Friday, April 07, 2006
Doing More For Less
OK, so you're too busy or lazy to read 700 or so words in the Times...then Andy Smarick is your guy. He distills the three main points of my op-ed on public sector choice to about 300 and has some annotated illustrations to boot!
A lot happening on charter schools in New York City, Joe Williams rounds it all up for you.
In addition to the Gordon opus below which touched on a host of issues, two other new teacher quality papers worth checking out. CRPE's Dan "Hearts are breaking" Goldhaber looks at teacher licensing tests (pdf). He finds a small relationship between the tests and student learning but discusses the obvious trade-off between screening out unsuitable candidates and also screening out good ones (the false-positive, false-negative trade-off). In other words, a rigorous test will screen out unsuitable candidates but also prevent some good ones from getting through, is it worth it? Goldhaber seeks a more talent sensitive hiring process as a check on this problem, but again the issue of culture emerges. School district HR is often not very talent sensitive now for a variety of reasons (pdf). Tough issue, great paper.
Elsewhere writing for the Foundation for Child Development and the Brookings Institution, Kate Walsh seeks to tamp down some of the expectations about teacher quality in light of the existing labor market and state of play in evaluating teachers. Important interplay with Gordon, Kane, Staiger, but also for the issue more generally, some big points tucked in here and again some trade-offs against a backdrop of urgency.
Agree or disagree with Nina Rees, I do and don't, she's quite charming and cares about the ed issue. Russo puts her on his Hot Seat today. Among other things, she teases a forthcoming piece for Gadfly about SES, Senator Kennedy, and school choice. Should be interesting, besides the obvious debate about whether SES is working well, there is an ongoing and interesting debate about what it did/didn't signify.
Perhaps I misunderestimated the Department of Education on this No Child Left Behind growth model pilot? The Department said they'd only take ten states, despite concern that not even that many were equipped to do this. Then 20 states applied and people started to worry. But now only 8 have made it through the first cut to go to peer review where they'll meet Bill Taylor, Rick Hanushek, and Kati Haycock as Simon Cowell. Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee get to go to the big stage while Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah got sent packing.
Still too soon to tell for sure and plenty of room for mischief in the plans that made it (and politically to make a bad plan the floor for the next reauthorization of No Child Left Behind). One thing that jumps out is the idea of projected growth at key stages and setting benchmarks, for instance high school ready, as it seems that TN is doing. If not done carefully, seems this could either (a) end up shifting all the accountability burden onto middle schools, sixth grade teachers, etc... or (b) give life to George Miller's concern that growth models are perpetually "getting there" with no moment of real responsibility for where a student is, or rather is not. But still, so far mostly so good.
The other day we talked about Rick Hess' unified theory of education. In today's NYT I lay out one of mine: If the public school community doesn't embrace more pluralism in how we provide public education the institution will decline. And, by making the debate about choice v. no choice the teachers' unions are taking the promising option of choice within the public sector off the table. The immediate issue is virtual charter schools, which are a minor phenomenon but illustrative of the larger issues.
Readers will recall that last time Robert Gordon went wild he produced the closest thing you're going to see to a dishy tell all piece in education for The New Republic. Now, as part of the Hamilton Project, a new ideas project for Democrats (even though it's at Brookings I can say that, right?), Gordon is really taking on the teacher quality issue (see the AFTies reax here, they compare him to Rick Hess).
The new paper (pdf) he has produced, along with the duo of Kane and Staiger is important substantively and politically. Substantively it lays out some important teacher quality data and begs some serious questions about teacher preparation, evaluation, and pay. And, it furthers the notion that there is a big federal role in driving change here, in other words more Hamilton than Henry. Politically, the fact that Democrats are now engaging on tough issues like this means that there is some hope after all for a more vigorous ideas debate than we've seen for a few years, basically since Clinton was on the scene. Just a few years ago ideas like differential pay or seriously reforming how teachers are licensed were considered heresy. Now the discussion is at least moving forward.
We can quibble about some of the details, and the role of culture relative to policy in creating some of these problems (For instance, I think, and some evidence indicates, that dealing with laggards is more a problem of the culture in education than specific policies. They're not dealing with low-performing teachers much more readily in states with weak contractual protections than strong union jurisdictions). But, this is the right conversation to be having rather than the previous posture which when you distilled it was essentially: "There is nothing to see here, send more money!"
New Edublogs...And Is Russo In Legal Or Physical Jeopardy?
