Friday, May 12, 2006
Eduwonk Exclusive: NYC Cap Action...Is Randi Weingarten Doing NY Gov. Pataki's Job, Too?
Where is Joe Williams when you need him? Regular readers will recall that a few weeks ago I was pointing out that reform teachers' union leaders have a tough job. Turns out, I didn't know the half of it. Sometimes, apparently, they have to do two jobs.
There is an ongoing debate in New York about lifting the state's cap on charter schools which is keeping promising charter schools at bay. For my part, I'd been wondering how NY Governor George Pataki had pretensions about leading the free world when he can't even bring a few recalcitrant state legislators into line to do something as obvious as raising the arbitrary cap on charter schools despite their obvious popularity in the state. (File that one under Republicans talk a great game about education reform but are often quite useless when the action starts).
Turns out though that Pataki may not have to do the work because the word on the NY edustreet, confirmed late today by someone in a position to know is that UFT head Randi Weingarten and NYCSA head Bill Phillips are quietly having face-to-face discussions about a cap-raising deal, one today at UFT headquarters. That's very significant, and not only because NY taxpayers should expect some savings from this obviously useful outsourcing initiative since Weingarten and Phillips are now apparently doing what the governor should have been.
It's significant because in case Weingarten isn't already in enough hot water over her charter school initiative within the teachers' union establishment, she's really going out on a limb here. Rather than an expansion, a lot of folks in that camp want an all out jihad to end this whole charter business now. And, any deal would be a big boon to NYC schools chief Joel Klein who wants more charter schools in the city since he has these crazy ideas about how things could be going better there for kids...but there is a vocal part of Weingarten's union that thinks that Klein is just like Franco, but without the compassion, and views this all as a big zero-sum game. And for his part Phillips is taking a risk, too, since he has a no-concessions at any cost element to deal with also and will be held accountable if this gambit blows-up. And, substantively it's significant because lifting NY's cap makes a lot of sense, it's arbitrary and is standing between creating more good public schools for kids and an indefensible status quo.
I hear that more talks are planned and that the whole thing is serious enough that Leo Casey is already researching the most appropriate and grand historical comparisons to turn loose on Edwize in the event of a deal. So if you're into charters or interesting politics, keep an eye on Gotham. Disc: I'm on the NYCSA board of directors but this tidbit actually came through another channel.
Via the prudish Education Wonks (c'mon where are the pics!)...if the Palm Beach Public Schools are not deluged with applications for next year then they're just doing something wrong. Why? Well she's the one at the top left and the one seen here (Lee is her stage name) and of course there at your left. I'm actually stunned the good folks at NCTAF didn't think of this sooner (but sponsorship opportunities are still available says the website) and of course I'm really hoping this is teacher voice! Leo's cute and all that, but...I do have to say though that I feel a little ignorant, until this morning I didn't even know that we had a National Bikini Team but since we do I'm glad it has teacher voice.
Governing's Gurwitt looks at the ongoing debate about school boards and Don McAdams' work to help them. Worth reading. And worth mentioning that Governing's education coverage has becoome really strong the past few years.
Per this post below, Diane Piche of the CCCR notes that "It's actually tougher to defend a pro-voucher Dem's right to life than a right-to-lifer's right to be a Democrat..." Sad but at least in educircles, true.
Per NYT charter school madness, a NY reader (clearly self-absorbed) points out that "You might have added that on the same day that this came out the AP reported, and the NYT did not, that New York State had identified 189 schools at the NCLB five-year stage. I guess it just isn’t news that the districts are failing."
The Hesslo phenom is taking their act to more mainstream media! But you were in the loop back when Hesslo was a mere cult thing.
Matt Yglesias asks the profound ecclesiastical question "What Would Eduwonk Do?" in regard to school vouchers and Cory Booker.
Here's the answer. First, I'm a big Cory Booker fan. He represents a new generation of urban leaders that excites me because they're not afraid to tear down what is not working and build again. He's a progressive in the best sense of that term. I'm thrilled that he won in Newark and if he can help get that city back on its feet the sky is the limit for his political career.
But I don't agree with him on school vouchers. I understand the demand for them, and think that Democrats and the public school community had better respond more aggressively to that demand than they have to date, but I don't see them as solution to what ails urban schools. My reasons for that are pragmatic (charter schools can offer more seats for students and transparency and information is vital to a well functioning educational marketplace and fixing urban schools requires, well, fixing urban schools, that's more an issue of political will than choice alone though the two are obviously not unrelated) and also ideological, I think that a strong linkage between public money and public input and accountability is important in public education. So the issue with me isn't choice per se, I'm all for that, it's how to use choice to improve opportunities for students. And, it seems to me that as voucher programs get more regulated they are becoming more and more like good charter school initiatives anyway.
