Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: The anti-"tight" right vs. the anti-"loose" left
Articles by Jay
Greene and Kevin
Carey this week serve as effective bookends on the current ESEA debate.
Both analysts dislike the “tight-loose” formulation to federal policymaking
that is championed by Arne Duncan, among others—though of course for opposite
Speaking for the anti-“tight” right, Greene argues that “dictating
the ends with a national set of standards, curriculum, and assessments will
necessarily dictate much of the means.” (And, to be fair, he did so in a witty
and amusing blog
post, in which he proposed a “drinking game” for readers of Fordham’s forthcoming
ESEA proposal, due out next week.)
But it’s unclear why he finds the concept of “tight-loose”
so preposterous. Consider this: Here are the most likely potential mandates
that Congress might attach to federal Title I funding in the next ESEA:
- States must adopt rigorous academic
standards (and cut scores) in English and math that imply readiness for college
- States must test students annually in
English and math.
- States must build assessments and data
systems to allow for individual student growth to be tracked over time.
- States must develop standards and
assessments in science and history, too.
- States must rate schools according to a
prescriptive formula (i.e., AYP).
- States must intervene in schools that
fail to make AYP for several years in a row, or in schools that are among the
lowest-performing in the state.
- States must develop rigorous teacher
evaluation systems and ensure a more equitable distribution of effective
- States must ensure that Title I schools
receive comparable resources—including good teachers and real per-pupil
dollars—as those received by non-Title I schools.
The way Greene argues it, Congress has to either choose
“none of the above” or “all of the above.” But of course it doesn’t. We at
Fordham would select items one through four off this a la carte menu, and leave the rest for states to decide. That, to
us, would be “tight-loose” in action.
Does Jay believe none of these should be required? And if
so, isn’t he arguing for federal taxpayers to just leave the money on the
stump? Why not make the principled conservative case and say that Title I and
other federal funding streams should simply be eliminated?
And then there’s Kevin Carey’s much more earnest—yet
equally problematic—essay in the New
Republic. He takes the opposite, anti-“loose” view, and seems to argue that
if Republicans don’t opt for “all of
the above” they are showing themselves to be “radicalized” and in fear of the awesome
powers of the Tea Party. According to Carey, Republicans like Senator (and
former Education Secretary) Lamar Alexander are “abandoning” their dedication
to education reform “in the face of the new anti-federal mood.” Never mind that
Alexander has long pushed for a smaller federal footprint in education. Now
he’s “abandoning” his lifetime of work because he wants to let states take the
lead on the next phase of reform? All that’s happening is that the GOP is
returning to its federalist roots after a wayward journey with No Child Left
Note, in particular, Carey’s worries that “states might no
longer be required to test students annually or intervene when schools
persistently fail to help students learn.” These concerns are misguided and
misplaced. First, nobody is seriously talking about moving away from an annual
testing requirement. Second, what evidence can Carey point to that federally mandated
interventions in persistently failing schools have amounted to anything? Can
anyone argue that the School Improvement Grants program is going well?
quit with all the over-the-top rhetoric. Give the list of eight mandates above
a good look. Congress is likely to move ahead with the first few and will
definitely reject the last few; the real debate is about the ones in the
middle. In other words, we’ll be arguing over the precise definition of
“tight-loose,” regardless of what the anti-“tight” right or the anti-“loose” left
have to say about it.
