This post is mostly just an excuse to use the Washington Post's parent trigger image (a riff on the famous "Easy" button from Staples), and to link to some recent stories on LA School Report. But it's also a chance to rebut Valerie Strauss's highly selective and inaccurate post about the parent trigger, which ignores all the career Democrats who are involved with and support the trigger and bypasses the latest events in Los Angeles where the trigger is being used in interesting new ways that don't involve lawsuits or ousting school board members.
Let's begin by stipulating that any comparisons between the environmental movement and the current school reform movements are ridiculous in the extreme. The environment and public education are totally different, and the issues, histories, and evolution of the movements to improve them are far-fetched, not worth your time.
Then, let's talk about Nick Lemann's latest New Yorker article, What Happened to the Environmental Movement?
Loosely built around a review of a recent book and several reports about the history of the environmental movement, the gist of Lemann's piece is that the environmental movement had its biggest successes (Earth Day, the Clean Water Act, etc.) long ago in the 1970s when it was still highly decentralized and community-specific.
Lemann describes that period as "educational, school-based, widely distributed, locally controlled, and mass-participatory."
The movement's worst failures (most notably 2010's cap and trade debacle) take place when the movement has gone mainstream, according to Lemann: "Even as the environmental movement has become an established presence in Washington, it has become less able to win legislative victories."
There's been lots of direct mail and social media outreach, too, of course -- but the enviro groups of today treat the public as a kind of background chorus rather than as real leaders, and thus lacks the "ability to generate thousands of events that people actually attend—the kind of activity that creates pressure on legislators."
There's lots more -- Theda Skocpol, the issue of federated structures and concrete individual benefits vs. broad based social goods. Image via New Yorker.
Petrilli, like Diane Ravitch, argued that NCLB-type testing should be used for Consumers Report-style transparency, not for high-stakes accountability. In The Diverse Schools Dilemma, he recognized that affluent parents oppose the way that testing drives the joy of teaching and learning from the classroom. And, he criticized Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his imposition of "formula-driven" teacher evaluation using test scores.
After Joel Klein did in New York City what Petrilli now proposes, Petrilli said, "fantastic veteran teachers — the very people that Klein wanted the rest of the system to emulate — were just as frustrated and beaten down by the changes as everyone else.” In "Alfie Kohn's Message: Half-Crazy, Half-True," he wrote, "even the most hawkish reformer must blush at depictions of the endless test prep and shamefully narrowed curriculum that is present at too many inner city schools." I had once hoped that Petrilli opposed Kohn's idealism but that, being a realist, he would distance himself from the "reform" movement's teacher-bashing ideologues.
But Petrilli's "The Right Response to the Atlanta Cheating Scandal," in the New York Daily News, now embraces the worst possible use of testing. He wants to allow principals to consider test score results when evaluating teachers, but without even the central office providing checks or balances.
I had hoped he would be concerned about abusive testing regimes that have failed to improve schools for poor children of color. In the past, half of Petrilli's positions seemed to realistic, while the other half seemed to be going through the motions of supporting the crazy wing of the "reform" movement. I am disappointed that he seems to still reject most of the worst aspects of standardized testing except when it is used against teachers.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.
One of the stars of last week's Yale School of Management education summit was New Haven teacher and union VP Dave Low. And I'm not just talking about the shirt.
Read all about what Low had to say here: Union VP: Let Teachers Lead. Image courtesy Melissa Bailey/New Haven Independent.
Former EdSectoran Susan Headdan is joining Tom Toch at the Stanford University-based Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "She will initially focus on teacher improvement and student motivation as a member of Carnegie’s Washington, D.C. team."
Longtime journalist Nancy Zuckerbrod left AP to join StudentsFirst, left there several months ago, and has now apparently landed at KSA Plus Communications in DC.
After more than seven years with Broad Foundation, Erica Lepping is moving over to SF-based Larson Communications, which specializes in education clients. She's staying in SoCal, though.
Other folks on the move, either journalists or communications folks or otherwise? Let me know at thisweekineducation at gmail.com.
Over the past few years education reformers have been pushing officials to adopt new teacher evaluation standards to help remove the least effective teachers from the classroom. As the NYT's Jenny Anderson's recent report illustrates, however, reformers continue to misunderstand the nature of our teacher quality problems.
As Anderson explains, even states with the strictest new standards continue to rate virtually all of their teachers - often more than 97% - "effective" or better.
