Last month BCG put out an analysis on the “skills gap,” pointing out that part of the problem is a wage gap – companies want high skilled workers but don’t want to pay for them. I was surprised that it didn’t get more attention in the ed world given the attention the skills “crisis” gets, but Adam Davidson takes a look in the NYT Mag.
CRPE* took a look at special education enrollment rates in charter schools and district run schools in New York. More evidence that the reality and potential remedies are more complicated than the rhetoric about the issue allows for.
In the NY Daily News Andy Smarick gives voice to something a lot of people are quietly saying – the new Newark contract is pretty good and other conditions are in place for success, so what does it mean if it doesn’t work?
A lot of people talking about Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’ speech last week before Thanksgiving. The back and forth about impending school closures there got a lot of ink but two other aspects jump out to me more. First, Lewis has undoubtably emerged as the voice within the teacher union community for people who want more fight. Although the Newark contract was ratified by teachers there, for instance, it was hard to miss some vocal pushback from those who felt that Lewis’ approach was preferable. But, other than “no” and what she’s against, it’s hard to discern what the strategic or substantive agenda is. Cooler heads in the union movement get that you should not confuse good theater with good strategy.
So when Lewis says, speaking of teacher evaluation, that “it is insulting to assume that student outcome has anything to do with simply input. So the problem is we’re seeing the ravages of this kind of stuff in places like in DC and Baltimore where people are having serious problems with what their evaluations are. Evaluations should be designed to make you better not trying to figure out a way to disempower you” you’re left scratching your head. First of all, why would a leader of teachers say that you can’t link outcomes to inputs? Empirically that ship sailed a while ago and the real action today is around how to do that in an effective way in terms of both operations and accountability (both still open questions in my view). Besides, if you really believe that then there is little argument against a full blown school choice system because how can you require parents to stay in a system like that? More immediately, that statement seems to be more of a wish than a report. Sure, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in Baltimore, implementation seems to be pretty challenging, but in D.C. there are problems but overall things are actually going quite well – even the bombastic head of the city’s teachers union is working with the chancellor, they’re modifying the evaluation system as they go, and there is some evidence that the city schools are becoming more talent focused in some important ways. If you want drama or a proof point that overhauling teacher evaluation is a bad idea, D.C. is not it.
That brings us to poverty. When Lewis says that, “We cannot fix what’s wrong with our schools until we are prepared to have honest conversations about poverty and race,” she’s absolutely right (and that sentiment can be extended to a range of social policy issues). But she follows that with the less than honest (but quite common) statement that one “side” in the school reform debate says poverty doesn’t matter. In practice, what interests most people in education reform is how and how much schools matter to breaking intergenerational poverty and improving social mobility and what schools can be expected to do given a robust set of education policies. You don’t really hear a lot of people saying, ‘let’s ignore poverty and focus on schools.’ On the contrary, most people I know would like to see a more aggressive set of anti-poverty initiatives alongside more ambitious education reform they’re just unwilling to wait on improving schools while the political process sorts out other policy issues. Given the polarization there is just precious little oxygen for a sensible conversation right now.
*I’m a fellow there but had nothing to do with this project.