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Mike the Squish

Is Mike going soft on accountability? Are private schools doomed? And why on earth is anyone still majoring in journalism? We ask, you decide.

Amber's Research Minute

Voice of the Graduate by McKinsey & Company, May 2013

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli will be debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Confusion never stops 
Closing walls and ticking clocks 
Gonna come back and take you home 
I could not stop that you now know

Come out upon my seas 
Cursed missed opportunities 
Am I a part of the cure? 
Or am I part of the disease?

-Coldplay, "Clocks," A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002

Folks on both sides: Are you part of the cure or the disease?
Is everything for which reformers fight actually making things worse?
Photo by ToniVC

Dear Deborah,

I am haunted by the title of your last post: “The Testing Obsession Widens the Gap.”

Could this possibly be true? Is test-based school reform reducing opportunity for America's neediest children? Is everything for which we school reformers fight actually making things worse? Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?

"It's OK to ask: 'What if I'm wrong?'" you wrote last week. So let me ask it. It wouldn't be the first time. A year ago, for example, I explored the "test-score hypothesis"—a line of reasoning, undergirding much of the reform movement, that says...

Private education as we have known it is on its way out, at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels. At the very least, it's headed for dramatic shrinkage, save for a handful of places and circumstances, to be replaced by a very different set of institutional, governance, financing, and education-delivery mechanisms.

The end of private education
Private education as we have known it is on its way out.
Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

Consider today's realities. Private K–12 enrollments are shrinking—by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, announced in January that forty-four of its 156 elementary schools will cease operations next month. (A few later won reprieves.) In addition, many independent schools (day schools and especially boarding schools) are having trouble filling their seats—at least, filling them with their customary clientele of tuition-paying American students. Traditional nonprofit private colleges are also challenged to fill their classroom seats and dorms, a situation to which they're responding by heavily discounting their tuitions and fees for more and more students.

Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is 5 percent nationally and north of 25 percent in two dozen major cities. "Massive open online...

Voice of the GraduateMcKinsey’s survey of 4,900 recent graduates of two- and four-year colleges is the latest contribution to a literature of dismal news on our nation’s latest crop of young professionals. These are the top five findings: First, nearly half of all graduates from four-year colleges said that they were in jobs that did not require a four-year degree; graduates with STEM majors, however, were more likely to report the opposite. Second, a little over a third of alums of both two- and four-year colleges had regrets, reporting that they would choose a different major if they could do it all over again. What’s more, students who had majored in visual and performing arts, language, literature, and the social sciences were the most likely to wish they’d majored in something else, while health majors were the least likely. Third, university quality didn’t seem to matter much: Forty-one percent of graduates from U.S. News’s top 100 universities responded that they were not employed in the field they had hoped to enter, while 48 percent of students from other institutions conveyed the same. Fourth, the retail and restaurant industries were among the least desired fields—but ended up employing four to five times the number of graduates who had intended to enter these sectors. And fifth, liberal-arts graduates of four-year colleges fared worse than average across most measures: They tend to be lower...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Our first guest on By the Company It Keeps is Tim Daly, President of TNTP. I’m a huge fan of Tim and his organization. In addition to being a highly talented and endlessly affable guy, he’s helped lead TNTP into rarified air. It is as influential on policy and practice as any education-reform organization around.

Tim Daly TNTP

Tim was a guiding force behind the seminal publication The Widget Effect and played a major role in the production of other top-flight TNTP reports like The Irreplaceables and Leap Year.

Earlier in his career he was a TFA corps member (having taught in Baltimore) and helped establish and expand the New York City Teaching Fellows program. With TNTP CEO Ariela Rozman (another total star), he received the 2012 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.

If future interviews turn out half as well as Tim’s, I’ll be thrilled. We learn a great deal, and the subject’s smarts, curiosity, and humility shine through. He even enlightens us about Garry Wills and Stan Musial.

