Friday, December 23, 2005
Twenty years ago who besides chic New Yorkers and the super-rich drank lattes? In general two decades ago consumers accepted the mass market brands, sold largely already ground in cans, as satisfactory. Few knew there were better options. Then Starbucks and all the other high end chains aggressively sought to show consumers that there was better coffee out there. Not surprisingly, consumption of gourmet and specialty coffee increased rapidly. From 1999-2005 consumption of gourmet coffee among all Americans increased from .22 to .36 cups a day while consumption of regular coffee dropped from 1.48 to 1.26 cups per person per day according to the National Coffee Association an industry group. Not a tidal wave but a significant shift nonetheless.
What does this have to do with schools? Isn't, in fact, this same trend basically happening in education now? Parents are starting to realize that there are better options and are becoming mobilized to get them. In other words, an inattentive public is starting to become keyed in on an issue that affects them. For example, take a look at what's happening in LA, where veteran Democratic activist and founder of the non-profit Green Dot Public Schools, Steve Barr, has organized parents there to demand changes to Jefferson High School, a demonstrably failing local high school. Barr has organized 10,000 local parents. Because his teachers are unionized, work under a modified contract, and make more money than scale in LA people like to say that Barr is the next Al Shanker. Perhaps instead he's the next Starbucks. Meanwhile LA and too many other districts just keep trying to tell people that Folgers is fabulous when they can see in their own communities that fresh ground is better.
One More Cup: Kevin Johnson the former point guard for the Phoenix Suns and all around class act has started a charter school in CA. Johnson likes to tell the story of how Magic Johnson convinced a gourmet coffee chain to open stores where he was opening his movie theaters. The coffee execs were at first reluctant believing that black people didn't like coffee. Magic put up money and lo and behold the outfit sold a lot of coffee…
The lesson for Democrats is obvious: Black people like good schools, too. Yet from the usual suspects we keep hearing how people in urban areas don't want more choice in education. But every time a real choice option springs up there is intense demand. In fact, one of the primary problems with market-based reforms in education is that, at least so far, the market isn't self-correcting (pdf) because even poor quality choice options are proving wildly popular with parents. That's a reason for public oversight and a more charter-like than voucher-like arrangement but it's an issue where Democrats must engage. The general discontent with President Bush is sweeping this tension under the rug for now within the party, but one day Bush will be gone and like a caffeine headache, this issue will reemerge as a big problem.
MJS's Borsuk looks at one part of Milwaukee and the changes there since the school choice revolution. Milwaukee has multiple choice programs underway, the much publicized and very large voucher program but also charter schools and various public school choice schemes. Big evaluation projects under way and a lot to learn from what's happening, or not happening, up there.
Jim Peyser: Impatient
There is plenty of noise and discussion around the idea that No Child Left Behind's timetables for improvement are too hasty. What you hear a lot less is the idea that six or seven years is a long time for parents and kinds to wait though a lot of people feel that way. Jim Peyser is one and he is saying so in MA. Peyser's idea, to triage schools, is what states are going to have to do going forward on NCLB. Background here.
Like ed policy and the mountains? Education Commission of the States is hiring a researcher and a policy analyst.
Think the world is flat, not in the Friedman sense but literally? The NEA is hiring, too, for a speechwriter.
Another Ed Trust funding gap report (pdf) released today. Sobering stuff. What makes these reports especially interesting is that they break the funding gaps out by demographic which more clearly shows that state school finance systems frequently disadvantage poor and minority students. This is a compelling tax-reform issue but it's a political third rail in the states which is why so much of the action ends up being in the courts.
NYT's Zezima writes-up the MATCH' School's tutoring program which is sort of Teach For America meets MTV's The Real World.
It's an interesting model and Zezima offers a balanced write-up. Two edutakeaways:
Zezima tells us:
Proponents of the program...say the model can be duplicated on a smaller scale and budget. Others, while enthusiastic about what the school has done, do not think it can be widely replicated. "You couldn't run a public school district this way," said Doug Sears, dean of the Boston University School of Education.
Nice to see the folks in academia thinking big! Of course, right now Sears is at least in general quite correct, but isn't that part of the larger problem? The thing that makes schools like MATCH effective for a lot of kids is that they'll do anything they can to help kids succeed and there are fewer regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural obstacles to doing so. In other words, they're agile in a time that demands and rewards agility.
