Friday, March 03, 2006
Hmmm....NAPCS's new blog is flirting dangerously close to being self-critical and proving this contention wrong:
...a theme emerged that I've come across in a few other settings of late. The leaders of America's very best charters are EXTREMELY unforgiving of their struggling charter colleagues. We're not at a schism yet, but we're not too far. This is just another consequence of the greatest structural disappointment of the charter movement so far: the inability to swiftly close lousy charters.
It's also a good point. Seems to me that choice in education is expanding regardless of quality-- in no small part because we've left some parents so desperate they'll grab at anything. So the quality issue isn't the right thing to address because it's politically smart or a good way to rebut criticism of public charter schools but rather simply because it's the right thing to do. Within a decade there will be substantially more publicly funded educational choices and rather than howling at the moon about them the more productive thing is to make sure the work as well for kids as they can and Adam Smith isn't going to take care of that for us. And, there is a lot of educational promise in more options, choice, and customization anyway and it's not like the existing system is without its quality issues, too.
Wow! Black parents, when given an opportunity to get out of crummy schools and into better public schools, do so! Who would've thunk it? It's stunning stuff really. Next we're probably going to hear something really crazy like that black people like coffee, too!
And, what's more, turns out that the public schools don't always do a great job with minority kids and sometimes even try to evade responsibility on that front!
I'm reeling! Seems like there might even be political implications to all this...
Update: MSJ's Borsuk reports from Milwaukee on the pretty substantial expansion of the private school choice plan there. The bottom of the article pretty clearly shows the tension facing Democrats. Pro-voucher Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) to voucher foes: "If you really want to change education, then help bring me some solutions for the Milwaukee Public Schools."
Your Tax Dollars At Work (If You Live In FL)
The Florida Department of Education, which has its own performance-pay initiative, has put together a convenient side-by-side showing other initiatives around the country. Handy if you care about this issue.
Public schools are public. Consequently, it seems a reasonable principle that unless privacy is at issue, the processes by which major decisions about them are made should be public, too. But too often this isn't the case. Teacher collective bargaining negotiations are a primary example. They're usually conducted behind closed doors and with some noteworthy exceptions it is generally difficult to find the contracts themselves despite the enormous influence they have. But, Rick Costa, the president of the Salem Education Association in Oregon is setting a good standard for how it should be done (via Intercepts). More transparency in bargaining is a key recommendation of Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change In Today's Schools.
The political logic behind the 65 percent solution idea being touted around the country was pretty simple: Divide and conquer. While publicly its proponents trotted out a bunch of public relations arguments that didn't hold up, privately they didn't care because the real point was to drive a wedge between the teachers unions and school boards. That was a boneheaded strategy that a few minutes of studying state and local education politics should have put to rest. Those guys don't fight each other over stuff like this. But an even stranger thing has since happened, Rick Hess attacked the idea in the Wash. Times and now Jay Greene has, too, in NRO. It's almost like the big plan was even less thought-through than even it first appeared...what serious national thought leaders support this lemon? And, what a waste of money that could have been spent on a more substantive and serious reform idea.
Finally some payoff for all that public dues money! It's time to pimp my education special interest group, The National Association of State Boards of Education! (Yes, I not only study regulatory capture, I live it, too...) NASBE's blog has been popping of late as the mysterious Stan Dard gives us the skinny and the links on Vince Young and the Wonderlic (and sorry non-sports fans, it's not as titillating as it sounds) and takes a shot at Harvard for throwing over Larry Summers -- is that an official NASBE position? If so, it's the most interesting one ever! Regardless, it's good stuff so swing by. Question: Is Stan Dard actually NASBE's ace gov't relations guy David Griffith (shown in an action pose pondering big thoughts)? Readers want to know...
Also, Chalkboard's Joe Williams is live-blogging the National Charter Schools conference in Sacramento this week. So far, no man-purse action (just one more way that less involvement from the feds is a positive turn) but plenty of chowder school action.
Online Higher Ed: If You Can Read This You Could Be Getting College Credit Right Now!
In today's paper NYT's Dillon takes a look at online "virtual" higher education. Obviously, there are some serious problems here requiring attention. More seriously, aren't the boosters and skeptics both overstating their cases? I'm sorta skeptical about a lot of this and the history of the for-profits in higher ed is not overly encouraging but seems sort of too soon too tell too much either way about this new wave and there is some promise in this medium. There is a basic market share issue here for higher education, particularly as "non-traditional" students become more traditional. That's got 'em panicked, but with most edutechnology issues the promises tend to outweigh the results.
