Saturday, August 13, 2005
Couple of good reads sent along by readers:
Wash Post editorial board takes teacher training to the woodshed...or the gulag as it were...CCCR's William Taylor opines on the recent NAEP scores...And, it's good that there are still wild places.
Per this post a concerned reader writes:
Does the new server cost so much more that you're resorting to product placements? For chocolate even - in this time of a national obesity epidemic. Think of the kids!
Remember, It's All About The Kids!
Steve Barr takes on the establishment in LA. Worth reading the entire article, good primer on how screwed-up things are, last few grafs are priceless. Barr pays his teachers more but the local union can't get on board with that...worth noting that the teachers a Barr’s schools are unionized, it's just a modified contract...
Eduwonk is back, and baffled. At the time of departure there was a mostly constructive push toward using scientifically-based evidence in education led in no small part by the Bush Administration. Upon return it’s all intelligent-design all the time…wasn’t the rap on this president that he’s stubbornly resistant to change?
Eduwonk finds himself in Utah now at a very interesting NGA meeting…and they’re serving Dove Bars as a snack! Nice, but get ‘em now, that won’t last under the Huckabee regime…
Thanks to Michael Goldstein for a great week last week. Look for more guest bloggers in the future to keep things lively.
Also, readers may have noted a technical glitch in the last 24 hours that caused the site to be down for a while. Sorry, we’re moving the blog to a new server. Should be fixed now but please pardon any more interruptions.
That’s what prompted the letter below from a concerned reader. Rest easy, all is well.
I see that Eduwonk is down. That's a shame. But was predictable. You pushed your French talk too far and were likely fingered as a traitor. I suspect you have been incarcerated and are being reprogrammed. Best of luck with that.
EducationNews.org pointed us towards a rich discussion about "What Teacher Attributes Are Necessary to Succeed in High-Poverty Schools?"
Researcher Martin Haberman's "description of one group of teachers as quitter/failers (see Jenny D yesterday), which at first sounds rather offensive (but stay with him), forms the basis of his argument that careful, thorough selection of teachers for high poverty areas is imperative."
"According to Haberman, 'quitter/failers' can be quite articulate in explaining 'why they cannot continue to work with children who are physically and emotionally not ready to learn, in unsafe and nonconducive school climates, required to teach irrelevant curriculum unaligned to achievements tests, supervised by irrational principals, burdened by large classes, with inadequate materials and equipment, and buried in paper-work from chaotic central offices.'"
"However, he says, effective teachers working in the same district, in the same building and with the very same children, are willing to assume responsibility and be accountable for their children's learning even though they have no control over their working conditions, or the parents, or the students' out-of-school lives. "
"Effective teachers see ensuring success in school as a matter of life and death for children who may well be unaware and unappreciative of their services. Such teachers are internally motivated and persist in spite of few external rewards. These belief systems and the perceptions they shape cannot be taught in programs of teacher preparation."
Somehow I suspect Haberman makes too much sense to be taught at many Ed Schools.
- Guest blogger GGW
Craving test data? Over at DC Education Blog, Nathan is analyzing the latest charter school scores.
Some teachers union officials care deeply about the failing kids, and want to tackle the achievement gap head on, rather than oppose every plausible reform except for more and more spending.
“It’s not good for a union to say anyone can walk into a classroom and teach,” she (Maryland teachers union president) said. “It diminishes the work we do.” See EdWeek's Staff Investment Pays Dividends in Maryland District. She endorses the district's "weed and feed" strategy, which invests a lot in teacher training, peer reviews new teachers, and ixne's the weak ones.
Meanwhile, other union officials try the Wag the Dog approach: find an enemy and declare war, in order to distract your members from your inability to do anything about their real problems. See the Boston Globe's Some Charter Teachers Join Union.
So far, the bark is worse than the bite.
48 out of 2,000 Massachusetts charter school teachers (spread over 12 schools) got a new "Associate Membership," which means they get a monthly magazine and discounted liability insurance and some pizza coupons, and the union gets a nice newspaper headline.
But it's not like any school is about to have a vote on whether to unionize - the impression given by the headline. Does that mean MA charters should be cavalier about the threat? Of course not.
1. On the Maryland story, lots of investment into Research For Better Teaching. GGW is a fan: practical, specific methods to improve student outcomes. RBT should have its own Graduate School of Education: they would set the standard. If you're not familiar with this outfit, try The Skillful Teacher on for size.
2. I'm curious how many of the 48 teachers work at big charters. The one quoted in the story is from Boston Renaissance. This was originally an Edison School, founded in 1993. It teetered along for awhile, then severed its Edison contract. But it was left with the Edison model: serve 1200 kids and therefore 100 or so teachers. (Most Boston charters serve 200 to 300 kids).