So how, the hysterics want to know, could I possibly support Cory Booker then because he's a voucher guy? Well, the same reason I support and work with some other Democrats who support vouchers, the issue isn't a deal breaker (and I'm pretty sure vouchers aren't contagious) and has really taken on an out-sized importance in education debates. It's an issue that reasonable people can honestly disagree about and, in addition to a more pro-reform posture, the Democratic Party must learn to tolerate disagreement about it fast because Cory and other younger urban leaders want change now. In 2000 when Time's Tamala Edwards asked Al Gore about vouchers during the Harlem primary debate he responded with an answer about school construction and pre-K education. That's a ticking time bomb for Democrats.
Ed Pol also weighs-in on all this here. And, if you can't get enough Cory, Ed Next has rushed out its article about him (pdf).
Per the item below, AFTie John inexplicably wants to revisit the debate about the AFT charter school report in relation to the NBPTS Sanders voice squelching episode. This is an unusual tact for him to take since the AFT is pretty involved in NBPTS, the AFT president sits on the board of directors, do they want to own this? If they're as for transparency as AFTie John seems to be saying then they've got some 'splanin to do about the squelching of Sanders.
Also, though the "Bush Administration was sitting on the charter data" was a good line for the AFT to take, it suffers from the moderately serious flaw of not being right. That the press fell for the illogical attack that the Bush Administration was sitting on publicly available data was amusing but not confidence inspiring (though the administration's penchant for secrecy certainly didn't help them at all, I'm suspicious of them even when I think they're right!).
However, as I noted at the time, what in fact happened was an indication that the new Institute of Education Sciences firewall between politics and research was actually working. That the politicals didn't know what IES was up to in terms of their analysis was a good news story, not a bad news one. You want the politicals to be in the dark so that research can proceed independently. Russ Whitehurst, the head of IES, has vigorously defended the new institution's independence (and taken some hits for it) and that is something that the AFT should support. Instead, AFTie John and the AFTies want to politicize one of the things about federal education research that is actually working, not a good sign. They succeeded in snookering an NYT reporter who didn't know to look at the charts or didn't know how to read them. Good enough for them, that's politics and they scored a nice hit, but they ought to leave well enough alone. Besides, at some point, someone at the newspaper that didn't take the report might start talking...
Update: Oops, on his recommendation I've been watching too much Bill and Ted and have time travel issues. AFTie John actually wants to start a new debate! Same issue though. I've heard rumblings about this new study but not enough to make heads or tails. All leaks welcome. Anonymity assured.
Yesterday's NYT editorial about charter schools has basically sent everyone into their respective bunkers. The charter community is up in arms, here, here, and a little bit here, AFTie John is almost orgasmic with glee, measured response from Joe Williams here.
I'm left feeling like conservative judicial critics of Harriet Meiers must have: I agree with the result but don't much care for the method. The Times is basically right that some states have not done a good job on oversight. I've overseen a ten-state (soon twelve state) series of case studies on charter schools in various states and this is much the same thing we've found and said.
But, a couple of issues with how The Times reached this conclusion. First, the reason we're doing case studies is that charter school policies and context varies so much state-to-state that it's irresponsible to generalize about charters in one state based on another as they did. Sure, NC's got some problems and so does OH but that doesn't tell you much about charters in CA. And, because of the diversity of charters it's quickly reaching the point where it's irresponsible to generalize about charters much at all. After all, what does the out-of-control Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow have in common with, for instance, KIPP or Green Dot or MATCH?
Second, and this is important, the achievement picture is more mixed than The Times lets on. In most states charters are posting faster gains than other public schools which means that in a few years the charter picture is going to look a lot different. In addition, though I've only seen this data in a handful of places, if you throw out the lowest performing charters and a comparable number of the lowest performing public schools, the charter to traditional public school comparison looks a lot more favorable to charters. Why? Well in no small part because of what The Times gets at, in some places a lack of oversight has resulted in some really shoddy schools opening up. Why is this important? Because politically the time horizon issue is the driving force behind the "kill them in the cradle" strategy we're now seeing from the AFT, NEA, and others (and yes, I know, I know...they support charters with all the right conditions....spare me, more on that BS later). In other words, all else equal (leave aside if the quality issue really gets tackled) the numbers will look different in a few years and make it politically harder to attack charter schools. By the way, the top performing charters ought to really want to take this on because their phenomenal work is getting lost in the averages because of the laggards.
Now some think the real point of The Times editorial was not national but rather NY specific because the legislature there is considering raising the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. That would make the editorial really peculiar because NY has a pretty good track record on charters and they've closed charters that are not performing well academically even if they're doing OK on other measures. Besides, in New York City the overall graduation rate is in the 50 percent range, lower for minorities, only about one in three students overall get advanced or "Regent" diplomas and only 10 percent of minority students do. I have trouble getting worked up about how various initiatives might really screw-up this stunning success story...
