Friday, May 28, 2004
We know (or at least fervently hope) Eduwonk is not your only source of daily information and also know that with the myriad political, policy, and education blogs out there, we've got some pretty stiff competition for your time.
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Also, Eduwonk is going to be spending time this holiday weekend with the Eduwife and the Edupooch so posting will be light, if at all, but we'll be back Tuesday.
South Carolina is on the verge of passing important improvements to their charter school law by creating a statewide charter school district. It's important legislation made even sweeter by $20 million in promised philanthropic support if the law passes. Yet aside from the usual reactionary opposition to expanding charter schooling, this proposal (you can read both the House and Senate proposals here) is encountering opposition from charter school supporters too.
In its weekly email the Washington-based Center for Education Reform announced that because the law provides state-level funding for charter schools instead of allocating a pro-rata share of local school district funding it should be opposed. CER wrote that, "The law sets a bad policy and a dangerous precedent. Allowing districts to collect funds and distribute them unequally among public school children, and then relying on the state to make up the difference in funding, is contrary to the intent that charters should be treated equally and not require new operational funding to support each school."
Put plainly, this is not a good reason to oppose this legislation. First, several others states use this arrangement -- including Arizona, which has certainly not suffered from a lack of charter schools -- so it's not unprecedented or sure to set charter funding up as a political target by de-linking it from district finances. And sure, all else equal, charter schools should be integrated into existing financing arrangements. But all else is rarely equal right now. And, the "intent" of charters, as Eduwonk sees it, is to create more high quality options for students, not to make some political point about education funding. If the state is going to have to spend more money on education to make a good charter plan work, Eduwonk won't lose a minute of sleep about that. In this case, neither should charter supporters because it's an issue to agree to disagree about rather than allow to be an obstacle to improving state charter school laws.
Consistency Afterthought: Didn't CER support the federal Washington, DC, voucher plan even though it was new funding not integrated into the city's school finance scheme? They did! Enthusiastically! In fact, that program included a bunch of new money for the DC schools too...Hmmm...perhaps this is consistency...
Bonus Inside Charter Baseball Afterthought: Eduwonk has mixed views in the ongoing debate about whether it's better for a state to pass a weak charter law or no charter law at all but this South Carolina plan is not weak, especially in light of SC's history.
The New York Times' Sam Dillon takes an important look at rural education and school closures.
Meow! The Washington Post reports that DC Mayor Tony Williams and Rudy Crew are feuding and School Board Chair Cafritz is taking pot shots at the Mayor...Gee, why aren't people lining up for the DC sup't job? The Post also reports that the hiring of Jack Dale for the Fairfax County sup't job is official. Much less bloody than DC...
Also in The Post, Terry Neal discusses the politics of education and Hispanics. NCLB Misinformation Watch: Neal reports on a Zogby poll finding that a "slight majority" of Hispanics are opposed to NCLB's provisions that reduce federal funding for schools that don't meet state standards. Interesting hypothetical question, sure, but NCLB has no such requirement...read the story anyway, it's very interesting. Bonus Delayed NLCB Misinformation Watch: A recent Weekly Standard article reports on NLCB and mentions the voucher provisions several times...again, no such provisions...no wonder the public is confused about this law...
Sandy Feldman and the AFT
Eduwonk is sorry to report that Sandra Feldman, President of the American Federation of Teachers is stepping down for health reasons. We'll write more on the AFT leadership transition, and what it potentially means policywise and politically, down the road. For now suffice it to say that Feldman was a leader in the real sense of that word. Her entire career bears that out, but most notably in recent years she has resisted efforts to take a hard line on No Child Left Behind that would have satisfied vocal elements of her membership but harmed the cause of equity for poor and minority youngsters. She has also taken important steps that are paving the way for more modernized compensation schemes for teachers that take into account challenging assignments, special skills, and outstanding service. Though critics want to see sweeping change immediately that's rarely how change works and it is often the work behind the scenes that matters more.
Although we surely did not agree on everything, Eduwonk never doubted that Feldman is motivated by an overwhelming desire to improve American education and serve American students. In today's polarized climate her shoes will be very big ones to fill.
