Friday, October 14, 2005
Show Me The Vouchers? (And The Harmonic Convergences And Dirty Secrets…)
A conference this week at Harvard (agenda here in pdf) should be getting a great deal of attention. Ostensibly a look at education adequacy lawsuits (with some really interesting papers about that issue and the intersections with No Child), it also portends a potentially pivotal moment for this litigation and the coalition that supports it….namely, what if greater school choice, in particular vouchers, becomes a remedy in these suits along with more funding? The man who brought you Zelman is thinking exactly that way…worth watching...
Afterthought -- Interesting moment: Rocco Testani channels Richard Rothstein. Introducing one panel, veteran school finance litigator Testani, who defends states when they're sued to spend more money on schools, parroted the argument put forward by Richard Rothstein about the inability of schools to meet these performance targets because of all the out of school influences on kids…essentially attacking the standards as a reasonable basis for boosting school funding…someone please remind Eduwonk again why this is such a great argument for public school supporters to be making?
Bonus afterthought -- Another moment that caught a lot of ears at an on-the-record conference was school finance guru Jim Guthrie calling the recent New York finance case a "deep professional embarrassment" and saying (a) that these cases are out of control with plaintiffs starting with a figure they want to land on and working backwards rather than determining actual spending needs and (b) bustin' the teachers' unions for heavy handed power plays during the process...
If you're interested in the pre-K issue, a swing by Pre-K Now's new website is well worth your while, a lot of information.
New Vision, a new think tank/network of young scholars, has produced their first product, a look at housing options in post-Katrina New Orleans. Worth checking out, they're going to tackle edupolicy, too.
In the new Washington Monthly, Ed Sector’s Toch takes a look at value-added accountability. He makes the case about the shortcomings of the current No Child Left Behind provisions (though notes that they were what was at hand considering the state of play in 2001 in terms of what states could do) and argues forcefully that value-added measurements, if integrated with the absolute standards that No Child forces states to set, provides a better way.
It’s obviously a good way to go looking forward at the next generation of these policies but for now pragmatism intercedes…most states have a lot of work to do before they can actually do this and technical issues still abound. And, the question remains, when it comes to actually displacing adult interests in chronically under-performing schools, is the problem one of measurement or political will?
Long-awaited RAND report on Edison Schools is out. Lots of out of context quotes from critics being emailed around. Read the report yourself. It's not a slam dunk for Edison but surely not a scathing indictment either.
A Mathews Special
Jay Mathews looks at special needs students and NCLB, must-reading but a shame that this graf is buried:
To those who say the law requires children with disabilities to take tests they cannot pass and forces them out of school, Smith says "most children with disabilities are able to keep up with their peers academically and take standardized tests successfully, some with and some without accommodations" such as readers or extra time. She says there are already many exceptions allowing districts to remove children with disabilities from the accountability system, and the tests for such children can come in many forms, with many kinds of accommodations.
If you're not reading Newoldschoolteacher, you are missing out...
Matt Yglesias worries about the potential for pseudostandards (the lowering of standards) as a result of leeway under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). He's right to worry though NYT's Michael Winerip is not the most reliable source of information on this issue. Nonetheless, downward pressure from NCLB is a potential problem and a hard to detect one because states can use obvious and less visible ways to lessen the rigor of their tests since they get to chose the assessments (within some broad parameters) and decide on the definition of proficiency. Unclear, however, just how much of this has actually happened and how much is hysterical NCLB mythology.
Unfortunately, the compromise that lands us here was no accident. The solutions all raise their own issues, and did in 2001. For instance, the obvious remedy is national standards and a national test. Yet, desirability aside, nobody seems to have a good idea of how to build the political coalition necessary to support that or a convincing argument about why the outcome would be any different than when Bush I and Clinton went down that road and liberals and conservatives found something they could all agree on.
[For what it's worth, Eduwonk's theory is that the best way to build national consensus is through governors working together and a bottom-up, consortia approach. This would over time save money, improve the quality of tests, and defuse the politics. There are fledgling steps in this direction now but there should be money in NCLB to create incentives for such projects. Sadly, the Bush Administration will not touch anything that smacks of national testing because it drives the conservatives nuts.]
Another idea is to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as an actual yardstick with consequences. However, it's generally agreed this would corrupt the NAEP's validity as an independent gauge of trends over time or as CGCS' Mike Casserly once quipped, why sully the almost only unsullied thing in education? In addition, there is serious disagreement about NAEP's standards, an issue that would have to be addressed if NAEP were to be used in this way. And, though NAEP has a curricular framework, is it the one we want for a national curriculum? In other words, is teaching to the NAEP desirable?
In the meantime, it's going to be public analyses of the relative rigor of state standards such as this one from Paul Peterson and I'm Rick Hess Bi*ch or a forthcoming one from S & P's Schoolmatters.com along with NAEP itself that help inform this conversation. And, it's up to advocacy groups and activists in the states to keep an eye on things and hold the line on rigor.
Over at EdWize Leo Casey turns in a well-worth-reading remembrance of Sandra Feldman. Others: Ed Sector's Toch here, Schoolnet's Doyle here, Post and Times here.
Governor Granholm puts a shot across the bow of those opposing public charter schools and public school choice in Detroit:
"The Transition Team instead should remain focused on finding ways to improve the Detroit Public Schools to give parents more, not fewer, opportunities to choose good schools for their children."
More New York
Is 6-1 on passage too generous? NY Daily News reports some concern about whether the new teachers' contract in New York will be ratified. UFT head Randi Weingarten blaming Chancellor Joel Klein for "gloating" before it was ratified and in the process breaking a cardinal rule of negotiations. But wait a minute? Assuming that what Klein did constitutes gloating, then didn't Weingarten's own staff gloat, too, on the house organ Edwize? Yes, they did!
The contract still looks likely to pass and this gambit seems more like the laying of some groundwork just in case it doesn't: Easier to blame Klein than admit that members rejected a pretty reasonable deal, all things considered...
Washington Post ed board weighs-in on Teach For America pegged to their alumni summit. A lot of energy at the summit and a lot of alums...congrats Wendy Kopp.
In the NYT, David Brooks calls for bigger ideas and real innovation from both political parties and gives a shout out to charter schools:
I hate the forces of the education establishment, which protects its system even though after years and billions spent, African-American students still graduate from high schools at academic levels four years behind their white peers. But I love the charter schools and the forces of reform.
The entire column should appear here before too long if you're not a subscriber.