Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: On pushing the ESEA boulder up the hill
By Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Along with paralysis over the
budget (and so much else), there’s enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill over
federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising
reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in
Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
(ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue
and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.
A year ago, the Obama
Administration offered a decent “blueprint” for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major
fissures within each party—and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the
aisle. Most commentators agree—and staffers privately admit—that chances are
slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right.
It’s a major abdication of responsibility by our nation’s lawmakers.
And what makes it especially
painful is that there's a pretty obvious path forward, not too different from
the Administration’s proposal. We sketch it out in a new ESEA
reform proposal released this week. It
capitalizes on some key realities:
First, NCLB has done a pretty good
job of sensitizing the country to the value of detailed student-achievement
data—by district, school, state, and
subgroup. To really have traction, however, those data must be linked to
rigorous standards, decent tests (and other measures), and interstate
comparability. On those points, NCLB faltered—it mandated that states aim
for universal “proficiency” by 2014 but allowed them to define proficiency
however they liked. Thankfully the Common Core State Standards Initiative is potentially
coming to the rescue with its rigorous standards, real-world relevance,
upcoming assessments, and coast-to-coast adoption.
Second, NCLB has also shown
the federal government to be utterly incapable of enforcing a nationwide
“accountability and intervention” strategy, of assuring teacher quality, and of
doing myriad other things that comprise the actual operation—and reform—of the
education system. We see little reason for optimism about more successfully
driving reform tomorrow via another layer of top-down federal mandates attached
to formula-based funding programs.
Reform Realism entails a radical rethinking of the federal role in education, one that would be much more focused, and, we think, tailored to Washington’s capacity and expertise.
Meanwhile, Race to the Top, while
imperfect, has shown that competitive grant programs can stimulate some worthwhile education changes at the state and district
Finally, there are the new
political realities, especially the GOP (and the Tea Party to its right) wanting
Washington to get out of the way of states and districts, and Democrats—some of
them, anyway—wanting reforms for poor kids even if that means getting in the
face of the teacher unions.
Put it together and you have the
makings of a grand bargain, in line with what we’ve termed “Reform Realism”—a
pro-school-reform orientation that is also realistic about what the federal
government can (and cannot) do well in K-12 education. This philosophy entails
three main principles:
“Tight-loose” – Greater
national clarity about our goals and expectations for students (i.e., standards
linked to real-world demands of college and career), but much greater
flexibility around how states, communities, and schools actually get their
instead of Accountability – Results-based accountability in
education is vital, but it can’t successfully be imposed from Washington. Instead, Uncle Sam should ensure
that our education system’s results—and its finances—are transparent to the
public, to parents, to local and state officials (and voters), and, of course,
–When Uncle Sam seeks to promote specific reforms in education, he should do so
through carrots rather than sticks—and through competitive grant programs
rather than formulas.
Realism entails a radical rethinking of the federal role in education, one that would be much more focused,
and, we think, tailored to Washington’s capacity and expertise. These are our ten
specific recommendations. (You can find the details here.)
states, as a condition of Title I funding, to adopt rigorous (i.e.,
“college- and career-ready”) academic standards in reading and math
(either the Common Core standards or equally rigorous ones).
expect states to adopt rigorous “cut scores” on tests aligned with those
standards—making sure these cut scores signify true readiness for college and career.
states to develop the capacity to measure student growth over time.
regular testing in science and history, not just reading and math, in
order to reverse curricular narrowing and foster a more complete education
in key subjects.
- Eliminate Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) and instead require states, as a condition of Title
I funding, to adopt school-rating systems that provide transparent
information to educators, parents, taxpayers, and voters. Such state
reporting systems would have to be pegged to college and career readiness
and, for high schools, to graduation rates. They would have to rate all
schools annually on their effectiveness and include disaggregated data
about subgroup performance.
all federally mandated interventions in low-performing schools. Allow
states to decide when and how to address failing schools—and other schools.
the Highly Qualified Teachers mandate.
than demand “comparability” of services across Title I and non-Title I
schools, require districts to report detailed school-level spending
information (so as to make spending inequities across and within districts
states the opportunity to sign flexibility agreements that would give them
greater leeway over the use of their federal funds and would enable them
to target resources more tightly on the neediest schools.
reform-oriented formula grant programs into competitive ones.
