Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: When public education's two Ps disagree
It’s long been said that public education must achieve both
public and private aims. The public, which foots the bill, has an interest in a
well-educated populace. Parents—schools’ primary clients—want a strong foundation
for their own children. Much of the time these two interests are in perfect
alignment. But what happens when they’re not?
Recent surveys illustrate the tension. First, there was the
perennial Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup
poll, which showed an ever-wider gap between parents’ (very positive)
perceptions of their own children’s schools and the public’s (very negative)
perceptions of American schools writ large. Perhaps this can be chalked up to
the “Congressman Syndrome”—we all hate Congress but think highly of our own member of Congress. Or maybe many
parents have a rose-colored view of their kids’ schools. (After all, unless
you’re poor and trapped, to acknowledge that the school you’ve chosen is a
lemon is to admit to a form of parental malpractice.)
But layer those findings onto another recent survey and a
fuller picture emerges. This one, from the Pew Research Center, finds that
two-thirds of the American public think parents aren’t putting enough pressure
on their kids to study hard. (This is a much higher proportion than in any
other country surveyed; about the same ratio of the Chinese public thinks that
parents put too much academic
pressure on their children.)
As long as we look at parents and think they are dummies for liking their schools the way they are, we’re never going to win their hearts and minds.
public seems to be saying: “Hey parents, get your act together and start cracking
the whip on those spoiled brats of yours. Somebody has to pay for my Social
This isn’t such a far cry from the message of policy elites,
the president, and pundits. In Tom Friedman’s words: “Finish your homework.
People in China and India
are starving for your jobs.”
Yes, what seems to resonate with the public, and its elected leaders, is a concern about America’s
future international competitiveness. And for good reason, what with every year
bringing more bad news from PISA
and TIMSS about our lackluster global standing. Some parents—I’m thinking of
you, Tiger Moms—share this anxiety. But lots of others hear the bad news and
To be honest, I’m one of them. Maybe I’m a Koala Dad. While
the “policy wonk” part of my brain understands the relationship between
academic performance and economic growth, the “dad” part of my brain doesn’t much
care. I don’t often look at my sweet little boys and think: “Sons, I dream of
you becoming internationally competitive one day.” Of course I want them to do
well in school, go to good colleges, and get satisfying, well-paying jobs. But
I take those things as a matter of course. Perhaps this makes me part of the
problem—a comrade in the conspiracy of complacency. But if a school tells me
that it’s only interested in preparing my kids for the “global economy,” I’m
walking straight out the door and into a place that wants them to live a good
life, be good neighbors and citizens, know something about the arts, and care
about their own families.
I doubt I’m alone. While policy elites fret about
international test scores, college- and career-ready standards, and STEM, parents worry about bullying,
what’s on the lunch menu, the bus schedule, and the dress code. Art, music, and
recess might seem like frills to hard-nosed CEO types, but to parents like me,
they are central elements of a well-rounded education (and a joyful childhood).
The reason all of this matters is that schools—tugged in one
direction by public policies and in another direction by the demands of
parents—have to find a way to resolve these recurrent tensions. To pretend
otherwise is naïve. It’s easy, for example, for reformers to dismiss concerns
about “teaching to the test.” If it’s a good test, there’s no problem, we say.
But even with really good tests, I don’t want my kids spending all day “on
task,” working on “learning modules” and drills that are easily assess-able. I
want them finger painting in Kindergarten, even if it serves no utilitarian
purpose. Just because! (Of course I’ll also do all I can to make sure they
learn to read, write, think clearly, etc.)
This spills over into the touchy topic of teacher evaluations. Just how much
are we sure we want to make those reviews hinge on test scores? I don’t want my
sons’ teachers to obsess about getting “value-added” scores up if that means
dumping all the units and activities that can’t be reduced to bubbles on a
test. I want my children to get a good “education,” not just receive rigorous
“schooling.” The best teachers (and schools) know the difference.
Reformers desperately want parents on their side.
