Friday, August 25, 2006
More There's Always An Eduangle
As I was just saying...In this case, among other things, Kitty Kelly's TNR take* on Duke Cunningham's wife notes that she had a seemingly wired six figure job at the Department of Education...
After Duke began his felonious flight into the high life in 2000, he asked Nancy to join him in Washington. "Mr. Cunningham said he wanted me to be with him more to socialize with lobbyists and defense contractors," she said, adding that the girls were finally grown and graduated from college. In 2002, Nancy was appointed acting chief of staff to the assistant secretary of management in the Department of Education. She denied knowing then that her husband was on the education subcommittee, which approved the budget for her salary, but she did admit, "It was a political appointment, pure and simple. ... I had the prettiest office you've ever seen." Her salary was $114,200, more than she had ever made in the public school system.
*Yes, you read that right.
I'm out of blogging range next week but great guest blogging action awaits you. Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, LA activist, longtime Democratic activist, and all around good guy is going to stand in next Monday to Friday.
If you're not familiar with him, here's an interview with Barr (that includes a great illustration of what he might look like in 20 years) and here's an ES report on Los Angeles that discusses Barr's role there. Green Dot's an interesting charter school EMO, it's unionized, pays its teachers more than local scale, and they seem pretty happy with things. That's a good example that seems to piss a lot of people off...maybe he'll explain why?
I'm back Tuesday the 5th. Happy Labor Day.
Three, or trois as President Bush might say, upcoming events you don't want to miss. You can see your eduheroes and eduvillains in the flesh:
First, next Tuesday the 29th, from noon until 2 the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is hosting a national standards smackdown! Ed Week's Lynn Olson gets to be zookeeper as Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president, Alliance for Excellent Education, Gene Hickok, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education and senior policy director, Dutko Worldwide, Joan Baratz Snowden, director of educational issues, American Federation of Teachers, and Chester E. Finn, Jr., president, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation fight it out. But, there is a purpose! Fordham's releasing an interesting paper (disc: I contributed so it's not 100 percent interesting!) looking at the issues and ways out of the thicket. It's at the National Press Club and you get a free lunch! By the way, the paper seriously raises the barr for cheesiness in titling these things...bravo!
Then, if that's not enough, the following Tuesday, Sept. 5th from 3:45 - 6:30, you can meet and actually touch AEI's I'm Rick Hess Bit*h when he hosts a panel to release his new book on educational entrepreneurism (it's a good book). And, from 5:30-6:30 you get to drink and eat corporate funded wine and cheese! It's an all-star panel, KIPP's Michael Feinberg, NTP's Michelle Rhee, and Chris Whittle of Edison Schools. The phrase "rose between two thorns" does keep bouncing around my head...
So now you're reeling from over-stimulation, but the hits keep coming because on September 12th, at the National Press Club, from 1 - 2:30 you can actually see nationally known man-hater Sara Mead debate gender issues in education with Georgetown's Harry Holzer and USA Today's Richard Whitmire. That promises to be interesting considering the media circus that greeted Mead's report on the subject.
It's all too much, I know! Get your rest now.
Update: There's more! Friday, September 8, 9:30 - 11 AM. Center For American Progress is hosting an event on weighted student funding based on the manifesto from earlier this summer. Featuring CAP star Cindy Brown, PBS' John Merrow and a diverse cast of characters: Arlene Ackerman, former superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District and the Christian A. Johnson, Professor at Teacher's College, Columbia University; Rod Paige, former secretary of education and chairman, Chartwell Education Group; John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress; Michael Rebell, executive director, the Campaign for Educational Equity and Professor of Law and Educational Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University. This one will be very interesting, too.
There is always an educonnection. Invincible opens today...but did you know that the real life Vince Papale works for student loan giant Sallie Mae? So that means Eduwonk readers know who is really invincible...Shireman!
Look for open tryouts for guest bloggers at some point soon!