This piece originally
appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.
|Click to listen to commentary on the "tight-loose" debate from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
News Analysis: A charter-school frenemy in the Bronx
Jonathan Mahler recounts a powerful, yet
tortured, tale of MS 223 in the South Bronx in the most recent New York Times Magazine. Focusing on the
school’s dynamic leader, Ramón González, Mahler articulates well the
tribulations of Gotham’s tenth-best middle school. Throughout the piece
González—and Mahler it seems—struggles with the disjoint between charter and
district policy, between the status quo and education reform. Despite the
principal’s outspoken disdain for charters, their fingerprints are all over his
school: González unofficially requires students to wear uniforms, and peppers
his hallways with college pennants (tactics used by KIPP to create a college-bound
culture). And while González purports to cringe at some of the Klein
edu-reforms in NYC (the school leader “worries that the reform movement’s
infatuation with competition will undermine the broader goal of improving
public education”), he has taken full advantage of Klein initiatives to better
MS 223. Thanks to Klein, González has has been able to create his own
curricula, micromanage his students’ days, and spend his school’s annual budget
as he wishes. The story of MS 223 offers smart lessons for principals and
district administrators nationwide: Principals, like González, should grab the
best practices wherever they find them—from charters or traditional public
schools alike. And district leaders should create policies that afford
principals that opportunity. The children will thank you.
News Analysis: Instruction delivery, turned on its head
Photo by A. Turkus
Since the time of Horace Mann, in secondary
schools of all stripes, the education delivery model has looked something like
this: The teacher lectures to the students, educating them on the War of 1812,
the circumference of a circle, or dangling modifiers. Further practice is done
as homework—far away from a teacher’s watchful eye and helpful instruction. A
provocative new idea from Salman Khan (the face and brains behind the Khan Academy videos)
flips this delivery model on its head. In classrooms with which Khan partners,
students are given the lectures for homework (to be watched online); the
problems are done in class. This allows teachers to provide direct guidance to,
immediate feedback for, and more personalized instruction time with their
students. A bright idea from a bright individual—Khan’s proposal could be a
huge win for champions of individualized instruction and teacher
professionalization alike. Let's hope it catches on.
News Analysis: What the Sunshine State can learn from Georgia
It’s an exciting time in the Peach State, as
Georgia is on the road to eliminating seniority-based layoffs—and is doing so
in a smart, constructive manner to boot. See, Georgia’s law would create a
flexible plan for performance evaluation, mandating that local school and district managers revamp
teacher-evaluation systems, but allowing them the flexibility to determine what
those systems will look like. SB 184
sets three basic policies: Local school boards can no longer use length of
tenure as the “primary or sole determining factor” in layoff decisions;
performance should be the primary determining factor in making these layoffs
(and “one measure of [teachers’
skills] may be student academic performance”); effective professional
development must be identified by 2015 to help all teachers improve their
approach provides a strong model for Georgia’s neighbor to the Southeast. Instead of
pushing forward a broad framework for reductions in force while empowering
districts to work out the details locally, Florida’s recently enacted SB 736
mandates state-level salary structures, establishes a learning growth model to
measure teacher effectiveness, and limits district freedoms when it comes to
letting teachers go. Kudos to Georgia for their smart thinking. Let’s hope the
Gators take heed.
Review: America's High School Graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study
By Daniela Fairchild
High school students are taking more courses now than they were two decades ago, and more are opting for rigorous curricula, according to the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study (HSTS). According to the nationally representative study, 2009 graduates earned three more course credits than their 1990 peers, translating into 420 more hours of instruction. Even better, students are earning more credits in the core courses (English, math, science, and history). Unfortunately, the HSTS can’t explain how these shifts occurred, while noting that neither the school day nor the school year has been altered. (The authors do offer potential explanations, including an increase in voluntary summer school, supplemental online courses, etc. But the data doesn’t allow for concrete explanations.) There’s more good news: Students in 2009 are, on average, taking a more rigorous course of study than their 1990 counterparts. The shift has been particularly prominent for African Americans. In 1990, 60 percent of all black graduates took a “below basic” curriculum, and only 26 percent took a “midlevel” or “rigorous” one. In 2009, only 21 percent took a below basic curriculum, and 57 percent engaged in a midlevel or rigorous one. This shift seems promising for NAEP scores: The HSTS reports that students who take rigorous curricula score proficient in NAEP math and science. Whether the strong NAEP performance is due to the rigorous curricula or not requires further analysis. Even though the HSTS leaves many questions unanswered, the report brings to the fore some heady policy issues and offers, for those willing to sift through the silt, a few golden policy nuggets.
|Click to listen to commentary on the NAEP HSTS from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Christine Nord, Shep Roey, Robert Perkins, Marsha Lyons, Nita Lemanski, Yael Tamir, Janis Brown, Jason Schuknecht, and Kathleen Herrold, “America's High School Graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study,” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, April 2011).