Getting them better and more comparable information about student and school
performance will surely help. But the answer is not to admonish them to be “engaged
and enraged” about their kids’ schools, as Joel Klein recently wrote. As
long as we look at parents and think they are dummies for liking their schools
the way they are, we’re never going to win their hearts and minds. Many parents
dislike reforms like testing for legitimate reasons—and we ignore their concerns
at our peril. The reformer in me needs to take the parent in me seriously. Klein
says that parents are the “force
that can’t be beat.” Probably true—which is why we don’t want them
mobilizing against us.
News Analysis: NY Regents: Stop the madness!
“back to school” for the New York State Board of Regents and the State
Education Department that it oversees. But will it also be “back to court”?
Primed by the Race to the Top pump, Empire State legislators passed a bill last
year ordering districts to base 20 percent of their teacher evaluations on
student growth measured by state tests. They also stipulated that another 20 percent of
the evals be based on “other locally selected measures of student achievement.”
But the Regents got a little greedy. In May, they voted to merge the “locally
selected” with the state assessment, effectively making 40 percent of the
teacher evaluation dependent on state test scores. New York’s teacher union was predictably
miffed—and took the matter to court. Flash forward to last week, when a state
judge in Albany ruled against the Regents: New York cannot mandate that state
test scores be used for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Upon hearing the
news, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. sounded off that the state
would appeal the decision. Hold on, there, King. We are in the infancy of
teacher-evaluation reform. When it comes down to the details, we’ve got little
more than educated guesses as to what will work best under which circumstances.
Yes, tying 40 percent of an evaluation to test scores might make it easier to
dump a teacher who gets terrible results. But it might also create unhealthy
pressure for all educators in the
state to teach narrowly to the test. Maybe 20 percent would strike a better
balance—and still allow administrators to move bad teachers out of the
classroom. We don’t really know as yet, nor does anybody else. So Regents (and
NYDOE officials), be mindful: Your newfangled evaluation system is going to be
miles more rigorous than what virtually all your districts have today,
regardless of whether one-fifth or two-fifths of the ratings comes down to test
scores. Call off the lawyers, and get down to work.
This piece emerged from
two posts (one
by Peter Meyer and one
by Michael J. Petrilli) that originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper
blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
|Click to listen to commentary on testing and teacher evaluation in NY from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
News Analysis: Twenty-three's a crowd
Come the end of September, Memphis City Schools
and the surrounding Shelby County School District will become one. To effect
the merger, the two districts have cobbled together a twenty-three member
school board—comprised of the MCS board, the Shelby Co. board, and another
seven appointed members thrown in for good measure. (This bloated transition
board is supposed to diet back down to the standard seven-member elected board
by the districts' 2013 deadline for combination.) While the Memphis-Shelby
merger won’t be the first such city-county union (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, NC and
Jefferson Country, KY are other examples), the “how” behind this fusion is nothing
if not unorthodox. Last year, Shelby Co. (which shares
financial responsibility with Memphis for the River City's schools)
postured that it would form a “special
district,” thereby cutting financial ties to MCS (and damming up 26 percent
of the Memphis Schools’s budget). In retaliation, the Memphis school board moved
to dissolve its own district. (In a funky statutory twist, this decision by the
board means that Memphis schools necessarily get subsumed into the Shelby Co.
district—and are thus able to keep their funding stream open.) Two-thirds
of city residents backed the move, in hopes that the higher-performing Shelby
County schools would help boost achievement for Memphis’s 103,000 students. Of
course, residents of the more affluent suburban district (47,000 students
strong) were none too pleased. They sued, and lost, bringing us back to that
23-member school board. If done right, this merger could allow for dynamic and
forward-thinking reform on both school governance and school finance. (Gadfly
gets giddy thinking about the possibilities of expanded parental choice—countywide—and
weighted-student funding among schools.) Here’s hoping that twenty-three turns
out to be a lucky number.
News Analysis: SPED funding now a little less special
NCLB waivers, meet your new federal pal, easement of special education “maintenance of
effort” requirements. Traditionally, IDEA has been interpreted to
require school districts to maintain (or increase) their spending on special
education from year to year or else face stiff penalties. Districts could apply
for one-year waivers for particular reasons—for example, the graduation of an
extremely expensive student, which might send costs lower. But they were
expected to resume their higher spending the next year. A June letter from ED
to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education trumpets a
different tune. Now, the Department says districts may lower their special-education
and then keep the same level in subsequent years as well. This small but
significant change signals a willingness to rethink special-education
spending’s status as untouchable—which is critical in this time of fiscal
austerity. As Sasha Pudelski, a staffer for the American Association
of School Administrators, told Education
Week, “Fairness dictates that all programs and populations share in the
burden of cuts, rather than holding a single program exempt.” Precisely.
