter schools, many of which have developed their own effective methodologies for teacher evaluation, should be held accountable under new teacher evaluation laws as well as whether the state or their authorizer should oversee that is as much about governance as it is about the most effective policy.
But the paper was about how and why poorly constructed evaluation policies can be problematic for all kinds of schools and especially for innovative schools in all parts of the education sector. Ironically, however, those frustrated with the mechanical nature of some new evaluation systems might find solace in the more human-judgement based approaches favored by many charters. And though charters wanting to preserve the autonomy they enjoy under state laws is seen by charter critics as some sort of ‘gotcha’ moment where charters seek flexibility they don’t want others to enjoy, that’s a misreading of the landscape. School district leaders frequently say, ‘if this flexibility is good for charter schools then why shouldn’t everyone have it?’ To which almost all charter supporters reply, ‘yes, they should!’
The problem is that there are so many choke points within the current system and so many obstacles – statutory, regulatory, and cultural – to providing more flexibility within a more performance-based framework* that we end up with efforts to create the sort of broad, complex and technically daunting, and frequently blunt policies we wrote about in “The Hangover.” From a policy perspective it’s especially frustrating because while overall charter schools are a mixed bag, the high-performing ones offer some clear lessons that could be incorporated into policy more broadly.
*Obviously charter schools and charter school policy does not have this all figured out, but the best authorizers offer some lessons on what a real portfolio approach could look like.
You’ll search in vain for a mention of Common Core in the fact sheet on today’s White House announcement on ensuring that schools have adequate bandwidth, and assessments are only mentioned twice. But ensuring bandwidth for the forthcoming Common Core assessments (something insiders have repeatedly flagged as a major implementation challenge, in a February survey only 23% of Whiteboard’s Education Insiders thought schools would have enough bandwidth and more than 80% saw this as a risk (pdf)) is a clear subtext and a big issue.
Just announced from Texas: Former White House Domestic Policy Advisor and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is leaving her consulting firm and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she leads the education work, and heading back to Texas to become President of the George W. Bush Institute.* From this morning’s press release:
“Spellings will oversee all aspects of Bush Foundation activities, including leadership of the George W. Bush Institute, management of George W. Bush Presidential Center business operations, and collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration, which operates the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
The appointment of Spellings, one of the nation’s premier thought leaders in public policy, marks a new stage of development for the Bush Center’s policy arm, the Bush Institute.”
It’s a significant move, both because of what it means for the direction of the institute and also because Spellings has been a big presence on education policy in Washington since arriving in 2001. I caught up with Spellings to discuss the move, what it means for her, the institute, and Texas footwear:
You’ve been doing a lot of impactful work with the Chamber of Commerce and through your consulting firm, why the move?
All good Texans eventually get back to Texas and this is the perfect way to do that. It is terrific to work with the President and Mrs. Bush to advance the issues we care so deeply about — education, economic growth, global health and human freedom to name a few. I am also thrilled to be making my next professional home on the campus of an outstanding university in SMU.
What are your goals in this new role?
The fabulous new facility — library, institute and museum — give us amazing convening power to draw attention to our core work and to the major issues of our day. My goal is to make the Bush Center the “go to” source on our key areas and to have people see the programming we develop as reasoned, serious and compelling. I hope we will contribute in positive ways to informing key issues and develop serious thinking on the areas of our work around the core values of freedom — freedom from tyranny, freedom from illiteracy and freedom from disease as well as the freedom to pursue the American dream.
President Bush has pretty much stayed out of policy and political debates since leaving office, but you’re a pretty influential policy player, does this signal a shift?
We are all known more by our acts than by our words and I hope our record with our work will speak for itself. Folks in public service like the President and me do so because we want to make a difference in the world and I believe this forum is a great way for both of us to do that.
Speaking of politics, you’re heading back to Texas, should we look for your name on a ballot at some point?
Well, first I want to get my name on a voter registration card. Right now my bandwidth will be fully spent on my new assignment.
