Friday, June 16, 2006
New Roles For Teachers' Unions
My thoughts on some next steps are here, changing roles for changing times.
Joe Williams is on a bloggy bender, he wants to give you $100 and has loads of great posts.
This whole thing is pretty absurd, but this line, buried in the story, is sort of the icing on the cake: "The district has had problems getting the software to work." Thanks to reader R.
Resistance to the LA takeover plan seems to be getting organized...
Wow, that was Hurricane Piche! Dianne really blogged up a storm the past few days. We'll return to regular order now but you can see all her posts below....And a big thanks to Dianne for her efforts.
Flip-flex, n., policy of allowing states and/or school districts to reverse or "flip" the order of students' school transfer and tutoring rights explicitly and unequivocally set out by Congress in a law called "No Child Left Behind." -- Syn. capitulation, e.g. to educrats who resist tough challenge of providing more seats in successful schools. -- Ant. tough love, enforcing law and regulations, expanding public school choice programs, requiring recipients of federal funds to offer students a better deal.
Flex flip, n., mid-course correction. E.g., A newly sworn-in cabinet official announces she will compromise with states and districts with respect to a big law's compliance timelines and requirements, and then does a flex flip after concluding a lot of their "flexibility" requests won't help kids. -- Syn. tough love, enforcing law and regulations, requiring recipients of federal funds to put kids first. Compare gymnastics. -- Usage. In Eduspeak, "flex flip" tends to be used in close proximity to the following largely obs. words: the "E" word enforcement, the "C" word compliance, and the dreaded "A" word audit. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Remember that old song by the Kinks? (If not, click here, rated PG-13)
Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.Well, I gotta confess, I find myself singing a version of "Lola" to myself quite often these days when pondering the Big Issues in education politics. [Note: This has nothing to do with a certain mature-themed cowboy flick per this, this or this, etc., though Eduwonk may well be right that all roads will ultimately lead us back to Blogback Mountain.]
Ds will be Rs, and Rs will be Ds. It's a mixed up, muddled up edu-world.Seems like there are more and more "strange bedfellows," unconventional alliances and unprecedented splits on Big Issues: NCLB, choice, charters, assessment, teacher assignment and compensation, transparency, and even boys and girls (as in boys are the new girls). So much so that advocates like me are finding ourselves in heated debate on a number of issues with lifelong friends and historic allies. On both the traditional "left" and "right" conventional ways of thinking and organizing are going out the window. Even the center is divided: between the inertia-driven defenders of the established order and the new "radical centrists" who are bound neither by precedent nor ideology. The muddle goes beyond the scandalous reports of the NEA taking up company with the ultra-conservative Republican Study Group, or their re-packaging the Newt Gingrich "Contract with America" and arguing the Right's case, a decade later, against "unfunded mandates." Or the Heritage Foundation taking the opposite position on the same question. There are conservatives talking national standards, race-consciousness, school finance equity. And the whispering among some fed-up liberals about how vouchers ought to be granted under some limited circumstances is so widespread it's almost an audible mantra. Where's this all going? Don't know, but it's going fast. Buckle up for a wild ride! Guestblogger Dianne Piche
"Pretty good?" Is that like OK? Could be better, but..? Not nearly as bad as... ? Believe me, this headline is NOT from The Onion. It's from the MSM and posted on an official U.S. government website on NCLB. In fairness to the House majority, the aforementioned state-by-state NCLB spins on this site are not their own work-product.* The authors are anonymous and could well be interns. Actually I hope they're interns. But whoever they are, they cut and paste for the Dept of Education, perhaps via one of the spin-shops set up to promote NCLB. While I am all for promoting and implementing and enforcing the many good things in the law, these selective, anecdotal reports don't help the cause. There's no standard, objective format, and it looks like they had to scrape and stretch for something nice to say about many of the states, while conveniently ignoring all the news that’s harder to spin all warm and fuzzy. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" may be among the maternal words of wisdom we share with our kids. But in the case of a $24 billion investment, don't the Department's customers have an interest in getting "the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" And haven't we learned from Eduwonk himself that it's really bad form to skimp on things to say when you are building a case for or against NCLB? I wouldn't be taking time from my day job to dig this far into an amateur production, except that the stakes in this debate are high and the "truth" (aka the evidence) matters. A lot. Some examples:
Connecticut Spin: Danbury is doing “a pretty good job of educating black students.” Laura Bush is planning to visit the state, and - surprise! - the Amistad Academy is doing very, very well. That's it, entire story. Inconvenient Truth: CT's other cities, like Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven have gaping gaps. Chartering restrictions prevent more Amistads from opening up in these cities. The state's failed to comply with the court orders in the long-running Scheff v. O'Neill case. And the state is suing the Secretary to avoid having to fully comply with NCLB.