News Analysis: The long arm of ed law
First came the healthy
school-lunch campaign, the sex-ed
campaign, the gay-history
campaign, and the environmental-literacy
campaign (to name just a few)—all noble pursuits for individual schools
usurped by state and federal policymakers. Today marks a milestone in another
such campaign, as New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights—understood to be the
most stringent in the land—goes into effect. The law requires schools to create
safety teams, allocate professional-development time for anti-bullying
trainings, and assign an “anti-bullying specialist.” (Each district must find itself
an “anti-bullying coordinator” as well.) Though Gadfly’s past admonishments
seem to have fallen on deaf ears on this front, he’ll clear his throat and aver
louder: Schools—and the parents of the children educated therein—should toil to
create a positive school culture, free from schoolyard intimidation and classroom
harassment. Efforts of this nature should not be mandated by the state; legislative
arms cannot protect students from that height—no matter how long they are.
|Click to listen to commentary on bullying from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Review: The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Framework and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs
Eberhardt and Daniela
Along with the standard fare of curricula,
scheduling, student discipline, and teacher effectiveness, charter schools have
to navigate tight budgets and nonprofit-management and human-capital
strategies. Many charter leaders, however, are far more experienced with instruction
than with operations: They’re heavy on education-delivery skills and light on
mission-, operations-, and stakeholder-management skills. This new book offers
a toolkit for school leaders seeking a crash-course in B-school strategies.
Each chapter covers an issue ranging from mission management to performance
measurement and provides accessible explanations of how to implement proper
business strategies—and why these strategies are important for charters. What
might be most helpful for school leaders looking to flip from an ed-school to a
B-school mentality are the chapters’ case studies, which offer further
perspective on how each strategy can and should play out on the ground. The authors use MATCH charter schools, for
example, to highlight how development of logic models can help clarify a
charter’s mission. The case of D.C.’s Cesar Chavez School provides insight into
how strategic alignment can ensure longitudinal success. And that of the
Compass Montessori School (CO) illustrates the need for financial stability—and
what happens if it is not found. Following these strategies—and learning from
these case studies—should help charter schools of all stripes personalize and
strengthen their business models.
Review: Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness
The Common Core State Standards have been widely
adopted, implementation efforts have commenced, and assessment frameworks have
begun to roll out. But how will the standards (if faithfully implemented) actually
serve a college-bound student population? In order to test this primary aim of
CCSS, David Conley and his team at the Educational Policy Improvement surveyed 1,815
two- and four-year college professors in twenty-five different subjects,
spanning the gamut from English and math to history, business, and computer
science, asking them how relevant and important various Common Core standards
are to their courses. The findings: English language arts standards were deemed
both relevant and important across disciplines, with particular importance
placed on the CCSS’s “speaking and listening” standards. (Eighty percent found
this slice of the CCSS standards to be of importance.) On the math front, several
strands (including mathematical practices, numbers and quantity, and algebra) were
generally found to be applicable for college coursework. The geometry
standards, however, were not: Only half the math professors found them to be
applicable. The most frequent criticisms from college profs relate to the
wording of the standards and to perceived deficiencies in problem-solving and
critical-thinking requirements. While the survey’s methodology has rightly
raised some eyebrows (or even angry fists), it does provide a sort of
affirmation of the CCSS.
|Click to listen to commentary on this CCSS alignment study from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Bully for you, Margaret
Mike chats with John Bailey of Whiteboard
Advisors about teacher evaluations in the Empire State, a new sheriff for the
“reform” district in the Wolverine State, and how boring bullying is to policy
wonks, no matter the state. Amber finds a CCSS validation study lacking and
Chris tells the government not to tread on his lemonade stand.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Ohio charter-school authorizer outlier deserves to lose right to sponsor schools
By Terry Ryan
This post is one in a
series examining the performance of Ohio’s “Big Eight” urban districts. To read
the rest of the posts, head
As part of our ongoing look at 2010-11 Ohio school
performance data, earlier this week Jamie shared an analysis
showing that charter authorizer type (e.g., non-profit, educational service
center, district, or university) didn’t correlate to school quality.