Specifically, transform Title II into a series of competitive grant
programs, including Race to the Top, i3, charter-school expansion and
improvement, a competitive version of School Improvement Grants, and an
expanded Teacher Incentive Fund.
essence, we propose greater federal prescriptiveness (“tight”) around
standards, tests, cut scores, and data systems, and much less federal
regulation (“loose”) of sanctions, interventions, teacher quality, and almost
will be thrilled with this plan. The education establishment will complain that
our proposal maintains No Child Left Behind’s focus on “teaching to the test.”
Some reformers will worry that, by backing away from federally mandated
“accountability,” we will turn the clock back on improvements for poor and
minority students. And some conservatives will argue that we don’t go far enough
to minimize the federal role.
The other way to look at this plan, however, is as a
clear path to reauthorization—a path that, after suitable compromises on all
sides, will take us to a much better place, federal policy-wise, then where we
are now. Who is ready to lead us there?
|Click to listen to commentary on Fordham's briefing book from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
News Analysis: Warm and fuzzy in the Windy City?
Photo by Rich Bowen
Whereas other noisy Midwestern states have been
audibly discordant of late, the education buzz emanating from Illinois has been
positive—from both sides of the education-reform divide. That’s because the
Land of Lincoln is currently advancing a negotiated education-reform bill,
painstakingly constructed to reflect the desires of both traditional education
groups and reformers. In fact, both Stand for Children and the
Education Association (IEA) endorse the measure—and all fifty-nine out of
fifty-nine state senators signed it. At first glance, this new legislation
seems to be a wholesale win for Illinois’s reform community: It rewards
teachers for good performance, eases the process for dismissing poor
performers, ties tenure to performance evaluations, and removes seniority as
the sole basis for determining layoffs. Maybe Illinois reformers—who unleashed
an avalanche of political donations last fall—backed the IEA into a corner,
sending the message: Either join us or get steamrolled. But dive a little
deeper and other features emerge that ought give reformers pause. For example,
when budget cuts force teacher layoffs, though seniority can no longer be the
sole determinant, proxies for it such as certification and relevant experience
can take its place. Regarding teachers’ performance evaluations, they’re to be
locally approved, with neither a state-based student-achievement requirement
nor a deadline for implementation. We’re all for consensus, but sooner or later
Kumbaya has to yield to some butt-kicking if real change is to take place. And
we’ve got a feeling that, with a firecracker
like J.C. Brizard stepping into the role of Chicago schools chief under
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Windy City at least won’t be tranquil for long.
|Click to listen to commentary on Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
unions key to education reform package,” by John O’Connor, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 15, 2011.
Senate passes education reform bill,” by Cheryl Burton, ABC Seven Illinois, April 14, 2011.
Mayor-elect Emanuel names schools chief,” by Staff, The Associated Press, April 20, 2011.
Reform—Or “Reform Lite”—in Illinois?,” by Alexander Russo, This Week in Education, April 19, 2011.
News Analysis: Takeaways from teachers in turnarounds
Successful school turnarounds have
long been elusive—if
not downright impossible to find. Yet a newly piloted model out of Boston
shows some promise. The Teacher Turnaround Teams (T3) program, a Teach Plus and
Boston Public Schools (BPS) joint venture, recruits and places groups of
effective, experienced teachers in select BPS buildings, infusing these
struggling schools with both a “critical mass” of accomplished teachers and a
teacher-leader cadre ready to up the abilities of their peers. At the two pilot
schools participating in the program, T3 teachers—who have been chosen through
an intense application process—make up about 25 percent of the teacher force. And
it seems to be working. Eight months into the program’s inaugural year, T3
schools are seeing marked student improvement. But that’s not all. Along with
catalyzing achievement gains, T3 offers standout teachers the chance to lead,
while remaining in the classroom—a “career ladder” if you will. T3ers run weekly
team meetings with teachers in their grades and subject matters, debriefing,
mentoring other teachers, and vetting team concerns. “It’s where the profession
needs to move,” explains elementary school teacher Callie Liebmann. Kinks
remain to be ironed out, but the concept is compelling: Recruit a cohort of
high-caliber folks, place them in leadership roles within the teaching
profession, and offer them the school-based autonomy needed to make smart
shifts. Now if someone could work through just how to scale this all up.
Review: School Choice and School Improvement
By Marena Perkins
In this ambitious compendium, authors pull together school-choice
research as it pertains to student outcomes; parent choice; and competition and
segregation effects. Through its chapters, the volume does a mighty fine job
answering some tough questions relating to school choice: Do charters cream? Do
vouchers in D.C. work? What criteria do parents use when choosing a school? Do
students availing themselves of choice programs experience greater achievement
in their new schools? Researchers of various stripes, including Paul Peterson
and John Witte, pull data from Indianapolis to the Netherlands. The bottom
line: We’re headed in the right direction—but there’s a lot we could do better.
