Friday, February 02, 2007
Gill Net! More Philly Back And Forth
RAND's Brian Gill* responds to Charles Zogby about yesterday's Philly Findings:
The work that Marguerite Roza has been doing on resource allocation within school districts is important, and I’d like to see school districts across the country make those allocations more transparent, to increase within-district equity. In Philadelphia the supplemental funds given to private managers explicitly included a component that was designed to bring those schools up to the district-wide average, given differentials in teacher salaries. On top of that, the School Reform Comission (SRC) added additional amounts intended to be used for the services of the private managers. This is described in our report.
Moreover, for the purposes of this evaluation, the key issue is not the total per-pupil resources available to the schools, but the marginal resources made available starting when the private managers arrived in 2002. The “first difference” in our analysis of student achievement trends compares the privately managed schools to themselves prior to private management. We examined whether the achievement of their students improved after the private providers arrived—i.e., after the resources available to them increased. Even if they remained under-resourced in absolute terms (which appears to be belied by the SRC’s provision of additional funding), the district increased the resources available to them at the time it instituted private management. It seems fair to ask whether those additional resources produced additional achievement gains beyond the gains attained by other schools in the district that did not receive a similar increase in resources.
*Gill is on the ES Research Advisory Board.
Zig Engelmann is releasing his new book, "The Outrage of Project Follow Through: 5 Million Failed kids Later," serialized online. But the catch is that chapters only stay for two weeks, so you'd better read fast.
Guest Post from Charles Zogby, he’s currently Senior Vice President for Education Policy with K-12* and the former Secretary of Education Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was active in the reform efforts in Philly while he was secretary. Responding to this post he writes:
I wanted to respond to your recent post regarding RAND's analysis of the various school management options deployed in Philadelphia. You note in your post that for profit and non-profit managers received more resources but did no better in producing academic performance. This is not an entirely accurate picture of either the conditions of the schools or the challenge that the private mangers were handed.
The private managers were not only given the worst performing schools in the district (as measured by state assessment results), they were also given the most under-resourced schools as well. As part of its takeover of the Philadelphia School District (PSD), the state's own assessment of the 89 schools targeted by the School Reform Commission (SRC) for private management revealed that these schools received as much as $2500 per pupil less in funding, or an average of about $1 million per school, than the average PSD public school. These inequities, which were well document at the time and have since been validated in other contexts by researchers such as Marguerite Roza, were the prime reason for state's insistence that its new investment in the district be directed toward these most troubled schools. Only after the state threatened to withhold new dollars did the SRC, which initially balked at giving these schools and their new managers any new resources, ultimately agreed to direct a portion of the new funds to the schools. Even the largest grants (about $850 per pupil to some schools if I recall correctly), however, made up only a fraction of the under funding that had been systematically denied these schools in the past.
Despite the continued and persistent under funding, and the added hindrance of having to work under the district's collective bargaining agreement where they technically have control of the schools but less than satisfactory authority over the school's personnel, many of the outside managers have produced substantial academic gains. While not perfect or uniform to be sure, their performance over the last 5 years, on the whole, significantly outpaced anything ever produced in prior PSD administrations. Nor do I believe that PSD on its own could have matched the progress made in the last 5 years had the state simply given them additional resources without also insisting on the private managers or a wholesale reform of the district's administration, including a new CEO. And whether you buy it or not, it is undeniable that the introduction of the private managers stimulated change throughout the district, including the willingness of other institutional players to bend to new reforms and changes.
One can be agnostic on for-profits and a healthy dose of skepticism as to their ability, or anyone else's for that matter, to turn around decades of neglect, under funding, and underperformance in just a few short years. But let's judge the performance of the private managers fairly and accurately and against the realities in which operate. Even accepting RAND’s analysis at face value, for my own part, the far more interesting question is not why private managers did no better than the regular public schools in PSD, but rather why the regular public schools, better funded and supported, could produce no greater gains than the private managers.
*K-12 does business with the Philadelphia School District.
This ES event next Wednesday morning at the National Press Club about this paper promises to be a lively discussion you want to be at.
Eric Alterman and Leo Casey are still battling it out. Joe Williams rounds it all up for you.
Casey: "Eric Alterman has published a surreal response to this post."
Alterman: "I'm sorry, but if the teachers' unions are paying this guy to write crap like this, then things are worse over there than I imagined."
Seriously though, this conclusion from Alterman is spot-on in terms of the larger politics here:
"...as I've written over and over, I see no possibility of a rejuvenation of progressive politics in this country that is not built on a foundation of a strong (and smart) labor movement. And yet somehow, I'm the enemy. (And this from a union that endorses people like George Pataki....) This kind of behavior is the stuff that turns liberals into neocons. I'm not going to let that happen, of course, but it won't be because of this fellow's want of trying."