Would be nice to know how the problems breakout among different online colleges. Is it a prevalent problem across the board or some bad apples? What's the industry doing to self-regulate? And, not sure it's fair to ding the virtuals for having lobbyists and seeking special things from government...Good Lord, they have lobbyists!!! That hardly makes them unusual in higher education and sounds a lot like what traditional universities do, too. All those earmarks don't write themselves...In other words, the notion put forward in the article that higher ed can’t get a hearing with members on the Hill is simply ludicrous. Also, do the universities really want to go down this road about how there is no record of effectiveness from the virtuals, especially just now? "We need to measure the effectiveness of higher education providers!" just doesn't seem quite on-message for them...
Does seem though that, like K-12 choice, this is going to happen regardless, fighting it is like fighting gravity, and the debate ought to be about ensuring quality.
A new Education Sector "Connect The Dots" report by Yale Daily News vet Bridget Kelly looks at the Teach For America alumni network. They’re doing a variety of things in education as well as teaching. I know I'm supposed to be against this idea, too, but for the life of me can't figure out why. Can't be that it's bad for kids, either.
Wow, those for-profit companies really are cleaning up on No Child Left Behind!
Joe Williams reports on some interesting educonsumer-eduproducer fighting going on down under.
Job news: Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, currently VP at AIR and a charter member of the ex-Clinton ed reform mafia is heading to New York City to take over the helm of Say Yes to Education. The foundation awards last-dollar college scholarships to at-risk youngsters. It's a great move for Mary Anne who has strong NY ties, young family in NY, and insatiable entrepreneurial instincts. She had been at AIR since New American Schools, which she led, was folded into the AIR empire.
Gadfly makes a good and obvious point per this Des Moines Register article from the other day about a decline in new teachers in Iowa. But there is a more basic issue, too:
The number of initial teaching licenses has apparently dropped there from "5,831 to 4,508 between fiscal 2000 and 2005, according to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners." Possible culprits? The lede graf fingers the usual suspects: "[The decline] educators say stems from low pay, increases in college tuition, negative publicity about schools and pressures brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which demands steady school improvement."
Right. But another factor might be that according to the Digest of Education Statistics the 5-17 year old population in Iowa has declined from 532,000 in 2001 to 512,000 in 2003 and is presumably still declining...in other words, fewer students. But no matter, blame No Child Left Behind! Between declining enrollments and the economy there is likely less here than meets the eye* but don't let any of this get in the way of a good panic:
"We keep saying the sky is falling and all the policymakers have ignored us," said Linda Nelson, president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents 32,000 teachers. "If we don't put a large infusion of money to raise that average salary to closer to 25th in the nation, then this is just going to get more gloom and doom."
*The problem seems more likely to be a mismatch between what people can teach/want to teach and what Iowa needs, namely more math and science teachers. By the numbers Iowa does produce a lot of teachers relative to its overall teacher population. That's a problem a lot of states are having, not an overall teacher shortage but a shortage in certain subjects (special education is another biggie). That's where differential pay comes in, if you're going to insist on paying everyone the same it's going to be really had to fill those slots...
C'Mon, Everybody Is Doing It...
This response to this post is pretty funny. The new line of argument at the AFT's rabidly and unabashedly pro-NCLB blog is apparently either (a) "everybody's doing it..." or (b) count us with the Fordham Foundation and the Bush Administration! If it's the latter then good thing they kept a lid on that prior to this affiliation deal with the NEA!
Background on the "word" in question here and here. And, just because the Bush Administration and Fordham says "sanctions," does that make it an accurate descriptor or better than a neutral word like "consequence"? (Joe Williams offers his view here.)*
But, just to be safe and head off any possibly destructive behavior going forward: John and One-L, if Mike Petrilli, Checker Finn, Rod Paige, and Margaret Spellings were jumping off a very tall bridge would you?
*BTW--per an earlier conversation today, worth pointing out that describing NCLB's provisions in completely pro-parent terms would also be taking a perspective or side in the debate. Everyone should just use more neutral language. Even the new role models like Fordham and Rod Paige.
*Also, don't worry that we won't hear more about this...the AFTies reassuringly tell us:
We'll be discussing the sanctions or interventions or consequences of NCLB on this site many times in the months ahead, and, whatever we term we use, we'll judge them on whether they help kids learn.
Oh good, can't wait! But the suspense is almost too much since it's so unpredictable over there...Whatever will they say?
