Thursday, May 25, 2006Vouchers, Vouchers, Everywhere!
Interesting Columbus Dispatch article about the new statewide voucher program in Ohio. Cautions embedded in it for voucher proponents and opponents. For proponents, it again shows that vouchers are not a self-executing reform. The invisible hand is too invisible in education today. But for opponents, before they jump up and down about the low take-up rate, it's worth remembering this is generally par for the course and so an increase is likely as the program moves forward. Also, from the CSM, a good look at the ongoing accountability issues with the voucher program in Milwaukee and efforts to address them.
As I mentioned last week, over at Edpresso, Mathew Ladner offered-up a heaping serving of "Why Eduwonk is Wrong About McKay Vouchers." In fact, not only does he think that this post about Florida's McKay program is wrong, Ladner goes so far to say that: The McKay Scholarship Program is not just the best of the voucher programs in Florida, but in fact, the best voucher program in the country.
First a bit of relevant history before we try to walk Ladner back from the ledge. A few years ago in an effort to have some bipartisan compromise around special education, Chester Finn and I co-edited a wide-ranging volume (along with Charles Hokanson) about special education. It turned out to be a pretty influential publication, several of the authors ended up serving on the President's special education commission and it helped lay the groundwork for the last IDEA overhaul. And, if you still have a copy around now is a good time to sell because they fetch a nice price on Amazon's used book market. Ladner was an author of a chapter.
I mention all this because
First, giving parents a voucher for special education does increase the perverse incentive to encourage parents to seek special education identification. Ladner acknowledges this but argues that an equal disincentive exists for school districts so that in the end some sort of equilibrium presumably will prevail. Except isn't the point of special education to identify the right students for services? Sure, districts do over-identify kids now, but it's not good policy to create a strong disincentive for school districts to give kids services either since many genuinely need them (and unless you've been living in a cave you realize that school districts really don't really like vouchers)? And if parents will seek out a special education identification to get their child extra time on the SAT, free private school tuition surely is an even greater incentive. And, this isn't some abstract theory. Right now in places like Washington, DC, abuse of special education by affluent parents seeking private school placement at public expense is rampant under the federal law (see next graf). Sure, every district in FL is not like Washington (thankfully) but the incentives are the same.
And this is related to the second problem with McKay. It's not really needed. Currently under the federal IDEA law parents whose children cannot be adequately served by the public schools are entitled to a private placement at public expense. It's what leads to the problem mentioned above. It's a good provision and I'm not arguing against it, but it's basically adequate to the task now.
That's related to the third problem. Because the program is intended to help special education students who are not being well-served by the traditional public schools you'd expect to see the participation rates skew toward more serious disabilities. That's not the case. In fact, even if the numbers just mirror the overall special education population, that's indicative of a problem because, again, you'd expect to see a skew in participation toward more intensive disabilities. Last we looked the numbers actually favored students with less serious disabilities. It looks as though McKay is just functioning as a run-of-the-mill voucher program under the guise of being a special education program.
And that's related to the fourth problem. Today, about half of the students in special education are labeled as having learning disabilities. But while there are genuine learning disabilities, experts estimate that half to two-thirds of these students actually suffer from a teaching disability: They haven't been taught to read properly. Ladner and I agree that this is a serious problem, and Presidents Bush (43) and Clinton have both emphasized federal reading programs and the last reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 really moved the ball on this issue along with Bush's Reading First. But, despite this students still get into/end up in special education because of murky designations.*
Consequently, is it really good policy to offer vouchers based on such murky criteria? Sure, you get fraud in any public program but things like income are easier to verify in a standardized way than many special education designations (and again, the more seriously disabled students already have recourse under IDEA).
Of course, in the end McKay really isn't about IDEA or special education anyway. It's about vouchers. And it's a good sell. That's why the program is wildly popular among voucher advocates, it reduces people like me to appearing to be picking on disabled kids. I'm not against choice when it is linked with other policy goals, but I think that any choice scheme must ensure that the rights of special education students are protected and that these students have options. But singling out just special education students for vouchers like this is not the way to expand educational choice. It creates more problems than it solves.
*For a good look at some of the issues that McKay glosses over on this front check out Mark Kelman and Gillian Lester's Jumping The Queue. McKay boosters would, of course, say that the answer to any inequities created by just giving special education students vouchers can be solved by giving all students vouchers. But let's have that debate in a forthright manner.
Buy Canned Goods Now!
The AFTies laud the new NCTQ report! The end is near...But, before you freakout too much, don't miss AFTie John's grad rate two-step! Actually, they've been strong on the reading issue for a long time, it's a Shanker legacy.