While critiquing a cage-match point that my colleague Kevin Carey made Sherman Dorn raises an important and overlooked issue. When it comes to data in education there are really two problems. The first, pretty well known, is that there is a real lack of data to answer a bunch of important questions in a serious empirical way. Two great examples, the back and forth on charter schools and the fact that we have to debate roughly how many students graduate from American public schools and use estimates to figure it out. What other $450 billion dollar industry can't give you a decent denominator on productivity?
But the second, which Sherman gets at, is that in some cases there is good data but no one is using it to ask and answer interesting and important questions...That's a more overlooked and subtle problem of incentives and politics but it's an enormous missed opportunity. What's the point of putting these powerful state data tracking systems in if no one is going to use them to ask and try to answer, best we can, some tough questions...
At Q & E, newly minted blogger Erin Dillon makes a very good point about disaggregation...
Word is that there is indeed much behind the scenes confusion with the Sadly Shrunken Teacher Incentive Fund. First, lots of folks approached about being reviewers but sloppy communication on final reviewers leading to confusion and frustration. But, if you were not chosen, big consolation prize: Your identity security. Apparently the laptop with information about the reviewers, including SSN's and so forth, was stolen from the folks coordinating the reviews! That slowed things down and is bad news for the reviewers...
Teacher Incentive Fund...Honest Islas, And Has The Bulldog Lost Her Bite?
Eduwonk may have the wrong beef...I've been grumbling quietly, and not so quietly, that it's a shame the Bush Administration folded so fast and only got $100 million for its Teacher Incentive Fund rather than the $500 million they had originally sought. It's especially frustrating since it's the only thing approximating a big idea from the Bushies on education in quite some time. Turns out, at least says the rumor mill, that this may be the wrong direction to look in...apparently some behind the scenes confusion about the program as applications are being reviewed now...stay tuned...
Also, on the TQ front, where's the beef? Bulldog Bess Keller's Ed Week write-up of the most recent round of teacher quality plans from the states is more kitten than bulldog! It gives the impression that the states are doing a pretty good job when in fact they're gaming the system to varying but often ridiculous degrees. And, most states have to redo at least some elements of their teacher quality plans so it's hard to see what's such good news here to warrant the happy talk headline and first few grafs? But, buried at the bottom is a moment of candor from René Islas who handles teacher quality at the Department of Ed who more or less agreed with the Ed Trust! That's newsy, no?
Back at its usual home port. Also, Carey's got Ritchey in a headlock and is about to smash a chair over his head...
If you only read one eduthing today, make it this letter (pdf) from Ed Trust West chief Russlynn Ali. I have mixed feelings about exit exams but, pegged to a new analysis of data from California's CAHSEE test, Ali's letter lays out the raw and complicated issues better than anything I've seen. See also this recent report from CEP on the state of play with exit exams if you're interested.
If you've got time to read two things, this Bob Sipchen column is really good, too.
Despite her backpedaling, over at Edspresso Ryan Boots also noticed that AFTie One-L has gone all Friedman on us -- and he uses the too oft-ignored adverb, "funnily."
Where The Girls Are
US News' Alex Kingsbury says it's on campus:
"Everyone knows guys are scarce on this campus," says Nick Solis, a sophomore, who adds that the women in his coed dorm have taken to using the men's room out of convenience.
And Kingsbury's got data!
Cue Sara Mead...Update: Mead responds, she's not using the men's room!
New Hechinger Institute report on higher education. The issue will get some attention this fall. Exec summary here.
AFTie One-L asks an interesting question about housing incentives for teachers (and inadvertently outs herself as a big fan of choice, perhaps she would benefit from reading the AFT's position on vouchers!). I tend to agree with her that all else equal, just pay teachers more if cost of living is a big hindrance to recruitment. However, at the extremes of the real estate market, I don't think you can pay teachers enough to overcome really high-end real estate prices. The obvious examples (and outliers) are places like the Roaring Fork Valley (home to Aspen) but it's also a problem in other resort/vacation areas and in places like San Jose and San Francisco, as well, where housing prices are just extremely high. In those situations targeted incentive programs make more fiscal sense and are a more efficacious solution. Some good examples of solutions are public private partnerships with local employers whose employees need good schools (paper company Kimberly Clark did this in CO) and forgivable loan programs like what San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales is doing.
