Saturday, January 07, 2006
Another TFA'er Blog…And Be Careful What You Wish For…
Another group of TFA'ers have started a blog: Class Context. They're off to a fast start and a good one, check it out.
One thought, we keep hearing from the usual suspects that the education debate would be different if only people listened to teachers more. That's probably true but perhaps not exactly like they think. Getting teachers' voices out there is important and the blogging medium gives teachers a pretty democratic way to air their views. But curiously enough they all don't say what the usual suspects do! While some of it's generational, some of it is just that interest groups are sometimes misaligned with significant parts of their membership.
Rank? Or Just A Fat White Elephant From The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce?
Word is that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to start ranking public schools in some way. This should set off a really entertaining food fight with lots of over the top rhetoric from both sides since the ed interest groups will hate it.* Problem is, for now you're going to be hungry because the Chamber is offering no details about how they're going to do it! We have to wait six weeks for those. A lot of ways this could be misleading or at best redundant...though some ways it could be helpful, too.
Perhaps they're not really going to do it at all but just want to scare off anyone else who might be thinking about doing it? Probably not, just sounds like a half-baked idea (we need to do something on education!) that caught the ear of someone at the Chamber.
*Incidentally, Eduwonk thought the anti-testing line was "you don't fatten cattle by weighing them." It's a good rhetorical line (however a friend who raised award-winning cattle for 4-H and state fair competitions says it's not true in the sense it's intended since you do in fact measure). But in any event, what the hell does "You don't fatten an elephant by weighing it" mean?
The Florida Supreme Court has struck down that state's flagship voucher program which allowed students at schools identified as persistently failing to attend private schools at public expense. Decision here (pdf). First the irony. Though this program has received a lot of attention there are a lot more students in the McKay special education voucher program (which has problems of its own).
The implications? Well, the pro-voucher crowd is outraged and the anti-voucher crowd is celebratory. Over at Boardbuzz they're probably drunk and running around with no pants on right now.
But, no one should get too excited. That's because although the Florida program had some problems, and Eduwonk's skeptical about the promise of vouchers overall anyway, there was both political support and demand for this program. In other words, if in the haste to celebrate a legal victory (in a friendly venue no less) voucher opponents fail to recognize the more basic lesson here then that's bad news for public education. Any industry that has to rely on court decisions rather than loyalty to keep its customers is an industry in trouble over time. Consequently, there is a real risk in over-reading what this decision (and the similar one striking down Colorado's voucher program) mean over the long term. Without some real improvements this issue is not going away at all.
Besides, there are real problems for a lot of kids in Florida's schools anyway, so celebrating seems a little obscene regardless what one thinks of the voucher program.
Update: Outstanding write-up of the case by Ed Week's Richard. Just about all you need to know.
Jenny D. weighs-in about gapology. Update: Kindling Flames is back to posting and they didn't think much of the piece either.
...to DC Education Blog's Nathan.
NASBE's blog says that Ed Trusters Haycock and Wiener have a coordinated good cop - bad cop routine. Not sure it really holds up, the context of the quotes matters a lot. But it's a great conspiracy theory and gosh we don't have enough of those in education...
The post also is an indication of the general angst in the ed community about the oxygen that Ed Trust sucks up on this issue and the
This is really horrible.
In a piece that's sure to have Michael Winerip's partisans crying into their portfolio assessments, Sam Freedman profiles CCCR's Bill Taylor in today's Times.
In the December 25th Wash. Post Outlook section Stan Hinden discussed the impending retirement of the baby boomers. It's an enormous issue in terms of the shifting demographic burden.
It also matters for schools. Yet rather than preparing, the spending trajectory of the past thirty years has created an assumption that we can just spend our way to better schools and in any event is unlikely to continue. And, for a couple of reasons especially tax structures and entitlement spending schools are particularly vulnerable if indeed there is a Geezer War.
In today's Baltimore Sun, Eduwonk writes about some implications for schools as the burden shifts and what to start doing about it -- namely addressing the dreaded P-word: Productivity. For instance how Governor Warner started to in Virginia or by getting serious about teacher quality.
Another interesting question, aside from the structural pressures created by entitlements and state tax problems, is whether an aging population will be less likely to support public schools. The extent of a behaviorally driven "grey peril" is unclear (and existing research varies based on how aggregated the data are). James Poterba found that a greater proportion of people over 65 resulted in less spending on schools, all else equal. However, Helen Ladd and Sheila Murray found that the geographic distribution of seniors within a state had greater impact on school spending. In other words, if they're concentrated somewhere watch out! There is also some evidence that racial composition matters which portends trouble for No Child Left Behind-style efforts to focus resources on minority students and demographic trouble more generally considering the trends in the country. A study of preferences (as opposed to actual voting) by William Duncombe and others concluded that though seniors are unlikely to vote in block against school funding as a value issue per se there is nonetheless a risk that personal economic circumstances will fuel anti-tax sentiment. Only actual voting patterns over time will answer this question definitively but it bears watching because any time people have less direct connection to a service, in this case public education, it can be trouble.
Also, worth remembering, that school finance suits are not a panacea here because of some increasingly complicated politics ($) and because to the extent that large settlements start causing cannibalism among various social programs that's going to make it harder to build coalitions to support these suits.
A lot of readers have sent along this Forbes column "Gapology 101" about the futility of achievement gap closing efforts. The writer, Dan Seligman, concludes that: "It is not possible to close the achievement gap."
Three quick thoughts: First, Seligman notes that everyone hits a wall at some point. That's true, not everyone is going to do advanced physics, for instance. But Seligman then cites long division as an example of a wall people can hit. Is he saying that it's unreasonable to teach that to poor kids? There are brick walls and paper ones.
Second, Seligman seems to be taking an expansionist view of gap closing, which not coincidentally is the same rhetorical view many of No Child Left Behind's critics take (further bolstering British PM Tony Blair's contention that educational change is so hard in part because there are conservatives on both sides of the debate). But NCLB is not about eliminating all gaps, it's merely about working to ensure minimal levels of performance in core academic subjects.
Third, again the dismal and counterproductive politics. Seligman happily touts Vermont school superintendent William J. Mathis as a soothsayer for saying that gap closing is unrealistic. Great. When the profession starts saying that it can't teach all kids the basics what's the argument for more funding or more equitable funding? What's the argument against universal school vouchers? What then do you say to parents if you're basically saying, sorry, can't do it? The harmonic convergence between demographic determinists like Seligman and lefty critics of No Child ought to be a cause for grave concern not a rallying point if you care about public schools. And what's most worrying is that the lefty critics don't seem to see the box canyon they're merrily walking into...