As a matter of fact, the totality is so good that I’m willing to look past his grievous error about Sandy Koufax (he only had 165 career wins!).

Ladies and gentlemen, Tim Daly.

1.   How would you summarize the key...

Audit this, baby!

While discussing UFT pandering, Algebra 2 mandates, and Common Core consortia, Mike and Andy try very, very hard not to say the two magic words that rain down the wrath of the IRS (hint: they begin with T and P). Amber sorts through teacher sorting—but can she really do it in under a minute? Listen to find out!

Amber's Research Minute

Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” by Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb, and Tara Béteille, Sociology of Education 86(2): 103–123 (2013)

For the better part of three decades, states have been implementing all manner of school reforms, ranging from academic standards to district report cards, from statewide graduation tests to new technologies, from teacher evaluations to alternative certification, from charter schools to vouchers. Ohio is fairly typical in this regard. It’s been struggling with all of these and many more, mostly sent forth from the state capitol.

How do district leaders feel about education reform?
Real gains to student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, principals, and teachers.
Photo by michibanban

As the reform load has grown weightier, however, we at Fordham have come to understand more clearly that while lawmakers can help set the conditions for improvement (or get in the way of needed changes!), any real and sustainable gains to school and student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, school principals, and teachers. Along with students and families, they fuel the engines of improvement, even as state officials may turn the key. 

In the commercial world, Ohio has long been known as the country’s “test market” because if something sells in the Buckeye State, it is apt to sell nationwide. (Ben Wattenberg and the late Richard Scammon once wrote that the most typical American was a forty-seven-year-old suburban...

GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject. Sol Stern and Joel Klein commended the standards...

The Obama administration has shown commitment to evidence-based policies through its Head Start reforms, programs to reduce teen pregnancy, and efforts to boost parenting skills; it is time to show the same commitment for college-readiness programs, argues this policy brief. The brief, which accompanies the latest Future of Children journal issue, argues that the federal government’s major efforts to better prepare disadvantaged pupils for post-secondary education have yielded no rigorous proof of success. Yet we annually pump $1 billion into the so-called “TRIO programs” (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, and a few smaller programs). In order to streamline efforts—and to ensure program efficacy—the brief authors suggest that Congress consolidate all federal spending in this realm into a single competitive-grant program and fund a broad variety of intervention approaches (tutoring, counseling, and instruction) run by an array of proven providers. The long-time recipients of TRIO dollars will naturally hate this reform, but what’s the point of programs that don’t accomplish their objectives? A tough-minded approach might finally narrow the vast college-enrollment gap between the nation’s poorest and richest students.

SOURCE: Ron Haskins and Cecilia Elena Rouse, “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College” (Princeton-Brookings, The Future of Children Journal, vol. 23: no. 1, Spring 2013)....

Relinquishment is based on three principles: (1) educators should operate schools, (2) families should choose amongst these schools, and (3) government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

Outside of these three principles, I hold few ironclad beliefs on education. Yet in conversation, I find that others attribute principles to Relinquishment that I don’t hold. This probably stems from a lack of clear communication on my part, so let me provide additional clarity:

Relinquishment is not anti-union

Relinquishment is a reaction against management, not labor. Admittedly, I disagree with certain policies put forth by unions and their members, but individuals should possess the right to collectively bargain with their employers. Relinquishment only posits that the government should not be a party to the bargain; rather, the bargaining parties should be union and school operator. From here, results will dictate the future of unions. If unionized schools thrive, unions themselves will also thrive. I do understand that, from an organizing standpoint, unionizing decentralized charter schools will be more difficult than signing a singular collective bargaining contract with the district—but I do not believe this issue should trump the more salient issue of academic performance.

Relinquishment assumes equity in access is not the natural state of school systems

People concerned about ensuring that all public school students have equitable access to great schools often suggest that the best solution is to (1) force all kids into one system and (2) have that one operator allocate students to maximize equity. This rarely...

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