Saturday, August 27, 2005
Look See, It's Phonicsgate!
Title I Monitor takes on Reading First in a big investigative piece. Smart money says even more going on than is in here...could be a rich vein...second term scandals not unheard of...think Seinfeld...
Some backstory here.
Eduwonk's not back yet but is back online...they even have wireless these days at 8200'...amazing.
Thanks to Charles Pyle for the last few days. And, Eduwonk does agree with his post below, the Department of Ed continues to be all thumbs politically. Don't underestimate how much some of the anti-NCLB grumbling from states has less to do with substance than personality and process...
Flexibility! Now how about a little courtesy
Gotta hand it to the press office at the U.S. Department of Education. USDOE conducted a conference call for Virginia education writers regarding a pilot program announced today allowing Title I schools in Year One in four of our districts to offer tutoring instead of choice. Smart move on their part to speak directly to our Virginia education writers. It would have been helpful on this end to have an idea of what was going on.
Virginia DOE received an e-mail and a fax on the approval of the pilot program, but no notice that USDOE's press office was conducting virtual press conference. This is a continuation of a pattern in which USDOE schedules events without giving the state education agency a "head's up" of their plans. In my last post, I pulled a quote of Sec. Spellings from yesterday's USDOE back-to-school news release. Here is another quote:
"No Child Left Behind is a partnership, not a mandate," she said. "I take that partnership seriously."
Making sure the locals are in the loop has done wonders for the relationship between Virginia DOE and our 132 school districts during the ten years since the commonwealth began its standards-based reform. A similar approach by USDOE would likely improve its NCLB "partnership" with the states.
Remember - views of the substitute blogger do not necessarily reflect those of the Eduwonk!
Good morning Eduwonk fans!
Substitute blogger Charles Pyle of the Virginia Department of Education here, signing in on my last day of substitute blogging duty.
This is a busy time here at the department. Schools are reopening across the state. State law specifies the day after Labor Day as the first day of school in Virginia but more than half of our school districts (or divisions as we call them here) have waivers from the Board of Education and begin instruction in August. Many schools in the mountains, valleys, and highlands of Southwestern Virginia actually begin instruction in mid-August, which is why we here at VDOE slam to get AYP ratings out in the middle of the month.
It has been a busy week. We are still fielding lots of calls about AYP from reporters milking downstream stories. Sometimes I feel like an answering machine: "Press '1' for a general discussion of AYP. Press '2' for a detailed discussion of Title I school improvement. Press '3' for a discussion of Virginia's requested waivers. Press '4' to repeat this menu."
Also getting general calls about back-to-school issues, although the news here (as is the case in many other states) is all about BRAC.
We also are gearing up for next week's release by the College Board of the performance of our students on the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Several years ago, the College Board took the helpful step of breaking out public school performance (hint to ACT).
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is doing the back to school circuit. This is from her news release regarding an appearance at a school in Atlanta:
"No Child Left Behind is a partnership, not a mandate," she said. "I take that partnership seriously."
Spellings said she has kept her promise to help states "implement this law in a sensible and workable way"—as long as they enforce the bright lines of the law, such as annual assessments for all students.
"So it troubles me that in Connecticut, three years into the law and after taking more than $750 million for No Child Left Behind, on the eve of compliance, they are now disputing annual assessment requirements," said Spellings.
One issue to watch regarding states that are introducing tests this year in previously untested grades is how USDOE responds to requests to phase in the results of new tests for AYP calculations. Our experience here is that it does take time for teachers in previously untested grades to adust.
That's all for now - be back a little later.
NCLB Musings from Your Substitute Blogger
The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll on NCLB continues to get a lot of play in the press.
Does the public understand the law? I know I have spoken with quite a few reporters over the last few days who are still trying to grasp its finer points. Getting a handle on NCLB is especially challenging for education reporters who cover school districts in more than one state. Virginia has several media markets that include districts in other states.
Education reporting these days is all about data. I have been amazed during the week since Virginia released its preliminary AYP ratings at the number of newsrooms at newspapers in medium and smaller cities in the state without Excel! These reporters can't open online or attached spreadsheets or download data.
