Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: The schools—and the deficits—we deserve
The latest Education
Next poll results are packed-full of interesting findings on topics
ranging from choice to merit pay, from NCLB to tenure reform. But particularly
timely, in this era of fiscal austerity, are new insights about the public’s
views on school budgets. And guess what: On education, like everything else,
Americans don’t want to make tough choices. They want to keep taxes low while
boosting school spending. Sound familiar?
Let’s start with taxes. Question 25a asked:
“Do you think that local taxes to fund public schools around the nation should
increase, decrease, or stay about the same?” Sixty-five percent of the public
wanted taxes to remain steady or drop. The numbers were a little lower for
African Americans, Hispanics, and parents, but not by much. (Half of teachers
even expressed this view.) Interestingly, even more people (73 percent of the
public) opposed raising local taxes, even if they were to be targeted to local
(instead of national) schools.
Many people complain that our schools aren’t
responsive to public demands, but the opposite seems true.
OK, Americans don’t want higher taxes. So
they must want school spending to remain flat, right? Wrong. Question 3b
queried: “Do you think that government funding for public schools in your
district should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?” Here, 60 percent
of the public wanted increased spending on their schools. (Not surprisingly,
the numbers were even higher for teachers, parents, and minorities.) Granted,
that sentiment softened significantly when respondents were told how much their
local districts actually spend—it kicked down to 46 percent for the public as a
Still, as we see with similar surveys on
taxes and spending writ large, the public wants expensive services and
low taxes. (Oh, and they abhor deficits.) The math doesn’t add up.
And on what does the public want these
phantom extra dollars to be spent? Not higher teacher salaries; once told that
the average teacher makes close to $55,000, only 43 percent of the public
supports boosting pay.
No, Americans want exactly what they’ve been
getting for fifty years: smaller class sizes. In the only “forced choice”
question on the survey, respondents were asked (in question 12): “Reducing
average class sizes by 3 students would cost roughly the same amount as
increasing teacher salaries by $10,000. Which do you think is the best use of
funds for schools across the country, increasing teacher salaries by
$10,000 or reducing class size by 3 students?”
Respondents clearly struggled with this one,
with 29 percent expressing no opinion either way. But by a ratio of 44 percent
to 28 percent, those with a view picked class-size reduction over higher pay.
Many people complain that our schools aren’t
responsive to public demands, but the opposite seems true. The public wants
small classes and is less concerned about paying teachers well; that’s exactly
the system we’ve got. And, I suppose, the system we deserve.
This piece originally
appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
Opinion: Steven Brill: Brilliant or bonkers?
E. Finn, Jr.
Jay Mathews isn’t
the only smart person to rave about Steve Brill’s new book, Class
Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. Tiger-mom Amy Chua,
Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Cory Booker, and Tom Brokaw are all pumped about
it, too, or so they say on the dust jacket.
Brill is relatively new to the ed-reform wars—which may have
been one of his prime assets while penning this volume; he doesn’t appear to
have any particular ax to grind or ideology to advance. Though a neophyte in
this realm, he’s a veteran journalist, and a fine one at that, who first passed
through the ed-reform looking glass when reporting on New York’s notorious
(thanks to Brill) “rubber rooms” for The
New Yorker. He’s Gotham-based, himself, and many of the battle scenes
in this long but compelling tome are situated there. (Joel Klein and Randi
Weingarten get the most mentions in a fifteen-page index.)
His approach resembles Bob Woodward’s recent
volumes on the real wars of the Bush and Obama
eras: plenty of inside scoops, vivid quotes, extensive reportage, evocative
vignettes and telling examples, lots of short chapters, a fast-paced narrative,
and an ample supply of couldn’t-invent-‘em characters.