To that end, School Choice and School
Improvement calls out some of the hang-ups in the school-choice movement
(the underwhelming effects of intradistrict transfer being one and high school
application processes that derail some would-be school-choice students being
another). It also gives some practical advice (e.g.: how to disseminate school
information to parents). This volume offers a balanced, above-the-fray look at look
the current realities and future possibilities of choice in our schools.
Review: Workplaces that Support High-Performing Teaching and Learning: Insights from Generation Y Teachers
By Janie Scull
A joint production of the American Federation of
Teachers (AFT) and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), this report
compiles data from eleven previous surveys, seven focus groups, and three case
studies to gauge how Generation Y teachers—those born between 1977 and
1989—view their profession. Overall, it paints Gen Y teachers as optimistic and
progressive, concluding that they crave more feedback on their effectiveness,
more peer sharing and learning, recognition and rewards for strong performance,
meaningful evaluation systems, and technology in the classrooms. Interestingly
for an AFT publication, it paints these young teachers as more reform-minded
than they probably are. For example, the study cites the Retaining Teacher
Talent survey and reports that near 61 percent of Gen Y teachers think stellar
colleagues should be rewarded. But it fails to showcase another finding from
the same survey: Sixty-seven percent of Gen Yers would themselves prefer a
school with a guaranteed annual raise of 3 percent and no opportunity for merit
pay, as opposed to a school with opportunities for merit pay but no set tenure
and salary structure. At the end of the day, Gen Y teachers may well be
slightly more reformy than their older colleagues, but it would be folly to
think that reformers looking to tear down tenure and implement
performance-based pay will find droves of allies in the younger generation of
Review: The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-career Teachers
By Jamie Davies O’Leary
As states and districts seek to overhaul
teacher-evaluation systems, this NBER paper answers a salient question: Do
evaluations actually improve a
teacher’s performance? That’s one hope of reformers and unions alike—that clear
and regular feedback will help instructors improve their craft. Based on eight
years of data from Cincinnati’s Teacher Evaluation System (TES), the answer is
yes—in math, anyway. TES is an evaluation system that uses periodic,
unannounced classroom observations coupled with student-work portfolios. For
this report, researchers examined data from 2003-04 to 2009-10 to ascertain the
impact of TES on mid-career teachers (those in the system for five to nineteen
years). Building on performance-evaluation research, these analyses looked not
just at any immediate improvements incurred during a teacher’s evaluation
period, but at the long-term impacts resulting from participation in TES itself.
They do this by comparing achievement of students taught before teacher participation in TES with student achievement during or after TES participation, while
also controlling for students’ prior achievement, teacher experience,
and relevant demographic variables. Though there were no significant
differences found in reading, teacher performance
in math improved both during the evaluation period and afterwards. For example, a teacher whose pupils had typically scored in the
50th percentile on math tests before being evaluated begins to see results in
the 55th percentile range in the years after evaluation. Teachers who scored in
the lowest quartile on their evaluations showed the greatest improvements. As
we rethink teacher evaluation, these are promising findings indeed. But be
forewarned: A system like TES comes with a lofty price tag—roughly $7,500 for
each teacher evaluated (over the course of the six studied years). If districts
or states plan on taking it to scale, some financial juggling will be in order.
|Click to listen to commentary on the NBER paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Review: The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System
By Daniela Fairchild
Since the 2000 PISA and TIMSS test results
catapulted Finland’s education system to international acclaim, scholars around
the globe have been debating the sources of that success. This film, produced
by Robert Compton (of Two Million Minutes fame) and
starring Tony Wagner (author of The Global Achievement Gap), weighs
in on this saturated debate. Through classroom visits, interviews with students
and teachers, and statistics that roll across the screen, it showcases
Finland’s myriad educational idiosyncrasies. It explains that the country has
no high-stakes testing (save at the end of secondary school) or
teacher-evaluation system, and students do little homework. This system creates
a “culture of trust,” which Wagner heralds as the magic bean of Finland’s
success. What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of
Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more
probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. These programs accept
a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the
U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren’t up to snuff. Candidates observe
veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from
peers, mentors, and even students. The film provides a first-hand view of
Finland’s classrooms, and is worth viewing in that regard. Pay particular
attention to the segments on teacher training, and please don’t be hypnotized
by Wagner’s fluffy thoughts on the “culture of trust.”
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: We heart jargon--and J.C.