In fact, I think the editorial has more to do with an unfolding debate at the National Governors Association where some anti-charter school governors are seeking right now to revisit the NGA's basically pro-charter school policy position. That would be a mistake, there are plenty of good examples of how to do this right and NGA should be focusing on those rather than watering down their policy.
Recall a few weeks ago in all the back and forth about the CEP report about No Child Left Behind there was some criticism of the CEP report because it was reported data and perceptions from school districts and schools. While certainly an important caveat in terms of the study, I didn't think it was a fair critique more just an interpretative issue. After all, hard and very expensive to get the data too many other ways.
But, a similar critique can be leveled, and more fairly, at the new PEN report purporting to show what the public thinks about No Child Left Behind. Ed Week breathlessly reports the views of the "public" here. The PEN report is worth reading, in part because everyone else is and in part because it makes some good points. But the data comes from an online survey and people who showed up to "hearings" PEN conducted around the country. In other words, it's enormously biased by self-selection. Instead of "Public Dissatisfied Over Key NCLB Provisions, Report Says," a more accurate Ed Week headline would be, "Activists Dissatisfied Over Key NCLB Provisions, Report Says."
Of course, the views of activists matter, and in politics they arguably matter more than other views in terms of driving political behavior, but to purport that this is what the "public" defined broadly, thinks is absurd. Who knows, it may well be but this method won't help us know one way or the other. And, I'm actually skeptical, with phrasing like "anguished" and "worst" and characterizations of NCLB like single-tests for school accountability, it's almost like there is an agenda here. Never in education! Besides, I daresay most of the "public" really does not care enough about NCLB one way or the other to show up at a hearing anyway. That's a problem PEN and I agree must be tackled.
The Full Monty
FairTest's Monty Neill would like to abolish testing, but they don't come right out and say that lest they get labeled a "fringe" element. But they're not so encumbered in England where one of the country's biggest teachers' unions is pulling a full Monty. Thx to reader DP for the tip and cinematic observation.
If you're interested in some descriptive data -- not the ritualistic back and forth -- about what's happening with the federal school voucher program in D.C. it's hard to beat this new report from Patrick Wolf and the team he assembled (pdf). Also, the Colorado Association of School Boards takes a wide-ranging look a public charter schools in their magazine, Prism (pdf). For more CO charter schools, Peaks and Valleys rounds-up the landscape for you.
NBPTS Update...Frying Pan, Meet Fire
After wondering just a week or so ago where the Sanders NBPTS data was, suddenly it's released (sorta and with some spin). Ed Week's Bess Keller writes it all up. Coincidence? You decide!
But when do we get to see the whole study on the NBPTS website? They say they're not going to post it. Why? It's like the National Board doesn't get it, dribbling this out is the worst strategy of all. Keller is a bulldog on this stuff and this might have some legs because there is so much money involved. Second worst strategy: Picking a fight with Sanders like they seemingly are...and over methodology! The methods he was going to use couldn't have been a surprise to them...after all, he's the value-added guru. You don't hire him if you want a case study!
Also, subtle risk here: This could further embolden ABCTE to overplay their hand at their event later this week. That would be a mistake, none of this NBPTS stuff changes things for ABCTE.
Update: This explains it! Thanks to reader MG for the tip.
Susan Fuhrman wins the Teachers College sweepstakes. Smart choice if they didn't really want to rock the boat but didn't want a hard-core bunker-dweller either. Fuhrman is rightly well-regarded and not polarizing.
In case you missed Sunday night's 60 Minutes tap dance on Sallie Mae, don't worry you can view it/read it on the CBS website. Yet insiders were left wondering, it was a dream segment for Sallie Mae critic and former Clintonite Bob Shireman, but where was he? Instead, New America's Michael Dannenberg did the dirty work on camera and Shireman was nowhere to be found. Apparently, the seemingly mild-mannered Shireman (seen here in an exclusive Eduwonk photo at right) is actually as swift, silent, and deadly as a recon Marine…
Like mushrooms after a summer rain they are! Two new edublogs on the scene. Interestingly, both coming out of big media but both a little edgy with some personality. At the LA Times School Me! is their new edublog. And with posts like this it's clear they're not pulling any punches (I don't think the word hussy has ever appeared on Eduwonk! I promise to do better). Good stuff on the immigration protests, too. At PBS', Learning Now Andy Carvin will keep you in the loop on ed tech and is off to a lively start. Both on the blogroll at your left.