Not many ed-reform books are like this (Joe
Williams's came close) and Brill’s repays attention, not just because it’s a
rollicking romp but because it works through many issues, conflicts, interests,
episodes, and people and comes to a measured set of conclusions that won’t
please anyone in particular but deserve serious reflection. If you want just
the conclusions, you could limit yourself to Brill’s final chapter (“A
marathon, not a sprint”), but then you’d miss all the evidence that leads up to
Still, a few wee excerpts from that chapter will give you
both the flavor, some of the wisdom, and at least a couple of ideas that seem
totally harebrained at the start but, in the context of his overall
examination, may not be so crazy after all.
* “Dave Levin…was giving me a tour one afternoon of KIPP
Infinity in upper Manhattan…. ‘So you must feel pretty good,’ I said. ‘Well,
that’s it, I don’t,’ he replied. ‘I’m still failing 60 percent of the time.’”
* “Levin acknowledged that he was at least free to try
because he was not straitjacketed by a union contract.…Then he stopped, looked
up, and delivered a dose of reality: ‘If you tore up every union contract in
the country…then you would have to train and motivate not 70,000 or 80,000
teachers…but 3 million teachers.”
* “In the summer of 2010, when I heard Arne Duncan remark
that ‘you can’t fire your way to the top,’ I thought it a clever turn of phrase
intended to mollify the unions. Duncan was actually making an important point.
For, as Levin explained, the bigger hurdle is that ‘you can’t expect 3 million
people, or even a half million, to be as talented as our [KIPP] teachers are,
or as willing to work these kinds of hours and do this as intensely as they do.
You have to devise support systems…to make moderately talented people better.
You can’t do this by depending only on the kinds of exceptional people we have
* “‘I feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, and underpaid,’
one Harlem Success teacher told me. ‘I work from 7:30 to 5:30 in the building
and then go home and work some more….I think we are doing a great job so I keep
at it. But there is no way I can do this beyond another year or two….This model
just cannot scale.’”
* “[Geoffrey] Canada is an extraordinary person. So is Dave
Levin. And Wendy Kopp. And Jessica Reid. So are thousands of spectacular,
equally driven teachers in traditional public schools across the country. We
can be led and inspired by extraordinary men and women….But they will lead us
to the right place only if we can figure out a realistic way to motivate and
enable the less than extraordinary in the rank and file….”
* “In fact, if Michael Bloomberg really wanted to go for a
touchdown in education reform…he could try the ultimate Nixon-to-China play: He
would…make Randi Weingarten the schools chancellor….As chancellor, Weingarten
would have to shed her habit of making offhand overstatements than can easily
be disproved…but…I can see her now standing with Bloomberg…declaring that the
times have changed….Only now her constituency would be the children.”
* “This Weingarten-as-chancellor fantasy aside, the fact is
that unions and their leaders can and should be enlisted to help stand up those
in the rank and file who are well-motivated and able but are not extraordinary.
That doesn’t mean yielding to the unions’ narrow interests; it means continuing
to enhance the political climate and, with it, the backbone of the political
leaders who negotiate with the unions, so that the unions will yield to the
interests of the children their members are supposed to serve.”
And on he goes. Is the whole thing a naïve, wishful-thinking
fantasy? Or is Brill precisely correct to suggest that the only way to bring
reform to scale is to figure out how to enlist—and enable—the mass of educators
who teach the mass of U.S. kids? “Waiting for the scalable solution, as the hedge funders would call it,” he
observes, “is no better than waiting for Superman.”
Yes, he wants it both ways: “Tough legislation to trump the
unions, such as that pushed by Johnston in Colorado, is necessary. But taking
the next step and eliminating the unions is not likely to improve schools….If
the country has to sign up the platoons that Dave Levin says are needed, then
giving teachers some say, through their representatives, about their
professional lives…is a long-term positive, not a negative.”
Still, we’ve come a considerable distance, he concludes:
“Looked at from the perspective of how far they’ve come from Wendy Kopp’s
college thesis, from Jon Schnur’s fruitless drafting of speeches for Al Gore
and John Kerry, from Congressman George Miller’s losing a 434-1 vote on teacher
certification and performance pay, from Bill and Melinda Gates’s or Eli Broad’s
early missteps in education philanthropy, from Joel Klein’s inability to order
his own human resources department to produce data on teacher
effectiveness…they should all be taking bows.”