If Eduwonk had ten dollars for every time someone asks whether No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is underfunded or unfunded...well, you'd be reading gonefishingwonk.com right now. It's understandable that there are a lot of questions about this, because it's a hard question to answer. In classic Washington style, the answer depends on what you mean by under-funded.
Technically NCLB is not an unfunded mandate. That's because NCLB, like most other federal education aid, is conditional aid, meaning states accept it based on also accepting certain requirements. Of course, some argue that: (a) States cannot afford not to take the money, and (b) In the case of a law like IDEA, the federal special education law, states and schools are obligated to meet other mandates anyway so they might as well take the money. Both points are valid and could perhaps lead to an argument that these programs are de facto mandates. But, technically, they're not unfunded mandates in the generally accepted use of that term.
So is NCLB underfunded? Well, that too is definitional. Congress passes most domestic policy legislation in two phases. First, when laws are passed Congress authorizes an amount that can be spent, a ceiling. Then, each year, Congress decides how much to spend. NCLB spending is now more than $7 billion under that ceiling, so it is underfunded in the sense that Congress could spend more on it within the bounds of the law. But nothing obligates Congress to spend that much, and many programs are perennially funded under the levels authorized by law.
So, does NCLB need more funding? In the last Education Next James Peyser and Robert Costrell argue that for the most part the funding is sufficient. By contrast, Vermont school superintendent William J. Mathis argues that the funding is wildly insufficient (he gets some aspects of NCLB wrong, but for the point of this discussion focus on the funding debate). Read the articles yourself and decide. Eduwonk thinks that Peyser and Costrell get the best of the debate except for one key problem they ignore--the politics of implementation. [Masochists can click here and here for more Peyser/Costrell -- Mathis back and forth in Education Week.]
Whether the law is funded or not is something of an academic question for those charged with implementing it. For them money is the grease and the leverage that makes implementation work. Whether or not existing resources could be used better (and of course they could, something that many cost estimates overlook by assuming that current spending patterns are fixed) a lot of current spending is tied up in personnel because of the labor intensive nature of education, and reallocating that is no mean task.
The Bush administration's failure to see this and use money strategically to advance the law's goals is one of the big failures of their implementation effort. Not only could they have removed a key political argument against the law, they could have helped those charged with making it work by giving them crucial leverage. Considering their overall approach to fiscal discipline this approach seems especially pennywise-pound foolish. The administration does not seem to understand the role of money in policymaking. They passed a reform-light Medicare bill we can barely afford and a reform-heavy education bill without enough money behind it...
More Money Afterthought: We're talking about funding in the overall generic sense here...Eduwonk still thinks specific NCLB-oriented activities like test development, public school choice and charter schools, and teacher quality remain underfunded.
Must-Read Philadelphia Inquirer article about teacher quality in urban schools...based on student accounts. That No Child Left Behind emphasis on ensuring that poor kids get good teachers sure is a terrible idea that progressives must resist tooth and nail!
The Chicago Tribune also urges attention to this problem and highlights Teach For America as one option.
The Star-Tribune says current "steps and lanes" pay schemes must go. And The Washington Post's Karen Chenoweth offers some sensible advice to parents learning whether particular teachers are "highly qualified."
The Washington Post weighs in on controversy over $13 million in federal funding for DC public schools that was supposed to accompany the DC voucher plan but is now being held up by Congressional appropriators who argue the district doesn't have a plan to use the funds. Maryland teachers unions are seeking to derail plans for a graduation exit exam in the state. More commentary on Bill Cosby's remarks, from NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund President Theodore Shaw. The Education Trust releases a disturbing new report on college graduation rates. Newsweek also takes a look at why students are taking longer to graduate from college. NYT reports on the response to Gov. George Pataki's proposed school funding plan to meet court-ordered mandates to improve funding equity in the state and for New York City schools in particular.
And, you can listen to a talk radio discussion of teacher pay and the Denver pay-for-performance pilot here. Click on the May 25th show.
Eduwonk cannot understand the reflexive opposition from many left-leaning groups to publicly financed single sex education options for students. Perhaps the Bush administration's recent attempts to frame the issue as a Bush initiative are engendering natural suspicion, but that's a weak basis for opposition when people like Senator Hillary Clinton support it, too...
