Saturday, May 08, 2004
No Child Left Behind and the 2004 Election
This article in Blueprint explains why No Child Left Behind (NCLB) matters and why the left and center-left must make sure that it works. It also explains how President Bush failed to follow through on the law and the key implementation mistakes the Administration has made. However, the article also makes clear that large general interest reforms like NCLB are always a political and policy challenge.
Politically, as the article shows, in the presidential race education is a values issue rather than one that turns on specific policies. The particulars of the debate will matter much more to policy types than to average voters. Yet the overall contours of this debate will play a real role in the general perceptions voters have of the two candidates.
The emerging charter district plan in Buffalo is on shaky ground. Four newly elected school board members are opposed to charter schools leaving only a slim majority in favor. The Buffalo Teachers Federation heavily backed the four in an effort to undo the initiative.
Meanwhile in New York City the United Federation of Teachers is exploring the possibility of opening its own charter school, which is, needless to say, a great idea. In the New York Post, New York Charter Schools Association executive director Bill Phillips applauds the potential UFT move and makes the case for raising New York's current cap on public charter schools.
Bonus charter school content! Adrian Walker makes the case for public charter schools in the Boston Globe. Discussing the proposed moratorium on charters in Massachusetts (which the governor has said he will veto) Walker writes:
It is not coincidental that much of the support for the moratorium comes from suburban lawmakers, many of whose constituents regard charter schools as a frill. Meanwhile, among city parents and low-income parents, they only seem to become more popular.
By golly he's onto something...perhaps this is why self proclaimed "progressives" too often end up sounding like reactionaries.
If you want to read the newspaper stories about Kerry's teacher quality proposals (and you should!) we'd recommend you read them in this order: Ron Brownstein and Maria L. LaGanga in the Los Angeles Times, then The New York Times, and finally The Washington Post only if you're curious about how a major paper misses a big story. The first two stories -- particularly Brownstein-LaGanga which is a must read -- lay out both the policy importance and the significance of Kerry's policy announcements yesterday.
If you're too busy to read, here's the gist: Kerry's teacher plan is gutsy, full of important policy ideas, and easily the most interesting education proposal so far during the 2004 campaign. It includes proposals for differential pay, performance-based pay, mentoring for new teachers, more attention to low-performing schools, higher standards for new teachers, more accountability for schools of education, and faster dismissal for low-performing teachers. It sets a high bar for President Bush and hopefully portends an interesting debate to come. Although, if their reaction to the proposal today is any indication, this one may have caught the Bush-Cheney team flat-footed.
Addressing the teacher quality challenge is a big part of making No Child Left Behind work and Kerry's opening bid about how to do so is a strong one. But you should still read the Brownstein article anyway, it's that good. Must be that late LA deadline!
Afterthought: Maybe it's not the deadline....in addition to being a great political reporter, Brownstein really understands the education stories. Richard Colvin must be smiling!
Bonus Afterthought: Kerry offers incentives to help get National Board Certified teachers to teach in hard-to-serve schools. It's a good and long overdue idea.
The Joyce Foundation, Education Trust, and SEED School all have interesting education policy jobs open though the Joyce one is pretty senior. Please do not email Eduwonk about these. You can find all of these organizations on the web or linked on the left and Eduwonk assures you that if you can't locate them and learn more yourself, you won't make it long at any of them anyway…
Voucher Rhetoric Meets Voucher Reality
Today’s Washington Post writes up what has been a simmering backroom dispute for months. Washington's new federally funded voucher program is causing heartburn for the city's Catholic schools because it does not provide sufficient funding to cover their costs. The reason is that the voucher program provides parents grants only for tuition. But in Catholic schools tuition is lower than total costs. The Archdiocese of Washington subsidizes tuition as archdioceses in other cities do as well.
Although Eduwonk is skeptical of the whole program (click here to learn why) the Catholic schools do have a valid point here. But -- and this is the important backstory here -- these issues were raised while the program was being designed. But Republican congressional staffers and the Bush Administration were so wed to the myth and rhetoric that Catholic schools only cost a few thousand a year per student that they ignored the problem. It's the same blind adherence to ideology over deliberate policymaking that causes even reasonable observers to question the efficacy of the whole enterprise.
Virginia Governor Mark Warner wants to try to entice more high quality teachers into the state's most challenging schools.
Senator Kerry will make a major policy announcement on the same subject later today as well as unveil other aspects of a new teacher quality agenda. Eduwonk has taken a look, among other proposals there is good stuff on differential pay, holding schools of education accountable, more mentoring for new teachers, quicker dismissal for low-performing teachers, and better tests for new teachers. Again, Kerry has decided to focus on issues that are (a) politically smart because they avoid the spending versus accountability phony war (b) good strategies to make No Child Left Behind work better and (c) real problems! Good choice!
