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Charts: Masters Degrees Are *All* The Rage

image from profitofeducation.org

The overall number of education degrees has gone up roughly 40 percent over the past two decades, even though student enrollment has only gone up about half that, notes UCSB's Dick Startz at The Profit Of Education (Ed degrees). Most of the growth has come from Masters degrees. 

A couple of years ago, former contributor Paul Bruno wrote about how expensive these degrees are -- and how little they seemed to help improve student outcomes (Paying Teachers For Master's Degrees Is A Bad Idea). Way back in 2007, Kevin Carey (the of Education Sector) blogged about the cost of all these Masters degrees to the public. The link is still alive over at AIR: The $8.5 Billion Master's Degree. I wonder how much bigger that number would be now.

Image used with permission.

Quotes: An Honest Conversation (Among Reform Critics)

Quotes2We play to crowds, portend allegiance, retweet and rewrite the same messages, and hero-worship with no critical thought... And all of this is OK because, well, we agree on something, whatever that one thing is, and that’s what matters, right?

- Jose Vilson (On Honest and Civil Conversation (Simmer Down Now))

Events: Live Tweets From Nashville [#EWA14]

The annual education writers conference is still going strong in Nashville today -- watch along (and interact with folks) here:

Maher: Raising Standards While Making the Profession Less Desirable

This is a guest post from Michael Maher [@mj_maher], who works at the NC State College of Education:

Nc_stateI’m not one to decry higher standards, for teachers and teacher education, but one has to wonder how we will continue to staff public school classrooms as North Carolina further disincentivizes the profession while increasing standards for future teachers.  

Here’s a little bit of what the NC General Assembly has done this legislative session that impacts public school teachers:

  1. Elimination of tenure in favor of contracts up to 4 years (with performance measures not yet defined)
  2. No raises again this year:  teachers have received a 1% raise over the past 5 years, resulting in NC slipping to 48th in average teacher salary in America
  3. Elimination of supplemental pay for master’s degrees
  4. Reduction in teacher assistant funding by 21%.  Some schools use 2 TA positions to fund 1 teaching position.  This results in larger class sizes.
  5. Phase out of the NC Teaching Fellows Program while funding Teach For America at $12 million.

At the same time, we see a push toward raising standards, including a series of new tests and requirements for teacher preparation programs. 

To be admitted to a teacher preparation program, students will now be required to complete the new Praxis I Pre Professional Skills Test.  According to ETS, these tests have been designed to be a “more rigorous and comprehensive series of Assessments”. 

Additionally, to be licensed as an elementary or special education teacher, graduates will be required to complete the new North Carolina Foundations of Reading/General Curriculum tests .  The new tests, based on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure, have been deemed decidedly more rigorous than the existing Praxis II tests.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in high standards and accountability for teachers and schools.  Becoming a teacher should be a rigorous process, and we should be doing all we can to entice our “best and brightest” into the profession. 

But in order to do that, we need to provide our teachers with the best possible teaching and learning environments, incentivize entrance and continuing education (graduate degrees and scholarship programs), and pay them like professionals. -- MM @mj_maher 

Bruno: What's The Point Of Teach For America?

2281095105_fcae401f97I liked John's post about Teach for America and the "burden of proof". Experimenting in education is fine, but when a reform group commands as many resources as - for example - TfA, it really does have some obligation to prove its worth.

What complicates things is that it's not at all clear what Teach for America is trying to prove in the first place.

You might assume that the point of TfA is to staff classrooms with high-quality teachers. This is the commonsense view, and Teach for America encourages it in a variety of ways, for example by touting any research indicating that corps members are about as effective in the classroom as other teachers.

Arguably, the fact that TfA teachers are (roughly) as effective as traditionally-certified teachers reflects poorly on traditional teacher preparation. 

That does not, however, "prove" that Teach for America is a worthwhile reform initiative.

If TfA teachers are of average effectiveness but have higher rates of turnover - which is both financially costly and bad for student achievement - then the program as a whole is not obviously an improvement over the status quo.

More to the point, Teach for America conspicuously fails to include "staffing classrooms with high-quality teachers" as part of its mission. To the extent that its stated mission focuses on teacher supply at all, it is in the context of giving future "leaders" a little bit of teaching experience before they go into something else (ideally) education-related.

