Saturday, June 18, 2005
Graduation Day in East Palo Alto
East Palo Alto High School, a charter school operated by the Stanford School of Education, reached a wonderful milestone this week: the four-year-old high school turned out its first class and celebrated the fact that 90% of the graduates, most of whom are disadvantaged, will be going to college. (Full disclosure: I serve on an advisory panel to Stanford’s dean, Deborah Stipek.) Only 40% of the high school students in the Ravenswood district, which serves East Palo Alto, even graduate, let alone go to college. When the class entered the new school four years ago, 60% of them were reading at least two years below grade level. Stanford is beefing up its teacher training program and participants go to EPA High to student teach. Top Stanford professors such as Linda Darling Hammond are involved. All students are offered health services. Stanford undergraduates work as tutors. In March Stanford was granted a charter by the Ravenswood school board to expand the high school to K-12 over the next six years. California, of course, doesn’t allow universities to authorize charter schools directly. That might hurt kids. A bill that would have given public universities and colleges the right to authorize 10 charter schools was killed last year, at the behest of the California Teachers Association.
--Guestblogger Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teachers College, Columbia University
Margaret Spellings and the U.S. Department of Education seem to recognize that flexibility sometimes makes sense. But the good folks in charge at Maurice J. McDonough High School in College Park, Maryland know that rules are rules are rules are rules and that bending them can lead to chaos, cats and dogs lying down together, and the end of civilization as we know it. Though a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, a tie is not a tie is not a tie is not a tie. Thomas Benya, a Native American graduating senior, wore a string bolo tie rather than a Windsor knot under his gown to commencement exercises, a violation of the school’s dress code. (That's the Mandatory! dress code, as it was described in a bulletin to students.) Benya was barred from walking across the stage to receive his diploma. Would that schools were as serious about upholding academic standards as they can be about this kind of silliness. Thanks to the Associated Press, the school's action was reported in papers and on television across the nation.
--Guest blogger Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teachers College, Columbia University
Have you ever come across a new word and then suddenly seemed to hear it and read it everywhere? The past six months or so, the word that keeps popping up is “transitions.” As in the transition from pre-school to kindergarten (it turns out that there are “standards” for what good preschools are supposed to do to help get kids ready for kindergarten), the transition from middle school to high school, and the transition from high school to college.
The other day I came across the 2004-2005 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which focuses on “Transitions and the Role of Supportive Relationships.” The survey included students and 20% of them said that when they entered their current middle school or high school no one helped them find their locker, the bathrooms, or the gym. A quarter said no one pointed them to the cafeteria. And 31% said no one gave them information or guidance about what classes to take! Is it any surprise that many kids aren’t engaged in school and its mission? Any surprise students don’t know what classes they need to take to get prepared for college? Can you imagine starting a new job and not having anyone tell you where to get a cup of coffee or anything about the core mission of the company? The same survey finds that nine in 10 teachers and principals place a high value on strong personal connections with students. There’s lots more good stuff in this survey.
The transition from middle school to high school is getting particular attention, it seems. The Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky recognized the need to focus on kids’ experiences in ninth grade in its recent fine set of recommendations for improving high schools. The recent evaluation of the Talent Development High School Model by MDRC also highlighted the importance of the ninth grade year.
I'll keep an eye out for more mentions of "transitions" as I guest-blog this week.
--Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teachers College, Columbia University
Goldstein Gone Wild…Again
As if on cue, Goldstein goes wild in the Boston Herald again!
Outstanding and interesting series on the voucher program there continues Wednesday and today and through the weekend.
Eduwonk is off for some summer travel including several work trips and a little R and R with the Eduwife. (Her summer is packed as she plans to fly fish in Montana this summer, spend time at the beach in her edukini, do some painting and projects around the edupad, work in the edugarden, and she's got eduwork too...writing a professional development curriculum in her free time.)
Eduwonk's trying to keep up with her and for readers this means Guest Bloggers, and plenty of 'em. Posts by guests will be clearly indicated but you can look for the writing of Richard Colvin starting tomorrow and running through next week. Then Eduwonk returns for a few days before Bryan Hassel takes over for a week. Then, after another week of normal order, Joe Williams steps in for a week. And, from August 3-10, Goldstein goes wild right here on Eduwonk! And, Eduwonk's comrade Sara Mead will likely turn up from time to time as well.
Colvin is director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media and a former education writer for the Los Angeles Times. Hassel runs Public Impact, a North Carolina-based public policy consulting firm (and he's also co-author of the Picky Parents Guide). Williams is an education reporter for the NY Daily News and author of the forthcoming Cheating Our Kids. Goldstein is the founder of the MATCH School in Boston. They're all interesting folks with plenty to say so stay tuned!
