Faulty Logic About Immigrant Teachers

A recent Washington Post op-ed by Jessica Vaughan, of the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, implies that nefarious forces of trade agreements and penny-pinching school districts are working to lower teacher certification requirements and fill teaching slots with cheaper immigrant teachers. Leaving aside the controversial issue of whether immigration visas belong in trade agreements, Vaughan’s arguments about teachers don’t pass the smell test. For starters, evidence suggests school district HR offices aren’t nearly this strategic. Vaughan also glosses over the complex array of reasons why districts might want to hire teachers from abroad, or why reducing certification barriers for potential teachers makes sense. Besides, the largest immigrant teacher programs exist to recruit teachers in areas where there is a shortage — in part because high certification barriers deter many otherwise qualified Americans from pursuing these teaching positions.

National Charter Schools Week…And Clinton Charter Flashback!

This week is National Charter Schools Week. Today, forty-two states allow charter schooling and there are now about 3,000 charter schools around the country serving 750,000 students. Charters are not mainstream but no longer marginal either. Charter schools are public schools, but in addition to school districts, parents, teachers, local community groups, and others can open and operate them. Like other public schools charter schools must accept all students, first come first served, or randomly if more students want to attend than there are seats (most charter schools have waiting lists). And, charter schools are accountable for student learning as well as parental satisfaction. Parents choose charter schools in the first place and dissatisfied ones can go elsewhere.

Though by no means is every one a great school, the majority show real promise to help students, particularly those in currently underserved communities. Charter schools enjoy bipartisan support and have a more impressive track record than vouchers. Moreover, unlike vouchers, charter schools expand rather than erode support for public education.

Yet despite this, some legislators, teachers unions, and other education interest groups in states including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington are celebrating National Charter Schools Week by attacking these public schools, seeking to limit their growth or cut their funding. Eduwonk shudders to think how they’re celebrating Be Kind to Animals Week.

Visit Green Dot Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, KIPP Academy, SEED, MATCH, or Cesar Chavez — just to cite a handful of the many terrific public charter schools around the country. In what parallel universe is it good politics, good policy, or even just remotely sensible to work against these schools, which are showcasing what is possible in public education and helping kids every day?

Political Afterthought: 750,000 students whose families have chosen public charter schools, plus charter school staff and supporters…not exactly the AARP or the NRA but enough support that alienating them seems ill-considered especially during an extremely close election.

Bonus Political Afterthought: President Clinton understood all this and supported charter schools.

Double Bonus Afterthought: Here’s Clinton on state charter school laws:

“Now, the one problem we have had is that not every state has had the right kind of accountability for the charter schools. Some states have laws that are so loose that no matter whether the charter schools are doing their jobs or not they just get to stay open, and they become like another bureaucracy. Unfortunately, I think even worse, some states have laws that are so restrictive it’s almost impossible to open a charter school in the first place.”

Final Afterthought! Though they’re a new way of delivering public education, charter schools are less important as a “new paradigm” or “out of the box” idea than as an immediate way to increase the supply of great public schools for kids.

Drive By

William Raspberry falls for misrepresentations about No Child Left Behind in today’s Washington Post. He frets that the law holds schools accountable for student test scores on a single day (it doesn’t, states can measure school performance by averaging scores over multiple years), he buys a hypothetical argument about a school making great strides but still not making “adequate yearly progress” (less of a problem than it appears because of the law’s “safe harbor” provisions), and he accepts the notion that offering students in low-performing schools public school choice, tutoring, or worst of all requiring school districts and states to do something about those schools amounts to “punishment.”

If you’re unconcerned about the facts, it’s a great read. If you’re interested in how the law actually works, this quick guide from the Education Trust is more useful.

Afterthought: The PR maven who lined this up deserves a raise!

Bonus Afterthought: Perhaps hit pieces like this wouldn’t be so common if the Bush Administration had done a better job explaining and implementing the law in the first place.

Counterproductive Afterthought: Raspberry also accepts the idea that schools are pretty helpless in the face of poverty and other social problems even though there is evidence to the contrary. But this seems like a terrible argument for No Child foes to be putting forward: Give us more money even though the schools can’t help solve the problem! Whatever PR maven came up with that ought to be fired!

Scientifically Based?

