Flypaper

Liam Julian

From The Tallahassee Democrat: "According to the Florida Department of Education, more students statewide are writing at or above grade level." (The results are here.)

It's great that Florida continues to concentrate on improving its students' writing skills, but can FCAT writing scores really be an accurate depiction of Sunshine State youngsters' sentence-crafting abilities, especially when the data are??compared one year to the next? The larger question: Is it possible to??accurately assess??writing in a statewide,??high-stakes test?

John Merrow, writing in today's Wall Street Journal, explains that "public education lives in an upside-down universe where student outcomes are not allowed to be connected to teaching." That's certainly the case in New York, where the state legislature recently passed a bill making it illegal for school districts to consider the performance of teachers' students when making tenure decisions. Merrow concludes:

Denying any connection between teaching and learning is a dangerous course for teacher unions to chart. It contradicts what experience teaches us. And it flies in the face of common sense. If unions are telling us that there's no connection between teaching and learning, why should we then support teachers, or public education?

Thankfully, the Empire State appears to be far outside the mainstream on this issue. Our recent Rick Hess/Coby Loup study of teachers union contracts found that most of the fifty largest districts in the country either had the explicit right to consider student performance in tenure decisions (that's the case for eight of them) or faced no specific restrictions against that course of action, either in their contracts or in state law and regulation. Here's hoping that when Randi Weingarten becomes AFT president, she doesn't try to export this ridiculous piece of policy to the rest of the country....

Liam Julian

Kevin Carey mercifully closes our debate, not by addressing ideas but by instead calling my specific impugning of unions "vague" and concluding that I suffer from an incurable anti-union ailment. (Alas, my doctor prescribed Zithromax, but it hasn't worked.)

Liam then tries again to engage in some kind of vague larger argument about unions. Which is pointless, it's obvious where we stand: Liam dislikes organized labor and wishes it would go away; I don't. People can draw their own conclusions about what that says about our respective takes on education policy. The problem with the kind of generalized labor-bashing on display in this post and on Flypaper overall is that it destroys the writers' credibility when it comes to a range of important education policy issues that involve teachers unions. The next time Liam has something to say about merit pay, tenure, or some other issue where he disagrees with a national or local union, people will just assume his opposition stems from his obvious larger anti-union bias. Frankly, I wouldn't blame them.

This preachy stuff isn't really much fun, is it? Nor does it address the issues. When having a debate about ideas, it's useful to insert ideas into the debate. Is it not possible that my unfavorable stance toward teachers' unions is motivated not by blind hatred but by what unions do? By what are their goals? That's a debate Carey must not want to have. (And he doesn't like my Wal-Mart joke, either!)...

Liam Julian

Two articles about charter schools in this week's Economist are online here (Chicago) and here (New York).

Liam Julian

Mike just passed along to me the June Atlantic (not yet available online), in which one finds an article titled "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower." It is a poignant piece, written by an adjunct professor whose night classes contain all those that society deems ready for college--who must go to college--but are in reality far from it. The author (the anonymous "Professor X") writes, "They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college."

And so, it becomes the adjunct professor's responsibility to clean up for society's destructive romanticism. Does he lower standards or hand out multiple Fs? The professor in question takes the latter route, but he doesn't sleep well because of it. His students, many of whom cannot construct a coherent sentence, are confused by the poor grades they receive. Haven't they done everything right, haven't they fulfilled society's expectations and returned to school to better themselves? It may not occur to many of them that society's expectations are unrealistic, its hopes based on fiction, and that they have been set up for failure.

It's a piece well worth reading, because the human cost of the "all kids to college" push is seldom discussed.

Photo by Flickr user partsnpieces....

TO: Roy.Romer@edin08.com

FROM: mpetrilli@edexcellence.net

SUBJECT: The Big One

Roy! Guv-nor! How's it going? Eli driving you crazy yet?

Listen, I know it's been tough-sledding at Ed in '08 making education a top-tier issue in the election. Maybe the general will bring you better luck. But it's hard, what with the sinking economy, war in Iraq, worries about health care, $4/gallon gas, etc. I see you're making lemonade out of lemons, though, trying to link the education issue to the economy. That's smart. Plays on people's fears. It worked back in the 80s (The Japanese are coming! The Japanese are coming!) and it could work today (The Chinese are coming! The Indians are coming!). That just might spark enough interest to get you through November.

But I understand that you have ambitions to keep up the advocacy long past this election cycle. And that's where you've got a problem. For better or worse, eventually, the economy is going to turn around. The housing crisis will end, jobs will come back, and the American people will lose focus. Rather than fretting about competing with the rest of the world, their education concerns will turn to stupid worries about the "crisis of energy drinks" and such. (Remember the big education issue of the mid-90s? School uniforms, for Pete's sake!)

What you need, Roy, is something that scares the heck out of people and isn't...

Jeff Kuhner

New Jersey education officials have admitted that an African-American vice principal inappropriately punished 15 Hispanic elementary students in Camden. The principal forced the students in a fifth-grade bilingual class to spend a week eating their lunches while sitting on the gymnasium floor. This was "punishment" for behavioral problems in class.

Parents and activists claimed that the incident was another example of racism directed against Hispanics. State education officials, however, in a report released this week refute those allegations. Although the principal's actions were insulting and demeaning to the students, the report says they were not biased because similar punishments have been meted out to non-Hispanics.

Prejudice is not the issue; common sense--or the lack of it--is. I'm all for greater principal autonomy. I'm also for stricter discipline in the classroom. If students are disrupting a school's learning environment, they should be punished--and quite severely. Our schools have become way too lax in maintaining proper and respectful student behavior. But this principal's actions are beyond the pale. Besides hygiene considerations (eating off a floor is a sure way to contract unhealthy bacteria and germs), the punishment was degrading. These kids are not animals, and they should not be treated as such.

Whatever happened to principals notifying parents of students' disruptive, unruly behavior? If that doesn't do the trick, there are other tried-and-true measures, such as after-school detention, suspension, or if the students are especially bad, expulsion. In short, there are many effective ways to enforce discipline...

The Center for Education Reform released an analysis of 2006 charter school funding , claiming that charters receive 39 percent less funding than district schools, on average. That's a huge, unfair difference, if it's true.

But is it? Fordham's own such analysis three years ago found gaps that were very troubling, but only about half that size--22 percent on average. True, we only reviewed some of the states, and CER hits them all, but even state-by-state there are big variances. So who's right? If you were hoping for a nerdy data discussion this Friday, you've now found it, as I have a few major concerns about their work.

First, it's worrisome that they rely on a 2006 "Charter School Survey" for some of their data. Did they literally ask schools how much money they received ? Three years ago, Fordham's team found that the only way to get reliable charter information in many states was to unearth school-level audits and add them up. Any good analysis needs to involve something equally rigorous.

Second, it's a huge red flag that they cite the U.S. Census Bureau for district-level data. Our team found its district funding data often included some charter school funding, overstating the actual district-only budgets. These funds couldn't be separated out, making the data worthless.

Third, even accurate district data needs to be purged of certain revenues, like those for adult education, pre-K, or other programs outside of normal K-12 education,...

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