This story is bouncing around. Basically, a principal at a school in Orange County got busted for circulating a memo asking teachers to reconsider flunking some students to help with the school's graduation rate. Whatever. This stuff goes on all the time for reasons like this and eligibility for sports and so forth, though most are savvy enough not to write it down! So, though there will be lots of outrage it's really just a good example of why some sort of externally validated accountability is necessary in most human endeavors.
What seems more interesting is the buried lede in the story: The continuing ill-informed hysteria about No Child Left Behind. What really had the principal spooked turned out not to be an issue:
Jones [the principal] added that the school needed 95% of its seniors to graduate, but it actually needed 82.8% under the law — which was achieved.
Eli Broad, call your office.
Larger issue: There are loads of examples of this sort of confusion. Bottom line: Complicated issues = complicated solutions. But, there is plenty of blame to go around (Bush Administration, professional associations, NEA disinformation campaign) for the still -- almost four years in -- appalling amount misinformation about the law and what it requires, does not require, give resources for, not give resources for, etc...This is a serious problem and some real problems are not being addressed while some faux ones get a lot of attention.
School Of Blog Rocks!
Keep your eye on the new School of Blog, another entry in the lefty edublog category. Eduwonk knows one of the authors, very sharp, but beyond showing a little leg here they're not revealing their indentity. So, we won't here beyond noting that one is a former staffer at one of the two national teachers' union headquarters and both work for education related non-profits in Gotham.
They're off to a good start. Check it out.
Ed Week's Hendrie turns-in a home run on charter management organizations complete with a little nuance and intra-charter community debate about the role of these entities (namely that a lot of lefties are starting them and it's the conservative/libertarian types getting bent out of shape -- don't expect that perspective at the next Washington gabfest/bitchfest about charters).
According to the CSLC, nationwide only about 10-14 percent of charters use any sort of non-profit or for-profit management companies (although the percentage is substantially higher in a few states). A must-read.
School construction was a hot issue a few years ago but the debate has mostly moved on to other things. Yet the problem remains acute. It's a classic example of the left-right breakdowns that plague education policymaking. The left basically wants more of the same on infrastructure financing or dubious federal schemes to subsidize school bonds while the right refuses to put any money on the table saying school construction is a state and local issue (Wait, isn't that what many lefties now say about No Child Left Behind? Ummm, yes it is! Boy, hard to figure why so little gets done on education...)
PPI's Sara Mead offers a modernizing solution with resources and reform in the current Education Week.
Good Housekeeping magazine has named Leslye Arsht the grand prize winner of its Award for Women in Government. Arsht, who now works at the Pentagon, is the founder of StandardsWork.
After the end of the second war in Iraq she volunteered to go to the country for a year to help rebuild the elementary and secondary education system there. The effort has been one of the real successes of the post-war period in no small part because of Arsht's tireless efforts and willingness to travel all over the country to work with local Iraqis to help rebuild the schools (figuratively and often literally, too).
Per this post a reader writes:
A general concern raised by both papers is that the “market hasn't worked.” That’s not so. For example, new schools have developed, many have created specialized or innovative programs, parents are exercising their right to choose from among these new schools, and so on. The more nuanced truth is that important pieces of the market haven’t worked like many of us thought they would. For example, the DC and Milwaukee school systems haven’t radically improved as a result of the competition; high-performing voucher schools aren’t replicating and taking a larger share of the market; and low-performing schools aren’t disappearing quickly enough.
The fascinating thing is that the same thing has happened in the charter sector. That is, the best charters haven’t replicated fast enough; the worst charters are harder to close than we thought; and even though charters have more than 20% of the market in DC and Dayton, those systems haven’t undergone a major renaissance.
The ultimate question that the newspapers don’t tackle and that way too few of us in education reform are grappling with in a serious way is, “Why is the education market functioning differently?” Lots of people have pet theories, but almost all of them are incomplete and/or unconvincing (Kolderie and Hess being exceptions).
If we ask that question then we’ll start discussing things like purpose, design, and measurement. And that conversation keeps our eye on the ball (better schools, better schools, better schools...swing!) unlike the longstanding, fruitless ideological battles that have dominated the voucher/charter discussion over the last 15 years.
San Diego Union-Tribune looks at Alan Bersin's Blueprint as he prepares to leave San Diego. Good overview, probably too negative an assessment in places. As Bersin points out, plenty still to be done, but easy to forget how long seven years is in this business and how much things have changed. The next sup't is inheriting a changed district.
Thanks to tipster JB for the link.
MJS series continues...parents don't always chose schools based on academics! Who'd have thunk it? Earlier installments here.
