Charters & Choice

Glenn Beck ain't got nothin' on this podcast

Mike and 50CAN’s Marc Porter Magee take on career and technical education, sorting by student achievement, and charter schools’ noncognitive effects. Amber reports on charters’ productivity.

Amber's Research Minute

The Productivity of Public Charter Schools by Patrick J. Wolf, et al., (Fayetteville, AR: School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, July 2014).

Mike Petrilli:             Hello, this is your host Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me welcoming my co-host, the Glenn Beck of education policy, Marc Porter Magee!

Marc Magee:             Thank you, thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             I'm just kidding about the Glenn Beck part, I don't know that you have a whole lot in common with him other than that you are an excellent communicator, you understand social media, you understand the current populist movement in America today...

Marc Magee:             Go on, go on Mike. And it's my first time on the podcast.

Mike Petrilli:             That too, that too. And I mention Glenn Beck because today, or this week, or sometime around now, he is doing his "We will not conform" event about the common core where he is telling all these people, "Conform by coming to a movie theater and paying money" that I assume is going into  his pocket, "Buy my book," which is going into his pocket, and "Rally against the common core." You got to love the guy's gall.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, it's a good gig, I guess.

Mike Petrilli:             It's a good gig. Well, hey Marc, so you're wife, of course, Kathleen Porter Magee, who has been on the show many, many times, this is your first time, and you run a group called 50CAN. Though right now it should really be called, what, 9CAN?

Marc Magee:             7CAN? [crosstalk 01:33] Maybe 9CAN in the future. When we were starting, we started out in two states, Rhode Island and Minnesota, and John Sackler, one of our board members, used to joke that we should be called 2CAN, so we actually had a little toucan made up as our mock logo.

Mike Petrilli:             And we thought it was hilarious a couple years ago in our April Fool's Day Gadfly when we decided he would move to Canada and be called CanCAN.

Marc Magee:             That was a good one.

Mike Petrilli:             That's a good one!

Marc Magee:             One of my favorites is going to South Dakota and we'd be called SodaCAN.

Mike Petrilli:             We kill us! We kill us!

Marc Magee:             Have a little fun with the names.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so the thing to know about 50CAN is you are helping to start up the state based education reform organizations to push for things like, what? Accountability, high quality charter schools, teacher effectiveness policies, et cetera...

Marc Magee:             All those things and more.

Mike Petrilli:             And you have become an expert on advocacy in education reform and in fact you're doing some courses very soon that people can participate in!

Marc Magee:             They can! So we took everything that we are learning, across all of our different state campaigns, and organized it into a 3 hour workshop, so you can come and get up to speed on all of the different theories and practices of advocacy, and we are doing this with our friends and partners over at EdFuel. So they're running 2 2 day workshops, July 29th and 30th, and then later, August 6th and 7th. And I know you're going to be joining them as well, so we'd love to have people come out. If you go to the EdFuel website, which is EdFuel.org, they can sign up, and join us, and I believe there's even networking and drinks, so it's going to be fun.

Mike Petrilli:             Let me ask you a serious question.

Marc Magee:             Yes.

Mike Petrilli:             What if you get a mole there at this thing?

Marc Magee:             That is a serious question. So I would say-

Mike Petrilli:             Do we have some kind of now, I don't know, we need some spies in the education reform movement or do some counter intelligence to make sure that we're protected here!

Marc Magee:             When we were doing, we sort of tested this workshop out, we went and performed it for our friends over at grade schools last week, and I was joking at the beginning, "This is a little bit like a magician who's walking through all their tricks." But I think actually we're way too secretive in the advocacy world, and the benefits of bringing more people in and showing them how they could advocate too, far outstrip anything we get from keeping this things close to our vest.

Mike Petrilli:             Well that's good since this podcast will be on the internet! And everybody can have access to it. OK, let's get started, Marc, Pamela, let's play, "Pardon the Gadfly!"