Man, it's gotta be a pain in the ass when your minority kids lag behind and expose your accountability system as lacking. It's probably doubly so when your brother is the President and it's his law doing the exposing...Hold the emails: Sure, things have improved educationally in FL, but this disconnect shows there is still a long way to go...
Kevin Carey has the goods on today's fat kids scare.
So I've read the great charter school study now. You can read it yourself here and/or just save yourself some time if you're trying to beat beach traffic here. The basic caveat in the report (pp. v) soon to be ignored in the media and among advocates is:
...the data are obtained from an observational study rather than a randomized experiment, so the estimated effects should not be interpreted in terms of causal relationships.
Random thoughts: I guess it is true that reporters love a horserace..."down", down from what? This is the first set of data...Anyway, chapter 3 is the most interesting, I think, it looks at school characteristics. Again, nothing causal and not a lot of significant findings but some interesting tidbits that are well worth additional research going forward. Sure didn't take long for smear artist AFTie John to miss the caveat above and jump right in...Good a time as any to mention that I still think the free and reduced price lunch data on charters is a mess, seems like it would be good for some big foundation to fund some research there and find out just how much and what the real story is. There are only about 3,400 schools...could just do a census...with enough funding...
Update: I'm sure this AP writer is a big wheel or rising star and I'm about to burn a bridge that will haunt me 20 years from now, but this story that's widely making the rounds is simply horrible. It's the worst sort of "he said/she said" nonsense on both sides and it seems almost deliberately calculated to tell readers as little useful information as possible. Contra the AFT's assertion, the study doesn't prove anything. Contra Nelson Smith's of the NAPCS* it's not flawed, it just doesn't answer the question that the article (and the public debate) presupposes it does. And while NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider comes off as the reasonable guy he is, the point he's trying to make doesn't seem to come through as clearly as it could if the reporter just told readers the punchline. Update: More Nuanced Nelson: Looks like the reporter may have mixed-up what Nelson Smith was calling flawed, more here, he was talking about the poverty figures, per my comment above I agree.
ED v. PDK: I know the CW was that having the charter report released today would bury it under the PDK poll, but at least so far it seems that the opposite has happened and the charter study is killing PDK's press. Now the real tin foil hat conspiracy types will say that the Department of Education's real goal was actually to kill any negative No Child press from the PDK report...but that's actually not such an unreasonable theory...
Update II: With Ben Feller on vacation perhaps AP should just outsource to Ed Week's Usually Reliable Robelen? He delivers here.
Update III: Take heart AP: The Times story is even worse! "Supporters of charters argue that the findings represent only a snapshot of student performance in 2003, saying nothing about progress over time. Dr. Schneider said it had taken the National Center for Education Statistics that long to commission and review the study; the center’s main responsibility is the release of scores on the national assessment." These two things have nothing to do with one another...and sure people "argue" that it's a snapshot, but it's also a fact. Meanwhile, good Jay Mathews story in the WaPo, actual context!
*Disc: I'm on the Board of Directors.
The new PDK poll on public opinion is out (pdf), some good stuff tucked in but as in past years, beware some questions. For instance PDK (and inexplicably Gallup) continue to put forward the fiction that No Child Left Behind bases everything on a single-statewide test. Kinda skews the results...Also look for the debate to continue about the wording of the voucher question. I'm not a big fan of how they word it but think you have to ask the question multiple ways to start to get an accurate read on where the public is anyway, too many loaded words.
At Edspresso CCCR's Piche and Alliance For School Choice's Bolick are swapping some spit over No Child's public school choice provisions. Also at Edspresso, ES's Kevin Carey and ATE's David Ritchey are debating teacher certification. That debate doesn't seem so complicated to me: You've got an expansive and expensive regulatory apparatus with no solid research base behind it and some evidence of adverse consequences from it. That doesn't mean you stop licensing and/or certifying teachers completely as some argue because in some subfields, for instance reading, there is a research base and some licensing mechanism is needed in a public system. But it does mean that a substantial streamlining would not be either irrational or not research-based. It would be politically tough though!
