Friday, August 18, 2006
It's been almost a week and I still haven't heard anyone whose opinion I respect (Democrat or Republican) say that this was a good op-ed...feel free to write if you're out there!
Interesting Joel Klein speech (pdf), gets at the nub of the issue:
...education reform involves changing a culture that has inhabited our school systems for decades. It is a culture that claims to be in the business of educating children but puts schools, and the people who work in them, at the bottom of the organizational chart. It is a culture that stifles innovation. It is a culture that seeks to preserve the existing arrangements for the adults who work in the system, and, all too often, it does so at the expense of the kids who most need our schools to work for them.
Not to sound like a giddy big think type, but we really are at a transformative time in public education. The pressure to shift to a system that focuses on performance is firmly embedded in public policy and generational shift is taking place in the leadership, teaching, and policymaking communities. Both are enormous challenges but also enormous opportunities. What makes Klein a lightening rod is not that everything he's tried in New York hasn't always panned out, it's that he's on the edge of this change and so almost regardless of the results he's going to be catching hell for a while.
Incidentally, while I think all three of the changes Klein says are necessary are important, the shift from uniformity to differentiation could be the most important over time for the continued success of public education as a broadly supported institution.
Spending time with The Gadfly Show is like watching a ferret being tortured. But it's at least more bearable this week because Sara Mead guest hosts...
Sensible WaPo ed board take on school chief Janey's call for a moratorium on charter schools in the city. Sure, there are some lousy charters in D.C. but (a) the DC Charter School Board is closing down schools and there are some other steps that should be taken to help address that (b) there are also many good ones and some truly outstanding ones, too, and a moratorium is a blunt instrument affecting all equally and (c) the notion of the District of Columbia Public Schools demanding more attention to quality is like the Hummer people demanding that automakers pay more attention to fuel efficiency, it's hard to take too seriously.
Former Indy mayor and policy innovator Stephen Goldsmith turns in an interesting paper on pre-K education. He asks the right question: Should we be seeking to create a pre-K system a pre-K solution? I'm certainly in the latter camp at the superficial level but as soon as you start thinking about standards, quality, and so forth the lines start to blur. And, to really create an effective pre-K solution is going to take resources, new ones and redirected ones. That's not going to happen (nor would it be a good idea) without attention to quality. Goldsmith does seem to say, however, that debate about how to structure pre-K has not been happening. I don't agree, it's the thing you hear serious state and national players on this issue talking about all the time.
Yet Goldsmith seems most concerned that simply adding pre-K to our existing elementary and secondary system could cripple the network of pre-K providers that exists now because parents would naturally choose "free" public programs and he seems to want to keep this away from the public schools. As a matter of making policy, while there are plenty of reasons to embrace pluralism in the delivery of pre-K programs, protecting the network of current providers is not one of them. Rather, we should look at the direction we want to go and reverse engineer from there in terms of the mix of existing and new options and the service(s) we want them to deliver. In other words, the notion that the public schools should be axiomatically out of the mix makes little sense despite Robert Putnam's concerns about kindergarten.
Sara Mead has laid out a bold proposal for a federal - state partnership to do basically this. It would combine federal resources with state and local flexibility to create the market of providers each state wants. Some ways to contain the costs but it's expensive no matter how you slice it. But, perhaps the deal is market enthusiasts getting real choice in pre-K but accepting big new investments and public school advocates accepting choice but getting a real pre-K initiative.
I think one of the biggest problems facing charter schools is that most people have no idea what they are and consequently have trouble understanding all the back and forth. Public Agenda found as much a few years ago. And when I get emails from activists deriding charter schools like this one -- which as it turns out isn't even a charter school at all -- it just reinforces this...
To The Bunkers! And, Bonus Haiku!
Joe Williams gives, mostly accurate and NR-17 bloggy voice to the word on the edustreet about the forthcoming charter school report from NCES, the results of which are one of the worst kept secrets in town right now. It will unfortunately set off a firestorm which is too bad because again the study is not well suited to answer the $64K question everyone wants answered.
Eduwonk is again moved to poetry:
Soon more charter wars
Russ Whitehurst must own some stock
In the New York Times
Update: Reader MR writes to say:
Some charter advocates will see red
Others may feel blue
A day early are you
With your Eduwonk Haiku
"Bad Poetry Day - August 18"
Well, the whole AFTie Disastie of the past week and this most recent post have moved Eduwonk to poetry:
The new AFTie blog
Reveals true AFTie nature
Bad for their PR
That NYT story about Auburn football apparently did get some results...Also, loosely related to education, nice to see that aspiring NFLer Marcus Vick is getting his life back together but when you're trying to get a spot on the Miami Dolphin's roster, is it really such a good idea to tell the WaPo how your brother throws much harder than the organization's QB?
