The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 32. August 18, 2011.
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Opinion and Analysis

Up with teachers, not so much with unions
The people speak
Opinion | Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Let's make a deal!
Unraveling NCLB
News Analysis

Wrong conditions for a coup
Progressive teacher unions, unicorns, and other fanciful things
News Analysis

It's working in Harlem
Why not Columbus?
News Analysis

Short Reviews

Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education
Untie district hands
Review | Chris Tessone

IDEA National Assessment Implementation Study: Final Report
RTI on the rise
Review | Janie Scull

State Achievement Score Trends Through 2008-09, Part 4: Is Achievement Improving and Are Gaps Narrowing for Title I Students?
A tentative, caveat-laden yes
Review | Lauren Johnson

Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies
Evidence above anecdote
Review | Laurent Rigal

From The Web

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
Montana, Moe, and Matthews
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Janie Scull and Daniela Fairchild

Putting Dayton’s back-to-school season in context
Coleman still rings true
Flypaper's Finest | August 12, 2011 | Terry Ryan

Follow the money: Winerip takes out after education philanthropists
The elusive appropriate role of edu-giving
Flypaper's Finest | August 16, 2011 | Peter Meyer

Education Reform Idol: The Reformiest State 2011
Indiana takes home the gold
Gadfly Studios | August 11, 2011


Live green, save green
Superteachers only take us so far
Briefly Noted

Rick takes on Randi takes on Rick
Disagreeing ideologies hash out their thoughts on teachers at Fordham on August 23

Nothing common about it
Common Core is hunting for a research intern

Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools 
Learn from the masters
Featured Fordham Publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: Up with teachers, not so much with unions
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

red delicious photo

A apple for America's teachers
(Photo by Stacey)

Over the next couple of weeks, youngsters across the land will strap on their SpongeBob backpacks and lace up their new Converses. They’ll board school buses, sharpen their pencils (and turn on their iPads), and settle in their classroom chairs, eager-eyed and ready to learn. But for a lot of teachers in a lot of states, the 2011-12 academic year won’t begin with the same cheerful anticipation. More and more educators, we’re hearing, are dragging to school with grimaces rather than grins on their visages. September looks like worn-out June. They feel the burden of societal disrespect, of distrust, of being blamed by the public for all that ails American education.

They’re wrong—fortunately. The new Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup survey makes clear that most adults value their children’s teachers. Seventy-one percent say they “have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools” and 67 percent say they would like to have one of their own children become a public-school teacher.

That’s tons more positive than the public’s view of schools in general: Just 17 percent give A or B grades to them (though Americans continue to give high marks to their own children’s schools—and this figure, say the pollsters, is rising).

Respondents were also asked to grade the teachers, principals, and school board in their own community. Here again, teachers fared best: Sixty-nine percent of respondents would award their town’s teachers either an A or a B versus 54 percent for principals, and a meager 37 percent for the school board. (This widening recognition of the governance failings of our public-school systems is, in its way, heartening.) Parents—interestingly—rank the worst: A discouraging 36 percent of respondents would give their communities’ parents top marks for “bringing up their children.”

More and more educators, we’re hearing,...feel the burden of...being blamed by the public for all that ails American education. They’re wrong—fortunately.


So whence cometh the perceived public ire?  PDK and Gallup lift the lid a bit: Forty-seven percent of survey respondents feel that unionization (of teachers) has hurt “the quality of public education in the United States” compared with 26 percent who say it has helped. (Are you paying attention, Randi and Dennis? Your organizations don’t have a lot of fans. Even school boards fare better!)

Some aspects of school teaching seem permanent, even eternal, but in many ways teaching today has changed from my own student days and it’s likely to be even more different tomorrow.