What will you miss most about Washington?
I will miss the many friends and colleagues I have had the chance to work with on both sides of the aisle and in many disciplines. I love the pace and intensity of Washington and will miss that too.
What will you miss least?
And now that you’re back in Texas you won’t be able to dodge debates like this: When it comes to boots, is your choice Lucchese or the Justin brands?
Whatever boots are made for walkin…
*BW’s Sara Mead has done a small amount of consulting for the institute on school leadership and BW has done several research projects on ed policy questions for the U.S. Chamber.
Sara Mead’s list of young education leaders is out! You can read all about them here.
Big above-the-fold Washington Post look at Common Core pushback late last week. Three quick thoughts:
First, all this was frustratingly predictable. There have been warnings for several years. Pro-Common Core conservatives have flagged the problem, warnings regularly popped up as an issue in the Whiteboard Education Insiders survey, and debates inside conservative groups like ALEC were a clear signal something was up. Granted, in American public affairs and politics it is a lot easier to stop something than to implement it. Still, pro-Common Core players (and I’m someone generally in favor of Common Core) seemed so sure of the obviousness and rightness of their position they left themselves exposed and dismissed the critics as a few cranks with email lists. Good reminder that the action isn’t in the Green Zone.*
Second, the big problem with stories like the one in the Washington Post is that they create momentum that can push undecideds off the fence. We’re approaching a tipping point where if you’re a conservative and not against the Common Core that’s a dangerous place to be politically – and midterms are coming in 2014. Meanwhile, you can see the clear outlines of the same problem on the educational left.
Third, unlike issues such as Obamacare, ditching Common Core is relatively cost-free for states. Right now GOP governors are cross-pressured on Obamacare because while it’s good politics to be against it, it’s not good policy as the debate over Medicaid expansion shows. That’s not the case on Common Core: Fighting it is good base politics and a pretty cost-free policy. To the extent there are costs – for instance sacrificing the potential of better quality and lower-cost student assessments – those are not visible costs to voters. In other words, the political calculus is pretty obvious and in education that generally trumps the policy.
I don’t think the entire enterprise is going to unravel and think the predictions of Common Core doom overstate the likely outcomes here, but it’s increasingly clear we’re going to end up with something different than what was envisioned.
*It’s a great illustration of how Balkanized our politics and information flows are these days that while many Common Core supporters didn’t even notice its inclusion in the 2012 Democratic Party platform, the mention of Common Core in that document lit up conservative activists.
Late to this, I’ve been away last two weeks. But, if you didn’t read David Von Drehle and Jeffery Kluger’s TIME cover story on the Moore tornado then it’s worth a look. Riveting. One thing that comes through clearly is that in some parts of the country that are tornado prone a mix of economics and geography makes basements and shelters scarce. So while the nation has made a lot of progress on tornado warnings, if you don’t have a safe place to go a warning is helpful but not necessarily life saving.
Meanwhile, we talk a lot about schools as “centers of communities” (a lot more than we act on it). But as we saw in Oklahoma only some schools are built to withstand major tornadoes. So isn’t an obvious threefer an effort to ensure that schools in tornado prone areas are not only prepared for storms like this but can take in local residents without somewhere else to go? It’s a threefer because it makes schools safer for students in the event of a catastrophic storm, helps with overall public safety, and is the kind of economic stimulus and infrastructure investment that has lasting value.
From the SEC of education:
Wednesday June 5, Tennessee Score is hosting a webinar with the schools that won its prize last year.
4.0 Schools is doing more hiring. Word is they’re looking for “curious badasses.” If that’s you, then check it out. Interesting org.
Getting students reading well by 3rd-grade is again emerging as a policy priority in many states. WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton took a look at the trend in March and Reading Partners’ Michael Lombardo responded.