Virginia spin: Big achievement gains in Norfolk and Richmond. Good news from the 5th grade assessment. Missing Truth:No other grade level results reported; so are the kids regressing in 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade and high school?Inconvenient Truth:Perhaps the biggest achievement scandal to hit the state: the terrible performance of African American students in Fairfax, one of the most resource-rich and self-congratulatory districts in the D.C. metro area. The state is doggedly seeking waivers on everything from NCLB choice to AYP requirements. The Dem governor goes around taking cheap shots at NCLB, while the GOP Senator is trying to gut it entirely. Obvious truth: Last count there were 2 Presidential candidates from Virginia, one highly influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus (and the House Ed and Workforce Committee), a very powerful Republican Congressman from northern VA, and a major national media market dipping into a sizeable portion of the state.
*In contrast, the Committee's own writing on NCLB topics is good quality for the genre. I may not always agree with the Rs (particularly on their bottom lines on funding) but their pieces are cogent, intelligent, relevant and often convincing. Margaret Spellings should offer one of their writers a job. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Cheers for NCLB Choice
There are too few voices out there arguing to keep and strengthen NCLB's transfer provisions, especially given all the resistance, whining and waiver-seeking going on. Supporters, especially those of us on the center and left of center, have another ally and a huge boost from Richard Kahlenberg and the CenturyFoundation. In this hot new paper on improving the NCLB choice provisions, Kahlenberg makes a convincing case for public school choice programs that permit low-income students to move to middle-class schools, and there's good news here about the achievement gains that can result from socioeconomic integration. (Disc. I also love it cuz the paper underscores many of the recommendations CCCR and Cindy Brown made in our 1994 report, Choosing Better Schools, including amendments to NCLB that would provide meaningful interdistrict transfer options and incentives for receiving schools.) The paper's the first in a series; look for forthcoming papers in this series from Century to tackle other small, discrete public policy problems like oil-dependence, tax fairness, and the spread of WMDs. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Over at The Charter Blog, Smith & Smarick are swinging high and low over a recently- announced collaboration between the DC Public Schools and KIPP. WaPost here. I'm not sure this is generational (or a matter of caffe latte-deprivation), as Nelson suggests, as much as it's where you place charters and choice in the larger universe of education reform, or whether you believe they should be the universe. Another way of thinking about it: what, if anything, could or should charters contribute to improving urban public school systems? A good bet would be that lots of superintendents like D.C.'s Janey are thinking, if not talking, along these lines:
Superintendent Clifford B. Janey called the new relationship "a national breakthrough" of "joining two schools at the hip," saying he believes it is the first partnership of its kind in the country. Janey had opened talks last year with KIPP about taking over an underachieving public school -- a proposal KIPP declined -- then began considering other collaborations. "I'm excited for a number of reasons," he said, "including the fact that we had two school communities engaging with each other . . . to elevate the opportunity for high achievement."
