Friday, May 21, 2004
Klein on Charter Schools
It's fair to say that Joel Klein has made some slips as chancellor of the New York City schools. It's also fair to say, however, that his intentions are right, his instincts mostly so, and he's wrestling with an extremely tough situation.
To the latter points, do not miss his recent remarks on public charter schools which you can find here. A few highlights:
So why is it, that I —the public schools Chancellor— am an unalloyed supporter of charter schools? Frankly it’s simple: educators, families, and children want good schools. Charters are one way to create them. Charters bring in new blood. These are leaders and entrepreneurs who are not otherwise part of the system. They are people with ideas, with creativity, and who are willing to give their all for their students. On that central basis, when we have a city where there are thousands of kids not getting the education that they need and deserve, I don’t see why we would in any way shut down more options and new opportunities. In the end, I want to see every kid in New York City in a school that each and every one of you will be proud of. If those schools come from the traditional public sector or the charter sector, that’s fine with me.
I think we should support charters for another reason. Public education in large urban areas in the United States has failed. This is a somewhat heretical thing for a schools Chancellor to say. But if we are not going to be candid, I don’t think we can take the kind of steps we need to make the necessary changes. New York City is actually one of the best urban school systems in the United States, but by any measure, I guarantee you that at least half, probably more than half, of our students are not remotely getting the education they deserve...
...So why have we had so many decades of reform and so little change? I think it is because people continue to focus on program-based reform. They are unwilling to get their heads around the fact that in large urban areas the culture of public education is broken. If you don’t fix this culture, then you are not going to be able to make the kind of changes that are needed. Programmatic reform is important: curricula, class size, after-school programs, summer school—those things are very important. But unless we are prepared to deal with the culture in public education, I don’t think we can get the kinds of results that we need for our kids.
Read the whole thing...
Eduwonk Flashback! Even the UFT is thinking about opening a charter school in NYC...
The new Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights report notes that Vermont only has four schools identified as "needing improvement" under No Child Left Behind. Upon learning this, one Democratic wag on the Hill told Eduwonk, "FOUR schools? What the hell was Howard Dean so pissed off about and why is [Vermont Senator] Jeffords still such a sourpuss?"
Secret Weapon? If the Bushies had any sense they'd muzzle Rod Paige, Gene Hickok, and even the President himself and just send out the First Lady to talk about education if this story from The Oregonian is any indication...Karen Symms Gallagher writes in USA Today that college rankings are bunk...and in the LA Times Crispin Sartwell says the same thing about student writing -- and he's borderline unhinged over it...when political scientists attack! The Plain Dealer editorial page thinks that Common Good is on the right track. And, schools in Kansas will stay open after all, despite unresolved school finance issues.
In Friday's NYT Stanley Fish takes a provocative look at the role of academics and universities, Michelle O'Donnell reports on the most entertaining financial audit to come along in a while, and David Herszenhorn updates the messy elections for parent councils in NYC.
Finally, in the LA Times Erika Hayasaki looks at the problem of cheating on tests --by teachers-- which in the eyes of some is apparently excusable...
Eduwonk Does All Steiner All the Time!
Several readers have emailed to ask exactly what sort of bias and/or rigor David Steiner is getting at in his analysis of education school curricula. The easiest way to find out is to read the study.
Short of that, here's a quick example. This is the suggested reading list for incoming students to Stanford University's STEP program, a one year teacher preparation program leading to certification and a master's degree. The problem with the list is not what's on it, it is what's missing. It includes important historians like David Tyack and Larry Cuban (yes there is a Stanford connection but they're important regardless), gifted writers like Mike Rose, and thoughtful critics of contemporary education like Deborah Meier. Yet the list overwhelmingly slants toward one point of view. Missing are classic examinations of education in society, for instance, The Republic, influential texts like Rousseau (you want to blame the French for something then start with Emile...), or -- in terms of balance -- contemporary writers and analysts, for instance, E.D. Hirsch, Diane Ravitch, John McWhorter, or even the late John Ogbu among others.
Hold the outrage, Eduwonk's not saying that Hirsch, Ravitch, and the rest offer some sort of absolute truth or are not open to criticism, but they do present important viewpoints about unsettled issues that are part of a well-rounded understanding of various viewpoints about education. Even a book like Chubb and Moe's "Politics, Markets and America's Schools", which is certainly open to criticism, presents a different perspective on problems in contemporary American education that students must be able to engage with. (Why? Well, for starters because liberals are doing a terrible job of refuting Chubb and Moe's argument right now either intellectually or through effective public policy. At least learning the argument instead of assuming the ostrich posture might be a good way to start turning that around...)