The AP reports on the rise in online diploma mills that some teachers have used to garner pay increases or try to meet the teacher quality requirements of No Child Left Behind (which makes the outrageous demand that teachers have demonstrated knowledge of the subject they teach). No doubt this too will somehow get blamed on No Child!
Update: Here are Kerry's teacher quality proposals.
If Eduwonk's email is any indication, there is some head scratching about Senator John Kerry's proposals to increase graduation rates. It's good politics but just what is so noteworthy? After all, isn't pretty much everyone for higher graduation rates? Sure, but Kerry’s policy is a good one, here’s why:
Most Americans probably don't realize we have such a substantial dropout problem. After all, the majority of states report dropout rates between four and seven percent, which, while not perfect, does not seem too bad. But these figures only represent the percent of high schoolers dropping out in a given year. And, just like a monthly interest rate on a credit card that looks like a good deal but actually translates into an exorbitantly high APR, over the course of three or four years a four to seven percent dropout rate translates into a lot of kids falling through the cracks.
The Urban Institute and Manhattan Institute calculate more accurate graduation rates by comparing the number of students who enroll in ninth grade to the number graduating four years later. These studies find that about one-third of high school students nationally don't graduate, and barely half of African American and Hispanic students graduate in four years. That is a real problem seeing that a high school degree is the absolute minimal credential for any opportunity in today's economy.
The No Child Left Behind Act holds schools and states accountable for graduation rates to avoid creating an incentive to “push out” struggling students to raise test scores. Members of Congress were aware of the reporting problems and included language in the law encouraging states to calculate rates using the Urban/Manhattan method. But the Bush Administration issued ambiguous regulations and allowed states to adopt much looser graduation rates definitions for NCLB. So, the underreporting and obfuscation continues. Kerry proposes to deal with this and enforce the intent of the law. Wonky stuff, but important.
Afterthought: Say what you will about NCLB, if disputes over data collection garner this sort of attention then that's a pretty good indication the law is focusing more attention on low-income and minority kids. That’s a good thing, right?
Two events worth checking out coming up in Washington, D.C. next week. On Tuesday May 11, Common Good is sponsoring a forum on law in public schools. You can find out more about what promises to be a very interesting and lively discussion here. On Thursday May 13, Mass Insight Education and Research Institute and Partnership for Learning are sponsoring a forum on public opinion about standards and accountability in Massachusetts and Washington. The state superintendents from both states will speak along with national experts. Good data about what’s happening in two states that have been at this for a while. If you want more info on that one email
Erin Angell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, Senator John Kerry announced a new plank of his education agenda, focusing on reducing high school drop out rates and increasing high school graduates by 1 million over the next five years. Here’s what the New York Times and LA Times have to say about it. Tomorrow, Kerry is expected to further flesh out his education agenda with proposals for teachers.
Focusing on the dropout issue is a smart strategy for Kerry. First, it’s a real problem. Dropout rates are generally substantially underreported. According to the Urban Institute, only about half of black and Hispanic students graduate from high school and only 75 percent of whites. Second, it’s an issue where President Bush has been asleep at the switch -- No Child Left Behind included provisions to ensure better reporting of drop out rates but the Bush Administration has not followed through on them. Finally, it allows Kerry to talk about progressive ideas like smaller high schools and mentoring for disadvantaged middle school students while linking these issues to outputs and accountability. That keeps Kerry out of the "accountability versus spending" phony war the Bush Administration wants while allowing him to advance a progressive agenda.
New Schools Venture Fund is a philanthropic venture capital fund that invests in promising and scalable education ideas. Like a traditional VC fund it seeks out good ideas and helps nurture them to fruition. But unlike a traditional VC fund, New Schools is not-for-profit. New Schools invests in ideas like Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, Greatschools.net, Teachscape, Success for All, Green Dot Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, and Civic Builders.
The venture capitalist John Doerr started New Schools. Doerr, a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, is a Silicon Valley legend because of his ability to see around corners and over the horizon before others do and for his genuine ability to think outside of defined boundaries. Now he’s applying those skills to the education sector and his strategy is paying social dividends. New School's co-founder and CEO Kim Smith, who was recently recognized by Newsweek as the sort of young leader who will shape society in years to come, is also a remarkable change agent and has built New Schools into an impressive and progressive presence in education.
Each year New Schools convenes a summit bringing together the social entrepreneurs they support, foundations and philanthropic interests, and key actors in the education. It's always a great chance to reconnect with fascinating change-oriented people and gifted educators, to recharge, and to learn something new. It starts today in Palo Alto.