In the last half-century, unionization has flooded the schools (and is now slowly starting to ebb—or be pushed back). Possibly more important, though, has been the sheer growth in the number of public-school teachers. In the 1950s, the crude ratio of students to teachers across American K-12 education was 27:1. Today it’s 14:1. That doesn’t mean everybody’s classes are smaller but it does mean that we now employ an enormous number of teachers—in the ballpark of 3.5 million—and essentially all the extra money we’ve put into public education has gone to pay for their salaries and benefits. That’s why teacher pay has simply kept pace with the cost of living and why these levels of compensation in much of the U.S. today aren’t sufficient to attract and keep a great many of our ablest college graduates. (Mercifully, they attract and keep some!) If today’s ratio were still 27:1, today’s school budgets would be sufficient to pay an average teacher salary north of $100,000.

As for what will be different in the teachers’ world tomorrow, five developments need to be noted and taken seriously.

First, technology is going to have a major impact, both on what happens within traditional schools and classrooms and, more broadly, on what we mean by “school” and where and when learning occurs. Most likely, it will mean that we need fewer flesh-and-blood teachers sitting in the classroom with Johnnie and Susie—though we may need more aides and tutors and such to provide face-to-face explanations, pats on the back, and (when needed) stern looks and reminders to remain on task. (Expect a paper soon from our “Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning” series on the specifics of these shifts.)

Second, school budgets are going to be flat (or falling) for the foreseeable future—and looming deficits in retirement and pension funds almost certainly mean that the take-home pay of practicing  teachers will see no real-dollar growth and could well decline. (The only rational antidote to that is, in fact, employing fewer individuals and paying them better.)

Third, there’s a revolution underway in teacher evaluation and many of the HR practices associated with it, including retention, tenure, compensation, promotions, and layoffs. It’s rocky, to be sure, but we’re gradually coming to gauge teachers more by what their students learn and less by the credentials that they carry. (And this isn’t just a cause trumpeted by wonks and reform junkies. Per yesterday’s poll, 74 percent of adult Americans say that it’s important to incorporate student test-score data into teacher evaluations.)

Fourth, big changes are brewing in teacher preparation and licensure as ed schools come under fire, as “alternate routes” proliferate, as programs like Teach For America get greater traction, and as more attention is paid to what a teacher knows about her subject than to what pedagogy courses she took in college.

Fifth, though the system hasn’t quite made this adjustment yet, we’re seeing that a non-trivial fraction of teachers are people who want to do this work for a time, before or after they do something else, rather than make a lifelong career of it. We’ll likely evolve a set of arrangements that capitalizes on the short-termers as well as the classroom careerists.

As we contemplate this future, it will surely help if teachers themselves, with or (more likely) without their unions’ help, prove willing to experiment, to grow, to listen, and to learn. And it will help if all the rest of us—even the curmudgeonly crew at Fordham—pause to thank today’s hardworking educators for selfless, challenging, and not very well compensated work on which our kids’ future and our country’s prospects depend so heavily.


News Analysis: Let's make a deal!

old map of Montana photo

Montana's retroactive revolution
(Photo by Brian Swan)

On Sunday, 158 Montana public schools were slated to join the state’s other “failing” schools—per federal AYP designations. On Monday, that number plummeted to three. Yet this change in labeling had nothing to do with student achievement. Instead, the feds allowed education officials in big-sky country to simply redraw the state’s schedule of testing targets—retroactively back to 2005. Why? The Treasure State had revamped its own state assessment that year, yet hadn’t reset its proficiency standards (something the NCLB accountability workbook allows). Duncan’s crew found this loophole and let Montana rewrite its proficiency targets from 2005 on. For this year, that means that Montana’s required proficiency rates will be slightly above the state’s original 2007 levels. A possible contributing factor to ED’s willingness to find a work-around: a desire on Duncan’s part to save face after Montana's flagrant and continued refusal to raise its proficiency standards—even after the Secretary’s threat to withhold Title I funding. Yet Duncan’s clumsy wielding of the NCLB stick, as well as this back-bending for states, may have serious negative consequences. So, Mr. Secretary, take heed of Jeb Bush’s good advice: Be a leader. A thought-out plan on how to pass responsibility to the states is more pragmatic than defusing potentially embarrassing situations.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on Montana's "new deal" on NCLB from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

State Challenges Seen as Whittling Away Federal Education Law,” by Sam Dillon, New York Times, August 14, 2011.