Couple of new edublogs on the blogroll, including this one, Teaching in the 408, which I didn't know about until Russo trashed it! I like it. Not to worry though, he'll get his because reading the comments* on the post it seems ed school prof/blogger James Horn, last seen here accusing Jay Mathews of altering his WaPo stories, is either going to sue or attempt to harm Russo, or perhaps both. *Yes, finally something interesting in the comments even if it is Russo's potential legal or physical demise.
There is a lot of grumbling today about this Diana Jean Shemo story in The Times about school vouchers and minorities. The voucher crowd will never be happy unless a story ascribes effects of Biblical proportions to vouchers, but charter school supporters are complaining, too, saying that the story is unfair to charters somehow (see next graf). Sorry, I don't get it, it seems straight to me, if anything it's sympathetic to vouchers!
The charter folks (and at least one journo who emailed me) are upset about this line: "In the mostly minority Dayton, Ohio, school district, for example, 28 percent of schoolchildren have opted out of public schools in favor of charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately operated." But I think while perhaps an imprecise use of language around an unfortunately toxic phrase the intent here is to say that charters aren't run by the local school district, which is accurate in a general sense. I don't see any great bias. In fact, think the problem is that there is blood in the water per the correction at the bottom of this article from the other day and some generalized griping about this whole episode and that's got everyone all worked up.
Also, if Ed Secretary Spellings wants to really help clarify that charters are public, and lift NY's ridiculous cap, perhaps going to a Christian school to talk about it isn't the best idea...Please. Maybe she really does have it in for charters? And the "private" phrase appears here again in that story. "Privately" run and private school are two different things and The Times is saying the former. Nonetheless, seems The Times needs a synonym for "private" that isn't as loaded and conveys the full range of groups, community groups, groups of teachers, school districts, parents, universities, etc...who can run charter schools along with the fact that the schools are accountable to public bodies but isn't as long and wordy as all that. Suggestions? Nationwide less than 10 percent of charters are even privately managed (in the real sense of that word) so this whole thing is a bit of a misdirection issue anyway.
Update: Some must-read Joe Williams. He says The Times language is evolving on this, and not necessarily in a direction that warrants the benefit of the doubt I gave above.
Update II: Williams digs more and reconsiders: "In fairness to the Times, a closer look shows they have been all over the map with this issue in the last decade." So, the mission to find some good verbiage is on...
Interested in working in an urban school district in a leadership capacity? The Broad Foundation is looking for applicants to be part of the 2007 Broad Superintendents Academy. Apply or nominate people here. Great opportunity and very good training.
Also, the Broad Foundation released the finalists for the 2006 Broad Prize in Urban Education this week. They are: Boston Public Schools; Bridgeport Public Schools, CT.; Jersey City School District, N.J.; Miami-Dade County Public Schools; New York City Department of Education.
Disc: I'm hopelessly in the tank here. I'm on the review board for the prize and Broad has generously supported some of my work projects during the past few years.
As if the SAT people didn't have their hands full already, ABC's Nightline decided this was a good time to raise the special accommodations issue again. Are affluent kids gaming the system?
Three quick SAT thoughts: First, until some sort of comparable interstate measure is available, even something like the American Diploma Project perhaps, it seems like the SAT can screw-up quite a bit and colleges and universities will still use it. They need it because high school transcripts are so unreliable. Second, I don't think it is so good for FairTest that they only make it in the news and public debate when the testing industry is screwing up. Over time an organization needs (a) more than an enthusiastic flack and (b) a positive agenda for change and it's unclear what exactly their agenda is beyond a quasi-Marxist aversion to the way most things in this country work.
Finally, someone please explain to me what I'm missing here. With the SAT's recent woes and clumsy PR moves, it seems like now would be the perfect time for the ACT to go on offense to expand their market share, no? A subtle PR campaign that you can count on the ACT...Or would they have the same problems if they got bigger? Are they just not interested? The Midwest is nice after all...Maybe #2 Pencil can explain this?
Update: USA Today ed board debates SAT's Caperton.
A few weeks back the Washington Post's Outlook section ran a big package on No Child Left Behind. I thought it was good attention to important issues but didn't give readers enough background to really understand what was happening. Kevin Carey thought it was skewed. And now, former Post reporter and current Ed Truster Karen Chenoweth has taken up the challenge laid down by some of the DC-area principals interviewed for the piece: Show us schools that are doing more. Her take on that from the WaPo's website will no doubt set off a frenzy of debate about (a) whether these schools are as good as she says and (b) whether they're representative of anything. But that's a debate worth having.