Over at Teaching in the 408, TMAO offers an interesting and smart take on Avi Zenilman's Wash. Monthly piece on Teach For America. It's too binary for me, and I see TFA as helping to bring about some of the changes that TMAO seeks in the profession (and if history is a guide they're going to come through external pressure anyway) but worth reading.
DC Charter Schools: Spastic AFTies And Measured Mead
DC Schools Chief Janey wants a moratorium on new charter schools in Washington. AFTie John is beside himself with ecstasy and takes the opportunity to smear DC charter schools because a DC School Board officer in charge of charter authorizing might be a crook. You'd think he'd know better than to make broad inferences based on stuff like that anyway. Anyway, at Q and E, Sara Mead offers a more sensible take and sidesteps AFTie John's false choice.
Update: Over at the Charter Blog Justin jumps in and offers up a Skittle challenge!
Last week NYT's Schemo pinch hit for the On Education column and her channeling of Richard Rothstein -- who used to write the column -- caused a blogospheric eruption, much of which is well worth reading: D-Ed Reckoning's Rosa here and here, Q & E's Kevin Carey here, AFTie Ed here, This Week's Russo here, Chalkboard's Williams here, School of Blog's Julie here, and Edspresso's Boots here. My short take on the larger issue here (along with a smart take from CCCR's Piche).
Update: NYC Schools Chief Joel Klein weighs in via the NYT letters page:
...Ms. Schemo quotes experts saying that schools “can’t do much better” until we reduce poverty. But this is what we know: Schools will never do better as long as that attitude prevails. Great educators succeed in no small part because they take responsibility, expecting high achievement from their students and from themselves...
Sunday's WaPo op-ed by Florida Governor and first brother Jeb Bush and New York Mayor and Michael Bloomberg is sort of mystifying the Eduwonk. Sure, they are big names, but the op-ed is vapid. It would be like some big name foreign policy type penning an op-ed saying that the problem in the Middle East is that people just don't seem to get along with each other. Would the WaPo publish that?
Anyway, Bush and Bloomberg lay out four big think reforms for No Child Left Behind. If this is what passes for big think in the Republican Party right now then Democrats have no excuses for not eating the Rs lunch on this issue in 2008. Bush and Bloomberg want to:
- Make standards meaningful by making the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) the default standards;
- Encourage student gains;
- Recognize degrees of progress; and
- Reward and retain high-quality teachers.
It all sounds plausible enough, until you scratch below the surface. The NAEP is a useful barometer of educational progress but not well suited to becoming either a national test or default curriculum. And, for any national standard to have resonance it must have buy-in from the states and imposing the NAEP on them is no way to accomplish that. Besides, right now the NCLB bottom line is that the feds can't get the states to enforce their own standards, why are they going to enforce an external set, on behalf of the feds?
Encouraging student gains is one of those facile things that falls in the category of supporting chocolate tasting good. The more serious question is how to design growth or value-added models in a way that doesn't pull the rug out from under disadvantaged kids politically and also passes muster technically. As the most recent GAO report (pdf) on the issue shows, states have a long way to go on the technical side and that's before we start really considering the feasibility of value-added models in practice with adverse consequences attached to them. So while, Bloomberg and Bush are correct in their assertion that, "When the law was written five years ago, Congress didn't think it was possible to follow an individual student's performance from year to year" Congress would still be right in thinking that it's not possible in almost every state. That's why only two states got approved for the recent Department of Education growth model pilot. Policymaking starts with what is desirable but ends with what is possible, something lost on most breathless boosters of value-added and growth models. And, politically, does anyone seriously trust the states to set rigorous targets for low-income and minority kids without some sort of external benchmarks? In other words, once you get the technical issues worked out, the potential for all kinds of political mischief still remains.
But it's the latter two ideas, recognizing degrees of progress and reward and retaining high-quality teachers that really show the problem here. First, Jeb Bush would be on much firmer ground arguing for more differentiation if Florida's accountability system took racial and ethnic subgroups into account in the first place. That's the source of the conflict here between Florida's letter grades and the federal "adequate yearly progress" (pdf) requirements that the state is trying to fuzzy over. Under Florida's system a school can still get an A or a B even if most or all of its minority students are lagging far behind. Moreover, under No Child Left Behind, this year only 51 percent of students at a school (and unfortunately for Florida that means 51 percent of the minority kids, too!) need to pass Florida's state tests to make adequate yearly progress in the first place (pdf). That's up from only 44 percent last year when the state really started moaning in earnest about this. How low does Jeb Bush want to set the bar for progress? And, it is worth pointing out that under No Child nothing prevents states from using a variety of strategies to reward progress and the law gives states a lot of leeway in tailoring various interventions toward schools. The federal bottom line is merely that ultimately an increasing percentage of students need to pass state tests. Over time that requirement is going to need to be reworked but that time is not when states like Florida only need to have half the students at a school passing state tests to make adequate yearly progress.
