Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 46
December 13, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Online classes for K-12 students
MOOCs in size small, please
A primer on right-to-work and collective bargaining in education
Welcome to Michigan
A reverse Sputnik moment?
Promising results from TIMSS and PIRLS
The costs of action and inaction
The Education Choice and Competition Index: Background and Results 2012
New Orleans sets the pace
Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools
Another case for the Common Core
Youth and Hard Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity
The multiple-pathways approach
Mike and Dara discuss bringing MOOCs to K–12 education, tiptoeing up to the fiscal cliff, and angry unions in Michigan. Amber considers all the angles of the newly released international achievement scores.
Strategies for Smarter Budgets and Smarter Schools
yes Nathan Levenson / December 12, 2012
This new policy brief by Nathan Levenson, Managing Director at the District Management Council and former superintendent of Arlington (MA) Public Schools, offers informed advice to school districts seeking to provide a well-rounded, quality education to all children in a time of strained budgets. Levenson recommends three strategies: prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency; make staffing decisions based on student needs, not student preferences; and manage special-education spending for better outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 13, 2012
The remarkable spread of free online courses through American higher education has prompted major soul-searching and some fast footwork among traditional universities and their national organizations.
The next step: K-12 MOOCs provided by topflight schools to students beyond their own campuses.
Photo by poperotico via photopin cc
You can already find “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) on a host of websites, created and delivered by a wide array of institutions and individuals.
As I write, Coursera offers 207 courses, ranging from astronomy to public health, presented by professors at such upscale schools as CalTech, Duke, and Stanford (where, as best I can tell, all this originated—and just a few years ago). Udacity offers about twenty courses, EdX (founded by Harvard and MIT) around ten.
Providers such as these are proliferating and expanding via a hodgepodge of for- and non-profit organizations with offerings that range from free to pricey. And participation is soaring, too. Coursera claims two million course-takers worldwide—and since the courses are online, one can indeed take them anyplace, anytime.
This remarkably rapid development carries huge potential for universalizing and customizing higher education and for enormous cost savings. But it collides with age-old traditions and deeply entrenched practices regarding how one earns a college degree—and it also carries enormous risks. Who determines which students “pass” these on-line
Dara Zeehandelaar, Ph.D. / December 13, 2012
It’s been just a month since Michigan voters defeated Proposal 1, which (if passed) would have amended the state constitution to permanently protect unions’ rights. And the legislature and governor wasted no time at all, approving legislation on Tuesday that officially makes Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the nation—an astounding turn of events in this former bastion of collective bargaining. So what does this mean for teacher unions?
Michigan teachers will still have the right to organize, unionize and bargain collectively. Contrary to popular misconception, collective-bargaining rights are not directly affected by right-to-work laws. What such laws do is give individual employees the freedom to join or not join the union—and bar the union from collecting involuntary dues from those who opt not to join.
In Fordham’s recent study, How Strong are U.S. Teacher Unions: A State-by-State Comparison, we identify and distinguish several different sources of union strength—and three main ways that one could limit said strength if one were so inclined.
1. Collective bargaining rights dictate whether employers must, may, or cannot recognize an employee organization as a union. In Michigan—as in thirty other states—if employees want to negotiate a binding contract (a.k.a., a collective-bargaining agreement, or CBA) with their employer, the employer must recognize them as a union and enter into a CBA. (Fourteen states leave the decision up to the district, and five states prohibit collective bargaining in education.) Michigan’s new law won’t change its status as a collective-bargaining state.
Daniela Fairchild / December 13, 2012
In December 2010, the latest results from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) revealed that—compared to our OECD peers—American fifteen-year olds are (at best) in the middle of the pack. Among the thirty-four participating nations, we ranked fourteenth in reading, seventeenth in science, and twenty-fifth in math. This news, coupled with Shanghai’s epic success on the exam (the first time any part of mainland China had taken it), rocked the education-policy community. For those still smarting, the latest results from two other international assessments offer some liniment. TIMSS and PIRLS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) are given in more countries—including many that are poorer and less developed than those in the OECD—and are actual appraisals of student learning at two grade levels. (PISA purports to assess skills in a country’s overall fifteen-year-old population and does not claim to be curriculum-based or school-aligned.)
U.S. fourth graders are definitely looking better. From 2006 to 2011, their math performance on TIMSS bumped up twelve points and now trails that of their counterparts in just seven other lands (in East Asia and Northern Ireland). Even more remarkable results come from PIRLS: Of the fifty-three systems participating, only four from abroad bested the U.S.’s score (Hong Kong, Russia, Finland, and Singapore). Further, Singapore is the only foreign system to surpass us at the “advanced” level, where an impressive 17 percent of American fourth graders can be found.