But if "the point" of TfA is to incubate future education leaders and innovators, what does their burden of proof consist of?

They offer as evidence much less research on this issue, and what they do offer is much more vague. There is some evidence that corps members are substantially more optimistic about the prospects for disadvantaged students and somewhat more likely to be involved in education in one way or another.

Still, it's not clear what those impacts of TfA amount to in practice. Presumably we should care not just about whether more people are more interested in education, but also about exactly what they're doing and whether educational outcomes are in fact improving as a result.

And it also matters whether the best way to go about recruiting future leaders is to develop an entirely new, elaborate alternative-certification scheme rather than simply recruiting from the pool of existing teachers.

Not only has Teach for America failed to meet that burden of proof, they haven't even adequately specified what would count as success. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Reckhow: A Misleading Approach to Assessing Advocacy

This is a guest post from MSU professor Sarah Reckhow:

ScreenHunter_02 May. 06 17.27A new article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review presents a quantitative framework to help philanthropists assess their advocacy grants. The authors all work with Redstone Strategy Group, a consulting agency that “helps philanthropies, non-profits, and governments solve the world’s most urgent social problems.”

Policy advocacy is a growing area of foundation giving, particularly in education. So it is not surprising that funders who view themselves as strategic or venture philanthropists would be eager to find ways to assess a “return on investment” for advocacy.

Unfortunately, this framework is based on a simplistic view of the policy process and it appears to overvalue short-term returns on investments.

The framework draws on a list of things that advocates, PR firms, political operatives, and philanthropists think work; it is not based on current evidence from political science or policy research.

Utilizing this framework could encourage philanthropists to continue making wasteful investments in short-lived advocacy campaigns.

Continue reading "Reckhow: A Misleading Approach to Assessing Advocacy" »

Barnum: Can We Talk About How Expensive TFA Has Become?

This is a guest commentary from Matt Barnum, at TFA 2010 alumnus who's now at the University of Chicago Law School:

image from farm4.staticflickr.comThose of us engaged in the education policy debate have heard, many times over, all the arguments for and against Teach For America.

That’s why I was not surprised when much of the response to a recent TFA critique I wrote for the Washington Post “Answer Sheet” blog fell along traditional lines.

A few reform critics posted it gleefully on Twitter; the reform community, on the other hand, by and large ignored it – another day, another critique of TFA. Yawn.

This is understandable insofar as some of my points were old arguments restated and previously rejected by reformers. But I would challenge reformers to seriously consider the cost-effectiveness arguments against TFA.


Because when thinking about the cost-effectiveness of TFA, I rarely hear discussions about the, uh, costs.

Continue reading "Barnum: Can We Talk About How Expensive TFA Has Become?" »

Bruno: The Soft Bigotry Of High Expectations (For Reform)

6717604035_6895962e6b_nI usually appreciate Kevin Drum's skepticism when it comes to education reform, but I don't understand his pessimism about the infamous Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff study.

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)

Reckhow: Philanthropy Critique Can Obscure Key Differences

image from farm4.static.flickr.comSince Diane Ravitch popularized the phrase “Billionaire Boys’ Club,” the chorus of skepticism and outright disapproval of education philanthropy has been growing.  

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.

Liberals and conservatives have converged on some of these issues, creating strange bedfellows, such as Michelle Malkin and Susan Ohanian.

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.”

And yet...

Continue reading "Reckhow: Philanthropy Critique Can Obscure Key Differences" »

Bruno: Why I May Not Keep My Teaching Position

828809613_5691a89319As you may or may not recall, last summer my family moved from the Bay Area to Southern California and I was fortunate enough to find a new job teaching science in a district middle school that I began in August. It turns out, however, that that job may be short-lived.

Last week I received a letter from human resources informing me that I cannot count on having a job for the 2013-2014 school year. Though the details may vary somewhat from district to district, the general reason for this job insecurity will be familiar to many teachers.

As my letter from HR helpfully explains, districts are often unable to predict with certainty exactly how many teaching positions they will have to fill in the following school year. Some teachers may retire or resign, but positions may also be cut for various reasons and in that event teachers with more seniority in the district can have "first pick" of the positions that remain. (My previous tenure in the Oakland Unified School District grants me no job security here.)