Amen. Sowing dragons' teeth.
Per the post below, here's an article I've been meaning to write but haven't had time: There is a Maslow's hierarchy at work in urban school reform and it complicates efforts to deal with low-performing schools. Just like we all have basic and higher needs, parents have basic and higher education needs.
Basic ones are things like safety and higher are things like student achievement. Where these needs come into collision is when schools that are safe but not producing sufficient learning gains are threatened with closure or substantial changes. That's likely to surface in Philadelphia if a move is made to pull some of the private mangers, especially Edison, out because parents in a lot of those schools are really happy that things are more orderly and so forth. That's understandably more immediate to them than what fraction of a standard deviation achievement moved over the last few years. Same issue recently in D.C. with the closure of Southeast Academy, a charter school that wasn't getting it done academically but was safer than surrounding schools in the traditional system or Reisenbach in New York.
It's also one reason why having enough good schools is key to any strategy to close lousy ones (pdf). It's the best way to get parents on board.
Interesting and important new RAND analysis* on the various school management options in Philly. Local media heat here, and hotter heat here. Punchline: Outside (for profit and non-profit) managers got more resources but did no better (and in two cases a bit worse) than other public schools in Philly and lagged a bit behind some schools the district especially targeted for improvement. I remain agonistic on the for-profit issue, results and public accountability matter more, but these disappointing results will ignite a firestorm.
But that overall punchline obscures a couple of issues worth considering. First, some are arguing that the mere presence of the private managers drove the overall improvements through a competitive effect, but I don't buy that. However, although they did get more resources, the private managers were given the most difficult schools. The study controls for that but there is a big capacity/scale issue embedded as well. Namely could the district have done as much, meaning tried to help as many schools intensively as have been touched by various reforms during this process, without bringing in some external help? That's an open question and gets to various views about various reform strategies.
Now that's really neither here nor there in the political debate about this because the for-profits are going to get hung on their own gallows. They've been implicitly and explicitly making promises that are awfully hard to keep in the context of the difficult work of urban school reform and this report will crystallize that. Instead, the more powerful case they can make is about capacity, scale, and partnership because that's a more realistic role here. That's because the real punchline is that there are no silver bullets. But it may be too late for them in Philly. To borrow the current parlance, the options here are probably a costly and intensive surge or a pull-out because one way or another something will have to change here.
*One of the authors, Brian Gill, is on the ES Research Advisory Board.
The AFTies are justifiably pissed about this Ed Week story. But, the problem is more the inflammatory headline than the analysis itself (although it seems a little unfair to AFT head Ed McElroy who shouldn't be held accountable for not doing things that he wasn't brought in to do in the first place. Best I can tell he's doing a good job at what he was supposed to do during a transitional period.)
My take would be that on a per-capita basis, meaning relative to the geopgraphic presence of the two unions, the AFT is the more effective of the two. And my sense is that they're regarded as more serious about school reform, I know I think that. And, my unscientific sample of bitching from Hill staffers indicates that the AFT frustrates Hill aides a lot less than the NEA.
In a column that has tongues wagging even at this early hour, a clearly excited George Will sees a big wave of school choice coming.
I do think, however, that the Bush Administration really fumbled their handling of this issue as part of their No Child Left Behind reauthorization proposals (pdf). First, the president failed to set the stage much at all during his State of the Union. Then, as a result, the administration's proposals came out of right field and sparked a debate on vouchers, moved the parties further apart, and distracted from what I think is the core -- and legitimate -- issue they were trying to raise: What do we do for kids in persistently failing schools and those schools? I think they were trying to force that conversation but botched it.
So I'm not at all sold on the Administration's prime ideas here. As a matter of scale and supply I don't think vouchers work. And, the governing principal for school accountability should be, I think, intervention in inverse proportion to success. What persistently low-performing schools need is not more flexibility but rather less. In other words, they're low-performing not because of rules and regulations but because they don't know what to do or how to do it or have the wrong people for the mission. So sure, teacher contracts get in the way of that some, but simply changing them is only part of the equation.
But, all that said, while Administration is asking the right question, by stumbling into a fight over vouchers with flames being fanned by the usual suspects, that question has so far been obscured. And that's too bad, because forcing everyone to ante up with serious and time-bound answers would be a useful exercise.