One reformer complains that "It would be an unusual profession that at least 5 percent are not deemed ineffective", but that is probably the wrong way to think about teacher evaluation.
It is unlikely that there is a "correct" fraction of teachers - or workers in any profession - who should be identified as "ineffective".
Rather, whether a teacher should be dismissed depends on the likelihood that replacing him will improve educational outcomes at a school. Those odds, in turn, depend on the built-in costs of employee turnover and the prospects for finding a worthwhile replacement.
They only share 16 percent of the same followers, according to a piece by Mike Petrilli from a little while ago. And Andy Smarick and Jeanne Allen only overlap 24 percent.
You'd think they'd have lots of followers in common.
Maybe someone's figured out why, or found another way to measure social media overlap?
Via Education Next (Tweet Thine Enemy)
Check out the video of Rhee and others at Brookings yesterday, talking charters, quality teachers, and the role of districts.
Last week I complained that the Network for Public Education seemed to be defining itself mostly in negative terms.
I'd therefore be remiss if I didn't note that the NPE has since begun articulating an affirmative agenda.
In a note in the group's most recent newsletter, leader Diane Ravitch says that while you probably already "know what we oppose", the NPE also intends to advocate for a variety of education policies.
Some of those policy positions are a bit vague, like "professionalism for teachers" and "democratic control" of schools. And others are still essentially slightly-repackaged opposition statements.
Some of that is inevitable, especially early in a group's development, and as I said before there's nothing wrong with an advocacy organization dedicating itself substantially to opposing policies it considers ill-conceived.
There's lots that's familiar about this year's Yale Education Leadership Conference, including the location (New Haven), the visit to Amistad (Thursday morning), and some of the panel topics and panelists.
But there are also some new/newish elements -- a panel on the parent trigger, a segment on building diverse coalitions, and how other non-education sectors have changed. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras or Louisiana State Superintendent John White are doing the Friday morning keynote. See full agenda panel lineups here. @YaleELC and use #ELC2013
When Diane Ravitch announced the formation of her Network for Public Education last week, I was fleetingly optimistic that the group could serve as a useful alternative to existing well-meaning-but-frequently-misguided reform organizations.
Some days later this appears unlikely to be the case.
The existing crop of school reform advocacy groups have policy positions that are often dubious on the merits, but they manage to effectively set the agenda in part by having positive platform at all.
The NPE doesn't seem to stand for anything.
It is fairly clear what the NPE opposes because they list many of those policies specifically under their "mission": high-stakes testing, school closings, and private contracting.
What the NPE supports is much less clear. Their mission statement says only that they prefer "evidence-based reforms," a claim so vague as to be meaningless. (Would StudentsFirst say anything less?)
It looks very much like the NPE is an organization dedicated entirely to opposing other organizations. Fighting ill-conceived reform proposals may be worthwhile, but unless you are also offering an alternative set of reforms you are merely postponing their inevitable implementation.
If the folks at the NPE want to win policy battles they need to figure out how they'd like to see education improved so that reform organizations don't continue to fill up that idea vacuum with proposals of their own. That would also give supporters something to get excited about fighting for.
As the moment, unfortunately, the NPE seems only to be validating the (unfair?) stereotype that reform critics don't have any ideas for improving public education. And that state of affairs isn't good for anybody. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)
Last week's IGM survey of economists was - excitingly! - about education.
Specifically, respondents were asked whether expanded pre-K programs would have "a much lower social return" than the best existing programs currently generate.
I'd have guessed that economists would answer that question with a resounding and disheartening "yes", but the actual results were somewhat mixed with only 1/3 of economists answering in the affirmative. (This increased to a bit over half when survey results were weighted by confidence.)
The biggest takeaway seems to be that mainstream economists as a group know and/or care relatively little about education. (In this regard they are perhaps not that different from the general public.)
Consider, for example, that 29% of respondents reported being "uncertain." Another 18% didn't answer the question at all. Also notable: though the IGM survey sometimes asks a second, related question, in this case it didn't bother even though an obvious follow-up was available.
After all, what we want to know is not necessarily whether universal pre-K access would result in diminishing returns, but whether such an investment would generate positive returns.
At the risk of fanning the flames of hype and/or fear already surrounding him, I wanted to point out Colorado state lawmaker Mike Johnston is a pretty good example of someone closely associated with school reform (ie SB 191) who doesn't just focus on school reform.
He's been strong on immigration reform for quite a while -- I'm talking about much more than making a speech or issueing a position statement, though that's a start -- and now he's apparently pushing hard on gun control legislation, too. (image via The Denver Post).
