Thursday, December 15, 2005
The Williams Case
Sac Bee's Nguyen sits down with Joe Williams to discuss his hot new book (and it is hot, it's in reprint already which is not the norm for an edubook). And speaking of hot, the story includes another glam shot of Williams for collectors...
Can't get enough Joe? Here's a USA Today interview.
This Week's Russo notes that since its inception the New America Foundation hasn't been much of a player on education policy. True enough, and it's in no small part because their "big idea" for schools was a ridiculous proposal to nationalize education funding and distribute it through universal vouchers -- a facile Frankenstein of Third Way thinking where two lousy ideas are melded together and called a grand compromise. It's been a frustration for many eduphiles because NAF has a stable of really interesting thinkers and a lot of good stuff on a lot of issues comes from there.
But as Russo notes they're bulking up their ed policy shop and as Eduwonk said back in June he's more confident that the addition of former Kennedy aide Michael Dannenberg portends good things than Russo apparently is. Already Dannenberg floated a provocative and interest-group enraging compromise idea on the whole Katrina voucher debate and now that he has his 1st Amendment rights fully operational Eduwonk expects good eduideas to start flowing out of NAF.
A lot to read in the eduworld but an often overlooked gem is American Educator, the AFT's magazine. The current issue has an article on the late AFT head Sandra Feldman, an interesting romp through the world of spelling, and an important, albeit depressing, look at children involved in war -- as participants. Worth your time.
You Can't Change The Weather
The Eduwife is something of a weather junkie to the point that she considers the Weather Channel a bit too processed and prefers to mainline her weather data straight from NOAA.
The same choice is now available in terms of education data for parents. Folks who want more distilled data about schools can go to a site like Greatschools.net, a great not-for-profit site with parental comments and information about schools that gets about 2 million unique visitors every month. For those who want more granular data and comparative analytics S & P's Schoolmatters.com is a treasure trove and by far the best thing going on that front. The Gates and Broad Foundations have made enormous grants to support the S & P project.
Either way, just like you can't fight the weather and you can't change the growing transparency and availability of educational information, the corresponding growing hunger for it, and some consequences that are going to flow from that, for instance a coming producers - consumers battle in education.
Low-Hanging Fruit: 2 million unique visitors a month, millions of dollars being spent to help inform parents and no reporter has written this up?
A lot of buzz about homeschooling. A widely read AP story over the weekend says more blacks are homeschooling but had no actual data to help make heads or tails of that claim though it seems plausible based on a lot of anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Hope College English prof. Bill Pannapacker discusses homeschooling from the higher education perspective and makes some interesting observations. Well worth reading.
Wild Generalization From Personal Anecdote: A few families up and down Eduwonk's road homeschool. Their reasons vary from religious to just wanting to spend more time with their kids while they're young. And some families homeschool some kids while sending others to the local public schools (which are quite good).
In other words, a quest for more educational customization in different forms seems like the story here. And, while homeschooling is still just a small percentage of the overall number of students in elementary and secondary education and seems unlikely to ever achieve a significant market share, public schools should still pay attention to the more secular reasons for it and try to respond.
Ginny Let Those Dogs Run!
Ed Week has a new blog that turns up some interesting finds but seems to be written by just a few folks there and is all repackaged news from elsewhere. Isn't this a huge missed opportunity? Ed Week has a talented staff that knows about all sorts of interesting things that never find their way into the paper. Why not turn them loose and make it into a group blog that functions as a rolling reporter's notebook?
Over at her place Jenny D. asks what's to worry about with this growth model experiment that Earth Mother wants to conduct. Well, Eduwonk and others are frequently criticized for being Luddites for raising concerns about the rush to change policy in this area. That said, while some innovation here is good, here are four things worth worrying about:
1) While many NCLB critics grumble that its accountability system only measures "status", that is where a student is at a point in time, what they neglect to tell you is that that very few states have the ability to track individual students from year-to-year right now. So, while status is not ideal, a rolling average of how 4th-graders, for instance, do over three years does tell you something worth knowing in the meantime.*
2) In order to truly measure growth over time a state's measurement system needs to have vertical alignment, meaning able to have a scaled measurement system so that achievement can be compared across grades. Not only is this challenging, but again a lot of states are a long way from here in terms of their standards and assessments and also again their ability track and analyze data. (This is different than the issue of vertical alignment in policy which is about whether a state's pre-k to college systems are in alignment.)
3) Politically, any system predicated on measuring growth or relative progress begs the serious question of who gets to decide how much growth is enough and on what basis do they make those decisions? For all its problems NCLB's current approach mitigates this by creating a common benchmark for all kids regardless of race and income. Some argue that's unfair, but because it's going to be the high-poverty schools most likely to be using "growth" as a way out from under NCLB's current requirements, the potential for diminished expectations for such schools is very real. It's not by coincidence that the loudest cheering for this was from those representing the schools and the most concern from civil rights groups. If indeed minorities are well served by the current system then there is nothing to worry about here...
4) Obviously everyone involved should endeavor to get the measurement as precise and reliable as possible but it's certainly debatable whether the core problem here is measurement or politics. Assume for a moment that policymakers, statisticians, and psychometric experts had managed to agree on a system they all felt was valid and defensible and could accurately identify low-performing schools or schools needing improvement. Would it be any easier to intervene in those schools if it meant any real consequence for any adult? Would there really be much less pushback from all the organized groups? NCLB's critics are more than happy to kick the can down the street a while by calling for more and more sophisticated measurement systems but it sure seems like the moment for real accountability is always just over the horizon.
None of these issues are insurmountable (though several also bear on the other accountability flavor of the month, value-added though there are additional complications there, too) and it's possible to compromise on some issues and work through them. But, every compromise carries a consequence.
That said, trying this in a few carefully selected states is one thing -- and would probably generate some useful information for policymakers and researchers. Trying it in ten states doesn't make a lot of sense and raises the worrisome question of whether this provision will be the baseline for reauthorization of No Child whenever that happens because of the almost irresistible leveling-down that characterizes education policymaking decisions that involve any teeth.
*Shouldn't one discussion in advance of reauthorization be whether the timetables for school improvement in NCLB should be modified? The flip side of the coin about whether the measurement system is right is whether the consequences that flow from it make sense. Without reducing the pressure for urgent change in seriously low-performing schools, isn't there some play on that side of the policy? In other words, instead of worrying so much about the precision of measuring improvement, just give the schools that are not truly bad actors a little more time on the timetables within the law and add room for "growth" there. Alternatively states could triage schools to focus on the worst ones, perhaps more serious consequences but more of a time-lag between them, etc…it seems like something of a blue sky area that is being ignored in all the discussion about growth and value-added.
Update: Jenny D. has more plus a very smart comment.
Over at This Week Russo uses the new urban NAEP data to take a pop at mayoral control of urban districts because Chicago did not do so well. Whether or not mayoral control is an effective strategy is an important debate because the results so far are mixed around the country. But isn't this particular critique spurious? Districts with varying governance arrangements were all over the place in the NAEP results. Austin did well on NAEP, is hiring former federal officials the ticket? (In fact, Austin may have done deceptively well because of exclusions from the test).
Russo is right that mayoral control is "mayoral control is hardly a guarantee of success" but these NAEP results don't tell us a lot about that.