Flypaper

Neerav Kingsland

David Kirp had a piece in The New York Times on Sunday: Teaching is not a Business. You should check it out. 

My take on his piece:

  1. Language: Dan Willingham has written about how the education debates often use one of two types of rhetoric: either Romantic era words (nurture, relationships, whole child, etc.) or Enlightenment era words (rationality, logic, evidence, etc.). Kirp leans on Romantic era language in a manner that I find overly loaded, though perhaps he would make a similar critique of my writing.
  2. Straw men: As Ryan Hill noted on twitter, Kirp sets up many straw men (arguments he imputes to reformers that few reformers make), as well as just false assertions, such as: high stakes testing should be single metric of success; market or technology based reforms are “impersonal” and disregard educators; firing teachers and coaching teachers is mutually exclusive; challenging curriculum goes undiscussed (common core standards and associated curricula are many things, but undiscussed is not one of them). One could go on. I found this to be the weakest part of Kirp’s piece.
  3. Charter School Data: Kirp notes that charter schools perform at about the same level for traditional schools. What Kirp does not mention is that, in 2013, CREDO conducted the nation’s largest quasi-experimental charter school study. The study covered twenty-seven states and covered 95 percent of students that attend charters school in the entire nation. It found
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In a bizarre press release from the AFT, Lorretta Johnson argues that Fordham’s recent research on the growing number of school employees who don’t teach is all about “the bottom line of a school district budget.”

Michael Petrilli, Fordham’s president notes,

Frankly, the AFT has missed the point here. The question isn't whether our schools should employ paraprofessionals—it's why some schools are able to get by with so many fewer aides than others and why other countries seem to get by with hardly any at all. Life is full of trade-offs, and if we want to invest in higher teacher salaries or more time for collaboration, taking a hard look at the number of nonteaching staff might be a good place to start.

After all, The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach is just one of two studies that looks at these staggering and growing numbers.

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The movie version of The Giver hits theaters today. It’s followed next weekend by If I Stay. If neither title rings a bell, ask a fifteen-year-old. A long line of young adult (YA) novels and series have made it to the multiplex in recent years, including some big Hollywood hits like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, The Hunger Games, and, of course, Harry Potter that were well known to teens and tweens long before Hollywood took notice.

If the studios are looking for the next big thing, maybe they should hold pitch meetings in middle school. Here are our favorite YA novels still waiting for their adaptation to the silver screen.

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

The Giver is Lowry’s best—and best-known—novel, but Number the Stars might make a better movie. Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War II, it tells the story of ten-year-old Annemarie and her family, who protect the girl’s Jewish best friend by pretending she is Annemarie's late older sister, a resistance member who had died earlier in the war.

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers

Myers, who died last month at age 76, is the August Wilson of YA fiction. He wrote dozens of books chronicling the lives of young African Americans, usually boys, any one of...

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My Fordham colleague Andy Smarick is engaged in a one-man intellectual odyssey this summer aimed at quelling his intellectual discomfort on a fascinating question: is education reform inherently anti-conservative?

“At its heart, conservatism is about humility. It holds that there is great value in the traditional. Old things have stood the test of time,” Andy writes. So how can you call yourself a conservative, as Andy does, if you are “disposed to preserve venerable institutions and yet favor dramatic K–12 change?”

Andy’s posts are a work in progress, but allow me to enter the fray in medias res because I find the frame and his intellectual exercise absorbing. I’ll confess that disrupting the “institution” of public education has never given me much pause. I’m not sentimental about “public schools” and haven’t been since I started teaching in one. “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” Madison said. He had nothing to say about the issues ed reformers (and those who resist reform) tend to focus on: under whose control, beneath which roof, on whose dime, and with what forms of accountability?

The public’s interest lies in a well-educated citizenry. The wish to share with our children the best of what has been discovered, thought, written, and accomplished is at heart a deeply conservative impulse. The means by which this is accomplished is a secondary concern. Advancement and diffusion should be enough. There is no need to protect and defend a system of public schools...

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PRIVATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT
A survey of private school enrollment finds that just 10 percent of grade-school children nationwide attend private schools. But in some neighborhoods, a majority of kids do. (City Lab)
 
PAYING POOR KIDS TO ATTEND SCHOOL
A story in Politico Magazine’s What Works series explores whether paying poor students to go to school—a rewards system modeled on similar programs in Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia—would be effective in fighting poverty. (Politico Magazine)
 
COMPETITIVE PRE-K GRANTS
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Education Department announce the Preschool Development Grants program, which will offer up $250 million in competitive grants to help states expand pre-K. (Wall Street Journal, Pittsburgh Business Times)
 
ESEA REAUTHORIZATION
A new Whiteboard Advisors survey found that 72 percent of its respondents, a small group of education insiders, agree that Congress won’t reauthorize ESEA until at least December 2015. (Politics K–12)
 
TEACHER STRIKE
Members of a teacher union in Northwestern Illinois are on strike after rejecting a contract offered by a public school district. (Associated Press)
 
OHIO SCHOOL AND DISTRICT RATINGS
After accusations of attendance data scrubbing, the Ohio Department of Education has made over one hundred revisions to district and school ratings in the Buckeye State. (Associated Press)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Marketplace: “School staffing up nearly 400%, but not with teachers
Huffington Post: “There Are A Lot More Adults Working In Schools Lately, And Most Of Them Are...