-Guestblogger Charles Pyle
Kindergarten Cop vs. CTA
TNR's Keelin McDonnel takes a look at the political battle between California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's teachers union over two ballot proposals this November. One of the proposals, which would cap state spending and possibly lead to school spending cuts, appears likely to fail, while the other, Proposition 74, which would change the length of time before new teachers get tenure from two to five years, seems likely to pass.
BUT, as McDonnel argues, increasing the amount of time before teachers get tenure isn't going to produce the kind of increased performance accountability, better teaching, or other reform many California schools need. Tenure is often a red herring and conservative hobby-horse in education policy debates, but a look at teacher quality indicators, dismissals, and performance across states with and without tenure suggests it's not the real problem. More important, the Governator's antagonistic stance towards teachers on both the tenure and school funding issues undermines his proposals to more closely link teacher pay to performance or reward teachers in hard-to-staff schools, ideas that do have promise to improve accountability and help attract to the profession the kind of high-quality new teachers California desperately needs.
--guest blogger Sara Mead
Thank you Andrew. It is an honor to serve as a substitute blogger this week on Eduwonk. This is my first foray into the world of blogging. I joined the Virginia Department of Education five years ago after 23 years in broadcasting, including 17 years as a television reporter here in Richmond. I began reporting on education in the early 1990s when the commonwealth was in the midst of a passionate debate over the collection of policies and instructional practices known as "outcome-based" education. My news director was impressed by the response of viewers to some of the stories we aired during this time and education became one of my regular beats. My son was just entering school and I found the debates over the direction of public education in Virginia interesting as a parent as well as a reporter. We continued our coverage with on-going reports and special projects on the development and implementation of Virginia's Standards of Learning reform. We tried to go beyond the typical soundbite vs. soundbite approach and take viewers inside classrooms where teachers were actually trying to make it work. My work here at the department draws on this experience. The ingredients of a good news release are really the same as those of a good news story: a good lead, crisp writing, and the facts presented in a logical and coherent narrative. I also keep my hand in television, producing features for our occasional public television broadcasts. We offer some of these features as streaming video on our Web site. There is an example on our Web page devoted to Governor Mark Warner's Early College Scholars initiative. That's all for now. I will be back after a quick scan of the education press.
--Guest Blogger Charles Pyle
Ever wondered exactly what a state department of education does? Well, now is your chance to find out. Wednesday until Friday Charles Pyle, the Director of Communications for the Virginia Department of Education will guest blog right here. In addition to being a great guy and a sharp fellow, Charles is a former journalist including a stint in Richmond. He'll tell you more about that but he's seen it from both sides -- he's thrown spears and caught them -- so he brings an interesting perspective. Over to you Charles...
The Center for American Progress and Institute for America’s Future released the report from their task force charged with finding a progressive agenda to improve public education. Since the leaders of these two organizations, John Podesta and Robert Borosage, have been touring the country with an anti-NCLB dog and pony show, I was a little apprehensive that this would be more of the same.
But this report offers a serious look at the biggest challenges facing public education and promising recommendations to address them. The recommendations are grouped into four “buckets”: More and better use of learning time, high expectations, highly-qualified teachers and school leaders, and connecting schools with families and communities.
The big news story will probably be the task force’s call for voluntary national education standards—an idea considered politically radioactive since the Clinton administration caught hell over it in the mid-1990’s. The task force makes a compelling case that the current system of state-based standards shortchanges too many students yet it remains unclear whether national standards are any more politically feasible now than a decade ago.
More significant, a recommendation for “high expectation” marries calls for better accountability to a renewed national dialogue about the levels and distribution of education funding needed to ensure all students succeed—suggesting that Democratic strategists at CAP and IAF “get it” that better accountability buttresses the longstanding progressive demand for greater and more equitable public investment in education, and liberals should therefore embrace accountability rather than fighting it. Also noteworthy, the report calls for overhauling teacher compensation, including performance pay and differential pay to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools and in subjects like math and science. And, I’m personally gratified to see the task force emphasize the importance of universal prekindergarten, as well as safe and modern school facilities.