“But this is only the first mile of the marathon.”
How much endurance do you have?
News Analysis: The "new normal": No longer new, still normal
Though the specifics are still unclear, the
debt-ceiling compromise will—at base—spell big cuts to federal spending. And
that will, in turn, mean less money for the states—education or otherwise. Bleak?
Perhaps. But district leaders (and parents and the public): Pick your chins up
off the floor. We’ve been sitting under the shadow of this “new normal” in
education spending for some time now—and shouldn’t expect simply to wait out
the eclipse. Instead, smart adjustments can yield the savings needed. Don’t
slash teacher jobs; think about lifting class-size ratios or rethinking
Cadillac benefits packages. Don’t eliminate art and music; think about more
efficient ways of delivering them instead. As someone named Rahm said not so long
ago, you never want to waste a serious crisis.
News Analysis: A great time to close bad ed schools
One oft overlooked consequence of the current
financial situation is that many newly minted teachers, straight out of the
nation’s 1,200-odd ed schools, are finding it hard to get work. In comes former-Teachers
College president (and ed-school critic) Art Levine with an interesting notion:
If we need fewer teachers at present, we presumably need fewer programs through
which to train them. Which is an opportunity, he explains, for states to
shutter some of their lower-quality programs (more on this from NCTQ next year)—and
allow those still in operation to be much more selective. But then he stumbles.
Going further, he writes “It is also expensive to operate multiple systems for
educating teachers, especially if the reason is that one system is not working
well,” essentially calling for a clamp down on promising new models of teacher
certification, like Teach For America—that themselves have very high standards
and selectiveness. So read Levine’s article—but take his advice selectively.
|Click to listen to commentary on Levine's piece from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Review: Public School Choice in the District of Columbia: A Descriptive Analysis
Forget federal politics for a minute. There is one
area where Washington deserves kudos for its leadership: school choice. As this
Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) brief
explains, D.C. has one of the most extensive choice programs in the nation.
During the 2008-09 year, only 35 percent of District students attended their
traditional neighborhood school. The others could be found attending
“out-of-boundary” publics (31 percent) or charter schools (34 percent). Furthermore,
choice programs seem to be reaching those who need them most—poor and minority youngsters
are significantly more likely to exercise choice than their affluent and white
peers. Data also show a willingness to add several miles to the daily commute
in order to attend the school of their choice. Of course, D.C.’s choice
initiative isn’t flawless. This study finds evidence of “cream-skimming”—whereby
relatively high-scoring students (still poor and minority, mind you) are likelier
to take advantage of choice. In D.C., students who opted into out-of-boundary public
schools entered their new school one-sixth of a standard deviation ahead of
their “staying” peers in reading and one-fifth of a standard deviation ahead in
math. (Students opting into charters significantly outperformed their “staying”
peers, as well.) A difficult issue indeed, but surely not a decisive argument
against school-choice programs, since the alternative—keeping everybody
padlocked to failing schools—is hardly preferable.
Review: The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends and Indicators
By Janie Scull
This comprehensive look at learning disabilities
(LD), neurologically based disorders that include diagnoses like dyslexia, exposes
two truths. First, confusion about and misidentification of LD—a problem we
described over a decade ago—persists, though improved instruction and
intervention have helped curb the number of identifications over the last ten
years (also illustrated in a more recent Fordham study).