A Christian Science Monitor article discusses the issue and showcases the concerns of opponents of single sex public school programs. These boil down to: (a) these programs are not supported by a body of research, (b) this is the first step on a slippery slope to gender discrimination, and (c) kids need to learn to interact with everyone.
Fair, but certainly not decisive, points. There is not a preponderance of empirical evidence in favor of single-sex schools (though there is some anecdotal evidence), but there also is no evidence that it hurts kids, either. Besides, considering some of their favorite programs, single-sex opponents are skating on very thin ice when they start demanding research as the base for any policy change. [But isn't this in opposition to the emphasis on more rigorous research as the basis for policy? No! There is a difference between large-scale policy prescriptions, for instance on reading or teacher qualifications, and creating space for innovations like this.]
The slippery slope argument just seems sort of absurd because we're talking not about mandatory assignment of students to single sex classrooms or schools, but instead about offering more public options and a more customized public setting to parents who seek it. Most supporters of providing single sex options, including Eduwonk, would balk at any sort of mandatory program. No one is being forced into single sex education; schools are just making one more option available. Finally, of course kids do need to learn to get along with others, but that can (and does) happen in settings besides school and the classroom and does not trump the advantage some students may gain academically or socially in single sex settings at some point in their schooling.
Just a thought: Considering all the various pressures on the public purse shouldn't progressives be championing ideas that broaden support for public sector services by making them more customized and responsive to citizen demand rather than alienating various constituencies at every turn?
In The New York Times Samuel G. Freedman writes about college ROTC graduates and their post-collegiate life in a dangerous world, great piece worth checking out.
Tendentiousness Watch: Meanwhile, Michael Winerip writes on small classes and good teachers but still can't bring himself to say anything positive about No Child Left Behind (hint: teacher quality matters even more than class size, which is why NCLB emphasizes it....) BTW--If the NYT is holding some sort of audition for Freedman for the education columnist slot, it seems to Eduwonk like a no-brainer even after only two weeks. He writes interesting stuff, is fun to read, and -- at least thus far -- has not revealed any ideological blindspot. If not Freedman, then someone please launch a bring back Rothstein drive!
More Class Size Ridiculousness: Also, while we're on it, Winerip offers a new argument for small classes: It's easier to spot and weed out incompetent teachers. Huh? So cap class size at 20, hire more teachers, and then weed out the incompetent ones? And he says that No Child Left Behind is illogical? Incidentally, in California, the apparent model for Winerip's new, let's call it "flush 'em out," approach to teacher quality, poor kids and minority kids ended up with less qualified teachers because of mandatory class size reduction. Why? All the new teaching positions it created in affluent schools attracted talent without any offsetting incentives for high poverty schools. Perhaps this is at least better than Winerip's old argument that California's class size experiment was a great success. For more see "Size Matters" here. Make that draft Rothstein now!
The Palm Beach Post looks at more -- in a seemingly endless string of -- voucher shenanigans in Florida...accountability anyone? And, in Fairfax County the likely new superintendent is doing the rounds, says The Washington Post. Note the acid comment from the head of the local teachers association...trouble. On the Post Op-ed page Harold Meyerson points out that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is a lot more fiscal predator than kindergarten cop.
The Denver Post writes on the voucher lawsuit there but lays off the really interesting part of the story. Voucher supporter Ken Salazar, the enormously popular (and very talented) Democratic State Attorney General, is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic Senate nominee this year. Every Senate seat counts this year, and the NEA is having no fun squaring that circle...
An excellent new study from RAND looks at the challenges that journalists, foundation program officers, and others face interpreting and understanding the reams of data that No Child Left Behing is producing. Well worth reading.
On Friday June 4, the 21st Century Schools Project will host a forum looking at the relationship between teachers unions and charter schools. That's right, a live wonk-a-thon and you're invited! Most people think that unions and charters are mutually exclusive, but a new Education Commission of the States report says they don’t necessarily need to be. Collective Bargaining and Teachers Unions in a Charter District argues that creating new educational options for disadvantaged students on a large scale will require charter school and urban district leaders to engage constructively with teachers unions and collective bargaining agreements. Conversely, in an era of increased choice and accountability, teachers unions must give their members greater flexibility for creating innovative and effective methods to educate their students. This requires reassessing collective bargaining agreements, while also acknowledging why many provisions were put into the agreements in the first place. The report is based on the work of an ECS task force that brought together union leaders, school districts, and charter school operators and supporters for thoughtful dialogue around these issues.