It's on these so-called "side" issues -- the DREAM Act, gun control, postsecondary access, and more resources for schools -- that reformers stand a much better chance of finding partners from within education and among parents that they need, at least some of the time.
Since its grading system is based on Jeb Bush's and Florida's report card, its flaws are of national importance.
The more interesting story, however, is the suspension of the Ryal School System's superintendent -- which grew out of the report card controversy.
The Daily Oklahoman joined the chorus of laypersons and scholars criticizing the A-F Report Card. It also showed that schools' grades were almost completely the result of their demographics. For instance, schools earning an "A" had an average low income rate of 33%, while schools earning a "D'" had an average rate of 85%. The paper cited the Ryal district as a rare exception. Although 100% of Ryal's students are low income, and although 40% of them were on special education IEPs, it earned a "B."
Now, Superintendent Scott Thrower has been suspended, and the Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has called on him to resign. The patrons are upset about the newspaper article praising the district's efforts to overcome generational poverty. The public is angry over Thrower's description of alcoholism, meth labs, and families without electricity or shoes. “The vast majority of our kids live in houses with electricity," it was argued, "They do have shoes."
It has been nearly five decades since Daniel Patrick Moynihan was condemned for using the phrase, a "culture of poverty." Education is about the only part of our society that has not moved on. In lieu of undertaking honest conversations about what it would really take to overcome the legacies of generational poverty and trauma, education wonks still dismiss reality-based school policies as "excuses," "low expectations," and "blaming the victim."
As Paul Tough explained in How Children Succeed, the contemporary school reform movement grew out of a "liberal posttraumatic shock" due to losing the War on Poverty. We will continue to fail to improve poor schools, however, until we are capable of discussing the reality of extreme poverty.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.
Here's that Sugata Mitra video about the School in the Cloud that you might have heard about at TED this week. And also a post about it from The Atlantic (Do Kids Really Need Teachers?). Buy or sell?
Don't believe a word this man is saying. He's obviously not from America. You can tell by his name (Andreas Schleicher), his accent, and his bright snug, colored shirt. And, he's talking about differences among nations in terms of education achievement, which, you know, is almost never a good thing to talk about. People get mad. (via Amanda Ripley).
Chetty et al, you'll recall, found that using value-added measures to identify weaker teachers and replace them with better teachers could increase students' long-term earnings by about 1%.
There are lots of reasons to doubt that we really could reap that 1% gain by broadly implementing VAM-based hiring and firing. What's puzzling to me, though, is Drum's disappointment with the "shockingly low" 1% figure, which he seems to think is hardly worth bothering about.
But why is 1% too small of a gain to care about? That 1% figure is for one teacher in one year of school, but if we're considering an education reform like this we're presumably imagining implementing it in multiple grades so that each student would benefit from it over multiple years.
I doubt I'm the only person who would be excited if my 13 years in the K-12 system had been able - cumulatively and hypothetically - to increase my future earnings by an additional 10% or more. And I'd need some pretty good reasons to deny those gains to other people.
While education policy skepticism can be healthy we shouldn't get carried away with unreasonably high expectations for proposed reforms. Education pundits are typically privileged adults, so benefits that we might dismiss as insignificant may seem quite valuable to many students (or their future selves) -- especially on a cumulative basis.
So if we demand that a proposed reform meet pundits' arbitrarily high expectations to be deemed worth implementing, we may unjustifiably write off potentially worthwhile projects and policies. The fact that an education reform is "not good enough" to excite and entertain adults who are done with the K-college system doesn't necessarily mean it's not good enough to benefit lots of kids who have yet to finish their educations. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)
Much of the criticism is aimed at coordination and shared agenda priorities among major education philanthropists and federal officials on issues such as Common Core and school choice.
Skepticism of education philanthropy is also emerging from unexpected sources. Recent commentary on education philanthropy in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (arguably a more “philanthropy friendly” venue) by Stanley N. Katz concludes with the following:
“I find the brazenness, arrogance, and disregard for public decision making of current philanthropic attempts to influence federal policy just as dangerous to democracy as the critics of the original foundations contended so vociferously 100 years ago.”
A light went on while reading Alexander Russo's Charter Advocates Denounce Reuters Reporting. It illuminates the fundamental difference between school reform and "reform."
The dividing line is not evidence-based disagreements over charters, competition, collective bargaining or teachers' due process. The issue is how do "reformers" deal with inconvenient truths.