What’s interesting is that a focus on early-learning was a key part of Florida’s success over the past decade (along with accountability, choice, and some other elements). Today, Jeb Bush’s advocacy on education is one reason states are adopting these reading policies. But while some states are now simply adopting the hard-edged policies around retention, the former Florida governor makes clear that the policies should be paired with support. I’ve asked experts on reading policy why they think some states are ignoring the support side and while answers vary, “selective listening based on underlying ideology on spending,” as one person put it, is the consensus response.
When I interviewed Bush for TIME late last year, I asked him about what had worked in Florida and why? Here’s what he said about coupling hard-edged policies with supports for students:
There was no single magic bullet. But up until Louisiana and Indiana in the last few years, Florida was far and away the most aggressive and broad-based [state for] reform: Robust accountability, higher standards, tying financial consequences and benefits, carrots and sticks, around accountability so there was a consequences between failure, mediocrity, improvement and excellence. Elimination of social promotion and strategies to deal with the crisis that could have existed if we’d done nothing [else]. Ambitious school choice, not just public but including private school choice. And during my tenure the last element would be expanding higher quality coursework to larger numbers of kids. So it wasn’t just accountability it was a lot of other things including a partnership with the College Board where we had stratospheric increases in the number of kids who took AP courses and passed them. And the early-childhood learning component of what we did will prove to be pretty effective. You put these hard-edged measures, we tried to make them really tough, but we didn’t stop there.
If you go back to the affirmative action debate, we eliminated affirmative action when I was governor, and we have more African-Americans attending college today, why would that be? What’s the difference between Florida and California? The difference is that a hard-edged policy may be a correct one morally in California but it’s the only thing they did. They just eliminated affirmative action. OK, great. Then you had this massive drop-off in access to higher education by Hispanics and African-Americans. We created a strategy that said affirmative action defined as lowering standards for one group at the expense of the other is wrong. But we also said that you need to be race conscious so we created a “talented 20 percent” we created the very ambitious AP program in the urban core high schools that never had AP. We made practice SAT for 10th graders – we funded it. Before that because no one ever cared or even noticed 15 percent D and F schools had practice SAT for 10th graders and 85 percent of A and B schools [did]. That’s what you call the soft bigotry of low-expectations. So we funded all of them.
And my point is that all of this hard-edged accountability forced strong policies to rectify the consequences and the system responded and it responded pretty significantly. So you eliminate social promotion we probably would have had a third of our kids stay back had we done nothing. But we required a different approach, we put reading coaches in every school to teach teachers how to teach reading because our schools of education don’t do that, we launched the universal pre-K efforts, we changed how schools operated and they were compelled to do it.
If you’re a student and a writer, The Nation is having a contest you want to check out. The topic:
It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why?
My candidate would be the toxic blend of partisan congressional redistricting and technology. It allows elected officials to pick their constituents rather than the other way around. What’s yours?
Fun government affairs director role at Stand for Children. And Amplify is hiring an Executive Director of Account Management. NY-based not a requirement.
New data on charter schools in Boston (pdf). Worth reading, a few interesting angles on the issue. Good that supporters of various choice ideas in Boston – pilot schools and charter schools – willing to put this out there.
And a new paper on NCLB and accountability. There isn’t a lot new in the accountability paper but it again underscores, as other studies have, the point that accountability policies produce at least modest improvements and they don’t do damage in the process (and that we can measure school performance in more sophisticated ways now than in 2001, the last time the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized). You’d think all this would be a jumping off point for a lively conversation about what else is needed in addition to an accountability floor – for instance in-and out-of-school student supports, instructional/teacher quality issues, pre-K, choice, etc…
Instead, given the dysfunctional nature of our national conversation about education, we argue about accountability.
Whitney Metzger is a survivor of the D.C. ed policy scene. Now she’s living in Bozeman and has started an organization – Milk + Sugar – to help support youth entrepreneurship. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand – and you can participate.
Lost in much of the narrative about teachers’ unions – from their defenders and critics – is engagement with the basic political reality that teachers’ union leaders are elected. That means that like any politician they must be attuned to constituencies and the political winds within their union. And the winds do blow, there are many factions within teachers unions that agree or disagree on various issues, have different priorities, or have different political underpinnings.