Be sure to visit the Carnival of Edublogs, it's nicely done this week by NYC Educator.
New ES report on charter schooling in Florida from Bryan Hassel, Michelle Godard Terrell, and Julie Kowal. Like some other states, accountability, especially for small schools, remains a problem. Plenty of other findings and data as well as recommendations for policymakers. Earlier reports on AZ, CA, CO, MN, OH, TX, Indy, NYC, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. at PPI. Future reports will come from ES including one on Michigan later this year.
The new Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania is ramping up its staff. They're looking for an associate director and a K-12 researcher who can transcend the various silos and:
...serve as the Center’s internal expert on educational interventions, practices, and programs. He/she will work closely with the Executive Director and Associate Director to develop the Center’s understanding of what interventions work in addressing K-12 urban education and what organizations are positioned to make meaningful improvements in this space. The researcher will serve an important “translator” role and must be able to quickly identify and categorize relevant, valid academic research, recognize promising practitioners/programs, and outline the key education-specific metrics philanthropists can use to determine the best use of their money.
Full job description here. And the Associate Director description is here. The center is an interesting and potentially very important project. Send questions, resumes, CVs, etc...to this email address.
In The Washington Post Jay Mathews jumps into the ongoing graduation rate debate. But Jay's piece is a case study in why people get frustrated with on the one hand, on the other hand, accounts from journos. Sometimes there are not two hands, and Jay has dropped the ball here. This grad rate debate question boils down less to methods than competing data sets and their relative utility in calculating graduation rates. Unfortunately, almost nowhere (one quote, en passant from Russell W. Rumberger) in his story does Mathews really ask some of the experts on these datasets to comment on how reliable they are for answering this question. Instead it's horserace reporting about who agrees with whom and so forth.
That said, I don't think there is much of a debate anyway and I'll be blunt, I think this is mostly a PR stunt to begin with. That the EPIers are publicly focusing on Jay Greene rather than others like the Harvard Civil Rights Project and John Robert Warren (pdf) who have made the same points but don't make such convenient villains illustrates the degree to which this is political. And they've succeeded, as Jay Mathews' story illustrates, in clouding the issue. Rather than a discussion about two pretty appalling estimates of graduation rates they've succeeded in reframing the debate away from that issue and onto methods and whether or not Jay Greene is or is not out to get the public schools. Behind the scenes this is being regarded as a big win for the public schools. I'm not sure how? It goes, though, to this whole debate about whether public schools face a substantive or PR problem. The irony, of course, is that many of us who have taken issue with other work by Jay Greene think this is one where he's basically on the money. In any event, give those flacks a raise!
AFTie John jumps in, too, but his critique boils down to: Jay Greene gets money from the Walton Family Foundation and they support vouchers (full 2004 giving here), so his work just must be flawed. AFTie John seems to ignore that the inverse of that argument is don't trust EPI because they're on the take from the AFT (though both are now openly disclosing it these days and that's commendable). It's no way to argue and in this case both critiques are especially lame since there is underlying evidence that can be debated. File that one under "With friends like these it's no wonder public schools are in trouble..." Also worth checking out Sherman Dorn's take.
Update: AFTie John protests that he wasn't impunging Greene's work. Oh please. Here's the money graf below (pun intended). If this funding linkage wasn't intended as a shot at Greene then why even mention it? Anyway you decide...
AFTie John: Like every debate in education, this one has been politicized. Mishel and Roy work for a think tank that receives some funding from the AFT. (We like public schools, think they often get a bum rap, and want graduation rate measurements to be accurate.) Jay Greene's position at the University of Arkansas is endowed by the Walton Family Foundation. (The WFF provides millions of dollars for vouchers and for politicians who support vouchers. The worse public education looks, the easier it is to gin up support for vouchers.)
CA High Stakes
Interesting and conflicted post by a bloggy CA teacher about the court decision against the exit exam there. Not an easy issue at all.
George McGovern, yes that George McGovern, takes time in the LA Times to say that labor needs to get its act together for the world we live in today. George friggin' McGovern! Cue panic at AFTie HQ "who the hell lost McGovern!" Seriously, he's basically channeling Andy Stern and the education parallels to what he discusses are pretty obvious and important. More Green Dot than NEA.
Some regular readers surely know or know of Sean Barney, he was an aide to Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and more recently a policy analyst at the centrist policy organization Third Way. He worked on education policy in various capacities and, along with his boss, was a key supporter of public charter schools on the Hill. He is also an all around class act and great guy.