Inside Higher Ed details NIH reading czar Reid Lyon's new venture. Via Educationnews.org
Eduwonk is buried under several deadlines, but thankfully Eduwonk compatriot Sara Mead sent along the following missive to entertain and enlighten you…
I was a bit perplexed by Homeschool Legal Defense Association President Michael’s Smith’s Washington Times op-ed arguing against expanding preschool programs and criticizing the movement to make preschool mandatory. I hadn’t a clue who the “mandatory-preschool advocates” to whom Smith referred are, and since I’m PPI’s preschool analyst, this was more than a little embarrassing. Not to worry though, lifelong learning is our thing here at PPI so I immediately set about Googling to find them. If mandatory preschool advocates are as big a threat as Smith claims, it should be easy, right?
Here’s what I found: In 2002, then-Washington, DC, Councilmember Kevin Chavous proposed lowering DC’s compulsory school attendance age to 3. The bill failed. The Illinois Federation of Teachers once passed a resolution calling for mandatory preschool. They didn't get far either. But, apparently, mandatory preschool is a very hot issue in Malaysia.
That’s about the sum of the mandatory preschool movement. Nationally, only nine states require even kindergarten, let alone preschool. Even the strongest universal preschool advocates—Pre-KNow,
But what I did find was paranoia—loads of it. The same right-wing groups (Eagle Forum, the Family Foundation) that perennially claim to be under attack from liberal public education activists bent on indoctrinating their children into this or that also see a dangerous social engineering scheme in publicly funded preschool. By the logic of the paranoid opponents of universal access to preschool, government funding constitutes an implicit endorsement of “institutionalization” (their preferred term for preschool) and sends a message that parents who don’t send their children to preschool are bad parents. Opponents also argue that universal preschool discourages moms from staying home with kids. (Never mind that 44 percent of children whose moms stay home already attend preschool.) Of course, there is also that perennial favorite of right-and left-wing zealots, the "slippery slope" argument.
Smith cites several dubious studies and expert opinions that say preschool has no benefits and may actually harm children emotionally. Many of these studies conflate preschool and daycare and reflect the poor quality of many current childcare arrangements. Others are based not on evidence but progressive child development theory, in particular the work of Jean Piaget. Although a noted figure in the history of child development theory, Piaget had no access to modern brain research and other scientific evidence that shows children can learn much more, much sooner, than previously believed. My favorite citation, however, comes from an unpublished 1989 lecture by psychologist David A. Scott. He discussed evidence from Soviet Czechoslovakia that children in communist-run compulsory preschool programs fared worse than those cared for at home. Except for preschool, of course, Soviet Czechoslovakia was idyllic and a great roadmap for contemporary U.S. social policy.
I am not a fan of social engineering. I flinch at some of the patriarchal intrusions on poor and immigrant families by the early twentieth century Progressive movement. I’m grateful to have been raised by a stay-at-home mom. But if it’s social engineering to want all parents, if they so choose, to be able to offer their children the kind of preschool enrichment affluent families take for granted, or to want to close the preparation gap between white and minority kindergarteners—which experts estimate accounts for as much as half of the enormous achievement gaps between white and minority high schoolers—then I guess count me in for some publicly funded "institutionalization"...
MJS On Vouchers...The Stalking Horse For Charters?
Eduwonk's colleague New Donkey and Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum are already all over the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel series on the school voucher program in Milwaukee. Articles here and here and don't miss the sidebars. (The Wash. Post also has a front-page story today about the voucher program in D.C.)
Milwaukee is enormously important to the voucher debate. For starters, the program was enacted right when the Chubb and Moe book, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools began the reframing of the school choice debate toward a presentation that emphasized both equity and markets (that it was published by Brookings was symbolically important). Lost in the story of Milwaukee was that while much of the money behind it was from conservative sources, a lot of lefties were taking it to advance the issue there. And, Milwaukee was the first real publicly funded voucher program. So what happens there carries substantive and symbolic weight.
But, as the MJS series shows, what's happening there is a good illustration that school improvement, no matter how you slice it, is hard work and that there are few shortcuts. The voucher schools are not a panacea and the notion that urban private and parochial schools are the educational Ferrari to the public school Pinto is overstated.
How much? We'll we can't really know and that's a major problem. Though they often champion standards and accountability for the public schools, a lot of voucher supporters, the Bush Administration prominent amongst them, go silent when it comes to the program design of voucher programs (see the Post story on D.C.). Pluralistic delivery of public education requires ground rules that are clear, transparent, and uniform. It's worth noting that nine of the voucher schools wouldn't even allow reporters from MJS in to have a look around. That, along with problems documented in the articles, is a pretty stunning lack of public accountability.