Stephanie Simon's Class Struggle - How Charter Schools Get Students They Want explains that "charters and traditional public schools are locked in fierce competition - for students, for funding and for their very survival, with outcomes often hinging on student test scores." Simon then punches holes in the hype of "reformers" who claim that this is a "fair fight" and that charters get better results with the same types of students.
Conservative reformers like Mike Petrilli and Frederick Hess acknowledge that charter students come from more motivated families. Hess says that charters' supposedly open access policies make for popular talking points, but "there's just one problem: It's not true." He adds, "There's a level of institutional hypocrisy here which is actually unhealthy."The real issue is not the fate of individual charters. A bigger problem is that the proliferation of charters has become a drain on traditional public schools. As Simon explains, even some staunch fans of charters agree that "the charter sector as a whole may be skimming the most motivated, disciplined students and leaving the hardest-to-reach behind."
Want to know everything about the preschool proposal -- including whether any of it stands a chance of being implemented and doing any good? Today's Wonkbook has a great roundup of stories about the numbers, the reactions ("Holy smokes!" from James Heckman), the evolution of views over time. My favorite writeup so far, however, is this Forbes article (via Jezebel) about the non-altruistic arguments for universal preschool: the needs of single mothers and working couples, as well as the economic benefits.
The soundbite that high-performing charter schools are serving “the same students” as high-poverty neighborhood schools should be retired. We who teach in the toughest schools that serve all students who walk into the door also deserve an apology for that slander, but I’m ready to move on without it.
Similarly, the equally serious charge against charter schools – that they intentionally “push out” difficult students in order to raise test scores - is wrong. Such an attack on the integrity of charter school educators is just as serious as the idea that we in neighborhood schools could have the same success as the top charters if we had their “high expectations.”
The WSJ has a new (to me) Education Index that is, unfortunately, only about NYC really, and whose metrics I have not examined one bit:
Wouldn't it be fun (amusing) if there were some sort of thing like this for the rest of the country? I mean, until someone events a Trending / education list. I bet Education Sector, Fordham, or one of the other organizations we used to call think tanks are already on it. Image via WSJ.
Starting today at 1:00, current and former heads of DC public schools, as well as RI chief Deborah Gist and others are scheduled to be at the AEI #cagebusting event, which will "look at the rules, regulations, statutes, and contracts that inhibit their ability to improve schools and systems." The livestream link is here in case the embed isn't working.
Jeffrey Henig’s Education Week Commentary, Reading the Future of Education Policy, explains the centralizing shifts in schooling from local control to federal and state government and towards for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He astutely describes "the end of exceptionalism," where American education, for better or for worse, is handled like other major domestic policies.
Unfortunately, Henig neglects the two most important factors that have shaped educational exceptionalism and he thus ignores the lost opportunity which could have tempered the top down micromanaging of recent years.
There is a lot at stake [in the education reform debate]: jobs, money, prestige, the future of our country, and power... As long as we are talking about education, we are talking about the things that really matter. And that will never be a very civil discussion. -- Illinois Citizens for Better Schools
This week's teacher tenure mini-scandal centers aroundAryeh Eller, a New York City music teacher who's collected about $1 million in pay since 1999 despite being removed from his teaching placement - but not fired - after confessing to sexual harassment charges.
This is clearly a problem, but what, if anything, should we do to fix it?
For skeptics of teacher tenure the response is - predictably enough - to scale back tenure and due process rights so those clearly unfit for the job can be more easily removed.
I'm not opposed to tenure reform in principle, but I have my doubts that cases like Eller's are reason enough.
The fact is that the due process rights associated with tenure almost certainly have some value both as checks on arbitrary firing decisions and as complementary compensation for lower-than-ideal teacher salaries. This means that to justify scaling back tenure it would need to be demonstrated that these due process rights are onerous to a degree that offsets their benefits.
In cases like Eller's, though, I'm often left genuinely puzzled about what, exactly, is so unreasonably onerous about the tenure protections that benefit these teachers. The articles themselves are rarely specific on this point, and the HuffPo story says only that "an independent arbitrator determined that Eller couldn't be fired because the city failed to inform the teacher of his rights".
Is that it? Is informing teachers of their due process rights really that onerous for school districts, or that unreasonable to expect from them? Why would we describe that as a problem with tenure rather than a problem with how the district handles human resources?