Update: Uber voucher advocate Clint Bolick responds to this post here, more in sadness than anger. But his response makes me think the above may not have been clear. I don't care that vouchers are divisive, or that the Administration proposed them (though I have problems with the substance), my point here is more a political one: Rather than clearly putting the question of what to do in cases of persistent school failure on the table and sparking a debate, the Bushies just kinda wandered into this. Consequently, we're back to a decontextualized debate about vouchers, which is exactly what the establishment wants, good for business on both sides of that debate, but will likely lead nowhere near reform as part of No Child Left Behind.
More teacher pay back and forth surely coming soon.
Incidentally, my take is that human capital is an enormous issue in education and we’re not getting the job done there so in addition to improving some workplace issues we should be paying teachers more but paying them differently as well.
Sara Mead tells you what you need to know about the mayoral control debate in D.C.
A lot of eduwatchers had been wondering how new New York Governor Elliot Spitzer was going to navigate the various shoals and currents facing him on the education issue. If this speech he gave Tuesday (NYT story here) is any indication, the answer is creatively and robustly.* There is a lot of stuff in here that seems to signal that Sptizer is willing to use his substantial political capital to move the ball on schools in New York. Read the whole thing but it's hard to miss the emphasis on accountability, more charter schools, more rational financing, and a clear signal on human capital around using data to drive tenure decisions. Bloomberg - Klein want to do that, too, it's raised a big ruckus in Gotham, so Spitzer's mention matters...
Also, at the bottom of the speech, the exclamation point on this Boston business, which has engendered some strong words...
*I remain convinced that the best thing that could happen for Democrats on education is winning a bunch of key governorships like NY, MA, CO, OH, and MD. It’s going to force a healthy seriousness on the issue at the state level since owning the problems is different than merely being oppositional.
Update: Don't miss this Kevin Carey post on the same.
What Percent Spin?
I'm not nearly as excited about these big percent increases in minority candidates achieving National Board Certification as Ed Week's usually Bulldoggish Bess Keller or AFTie Propagandist One-L.
From Ed Week:
Black teachers winning the stamp of approval from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards rose by 24 percent, from 324 in 2005 to 403 last year, the privately organized group based in Arlington, Va., announced this month. Hispanic teachers, with 301 in the group that achieved certification last year, showed an increase of 13 percent over 2005.
In comparison, the number of white teachers awarded the credential grew by just 4 percent, from 6,208 in 2005 to 6,428 in 2006. Asian and Pacific Islander teachers stayed steady at about 100 each of those years.
I'm all for the progress but isn't the headline here (or at least the subhead), "Minorities Still Substantially Underrepresented among National Board Certified Teachers." Forget the hyped percentages, the underlying numbers are out of alignment with the population and the teaching force. I thought journos were supposed to be cynics?
My sense is still that National Board Certification is too much of a publicly subsidized giveaway to the schools and kids that don't need the most intensive help right now. Current policies don't do much to help that situation and this data, while trending the right way, is hardly an indicator that we're on top of the problem so it's a bit early for the backslapping.
Chicago Tribune is launching a series of editorials on school finance. Punchline: "We're not spending enough dollars. And we're not getting enough for the dollars we spend." Sounds downright Thirdwayish, you could even run on that...
There is a lot more, they get into some detail and it's worth checking out.
Also from Chicago, new study on induction (pdf). Chicago Trib here.
First this, and now they've lost Kaus!!! The bottom is really falling out!
"Why does the pro-teachers' union blog read like something a General Motors executive might have written in, say, 1985? Our cars are as good as any in the world! The critics all have evil motives! ..."
It's really not a bad blurb...
Lots happening in LA...
In Sunday's WaPo Martha Hamilton writes about the tension between saving for college and saving for retirement. Financial professionals tend to agree that retirement saving should come first, that's pretty obvious, you can't borrow for retirement, it's more predictable, and savings vehicles are more tax-advantaged. But my naive hypothesis would be that there are a lot of people saving for college at the expense of saving for their retirement.
That's in no small part because there is a substantial college costs scare industry out there fueling a lot of anxiety. Sure, in constant dollars college costs will increase going forward. But I don't see how 6 percent increases, the common assumption those promoting various college savings vehicles are using, are politically sustainable over time. Something is going to give; I don't even think it's tenable that today's 5-year olds will be paying $120K for an education at public four-year school. Not saying saving for college doesn’t matter, but in public policy concerning a hot issue – which is what this is – 10 or 14 year time horizons are an awfully long time.
SEED is opening a new public boarding school in Maryland and they're looking for a head of school. Great chance to be part of a leading edge reform and an exciting initiative so get those resumes in!