However, if you look at the direction things are going in Milwaukee, essentially some efforts from almost all quarters to increase accountability, it's not hard to envision a situation a decade or so from now where these voucher programs end up looking a lot more like good charter school programs in the sense that they have more oversight, "authorizers" take action against low-performers, and there are common metrics for standards, transparency, and accountability. Interesting to think what a good charter authorizer like a Jim Goenner from Central Michigan or Greg Richmond formally of Chicago Public Schools would do if given oversight/authority for the schools receiving voucher money in Milwaukee…
Though the dead-enders will fight it, the reality is that more choice is coming to education. Considering the generally slow pace of policy changes like this, the success voucher proponents have enjoyed over the past 15 years is pretty remarkable (multiple programs, more pending, several key legal victories including a landmark SCOTUS ruling) and speaks to this trend. But, accountability in these voucher programs is a huge and still largely unaddressed problem.
There are some lessons for these voucher programs in the experience so far with charters. In fact, perhaps rather than the common charge that charter schools are a stalking horse for vouchers is backwards and it's really the other way around. Vouchers are the stalking horse for charters. Key characteristics of good charter school programs (good authorizing, transparency and public accountability, minimal but effective regulation, etc…) would take the sharp edges off of vouchers and also reorient these programs toward providing good public education in a community rather than today's public v. private debate. And, when the broader public starts engaging in this debate they're likely to wonder why such measures are not in place now...
Also, New Donkey nails the distinction between vouchers and charters, namely that the latter assumes a role for public oversight that the former does not. This is a major issue. First, because as the MJS notes pointedly:
Parental choice by itself does not assure quality. Some parents pick bad schools - and keep their children in them long after it is clear the schools are failing. This has allowed some of the weakest schools in the program to remain in business.
As an aside, this is actually an enormous issue lurking just below the surface of the charter movement. Does parental choice trump government oversight? Voucher proponents say yes, some charter supporters (those who, as a rule, also support vouchers) say yes, too, but others, Eduwonk among them, say no, it does not, because public money is involved.
This tension in the charter movement -- put crudely, a tension between more and less libertarian factions -- is currently being papered over in no small part because of the relentless and often tendentious attacks on charter schooling that are currently all the rage. In fact, if public education's self-anointed defenders were actually serious about making all this work and not just protecting today's power arrangements, they'd be actively finding ways to make common cause with the public oversight faction of the charter community (instead a lot of educators in that faction end up constantly scratching their heads trying to figure out how they became a "union-buster", "enemy of public schools" or, worse yet in education parlance, "conservative").
Update: Concerning public accountability, one reader writes:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not defending these voucher schools, or any schools that hide from legitimate public oversight. But I’ve spent years now working on projects that required interviews with school personnel, site visits, documentation from the central office, etc., etc. And if you think that refusing to submit to outside evaluation is specifically or even primarily a problem of private/voucher schools, you’re nuts. There’s no stonewaller like the public school stonewaller. Administrative assistants are the worst. And don’t give me all that FERPA crap, either; they just don’t want people snooping around.
That's a fair enough point, it's not just a voucher school problem (though not every public school stonewalls either). But voucher supporters never said that they'd do as well as the public schools, they always said they'd do better...and besides, "they do it, too" isn't much of an argument.
Sac. Bee's Daniel Weintraub turns in a must-read on education and charter schooling. It's California-centric but the themes have broad applicability.
Wash. Post profiles 2005 Teacher of the Year and TFA vet Jason Kamras.
And yes, his being a TFA'er is just anecdotal in terms of their talent, except there is data, too!
Uh oh...another school that must be stopped...otherwise a whole network of them could spring up...what then?
Yikes! In the Wash. Post, Sebastian Mallaby describes still another school that must be stopped and lays out the macro-stakes:
Some enlightened cities take a less hostile view [of options and charters in the public sector]. They want to manage a good portfolio of education options, and they're happy to let innovative start-ups provide some of them; they are not slavishly loyal to the teachers union. But in much of the country, charters face an uphill battle, even though the balance of the evidence suggests that they do better for pupils. Because high schools require large premises and are complex, opening a charter high school is particularly tough.
People who care about inequality should care about this, too. We could roll back the Bush tax cuts -- an excellent objective, certainly -- but the American class system won't soften until inner-city classrooms improve. Education is the last, lumbering public monopoly, and it is not performing: Only 23 percent of blacks and a fifth of Hispanics graduate from high school prepared for a four-year college; a quarter of all college freshmen require some sort of remedial course. So long as this is so, the alarming wealth gap in this country will remain unbridgeable, no matter whether tax policy is designed by Republicans or Democrats.