Review: District of Columbia Public Schools: Defining Instructional Expectations and Aligning Accountability and Support
By Bianca Speranza
This Aspen Institute paper provides impressive detail on Michelle Rhee’s hard-fought IMPACT teacher-accountability system, explaining its mission, underlying principles, and implementation. The paper is more than just a primer on IMPACT—though it does offer a comprehensive look at the program’s rationale, philosophy, and structure. Aspen also provides principal and teacher perspectives and analyzes the program’s first year of data, offering lessons learned thus far. From the data, Aspen reports a “moderately strong correlation” (r=.57) between principal and master-educator evaluations, implying consistency in judging teacher performance. Yet, it only finds a modest correlation (r=.034) between scores generated from IMPACT’s instructional rubric and teacher value-added data, implying that the IMPACT evaluation system still needs some fine-tuning. Among the lessons offered for districts trying similar teacher-evaluation reforms: Create common expectations about what effective teaching means and looks like; understand that the hardest part of creating a teacher-performance system is helping educators improve their skills; and be aware that continued development of organizational capacity is crucial to success.
Review: Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America’s Toughest High School
By Gerilyn Slicker
In 2008, Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter-school network took over the illustrious, dangerous, and historically under-achieving Alain Leroy Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles. In this in-depth qualitative look at the takeover, Alexander Russo discounts rhetoric both from those who exaggerate and those who belittle Locke’s recent success. As Russo points out, Locke’s transformation has been a long slog, not an unmitigated success, and has been possible only through the grit and perseverance of dedicated teachers and administrators. Russo reports teachers with blood-shot eyes, exasperated with their efforts, puking before starting class in the mornings, or crying quietly in the bathroom after a long day with the students. He chronicles powerful stories—both positive and negative—that have helped to shape Locke over the past three years. Among them: The tale of Keron, a football player who was pepper-sprayed by a rogue security officer after being caught gambling at school and one of Miss K., who battled to keep David, a defiant upperclassman filled with potential, in the school through graduation. This honest on-the-ground portrayal reminds us: School turnarounds are a hard business, indeed.
|Click to listen to an interview with Russo from the Education Next Book Club podcast
Review: State Test Score Trends Through 2008-09, Part 3: Student Achievement at 8th Grade
By Chris Irvine
In the third in its series of state test-score trend analyses, the Center on Education Policy examines the achievement of eighth-grade students on states’ reading and math exams from 2002-03 to 2008-09. Surprisingly—and counter to previous research—the study found that eighth graders are performing just as well as those in fourth grade and high school, and that, of the three, eighth-grade scores are the fastest-improving. Furthermore, at the advanced-achievement level, gaps have widened in a majority of states between white students and their African American, Latino, and Native American counterparts. And Asian Americans have surpassed all other students by a notable margin. It’s hard to know what to make of these findings. It’s certainly possible that we’re finally seeing real improvements in the nation’s long-challenged middle schools. But it’s also likely that the trends simply reflect changes in state tests and cut scores. A more reliable indicator, as always, is the NAEP, where these gains all but disappear.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Consensus has its day in the sun
Mike and Janie ford the left-right gap in federal education policy, and find consensus on charter facilities and Race to the Top 2.0. Amber gives the 4-1-1 on the 2009 NAEP high-school-transcript report and Chris brown-bags his lunch.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Evaluation of teachers must improve
By Terry Ryan
Effective teachers are the most valuable education asset that Ohio (or any state) has. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to their impact on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who recently testified before a joint hearing of the Ohio House and Senate education committees, reports that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Similarly, a weak teacher can blight a child’s prospects....