With that many teachers, it makes the challenge of charter teacher participation so much harder. A single principal can't possibly build the same depth of personal relationships with 100 as he might with, say, 25 teachers. Was it Deborah Meier who said "A small school is one where all the teachers can fit in a circle in a single classroom" or something along those lines?
The large institution intrinsically becomes more bureaucratic, less "We're a family business, and instead of expecting administration to solve everything, we all chip in."
And while small charters can use their collective personal networking to identify a couple good teachers each year - Joe's niece who just finished Teach For America; Keesha's neighbor who taught the last couple years at a Catholic school slated to close - big charters are often hiring in bulk, and therefore need HR machines. Without the personal touch, the HR machines are more likely to snare more disaffected teachers who couldn't get jobs elsewhere - prime union targets.
That's not to say "small is automatically good" (the 2 charters revoked in MA last year were both small) and "big = bad" (c.f., Shaq). It's fair to say, however, that "big = bigger challenge."
3. Long-term, GGW believes: for some charters, this could be a healthy kick in the butt to some charter leaders to communicate more clearly with teachers, thereby strengthening schools and improving achievement. After all, charter leaders should be able to make the case to teachers that the school's flexbility (and often longer hours) pays off.
For other charters, this may nudge leaders into conversations with teachers that move away from the KIPP "Effort = Success" motto, where required teacher training and after-school help for kids is reduced.
4. Biggest union obstacle to organizing charters may be those charter teachers who used to work in traditional unionized district schools. They have no illusions about what life would be like; they've lived it.
- Guest blogger GGW
Must read post from Jenny D:
"In my study, we find two kinds teachers in urban schools--those who really care and those who don't. Of those who care, some report working hard to come up with better ways to teach disadvantaged kids, and some report struggling just to do the work everyday in a challenging setting."
"So, one group has mastered some practices that work, and has moved into a more demanding phase. But they often do so in isolation, and without good support or feedback. Remember, these teachers are working side by side with those who don't care, and those who struggle."
"The fact that only a third or a quarter of teachers in these schools are achieving some kind of mastery is disturbing. We need to do more to a) help the skilled teachers maximize their practice, b) support the struggling teachers who care, and c) get rid of the people who don't care."
- Guest blogger GGW
“We've got to end this rampant dishonesty about graduation rates,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, said earlier this year. “If we are going to prepare students for the challenges of college, work, and life, we need to transform our high schools.
Bravo! But we have a two-tier problem on our hands. One is how many urban 9th graders ever get to walk across the state and get a high school diploma. The other is that most of the kids who do walk across that stage start college and never finish.
And let's point the finger of blame squarely at ourselves, shall we? MATCH School, like many small high-poverty high schools (often charters), touts our 100% rate of college admissions. While true, the reality is that stat by itself is not meaningful.
The real question should be: of a particular high school's graduates, how many actually earn a college degree?
Calling Ed Trust: Build a database where, every year, all universities send you the number of its graduates from each sending high school. Then you compile the ultimate college graduation rate of each high school in the nation.
No doubt some schools where teachers truly pushed the kids academically would stick out for well-deserved praise, whereas some diploma mills where kids were socially promoted and sent to college unable to plod through a dense Intro To Archaeology textbook, or unable to write a coherent essay, would be cold-busted.
Bonus: Such a database would create a chance for a Thernstroms versus Sizer smackdown, on No Excuses versus Coalition. That is, which type of school truly better prepares low-income minority students for college success: nuts-and-bolts-rigor KIPP, or The project-based (drink), individual-learning-plan (drink) Met?
Michael Lewis's Moneyball chronicles how a pro baseball team has revolutionized the sport by rejecting the most common, popular baseball statistics (batting average) and instead using new ones that measure what really matters (on-base percentage).
Measuring the college graduation rate (instead of the college admission rate) of each high school could have a similar transformative effect on our industry.
Meanwhile, our charter school does the best we can: we pay our grads $50 for copies of their college report cards (creating a feedback loop for our teachers on where the curriculum needs improvement). If any other high-poverty school leaders, or scholars, have college GPA or retention data on their grads, give me a holler at Goldstein2003@aol.com to compare notes.
- Guest blogger GGW
"The Charter School Leadership Council, the nation’s leading nonprofit representing the voice of the charter school movement, announced today that it has changed its name to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to better reflect its mission."
Nice move. At the golf this weekend, we were paired with kindly retiree whose daughter teachers at a Florida charter school. "You work at a charter here in Boston? Great. Now, that's a private school right? I mean, the students pay tuition and all?"
So getting citizens to understand the "public" in "public charter schools" is a big priority for the movement.