At his place indefatigable flack AFTie John continues to unleash ad hominen attacks. How 'bout some, you know, criticism of the article itself? I can't tell, perhaps there is some disclosure missing from the column but AFTie John doesn't say. Somehow I remain opposed to vouchers as a public policy despite the clownish tactics of most other opponents...Also, while you're there check out his characterization of a question from the new PDK poll:
NCLB Ain't Helping: 37% say NCLB has made no difference in the performance of schools in the community, and 21% say it has hurt those schools. (Just 26% say it has helped.)
Uh...couldn't the "just" go elsewhere just as easily? Must be all that AFTie "nuance" I keep hearing about...
More Preemptive Charter
AFTie John is all bummed out that the anti-climatic charter report might be even more anti-climatic than originally anticipated since it's coming out at the same time the PDK poll is (a change from the allegedly original date of Thursday). Naturally, he smells a conspiracy. Alternative explanation: Since everyone knows what's in the report, ED decided to move it up since the amount of pre-chatter was getting embarrassing. Who knows, maybe they are trying to bury it but since the PDK report has a lot on choice, linking the two doesn't seem like a very smart strategy…seems more likely to amplify the coverage for an otherwise not very newsworthy report rather than bury it. Alternative explanation two: There's been a real leak and they're worried the actual report is on the street.
Lisa Keegan has resurfaced, in today's NYT, as part of the big story about McCain snapping up all the R advisors. Click on the graphic on the left side. Interesting backstory: Lisa was at the top of a lot of R lists for secretary in 2000 but her McCain ties doomed that.
It just got that much harder for the usual suspects to write-off ABCTE as some right-wing ploy. Joan Baratz-Snowden, longtime AFTie and impeccable Laborite has just joined the board of directors. And, if that is not enough, Goreite Bethany Little (disc. worked for me at the WH) now with the Alliance for Excellent Ed has also joined. I guess in some parallel universe you could argue they're right-wing dupes but unfortunately for the critics, not in the one we inhabit. Got to hand it to ABCTE head David Saba, he's getting the ship back on course. I was pessimistic but much less so now...
Like everyone else I think Jay Mathews' op-ed in today's WaPo is spectacular. It reminded me of this terrific Ruth Mitchell op-ed that had a similar theme: The CW among the comfortable upper-middle class types who populate the opinion/policy world can not only be wildly off-base in terms of the nation as a whole, it can actually have harmful consequences for less economically fortunate Americans.
Very much related, this is what galls me about the discussions about growth models and value-added achievement for No Child Left Behind. Most of the people arguing that absolute standards are unfair would not for a moment tolerate having their own children in schools that were not ensuring that they reach them, not just making progress toward them.
OK, it's Labor Day week and you want to beat feet to the beach ASAP but you know this big charter report is coming out this week (Thurs. say those in the know) and that's going to kill your plans for a fast exit. Fear not, here's a quick primer to get you to the sand without undue delay:
So, I hear this big new government charter school study based on the NAEP is coming this week, pretty exciting huh?
Well, this is not new data, it's been analyzed before in previous reports. What is new about this analysis are some new controls for demographics and governance.
Great, so then it will finally settle the question about whether charter schools are better than public schools. That's big news.
Not exactly. Though it will be treated as such by advocates, it's not causal data. In other words, the data tell us about some characteristics of students, by school type, at a point in time but not what caused that. Since it cannot tell us about the previous experiences of the students it's impossible to say, from this data, about what kind of school is more effective. I'd say that this data is most useful for generating some research questions -- especially about school governance type (a particular interest of mine) -- that future analyses using longitudinal data that tracks students over time can answer.