And remember: while we may not like that some particular teacher is benefiting from this or that tenure protection, that isn't really a reason to scale back such protections generally. Tenure rights affect lots of teachers and shouldn't be designed around marginal cases like Eller's.
The number of ed reforms that hold up when the evidence is looked at critically seems to be tiny. The number that continue to work when they're scaled up seems to be tiny. The number that continue to show results all the way through high school seems to be tiny. The number that can withstand critical scrutiny seems to be tiny. And of the ones that are left, the cost to keep them up usually appears to be prohibitive... My cynicism about the ed reform community grows by leaps and bounds every time I read a story like this. And that's pretty often. - Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, responding to news that early results from a much-imitated San Jose reform effort were inflated.
Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp has written an open letter to critic Gary Rubinstein that you might not have seen and might find interesting (Open Letters FROM Reformers I Know) if only because reformers aren't generally known for engaging in open dialogue with their critics (or for spending much time engaging in debate online, for that matter).
In her letter, Kopp reminds us that slightly more than half of TFA work in district schools, claims that there's no necessarily any "us vs. them" in education if we focus on the kids, and in particular rejects the notion that TFA is or has become ideologically rigid and narrow:
"Active and vocal alumni like you are proof that there’s no shortage of diverse opinion within the Teach For America community."
But Kopp admits that TFA hasn't done enough to highlight the differences among TFA alumni, and blames the delay on TFA's much-delayed embrace of social media.
It's interesting to read how Kopp says she avoided having TFA take positions in part to create a big tent within the TFA community -- and only slowly came to realize that doing so didn't work.
"I’ve learned the hard way that silence just reinforces misunderstanding... When corps members and alumni assume their opinions defy conventional wisdom and no one wants to hear them, they often choose not to speak up. This becomes a self-perpetuating problem. The people who do speak up express similar views, which reinforces the impression that we all think one way and discourages dissenting opinions."
It's going to be difficult, Kopp acknowledges - a culture change as much as a technological or policy change. On this front, she may understate the problem. More opeds and encouraging blog posts are a good start but probably aren't going to cut it -- not even open letters like this one.
Putting folks like Rubinstein, Kamika Royal, and Steve Zimmer out front will be key. What happens after that? I have no idea. If TFA pursued and achieved ideological diversity it would change the perception and practice of the organization at many levels, which could either reduce its reach and appeal or -- watch out, TFA haters! -- make TFA even more popular and compelling.
Previous posts: TFA Responds To AFT "Bar Exam" Proposal, Naive To Print Teachers' Scores, Says TFA Founder, Turning School Reform Into A Soap Opera (critique of Brill book), TFA Founder Under Fire For Value-Added Views. Image via CCFlickr
There's a curious chronic avoidance I sense among education pundits to taking on or even linking to the posts of top DC policy wonks Ezra Klein (Washington Post) and Matthew Yglesias (Slate), who cover many things including occasionally education policy. And so it's worth noting the publication of a curious piece in In These Times, if only to raise the topic (Programmed for Primetime).
The ITT piece is a bit mocking, as you might expect given that neither Klein nor Yglesias are particularly progressive - or at least they aren't any more. "At some point, Klein and company stopped being liberals. They even stopped being human. The wonks had become robots, ready to force enlightenment down our partisan throats."
Obviously, there are some hurt feelings here related to Klein and Yglesias's absence from the field of battle in the most recent progressive resurgence. But the piece makes a good point over all -- that objectivity and number-crunching only get you so far, that policy debates are often eclipsed by political and ideological ones, and that mainstream wonkery may make it hard to retain progressive roots.
Now if only someone could explain (or disabuse me of) my notion that the two are under-noted in the online education debate that swirls around so uselessly every day. Image via CCFlickr
For a long time, gay marriage was nearly unthinkable. Then it went down in defeat 31 times in a row -- including 2008's massive failure in California (Proposition 8). Advocates couldn't agree on what to focus on, or who should lead.
Four years later, however, gay marriage laws are being passed in bunches (Maine, Washington, Maryland, and Minnesota), the Democratic candidate for President of the United States felt it was politically advantageous to announce his support, Congress might reverse DOMA, and tthe Supreme Court might overturn the California law.
What can education advocates learn from recent successes of the gay rights campaign? Here are some of the preliminary answers I got out of this Atlantic Magazine article (Inside This Year's Epic Campaign for Gay Equality). Maybe you'll find more or different.