Second, there’s still a dearth of up-to-date research on how to support students
with bona fide LD and improve their educational outcomes. The paper reports
some familiar facts—boys are more likely to be identified as having LD, as are
minority students, and those in poverty or unemployed (the study also collected
data on the adult LD population). Further, students with LD are, on average,
3.4 years behind their grade level in reading and 3.2 years behind in math. The
biennial report also furnishes many less-familiar stats. Notably, while the
percentage of students with LD receiving a high school diploma increased from
52 to 64 percent from 2000 to 2009 (and dropouts fell from 40 to 22 percent),
only 10 percent of all students with LD enroll in a four-year college. In
addition, students with LD rarely use technologies to help moderate their
disabilities: Just 6 percent learn with computers more frequently than their
classmates and a mere 1 percent use software designed for students like
themselves. Better and more targeted hardware and software may hold one key to
further improving graduation and college-going rates—and doing so in a cost-effective
Review: Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011
This survey report from Emily Feistritzer’s National
Center for Education Information (NCEI) shows the changing face of America’s
teacher workforce—and offers glimmers of hope to reformers looking for allies
in the teacher ranks. (Are you watching, Steve Brill?) Of the large group of teachers
who have been on the job five years or less, a third received their training
through alternative programs. Such educators, in addition to being more
racially diverse and STEM-oriented than their colleagues, are decidedly more
supportive of ed-reform initiatives. Seventy percent of alt-cert teachers favor
performance-based pay (compared to 58 percent of those traditionally trained),
52 percent say “yea” to axing teacher tenure (versus 31 percent), and 27
percent note that the unions need to go (compared to 19 percent). Reformers
ought to enlist these non-traditional teachers—and thinkers—in the larger
policy battles ASAP.
Review: Critical Contributions: Philanthropic Investment in Teachers and Teaching
This report from the University of Georgia and
Kronley and Associates analyzes the evolution of philanthropic giving to
teachers and teaching over the past 150 years (with a focus on the 2000s).
While the dollar amounts doled out to these types of programs pale in
comparison to overall K-12 spending, there is much about their directional flow
that is worth noting. From 2000 to 2008, national and regional philanthropies donated
over $680 million to improve K-12 teachers and teaching—with close to a third
of that money going to Teach For America. And it’s not just because of TFA’s
strong track record or stellar fundraising team (though these reasons play a
part)—funders have prioritized teacher-recruitment efforts over the last decade
and have targeted investment in organizations they feel have strong leadership.
Moreover, funders are becoming much more hands-on about the money they hand
out. They’re learning lessons from ineffective philanthropic giving and
targeting their resources to policies they feel bring about change, like
alternative-certification pathways and performance-based evaluations and pay. It’s
hard to say whether all of this money has added up to improved teacher
effectiveness, but the direction in which it is going is certainly promising.
|Click to listen to commentary on Critical Contributions from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Arthur M. Horne, Karen E. Watkins, Claire Suggs, Robert A. Kronley, and Kate
Shropshire Swett, “Critical
Contributions: Philanthropic Investment in Teaching and Teachers,” (Atlanta,
GA: Kronley and Associates, Athens, GA: University of Georgia, July 2011).
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: When the cat's away...
Mike and Rick are in the zone this week
analyzing the Save Our Schools March, how states can improve ed schools, and
the merits of Missouri’s anti-Facebook-friending legislation. Amber gives Teach
For America a high-five and Chri$ gives NC charter schools the flat-out deny.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: There's good news, and then there's really good news
A few weeks ago, I wrote about our schools’ “secret
success.” Simply stated, poor and minority students are achieving at
dramatically higher levels today than they were two decades ago—in some cases
two or three grade levels higher. And while we can’t be sure what led to this
academic acceleration, test-based accountability was probably the most
important factor. Or so I argued.
But the plot thickens, because these national averages
mask state-by-state differences that are quite instructive, too.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Rick Hess defines the challenges those of us in the field have been stumbling around for years
By Terry Ryan
new paper authored by Rick Hess, “Quality
Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches” is
critically important for those of us on the ground working as school
administrators, school leaders, charter-school authorizers, and education-policy
As a charter authorizer, Fordham’s experience with
digital learning has been humbling and frustrating, in part because we have
struggled—along with many others—to define success for the digital-learning
programs and policies we have supported.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Briefly Noted: Why is that dollar bill attached to that string?