Such seniority-based dismissal decisions have their justifications. They certainly provide a relatively objective criterion by which staffing decisions can be made and it is entirely possible that this reduces other sorts of unfair or inefficient bias. Discrimination on the basis of age, gender, and other characteristics are undoubtedly real problems.

Still, the upshot for me is that at least for the time being I am back on the job market with my principal's sympathies. This, in turn, means that even if the district is eventually able to offer me a job for the next school year, I may no longer be available to take it.

Indeed, the uncertainty and convoluted calendars usually associated with school hiring mean that it is entirely possible I will leave the teaching profession altogether. This isn't just a problem for me and I don't think I'm so exceptional that our institutions should be arranged to my convenience. It is, however, a new teacher retention problem for the whole system.

It is conceivable that these problems could be ameliorated even in a system that heavily rewards seniority - say, with higher starting salaries - but I don't sense much urgency on this issue from people on either "side" of the reform debates.

So for now I'm going to start looking for a new job. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Bruno: Hirsch's Insights Both Obvious & Underappreciated

4042279241_10ab4f316e_nE.D. Hirsch had a big, well-read piece on the importance of vocabulary building recently, but Bob Somerby read it and complains that he's "fuzzy" on what Hirsch's point is supposed to be even after reading Hirsch's Wikipedia entry.

Somerby's objection is that the importance of background knowledge for reading comprehension is so obvious that Hirsch couldn't be famous if that's really his "key discovery".

Somerby's confusion is understandable in part because Wikipedia isn't as clear on Hirsch's thinking as it could be and in part because Somerby is right: what Hirsch is saying should be extremely obvious.

Yet what is striking about American reading education is that we often do not talk as if we believe Hirsch. Instead, we talk at great length about - and devote large quantities of instructional time to -  alternative conceptions of reading ability that emphasize context-dependent skills (like "making connections") rather than background knowledge.

To see how poorly the education world has processed the "obvious" importance of broad background knowledge, consider the subtle ways our language denies its relevance. For example, we routinely administer "reading assessments" to students to identify them as "good readers" or "poor readers".

Attempting to assess "reading skills" per se makes little sense on Hirsch's account because one's reading ability will vary greatly depending one's knowledge of the text's subject matter. This may seem obvious upon reflection, but it is in fact a subtle point easily forgotten by relatively knowledgeable educators who find themselves able to move from text to text with little variation in difficulty.

In truth, Hirsch probably shouldn't get credit for "discovering" these ideas so much as working hard to popularize them. That in itself is a major contribution, however, when you realize how much resistance these ideas face from educators. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Reckhow: Gates Shifts Strategy & Schools Get Smaller Share

This is a guest post from Michigan State University political scientist Sarah Reckhow, whose new book Follow the Money came out in December:

From a bird’s eye view, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a behemoth in education philanthropy, with considerably more resources than its peers and a highly targeted agenda that magnetically attracts attention from media and politicians.  

But the decade from 2000 to 2010 was a time of enormous growth and evolution for the Gates Foundation. Warren Buffett’s pledge of more than $30 billion substantially increased the Gates Foundation’s resources, and grant-making more than doubled from 2005 to 2009. Even more marked are the Foundation's dramatically shifted priorities, as illustrated by this chart. 

Read on for some preliminary figures and observations about the Gates Foundation's evolution, as well as some challenges and questions about the strategies the foundation is embracing.

Continue reading "Reckhow: Gates Shifts Strategy & Schools Get Smaller Share" »

Reckhow: The Short, Sad Story Of PENewark

image from farm9.staticflickr.comThis is a guest post from MSU political scientist Sarah Reckhow:

The Newark education story often looks like ed-reform goes to Hollywood. The cast is packed with larger than life personalities (Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah!). The plot line starts out so out heroically (Young billionaire tries to save city schools!).

But the protagonist is facing some setbacks.  The latest is the Christmas Day email release showing how team Newark and team Facebook (mostly Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg) managed the PR surrounding the announcement of Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift. The media coverage of the emails has emphasized how the Facebook and Newark teams sought to burnish Zuckerberg's image, but the emails also contain some juicy nuggets about the working assumptions of big budget education philanthropists. 