At the same time, I know folks in the charter community who believe urban school systems, as we know (and love or hate) them, should essentially be dismantled and replaced with a 100%-choice system, including multiple charter authorizers and networks, lots of indy charters, and for some, private school scholarship/voucher programs. Sort of like a man-made New Orleans situation (minus the catastrophic weather event, human suffering and displacement). For others, including many educator-refugees from disfunctional city school systems, charters represent an opportunity to do their best work while remaining in the public sector. Many of these folks would like nothing more than for those systems to get on a real improvement and reform trajectory, at which point they might get back on board. This is not abstract stuff. On the ground, successful charters like KIPP, Amistad & others are in great demand, and not only by parents and students. Their talented, dynamic founders and leaders increasingly will find themselves getting asked to make house calls to cure neighboring traditional publics of their various ailments. And they will have to decide a) whether traditional publics' failure to thrive is the result of an incurable condition, and, if not, b) whether they have both the capacity and desire to practice this type of medicine. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Until recently it seemed two Democrats named Al had the market cornered on The Truth, convenient or otherwise. But then I accidentally wandered onto this fab site created by the House Ed and Workforce Committee. It hooks you up with a handy state-by-state guide to the best news out there about how "under NCLB states and schools are bearing down and focusing on raising student achievement like never before." Scroll down, click your state, and depending on whether you're a cup-half-full or half-empty personality, you may find some good laughs or plunge into a deep depression. Lots of goodies on this site, more later... If you like your truth with more political balance, visit the Committee Dems ed space, too. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Margaret Spellings' press handlers can cross one feisty opponent off their "NCLB Critics" watchlist this week. Betty Sternberg, Ct's high-profile and outspoken Edu-chief is calling it quits. Sternberg picked that nasty fight with Spellings (who rose to the challenge) over NCLB's testing requirements, and later teamed up with AG Richard Blumenthal, in bringing the federal case of Connecticut v. Spellings. Looks like Sternberg's throwing in the towel on closing Connecticut's persistent and large achievement gaps (the largest poor/nonpoor gap in the US, according to the '05 NAEP) for a more lucrative challenge. She's being named superintendent of the high-wealth - um, I mean high-need - Greenwich school district. Apparently, Greenwich has some has some very big challenges, too, and is in need of Sternberg's gap-zapping expertise. E.g., Greenwich is the wealthiest town in CT , but only the fourth highest-spending district and ranks below other affluent districts in reading proficiency. That ain't right. The Hartford Courant sizes it up:
Among Sternberg's biggest challenges as commissioner has been the chronic achievement gap for low-income and minority children, a problem far more acute in urban centers such as Hartford or Bridgeport than in Greenwich. According to state figures, slightly less than 8 percent of Greenwich's student body qualifies as low-income. The largest minority groups include Hispanics, accounting for 12 percent of the 9,100-student district; Asian Americans, 8 percent; and blacks, 3 percent.Of Connecticut's 166 school districts, Greenwich ranked fourth in financing its schools, spending $14,431 per pupil last year, compared with the state average of $10,677. Its test results on annual state tests are well above the state average but not as high as those in several other affluent school systems. About three-fourths of the town's fourth-graders, for example, met the state goal in reading last year on the Connecticut Mastery Test, ranking behind 18 other districts.Greenwich is also a "microcosm of the state," according to Sternberg. (Huh?) And it seems the taxpayers there may believe they're not getting their money's worth cuz they're not as high-achieving as some of the other high-spending districts in CT. So they will hire Sternberg to close the gaps between the children of hedge fund managers and those of the small but growing Latino community. Not to minimize microcosmic Greenwich's challenges or anything, but I'm still left worrying about, say, the Hartford schools, just to name a random high-need urban district in Connecticut in close proximity to the state government Sternberg's been working for most of her career. In Hartford, they spend less per child, have way more poor and minority students, and far lower test scores. In fact, the entire district of Hartford is a district in need of improvement under Title I of NCLB. But, no sense biting off more than you can chew. Gotta start zapping that gap somewhere, and if not Greenwich, then where? (disclosure: I'm on the legal team for the NAACP in Ct. v. Spellings.) Guestblogger Dianne Piche
"It feels like... segregation"
Speaking of "no more pencils..." According to the Balt. Sun, students who attended Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School this past year never had many pencils, books, band instruments, or lab supplies, or instruction for that matter. This is according to accounts by Douglass students themselves.
Douglass, the alma mater of such luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and entertainer Cab Calloway, has a proud and storied tradition in Baltimore's African-American community. But the school, with a student body that's still almost entirely black, has resources far inferior to those in the city's elite magnet high schools or in suburban schools. "It feels like being in segregation," said Lewis Peterson III, 17, a Student Concern Committee member who is also trying to start his own newspaper. He plans to call it The Frederick Douglass Crisis.
