Saturday, July 31, 2004
Summer Break...And, (Almost) Non-Stop Colvin!
Eduwonk and the Eduwife are off to Alaska for a couple of weeks of sightseeing, fishing, hiking, and blessedly little internet access. The Edupooch will be off pursuing her myriad interests and hobbies.
But, don't despair, Eduwonk's leaving you in good hands. Richard Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media and a longtime education writer, most notably for years at the Los Angeles Times, will be guest blogging on Eduwonk.com for the next two weeks. Richard's a keen observer of the education scene and an all around great guy. Sara Mead, an education analyst at PPI, will be contributing some, too. Here, here, here, here, here, and here are some other things by Sara. See you August 16!
A Little (important) Summer Reading...And, Return of the Steiner!
NYT's Gootman reports on big special education news there. Two words: Class action.
Dan Butin of Gettysburg College challenges David Steiner's research on education schools in TC Record. Butin's methods do not completely engage with Steiner's argument and he, too, seems to advance the argument that syllabi are largely irrelevant to course content. But it's the first empirical challenge to Steiner so it's worth reading. Yes, if it were not vacation season it might be all Steiner all the time again here at Eduwonk! Instead, you'll have to wait until September 10, when these two square off in a morning debate at the Progressive Policy Institute about these issues.
DCEdublog is all over the superintendent hiring situation in D.C. and the passing of former D.C. superintendent Barbara Sizemore.
New education resolutions from the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors involving education.
The mayors passed a slew of resolutions (PDF) but several focus on education, including an important one on teacher quality and how mayors can better support teachers. The variety of ways mayors are getting involved on education is a trend to watch.
The governors have some new ones too, particularly an important one on charter schools. In the world of wonkdom, the gov's going on record like this is significant.
Al Sharpton's History
A lot of buzz today about Al Sharpton's speech at the Democratic Convention last night, particularly this line which some have interpreted as an attack on President Bush as a segregationist:
I suggest to you tonight that if George Bush had selected the court in '54, Clarence Thomas would have never got to law school.
Whatever the intent of the line, Sharpton's history is a little off. By 1954, the year of the first Brown decision, the SCOTUS had explicitly dealt with segregation in law schools and higher education in cases like Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, Sipuel v. Oklahoma, Sweatt v. Painter, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma. They helped lay the groundwork for Brown.
Ed Week reports that William Bennett's education company, K12, may have benefited from sweetheart contracts from the United States Department of Education. K12 has received $4.1 million in federal dollars in the past two years.
From Ed Week:
An Education Week review of federal and state documents, as well as information from sources familiar with the grantmaking process, shows that K12 and its Arkansas partner received the grant despite the fact that one project that independent reviewers rated higher was not funded. The choice of a lower-rated proposal over a higher-rated one in the department’s competitive-grant process is highly unusual, according to sources inside and outside the department.
The project received approval from political appointees even though some employees inside the department questioned whether it fit a basic criterion for the program: that the students benefiting from the grant attend public schools.
Education Department officials acknowledge that the office of the deputy secretary of education chose to finance the Arkansas-based project even after department employees who managed the competitive-grant program initially recommended a slate of 10 projects that did not include the online school.
The department picked the project because it was "especially innovative," said Susan Aspey, an Education Department spokeswoman.
Ms. Aspey also said department officials were satisfied that the Arkansas online school is a public school because its students are enrolled in a local public school even though they do not attend it.
But even the head of the online school for Mr. Bennett’s company said that it is not a public school. In fact, earlier this year, the Arkansas legislature refused to fund it as a public charter school.
Many people who have worked at the Education Department say the agency’s grant award went against practices of previous administrations. In the competitive-grant process, the department almost always funds projects that peer reviewers rate the best, said Thomas W. Fagan, a former department employee who managed dozens of competitive-grant programs during his 29 years of service under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
"We were very scrupulous about going with the peer reviewers’ recommendations," added Christopher T. Cross, speaking of his tenure at the department under former President George H.W. Bush. "I don’t remember ever going against the peer reviewers’ recommendations."
...One department employee contends that officials of the current Bush administration acted out of political interests in making the Arkansas award and failed to follow the congressional intent for the grant program or the department’s procedures for awarding competitive grants.
"Anything with Bill Bennett’s name on it was going to get funded," said the employee, who has knowledge of how the department decided to make the grant to K12. The employee asked not to be identified.
Gee, this sounds so out of character for the Bush Administration...What are the odds that Congressional Republicans (who not so long ago were very concerned about departmental mismanagement) seriously look into this? Bennett probably knows the morning line on that!
In yesterday's WSJ ($) Daniel Golden reports on one of the five (plus two) underreported education stories, discussing the NEA's membership woes:
The rise of nonunion teacher associations is helping erode the longstanding clout of the NEA, the nation's biggest union, with 2.7 million members. Rival nonunion groups have amassed at least 250,000 predominantly rural and suburban members in 18 states -- including recent start-ups in Washington state, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia -- by offering lower dues, a less-confrontational attitude toward school boards and fewer social pronouncements than the NEA. Now, after years of growth, NEA membership and revenue are leveling off, and younger teachers are less inclined than older teachers to agree with union positions.