Chartering a New Course in CO?
The Colorado legislature passed a new charter bill today that will improve charter schooling there. Here's why you should care:
Hardcore Eduwonkers: because this bill is a promising way to allow for multiple authorizers of charter schools while still ensuring public accountability. Softcore Eduwonkers: because to get the bill passed, its sponsor, Denver state representative Terrance Carroll, had to take on many in his own party and the state teachers' union. It's a great political story.
The new bill -- which was sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff in the Colorado Senate -- establishes a nine member state board to grant charters in communities where school districts are uninterested or unwilling to. The bill is specifically aimed at increasing public school choice options for disadvantaged students. In almost every state with charter schools the majority of charters are found in low-income communities. However, in Colorado about one-third of the state's charter schools are in the suburbs.
What's amazing though is that in Colorado, where a voucher program was passed last year, there is still so much political resistance to public charter schools. Choice is coming to education just like it has come to most walks of American life. The question is whether progressives will steer its energy toward progressive ends like public charter schools serving disadvantaged students or marginalize themselves by taking a reactionary posture.
We know Carroll's answer, and it's the right one.
Today's USA Today offers two views on charter school accountability but unfortunately both sides overstate their case. USA Today overplays the problems of a few charter schools (though the paper correctly notes that in this business a few bad anecdotes are all it takes to discredit something). Conversely, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform blames everything in sight for these problems except the two most obvious culprits (a) not everyone who has sought to start a charter school has been competent to do so; and (b) some state laws and policies do not foster effective oversight which only compounds problem (a). Yet as we argued yesterday overall charter schooling has been a success, particularly for disadvantaged students.
For a look at a state doing it right, Eduwonk recommends this new PPI report on charter schooling in Minnesota. Jon Schroeder describes the history and status quo of charter schooling there as well as lessons for Minnesota and for the nation. Minnesota passed the nation's first charter school law in 1991 and the law subsequently won prestigious Innovations in Government Award from Harvard University. Now the state is pushing the envelope by innovating with new charter school authorizing arrangements and other reforms.
Schroeder's study is the second in a series. Look for reports on Arizona, New York City, Indianapolis, Ohio, and Texas later this year.
Afterthought: Speaking of accountability, this Christian Science Monitor story brings the opportunities and challenges of "virtual" or online charter schools into sharp relief (and the politics too but you have to read between the lines for that!). Ignore the inflammatory headline; it's a useful story to read.
Senator John Kerry will focus on education this week. Look for a speech and policy announcement on dropouts later today. This is a smart issue for him because not only is it a genuine problem, but is also one where President Bush has clearly dropped the ball.
UCLA’s Daily Bruin ran a revealing article about campus diversity efforts that Joanne Jacobs unpacks. The article and her commentary are well worth reading.
And, in two separate articles James Vaznis and Peter Schworm of the Boston Globe do a great job showing why a seemingly big victory for poor kids -- a Massachusetts court decision ordering more equitable school funding -- actually is causing uneasiness in many communities because of complicated state and local school finance politics.
Update: More on increased school finance litigation because of NCLB. It's something liberals should love!
Finally, Eduwonk heard a lot of buzz and rumors about the future of New American Schools. Now, word is that NAS will be subsumed by the American Institutes for Research and function as a fee-for-service provider under their flag. New American was the original purveyor of the “break the mold” idea to create new school designs during Bush I. Now, apparently, the mold is indeed broken.
A recent Washington Post op-ed by Jessica Vaughan, of the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, implies that nefarious forces of trade agreements and penny-pinching school districts are working to lower teacher certification requirements and fill teaching slots with cheaper immigrant teachers. Leaving aside the controversial issue of whether immigration visas belong in trade agreements, Vaughan’s arguments about teachers don’t pass the smell test. For starters, evidence suggests school district HR offices aren't nearly this strategic. Vaughan also glosses over the complex array of reasons why districts might want to hire teachers from abroad, or why reducing certification barriers for potential teachers makes sense. Besides, the largest immigrant teacher programs exist to recruit teachers in areas where there is a shortage -- in part because high certification barriers deter many otherwise qualified Americans from pursuing these teaching positions.
This week is National Charter Schools Week. Today, forty-two states allow charter schooling and there are now about 3,000 charter schools around the country serving 750,000 students. Charters are not mainstream but no longer marginal either. Charter schools are public schools, but in addition to school districts, parents, teachers, local community groups, and others can open and operate them. Like other public schools charter schools must accept all students, first come first served, or randomly if more students want to attend than there are seats (most charter schools have waiting lists). And, charter schools are accountable for student learning as well as parental satisfaction. Parents choose charter schools in the first place and dissatisfied ones can go elsewhere.