Writing in The Baltimore Sun Andy Smarick defends the proposed takeover of some Baltimore public schools. Seems to me this is (a) one of those cases where both sides are right and (b) obviously about power more than education. As some Baltimore politicians and community leaders claim there is little doubt that this is in part political, a way to embarrass Baltimore Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley. But, these schools are struggling and more intensive efforts would likely benefit the kids in them and the state may have the power to shake things up more than the locals can. O'Malley is in a jam. The educational state of affairs in Baltimore can hardly be laid at his feet, but the perceived lack of urgency and resistance to change (hardly unique to Baltimore) by Baltimore stakeholders gives him a really tough hand to play here. But, hard not to note a bit more urgency now that this takeover option is on the table though...
Kevin Carey Loves Teachers
You can find out why here...
More work for Leo Casey! Rick Hess and Marty West take their new paper on teacher collective bargaining to Gotham in an explosive NY Daily News editorial. But read the whole thing, they advance their important meta-theme that both sides sign every contract:
It is not the job of [UFT head Randi] Weingarten to change this.
Rather the Klein-Bloomberg team has to start taking full advantage of contract provisions while laying the groundwork now for an ambitious effort to recast the contract this fall. And parents and voters must reject the belief that labor unrest is always a sign of leadership failure.
By the way, I think I've figured out the Hessian Unified Field Theory of Education: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” But from this comes progress...
If you want to learn more about the issue, buy this book and help send the Eduspawn to college!
More than a few readers say all this back and forth about CEP and their report is too confusing because there are too many posts. So, here's an Eduwonk cheat sheet to the whole affair. These links have all the external links to Russo and the AFTies that you need to follow all the action from home:
First, NYT cites CEP as a data point in their front-page curriculum narrowing story. Then, the report is released and doesn't quite support the top line number that has everyone buzzing. Next, the NYT editorial page disses the news story. And then Sherlock Russo gets on the case and the AFTies bravely defend misleading press releases in the service of a good story. Finally, Education Next attacks!
Bottom line: Though curriculum narrowing is an unfortunate issue, the idea, which took hold last week, that 7 in 10 schools are seriously cutting into other subjects to teach math and reading is not really supported by the study. The chart below (background here) shows the data from inside the CEP report. I don't think CEP has done enough to tamp down the hysteria following the NYT piece and in fact fueled the fire with their press statements and press release. Greg Forster says CEP's in the tank, Russo sort of does, and the AFTies alternatively whine and say who cares about accuracy!
Percentage Of Districts That Have Reduced Instructional Time in Some Subjects to Make More Time for English/Language Arts and/or Math,
Source: Center For Education Policy.
You thought it was all about CEP, but no, it's all about KIPP these days. Over at In The Trenches TFA blogger Mr. AB says that KIPP is taking the "best kids" (see his follow-up, too)from his school. Joanne Jacobs responds. And at Small Talk Mike Klonksy dings KIPP because the program doesn't work for some special needs kids per this generally positive evaluation of KIPP (pdf) from SRI. This sort of brings us back to this issue of whether we need one or a few models or rather a continuum of options for students including ideas like KIPP.
To Mr. AB's point -- which is well worth reading because it illustrates an important debate -- the idea that we restrict the choices that parents have in the alleged service of the greater good just doesn't fly in a society like ours. One inescapable theme of the last 40 years of school reform is that if unsatisfied parents can walk, one way or another, they will. What's different now is that low-income families can increasingly walk through ideas like vouchers. That ought to discomfort public school supporters more than it apparently does. Essentially, saying that a good public option like KIPP is skimming the "best" families so we shouldn't have it, is saying to these families that they should forgo something that might be in the best interest of their kids because of a potential abstract good for all kids. That's not exactly how you build brand loyalty and it's not what we ask more affluent people to do and not what they do. To beat a dead horse some more, the way to build support for the public schools is not to give parents fewer choices in the public system but to give them more.
Klonsky raises an important point, too, citing the part of the SRI report that says "[KIPP] schools admittedly are not equipped to handle students with severe learning or emotional disabilities. But wait, within the public system today there are all kinds of programs, magnets, theme schools, etc... that do not work for all kids, especially those with severe learning or emotional issues. Yet they don't get castigated like KIPP, on the contrary they get lionized as exemplars of the best of public education Why? Power of course. They don't threaten today's vested interests like KIPP does.
Again the question is whether there are good options and a continuum of options so that all kids have high quality services, not whether they're all served in the exact same place and way. That's something of a heretical notion but it's not an argument for "separate but equal." Instead, it is an argument against artificially leveling down all the options available in the public system so things are mostly the same.