More hand wringing about American science competitiveness in a very interesting New York Times article. Miraculously the public schools are not the scapegoat this time! But the article is all about relative competitiveness — which obviously matters — and buried in the middle is this key point:

“Analysts say comparative American declines are an inevitable result of rising standards of living around the globe.”

Nonetheless, the Bush Administration’s fiscal recklessness is not helping matters, and it’s vital to recruit more Americans from underrepresented groups into the scientific community.

Eduwonk How To: Write Your Own Smarmy Op-ed

The trick to writing an op-ed about education isn’t having facts, data, analysis, or even silky smooth prose. Instead, there is a particular architecture that rarely fails.

First, start with a quick lede feigning even-handedness or offering backhanded praise.

Second, smear your opponents. Attacks on salaries are always a great strategy because they seem so plausible yet really have little to do with the underlying issue. And, you can never go wrong attacking motivations.

Third, make a few first-person assertions in the remaining space. Arguing that all aspects of education are just different than any other human endeavor is always a safe choice.

Finally, make sure that the line identifying you is at the bottom not the top. That way, most readers will have tuned out before finding out you work on behalf of a special interest group with a vested stake in the issue.

Here is a good example. Eduwonk doesn’t entirely disagree with the basic point. But, for more nuance about a complicated issue try this or this, and for an innovative way to address the problem check out New Leaders for New Schools.

Also, finding school leaders is a real problem.

Comfort Food

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has vetoed plans for the creation of a Ronald Reagan University. Federal law gives her the right to do so. Here’s how the founder of the proposed university told the AP he was coping with the bad news:

“I’m just sitting here watching Fox News and recovering with a scotch in my hand.”

Writing About the Writers

Former Los Angeles Times writer and current Hechinger Institute director Richard Colvin discusses education reporting in an excellent essay in the Carnegie Reporter.

Read the whole thing but here is Eduwonk’s sneak peek at the punchline:

“There’s a lot that could be done to improve education journalism. But what it all adds up to is writing about education has to become a true specialty, much as covering science, business, sports, the arts or technology are all considered to be specialties, requiring deep knowledge of the domain.”

Under Other Influences

Eduwonk does not condone drinking and driving, yet the saga of the superintendent of schools in Alexandria, Virginia, seems to be driven more by other agendas — namely angst about other decisions she has made and people trying to score points about zero tolerance policies — than real concern about her DUI arrest.

To recap, here are Eduwonk’s CliffsNotes to the controversy: Superintendent makes a bold decision to reassign a top-flight principal from a popular small school to a very challenging and struggling one…parents at the principal’s current school freak out…superintendent meets with parents for several hours one evening…afterwards she understandably wants a drink and repairs to local restaurant with a school board member…on the way home she gets pulled over and arrested for DUI with a .12 blood alcohol level.

All in all not pretty. But worthy of five articles plus a column in The Washington Post and subsequent coverage elsewhere?

The circumstances leading up to this incident, as well as much of the ensuing controversy, are a prime example of what happens when equity meets NIMBY. Middle class parents are all for improving schools for poor kids — unless it means changing schools that are serving their children well. This superintendent is being attacked not simply for what was admittedly a serious mistake; she’s also being punished for unpopular staffing decisions.

On top of that, opponents of zero-tolerance policies for students argue that it’s unfair to subject students to strict consequences for drinking but also give this superintendent another chance. Sure, there are serious consequences for students who get caught drinking. (Although Eduwonk is not much of a fan of zero-tolerance anyway.) But the superintendent is 21, the students are not, and she’s already facing the legal consequences of her actions. Moreover, by all accounts this was an isolated incident and, let’s be honest, a mistake many adults privately admit to at times having made themselves. Not an excuse but context.

Describing the uproar one school board member bluntly told The Post, “people with an ax to grind are the people we’re hearing from” and another described the controversy as media driven. That seems to about sum it up. In the end the board hung tough and voted 7-1 to keep the superintendent. Good decision. She didn’t set a great example for students but her critics were setting pretty bad one too.

Afterthought: It’s working! Isn’t reallocating highly effective personnel to the most challenging (and usually highest poverty) schools exactly the sort of change No Child Left Behind is intended to cause?

Bonus Afterthought: Instead of just fueling controversy, wouldn’t it make a great story if journalists set out to describe just how brutally difficult it is to make staffing changes to improve low-performing schools….

Update! Patrick Welsh (an Alexandria teacher and Washington Post contributor) takes a different view on transferring principals from effective schools to struggling ones.