But it's encouraging that in the face of such inequality, Douglass' students are paying homage to the late Justice Marshall (class of 1925) and have organized the Student Concern Committee to advocate for something better. And they seem determined to make their voices heard.
Ebony Peacock, 17, one of the committee's graduating members, wishes that her senior English class had had enough books to go around, and that students could take books home. She had to share copies of Beowulf and The Merchant of Venice with two or three other classmates.
Ms. Peacock will be attending college in Ohio in the fall. She is one of the more fortunate teens to pass through the doors of Douglass High School eighty-plus years after the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court. According to the most recent "report card" Douglass is failing all groups of students counted under NCLB. And virtually no students are proficient on the state High School Assessments all students are going to need to graduate. Actually, scores can't get much lower that they were last year in algebra (less than 5% passed) and biology (less than 2% passed, a 10-percentage-point decline from the previous year).
I know, we don't label schools as "failing" under NCLB--the PC (and statutory) term is "school in need of improvement"--but there is no other honest way to characterize the plight of Douglass' students than the result of a complete failure on the part of responsible adults and their institutions, agencies and systems to provide anything remotely resembling the "adequate" education promised by the state constitution.
While young people's spirit and resilience should encourage and energize us, the sad part here is nearly everything else: the adults who've come and gone with offers of help, the instability of the school's leadership, the passing of the buck over exactly who's responsible for getting not only needed supplies but needed teaching and inspiration to the school. And then there are the interminable power struggles among various actors (e.g., the city, the state, teachers unions, and rural and suburban interests) -- playing out here and in cities across the land --with no shortage of finger-pointing and blame-gaming in all directions.
Readers may also recall that Douglass High was one of the lowest-peforming schools the Maryland State Board of Education attempted to take over this past spring. [Vaishali Honawar's inclusive stories and links for Ed Week here and here.] But that wasn't gonna happen in an election year, what with the Democratic Mayor of Baltimore trying to challenge the sitting Republican Governor who's up for reelection.
So, now it's June, and we are moving once again into full-throttle midterm election season for the enire Congress and for most state legislatures this summer and fall. Politicians will throw out slogans about "supporting our schools" and the like. Some will be for and many will sound like they are against "No Child Left Behind." But once again, this week, students will leave "failing" schools like Frederick Douglass, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and, yes, even Thurgood Marshall in some communities. Some will leave for good, some just for the summer. And with a few exceptions like Ms. Peacock, these students will begin their summers without any realistic hope of attaining the knowledge or skills they will need to fully participate in the democracy these great namesakes worked to sustain and improve. Today I just wanna ask: What would Thurgood Marshall do? I welcome your responses to this or other posts this week [email: diannepicheATyahoo.com] and will post a select few tomorrow, with or w/o identification, as you request. Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Up at the Rayburn House Office Building yesterday, it was standing-room only for the throngs of lobbyists, Hill staffers, interns and reporters who turned out for the House Education & Workforce Committee hearing on the so-called "N" size issue. And it turns out, according to most participants, size really does matter after all! In this case, the smaller the better. [Note to readers: "N" size here refers to the minimum number of students in an NCLB subgroup required to trigger that group getting counted at the school level for AYP purposes. In April, the Associated Press found that close to 2 million students' scores, mostly racial minorities, were not being counted for accountability purposes under NCLB. Good explanations of the law and the problems here (now-infamous AP story) and here (Ed Week's Lynn Olson).]
Some highlights and takeaways from the hearing:
1. Both Rs and Ds seemed genuinely perplexed and displeased with the huge variation in "N" sizes approved by the Dept of Ed., especially when large #s and %s of minority students' scores are not counted. AP's Ben Feller reports here.
2. Secretary Spellings mighta/coulda avoided this whole scene [actually, she literally did avoid it--sent her deputy and I can't blame her] by getting on top of this "scandal" before the Hill got it, ran with it and packed a hearing room. But her Dept. made its PR problems a lot worse by a) acting surprised at the large # of exclusions that were the direct result of changes to state accountability plans the feds themselves approved and b) not answering their mail from ranking member George Miller (D-CA), a strong supporter of NCLB. Despite these missteps and continuing partisan discord over ed-appropriations, it's early enough in the reauthorization cycle that bipartisan good will is still plentiful. And this writer believes there's plenty of room on both sides to maneuver and fix this thing.