Some of the key takeaways include: internal jockeying among matching funders over what interventions to support, an expensive but ineffective community outreach effort, and the dangers of creating brand-now (and short-lived) nonprofits to do foundations' work.

Continue reading "Reckhow: The Short, Sad Story Of PENewark" »

Reckhow: Savvy Walton Foundation

This is a guest post from MSU professor Sarah Reckhow.

2013-01-11_0917There's little doubt that education philanthropies are getting deeply involved in helping shape education policy, recruit and train education leaders, and even influence political races. The Gates Foundation has been linked to major education policy initiatives including Race to the Top and the Common Core. The Walton Family Foundation claims to be “the nation’s largest contributor to K-12 education reform groups.” By 2011, 21 of the nation’s 75 largest school districts had top leaders who were trained in the Broad Superintendent’s Academy. 

Taking these accounts at face value, one could assume that education policy at the local, state, and national levels emerges directly from philanthropic headquarters in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Bentonville. But In fact, the big three education philanthropies (Gates, Broad, and Walton) pursue substantially different advocacy strategies.These different strategies affect each foundation’s ability to pick winners—including winning issues, leaders, or organizations—in an uncertain and changing political environment.

Although Gates usually grabs the headlines, credit, and criticism for pulling the strings in education politics, and the Broad Foundation gets the most critical attention from education activists, my money is on Walton as the savviest political operator in education philanthropy.

Continue reading "Reckhow: Savvy Walton Foundation" »

Bruno: Notes From A Former Induction Coach

Conflicting-Direction-ResumesA propos of a new report on state induction programs from the New Teacher Center (NTC), the Education Realist helpfully reminds us that the research on such programs suggests that they may not be very useful in absolute terms, let alone cost-effective.  

What, then, should we make of teacher induction programs? On the one hand, NTC-style induction programs appeal to me as a "best practices" approach to improving education. In contrast to more "results-oriented" improvement efforts, I think "best practices" approaches better accommodate the reality that most individual educators are unlikely to know with confidence how to achieve the sorts of outcomes we want to see.  

This isn't because most educators are incompetent, of course; rather, it's because education is hard and if you can't be very confident that some new, difficult-to-implement strategy will be productive then you don't have much incentive to try it out. By identifying professional standards and then encouraging new teachers to meet them more rapidly, teacher induction programs may be a promising route to reform and improvement.

On the other hand, it's not clear to me that the teaching profession is close to having a meaningful, valid set of professional standards on which new teachers can rely for guidance. Having recently been both an induction coach and an inductee, my experience is that the California Standards for the Teaching Profession are frustratingly vague. (What, for example, is a new teacher supposed to make of the recommendation to "use knowledge of my students' lives, their families, and their communities to inform my planning of curriculum and instruction"?) The standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are, if anything, even more daunting, especially from the point of view of a novice.

To see how open to interpretation teaching standards often are, contrast them with the University of Toronto's Best Practices in General Surgery, which include such concrete suggestions as: "Patients undergoing surgery where the abdominal cavity is entered should have active measures undertaken to maintain core temperature between 36.0 and 38.0° C".  This is followed by a discussion of specific interventions that can be used to achieve the desired outcome (e.g., "warmed intravenous fluids and inspired gases as well as forced air warming.")

In short, existing professional standards are probably insufficiently specific to effectively guide new teachers to improve their practice. My suspicion is that the weaknesses of these professional standards goes a long way toward explaining the limited effectiveness of teacher induction programs to date. Such programs can be only as good as the standards on which they are based. - PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)

Bruno: Good News Bad For Our Narratives

Argument-cartoonOver at The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby has been on a tear recently pointing out that pundits of all kinds seem to be stubbornly indifferent to good education news. He emphasizes the shrinking achievement gap between black students and white students on the NAEP as something you rarely see mentioned, and I'd add that to the growing pile of good-but-largely-ignored news that includes rising achievement for disadvantaged groups generally and improving school safety.  Bob thinks we can chalk up this news blackout to the fact that commentators have sorted themselves into "tribes", each of which dislikes the other too much to risk inadvertently crediting them with an accomplishment.  I think there's definitely a lot to that explanation, but that there's also a real fear on both sides of undermining their preferred narrative.  My sense is that "reformers" don't want to talk about the good news because then they'd have to acknowledge that these positive trends mostly began prior to their favorite reforms. This would undermine the narrative that the "status quo" of salary schedules and tenure is an insurmountable obstacle to progress. At the same time, I think the anti-reform crowd is reluctant to discuss the good news because it has continued in the "corporate reform" era. This, in turn, makes the repeal of NCLB-type reforms seem that much less urgent. Whatever the explanation, however, the end result seems to be that we mostly hear about how bad our educational institutions are despite the fact that these same institutions are not only improving, but are arguably the best they've ever been. - PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)