The Education Gadfly / December 13, 2012
Everyone and their mothers are talking about the so-called “fiscal cliff”—the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will affect all federal discretionary spending programs, cut you off in traffic, steal an old lady’s handbag, and wreak general havoc if lawmakers don’t come to a deal on the national debt soon. Will it destroy Head Start and special education? Will it disproportionately harm poor schools? But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us, federal contributions to education are peanuts compared to the amount the feds contribute to Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, and the like—cuts to which will leave big holes for states to patch, perhaps by raiding K–12 funding. And it’s these possible indirect cuts to education that will hurt on the way down.
After channeling Jeb Bush during his job interview, Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett was chosen to be Florida’s new state superintendent. We extend hearty congratulations. Florida’s teacher unions are none too happy with his appointment; but they’re not exactly winning the war in Florida, so Bennett may not need to sweat it.
Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, says he intends to overhaul that country’s flagging school system. First stop? Take down the juggernaut teacher union—led by Elba Esther Gordillo, referred to as La Maestra for her political prowess and shady dealings. We’ll be watching.
The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education has identified the
Adam Emerson / December 13, 2012
One sign that the Brookings Institution’s second annual Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) is better than the first is that New Orleans came out on top—boasting the ECCI’s only A grade. For this go-around, Russ Whitehurst and his team ranked 107 school districts (the 100 largest metro areas and seven others of interest), up from twenty-five in 2011, on thirteen choice-related categories of policy and practice (including accessibility of information on school quality and availability of virtual schooling options). Joining the Big Easy in the top five are New York (last year’s valedictorian), D.C., Minneapolis, and Houston. Rounding out the bottom of the rankings are Brownsville (TX), San Antonio, and Loudoun County (VA). (Ohio’s sole district on this list, Columbus, ranked eighty-ninth.) But what makes this year’s index particularly worthwhile is the way it explains the differences among even the best of the best. It’s easy to see what separates the Recovery School District in New Orleans from Brownsville. The contrast between the NOLA’s RSD and the District of Columbia is subtler, but still significant. As one example, D.C. scored well on its abundance of (and generous funding for) school alternatives, including charters and vouchers. But it fell short in matching families to the schools of their choice. The problem is that D.C. parents must separately apply to each school in which they are interested, since individual schools control their own lotteries to determine admissions. That’s not the case
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 13, 2012
This wonky but important (and exceptionally timely) book by Michigan State’s Bill Schmidt and Curtis McKnight, an emeritus math professor at the University of Oklahoma, is a distinctive, deeply researched, and amply documented plea for full-scale implementation of the Common Core math standards.
The authors examine the extent to which young Americans in various states, districts, schools, and classrooms have equal opportunities to learn the same high-quality math content in grades K–8—and they find grievous gaps and injustices.
One might suppose that this most hierarchical and standardized of core subjects would yield the greatest uniformity from place to place within the United States. Critics of national curricula (and Common Core) periodically declare that NAEP, the textbook oligopoly, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and nationwide college-entrance exams have caused math curricula to be very similar across the land.
Schmidt and McKnight, however, show conclusively that this presumption is far from true. And they link that variation in content coverage and delivery to the country’s vexing achievement gaps, its deteriorating social mobility, and its generally weak educational performance. Here are a few excerpts from the book’s genuinely alarming—and stirring—final chapter:
The inequalities in content coverage begin with the state and local community in which a child is to attend school…and continue with the neighborhood school to which the child is assigned. Furthermore, two children, even from the same family and attending the same school
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / December 13, 2012
This latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers some depressing news: Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. Tracking data from the 2011 Current Population Survey, as well as recent Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the foundation reports that only half of people ages sixteen to twenty-four held jobs in 2011; among the teens in that group, 13 percent of sixteen to nineteen year olds and 20 percent of twenty to twenty-four year olds are both out of school and out of work (what the authors call “disconnected” youth). And still more striking, within this group of disconnected young adults, over a fifth are parents themselves. According to analysts, this stark trend is caused by stronger competition for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs—and may cause these disconnected youth to eventually become a cost to taxpayers. The report then breaks employment data down by state: For twenty- to twenty-four-year-olds, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have the highest employment rates. Mississippi and New York have the lowest. While the report’s message is bleak, it offers at least one redeeming data point: For young adults (ages twenty to twenty-four), college-enrollment rates rose from 31 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, with some who would have entered the workforce now seeking postsecondary education. (The quality of those programs is not discussed in