You can join the report's authors Alex Medler, Bryan Hassel and Todd Ziebarth for a discussion about these issues on Friday, June 4 at 9:30AM. Space is limited. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. The forum will be held at the Progressive Policy Institute's offices in Washington, D.C.
If you live near Washington, D.C., the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy is holding an art auction on June 10, at the The Josephine Butler Parks Center from 6-9PM. Enjoy both a silent and live auction while drinking wine, eating great (Eduwonk's been told so) hors-d’oeuvres, and meeting the great students, staff, and supporters of Chavez. Student and professional art will be featured. For tickets email Kate McGreevy at email@example.com
A Little Randomness on Randomized Trials...And, More Bungling by the ED Dep’t Bushies?
A very important must-read article in the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the state of play in the debate about education research. It's a longish treatment of an issue that a lot of people are rightly buzzing about.
Read the whole thing but serious Eduwonketeers should not miss:
A) Russ Whitehurst, head of the Department of Education's research institute, citing the unfavorable after-school study as an example of how rigorous research can influence policy. Bad example Russ! The study was sound, but the Bush Administration using it to justify a 40 percent cut in the after-school program was a caricature of the claims by critics of more rigorous research...
B) The claim by University of Pennsylvania's Robert F. Boruch that fewer than 10 percent of American Educational Research Association members are "knowledgeable about randomized trials". Hmmm...fewer than 10 percent? Perhaps it falls to Eduwonk to defend the colleges of education here, less than 10 percent...that seems unbelievable...
C) The subtle attack on Rick Hess by Paul S. Shaker.* Nice one Paul! But you should have stopped there, the vaguely conspiratorial stuff about the dark forces behind all this is not only silly but very late 1990s...
D) The argument by purveyors of single case studies and other small N qualitative research techniques that randomized trials might not have external validity...some might not, but c'mon...
E) The claim that people in colleges of education have been "clubbed into acquiescence" by proponents of more randomized research. Eduwonk was at AERA this year, the volume of complaining about and resistance to this issue was Cicada-like...acquiescence? No.
F) Tim Hacsi of Harvard deliberately furthering the myth and spin that No Child Left Behind is overwhelmingly based on the experience of Texas...
Yes, everyone got their licks in here! And that -- aside from the vital importance of the issue -- is why it is important, it's a roadmap for idle chit chat in the hallway of your next conference or meeting!
*If you don't get it, buy, borrow, or steal this book.
Update! A concerned citizen/well-connected reader requesting anonymity emails with more! Is the What Works Clearinghouse touted by the Administration in the Chronicle article another mismanaged Bush Administration education initiative? You decide:
The Department of Education has spent more than $15 million on the What Works Clearinghouse so far from 2002-2004 ($3 million FY02, $5 million FY03, $7 million FY04) and is proposing to spend an additional $7 million again in FY2005. They are also supplementing this funding through the national technology funding account. But, to date taxpayers and the customers of the clearinghouse have nothing to show for it. The website hasn't been updated with new material since July, 2003. The last e-mail update from the Clearinghouse was February 5, 2004 to announce that they were adding their first special topic, "Character Education Interventions: Benefits for Character Traits, Behavioral, and Academic Outcomes." [Eduwonk note, that sounds in character, meaning very politically driven!] When I e-mailed a question to the clearinghouse it took one full month to get an an e-mail reply.
From what I have heard, when they finally do roll out their initial 5 topics, the number of entries will be ridiculously narrow. The contractors are also behind schedule and probably have missed a majority of their due dates in the contract ED prepared. Its probably more a product of unrealistic timelines prepared by ED, but give me a break. The evaluators registry which was supposed to be on-line in 2003 is not slated to go on-line until later this year. They blame the delay on OMB clearance.
And I won't even get into the fact that Paige is touting that the clearinghouse will evaluate and grade commercial products and curriculum which is against the law. Can't wait for the lawsuits.