Unfortunately, some hope for progress on these issues is hampered because the report doesn’t look beyond the practices that are working in successful schools to the structural and governance arrangements that allow them to occur—and those that prevent similar success in so many other schools. For example, public charter schools, operating independent of traditional school districts, are implementing many practices—such as extended school days, new approaches to teacher compensation, and linkages with community-based groups—that the task force applauds. But they’re barely mentioned here. The report rightly emphasizes that many aspects of today’s education system, such as a school day and year based on agricultural calendars, are based on obsolete assumptions and don’t serve kids well today. But many of the structural and governance constraints under which today’s schools operate—the systems by which teachers are prepared, hired, and compensated; the assumption that local school boards are the sole legitimate provider of public education services; a lack of public education choices differentiated to meet students’ unique needs—also reflect outdated assumptions. Taking on structural and governance issues is more politically fraught than calling for schools to implement certain practices, because it requires tampering with today's power structures and the prerogatives of vested interests. But without addressing these issues, American public education is doomed to remain stuck in a status quo that is inequitable and in the long run will undermine our economic competitiveness. --Sara Mead, deputy director and senior policy analyst, 21st Century Schools Project, PPI.
Update: Accompanying the Task Force report, a spiffy new online resource, Education: The State We're In, at both the CAP and IAF websites offers state-by-state report cards on student performance, the achievement gap, early childhood education, teacher quality, higher education pipelines and access, and other indicators. Good stuff. --SM
Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone is getting bigger, former President Clinton weighs-in on what they're up to (pdf).
Leave it to the New York Times to botch the lede on an education story! In today's story about the new charter finance study they inaccurately characterize charter schools as privately run (some are, most aren't) while failing to note that in a seminal moment in the education debate the Fordham Foundation has decided that money does matter after all!
Seriously, financed by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, Fordham has put together the most comprehensive look at charter school finance to date. Working with Sheree Speakman and Bryan Hassel the report offers a thorough look at the revenue that public charter schools and traditional public schools receive. Punchline: charters generally receive a lot less.
Because the report delves into the notoriously opaque and confusing world of school finance it's not without some problems but the methodology is transparent so further research should shed some light on that going forward and the data problems are not so substantial as to undermine the primary thrust. Worth nothing that the most vocal complaints so far are coming from MN where charter supporters say the study overstates the amount of money that charters get.
It's solid enough that litigation is a good bet going forward. An interesting new angle on school finance suits. Good time to be an education lawyer these days, huh?
This couldn't have been the story that CT pols were hoping for with this lawsuit...background here.
NY Daily News' Williams has the barnyard tale...
Keep an eye on Elliot Haspell's new EdWahoo blog. Fresh off a stint at Ed Trust he's raring to go.
Over at EdWize Leo Casey chastises Eduwonk for not having a comment feature. Another reader recently asked the same question and it comes up from time to time. Been meaning to post on this so here's the quick and dirty answer:
It's been looked at a few times since the blogs inception but the cost-benefit just does not seem worth it. A lot of blogs that have them seem to have trouble with them. For instance just recently Joanne Jacobs' site was down for several days because of a spam attack and the comment features on some blogs are difficult to read (or at least difficult with some browsers). Other bloggers relay similar hassles. Though the template for this blog was professionally produced, don't be fooled...the day-to-day operations are just one person who knows next to nothing about how all this stuff works and has regular work deadlines and responsibilities to meet. Consequently, avoiding technical hassles is a high priority.
Content-wise, while there are some really interesting comments out there, just as much doesn't seem to add a lot of value. Spam and promotions of other blogs aside, comments often seem to degenerate into name calling. We get too much of that in the regular ed policy debates, you surely don't need a special forum for it. And, there is almost invariably a comparison to Hitler at some point.
Now if it was really hard to get your say or respond without a comment feature then the calculus might be different. But it's not because the medium itself is democratic. It's free to start a blog, so if you can post a comment you can have a blog of your own, and we happily link to interesting posts that challenge the ones here when they're brought to our attention. And, despite volume, all correspondence gets answered and some gets posted on the site, too.