Of course, there are gradations within all this (for instance learning disabled students, who make up more than half of the special education population and vision and hearing impaired students are a different issue than students with severe multiple disabilities) and one of the really interesting and important questions to answer as more choices become available in the public system is how those choices interact with special education and the important rights those students have. Most schools can/should serve most students, including those with special needs, and clear policies and strong oversight are necessary. But is it a reasonable standard that every school will be able to serve every kid? We don't do that now and the emphasis on uniformity hasn't worked out all that well anyway. Worth noting, the flip side of this coin as it impacts special needs kids is that some of them need very intensive services that are very costly. You don't want other parents saying those are unfair because we can't provide that level of intensity to all kids...though that ugliness periodically rears its head in some communities now.
Kevin Carey Hates Teachers
You can see why here.
Per all the blogginess about the Center for Education Policy No Child Left Behind report, Education Next, sensing a good PR opportunity, has released their profile of CEP head Jack Jennings early. You can read it here (pdf). Russo’s in a frenzy about it and weighs-in here and has an interview with the piece’s author, Greg Forster, too.
Couple of thoughts. First, I had always sort of thought that the nature of this CEP study – self-reported by schools and districts with some case studies – made it obvious that it was not definitive about NCLB but rather one view. But that is a big issue here says Forster. I think it says a lot more about the sloppy consumption of education research than CEP per se.
Second, on the issue of whether Jennings has a partisan/ideological affiliation, I don’t think it really matters on its face. In fact, a lot of people dismiss Ed Next without engaging on substance because it’s “conservative.” John McWhorter has pointed out that too often in education that’s a euphemism for “asshole,” but it’s no better if the label “Democrat” becomes a euphemism for “in the tank with the establishment.” Education debates do not graft cleanly onto partisan lines today anyway.
Having a partisan affiliation and trying to be an honest broker are not mutually exclusive (at least I hope not, I’m a Democrat so obviously not a dispassionate observer of that debate). I’m more interested in whether someone plays it straight than labels. Forster implies Jennings does not.
Seems to me a good indicator is whether someone criticizes their own party when it conflicts with their views or only parrots the party line. I haven’t seen a content analysis of Jennings’ comments in the press. Anecdotally, my sense is that he doesn’t criticize Democrats much. But, whether that means he really doesn’t or those parts of what he says do not make it into the press is an open question. Also, for instance, does someone change their mind and are they willing to engage with contrary evidence?
The third issue is independence what does independent mean anyway? By my reading it means calling it like you see them and being transparent about sources of funding and support. I don’t think that independent has to be synonymous with being viewpoint neutral. Again, I don’t care that Jennings has a viewpoint, sure he does and I didn't, and hope no serious observer of the debate did, need an article to point that out. The issue is whether the work is straight. On that score Forster raises some questions that are worth checking out though I don’t think every point is damming.
Update: There seems to be some confusion about this post. It's about the Ed Next piece linked above, not the back and forth on the 71 percent hysteria that has bugged me for the last week. So don't read anymore into it than that. Guess I should have made that more clear. In sum, to be clear, I think the Ed Next piece raises some fair questions about CEP's work but that the partisan charge/framing weakens it. As I tried to say above, saying that Jack Jennings can't be trusted because he was/is a partisan Democrat is an assertion not an argument (and, if I'm reading it right, one that relies on the notion that all Democrats are hostile to ed reform). It's almost a mirror image of the way the establishment dismisses the work of almost anyone right-of-center. Argue about the work, not the motivations and characterizations. Andy Mollison has some sensible thoughts about that here. Put another way, I still think the way the 71 percent figure was played is misleading but it has nothing to do with Jack's partisan affiliation!
More CEP Report Fallout
Alexander "Woodward" Russo reports that he has "finally found" the Center on Education Policy press release and claims to have gotten to the bottom off the whodunnit about the over-hyped curriculum narrowing spin.
Couple of problems with his report though: First, the press release was right there on CEP's site, so I don't see how this ranks as a great edumystery? Second, while Russo praises CEP for putting out a "balanced press release" the headline is actually: "Majority of School Leaders Report Gains in Achievement, But a Narrower Curriculum Focus Under No Child Left Behind." Bold emph. added. And the infamous 71 percent figure is highlighted in the very first graf! That's balance? Russo ought to work for Fox News!
Sure, NYT's Dillon should have read beyond the press release or lead finding to the underlying data in the report itself, but it's hard to pin the messaging issue on him because it increasingly looks like CEP was not really playing straight pool by making the narrowing issue such a top-line finding when the data showed something a little different. In fact, they might be in a bit of hot water now...yesterday's Times editorial has caused quite the round of chattering...Russo says they've gone to ground...