- If it
were up to Arne Duncan, teachers would
make between $60,000 and $150,000 a year—but there’s a catch. To do that,
we have to “shift away from an industrial-era blue-collar model of
compensation” to one that rewards “effectiveness and performance.”
- To some,
the hard-line reforms of governors like Scott Walker and Rick Scott are
alienating—a porridge too cold. To others, the collaborative changes in states
like Illinois lack teeth—a porridge too hot. But some say that rookie GOP
governors Susana Martinez (New Mexico) and Brian Sandoval (Nevada) are providing a
porridge just right, offering compromise and communication, while still
driving through some strong legislative changes. Could one of them be America’s
next Ed Reform
a smart response to the anti-testing banners waved at last weekend’s Save
Our Schools March: Yes, he says, there are schools that test too much. And yes,
“Calling a school successful because of high reading and math scores on
a standardized test may be a flawed method of evaluation. But is it any more
flawed than calling a school successful ‘because we say so’?”
against inappropriate teacher-student interaction is important. But Missouri’s newly
passed SB54—which bans teacher-student communication on social-networking
sites that allow for private interaction—has seriously stifled the state’s
potential for tech-based innovations like virtual schooling or digital
dropboxes. Baby, meet bathwater.
there was Teach For All. Now another
group is building off the Teach For America model, this one of the
entrepreneurial mindset. This week, Venture
For America (VFA) opened its application process. VFA will place fellows at
start-ups in Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence for two years, creating job
growth and aiding the economies of failing cities.
- Is it
really that teachers are paid too little, or that some teachers are paid too little? Andy
- With all
this debt-ceiling talk, you might have missed some of the other news out of the
federal government. Idaho got
the go-ahead to keep its AYP proficiency targets the same for a third year
in a row. (Which is convenient, because state supe Tom Luna has already
informed the USDOE that he
has no intention of continuing to follow NCLB accountability provisions.)
Reason #5,489 why ESEA
won’t be reauthorized anytime soon: It looks like Duncan way oversold the number of schools that
would be labeled as failing this year under AYP. While some key large states
(including TX and CA) still need to report, the results thus far are far from an
percent failure rate.
|Click to listen to commentary on Missouri's anti-friending law from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Announcement: Ed Reform Idol: The search for a superstar
The countdown begins.
In just seven short days, Fordham’s “Education Reform Idol” blockbuster event
will descend on Washington. Join us (August 11, 8:30AM to 10:00AM) as contestants
and Wisconsin (blog post coming tomorrow, stay tuned) don their best education-reform dresses as they fight to earn top
distinction as America’s “reformiest” state in 2011. For a full list of contenders
and judges, or to register, click here.
Announcement: It's always SUNY in New York
Take it from Fordham, charter authorizing is
hard work. But can be rewarding. If you’re interested in joining the movement,
New York’s Charter Schools Institute (part of SUNY) is looking for a
performance and systems analyst to monitor, analyze, and evaluate
portfolio-school performance. To learn more, click here.
Announcement: Yes, we ConnCAN
If you’re committed to education reform in the
Constitution State, get over to ConnCAN now; they’re hiring for a research and
policy fellow. Ideal candidates will have excellent writing, research, and
communication skills, as well as a “roll-up-your-sleeves” attitude. To learn
more about the position, head here.
Featured Fordham Publication: Stretching the School Dollar
This policy brief lists fifteen concrete ways
that states can “stretch the school dollar” in these difficult financial times.
Written by Marguerite Roza, senior data and economics advisor at the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at
the Fordham Institute, it argues that budget cuts alone, without concurrent
reforms, could set our schools back years. But by addressing state mandates
around teacher tenure, “last hired, first fired” policies, minimum class sizes,
and more, states can free local leaders’ hands to make smart, courageous cuts
and do more with less. In other words, this challenging climate is an
opportunity to make some real changes in education. Read
on to find out more.