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Obtaining a “real education”
By Liam Julian
The man who gave us Dilbert, that irascible cubicle-dweller, his tie perpetually upturned, whose daily panel-by-panel ordeals presented a particularly pointed satire of the modern workplace with its indigestible euphemistic business-speak and mawkish sign-the-card rituals, has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he makes a case for teaching college students less about art history (who needs it?) and more about “entrepreneurship.” For the way of the entrepreneur, Scott Adams writes, is the way to success. He calls his own life to the stand to provide evidence for his claim....
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Event: Looking Inside Diverse Charter Schools
With BASIS Charter Schools
seeking to open a campus in D.C., commentators have asked: Can such a rigorous
school effectively serve Washington’s diverse student population? A recent
panel, moderated by Fordham’s Mike Petrilli, unequivocally answers: “yes!
Briefly Noted: Going on a "spring sphere" hunt
advocates: Breathe a sigh of relief. The House passed its proposed
spending bill this afternoon (which would fund the feds through September).
As it heads to the Senate, education is reasonably unscathed. The budget even
offers up $700 million for a new round of Race to the Top, and another $150
million for another set of Investing in Innovation (i3) grants.
builds off its past research and rebuts Gary
Miron’s recent report on student attrition at KIPP in a paper presented at
last week’s American Educational Research Association annual meeting.
- Larry Cuban
throws buckets of cold
water on the online-learning parade. While he veers swiftly into Negative
Nelly-ville, some of his concerns—especially around credit-recovery
programs—are worth heeding. Even Michael
- A wake-up
call when it comes to Common Core assessments: It’s going to take some time
before either consortium gets them right; don’t expect miracles when they roll
out in 2014.
- A new
study funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation is causing quite a stir. As
it turns out, third-graders who struggle with reading are four times more
likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. Likewise,
low-income students are more likely to drop out than those who had never
experienced poverty. Two words: predictably depressing.
you’re Friday nights aren’t complete until you get your education-policy fix,
Bloomberg radio can now oblige. Bloomberg EDU, hosted by Jane Williams, is a new weekly look at education in
- Students in one Seattle
school can no longer get excited for Easter egg hunts. They now must look
forward to “spring
sphere” finds. At least the school’s administration found an alliterative
Announcement: Rethinking school boards in the twenty-first century
In what should prove to be a lively discussion,
Checker Finn hashes out the future role of school boards with Anne Bryant of
the National School Boards Association, Christopher Barclay of the Montgomery
County Board of Education, and Gene Maeroff, author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy on April
26 from 4:00-5:30PM. Event details and RSVP here.
Announcement: Yes we ConnCAN
Do you believe in the
ConnCAN priorities: greater choices, greater accountability, greater
flexibility? Are you an experienced and inspiring leader with a keen intellect,
collaborative work style, and dedication to education reform? ConnCAN is
searching for a new executive director. Find out more here.
Announcement: A glimpse at Los Angeles's edu-future
LAUSD supe John Deasy explains his vision—and
how he plans to achieve it (even in these austere times)—at AEI on May 5 from
4:00-5:15PM. For more information, or to RSVP, click here.
Fordham's Featured Publication: Mayhem in the Middle: How Middle Schools Have Failed America, and How to Make Them Work
American middle schools have become the places “where
academic achievement goes to die.” So says report author Cheri Yecke. Today’s
middle schools have succumbed to a concept of “middle schoolism” in which a
strong academic curriculum, intent on teaching the basics, is traded for one
that focuses more on emotional and social development. And the achievement data
reflects the consequences of this “middle schoolism.” In 1999, U.S. eighth
graders scored nine points below average on the TIMSS assessment of math.
What's more, these same eighth graders had outperformed the average by twenty-eight
points as fourth graders in 1995! This report shows that trying to fix high
schools while ignoring middle schools is like bandaging a wound before treating
it for infection.