You need a single, dedicated national organization able to operate across multiple states and multiple election cycles (in the case of gay marriage, it was a small outfit called Freedom to Marry). You need a tireless but not ego-driven leader who's willing to herd the cats and let the issue be the star (in this case, someone you've never heard of named Evan Wolfson). And -- this may be the hardest part for reform proponents and opponents to grasp -- you need to pick an issue that unites the diverse coalition of interested parties who are prone to disagreement, research the most compelling emotional rather than intellectual appeals, and then force everyone to keep working together even when they want to spin off in different directions.
Keith Humphreys had a fascinating post last week explaining why "breakthrough medical findings" - he uses the example of fish oil pills - often don't live up to the hype after additional research comes in.
He's talking about medical research, but I think the same issues arise in education research all the time. As Humphreys explains, it's difficult to perform a large-scale, well-controlled experiment to test out a new idea, and journals aren't interested in publishing small studies that find small (or no) effects. If you do enough small experiments, however, eventually you'll come up with large effects just by chance. Those results might be exciting enough to get published, but they may not be borne out by larger subsequent experiments.
If you follow education research at all, you know it's not uncommon for journals to publish studies with small sample sizes. That's often justifiable - it's hard to do big, well-controlled experiments to test educational interventions - but it does mean that big, novel findings from such studies should be taken with a grain of salt. Think of them as clues or stepping stones rather than reasons to dramatically rethink schooling. - PB (@MrPABruno) Image via Flcker CCommons
Eduwonk guest blogger Kim Farris-Berg's recent post, "What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots," reminds us that each student is different. Teachers continuously adapt to our students’ varying needs. That is why reformers need to tap the collective wisdom of teachers.
Even better, Farris-Berg critiques the single worst policy to grow out of our mistrust of teachers. Top down curriculum pacing "guides" often tell teachers what textbook pages to cover and how many minutes to spend on what days. Some scripted mandates tell teachers what to say on each page. In an effort to ensure that all students are exposed to the same content, schools are turned into assembly lines. Advanced students get bored. Struggling students get frustrated and drop out. The joy of learning is squeezed out of classroom instruction.
These mandates are designed to help transient students, but I would add that they are among the worst victims. Teachers of highly mobile students need more, not less discretion in determining the the pace of instruction. With my high school students, however, I earn my salary by building relationships, reading my kids' body language, probing their understanding, and timing my instruction.
I will never forget the introduction of our old school's pacing mandate. In one day, I was supposed to cover, "Standard 16.4, Examine the rise of nationalism, the causes and effects of World War II (eg Holocaust, economic and military shifts since 1945, the founding of the United Nations, and the political positioning of Europe, Africa, and Asia)."
I ignored the guide, but teachers is tested subjects couldn't. Across the school, 40% of the students dropped out during the semester-long fiasco.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via TrustingTeachers.org
Everyone who's anyone (of a certain type) is at the Education Growth Conference in NYC today and tomorrrow. Held at the superfabulous Times Center, the invitation-only #EdGrowth event "dives into the complexities of investing in an industry in which market and mission converge and examine the intricate mix of risk and opportunity across the global education marketplace." Yep.
Journalist-type folks from EdWeek, Bloomberg, USA Today, and the Hechinger Report. will be there. Plus lots of education investment types (including NSVF) and a handful of district and public agency types. Plus Diane Ravitch (scheduled). Image courtesy of EdGrowth Partners.
It's disappointing for a lot of people here that had hoped that charters were really going to be the solution to urban children's lack of quality options. They're not. Just letting the market decide isn't the answer. --EdTrust MidWest's Amber Arellano
Someone else, really, should be the one to write about Anil Dash's thought-provoking blog posts, The Web We Lost, and Rebuilding the Web We Lost. Ideally, it would be someone who's worked inside the reform movement, and remains sympathetic, but is reflective and independent enough to point out where things seem to have gone wrong and what needs to happen next.
Until that happens, let me see if I can describe the basics. The much-discussed pair of pieces document how those who originally developed the ideas behind the Internet 20 years ago and more were over time distracted and distorted to the point that the original (open-source, browser-based) Internet has become eclipsed by what's called the "social web" (but is actualy walled, warring kingdoms with names like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
[Despite its name (social media) and its apparent dominance, social media isn't particularly "social" and most of what's shared online is still shared via email and web links.]
Some will argue with Dash's assessment of the evolution of the Internet, and of course with my comparison to the education reform movement. And there are many obvious differences, large and small.
