Flypaper

My chief mentor, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, occasionally warned against “semantic infiltration,” which he correctly attributed to the late arms-control expert, Fred Ikle. It is, of course, the judo-like practice of using terms that are appealing to an audience as fig leaves for practices that the same audience would find repugnant—turning one’s own language against one’s interests, you might say.

Moynihan noted, for example, that countries that style themselves “democratic republics” are almost never either democratic or republics.

So it is with “balanced literacy,” which has reared its head once again in New York City, as schools chancellor Carmen Farina places Teachers College professor Lucy M. Calkins back on the English language arts curricular and pedagogical throne that she briefly occupied a decade ago until Joel Klein learned what a catastrophe that was.

Balanced literacy is neither “balanced” nor “literacy,” at least not in the sense that poor kids taught to read via this approach will end up literate.

Rather, it flies in the face of “scientific reading instruction” (phonics, phonemic awareness, etc.) and reinstates the disastrous approach to early reading known as “whole language.”

“Balanced” is supposed to signal that it conjoins the best of scientifically based instruction with the best of whole language. Indeed, “balanced” is a perfect example of semantic infiltration. Who would want their children taught to read in an “unbalanced” way? (And who would want them not to be literate?)

But “balanced literacy” is, in reality, and especially as interpreted and...

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While education reforms are nearly always won via legislation, rare exceptions do occur—and sometimes they’re significant. The year 2014 has already proven to be a landmark one for education reform thanks to judicial decision. Perhaps the most notable example thus far is Vergara v. California, which struck down tenure and kindred state laws that make it difficult for schools to ensure that their students (especially those living in poverty) have an effective teacher. This week brought word that some New York families are kick starting a similar challenge to equally oppressive laws in the Empire state. Other states could follow.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in Harris v. Quinn, which could be even more momentous for education reform (and public-sector unionism broadly.) Indeed, some liberals are calling it the “gravest threat today to public-employee unions.”

This case deals with the representation of Illinois’s home health care workers (often family members taking care of loved ones). The issue arose when plaintiff Pam Harris (the mother of a disabled son whom she takes care of) worried that union dues (or “fair share” payments in lieu of dues) would divert money she needs for her son into political speech undertaken by unions with which she does not agree.

Traditionally, such in-home caregivers were not considered public employees, much less members of collective-bargaining units, but actions by former governor Rod Blagojevich and current governor Pat Quinn, designed to benefit large unions (and political megadonors) like...

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“Nobody expects new surgeons to be any good. It wasn’t until my fortieth or fiftieth bypass surgery that I started feel like I knew what I was doing.”

 “I wish I could go back and retry those cases from my first year. If I knew then what I know now, they’d never have been convicted.”

“Look, every rookie shoots an innocent bystander by mistake or arrests the wrong guy. That doesn’t make you a bad cop. Your first year on the job is all about learning from your mistakes.”

Odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard anything like the three statements above. Hopefully you never will. But ask a teacher about his or her first year in the classroom and you’ll hear, either with a smile or a shudder, how “nothing prepared me for my first year as a teacher.”

Funny thing, if you think about it. Other fields rarely send unprepared recruits off to their first jobs. In education, we not only expect it, but we seem proud of it. You haven’t earned your stripes as a teacher until you’ve earned your scars. I’ve said it myself to grad students and new teachers, thinking I was giving sage advice and comfort: “Your first year in the classroom is about moving from unconscious incompetence—not knowing what you don’t know—to conscious incompetence—knowing what you don’t know and need to improve.”

I wonder how many unconsciously incompetent...

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VOUCHERS FOR SPECIAL-NEEDS STUDENTS
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to make it easier for New York students with special needs to receive private-school vouchers. A bill in the State Assembly to force the Big Apple to do so was stopped when de Blasio promised to make the changes himself. (New York Times)
 
LOW-INCOME, BRIGHT KIDS
A new program called College Match guides high-flying, low-income kids to top universities. (Hechinger Report)
 
TEACHER TENURE
Next month, a lawsuit in New York will aim at teacher tenure and dismissal in a manner similar to the recent Vergara case in California. (Teacher Beat)
 
COMMON CORE IN LOUISIANA
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education called a special meeting to discuss Governor Bobby Jindal’s recent efforts to block Common Core–aligned state tests. (Times-Picayune)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Yahoo: “Fordham Institute Correct in Suggesting Schools Seek Talent Outside Education Field
Real Clear Politics: “Common Core Panelists Rue Politics’ Toll on Reform”...

The Education Department has been slowly gathering itself together over the past decade to review states’ mandatory annual IDEA “performance plans” on the basis of student outcomes, in addition to bureaucratic compliance with sundry procedural and data-reporting requirements.

In giving feedback to the states a year ago, for example, Melody Musgrove (who directs the Office of Special Education Programs at ED) forewarned chiefs that ED was redesigning their monitoring system into “a more balanced approach that considers results as well as compliance.”’

Yesterday, they made considerable news by basing their latest round of feedback on criteria that include how a state’s disabled students fare on NAEP and the size of achievement gaps that separate those pupils from “all children on regular statewide assessments.” Further changes are promised for subsequent years, including student-growth data based on statewide assessments. Also promised is a reduction in compliance-style reporting and data burdens.

Based on this analysis, the feds then sort states into three buckets labeled “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” and “needs intervention.” And the inclusion of outcomes data really does turn out to make a difference. Whereas in previous years almost every state and territory (forty-one last year, to be specific) fell into the first bucket, this year just eighteen do. (There’s a fourth bucket entitled “needs substantial intervention,” but at present, no state has been placed there.)