Mike and Rick conjure up some crazy weather this
week during Pardon the Gadfly: a hailstorm of ideas from Fordham’s new ESEA
briefing book, the landfall of Hurricane Winerip, and the epic J.C.
Brizard-snowpocalypse. Amber heats things up with an NBER paper on teacher
evals, and Chris, well, he just thinks Canada is crazy.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Is it time for "controlled choice" in Washington, D.C.?
By Mike Petrilli
The District of Columbia’s rapid gentrification
provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create racially and
socio-economically integrated public schools. But misguided public policies
might be allowing this moment to slip through our hands.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: This Bud's for Jay; or, just fly me there
By Peter Meyer
The other day, Jay Greene unveiled his Tight-Loose Travel Agency, as a followup to his Fordham Report Drinking Game. What the two have in common is anyone’s
guess, which is a tipoff to Jay’s tipsy logic in trying to expose what he
thinks will be Fordham’s vain attempt “to explain their support for a
nationalized set of standards, curriculum, and assessments while also embracing
local control and federalism.”…
The correct analogy here is not travel agency (or
drinking game), but currency exchange. Today we treat American public-school
students like they live in different countries, each teacher handing out
different coins (based on what? the kids’ poverty and racial status?)—coins not
accepted by the next teacher, or the next school, or the neighboring state’s
test writers—right on up to Dropoutville, where you don’t need no coins.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Fordham's ESEA Briefing Book: "Reform Realism" explained
Mike and Checker explain how NCLB got it
backwards, and what Reform Realism would look like in practice.
Briefly Noted: Gay history in the Golden State
- Congratulations to the
expanded, energized Chiefs
for Change, with new members Janet Barresi (OK),
Stephen Bowen (ME), Chris Cerf (NJ), Kevin Huffman (TN), and Hanna Skandera
(NM). Never have you been more needed.
Winerip raised heads,
eyebrows, and even fists with his Sunday Times piece on the high school alma maters of various ed reformers.
Why? Because many of them attended private schools. Shelving the important
debate on whether or not this matters (look to Liam Julian for that), Gadfly conducted a little survey
on Flypaper. His findings? About 80 percent of reformers
(who read our blog, at least) are public-school alums.
legislation already approved by the California Senate makes its way through the
House and Governor Moonbeam’s desk, the Golden State would be the first to mandate gay history in K-12 social-studies classes. The bill
would also add disabilities studies to the curriculum.
newest shot in the arm is pink. The district is sending all 5,466 DPS
teachers layoff notices, and is planning to use new legal powers to modify the
onerous Motown teacher contract.
New York districts are
looking for a skeleton key to free themselves from the handcuffs of tight
budgets. Their current targets are a host of costly state
mandates imposed in response
to myriad social concerns (e.g. calculating students’ body-mass index). Smart
thinking, if the single-issue constituencies get out of the way.
Announcement: School boards, what are they good for?
Gadfly is curious too.
Join him, and a powerhouse lineup of panelists, next Tuesday, April 26 from
4:00PM to 5:30PM to discuss the relevance of the local school board in the
twenty-first century. More information and registration are here.
Announcement: 1CAN, 2CAN, 3CAN, 4
50CAN is expanding,
with offices opening in Maryland and New York, and they’re looking for in-state
executive directors. If you’re passionate about education-reform advocacy, and
have strong communication, mobilization, and policymaking skills, 50CAN is for
you. For more information on the MarylandCAN position, click here; for NewYorkCAN, here.
Announcement: Reinventing research
If you’re a stickler
for data, with a keen eye for detail, if you can work well independently as
well as in a group and juggle multiple research projects, the Center on
Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has a position for you. CRPE is hiring for
a research coordinator to manage the organization’s myriad projects on finance
and productivity, charters and choice, and teacher quality. Learn more here.
Announcement: Bienvenido a Miami
Simultaneously catch some rays and expand your
mind: The Journal of School Choice is
now accepting paper and presentation concepts for their first annual
International School Choice and Reform Academic Conference, to be held in
Miami, FL in January. The official call for papers can be found here.
If you’d simply like to attend the conference, you may register here.
Fordham's featured publication: An Open Letter to President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and the 111th Congress
In this 2008 letter, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute appraises the federal-policy
landscape and its main players, and outlines the ideal federal role in K-12
education. In summary, the various education associations, interest groups,
experts, and think tanks cluster into three major factions: the System Defenders,
the Army of the Potomac, and the Local Controllers. Fordham favors a fourth
approach, called Reform Realism. To learn more about Reform Realism, click here.