Friday, November 17, 2006
Next Monday to Wednesday New Vision leader Jal Mehta brings it right here for you with smoe guestblogging. I might pop in, too, but he'll be your regular programming and will be well worth reading.
Milton Friedman passed away yesterday. His work was wide-ranging, controversial, and agree or disagree with him, brilliant. In education Conservatives lionize him as the godfather of contemporary school choice. That's not inaccurate, but the narrative minimizes the extent to which school choice might be much more of an accepted idea in a country like this but for Friedman and the political association he created between choice in education and market ideology. One prominent left-leaning social justice school choice supporter once told me that “Milton set the effort to give poor parents more choices back 30 years.” More later.
Last week we got excited about Jim Griffin's rainbow trout on the fly. But who would've figured Public Education Network's Howie Schaffer as a Bassmaster? Well here he is with a 17" largemouth he pulled out of a lake near his family's camp in Upstate New York. He's a man of the people, not some sort of Orvis shopping fly fishing snob!
Must Read Peyser
Jim Peyser, outgoing state board chair in MA, turns in an interesting essay on the future of conservatism for the Globe. Well worth a look. Not about education, but one can discern the implications from where he's going.
I'm coming late to this whole hubbub about teaching to the test, but I think two issues are getting tangled up here. Yes, there are incentives in NCLB that encourage states to create low-quality tests, and that policymakers could fix. And yes, there are too many schools that teach to the test.
But, cheap tests are not the root cause of "teaching to the test." Rather, that's much more a human capital/labor market problem. The cheap tests also tend to be pretty low-level so teachers should be less not more likely to teach to them in an effort to get kids to pass because they're basically general knowledge/skills sorts of exercises. As a general rule, all else equal, you'd expect to see more teaching to the test as the tests got harder and it became more difficult for kids to pass them just as the result of a generally effective instructional program rather than an actual curriculum...
For instance, this is one reason that kids in CORE Knowledge schools tend to do pretty well on today's state tests regardless of the alignment between those tests and CORE Knowledge. Craig Jerald also gets at that issue, here. So sure, better assessments and curriculum are a must if we want to see real gains in student learning, but frankly so are better teachers and better teaching. But as Kati Haycock has pointed out (pdf), the latter is awfully hard to talk about. And the former is a more convenient villain.
On Growth And Boogey Men!
Per this issue here, this post is sort of hysterical, the growth model pilot is about vouchers? Maybe it's just about this issue of teaching kids to standards versus a standards-based system...The idea of measuring growth sounds great, but absent some absolute standards it's lousy policy because it takes us right back where we've already been, different standards for different kids...
For all those hoping that incoming House Ed and Workforce chair George Miller is about to go soft on No Child Left Behind, two points: First, the past few weeks Miller has been putting down markers at various public events saying the opposite. And second, turns out that the Richmond school district, which lies in his congressional district, is making some gains and now making AYP (apparently in part to a lot of technical help from WestEd*) so he's got a proof point! Granted, the AYP targets are still pretty low there, but it's movement...
*Speaking of WestEd, since we are, a big Eduwonk congrats to Max McConkey, policy and communications honcho there, on his recent wedding. Max is one of the really class acts and great people in our business, a long suffering Red Sox fan, and someone deserving of happiness like this.
Checker Finn's open letter to George Miller is worth checking out for two reasons (1) some interesting ideas and (2) it shows the other education issues crowding the agenda, Head Start, Higher Ed, and Institute for Education Sciences. On the latter, and per the "how", hopefully that reauthorization will not be perfunctory. The 2002 law was good*, but there are still more steps Congress can take to make IES completely independent (money, appointment authority, etc...) and more effective.
*Some of it is the law, but some of it is Russ Whitehurst. You don't build a policy around a person though, so more needs to be done. Again, a great irony here is that despite the hysterics around the NCES public-private and charter studies, the process around all of them actually shows that the 2002 law is working as intended, not that the Admin is politicizing research...not that they wouldn't want to if they could!
Like after-school programs and management? Then this one might be just for you.
CA Teacher Quality
Ed Trust West is all over CA (pdf) on the teacher quality issue. Someone should fund a group like this in every large state...makes a difference.
Not unexpectedly, the Department of Education has green-lighted a few more states to try growth models under NCLB. AFTie Beth notes miserably that so far this pilot hasn't meant fewer schools identified as needing improvement. But that that wasn't really the point of this law-stretching initiative was it? If the goal is just to lower the number of schools not making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) that could have been accomplished with a lot less effort through regulatory nips and tucks. And, if you want to see what schools we're talking about under various models you can just run the numbers under different criteria and get the lay of the land, you don't need a federal pilot program. That's a research question not a policy one. Rather, the more important part of the federal pilot is the behavioral aspect, what effect, if any, does the alternative accountability scheme have on schools, districts, and states. That's where the action is from an analytic point of view.
Besides, the issue of schools not making AYP really hinges on whether or not we're going to have real accountability or not. Low-achievement for minorities and other subgroups is not just an urban problem, it's the old "these kids do go to school somewhere problem." In a country where half of all minority students don't finish high school on time, minority students trail white students - on average -- by four grade levels in achievement by high school, etc...you're going to have a lot of schools that don't meet accountability standards under any sort of meaningful system.
But this is all less interesting than the other dimension: What happens to schools that are not making AYP? All the attention to the measurement issue is distracting from the more fundamental problems, which are that (a) the backend timelines don't work for the number of schools we're talking about (meaning there are more schools needing help than can be helped in a real way) (b) no one really knows exactly what to do for a lot of them anyway and (c) the states are not chomping at the bit to do much at all. That argues for a policy that is at once stricter on the really bad actors, more flexible but still completely transparent* around schools that just genuinely need to improve some, and doesn't create so many loopholes for the states. It also argues for more attention to the "how" of the law. Everyone likes to say that we know what works, money, class size, choice, private management, etc...but that's BS. "Turn-arounds" are complicated and hit or miss and that's not all that surprising, it's a human endeavor.** Still, the feds can do a lot more on the how. And how to do that is an interesting conversation.
*Part of the push to change NCLB's accountability provisions is all about public relations, namely whether it's fair say that a school that is doing well overall but not with specific groups of students "needs improvement." Your answer to that question probably depends on "fair to whom"...
**That's perhaps the most compelling argument for the "supply side" approach to urban ed reform.
It's unsettled, the story yet to be written, different factions, turmoil...The election? No, public education in New York and LA. From LA, it's filing time for next year's school board elections....LAT's Blume looks at the stakes....And from NYC, Joe Williams dissents (strongly) from all the happy talk about the recent teachers' contract deal there.