So, while it's not a New England town meeting it's certainly not Turkmenistan either. We'll continue to look at the options, someone said the other day that Haloscan is the way to go. But, until then, start a blog of your own, send email, or save up everything you want to say for when we change our minds and add the feature and you can be the first one to crash the site with your voluminous feedback.
CT and NYC: Send In The Lawyers...And The Frowns! On May 20, 2005 we sent a Freedom of Information request to Betty J.Sternberg, the Commissioner of Education, asking for a copy of the plan required by Section 1111(b)(8). In reply we received a letter from Commissioner Sternberg dated June 15, 2005 enclosing a volume of material almost entirely unrelated and unresponsive to our request. It appears that Connecticut has no plan and is in violation of 1111(b)(8). This lack of compliance cannot be attributed to testing costs under NCLB that you complain are excessive. Testing is not required for the State to analyze the needs of Title I schools and their districts and to prepare a plan to help them to achieve the capacity to carry out their obligations. If you are able to enlist other states in your legal campaign against NCLB,we will be asking them the same questions about their compliance with 1111(b) (8). Stay tuned on that. If actual members read and respond to this blog, it will become apparent that the “face” of the union has long been assumed by a small group of people who are out of step with even mainstream teachers. Word is some folks inside the UFT have similar concerns...
As expected CT Attorney General Blumenthal has filed suit against the feds over NCLB. But, here's a twist: The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have sent Blumenthal a letter threatening to sue CT (and other states) for not helping poor school districts:
On May 20, 2005 we sent a Freedom of Information request to Betty J.Sternberg, the Commissioner of Education, asking for a copy of the plan required by Section 1111(b)(8). In reply we received a letter from Commissioner Sternberg dated June 15, 2005 enclosing a volume of material almost entirely unrelated and unresponsive to our request.
It appears that Connecticut has no plan and is in violation of 1111(b)(8). This lack of compliance cannot be attributed to testing costs under NCLB that you complain are excessive. Testing is not required for the State to analyze the needs of Title I schools and their districts and to prepare a plan to help them to achieve the capacity to carry out their obligations.
If you are able to enlist other states in your legal campaign against NCLB,we will be asking them the same questions about their compliance with 1111(b) (8).
Stay tuned on that.
If actual members read and respond to this blog, it will become apparent that the “face” of the union has long been assumed by a small group of people who are out of step with even mainstream teachers.
Word is some folks inside the UFT have similar concerns...
Helpful reader MT sends along this interesting account: The Carl Sagan Academy charter school, a school started by humanists (P.E. should have meaning...), couldn't find suitable space so they're now housed in a Baptist church.
Facilities freaks: See also this Chicago Trib. story about a developer that wants to build a charter school in a new development to lure families. Raises the same, surmountable, issues that employer-sponsored charter schools do.
Teaching Commission's Josh Greenman weighs-in with an op-ed in the NY Daily News:
What professionals expect isn't just money and benefits. It's the chance to acquire new responsibilities, to refine skills and to earn more money based on the quality of the job they do.
It's a national piece but pegged to NYC, snap-to Edwize!
It's not the front page but The Washington Post does give Marguerite Roza and Paul Hill a lot of op-ed real estate to explain their new report (pdf), what it means, and what policymakers can do. An absolutely must-read piece of writing.
In the NYT, Tamar Lewin takes a look at K-12 philanthropy. Punchlines: More dollars going into K-12 and:
"A lot of the old philanthropy was devoted to helping schools do what they were already doing," said Richard Lee Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute at Teachers College at Columbia University. "The new group is saying, 'Let's try something different.' It's a lot of young, active entrepreneurial people - Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, Dell, Milken - who want to change the schools, who want to use their money to support specific school reforms."
Two quick notes. First, look for a book from I'm Rick Hess Bi*ch on K-12 philanthropy in a few months (Harvard Ed. Press) with a lot more on this. Second, historically, major changes to education have tended to come from outside the field so aside from just the resources these foundations bring to the table, don't be too quick to write them off as a passing fancy. Instead, this could be the infancy of tomorrow's establishment (which would one day hopefully be challenged anew...progress?).
Over in the Wash. Times George Archibald drops-in on dropouts with a long report. Excellent dropout background from the Ed Trust in this report (pdf).