In addition, the charter sector is getting so heterogeneous (for good and ill) that increasingly "charter" is a meaningless label for a school. For instance what does MATCH, the best open-admission high school in Boston, have in common with some out-of-control online school in Ohio? That problem is going to become even more pronounced if lots of low-performing charter schools get converted into "charter" schools. Update: A reader writes to note that the same variety exists among public schools. I think that's true and have argued for a long time that we basically have two public school systems. But, I think that's much better understood while charters are still assumed to be pretty similar to one another--if not a singular program--by casual observers. That said, I would argue that your average traditional public school in Ohio and Boston have more in common than MATCH and say the ECOT. Those two schools are totally different in their operations, how they're authorized and held accountable, etc…
Wait a minute, isn't all this prior achievement stuff just a big smokescreen? After all some of the same folks who support charter schools have used the NAEP to castigate the public schools haven't they?
No, prior achievement matters a lot. Without knowing how students were doing before they came to a particular school it's impossible to judge the effect the school is having. And this study, and the earlier public - private studies that have been getting so much attention, have the same issues.
That doesn't mean it tells us nothing, it is an interesting point-in-time data point. Some analysts think that in the land of the blind the one eyed person is king so this data is still useful. Others argue that because this stuff inevitably gets politicized and distorted it's worse than nothing because it just confuses the issue.
Ironically, in the past when private school proponents would argue that private schools had a greater effect on student learning than public schools, public school defenders were quick to point out that even controlling for various demographics did not mean there were not certain unobservable traits that exerted leverage on the findings. That was true and it also applies here, without controlling for prior achievement there is no way to know if charter school students might also be systematically biased in some way -- for instance doing worse in school than other students. And, even controlling for prior achievement there can still be unobservable characteristics, for instance charter students might be more motivated than others or having more trouble fitting into their prior schools. Doesn't mean that the research is meaningless, far from it, but it does mean that consumers of it need to understand that there is no unmitigated punchline here.*
That said, there is no doubt that some charter proponents have misleadingly attacked the public schools in the past. Some of this is just turnabout being fair play in a high stakes debate where advocates on all sides are going to use whatever data they can to make their case.
But isn't the NAEP the "gold standard"?
As CGCS' Mike Casserly once quipped, the NAEP may well be the one "unsullied" thing in public education. But as with all research, the NAEP is good for answering some questions and not for others. Its greatest utility is that it tests a representative sample of students on a regular basis to provide a barometer on educational achievement trends as measured against the NAEP's standards. Though it's not testing the same kids each time, the sample is the same so it's basically an apples to apples comparison over time along that dimension.
So then what's the issue here, why is everyone so excited about this study?
Because charter schools are a high stakes political and policy issue right now. In fact, to really understand what is going on here you'd be well advised to spend as much time delving into the political theory literature around power as the literature around public schools and charter schools. That's the crux issue here: Charter schools displace existing power arrangements, people naturally get bent out of shape about that. To be sure there is an empirical component to this debate, but it's more where the battle is being fought out than its true cause.
C'mon, are you saying there are no bad charter schools?
No, on the contrary, there are too many. The real story on the charter sector is the staggering dissonance, some of the nation's best public schools and some inexcusable laggards. But this new data is really here nor there in that debate. One really has to look state by state, here and here are case studies of various states, some encouraging, some not. For my money the best doctrine here is Joe Williams' "Anti-Crap" one whereby we acknowledge that all low-performing schools in the public sector are a problem and that it's not unreasonable to expect a great deal more from schools.
*This graf is altered from the original, it didn't paste into the blogger software correctly. Sorry for any confusion.
Good opportunity if you don't mind having your ankles frequently bitten:
The National Council on Teacher Quality a nonpartisan policy and research organization based in Washington, D.C., is filling a new position: State Policy Director. Entails working with states to advance policy reforms, as well as some management responsibilities within the organization. Job requires a talented writer, competent public speaker and friendly, outside-the-Beltway persona. Several years experience in education policy a must, comfortable with the ins and outs of state-level government, orgs and players. Salary range of $60,000 to $85,000 with relocation stipend. Send queries and cvs to Kate Walsh.