The NEA's travails have broad significance for education in the U.S. The union has used its clout to increase education spending and shrink class sizes. But it has also defended the status quo, fighting measures to hold teachers accountable for student test scores and to offer parents more choices in their children's schooling.
Any weakness in the union would also have big political ripples. One of the Democratic Party's staunchest allies, the NEA has a substantial presence at this week's Democratic Convention. About 6% of delegates and alternates are NEA members.
NEA membership growth started to flatten three years ago. In 2002-03, membership declined from the prior year in 20 states. Nationwide, membership among teachers and other school personnel -- excluding members such as students and retirees, who pay much less in dues -- increased 9,262, or 0.4%. For 2003-2004, the union again anticipates growth of less than 1%.
Golden, however, notes that some of the alternative unions are no longer eschewing political involvement which seems sure to create problems for them.
Also in yesterday's WSJ, June Kronholz looks at Senator John Kerry's relationship with the NEA:
But the unions are wrapping their support for Mr. Kerry around opposition to President Bush's No Child Left Behind education program. "Today many of our public schools are straining under the so-called No Child Left Behind law," Mr. Weaver declared to the Democratic convention last night. "This law is underfunded and threatens to leave even more children behind." The unions are demanding changes to an initiative that many Democrats voted for and still generally support.
That could be a price that Mr. Kerry may be unable, or unwilling, to pay. The Massachusetts senator has generally endorsed the NEA's "fix it and fund it" mantra for No Child Left Behind. He promises more money to implement the law. He opposes judging schools by test scores alone, and proposes adding graduation rates and teacher and student attendance as other measures of school quality required by statute.
But Mr. Kerry hasn't promised big changes unions want, such as scrapping the "adequate yearly progress" measure that determines how schools are performing. And some of his proposals make teachers see red. In exchange for money to recruit, train and pay raises to teachers, he wants to make it easier for schools to fire those who are incompetent. Mr. Kerry calls for tougher teacher-certification tests -- someone with about a 10th-grade education could pass them now -- and for "rewards" for teachers who show "more skill or better results."
That has unions worried. Paying different salaries to different teachers based on their performance or the subject they teach "strikes at the heart of unionism," says Diane Shust, the NEA's chief lobbyist. But such ideas play well with voters, though, and give Mr. Kerry the added protection of not appearing beholden to the unions.
Incidentally, from the same article:
Democratic pollster Peter Hart warns that "you lose" by arguing for more money for the schools without demanding something in return.
If these are not must-reads then no such animal exists!
Elsewhere, some back and forth on charter school funding in PA. And, transferring teachers in Orlando is causing some angst. Via Educationnews.org
Meanwhile, some schools are looking into Atkins style menus. We need weighted student formulas!
A.M. Hat Trick...And, Still More To Like From Freedman
Plenty of news today but don't miss this look at supplemental services in LA, the second part of Samuel Freedman's look at education on the West Bank, and this NYT look at the Chicago plan. Eduwonk's said it before and will say it again: That Freedman fellow is really good. He's a keeper!
If you're interested in Higher Ed issues don't miss Stephen Burd's explosive look at lobbying over the higher education reauthorization bill in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
"Policy doesn't count anymore," says Thomas R. Wolanin, a former Democratic Congressional aide who helped manage three previous renewals of the Higher Education Act. "It's all about politics and power, and who gets money, and not about broad discussions of public policy. And Democrats are not much better than Republicans on this score."
Plenty more. People are chattering about this one. And, it's only going to get more interesting as the election goes forward. Kerry - Edwards lean toward direct lending.
What happens when National Education Association state affiliates get into labor disputes with their unionized employees? Well, as it turns out, solidarity and pro-labor positions are the first thing to go. As this new report (PDF) shows, in multiple instances over the last decade the NEA has used the same hardball tactics against its own employees that are rightly denounced when employed elsewhere.
"...unfair labor practice charges and restraining orders. Circumvents the other side’s negotiators. Threatens to replace employees who go on strike. Cuts off employee health insurance coverage. Crosses picket lines.
Are these the tactics an unenlightened corporation or reactionary entrepreneur uses against workers? No, they are standard operating procedures whenever state affiliates of the National Education Association (NEA) enter labor negotiations with their own employees."
They've even called the Pinkertons!
Although the outfit publishing the report looks pretty right leaning, they seem to have the facts here. Hans Moleman should write about this...
Perverse Irony Afterthought: This makes all the nonsensical rhetoric from state NEA affliliates about charter schools being a union busting tool all the more ironic. If they were, then these guys would probably be opening them!
More than just the usual suspects greeting the NLRB graduate student decision with praise...
Not from Eduwonk, this time from Jay Mathews.
In the 2000 presidential race, with education a salient issue, the candidate's poll numbers on education (e.g. "Who Do You Trust...") moved independently of other numbers. But this time they seem to move in concert with broader perceptions of the candidates.