Just as abortion opponents have tried to frame pro-choice as "pro-abortion", charter opponents try to use language like "privately-run."
In a related story, when Eduwonk (the man, the myth, the bassmaster) returns, he is rumored to be changing his blog's name to this.
- Guest blogger GGW
Add Cleveland to the list of cities seeking superintendents.
The Plain Dealer: "What happened? Observers cite several reasons for [Superintendent] Byrd-Bennett's plummeting public image and Friday's resignation announcement: the district's crushing money problems, voters' resentment over her high salary and other perks, intense media scrutiny of her missteps, and a sometimes chilly relationship with Mayor Jane Campbell.
Another view: "'She expects her principals and teachers to work hard, and that has caused problems,' said Arnold Pinkney, campaign chairman for a number of school campaigns. 'She's very disciplined.'"
Meanwhile, Boston is gearing up for its own search.
"'This is a great job, and it's a terrible job,' said Tim Quinn, director of the Broad Superintendents Academy, financed by the Broad Foundation of Los Angeles. 'It's a great job because the system is not broken. The system is functional. It is on the right track. . . . The tough thing about the job for someone new to the superintendency is they have to follow Tom Payzant, and he is revered around the country.'"
"The job has its challenges. Reilinger said that the ''number one issue' for the next superintendent will be to close the achievement gap that separates whites and Asians from blacks and Hispanics. Last year, 33 percent of black 10th-graders and 31 percent of Hispanic 10th-graders failed the math portion of the state MCAS test. Just 14 percent of white students failed, and 11 percent of Asian students failed. Reilinger also wants the new schools chief to improve work with the city's parents. In addition, the dropout rate remains high, with roughly 1 out of 5 ninth-graders never making it to graduation, according to school system figures."
- Guest blogger GGW
An econ major writes about the post below: "The one point that you didn't mention is that while Mr. Average (there will be no calling teachers by their first names here) is #50 (out of 100) with a class 30, he could very well be of equivalent quality as #20 with a class size of 15. "
Thank you, econ major. But we disagree.
The argument about class size reduction effect basically boils down to two....economists!
Stanford's Eric Hanushek on class size takes the gigantic Tennessee STAR data set (the main evidence for those who support class size reduction) and actually refutes THAT - ie, ZERO gain, he says, from class size reduction.
Princeton's Alan Krueger re-analyzes Hanushek, and makes an argument that in effect that Hanushek is wrong and the data says there IS a gain in student achievement, but it's in the neighborhood of one TENTH of a standard deviation of gain.
[For uber-wonks, you can read about this debate in a 2002 collection from Economic Policy Institute. It's the dork equivalent of Ali-Frazier.]
So the #50 teacher, as you know from your normal curve, would have to get almost a FULL standard deviation of improvement from class size reduction in order to hit #20. In the BEST case, if Krueger is right, the #50 teacher moves to....#47 out of 100 or so.
Don't worry, readers! We realize this is wonkishness on steroids. The plan is to cut back immediately to just the Human Growth Hormone, i.e., to "pull a Giambi." The real Eduwonk will be back in just a couple days....
Oh yes, that reminds me. He wants you to read Teachers Consider Merit Pay in my local paper. I know, I know - it's like the vacationing teacher still assigning homework for the sub to give out. Totally unfair.
- Guest blogger GGW
1. Let's say we ranked 100 biology teachers in order of effectiveness. (Punt for a moment on how we decide the rankings).
2. You're the principal. You can hire the #40 teacher and the #60 teacher - each will teach 4 classes per day of 20 kids each. Or you can hire the #10 teacher who will teach 5 classes per day of 32 kids each. Which do you choose?
3. Assuming you're not brain dead, you chose the latter. This begs the question: why can't the best teachers be involved in choosing their class size and total student load?
Doctors often choose their patient loads: they may be happier spending more time per patient, even if they receive less compensation. Same with lawyers.
But not teachers.
I'm pretty sure MATCH School in Boston had the #1 biology teacher in all the land for the last 3 years. But Glenn and his wife had a baby, moved to NYC to be closer to family, now signed on with NYC Center for Charter School Excellence, a great new outfit.
What if we could have said - Glenn, if you double your teaching load and we'll double your salary? Would he have stayed?
[Okay, logistically we couldn't have done that - we don't have enough kids taking biology, and our classrooms physically aren't big enough to hold more than 30 kids, even if the kids held their breath all period long. ]
But what if each big high school could tag its Jaime Escalante type of teacher as a "Franchise Player" like they do in the NFL? He/she could earn twice the salary for teaching twice the kids; 50% more to teach 50% more kids; or keep things status quo. Heck, we see college professors with class sizes of 100 and 200 and 300. The point is that a great teacher with 100 kids is better than the typical teacher with 25 or 20 or 15.