Rewarding and retaining teachers falls much in the same boat. I'm all for having the feds do more on that front but nothing is preventing states from doing it now except inertia and politics.* Are Republicans now saying that it's the feds not the states who are the innovators? And if Jeb Bush is so concerned about this issue he might have tried to persuade his brother, the not-insignificant President of the United States, not to cave on the Teacher Incentive Fund so that it's only a $100 million initiative, 20 percent of what the Administration had originally sought. (*To his credit, Jeb has tried to move the ball on that issue a little in FL but a lot more to do).
Otherwise, great op-ed!
Kevin Carey Is A "Real" Conservative!
And since it's PFAW outing him as one I think it's pejorative! It's great that PFAW is taking on this silly 65 percent solution idea, but must they malign Kevin (a former Ed Truster, CBPPer, etc...) in the process? I guess it's always the innocents who suffer...
Charles Murray is apparently still flacking his WSJ op-ed on No Child Left Behind. Mike Petrilli took him on here, Jay Greene here, now Sandy Kress does the same in the Dallas Morning News.
PFAW's Kevin Franck attacks voucher advocate Clint Bolick in his most recent commentary on Jimmy Kilpatrick's site with a list of grievances that seem to boil down to: Clint Bolick is a bad guy, doesn't like affirmative action, and he hangs around with Clarence Thomas! Franck does make a good point about the irony of those demanding judicial restraint rushing to court to expand school choice. But I think he's too sanguine about the potential of these lawsuits. He's right about the legal history but this new tactic is cognizant of that, too, and I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. And, I don't buy Franck's assertion that vouchers are being roundly defeated. On the contrary, since 1990 -- which I'd argue marks the real start of the latest push for vouchers -- Milwaukee, Ohio, Florida, Colorado (since overturned by the courts), and Utah have passed voucher programs, and Milwaukee and Ohio have markedly expanded theirs, the federal government has passed one for Washington, D.C., and Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Iowa have passed tax-credit plans that look an awful lot like vouchers. Oh, and don't forget a landmark SCOTUS case. That's a lot of movement in just 16 years in a system that is designed to move pretty slowly...And, what exactly are the comparable wins from the public school establishment during that time? I'd have to say the voucher folks are winning and until the public school folks get their heads around that and really get in the game with serious alternatives, they're going to keep winning. Thx to reader A. for the tip.
WaPo's Teresa Wiltz says TNT's "Ron Clark Story" is predictable tripe, Slate's Dana Stevens says "Half Nelson" is not.
In Stanford Magazine Jerry Bracey and Terry Moe debate No Child Left Behind. It's unsatisfying. Moe's right about incentives, you don't have to be some sort of Skinnerian freak to see that, but his analysis of power is too deterministic for my taste. Many of the positions the teachers' unions take are part of the problem, but they're far from the only problem facing public schools and to some extent teachers' unions thrive on the dominant culture in public education rather than necessarily cause it exclusively.
For his part, Bracey makes an interesting point about people believing the worst about public schools. In some cases I think this is right and there is a tendency to uncritically accept bad news. But, that's far from an absolute rule. For instance, isn't the intense resistance to acknowledging that even "great" suburban schools are as a rule under-educating minority students a powerful piece of evidence to the contrary? Again, culture looms large. But then Bracey gets into tin foil hat territory with lines like this:
I have never believed that [NCLB] is the idealistic, well-intentioned but poorly executed program that many claim it to be. NCLB aims to shrink the public sector, transfer large sums of public money to the private sector, weaken or destroy two Democratic power bases—the teachers unions—and provide vouchers to let students attend private schools at public expense. The original proposal, and each subsequent presidential budget, provided for vouchers, but Congress has thus far removed these provisions.
Moe's lede graf dryly illustrates how absurd this premise is a general matter. But "large sums?" Seems to me, based on the numbers, that the lion's share of the money has gone to the public sector (fine with me by the way) and that overall the reform has increased not decreased public sector activity and authority around education. Even in light of recent budget cuts, billions in new federal spending have gone to public schools since the law was passed and while private tutoring companies and testing companies have received a share of that, it's a small share. The more subtle problem isn't hysterics about the private sector, it's that most of this new money, leaving aside high profile initiatives like Reading First, has gone down the same old pipes and consequently leveraged very little reform.