Less well known is that after 9-11 Barney enlisted in the Marines, becoming a reservist, and was deployed late last year to Iraq. He'd been periodically blogging about his experiences on the Third Way site. But, earlier this month he was wounded in action in Fallujah. His wounds are serious, the bullet went in his neck, hitting a key artery and then out his shoulder/back, but the prognosis is good for recovery. Apparently the quick work of combat medics saved his life in the field and he was airlifted home via Germany to Bethesda Naval Hospital where he is now.
In lieu of flowers Sean is asking for donations to be made to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. The fund provides resources to the families of Marine's wounded in action including assistance so they can travel and be with their wounded family member. The fund is a 501(c)3 organization so your contributions are tax-deductible and it's easy to donate (pdf) via check (pdf). Please do. For donations over $150, drop me a note, and I'll send you a copy of the teacher quality or teacher collective bargaining books. And please keep Sean in your thoughts and prayers as he recovers.
A few weeks ago NCTQ's Kate Walsh described some problems with teacher preparation in this report (pdf) which is a good overview of some of the issues and good companion reading to the recent AERA tome on the issue. Yesterday she was back with a very important new study about how teachers are taught to reach reading (pdf). Walsh, on whose board of directors I sit, took a look at syllabi and courses from a random sample of teacher preparation programs and found that very few teach all the key dimensions of effective reading instruction. Considering that reading is, as they say, fundamental, this is no small thing. So far the response is the same response that greeted David Steiner, essentially that syllabi don't really tell you much about a course. Really? If that is true then the ed school problem is even worse than it appears...Ed Week here, USA Today's Toppo here, Ed Wonks here.
Ed Week reports that not everyone is happy about the composition of the new math panel put together by the Administration. Meanwhile, NYT's Dillon reports that they are a ways from consensus about the Administration's higher education commission. If you missed it last weekend that one is a must-read...
NPR featured her yesterday and you can read about 69-year public school teacher Hazel Haley in a series of articles in The Lakeland Ledger. She taught a lot of Shakespeare, and he might well have asked her, "Can one desire too much of a good thing?"
Ed Week reported recently what folks have been buzzing about: There are apparently some troubles at Education Commission of the States. The emails have been circulating around now and some well-respected and well-liked folks have left. I've heard all manner of rumor and I'm not going to start repeating them all here as Ed Week's Hoff hits the key points. I will add, however, that I keynoted an ECS meeting a few weeks ago in Delaware and it went smoothly.
Perhaps more interesting in the long run is the Council of Chief State School Officers situation. CCCSO head Tom Houlihan has announced his departure. Lots of buzz about possible replacements. One big name foundation person has been asking around and at least two former chiefs, both women from the South, are also interested. Couple of somewhat usual suspects from the DC scene as well. But, the CCSSO board has given the search to a small firm run by a former state chief, that could well mean it's wired. Along those lines Scott Montgomery is rumored by some to have the inside track. Among CCSSO staffers there is a lot of good feeling for Joe Simpson for the role.
Stay tuned. This matters because Houlihan did a lot to get the organization back on track after it started to split when ELC (remember those guys) was formed. But, without the ELC threat CCSSO is going to need a strong leader to keep the organization in fighting trim lest the old issues bubble back up. ELC itself may have turned out to be a debacle but some of the issues that gave rise to it are still real. But, it's a tough job. Keeping 50 fiefdoms and a board of directors happy in a time of substantial reform takes a deft political hand and there is loads of travel involved.
Kolderie's Lakoff Takeoff
I don't think Ted Kolderie is going to get very far with his Lakoff-like effort at changing the verbiage around public charter schools, but the underlying point he makes is really quite important and will be even more important as more schools become called "charter schools."
Kolderie: The [charter school] laws - now in working form in 25 or more states - are enabling laws. They do not create schools: They make it possible for people to create schools. People are free to take whatever approach to learning they think might work; are free to use whatever model of organization they prefer; are free to install whatever school-culture they think might better motivate kids. A chartered school is not a kind of school.
As I asked the other day, what do online virtual schools and a program like KIPP really have in common at anything but the broadest level? See also this interesting Bruno Manno* - Marty West paper (pdf) on charter schools and NCLB for another slice of this issue (skip to page 3 if you're in a hurry). *He's been a funder of mine for a while, but the paper is interesting anyway!