While this may be true about authorizer type, a deeper look at the data
for individual authorizer performance illustrates that not all authorizers are
equal. Specifically, there are outliers, and the troubled Cleveland-based Ashe
Culture Center jumps out as a true underachiever worthy of being booted from
the authorizer business for good....
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: More power politics in New York. Or, another hacking victim
By Peter Meyer
the Madness!” plea to New York makes a lot of sense. But, for better or
worse, education governance is nothing if not political, which, as we know, is
nothing if not a tad bloody. And New Yorkers were reminded of that again
yesterday, when the state’s comptroller
pulled the plug (New York Times)
on a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to set up
a database for New York City’s schools.
The intricate system of checks-and-balances that is a
hallmark of our aging republic often seems more checks than balances....
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Rick and Randi on teacher evaluations
How do AEI ed-head Rick Hess and AFT president Randi Weingarten come down on teacher evaluations? Where do their thoughts converge and diverge? Watch the video to find out.
Briefly Noted: What's good for the goose is good for the gander
international-development organizations intent on bettering their service delivery
and supply-chain management while keeping costs down are
now borrowing from the high-powered business model of the corporate world.
Not bad advice for us in the education sector.
one bites the dust: Red Star School, a low-cost private school serving migrant
students in Beijing, was
torn down last week. It is one of thirty in the capital city to meet a similar
fate in recent weeks. Unconscionable. But is there a twist? The school is
technically illegal: It serves students of rural parents who have migrated out
of their allowed zones into the big city in search of a better life. (China
still operates an internal passport system, a hangover from the Mao years.) Bulldozing
schools in the name of population control offers a revealing and revolting
window into education in contemporary China.
- What a
guy. Fresno supe Larry Powell resigned from his cushy $200,000-plus/year
position this summer, only
to be hired back by the district
for $31,000 a year—with no benefits. Powell wasn’t hoodwinked here; he made the
grand gesture to save the district some money (and save some of his pet
projects in the process).
- How does the high school class of 2010 feel
about the quality of their secondary education a year after graduation? Eh…
According to a recent
College Board survey, 47 percent of respondents said they wished they’d
worked harder in high school—and 40 percent wish they’d taken more math
courses. Listen up guidance counselors.
- Bemoan excessive testing, fine. But testing done
right? Well, that has the ability to transform a teacher’s effectiveness—or so
says one New York teacher who credits a well- crafted test with objectively
pointing out the flaws in her teaching, allowing her to grow past them.
mind Race to the Top part deux, last week ED released version 2.0 of its Ed Data Express—a one-stop shop for
tracking publicly available federal education data. New in this version, a map
and trend line feature. Sometimes it’s fun to get a little nerdy.
- Cleveland will
be shuttering two charters this year due to low test scores—proof that Ohio’s “death penalty” for poorly
performing charters is working.
Announcement: All acronyms, all day
Excited to join Chris
Cerf’s posse? You’re in luck. The New Jersey Department of Education is now
hiring for a chief innovation officer, ready to build the state’s new
Innovation Office, and a chief talent officer, able to create and manage the state’s
human-capital strategy. To learn more about the CIO position, head here. If the CTO opening is more
your style, find more information here.
Announcement: Can you, can you do the ConnCAN?
Constitution State’s premier education-advocacy organization, is on the hunt
for a new chief executive officer. ConnCAN’s CEO will be an experienced and
inspiring leader, ready to serve at the “face” of the organization, conceptualize
innovative strategies for work in a bipartisan state, and oversee fundraising
planning and implementation. Fit the bill? Learn more here.
Fordham's featured publication: America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents
This study from the Fordham Institute
tackles a key question: Which of thirty major U.S. cities have cultivated a
healthy environment for school reform to flourish (and which have not)? Nine
reform-friendly locales surged to the front: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New
York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth.
Trailing far behind were San Jose, San Diego, Albany, Philadelphia, Gary, and
on to learn more.