Can't get enough charter schooling action? Then aim your browser at the Nat'l Alliance for Public Charter Schools' new edublog, the aptly titled Charter Blog. Good way to keep up on all the articles etc...about that issue. Question is: Can they be the first organizational edublog to say something that discomforts ($) their members? Disc: I'm on the board of directors.
NYT ed board jumps-in to the higher ed accountability fray and urges higher ed to get in front of this parade.
Eduwonk admits to having something of an educrush on the witty and interesting NewOldSchoolTeacher but she leaves for long periods of time to parts unknown and it's putting something of a strain on the relationship...Update: Edubliss...She's back!
Alexander Russo: Lonely outpost of reason in this crazy eduworld of ours...or perhaps not, or not, or not...
US News takes note of Collective Bargaining In Education: Negotiating Change In Today's Schools.
Over at the AFT's anti-NCLB blog One-L makes a revealing point. She asks whether punishment or sanctions will make teachers work harder and says that since teachers like erstwhile Eduwonk guest-blogger Alice in Eduland seem pretty intrinsically motivated, who needs 'em anyway!
Couple of things to unpack here: First, though its opponents have decided (through polling mind you it's a perfectly rational decision) to call No Child Left Behind's provisions "sanctions" and "punishment" and too many newspapers have obligingly parroted the phrase, it's really a very contestable characterization.** Parents who are being given a right to choose another public school if the one they're at isn't getting the job done might not consider that right a "sanction" in the common usage of that phrase. Likewise, I'm concerned about NCLB's supplemental services provisions but it's hard to say that they're much of a "sanction" or a 'punishment" from the perspective of parents and students (remember them?). And, even NCLB's more serious consequences, curricular overhaul, bringing in outside expertise, and, yes, even firing people are only "punishments" from one point of view. Frankly, saying "sanction" pretty much shows, often probably subconsciously it's so ingrained, that you think the schools themselves are more important than the kids in them. There are legitimate arguments on both sides about the effectiveness of these various strategies but a term like "consequence" is a lot less poll-driven and a lot more even-handed.
That leads into the second point. Alice in Eduland may not need external accountability but she doesn't shy from it either. Though One-L wants to reduce it to particular teachers, and we could argue the anecdotes back and forth all day (and there are plenty that One-L won't want to post on the AFT's site) this is about large scale policy for a system with millions of students and teachers. There are plenty of examples of good and bad (thankfully much more of the former) but that's not the point. Good intentions are nice, and talking about them makes great rhetoric, but they're not much of a public policy.
It's easy (and fun) to call I'm Rick Hess Bit*h a bully for pointing out this uncomfortable truth about human nature, but he's basically right. Similarly, Al Shanker unapologetically remarked that sure there are some lousy teachers, any time you have millions of anything you have some lemons. He's right, too, and there are also lousy doctors, lawyers, journalists, and policy types. It's a fact of life. But, right now there is less accountability education than those other fields in large part because of customer choice but also various other incentives at play. If we don't want to use customer choice as the primary mechanism (and, in isolation, it's a problematic mechanism in education) then other incentives aimed at forcing the system to do the right thing, are the alternative (or at least a choice - accountability hybrid).*
Right now in education the primary accountability mechanisms are on the students as many states adopt various high-stakes testing provisions (something it should be pointed out that No Child Left Behind does not require). No Child is putting to the test the proposition of whether we can actually hold the adults, who hold most of the cards in education game, accountable. But we shouldn't stop there. States, too, have a big responsibility here and are largely let off the hook in NCLB, something that the reauthorization will hopefully consider. Accountability should be for everyone but right now it's for about no one except the kids.
*And this is where the onus is on the AFT. It's hard to disagree with this sentiment (is anyone really against fair assessment, rich curricula, or good professional development for teachers?) but one searches in vain for specific policy proposals that really have any teeth when it comes to the adults. Could be there is no problem there, but the evidence suggests otherwise. It's unfair to pick on the AFT for this because asking them to address it is asking them to work against the interests of some of their members, which, despite the fact that most teachers don’t fall into the problematic camp, is still not a fair thing to do. But a keener understanding of the dynamics would likely lead to more balanced policymaking and help address the issue that way.
**Update: Here's a good look at the word "sanction" from Dictionary.com. Bottom line, common usage is "a punitive or coercive measure or action" which, again, NCLB's provisions are or are not depending on where you sit.
Yet another market that we have cornered...