On Thursday May 25, from 9:30 AM - 11:00 AM Education Sector will host a debate about the impact of provisions in teacher contracts concerning assignment and seniority. Howard Nelson from the AFT and Michelle Rhee from the New Teacher Project will discuss the issue moderated by Ed Week's Bess Keller. Space is limited, register here.
On Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm, Joanne Jacobs will speak and sign her book, Our School, at William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. My take on the book here. The event is open to all.
On Monday, May 22, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. the National Council on Teacher Quality will release the most comprehensive survey to date of reading instruction in the nation's teacher preparation programs at the National Press Club in Washington. Punchline: A lot of teacher preparation programs at the nation's colleges of education pretty much ignore the research about reading instruction that would prepare prospective teachers to more effectively teach reading. New Teacher of the Year Kim Oliver will speak. RSVP by the 19th.
NEA V. NAACP...It's More Serious Than Just Dueling Acronyms...
It's official, the National Education Association is on record opposed to the NAACP in the CT anti-NCLB lawsuit (pdf). The NAACP response here(pdf). I think this is what they call a harbinger...but remember, no political problem here for Democrats to worry about...as you were!
WaPo’s Nick Anderson writes-up some DC-area high schools that make Newsweek’s list of America’s 100 Best High Schools. Sara Mead and I are brought in as the villains for criticizing the list (pdf). There have been other stories like this (eg this one), citing the high schools on the list and then saying "but critics say..." and they engender some interesting emails along the lines of: "How can you say our high school isn't great!" It’s worth remembering, just because the method the list uses to identify the “best” high schools is, in our view, flawed, doesn’t mean that every single high school on the list is not a great school. We're not saying that it is a list of uniformly lousy high schools, just that it is uneven. Some are great, it’s just that the method doesn’t systemically identify them and the list has, in our view, some serious flaws. For more on that Sara does a nice job here illustrating how this year's list again shows that readers aren't getting a square deal from Newsweek.
Warning: This post is very graphic and probably unsuitable for younger readers because of the atrocities I chronicle. What follows is a personal narrative: I was there when "teacher voice" was squelched...
Because of all the back and forth about the atrocities being committed against teachers at the New Schools Summit (a place where teacher voice is gravely feared) I felt compelled to check out the session Leo Casey had singled out as the place "teacher voice" would be silenced.
And on the panel in question, about the future of teacher unions, it was hard and dark, what with former Denver teachers' union activist Brad Jupp and former Seattle teachers' union president and TURN leader Roger Erskine as two of the three on the panel it was clear, that as Leo and others argued last week, the views of teachers' unions or anyone sympathetic to them would be ruthlessly suppressed at any cost. So it was with great trepidation that I followed Steve Barr (founder of a unionized charter school) into the session because I reckoned that when the brownshirts moved in to beat any of us who had any inkling of good feeling for unions they'd be looking for Steve first and that I'd be in jeopardy being anywhere near him...especially because people in the know realize that he and I largely agree…
Brad Jupp looked ferocious in sensible shoes and a red cardigan sweater. He may have looked like Mr. Rogers but I knew he was basically a Pinkerton man, a ruthless tool of unchecked management. And Erskine, my God, if you've never met him he exudes the air of a man with a singular mission to crush the life out of something...his palpable willingness to brutally snuff the first hint of "teacher voice" chilled the room. With enemies like these it's no wonder the teachers' unions are worried...Attila, Hannibal, Jupp, Erksine...so it goes...My knees were weak, I was in the dragon's lair!
What's worse, there were actual educators in the room! Really. That they were forced to witness this violence upon their collective voice sickened me. Think of the children, I thought, since it's all about the kids after all. These educators had
But what was most peculiar is that I know I'm supposed to think of the Joel Klein regime in New York City as part of the same lineage and in the same way I think of Pinochet, Franco, and Castro but the third panelist, Dan Weisberg from the New York City Department of Education, sounded, well, reasonable. That really threw me, he wasn't squelching teacher voice, he was having a discussion. In fact, he didn't blame teachers' union for everything while Jupp pointed out that school districts are no picnic and broad change was necessary across the board. Erskine said much the same thing. People asked questions! It was almost like a real discussion with varying viewpoints being presented and the concerns of teachers' unions on the table. But I knew better, by that point I was in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder (caused by the heinous squelching I had already witnessed, natch) so I knew to no longer trust my instincts...
I'm still shaken by what I witnessed. But when the history of this awful time is written, I'll know that I was there when teacher voice was squelched in Redwood City, California in May of 2006...now I'm healing, not by looking backwards, but by looking forward to the next big teachers' union confab when, as they always do, they invite in their various critics to air their views and debate. In the process they're taking the first step toward ending the squelching of voice which silences too many would-be conference panelists across the land...They're not afraid of critics voice, they're putting us on the path to reconciliation even as others ruthlessly continue to suppress teacher voice...