Bruno: The Kids Are Probably Still Alright

Motivation2jh1EdWeek teacher blogger Kelly Flynn thinks educators and reformers should be talking more about student behavior and motivation, based in part on a "quick scan" of this report from the National Center for Education Statistics, which she says shows that: "school personnel spend an inordinate amount of time struggling with every single day: insubordination, student and teacher victimization, fighting, weapons, theft, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, gang activity, drugs, alcohol, tardiness, and an astonishing rate of absenteeism."

These are undoubtedly important issues, but I tend to be skeptical about "kids-these-days" sorts of arguments.So is it really the case that there are, as she says, a  "growing number of students who don't learn because they don't want to"?  I think a deeper look at the very same report suggests the answer is "no".  

Continue reading "Bruno: The Kids Are Probably Still Alright" »

Bruno: How Summative Assessments Help Teachers

Surgeon5bl8Apparently interim (or "formative") assessments are a lot more popular with many educational stakeholders than end-of-unit or end-of-year (i.e., "summative") tests.  Fortunately, Kathleen Porter-Magee takes up the defense of summative assessments, including often-unpopular state tests, in a post that I think is pointed in the right direction.

The distinction between summative and formative assessments is badly overstated.  It's not unusual, for instance, to hear educators describe formative assessments as akin to regular physicals from your doctor while comparing summative assessments to "autopsies."  This analogy emphasizes the uselessness of the summative assessment for the "patient", but obscures the fact that the information gained in an autopsy - whether literal or metaphorical - can actually be quite useful for helping other people.

Contra Kathleen, I do not think it's necessary to concede that the results of summative, end-of-year state tests "typically don’t reach teachers until it’s too late to do anything with them."

Continue reading "Bruno: How Summative Assessments Help Teachers" »

Bruno: Charter Proponents Vs. The Charter Effect

RedTapeMatt Di Carlo has a great post over at the Shanker Blog explaining why we shouldn't think about charter schools as a monolithic educational intervention given their considerable diversity. As he says, studies seem to indicate that "schools’ effects on test scores may vary less by what they are (e.g., charter versus regular public school) than by what they do (e.g., specific policies and practices)."  So we should try to identify what characteristics of the best charter schools make them effective so that those interventions can be provided to as many students as possible.

That all sounds right, but I think it's worth stepping back here and remembering that, while it's true that charter schools vary dramatically in terms of how they operate, for a lot of charter school proponents it is precisely what charter schools have in common that is supposed to make them superior alternatives to traditional district schools.

Continue reading "Bruno: Charter Proponents Vs. The Charter Effect" »

Bruno: Merit Pay Isn't "Corporate Reform"

CashbagDiane Ravitch has a long piece up criticizing President Obama for the apparent mismatch between his education rhetoric and education policy agenda.  She makes a lot of arguments - some of which I agree with and some of which I don't - but her points against teacher merit pay in particular jumped out at me.  

Ravitch rightly points out two of the most conspicuous failed merit pay experiments, but I think she actually misses one of the most underrated arguments against such pay schemes: namely, that most employers seem to think they're not a great idea.

If performance pay was a good idea for teachers, you'd expect similar kinds of incentive schemes to be fairly common among employers, especially in the private sector.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, "incentive-paid workers" - i.e., "those who receive some portion of their earnings based on sales or output, rather than a unit of time such as an hourly rate or monthly salary" - constitute only 5% of the private workforce.

Now I'm not one to assume that the private sector always perfectly represents the ideals of efficiency. It's hard to see, however, how you can reconcile the supposed virtues of teacher merit pay schemes with the fact that private employers seem not to care for them.  The rarity of add-on incentive pay schemes also raises the question of why teachers, almost alone among U.S. employees, should be singled to work under them.