But in general these schools are not yet effective with all kids who come through the door and Zezima points out that not all kids succeed at MATCH. Yet while critics use this as an argument to perpetuate existing mediocrity, it's actually a jumping off point for one of the toughest and most interesting questions in education policy today: The conundrum faced by open-enrollment all college-prep high schools in today's educational context.
Hopefully at some point policy will be more aligned from pre-K through high school so that a "college prep" curriculum will be the default curriculum--not because everyone will or should go to college but because that curriculum is a pretty good jumping off point for most post-secondary options and a good way to attack today's system of bifurcated expectations.
In the meantime, schools that seek to be open enrollment but college prep wrestle with the problem of kids who are not prepared to do the work because of years of neglect and kids who do not want to do the work because there are easier paths elsewhere and aspirations are low. To be sure, the latter are a subset but both groups present a challenge. MATCH is obviously attacking the former problem through this aggressive intervention but there are many ways to do it. The way not to do it, however, is to continue sentencing kids to more of the same because new strategies are not working for 100 percent of the kids. Hell -- though the critics never remember to mention this part -- the old strategy does not seem to be working well for about half of the minority youngsters in this country so the new schools are already beating those odds.
Instead, policymakers do need to think about how to create a menu or continuum of options for kids and build a more customized system lest one best system just gets replaced by another. That is starting to happen but there is still a lot of work to be done to get it right.
Sure it's finals time but where has Kindling Flames intrepid team of edubloggers gone? No action there in a while. Eduwonk had such high hopes...
Also missing in action lately: Newoldschoolteacher though she's been manic for the last few days...
Colorado Is Not Flat
New charter school report from Progressive Policy Institute's charter school case study series. Peaks and Valleys looks at charter schooling in Colorado. RMN story here.
Previous reports including CA, MN, AZ, Indy, NYC, Chicago, TX, OH, and Washington, DC, here.
This series of reports moves to Education Sector in 2006 with several more on the way.
CSM's Clayton takes a look at the competing numbers about engineering grads in different countries and a new Duke study on the issue. Instructive in terms of today's flat world hysteria.*
By the way, just because many of these same folks have been wrong before (and scapegoated public schools) about various threats to our country doesn't axiomatically mean they're wrong again as some seem to be arguing (though not the Dukies). It's just that it seems to Eduwonk that (a) the scale and time horizon of the competitive challenge is more complicated than you're going to get on Lou Dobbs nor as simple as just producing more engineers and (b) it will be a shame if a renewed push on math and science grads is the next big thing in education at the expense of addressing the equity problem which threatens to make America look a lot like a Third World country over time. The latter seems a real risk since it's a lot easier for business leaders to run around saying we need more math and science grads than go to state capitals and force legislators to deal with the more thorny and hot-button equity-related questions about, for instance, licensing for educators, school finance, collective bargaining agreements, or pluralism in service provision and educational choice that need fixing but piss a lot of people off.
*Still Hungry: Eduwonk has read the book and heard flat-world guru Thomas Friedman speak several times and his argument is an interesting one but despite the nice food that's always served at these affairs it's easy to leave hungry. That's because the very same forces Friedman argues are driving this new round of globalization seem to be the very forces that a lot of people involved in school improvement, particularly the social entrepreneurs, are trying to bring to bear on public schools: more nimbleness, responsiveness, and dynamism. Why does Friedman have so little to say about how these forces matter to an important and decidedly non-flat world American institution and how they could be used to improve it? At a recent luncheon about schools his big edurecommendation in the flat world was for students to take courses from teachers they like. Great advice, sure, but taking four years of math and English in high school is probably a smart bet-hedging strategy, too! And, doesn't he have any advice at all for the system itself, for educators, for policymakers, for parents?
Seems like there has to be more to this story (The Little Red Book gets you a visit from DHS?). Otherwise it's bad on a couple of levels (a) the privacy issue and (b) doesn't DHS have something more useful to do? Via Sherman Dorn.
Update: More here.
License To Read
CRPE's Adams and Copland looked at licensure requirements for school leaders in all 50 states (pdf), worth checking out sobering and includes some recommendations.
From the department of you can't make this stuff up:
One teacher went so far as to compare [Oakland] state School Administrator Randolph Ward to Hitler and to describe him as "a bourgeois black man" who has forgotten his roots. The teacher's comments were loudly cheered as others in the audience laughed and applauded.