If all those books are just too many "conservatives" for Stanford to swallow (though Hirsch is actually a lefty, something lost on his critics) then even a single critique like Kieran Egan's "Getting It Wrong from the Beginning" could at least serve to provide some balance and tip-off thoughtful students that there is more than one way of thinking about these issues. Yet neither the reading list nor the course syllabi available on the website indicate that these divergent viewpoints are presented...
Want more? Read Steiner's chapter yourself.
Afterthought: Where is Dewey? He doesn't make the cut either. Some sort of weird pseudo-rap East Coast - West Coast thing, or just an oversight? Dewey fell out of favor some in the 1960s but Eduwonk sort of thought he was back...no? Update: Reader DW emails to point out a Dewey cameo in one class!
Odds On Afterthought: What's the over-under on the number of under-represented authors that will ever be added to this list?
Another fumble by the Washington, D.C. school system is putting in jeopardy $13 million in new funds for the schools that were to accompany the new voucher pilot program there. Don't miss the frustration quote by Gregory McCarthy. Joanne Jacobs writes up the Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia, an improving urban district with a great leader that has been nominated for the Broad Prize, she also highlights Bill Cosby's controversial remarks from the other night.
In the NYT David Herszenhorn tells of a controversy about New York's selective Stuyvesant High School which apparently admitted too few students last year. Joe Nathan and Frederick Hess both repeatedly point out that the "skimming" charge leveled at public charter schools is pretty disingenuous because formalized admission requirements are a fixture in many traditional public schools (and because charters are prohibited from skimming anyway although a small amount likely goes on). Also, the NYT thankfully reports that President Bush's war on racial equality is over!
Per an earlier item, they did give state education commissioner Yecke the boot in MN.
This Christian Science Monitor story about No Child's public school choice provisions buries the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights report mentioning it only after the usual gibberish about futility and the provisions being a proxy for vouchers...no mention of opening new public schools to create more seats either...they're doing that in LA and elsewhere...no fun highlighting solutions though!
Finally, two reasons to read the Toledo Blade: (a) The Mud Hens (b) This story with political and educational implications.
No More Whispering
If you needed more evidence that David Steiner was on to something with his controversial research...Dan Drezner, Matthew Yglesias, and Mickey Kaus can't all be wrong!
Drezner probably ought to sleep with one eye open for a while...if you're in a hurry skip to Mickey Kaus, who skips right to the chase...both eyes open...(you have to scroll down for Kaus, he's prolific)
Articles from Boston and Indiana discuss charter schools and integration. Charters do tend to disproportionately serve minority students, but that's not evidence of pernicious segregation but rather that these students are least likely to be well served by the traditional public schools and most likely to be seeking other options.
Integrated schools are preferable to segregated ones and are an important goal. But, because of housing patterns and the broken urban core in many cities urban schools tend to be segregated by race and income (its capital flight not just white flight). And, unless several pro-busing jurists are appointed to the Supreme Court or Americans radically change how they live over the next several years that is not going to change.
So policymakers must continue to pursue pro-integration policies but not at the expense of addressing urgent problems right now. Otherwise, integration becomes one more issue like heath care or funding that while vitally important ends up being another excuse for the failure to educate minority students now wherever they live or go to school.
Afterthought: Isn't this the problem with the Democratic argument against vouchers? Yes! Minority parents want good educational options now, not unproven plans with a time horizon that often exceeds the amount of time their children will even be in school. So, despite their obvious problems as a public policy, vouchers will continue to be an easy argument for Republicans until Democrats forthrightly embrace ideas like public school choice and charter schools that help offer immediate relief to parents while addressing some of the shortcomings of vouchers. It's also why until they embrace serious alternatives to vouchers, voucher opponents look ridiculous each time large numbers of minority parents opt to participate in school choice programs again illustrating the severity of urban educational problems. This excellent New York Times column by Samuel G. Freedman sheds more light on the issue. Must read!
Didn't Clinton embrace charters? Ummm...yes! And his political career turned out OK!
Update! Important new report from the Citizens' Commission On Civil Rights about NCLB's public school choice provisions, you know, the ones that are allegedly designed to destroy the public schools. Turns out, according to CCCR that NCLB's public school choice provisions are, "used much more widely than previously reported and [have] educational and other benefits for students." Hmmm...CCCR must be some right-wing group...No! They're a left-wing pro-civil rights organization...
More concern about racial disparities in special education, this time in New York. The New York Post's Kenneth Lovett and Carl Campanile say don't forget the achievement gap either. In USA Today the editorial board laments the lack of innovation in public education, Arnold Fege argues that, on the contrary, there is "innovation fatigue". And, while Condi Rice is rebuilding Iraq, her cousin wants to rebuild public schools here...uh oh. Joanne Jacobs notes the irony that just as colleges are starting to de-emphasize the SAT, some employers are starting to emphasize it...Also, don't miss Anne Applebaum's Washington Post look at how we teach history, pegged to Brown but really larger.