Ed. Dept. Allows Montana to Rewrite Its NCLB History,” Michele McNeil, Education Week, August 15, 2011.


News Analysis: Wrong conditions for a coup

Hopeless optimists in the ed-reform ranks have noted—and exhalted—recent cracks in teacher-union armor, some of which seem to be brought about by teachers themselves. The latest United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) elections saw a reform-minded slate of teachers (self-dubbed NewTLA) take ninety of the 350 seats in the union’s governing body. New York City’s Educators for Excellence, a group of teachers working to reform arcane and detrimental policies like last-in, first-out, now boasts 3,500 members. While it’s easy to become smitten with these examples of change, however, Terry Moe reminds us that they won’t bring about large-scale “reform unionism.” Why? Because unions are inherently designed to quell reform efforts. Further, while younger teachers are more reform-minded than their elder peers (look to NCEI’s recent survey for more), they also exit the profession at higher rates—leaving union leadership unscathed. While any chinks in the armor are likely good for kids and taxpayers alike, imagine the damage to the status quo these reform-minded teachers could inflict if they started working against the steadfast unions and not through them.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on "reform unionism" from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take on Teachers’ Unions,” by Andrew J. Rotherham, Time, Aug ust 11, 2011.

Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.,” by Terry Moe, PublicSector, Inc., August 12, 2011.


News Analysis: It's working in Harlem

Geoffrey Canada has become a bit of an ed-reform rock star since he began the Harlem Children’s Zone in the 1990s. That initiative provides wraparound services—including schooling, healthcare, healthy meals, and after-school activities—for children and their families in a sixty-block square of central Harlem. And the idea has grown legs across the country (look to the “promise neighborhoods” initiative for proof). Yet, in Columbus, a similar effort led by Columbus Collegiate Academy (one of the top-performing urban schools in the Buckeye State) and the Boys and Girls Club risks having its legs swept out from under it. (Full disclosure: CCA is a Fordham-authorized school.) The partners hope to open a new school in a vacant building near the Boys and Girls Club on the city’s near west side, where existing middle-school options are paltry. Planning was going smoothly, with grants and donors lined up to support the CCA-BGCC joint program, until the state’s biennial budget bill was finalized in late June. Under the new law, districts no longer have discretion about whom they rent space to. That decision must now be done by lottery. (Ironically, the change in law is meant to ensure that charter schools have greater access to vacant district buildings, as districts have been remiss to rent space to them.) Yet now, CCA might miss out on this prime school-system real estate, putting the entire children’s zone partnership—and a much-needed network of services for needy kids—at risk. And that would be a sad day for Columbus and for its children.

Project would go beyond school,” by Jennifer Smith Richards, Columbus Dispatch, August 14, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education
By Chris Tessone

Money, Mandates, and Local Control coverAt times, local school districts may feel like marionettes, with state and federal mandates contorting them to fit one policy priority after another. According to this fascinating new book by Wake Forest professor Bryan Shelly, higher levels of government can indeed manipulate local education agencies with remarkably few dollars—as little as 5 percent of their budgets. Shelly uses NCLB to illustrate this effect, showing that even state and local politicians with serious reservations about the law implemented it anyway, unwilling to cut ties to federal cash—or brave the political backlash that would ensue. While some states (like Colorado and New Mexico) have passed laws formally opposing various NCLB provisions, every state has at least partially implemented 95 percent of NCLB’s provisions. The same is true at the district level: Only seven of the nation’s 14,383 school districts have formally opted out of NCLB. With these facts in hand, Shelly draws a simple but important conclusion: A better way for higher levels of government to leverage reform would be to ease up on onerous mandates, leaving to locals the heavy lifting in areas like teacher quality and curriculum. State and federal money need not be accompanied by the demolition of local control. Do that and local school districts might start to whistle Pinocchio’s favorite tune, “I’ve got no strings.”

Bryan Shelly, Money, Mandates, and Local Control in American Public Education, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2011).