One dynamic we see a lot is that if you’re trying to unseat the incumbent you attack them as insufficiently strident, not getting everything they could for members, not fighting hard enough and so forth. That tactic cost a lot of pro-reform union leaders their jobs during the aughts. But it can also lead to the absurd. Take the case of Chicago where Karen Lewis was just elected to a second term. Her opposition attacked her, as the Chicago Tribune reports:
“…Saunders-Wolffe said contract negotiations didn’t result in sufficient raises for teachers and that Lewis “didn’t deliver at the bargaining table” with issues surrounding teacher seniority and teacher evaluations.”
That line of attack is about someone, Lewis, who broke the teachers’ union losing streak with a strike that paralyzed Chicago, got sizable increases in compensation that may ultimately bankrupt the schools, reshaped the debate in Chicago and to a large extent nationally (AFT President Randi Weingarten had to go get herself arrested in Philly, for instance), forestalled evaluations in Chicago, and is fighting the proposed school closings tooth and nail. In the stridency department there is stuff like this.
The line of attack is also, of course, the same one that Lewis used to win the presidency from her predecessor. So the point is as obvious as it generally is intractable. Just as in our national politics, in an environment like that genuine sustained moderation and consensus will remain hard to come by.
Everyone seems to be asking, is Common Core going to make it? An important and consequential question, but probably the wrong one. There seems to be little chance that in a few years standards won’t be higher, in most states, than they were a few years ago. But it is an open question whether ongoing implementation efforts will genuinely realize the initial and avowed promise of the Common Core – common standards across different geographies and a common definition of what college and career ready education looks like so that the sector can better strategically orient itself. And, of course, better instruction and more learning coming out of that.
The barriers to getting there are substantial. Here are seven big ones I see right now:
The weather is warming up, and that means fishing. Tim Taylor of Colorado Succeeds and America Succeeds succeeds here with a Yellow Jack:
Education writer Richard Whitmire’s wife Robin – a badass runner/cyclist and competent angler as well as all around wonderful person, if you don’t know her – celebrated Mother’s Day catching this largemouth bass:
And James Willcox of Aspire Public Schools landed a big redfish in April in Alabama:
That fish is apparently related to Big Red, who appeared here previously. If you want to see many more pictures of all kinds of education people with fish then click here.
Finally, my first trip of the year was on Colorado’s Blue River late last month, and this was my first fish of the year, part of a banner day on that river (the fashion forward hat is indeed a fish magnet):
We keep hearing about how “parent trigger” is anti-teacher and about privatizing schools. Whatever you think of the trigger idea (my thoughts here) it’s hard to argue that’s happened anywhere so far where trigger legislation has been used, and especially not in the latest trigger campaign – where they’re trying to fire administrators to help the teachers.
Andy Smarick sent questionnaires to the two Common Core assessment consortia (SBAC and PARCC) and the Department of Education asking about various issues. Today is the final one with the Department of Ed, but read all three on Fordham’s Common Core blog to get a taste of where things stand from the perspective of these three, key, stakeholders.
What are the best education songs out there? There are obvious candidates like the Beach Boys’ classic “Be True To Your School” or Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” Or the political, like Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” And then songs with a powerful education line, for example Springsteen’s “No Surrender.” But there is plenty of obscure stuff as well – James Brown recorded an anti-high school dropout song. And bands like The Kinks and Pearl Jam get at school themes, too. So in your view, you can comment below or via Twitter at #edsongs, what is/are the best education song(s) out there?
Your fake Canadian girlfriend no one ever got to meet? Well, now you can at least explain how her school is funded thanks to a new CAP paper by Juliana Herman.
America’s Progress Alliance is seeking a Chief Communications and Knowledge Officer. And a Director of Policy Development role at ACT.
And charter schools in Idaho leading the state charter association - where the lifestyle is awfully hard to beat.