Want a little more Brown? Eugene Volokh discusses it here and here. Worth reading, particularly for 14th Amendment fetishists...
Finally, this week's 21st Century Schools Project Bulletin is now online, lots of stuff not on Eduwonk. You can subscribe to get it by email here.
Eduwonk Blows the Whistle on a Whispering Campaign
William Buckley said in any debate whoever resorts to insults first has lost. If that’s true then David Steiner has soundly beaten his critics.
Steiner, a Boston University education professor, is the author of a controversial chapter in the new book "A Qualified Teacher In Every Classroom? Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas" published by Harvard Education Press. (PPI’s Andrew J. Rotherham is a co-editor, and the full chapter list is available here). Steiner's chapter looks at the course of study in elite education programs in the United States. Specifically he and colleague Susan Rozen analyze syllabi from 16 teacher preparation programs (14 top tier and two comparison schools) as measured against a framework of what they consider to be a rigorous and high quality program.
The results are not encouraging. Steiner and Rozen found a pervasive ideological slant and a lack of rigor. They're certainly not the first to raise these issues, but they are among the first to try to systematically analyze them because of the difficulty of compiling data on a varied set of courses and program requirements. Steiner's data is less complete than he'd like. Steiner acknowledges the shortcomings and invites others to review the data (for reasons of confidentiality he cannot publicly disclose the specific courses he analyzed) and replicate and expand his work.
Steiner first presented his work at a 2003 conference in Washington and then subsequently revised it for publication based on feedback at the conference. Yet before the book even hit the shelves he found himself at the receiving end of a nasty whispering campaign. Rather than disprove his findings, or -- even better -- just put syllabi on the web to facilitate easier analysis by others, defenders of the status quo in schools of education have derided Steiner, often in personal terms. You won't see much of this criticism in print with a name attached to it. But mention his work at a conference and you'll get an earful, not about the ins and outs of the work but instead just claims about what garbage it is and what a hack Steiner allegedly is.
In addition, rather than defend what they’re teaching, schools of education argue that syllabi are largely irrelevant to what goes on in courses (that disclosure might come as a surprise to tuition paying parents, students, and taxpayers) or that Steiner's framework is flawed. Surprisingly no one is yet rising to defend the syllabi or reading lists and forthrightly say that, "this is what we teach and we're proud of it!"
A praiseworthy exception is Dan Butin, a sociology of education professor at Gettysburg College. Butin is challenging some of Steiner's findings as they relate to social foundations of education programs. His critique will be published in the online Teachers College Record later this year, and the 21st Century Schools Project will subsequently host a debate between Butin and Steiner.
What is needed is exactly that, debates, discussion, and more research instead of whispering campaigns, personal attacks, and intellectual McCarthyism. If nothing else, the mostly underhanded response to Steiner's study is pretty damning evidence that he's probably a lot more right than wrong! Read it for yourself and decide.
Ironic They Eat Their Own Afterthought: By the way, Steiner's not a Lynne Cheney type or an ideologue, he's basically a lefty! Don't step out of line with this crowd...
Update: Dan Drezner agrees and notes that his syllabi are a pretty good indication of the content of his courses...
Paul Kimmelman challenges the idea that No Child Left Behind means schools have to crowd out music and the arts. He says that, as schools respond to demands for better achievement, too frequently they are doing more -- for example, more math or more reading -- but they are not teaching these subjects any differently. This is a potentially debilitating strategy because more is not always better.
His point -- that how you teach is as important as how long you teach -- is well worth heeding. Kimmelman encourages schools to use data to improve instruction and briefly suggests how. His admonition applies to the debate over retention v. social promotion, too...
Update: Here is the issue in practice. Link thanks to Educationnews.org.
More misleading studies about whether the current regime of state teacher certification guarantees quality. Kate Walsh does a good job debunking them here. The Education Commission of the States did its level best to put a good face on the value of existing certification schemes last summer and couldn't. Dan Goldhaber has it about right in his chapter in this book. It's well past time to get serious about reforming this antiquated system.
They say in education there are not many good new ideas but the bad ones keep coming back again and again. Though not a pessimist, today Eduwonk is inclined to believe that. At a Capitol Hill event today Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will roll out his latest GI Bill for Kids proposal, a $500 grant to every middle and lower-class school child now called "Pell Grants for Kids". You can read more about the proposal in this Education Next article.