Review: IDEA National Assessment Implementation Study: Final Report
By Janie Scull

This paper examines the state of IDEA services in the five years after the law’s most recent reauthorization in 2004. Findings are drawn from a 2009 survey of state special-education offices as well as 1,200 school districts. Though there is much throat-clearing in the report, it is chockablock with relevant data. Perhaps the most interesting tidbits relate to implementation of intervening services for students who are not yet identified as special-needs but who require additional supports to succeed academically: Eleven percent of districts have voluntarily opted to direct allotted IDEA funds toward services like Response to Intervention (RTI), something they’ve only been allowed to do since 2004. (RTI is an instructional technique that provides students with tiered and increasingly intensive instruction to address problems in their early stages.) Still many more districts provide such services without tapping into their IDEA funds: When it comes to RTI specifically, fully 71 percent of districts—encompassing 61 percent of elementary schools, 45 percent of middle schools, and 29 percent of high schools—use RTI. Unfortunately, the report stops short of analyzing why districts are opting to spend their own cash on RTI initiatives, rather than directing federal dollars to the cause, circling us back to an issue with special-education writ large: Where, how, and why money gets spent remains a black box.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on IES's IDEA report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Bradley, M.C., Tamara Daley, Marjorie Levin, Fran O’Reilly, Amanda Parsad, Anne Robertson, and Alan Werner, “IDEA National Assessment Implementation Study,” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute for Education Sciences, 2011).


Review: State Achievement Score Trends Through 2008-09, Part 4: Is Achievement Improving and Are Gaps Narrowing for Title I Students?
By Laura Johnson

CEP Title I report coverFor all the disaggregation of test scores that has taken place since the implementation of NCLB, little attention has been placed on the Title I student population itself (those in schools with high percentages of low-income pupils). This Center on Education Policy report—the fourth in a series on student achievement—spotlights these kids. It assesses trends in Title I and non-Title I student-achievement data (for grades four, eight, and either ten or eleven) between 2002 and 2009, and the findings initially appear promising. Of the nineteen states that disaggregate achievement data by Title I status, fifteen saw improvement among Title I participants. Additionally, gaps between Title I and non-Title I students have narrowed more frequently than they have widened since 2002. Unfortunately, while CEP offers a needed peek at Title I student success, the report’s basic methodology limits the reach of its findings. Not only does it not correct for shifting levels of Title I funding, it also cannot disaggregate student achievement (or school funding) by students enrolled in school-wide or targeted-assistance programs (albeit that these targeted-assistance programs are quickly becoming things of the past). So kudos to CEP for shining light on the effectiveness of Title I efforts, but many more bulbs will have to be illuminated to truly understand the efficacy of Title I’s $14 billion.

Nancy Kober, Jennifer McMurrer, and Malini R. Silva, “State Achievement Score Trends Through 2008-09, Part 4: Is Achievement Improving and Are Gaps Narrowing for Title I Students?,” (Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Policy, August 2011).


Review: Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies
By Laurent Rigal

Uneducated Guesses coverFor better or worse, testing—formative, evaluative, and diagnostic—is entrenched in our K-12 education system. But policies around assessment haven’t all been evidence-based. In this book, Howard Wainer, a long-time research scientist at ETS and statistics professor at Wharton, illustrates this point through a series of rebuttals to opinions he sees as ubiquitous in today’s conversations around testing. In one chapter, he explains why the SAT should not be made optional. In another, he gauges the practicality of using value-added models (VAM) as components of teacher evaluations—concluding that available data render VAM implementation premature. While many of Wainer’s arguments dive far into the weeds of testing, his overall message rings clear and true for much more than assessment: Policy that is formed without full analysis of the breadth of data available on a topic is policy that will fail.

Howard Wainer, Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).


From The Web

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

With Mike and Rick sipping Cuba Libres on the beach, Janie and Daniela speculate on what Montana’s “NCLB do-over” might mean for ESEA reauthorization, the potential of “reform unionism,” and the merits of “exam schools.” Amber makes a dry report on IDEA seem fascinating and Chri$ pitches districts a crazy idea: Turn off the lights when you aren’t in the room.