Update: Russo responds...and reports! He also gives the heads-up on an Ed Week article that takes the 71 percent figure hook, line, and sinker, too! Hmmm....what a surprise, the press release was so fair and balanced on that issue. But, hey, America's Education Newspaper of Record is good on gossip! The story telegraphs what looks to be a critical profile of CEP in a forthcoming Education Next.
Update II: The AFTies still haven't figured out why the 71 percent figure is misleading based on the underlying data in the CEP report. And, they try to say that Russo did, and I still do, say the entire report is biased though I didn't, and don't think Russo did, say any such thing. The issue is the 71 percent top line narrowing figure that set off a week of hand wringing. Spin is expected from there, more surprising, they say it's OK to skew press releases and stories to find a controversial and newsworthy angle. Well, at least they walk the walk on that...
Truth is better than fiction? One other thought per the AFTies apparent willingness to twist things in the service of a good story. As I said, I don't doubt that some of this narrowing is going on though it doesn't have to. I've seen it firsthand at schools and -- despite the shortcomings of CEP's methodology -- the CEP study shows it is happening in some places, just not to the scale that set the hysterics off last week. But CEP found that 33 percent of school districts reporting cutting social studies "substantially" and 29 percent science to make room for math and reading. Maybe I drink too much coffee and am too jumpy as a result, but those figures are pretty startling, too, and seem like they would have made a good eye-catching headline. What's more, they have the added benefit of being accurate based on the data...a third of schools, while not a pandemic, is nothing to sneeze at.
Give the NEA credit for tenacity. Despite having their anti-NCLB lawsuit dismissed almost out of hand, they're appealing.
Liz Willen reports on the state of ed reporting for the Hechinger Institute.
Per this post, this Joe Williams item is truly a museum-quality classic of the genre.
Over at The Quick and the Ed, Kevin Carey makes a very important point about the Higher Ed Act reauthorization:
...we live in a world with a crying need for more information about our higher education system. And yet Congress appears poised to, with little discussion or fanfare, usher in a higher education information dark age by prohibiting the creation of a system that would gather that information.
US News takes a look at grad school bloggers and highlights Eduwonk fav Newoldschoolteacher. Apropos, she notes in a recent post:
My school is driving me crazy. Not the school I'm teaching in, but the school I go to. Maybe I should say "school," since is it really a school if you don't learn anything? Really it's just a building into which I am pouring tens of thousands of dollars of money that I have not yet earned. Fabulous.
And, Ed Knows Policy, a fun blog well-worth checking out, writes-up a big research grant score for the Susanna Loeb West Coast Ed Research Mafia and referees the debate about Challenge Index. You can find background on all that here. He agrees with us that sacrificing accuracy for simplicity is a lousy approach. But, his solution, measuring value-added, while theoretically right on the money is a long way from being a reality in most states so if indeed we want some sort of index now (or reasonable NCLB accountability system for that matter) intermediate steps are necessary.
Looks like The New York Times' editorial writers took time to read the No Child Left Behind study that the reporters apparently did not. They note:
...school districts acknowledge that the law has generated improvements, but they also assert that scary trends are afoot: a majority say that they have had to "narrow" the curriculum to focus on math and reading for children who needed to be brought up to speed.
How is that a bad thing? There is little evidence in the data, compiled by the Center on Education Policy in Washington, that schools are throwing out other crucial courses and chaining well-performing students to a narrow range of basic classes. Three-quarters of the districts say that the law has not caused them to cut back on art and music — which are typically the first to go — and a large majority assert that science instruction has remained intact.
Also, The Times ed page notes the stuff in the report that should be headline grabbing:
In this school year only about a fifth of districts say they have intensified efforts to find expert teachers for high-needs schools and only about 5 percent are offering financial incentives to attract good teachers to those schools. That will need to change if children in poor neighborhoods are to be given the chance to succeed.
I think my $500 is safe.
If you're like Eduwonk you probably spend a lot of time scratching your chin and wondering just where are all those former Bush Administration Department of Education folks working now (besides Fordham, natch)?
Well wonder no more! They've set up shop at Chartwell Education Group. Rod Paige, John Danielson, William Hansen, Susan Sclafani, Mary Jane Pearson, Ron Tomalis, and John Grimaldi, along with Clintonite Laura D'Andrea Tyson, are providing counsel and consulting "comprehensive, results-oriented education solutions in pre-k, primary, secondary, and post secondary education." They have offices in NYC and Washington.
One can only guess that they do media strategy, too.