3. Maryland rapidly became the darling of the Committee, boasting the smallest "N" size among the states, set at 5 students per subgroup for reporting purposes since the 1990s. MD's Deputy Supt. Ron Peiffer explained how the state decided to keep it at 5 even after NCLB toughened up accountability for subgroups. In contrast, some states like California use "N" sizes as big as 100, a move that, the AP reported, results in loads of minority kids' scores not being counted at the school level.
4. The most impressive witness at the hearing was John Brittain of the venerable Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a relative newcomer on the Washington scene and an experienced litigator, NPR commentator, academic and former law school dean. John delivered a polished performance, speaking forthrightly about NCLB as a civil rights law and driving home the dangers of false positives from the undercount. E.g., at the school level, not counting minority groups and students with disabilities in AYP can result in students losing their rights to transfer and free tutoring, as well as other interventions to address achievement gaps.
--Guestblogger Dianne Piche
School's out for the summer here in Maryland where I live, and kids are blasting Alice Cooper's anthem (and worse) on their iTunes, celebrating the end of the '05-06 school year. Congress is getting rolling on NCLB reauthorization, educators are biting their nails waiting for this spring's test scores and AYP results, and edupolitics keep getting curiouser and curiouser. What's more, the new Roberts Supreme Court is considering perhaps the most important race cases in K-12 education in decades. So what better time to reflect not only on these developments, but more up close and personal, on some of the events of the past school year that have touched individual student lives in a big, big way? I just don't think one can or should do edupolicy w/o paying really close attention to what actually happens in real schools and in real kids' lives. So as we dissect the Big Issues of the day, we'll also "visit" some real kids in real schools along the way. Enjoy ... Guestblogger Dianne Piche
Bonjour, readers! I'm an FOE (Friend of Eduwonk), who's generously given me 48 hours to occupy this revered space in the blogosphere. I am honored and terrified, but Eduwonk's assured me it's an admirable enterprise, and -- he said this -- "cheaper than therapy." In real life, I am a lawyer specializing in education policy and civil rights, professional provacateur (but not in the way Leo Casey uses the term), mother of 3 teenaged boys, and spouse of a clinical law professor who's also the founder of a successful charter high school in D.C. In my vast stretches of free time I enjoy WVa's Cacapon River, jazz and rock & roll music, and until Monday, World Cup Soccer. My organization, CCCR, crusades for our unique brand of truth, justice and educational equity. More on some of these pursuits, and more, in the hours ahead. Stay tuned... Guestblogger Dianne Piche
It's the spice of life so tomorrow and Thursday Dianne Piche of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights will be guestblogging right here. I'll be back Friday if not sooner. She's an influential eduplayer, a great attorney, and very thoughtful on these issues. Enjoy!
Game on the line, Ladner tries to get it into the endzone. Background here.
US News' Silla Brush casts the SCOTUS decision to again take up race-based preferences at the elementary and secondary level in its broader context.
This is apropos of nothing related to ed policy. But on Sunday the Eduwife and I were canoeing, fishing, and birdwatching on VA's Rivanna River, near our home, and we saw a big bald eagle that I think is nesting right along the river. I've been pretty keyed up about that ever since.
As ES' Kevin Carey noted recently in this report, there seems to be some gaming of No Child Left Behind's requirements going on...A new Office of the Inspector General report from the Department of Education indicates that South Dakota is playing fast and loose with graduation rate reporting.
Couple of takeaways from the report that go beyond South Dakota:
- The definitional issues the report walks through are instructive as to how integral they are to grad rate reporting. Who is included, not included, for instance GEDs, can substantially change the rates.
- The different ways to define this show why getting good rates can seem like nailing jello to a wall. This shows how messy this data is, that's a fact of life, but it then is exacerbated when states play fast and loose on reporting.