A new Mathematica study persuasively puts to rest a common charge leveled at KIPP charter schools: that their test score gains are largely attributable to the attrition of their lowest-performing students. The authors compare nineteen KIPP middle schools to district schools and find no meaningful difference among those who walk in the door of each type of school. Nor do they find any difference in student attrition rates on the way out. Students who enter KIPP in later grades do indeed tend to be higher performers, but “a large part of KIPP’s cumulative effect occurs in the first year of enrollment, before attrition and replacement could have any effect.” Thus, high-achieving “backfilled” students can account for no more than one-third of the cumulative KIPP effect. Analysts, however, couldn’t determine whether students and families attracted to KIPP and its intensity are more ambitious or motivated in the first place—a point Richard Kahlenberg highlights in a critique of the study on Education Next’s website. “When children hear about the rigorous regimen,” he notes—the extended school day and copious homework, for example—“particularly motivated families might be excited to sign up, while less motivated families could be scared away.” The careful and sober Mathematica scholars openly acknowledge that this is “a potentially important limitation of this study.” And so it is. Nevertheless, the criticism rankles. Do low-income children not deserve the opportunity to attend school with others who are motivated and whose parents are ambitious for their children? Some will...

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Why do American public schools spend more of their operating budgets on non-teachers than almost every other country in the world, including nations that are as prosperous and humane as ours? We can’t be certain. But we do know this:

  • The number of non-teachers on U.S. school payrolls has soared over the past fifty years, far more rapidly than the rise in teachers. And the amount of money in district budgets consumed by their salaries and benefits has grown apace for at least the last twenty years.
  • Underneath the averages and totals, states and districts vary enormously in how many non-teachers they employ. Why do Illinois taxpayers pay for forty staff per thousand pupils while Connecticut pays for eighty-nine? Why does Orange County (Orlando), Florida, employ eleven teacher aides per thousand students when Miami-Dade gets by with seven?

What accounts for such growth and such differences? We don’t know nearly as much as we’d like on this topic, but it’s not a total mystery. The advent and expansion of special education, for example, led to substantial demand for classroom aides and specialists to address the needs of youngsters with disabilities. Broadening school duties to include more food service, health care, and sundry other responsibilities accounts for still more.

But such additions to the obligations of schools are not peculiar to the United States, and they certainly cannot explain big staffing differences from place to place within our country.

The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach, a new...

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With fewer than one hundred days left until the 2014 election and with control of the U.S. Senate a virtual coin toss, few are focusing on the potential impact a Republican takeover might have. Should Republicans get the keys to the Senate and gain control of both houses, they will still have find common ground with President Obama (and one another) if they are to get anything accomplished.

Regardless of whether congressional Republicans agreed with the President when he said late last year that inequality and economic mobility were the “defining challenge[s] of our time,” he clearly struck a nerve. In the last few months, several groups on the Right have offered proposals designed to put a conservative spin on helping the poor. The latest, a discussion draft from Congressman Paul Ryan titled “Expanding Opportunity in America,” has drawn praise from both ends of the political spectrum and could serve as a blueprint for negotiations over reform next year.  Here are some highlights.

“Opportunity grant”

Fights over debt and deficits aren’t over, but the ideas in Ryan’s “discussion draft” are budget neutral and mostly leave third-rail topics like programs for seniors and the disabled completely alone. Instead, Ryan is proposing combining a huge part of the social safety net—including funds for food stamps, cash assistance, housing assistance, and much more—into a large line item called the “Opportunity Grant.” States that wanted to participate would submit a plan describing how they would these funds, with the results closely tracked.

Taxation

While Ryan certainly...

Andy's odyssey: Part three

This series’ first two posts mostly noodled around with concepts, probably leaving dirty-fingernail types sighing, “What does any of this have to do with our actual work?”

In subsequent posts, I’ll narrow in on applications, but it probably makes sense to spend a little time on this now. Here, I’ll try to explain why a conversation about the intersection of conservatism and ed reform is timely and, hopefully, whet your appetite for further discussions.

It’s probable that Republicans will shortly wield more power. The 2014 midterms are nearing, and President Obama’s approval rating is but 42 percent.

Even if that number were higher, Democratic prospects would still be gloomy. The second midterm for the sitting president’s party almost always produces big losses (see FDR, Ike, GWB, etc.). The GOP already controls the House of Representatives, and it is expected to take the Senate and maintain control of a strong majority of governorships. While it’s too early to forecast the 2016 presidential election, history teaches that seldom does a party hold the Oval Office for three consecutive terms.

So how would an ascendant Right, cognizant of the governing responsibilities of a majority party, approach education reform? I predict a paradoxical blend of modesty and vigor. Channeling Shakespeare and his famous oxymorons, I’ll call it “energized retrenchment.”

Why retrenchment? The sophistry of today’s political “experts”—whose trenchant analysis of the Right consists of sneering, “Tea Party”—has cloaked a...

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CHARTER ACCOUNTABILITY IN MICHIGAN
Michigan’s superintendent of education announced that eleven of the Wolverine State’s charter school authorizers are at risk of being suspended or having their power to open new charters revoked. (Charters & Choice)
 
NEW ORLEANS’S CHARTERS
New Orleans’s first day of school will be an historical moment: for the first time, a major U.S. school district will operate entirely with charter schools. (NPR)
 
AP U.S. HISTORY FRAMEWORK
After the RNC claimed that the College Board “deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events” in its new AP U.S. History framework, College Board has released a practice exam and will clarify the criticized aspects of the framework. (Curriculum Matters)
 
TFA DIVERSITY
Half of Teach For America’s 5,300 new recruits self-identify as people of color, compared to 17 percent of the teaching force nationwide. (Teacher Beat, Hechinger Report)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
American Thinker: “Digital Learning Makes Rewards Fun, Effective

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