Speaking of teacher credentialing, my colleague Margaret Price makes an interesting point about ABCTE certified teachers and reading. I'm leery of reading too much into their new study (pdf) of ABCTE teachers because while everyone is referring to it as the study with 55 teachers, only 13 of them actually passed both components of the ABCTE test and 13 is a pretty thin reed to lean on. That said, two important things: First, it's a hard test which, along with the reflexive political opposition, contributes to the numbers problem. Interestingly, Chester Finn, who is often vilified for allegedly saying that just anyone can teach, is a key reason why the cut scores on the test are so rigorous. Second, ABCTE has been admirably restrained in touting the study as somehow being conclusive (Esteban Guzman notes much the same here) and they deserve some props for that as they could have gone the slicker media confusing route to try to score some points. More research coming. Somewhat relevant disclosure here.
Last Friday the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards released the now infamous Sanders study. Ed Week's Bess Keller reports here. It was a good move by the board because national reporters were increasingly focusing on the story (see also Josh Benton and Linda Seebach) and they needed to get in front of this.
As for the study itself (pdf) it's pretty much what it was billed as. The topline finding is: the amount of variability among teachers with the same NBPTS Certification Status is considerably larger than the differences between teachers of different Status. Consequently, a student who is randomly assigned to a National Board Certified teacher is not much more likely to get an "effective" teacher (or an "ineffective" teacher) than a student assigned to a teacher who has never been in the NBPTS process (or one who failed certification, or one who may in the future become certified).
That's not inconsistent with other research about teacher credentialing including the recent Hamiltonian opus. In other words, these screens often don't serve as the quality assurance that proponents say they do. That's an enormous issue for policymakers to get a handle on that goes far beyond the National Board.
That said, this isn't outright damning for the National Board. For starters, it's just one study. The National Board is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation and it's wise to withhold judgment until that process provides more evidence. They didn't help themselves with how they handled this and mortgaged a lot of the cred they'd built up by doing the evaluation project, but the jury is still out. But, they might want to encourage their partisans to temper their rhetoric a bit. The Goldhaber study was, as I said, significant as these things go but not a slam dunk and this one raises some legitimate questions.
So what's the big picture difference between Sanders and Dan Goldhaber's study (pdf)? Not a lot actually, roughly similar effect sizes but Sanders uses multiple models and finds a lot of noise in some so he consequently highlights the not insignificant issue of intra-route variability, meaning there more variability within routes (e.g. National Board certified or not) than between them. That's significant because it (a) raises cost-benefit issues relative to the National Board as a process to ensure or improve quality (b) raises the related question of whether there are more cost-effective ways to identify top teachers and (c) raises questions about the reliability and value of the certification process. Sanders and Goldhaber use different methodological approaches so look for some back and forth about the relative value of each going forward. Sanders makes a pretty strong claim that his method is superior which as these things go is like slapping Dashing Dan across the face with a glove...
The National Board also includes a summary of the peer reviews on their site (pdf). Some of the issues are smokescreen stuff, for instance sample size. But the reviewers also question the impact of a change to North Carolina's test during the study and whether there is a ceiling effect on student achievement since National Board teachers generally teach higher performing students (a problem in its own right)*. I don't know enough about NC's system to make heads or tails of those claims but I have a hunch that if they were genuinely serious threats to the validity of the findings more would be made of them** and there is no reason to think, at least before this recent episode, that Sanders had any agenda with the National Board.
The National Board has some strategic thinking to do going forward. Like it or not, student achievement is the coin of the realm here so the "trust us, we know best, now bugger off" days are a thing of the past. National Board President Joseph Aquerrebere signaled as much when he told a reporter, “I am disappointed with the results.” That's the right posture and hopefully the board will take the study to heart and evaluate their programs. [Here is where they should put aside the anti-TFA animus and learn from what Teach For America does to refine its recruitment criteria. TFA is the industry standard right now for that process.] By itself, the Sanders study will only be as damning as the National Board makes it through their public and substantive response going forward. A more portable and real credential-based system for teachers makes a lot of sense and the National Board has a role to play there. But there is a lot of public money at stake here and a lot on the line for them going forward. Too many more episodes like this, either on form or content and they're going to have some problems.
*Several readers want to know what I think this means for efforts to get National Board certified teachers into high-poverty schools? Well, as I've said, all else equal states are spending a lot of money on incentives for NBCT's and so those incentives ought to be tied to efforts to improve equity in teacher quality and in most places they are not. States are still going to be spending a lot on those incentives for the foreseeable future so all else is still equal.
**Meaning in the year+ that the National Board had the report prior to its public release they would have had the data reanalyzed if this were indeed significant.