The New York Times editorial page comes out strong for direct loans...Secretary of Education Rod Paige comes out strong for No Child Left Behind in Wisconsin and takes aim at the lawsuit being discussed there.
In the Christian Science Monitor Steve Byrd strongly cautions about over-emphasis on grades...and black and Hispanic clergy members came out strong for public school choice yesterday in New Jersey (don't miss the quotes at the end of this one...).
In The Washington Post Jay Mathews makes a strong case for programs that boost college participation rates and a front page story looks at the leading candidate for the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent slot and the disagreement about the candidate and the process.
And, Joanne Jacobs notes that Bill Cosby continues to strongly emphasize the same themes he did in remarks in Washington last week.
The National Center for Education Statistics has created a new website that is a database on various state reform issues. Not too in-depth but a handy resource nonetheless.
Finally, here is more information on those horrible NCLB sanctions from AIR.
Update: In his online column Jay Mathews strongly supports another rigorous college prep strategy, an AZ charter school focusing on AP classes.
Teacher Hiring Hypocrisy
An article in last week's Education Week reports on the relatively common practice of school districts using automatic telephone or standardized in-person screening devices for prospective teaching candidates and describes new innovations like a new online assessment for the same purpose. Candidates who pass these screens are then interviewed by a real person. It's an efficiency measure.
But wait a minute! Isn't this basically what the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is supposed to do -- arm prospective teachers with a credential that they can then present to real people in schools and school districts who make hiring decisions? And isn't one argument against the American Board that no single test or screen could possibly substitute for all the personal interaction that should (but often does not) constitute the hiring process. (Of course, as Frederick Hess tirelessly points out, this argument against allowing more people to apply for teaching jobs conflates allowing someone to apply for a job with actually offering him one.)
No wait, not fair, you say! Anyone taking one of these screening assessments will already be state certified, so that guarantees some sort of base level of quality that ABCTE candidates might not have because they only passed a test, right? Well, actually, no. Contrary to accepted wisdom the research shows no such thing...Mickey Kaus summarized the state of play reasonably accurately when he noted recently that today most teacher prep courses are "largely crap" and "leftish PC time-wasters designed to perpetuate the stranglehold of the unions and the education establishment over who becomes a teacher." Anecdotally, teachers themselves privately say as much. By the way, Kaus isn't quoting from any study...but he's pretty much on the mark...For a reasonably concise indictment click here.
So let's get this straight. These new online assessments and other automations are OK, but an alternative like ABCTE is not. Hmmm...they come from the inside so they're OK; ABCTE, regardless of rigor (and it is rigorous), comes from the outside so it's a favorite bete noir for ed schools...sounds like ideology over evidence...and ideology over pragmatism...
Beating A Dead Horse Afterthought: Hey! Wasn't Dewey for pragmatism? Sure, but they don't teach him anymore anyway!
Over the weekend The Washington Post's Colbert I. King discussed Bill Cosby's controversial remarks from last week. Amazingly, the only other place the Post has been running discussion of Cosby's provocative comments has been in the gossip column...
Tamar Lewin looked at the new SAT in the NYT. Kaplan, the test prep company, is touting the opportunity that the class of 2006 has to take both versions of the SAT as a "unique one time advantage"...Eduwonk is sure that high school students taking the SAT an extra time feel the same way since it's such a barrel of laughs...
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discusses different strategies to close the achievement gap, and Newsday takes a long look at racial isolation in schools in New York and revisits the same issue in today's paper.
In Monday's papers The New York Post takes on NYC Chancellor Joel Klein over school finance and NYT readers respond to Stanley Fish. Boston students are putting together their own guide to the city's schools, and not everyone is happy about it, though to his credit Boston Superintendent Tom Payzant is. In The Washington Post Spencer Hsu writes about the superintendent search in Fairfax County, the nation's 12th largest school system, and the disappointment of the local teachers association and parent groups that they were not more involved in the selection (read allowed to turn it into a three ring circus around various single issues...). Also in the Post, local education ace Rosalind Helderman takes an interesting look at the dynamics of playground building at schools.
Finally, it's a safe bet that Armstrong Williams will not be speaking at the annual NEA convention this summer...