So now we have Jaime Escalante teaching a double load if he wants to: win-win for him and for the kids, lose-lose for the mediocre teacher he just displaced and the union. Again, in this thought experiment, what's the logical next step? Escalante does the same things a doctor would do: reinvests some of his salary gains in getting lower-cost help...a nurse practioner for the doc, a teaching assistant for the teacher. He also gets some cleaning help at home.
The naysayers will whine that Jaime's teaching quality will decline blah blah blah. Of course. If Jaime was #1 with 100 kids he'd probably slip to #10 with 200 kids. But not all the way down to #50.
Econ majors unite: the real question is how do we maximize "total utility?" Do kids learn more with Jaime at #10 with 200 kids, or do the same 200 kids do better when half are with Jaime at #1 and half with Joe Average at #50?
Heck, another way to slice this is to forget about money. Let's just ask: a typical high school history teacher might repeat the exact same lecture to 30 kids, 4 times a day, one hour per class.
What if she could choose to teach 60 kids in lecture format, two times per day? That would leave her with 2 additional hours per day. She could require struggling kids to come to her for extra help. She could nail all the kids who weren't paying attention and have them join her for 2-hour-per-night detentions until they understood the basic rules of lecture hall.
Or what if she had a really tough period 3 class of 30 kids, and instead was willing to teach an extra period each day in exchange for dividing that one "tough" class into two groups of 15?
Lots of logistical obstacles, Evil Empire obstacles, etc. But in a galaxy far, far away, one can imagine a system that does not just provide for student choice, but a parallel system of true teacher choice, with enormous variation in potential earnings and daily schedule, so long as teachers as measured for their ability to generate value-add gains in student achievement.
- Guest blogger GGW
Today's NY Times - no data yet, but big feature on small schools anyway....
"In the beginning I wasn't too happy because they were so unorganized," said Marlene McLeod, whose son, Justin, attends Peace and Diversity [High School in NYC]. But she said she had quickly learned that the principal, Andrew M. L. Turay, was running a different type of public school, and she decided to become active in the PTA for the first time in years.
"I feel so good because he knows me by name; he knows my child," she said. "You just get the feeling everybody cares. It got me involved." At Justin's old school, Middle School 142, she said: "I didn't even bother. You couldn't even get through to the school; the phone just rang."
That's the good stuff. The hidden underbelly, of course, is that small high-poverty schools everywhere are learning the Catch 22: you can't do it right without workaholic wunderkind teachers, but they are hard to keep in the teaching profession.
"Ms. Ostrem, 29, who graduated from Princeton and earned a master's degree in environmental engineering at Columbia, said she did not know how long she could keep up the pace, which she described as more grueling than at the Lawrenceville School, a New Jersey boarding school where she taught for a year and lived with her students. 'It's certainly rewarding enough so far, because when you do know the kids that well, you see the small steps every day,' she said. 'It's also definitely really hard to see having the energy to do this in even five more years, in a way that it never crossed my mind at Lawrenceville, that I would run out of energy for teaching.' She added: 'I abandoned all else in my life this year. How long can I do that? How long am I willing to do that?'"
Solutions? The Teaching Commission has ideas.
- Guest blogger GGW
Today's Detroit Free Press: "Come February, the college prep classes at high schools across the nation will be audited amid concerns that some schools may be offering watered-down versions of AP courses. Full descriptions of every AP course, syllabus, sample assignment and sample exam for the 2007-08 year will be reviewed."
This is great news. For a long time, College Board has looked away while up to 60% of students who took AP Courses (to look good on their college applications) never took the actual AP Exams. Almost all of these kids attended either suburban high schools or elite, exam-admission-only public schools like Stuyvesant and Boston Latin.
In the last two years, however, there's been a move of AP expansion to include more black, Hispanic, and low-income kids. This has freaked out some of the veteran AP teachers (who didn't seem to mind the old problem), a debate well chronicled by the Washington Post's Jay Mathews (GGW has weighed in, too, on Eduwonk).
GGW's only question: instead of "auditing" the syllabi et al, why not simply require that all kids taking AP classes actually take the test? Shouldn't that be an expectation - if you want to claim you took an AP course, you need to take the test? It's no shame to fail: for kids, they learn what college rigor is really like; for schools, teachers work together using the AP data to make adjustments on how to improve their classes.
And then schools with repeatedly low test-taking rates and low scores could be audited by College Board. Who knows: if they found a well-intentioned team of teachers who simply weren't succeeding, maybe they could provide the sort of training that would help the kids learn the tough stuff.
- Guest Blogger GGW