Among the many “sinkers”: Ohio, which went from bucket 1 to bucket 2, and Delaware, which declined from 2 to 3....

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Yes, everybody understands that “school leaders matter,” a truism now morphing into a cliché that trips easily from the tongue but typically fails to cause movement anywhere in the worlds of education policy and practice.

As a result, far too many U.S. schools lack the leaders that they need. Far too many principals lack the wherewithal—authority, resources, capacity, etc.—to lead effectively. And far too many school systems, especially urban districts with the most urgent need for dynamic competence in this crucial role, haven’t yet figured out the best way to find the strongest candidates in the land and induce them to move into the principal’s office.

This is scarcely a new problem. Indeed, it’s been so much discussed and fussed about that people may be wearying of it—or possibly have come to believe that surely it’s been solved by now.

Yet urgent leadership-related changes haven’t yet been made in American public education, or have been gingerly tried in just a handful of places. Most states still expect principals to possess a traditional administrative certificate, at least for those running district schools, and most of those certificates are still awarded primarily through completion of traditional “ed leadership” programs via graduate degrees in conventional education schools. Nor has the compensation of school principals much improved; indeed, the annual average salary difference in 2011–12 between what veteran high-school teachers (eleven to twenty years) and their principals get paid was roughly $40,000. In the District of Columbia, top teachers earn as...

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FEDERAL OVERSIGHT OF SPECIAL ED
The Education Department’s new standards for judging whether states and territories comply with federal disability law include a comparison of special-needs students’ test scores with their non-special-needs peers. The number of jurisdictions in compliance has hence gone from thirty-eight to fifteen. (New York Times, Washington Post, NPR)
 
HIGHER ED PREPS FOR COMMON CORE
University professors are planning shifts to accommodate students who have been taught a Common Core–aligned K–12 education. (Hechinger Report)
 
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE
NPR delves into several approaches to ending the “school-to-prison pipeline.” (NPR)
 
IS COLLEGE WORTH IT?
A study finds that even as the cost of attending college skyrockets, a college degree is worth it—but a four-year degree doesn’t seem to add much more value than a two-year degree. (Wall Street Journal)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Daily Caller: “Report: To Improve Schools, Pay Principals $100,000
Daily Caller: “Hawaii Teachers Expect Common Core Test Score Implosion”...

School leaders matter enormously. But are districts doing enough to ensure that the best possible candidates end up in these positions? That’s what Fordham examines In Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement.

Our primary finding: the practices by which school principals are selected—even in pioneering districts—continue to fall short, causing needy schools to lose out on leaders with the potential to be great. Yet better hiring practices are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role so that it is a job that talented leaders want, are equipped and empowered to execute successfully, and are suitably compensated.

Among the lessons districts and policymakers should heed are the following:

Make the job more appealing—and manageable

  1. Pay great leaders what they’re worth
  2. Take a pro-active, wide-ranging approach to recruitment
  3. Understand the qualities and skills that make principals successful—and hire for them
  4. Match individual schools’ needs with particular candidates’ strengths
  5. Continually evaluate all of these processes to determine how well they’re succeeding—and make further corrections as needed

TEACHER PAY
A new Vanderbilt working paper finds that top Tennessee teachers are more likely to continue working in low-achieving schools when given a substantial pay increase. (Teacher Beat)
 
PRESCRIPTION: VOCABULARY BUILDING
Under a new policy instituted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians will tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth—with the hope that doing so will help reduce the education gaps between high- and low-income kids as well as racial groups. (New York Times)
 
CHARTER ACCOUNTABILITY
An investigation by the Detroit Free Press finds that Michigan’s charters, while costing taxpayers a hefty sum, are not adequately held accountable for spending, nepotism, and poor academic performance—though the paper concedes there are also high-performing, innovative charters. (Detroit Free Press)
 
GRADUATION RATES
New York’s high school graduation rates are slightly up from 2013, but ELL students continue to struggle. (Wall Street Journal)
 
GIRLS IN TECHNOLOGY
Google has launched and put $50 million toward Made With Code, an effort to close the gender gap in computer coding. (Curriculum Matters)
 
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Atlantic: “Should We Be Treating Principals Like CEOs?
Education Writers Association: “Report: Want Better Schools? Hire Better Principals
Charlotte Observer: “Study: Get more creative in recruiting principals”...

VOUCHER EXPANSION
Governor Rick Scott signed a bill expanding Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program. (Pensacola News Journal)
 
TEACHER QUALITY
Some teachers are looking for ways to improve the quality of those within their profession, because “if a union makes collective demands, it also has to promote collective quality.” (Washington Post)
 
PUTTING ADULTS’ INTERESTS OVER KIDS’
The New America Foundation’s Anne Hyslop argues that dropping the Common Core in Louisiana without a policy alternative is reckless and could “quickly wreck years of careful planning and hard work to improve student outcomes across the Pelican State. And that would be a very high price to pay just to make a political statement.” (Real Clear Education)
 
PHILLY SCHOOLS
The Philadelphia City Council will borrow $30 million to help plug the public school district’s funding gap, while it seeks more funding from state lawmakers. (Associated Press)
 
VALUE-ADDED PAUSE
D.C. has paused its use of the value-added algorithm in teacher evaluations for the 2014–15 year, in order to smooth the district’s transition to Common Core–aligned tests. (Teacher Beat)
 
SPECIAL ED IN CHARTER SCHOOLS
A new CRPE study finds that “counseling out” does not explain why Denver’s charter schools have fewer special-education students than their traditional public school counterparts. (Charters & Choice)
 
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Florida has adopted a new set of English-language proficiency standards. (Learning the Language)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
U.S. News: “Climate...

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