Alexander deserves credit for style. He's announcing the plan at a forum sponsored by the New America Foundation where critics can question him. Too often both sides in the school voucher debate release studies and new proposals in comfortable surroundings confronted only by the adoring gaze of supporters. But a willingness to debate a bad idea does not make it any better.
Alexander first proposed the GI Bill for Kids in 1992 when he was U.S. Secretary of Education and continued to pitch it during the 1990s. It was worth $1,000 back then. That's only about $850 in today’s dollars, so today’s $500 bid is further retrenchment. If there is any good reason to pass this proposal now, it is simply to do so while there is something left.
Like a worn through flannel shirt the times, however, have passed Alexander by. No Child Left Behind includes a substantial provision providing parents with grants for supplemental educational services (tutoring) if their child is in a persistently low-performing school. Eduwonk is somewhat skeptical of the mechanics of this policy in practice, but it is a de facto Pell Grant for Kids now.
Moreover, $500 isn't much. Alexander himself acknowledges as much. In Education Next he writes that,
But private school tuition costs far more than $500. Correct. So those who worry that vouchers will hurt public schools should relax. But six hundred parents armed with $500 each can exercise $300,000 in consumer power at a public middle school. Five hundred dollars can also help pay for language lessons or remedial help. At Puente Learning Center in South Los Angeles, Sister Jennie Lechtenberg teaches students of all ages English and clerical skills at an average cost to the center of $500 per year.
The $300K example, while compelling, ignores problems of collective action. Besides, Puente Learning Center sounds like the sort of supplemental services provider No Child’s architects had in mind. And in any event Eduwonk would like to see parents be able to use their child's full per-pupil expenditure, not some token amount, at the public school or charter school of their choice.
If Alexander is seeking to tickle a consumer culture among parents he's too late there too. The wealth of data that No Child is creating is empowering parents to become more sophisticated advocates on behalf of their children and their schools. Below the radar screen of the Washington debate, that's happening now.
Sadly, the only thing weaker than the arguments for this proposal will likely be the ritualistic arguments against it. Pell Grants for Kids will not "drain money from public schools", "undermine" them, or frankly in any other way substantially affect education. And that is precisely the problem: This idea does nothing except make a very expensive political point.
Eduwonk is all for helping parents. Why instead not propose giving every low and middle income parent a $500 (or for the sake of nostalgia $1,000) refundable increase in the child tax credit? Then parents can do with that money what they choose...what a downright Republican idea! Or, Alexander could focus his energies on improving No Child's supplemental services provisions.
Why is Alexander not focusing his energy and substantial expertise on these issues? The answer is obvious. While expanding the child tax credit or improving supplemental services could have much the same effect as the GI Bill for Kids cum Pell Grant for Kids if parents chose, those policies would not make a political point about school choice. That political point is, of course, the underlying purpose of this whole exercise.
Alexander's proposal is not harmful it is, well, pretty meaningless. It is a $2.5 billion a year political gimmick. It should be treated as such, meaning not seriously.
Not surprisingly a lot of good coverage and commentary on Brown. In The New York Times Justice Stephen Breyer writes about the significance of the decision but UVA's Michael J. Klarman says the ruling was less counter-majoritarian than it seems. On the same page Andrew Sullivan looks at the decision in light of the current debate about gay marriage and Albert Preston of DC's Sousa Middle School reflects on Brown and his experience as a teacher.
Conversely, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle Clarence Johnson wonders "if we have spent too much time integrating classrooms and too little time figuring out how to truly guarantee our children a quality education."
The Washington Post's William Raspberry comes down in the middle. The Post's Michael Dobbs examines school segregation in one community and also at how Brown impacted Secretary of Education Rod Paige's thinking. And, NYT's Greg Winters today looks at school finance and Brown in an article that will probably leave some readers hungry. In the Christian Science Monitor Gail Russell Chaddock examines teacher quality in relation to Brown, it's a must-read, particularly the apparent sign of NEA movement on the issue.
And, if you want more of a Brown fix, here and here are other recent articles and commentary.
Afterthought: Not to take anything away from Brown, it's very important -- and hopefully Brown II will get some attention next year too -- but is it just Eduwonk or have the other education related cases (for instance higher ed cases like, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, Spiuel v. Oklahoma, Sweatt v. Painter, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma) that paved the way for Brown been ignored during this anniversary. They're interesting by themselves and show that this was a process, change is slow and hard...something to keep in mind today.
Brown Coverage and Commentary
Too much interesting discussion and reflection on the Brown anniversary to round it all up here. National and regional newspapers are devoting the kind of attention to the anniversary that it deserves, so you'll have to read with more than just deliberate speed to get more than a sample. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times Sunday book sections have good reviews of new books and don't miss Greg Winter's provocative story in the Sunday NYT.