But the fundamental similarity remains -- to me, at least: Education reform started out as one thing, became something quite different in the process of becoming much larger, and there are at least some now who are wondering how to re-engineer the reform movement to keep the size and momentum but return to some of its core vision and potential impact.
According to Dash, the keys are to: Take responsibility and accept blame. Raise the bar. Rethink funding fundamentals. Pursue talent outside the obvious. Exploit their weakness: Insularity. Dont' trust the trade press. Create public spaces.
Think that all reform groups are alike? Take a look at how StudentsFirst and DFER blogged out the results of the latest study on charter schools in Michigan:
From StudentsFirst: "Michigan charters making progress, great option for parents, more work remains"
From DFER*: "Charter school growith in Michigan brings cautionary tale on quality"
*Passing along HuffingtonPost headline
I appreciate Mike Petrilli's take on the "charter expulsion flap," in which Washington, DC charter schools were found to be expelling challenging students at far higher rates than their district counterparts.
In fact, he responds about as well as a staunch charter school advocate can: he concedes much of John's argument about charter schools serving unrepresentative populations, but points out that many of these "no excuses" schools are nevertheless doing good work with the students that they enroll in part because of their disciplinary standards.
It's especially fair to say that these "toughest-to-serve" kids are probably not being very well served by their district schools, either.
I am fully prepared to accept that line of defense for charter schools. My only further demand is this: can we retire the phrase "no excuses"?
While the overall charter expulsion rates at these schools are troubling, many of these expulsions may very well be justified either as what is best for the student expelled or as what is best for the peers he or she leaves behind. Those sorts of reasons, however, are tantamount to the kinds of "excuses" we have long been told that district schools make but these charter schools do not.
If the term "no excuses" can be employed to describe charter schools that openly and explicitly identify some students as too difficult for them to educate, it is safe to say that it has become yet another meaningless education phrase. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)
The independent TFA spinoff known as Leadership for Educational Equality Equity (LEE)* has been quietly staffing up the past few months, including not only former Bennet and Obama staffer Joy Silvern but also former TFA LA executive director Brian Johnson and communications guru -- yes, communications -- Michael Amodeo.
*Based in LA, Johnson briefly ran the Larchmont Charter School network, then ran for state assembly in 2011 and lost in a closely-contested (and well-financed) race.
*Based in DC, policy wonk Silvern has worked on campaigns and Capitol Hill for Bennet and Obama. (Yay, legislative experience!)
LEE is still only open to TFA alumni (regardless of beliefs or political views), and its accomplishments thus far in terms of recruiting successful candidates for office remain modest. The public portion of its website remains frustratingly spare (annual tax reports, anyone?). But the combination of additional staff and a broadening of the focus of the effort (to include local leadership positions) and new programs (summer fellowships, etc.) to let folks dip their feet in advocacy before jumping into a heated political race shows that something's happening.
I didn't initially think much about this short article about business and economics majors postponing lucrative careers in finance to spend a few years with Teach for America.
Blogger Andy Rotherham, however, was annoyed by the coverage of such teachers' effectiveness. And it's fair to say that the discussion in this case is almost entirely evidence-free.
Still, Rotherham's defense of TfA raises more questions for me than it answers.He makes two points: that studies support TfA teachers' effectiveness, and that TfA's real strength is in recruitment, not training. His interpretation of the research - that TfA teachers perform "as well or modestly better than other teachers" - is generous, but not unreasonable. (I'd say it's an over-simplification.)
If TfA's recruitment is so effective, though, why are their teachers only roughly "as good" as those who enter through other routes? As far as I can tell, the fact that TfA teachers aren't dramatically better (and don't demonstrate greater retention) implies either that TfA's training is substantially inferior or that their recruitment strategies don't matter much.
If Rotherham is right on both of his points, that would seem to imply that TfA's training is quite poor. My instinct is that he's actually overestimating the importance of recruitment strategies. I don't have hard evidence, here, but I can certainly speculate.
I actually fit the profile of a TfA recruit in some ways - I graduated (with honors!) from a prestigious university, for example - and indeed I applied but didn't get in. But it's not obvious to me what about my background better prepared me for teaching. I am also not aware of research indicating that high-performing graduates of prestigious schools do consistently better in the classroom.
Moreover, I haven't seen any evidence that traditional teacher training is markedly superior to TfA's methods. My own training - at the same prestigious university where I did my undergraduate work - certainly left a great deal to be desired. Nor do I often hear other teachers - especially newer teachers - speak highly of their own traditional programs.