Though by no means is every one a great school, the majority show real promise to help students, particularly those in currently underserved communities. Charter schools enjoy bipartisan support and have a more impressive track record than vouchers. Moreover, unlike vouchers, charter schools expand rather than erode support for public education.
Yet despite this, some legislators, teachers unions, and other education interest groups in states including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington are celebrating National Charter Schools Week by attacking these public schools, seeking to limit their growth or cut their funding. Eduwonk shudders to think how they’re celebrating Be Kind to Animals Week.
Visit Green Dot Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, KIPP Academy, SEED, MATCH, or Cesar Chavez -- just to cite a handful of the many terrific public charter schools around the country. In what parallel universe is it good politics, good policy, or even just remotely sensible to work against these schools, which are showcasing what is possible in public education and helping kids every day?
Political Afterthought: 750,000 students whose families have chosen public charter schools, plus charter school staff and supporters…not exactly the AARP or the NRA but enough support that alienating them seems ill-considered especially during an extremely close election.
Bonus Political Afterthought: President Clinton understood all this and supported charter schools.
Double Bonus Afterthought: Here’s Clinton on state charter school laws:
"Now, the one problem we have had is that not every state has had the right kind of accountability for the charter schools. Some states have laws that are so loose that no matter whether the charter schools are doing their jobs or not they just get to stay open, and they become like another bureaucracy. Unfortunately, I think even worse, some states have laws that are so restrictive it's almost impossible to open a charter school in the first place."
Final Afterthought! Though they’re a new way of delivering public education, charter schools are less important as a “new paradigm” or “out of the box” idea than as an immediate way to increase the supply of great public schools for kids.
William Raspberry falls for misrepresentations about No Child Left Behind in today’s Washington Post. He frets that the law holds schools accountable for student test scores on a single day (it doesn't, states can measure school performance by averaging scores over multiple years), he buys a hypothetical argument about a school making great strides but still not making “adequate yearly progress” (less of a problem than it appears because of the law's "safe harbor" provisions), and he accepts the notion that offering students in low-performing schools public school choice, tutoring, or worst of all requiring school districts and states to do something about those schools amounts to "punishment."
If you’re unconcerned about the facts, it’s a great read. If you’re interested in how the law actually works, this quick guide from the Education Trust is more useful.
Afterthought: The PR maven who lined this up deserves a raise!
Bonus Afterthought: Perhaps hit pieces like this wouldn’t be so common if the Bush Administration had done a better job explaining and implementing the law in the first place.
Counterproductive Afterthought: Raspberry also accepts the idea that schools are pretty helpless in the face of poverty and other social problems even though there is evidence to the contrary. But this seems like a terrible argument for No Child foes to be putting forward: Give us more money even though the schools can't help solve the problem! Whatever PR maven came up with that ought to be fired!
More hand wringing about American science competitiveness in a very interesting New York Times article. Miraculously the public schools are not the scapegoat this time! But the article is all about relative competitiveness -- which obviously matters -- and buried in the middle is this key point:
"Analysts say comparative American declines are an inevitable result of rising standards of living around the globe."
Nonetheless, the Bush Administration's fiscal recklessness is not helping matters, and it’s vital to recruit more Americans from underrepresented groups into the scientific community.
The trick to writing an op-ed about education isn’t having facts, data, analysis, or even silky smooth prose. Instead, there is a particular architecture that rarely fails.
First, start with a quick lede feigning even-handedness or offering backhanded praise.
Second, smear your opponents. Attacks on salaries are always a great strategy because they seem so plausible yet really have little to do with the underlying issue. And, you can never go wrong attacking motivations.
Third, make a few first-person assertions in the remaining space. Arguing that all aspects of education are just different than any other human endeavor is always a safe choice.
Finally, make sure that the line identifying you is at the bottom not the top. That way, most readers will have tuned out before finding out you work on behalf of a special interest group with a vested stake in the issue.
Here is a good example. Eduwonk doesn’t entirely disagree with the basic point. But, for more nuance about a complicated issue try this or this, and for an innovative way to address the problem check out New Leaders for New Schools.
Also, finding school leaders is a real problem.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has vetoed plans for the creation of a Ronald Reagan University. Federal law gives her the right to do so. Here's how the founder of the proposed university told the AP he was coping with the bad news:
"I'm just sitting here watching Fox News and recovering with a scotch in my hand."
In The New York Times Jacques Steinberg takes a brief but entertaining look at collegiate commencement speakers and in the magazine Michael Berube proposes a way out of the college grade inflation thicket.
Update: On The New Republic Online Richard Just says grade inflation is a collective action problem (sorry, link is subscriber only).