The Education Gadfly
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.


Flypaper's Finest: Putting Dayton’s back-to-school season in context
By Terry Ryan

Education is and always has been profoundly shaped by demographics and economics. Ever since James Coleman’s celebrated 1966 study showed that student achievement is strongly affected by nonschool factors, Americans have understood the manifold tribulations facing anyone bent on improving student achievement among our poorest children.

In Dayton, Fordham’s hometown, there is no doubt that education-reform efforts are entangled with brutal Rust Belt economics, poverty, job loss, fractured families, and the constant churning of children between schools. Recent news out of Dayton has not been good for children and families here.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Flypaper's Finest: Follow the money: Winerip takes out after education philanthropists
By Peter Meyer

The other day, Michael Winerip raised what has come to be an increasingly contentious question in the public education-reform debate—the use of private money for public purposes.… These are tough times and deep-pocketed individuals are stepping up to the plate to help out. Is that a good idea?...

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Gadfly Studios: Education Reform Idol: The Reformiest State 2011

Click to play video

Last Thursday, Fordham brought five forward-thinking states—Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—together to battle for the title of America’s Education Reform Idol. After narrowly losing to Illinois in our pre-event poll, Indiana pulled out a come-from-behind victory. To see why, watch the event video.



Briefly Noted: Live green, save green

  • Hate overspending? Love the environment? So does the Mount Sinai School District on Long Island. Last year it saved $350,000 on utility bills by shutting off lights when not in use, unplugging unused refrigerators during the summer, etc.
  • Good news for Hoosier students: Indiana’s new voucher program (which has enrolled 2,800 in the forty days that applications have been open) has been given the green light, as a county judge declined to block implementation of this law. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Douglas County, Colorado’s program.
  • Drawing from his recent book, Class Warfare, Steve Brill makes the case that we need more than superstar teachers to improve our schools. There just aren’t enough to go around.
  • So much for collaboration in Illinois. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis recently described the likelihood of a strike as “very high,” as her membership is feeling “disrespected.”
  • And over in the Badger state, the Wisconsin Education Association Council laid off forty-two (40 percent) of its own central-office employees this week. According to WEAC Executive Director Dan Burkhalter, Governor Walker’s “union-busting” bill is to blame.
  • Holy interactive graph, Batman! This one is from the New York City Charter Schools Center and shows test-score data for Gotham’s charter schools (grades 3-8).
  • Flash forward a few years, as digital learning takes root, and imagine this scene: “One or several cities emerge as hubs of teaching talent, with large numbers of small firms of specialist teachers contracting with blended schools around the country and around the world.” An interesting notion from Reihan Salam, indeed.


Announcement: Rick takes on Randi takes on Rick

Click to register for the eventRick Hess and Randi Weingarten will sit down together on August 23 from 10:00 to 11:30AM to have a smart, frank, and amiable discussion on what current education-reform trends mean for classroom teachers. (Gadfly is thinking “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” Which one will be James Lipton? You’ll have to come to the event to find out.) Rick will be in shorts; we encourage you to dress casually as well. Click here for more information.


Announcement: Nothing common about it

Common Core—a D.C.-based organization promoting a balanced curriculum in K-12 education—is looking for a resourceful, intelligent, and hard-working research intern to help with report-writing, blogging, social media outreach, and the office’s day-to-day operations. If you’re interested, learn more about the position here.


Fordham's featured publication: Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools

Needles in a Haystack cover

The overwhelming majority of schools that serve Ohio’s poor, urban, and minority youngsters fall short when it comes to academic performance. But there are a small handful of schools that buck these bleak trends and show serious achievement for disadvantaged youngsters from depressed inner-city communities. This study profiles eight of these high-performing outlier schools and distills their successes, in hopes that state policymakers and educators can learn from them and create the conditions necessary for more schools like them. Read more here.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Tyson Eberhardt, Daniela Fairchild, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Laura Johnson, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Michael J. Petrilli, Laurent Rigal, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Biance Speranza, Chris Tessone, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at Find archived issues or other reviews of reports and books here.

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary and secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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