All of which indicates to me that while Teach for America has made a name for itself in part by aggressively recruiting an "elite" corps of recent college graduates, those recruitment strategies may not matter much. That would be an interesting result in its own right.
During the Fordham Institute’s recent panel discussion, Turnaround Merry-Go-Round: Is the Music Stopping?, the Department of Education’s Carmel Martin reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide.
Like Candide, Martin bravely endured a devastating critique by Fordham’s Andy Smarick of the Duncan administration’s School Improvement Grant outcomes. She countered that it is wrong to compare decades of failed turnarounds with today’s turnarounds. Her evidence was that Secretary Duncan meets with a lot of state leaders, and those talks make him optimistic.
Martin gamely responded to critiques of NCLB-type accountability schemes, citing the political pressures that produced such flawed metrics. Finally, Martin faced the question of unintended results of data-driven accountability. In order to boost graduation rates, systems resorted to credit recovery gimmicks and, in order to raise test scores, they adopted assessments with easier questions. So, has that not undermined the transition to more challenging instruction required by Common Core?
Martin replied, “Again, it’s an area where I’m going to take the optimistic view instead of the pessimistic.”-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.
This is the Washington Post video accompanying the recent story on expulsions (D.C. charter schools expel students at higher rates than public schools), focusing on student Elsie Mayo, who transferred from Anacostia to Thurgood Marshall and was expelled halfway through her senior year.
Congrats and best wishes to America Achieves DC policy guy David Medina (left), who made the latest NYT Style Section marriage page with partner Tim DeMagestris (who is not, alas, an education guy).
As you may recall, America Achieves is Jon Schnur's shadowy post-New Leaders education reform group. Medina has also worked on the Obama and Edwards campaigns.
Education reformers have taken to invoking "big data" as education's next big frontier. However, linguist Geoff Nunberg, in the NPR's Fresh Air report,"Forget YOLO: Why 'Big Data' Should be the Word of the Year," explains that "Big Data is no more exact a notion than Big Hair."
The quantity of digital data has increased, and true believers in number-crunching still claim,"'With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.'" But Nunberg says "The trouble is that you can't always believe what they're saying." That is no problem when algorithms predict "that I'd be interested in Celine Dion's greatest hits, as long as they get 19 out of 20 recommendations right." But even when we get to the point where we are measuring information in "humongobytes," we will still need people to ask the question of what are patterns for?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.
It's not hard to get education reporters to write about things -- just tell them that their competition is thinking about writing about it, offer them an exclusive of some kind, or catch them when they haven't written and are starting to feel guilty. Your report doesn't have to be solid. Your proposal doesn't have to be viable. You don't even have to be addressing an obvious need. Say something funny or outrageous.
But sometimes it doesn't work, and the recent Hoover Institution report on Media Hits and Misses in 2012 Education Coverage is a good example of the occasional miss. The Hoover report found that journalists working for 43 outlets were doing a good job covering things like charrters, unions, SPED, pre-K, and NCLB, but a bad job on teacher pensions, Common Core, international comparisons, online learning, and Louisiana.
I didn't see any pickups from the mainstream media, or the trades. I didn't even see any blog posts, which is an even lower standard. Why not? There were obvious holes in the outlets that Hoover included -- the PBS NewsHour, for example. There were questions about just how deep the "content" analysis went beyond superficial headline counts. Last but perhaps most important, there wasn't any real measure by which to agree or disagree about whether the issues covered were important or not to warrant more coverage. The standard used -- " important enough to deserve more extensive coverage than they received" according to a group of experts -- was so obviously subjective it was hard to take seriously, even without the ideological bent of the group assembled.
According to an unconfirmed but seemingly authentic email passed along by a friend, longtime NewSchools Venture Fund external relations guru Jonathan (@jonathanschorr) Schorr is leaving California to join the Duncan communications team in Washington, "taking responsibility for the Department’s speechwriting and website, and working with an extraordinary team dedicated to communicating President Obama’s and Sec. Duncan’s education agenda and ideas to the country."
Schorr is, among other things, a TFA alum and the son of longtime NPR journalist Daniel Schorr. The annual invitation-only NSVF Summit -- somewhat the creation of Schorr and the way many of us came to know about the organization and through which we have watched the evolution of the school reform movement -- is scheduled for the end of April in San Francisco. Schorr isn't the first NSVF staffer to join the Obama administration, which includes Joanne Weiss and I'm guessing a few others.
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