Of course, the traditional teacher salary schedule is itself somewhat anomalous in its rigidity and should probably be reformed.  When reformers propose merit pay as a solution, however, they're typically proposing something that is in its own way just as unusual.

One of the reasons I don't like the phrase "corporate reform" is that it concedes too much of the argument, as if the proposed reforms have demonstrated their efficacy in the private sector and it only remains to be seen if they will work as well in schools.  Frequently, however, this is demonstrably not the case.  

Merit pay isn't a "corporate" reform at all.  In fact, corporations seem not to think much of it.

- PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)

Site News: Meet Paul Bruno

Gas Mask Photo

As many of you have already noticed, middle school science teacher Paul Bruno (not pictured) has become a regular contributor here, adding a new voice and perspective to my thoughts and those of veteran teacher John Thompson.  Over the past few weeks he's posted about resistance to raising the dropout age, conflicting reform messages on the role of parents, excessive optimism on NCLB reauthorization prospects, the 'gotcha' mentality behind "take the test," and how if there's going to be standardized testing he'd like science included. I don't always agree with him, but that's the point. My goal, as always, is to make this blog as interesting and fresh as possible, and Bruno -- a relatively young district* school teacher -- has some interesting views on things that are different from mine and from Thompson's.  I like the fact that he seems pretty curious and relatively fearless about taking on orthodoxies of all kinds.  

*Corrected:  The original version of the post said Bruno was at a charter school.

Bruno: Status Quo Bias in Action on Dropout Age



This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno:

I for one was pleasantly surprised to hear President Obama endorse increasing the dropout age to 18 in his State of the Union address, since compulsory attendance laws both significantly improve students' lifetime earnings and relieve a number of other burdens to society. So I've been somewhat surprised at the objections to the proposal based on worries about unintended consequences: that, for example, compulsory attendance may financially burden poorer families that rely on a child's extra income or strain the instructional capacity of schools.


I agree that these are serious concerns, but think they're overstated in part because compulsory attendance laws are likely to accommodate them and in part because I think we're seeing an example of status quo bias in action.

One way to think about it is to imagine a scenario in which the status quo is compulsory schooling until the age of 18 and the President's proposal is to reduce the dropout age. In that situation I don't think we'd feel comfortable saying, "Well, yes, if we reduce the dropout age many of our already-disadvantaged students will enjoy considerably less professional success in their lives, but we think that's worth it to reduce the strain on our nation's high schools and compensate for our ragged safety net."

As a country we probably do need to strengthen our economic safety net and build capacity in our high schools, but I don't think those are burdens that should be borne on the backs of kids who should be in school. To some extent the trade-offs we're making seem more palatable than they should just because we happen to be used to them. - PB (@MrPABruno)

Bruno: Inconsistent Messaging On Parents & Teacher Ratings

Andrew Rotherham has a column up at TIME.com arguing for not just "school choice" but for the right of parents to choose particular teachers for their students and deploring the fact that "the whole system is stacked against empowering families in this way."

There are lots of potential problems with this suggestion.  It's not clear whether we could make such a system fair to teachers or equitable for students.  Nor would I envy the administrators and counselors tasked with satisfying the individual scheduling requests of potentially hundreds of parents and guardians...

This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno. Click below to read the rest.

Continue reading "Bruno: Inconsistent Messaging On Parents & Teacher Ratings" »

Bruno: Policy-Level Agreements On NCLB? So What.

This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno: 

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com
Last week Michael Petrilli waxed optimistic about the chances for ESEA/NCLB reauthorization in the near future.  He emphasized the considerable bipartisan consensus that exists around issues like testing and school sanctions and concluded by saying that "with a little presidential leadership and goodwill from both parties, a deal could be hammered out quickly."

My sense, however, is that taking a step back and looking at the current political environment makes the case for reauthorization pessimism look much stronger. I agree that there's broad bipartisan consensus on ESEA in Washington at the moment, but it's easy to overestimate the importance of this kind of substantive policy agreement.