- Turns out the Department of Ed did approve the method that the Inspector General now says doesn't pass muster for South Dakota. That's a big issue buried in this report. Someone needs to draw a line here, either it's going to be more standardized definitions legislated from Congress (which I have concerns about), better enforcement (still an open question), or a purely results-based system in which case a different kind of political will to enforce becomes part of the equation and a bunch of complicated enforcement questions are back on the table.
Regarding the last point, if I were a Democratic member of Congress who supports NCLB and wanted to score some points off this administration, I might be demanding a more wide-ranging audit here. In how many state plans has the Department of Ed approved things that don't meet the letter or the spirit of the law? Seems like a, what do they call it again...an issue.
Must Read Borsuk
Alan Borsuk goes wild in the MJS.
Here's an interesting and unfortunate situation: NYC Educator and Ed Wonks have different takes on a PA high school class president who had to miss graduation because he was a potential target of gang violence. Update: Edublogging keeps it real! It's not everyday you see a comment like this on an edublog: These are gang members who will carry out the threat. You can arrest one, but someone else will do the deed. Once a "hit" is on you, it's on.
My Bangalore blogger is barely breaking a sweat or earning his meager wages. I hate to just pick on the AFTie blog but they're really making it easy the past few days. Today AFTie John celebrates the "Blueberry Story" that makes the rounds of listserves periodically and is a favorite among anti-testing activists. It's the kind of story that makes you feel warm all over but unfortunately in education it has an undercurrent that works at cross purposes with efforts to improve schools for low-income and minority kids. That undercurrent is the notion that since schools can't pick their "products" the way an ice cream factory can pick its blueberries holding them accountable for their outputs is simplistic and wrongheaded. That may not be its author's intent, but it is how it is used. [Update: To be clear I also mean how it is used in its public usage, not how AFTie John was using it here, which isn't exactly clear. My point was merely that it is disconcerting that he didn't take a line to point out that this undercurrent exists and, hopefully, reject it.] This is a view that the AFT has in the past vocally rejected. Al Shanker once quipped something to the effect of when you lose a quarter of your products before they reach the end of the assembly line and another quarter don't work right when they get there then it's not time for tweaking, it's time to get a new assembly line. It's a little disconcerting to see them celebrate it on their blog without some caveats about this key issue in policymaking today.
Some of the ideas about how schools should be like businesses are ridiculous and/or out of place in education or misaligned to how schools work. But unfortunately this blueberry story isn't used to make that subtle point but rather to push back on efforts to have some accountability for results.
Incidentally, I'm not an ice cream or blueberry expert (though I did briefly live in Maine for a summer). But, it seems to me that if blueberries comprised a significant part of a company's revenue stream or brand and the harvest came in really lousy one year because of weather, unusually hungry bears, or whatever, that company would move heaven and earth to make sure that it found top quality blueberries for its product. Now schools can't control the kids they get (and it should go without saying that we need to do a better job with pre-natal and post-natal care, health care, early childhood education etc...), but they can move heaven and earth to make sure the kids get what they need to succeed once they're in school. And, in fact, that's what the best public schools, traditional, charter, or alternative do every day.
Update: Blueberry madness! Reader BW writes: The blueberry analogy is all wrong. A blueberry is already fully developed and no longer open to new inputs. This analogy may be applicable to colleges complaining about incoming students but the public schools are given precious, little, blueberry bushes. Sure, some may be more fragile and need more care but isn't that why we have gardeners?
Interesting report by ETS' Paul Barton (pdf) adding some data to the ongoing debate about the college prep curriculum for all. Worth reading but for skimmers here's the gist:
This analysis does not find support for the proposition that those not going to college need to be qualified to enter college credit courses in order to enter the workforce. It does, however, find a strong case for advancing the academic skills of a high proportion of those high school graduates if they are to compete successfully for the higher-paying jobs available to those without a college degree, and advance in such jobs. Beyond what employers are specifically looking for in job applicants, other important benefits are attached to higher levels of educational attainment.
Also worth considering is the issue of who chooses the curriculum. The sorting of poor and minority kids into lower tracks is well established and regardless of workforce implications, a common and more rigorous curriculum has equity benefits.
Related is this new report from WestEd about high school - college and K-16 alignment. Good overview.
Smart article from Ed Policy (pdf) by William and Mary's Paul Manna on NCLB implementation.