The new ABC News/Washington Post poll is further evidence. A month ago, when asked who they trust to handle education voters preferred Kerry 52-43. When asked the same question last week the answer was still Kerry, but only 45 -44. Yet nothing major happened on education in the last month, no big Bush push or Kerry mishap. Instead, how the voters view Bush and Kerry on education seems to largely be a function of how they view them on other issues voters consider more important right now. If Kerry gets a bounce coming out of the convention then expect those numbers to move again.
Though education analysts hate to admit it, since it's the issue we generally care most about, this election is going to turn on issues besides education. But, there's hope! Education will probably still be a framing issue, meaning both candidates can use it to help shape broader perceptions of their candidacies.
Boston Globe reports on some middle school students covering the convention for their school newspaper.
And, from an anti-NCLB ad in the Globe:
Passed by a bipartisan vote, NCLB will close the majority of American elementary schools, or will allow them to be taken over by the state or profit-making businesses. NCLB. . .
*Shifts control of most aspects of education from states to Washington ideologues
*Drives students and teachers out of schools and encourages lying about the facts
*Limits and proscribes educational research
*Bases all decision-making on test scores
*Labels effective schools as failing and effective teachers as unqualified
*Controls who may teach and how they teach
*Mandates archaic methods and materials
*Uses blacklists to banish professionals, institutions, methods, and books
*Punishes diversity in schools
Well, they got one right. It apparently does encourage lying about the facts.
Who paid for this ad anyway? Can't be cheap in the convention supplement. That sounds like a good question for Ed Week's reporter on the scene to look into...seemingly more interesting than buttons...
Update: Turns out, according to a reliable source, that the ad only cost about $11K, which is, almost, chump change. In fact, by Eduwonk's rough estimate it's only about $733 per falsehood -- a real bargain in today's economy! Anyway, forget the previous question.
Two Cheap Shots
In today's long Washington Post profile of Senator John Kerry the writer mentions his 1998 speech calling for reforming teacher "tenure" in elementary and secondary schools but then notes that, "he [Kerry] took on a premier Democratic interest group in 1998 -- teachers unions -- in a speech calling for "an end to tenure as we know it." (He said nothing about tenure in this year's primaries.)"
That's true, but incomplete. In May, as the campaign turned toward substance Kerry offered a teacher quality proposal that included "tenure" reform. Had the primaries been more about ideas than anger this might be a fair charge, but alas, they were not.
On National Review Online Chester Finn says that the Gore - Lieberman plan was gutsier than the current Kerry plan (though, inexplicably, at the time Finn characterized the Gore - Lieberman proposals as a, "vast expansion of Uncle Sam's involvement in the country's schools" and a "Potomac power grab" and charged that they were "overlooking reality").
Finn is right that education policywise the 2004 race is a bit of a snoozer but that's because both candidates are hamstrung by the fact that there was bipartisan action on education early in Bush's term. Now, going forward, what voters should look for is not soaring rhetoric or ridiculous promises but rather which candidate is going to actually do more to help realize the ambitious achievement gap closing goals put forward by No Child Left Behind.
On that score, Eduwonk has noted that President Bush's pantry seems to be a little empty these days while Kerry has offered good, albeit not sexy, ideas like improving teacher quality and doing something about the graduation rate problem. That's fine though, the rules of the game are now in place and for the most part it's going to be won by gaining a couple of yards in a cloud of dust, not Hail Mary passes.
Great news from Buffalo and Pennsylvania. Pretty good news from Kansas City.
Also, updated charter school guidance from the Department of Education. Several changes, but most important, in Eduwonk's view, the new guidance clarifies that a charter school that receives funds under the federal charter school program and has more applicants than seats can weight its lottery in favor of students seeking to change schools under No Child Left Behind's public school choice provisions.
A Department of Ed aide tells Eduwonk that some school districts are planning on getting into charters "big time" as a way to address supply problems. Considering the source, though, Eduwonk can only wonder, is this major league?
In Los Angeles bad news for Roy Romer's critics, good news for everyone else.
George Will takes a break from attacking John Kerry to write about reading and the recent National Endowment for the Arts reading study.
The Department of Education takes a break from needlessly complicating No Child Left Behind implementation to host some useful conferences for teachers. Reports LA Times:
Several teachers, such as Mission Viejo biology teacher Jim Sink, welcomed the reminder that beneath all the policy debate about No Child, the law is "just a title on a concept, and the concept is kids learning.
"When the law was dumped on our doorstep, there wasn't any detailed explanation about what it means," Sink said. "Not all my students [succeed]. And these workshops have given me some ideas on how to help them."
But teacher unions were dismissive of the summer tour. Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the National Education Assn., said the workshops did nothing to address the union's concerns about insufficient funding, strict wording on teacher credentials and rigid demands on student testing.
Libertarian voucher advocate Casey Lartigue Jr. writes about various academics he encountered at Harvard as he was testing out his political philosophy during his undergraduate years. He liked Al Shanker a lot but says Gary Orfield shouted at him that, "I was the "kind of black person who turns his back on other blacks.""
If you're following NCLB implementation, keep an eye on this.
Sorta new data on the new GED, fewer students taking it, more passing. Via educationnews.org.