Continue reading "Bruno: Policy-Level Agreements On NCLB? So What. " »

Bruno: The "Gotcha" Mentality Behind "Take the Test"


Paul Bruno is a California-based middle-school science teacher who can be found at @MrPABruno:

Critics of standardized testing have begun urging education officials to take the same tests they require of students and to make the results public.  This movement began back in early December when Valerie Strauss published the story of a school board member who struggled with the tests and a follow-up post revealing the school board member's identity and offering links to sample test questions. Testing critics have since taken up the cause on blogs and on Twitter because, in teacher-blogger Deven Black's words, "if the tests are adequate to judge teacher ability they must certainly be able to judge the ability of the people who hire the teachers, set curriculum and allocate assets to schools."

But why is that "certainly" the case? It's not obvious to me why we should care much about how most education officials do on, say, a test of 10th grade math or why their doing poorly would constitute evidence against the use of standardized tests generally.


Continue reading "Bruno: The "Gotcha" Mentality Behind "Take the Test"" »

CLOSINGS: Living Rooms & Church Appearances

Schoolclosed2 How to close failing schools and turn them around is back in the news again with the Obama selection of Arne Duncan, who has closed schools nearly every year in Chicago. 

But not everyone agrees about how best to do it -- even among those who agree it's necessary. Do you close schools quickly based on evidence of persistent failure, or do you work with local leaders and have a slower, more fluid process, risking disagreement and delay? 

This debate was highlighted earlier this fall in Seattle, where DC's Michelle Rhee, Atlanta's Beverly Hall, and Green Dot's Steve Barr debated the issue during the Gatesfest, with a word or two from Carnegie's Michele Cahill as well.

Claudia Wallis, a longtime TIME magazine writer/editor, was at the event and provided the nugget below.

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NCLB: In Praise Of NCLB's "Other" Option

From Guest Contributor Cheryl Sattler:

Edited_sattler_photo_10072 There’s been a lot of criticism of the fact that most schools choose the “other” option for restructuring under No Child Left Behind. The Center on Education Policy calls this “the path of least resistance,” while Hoover asks if this is “taking the easy way out.”

The implication is that schools are dodging “real” reform. Based on these analyses, some advocates have begun pushing Congress to eliminate the “other” option entirely.

But if the current named options were the only ones on the table, it is likely that even less change would occur.  Charter schools require a group outside the district to be sufficiently invested in a school (and capable of not only educational change, but finance, food service, transportation, etc.) to take a school over.  They can’t be imposed by a district.    Replacing all or most of the school staff isn’t just a union nightmare. It’s a timing and capacity nightmare as well. Districts hire in early spring but don’t find out if they’ll have to restructure until the late summer.  Capable people aren't necessarily ready and willing to jump on board. State takeovers aren't even allowed in most states, and how realistic is it to expect a bunch of bureaucrats, miles away, to run schools?

Only the fourth option, use of education management organizations, deserves more of a shot than it's been given.  Districts don’t want to give up control, and states don’t want it, either.  But states could certainly make an effort to move control from a school district to a management organization of some kind. -- Cheryl Sattler

Morning Commentary

Our Schools Must Do Better NYT (Bob Herbert)
The U.S. has not yet faced up to the fact that it needs a school system capable of fulfilling the educational needs of children growing up in an era that will be at least as different from the 20th century as the 20th was from the 19th.

The cost of killing education reform Long Beach Press-Telegram
This could be the end of the line for No Child Left Behind. And some educators couldn't be happier...Public schools have, for generations, crafted an environment that caters to the needs and wants of the adults who work in the schools rather than those of the children who attend them.

Guest Commentary: Kevin Kosar On Muddled AYP Fixes

In the Sunday New York Times Magazine, Ann Hulbert wrote (Standardizing the Standards) that “With “high stakes” testing, N.C.L.B. introduces an incentive not to cheat, necessarily, but to manipulate. Signs are that states define proficiency down while schools ramp up narrow test prep.”

What’s the solution to this problem? “The National Assessment of Educational Progress could serve as a model for a test that judges students’ ability to apply their knowledge and thus discourages [sic] rote coaching. But recent experience … argues against making test results the sole trigger of federal sanctions.”

This is a bit of a muddle. The feds should create a new test for reasons unclear but the test results are not to be the “sole trigger” for accountability.

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