Pamela Tatz:             In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Tamar Jacoby told the stories of students who sought out quality career and technical education and argued that the nation needs to show respect for practical training. Has the education reform movement been antagonistic to career and technical education?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes? Marc? What do you think?

Marc Magee:             I have a nuanced view on this, which is that I think, if we're trying to push a one size fits all model, where we're saying everyone needs to go to college and therefore all of our schools are going to be structured that way, then that violates the principle of choice. But so does the way we used to do it, where we're tracking kids into programs that closed off the opportunities for college. So I think there's a way to find our way to students really being able to follow what they're interested in, parents having genuine choices for their kids, and that is the way we're going to get to a point where technical education will be embraced and not seen as some kind of second class track.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so you're saying the key is the system can't make the choice for the student, it really has to be the student, and the parent, making that choice. Now we're talking about the, once kids are, say, 14, 15 years old, and the challenge is, even for career and technical education, or for a college prep kind of high school, you've got have pretty high level skills in reading, math, writing... that's what we're learning. And what happens to those kids who aren't even anywhere close to having those basic skills for even those kinds of programs, that's a big challenge in education reform. But Marc, don't you think we have been overly obsessed with college prep high schools? I can't think of any high profile charter school chains that are explicitly focused on career and technical education. All of the big name ones that get a ton of funding and a ton of attention are college prep.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, I think that's true in terms of what we as a reform community are holding up as the models we want people to pay attention to. But on the ground, I think you're seeing local reformers doing a lot more in this direction. So one of the earliest portfolio models that we were involved in was in Connecticut under Superintendent Adamowski. One of the first things he did was actually create a nursing academy high school. And a lot of other themed approaches to schools that were different than just, "Oh, you want a choice, here's this one high performing college bound model."

Mike Petrilli:             Very good. Topic number 2.

Pamela Tatz:             An analysis done by WBEZ found that Chicago's school choice system sorts students into separate high schools based on their achievement levels. Is this unintended consequence cause for concern?

Mike Petrilli:             I'm not even sure it's unintended, right? And I'm not sure it should be cause for concern! Here's, again on this same topic here, is this about tracking or is it about trying to make sure that there are good choices out there for lots of different kids. Right now I think the kids that get hosed by our system more than anybody else are low income kids who are high achieving. And they are asked to go into these big urban comprehensive high schools and just sit there and not get challenged. And this, having more selective schools, or some schools where they can be around other kids that are high achieving, it actually means they get to be challenged like the affluent high achieving kids in the suburbs.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, I do think it's really unfair the way we frame up these questions sometimes, where we seem to make the case that the high performing kids in low performing cities need to be sacrificing for everyone else. We really never ask that question of suburban kids. I think, to your question, is it unintended, if we're putting testing provisions on high schools then that probably is going to result in some sorting. I think maybe we were surprised to the degree of sorting. I think in the  story they talk about 96% of the top scoring kids ended up in six of these high schools. And I do think as education reform becomes bigger, and takes on a larger role in designing systems, these questions of what happens to the whole system as these reforms kick in, is a real one. Because I think we can all agree that we should not hold back high performing kids, but if the result is that we end up with a few high schools where all of the low performing kids are pooled, then we've got an even bigger problem.

Mike Petrilli:             I guess, Marc, but I guess that's why we need to be honest about this, and admit that there are trade offs, and an earlier generation of reformers were all about de-tracking, there's that word again, and we understand why, that it didn't feel right for the system to be making those choices, and we also knew that a lot of kids were tracked into what were very much dead end tracks, that weren't going anywhere. So, it's good that we have tried to get rid of those dead end tracks and make sure that even the kids on the... even the lowest performing kids, the schools are expected to get them to some basic literacy and numeracy that's going to help them be successful in their life.

                                    All good! But we have to wrestle with the fact that there is such a thing as pure effects, basically everybody does better if they're around high achieving kids. It helps the low achievers but it also helps the high achievers, and this is one of these things where there are only so many in these systems, high achievers to go around, so you do have to start to make some choices. And you say, "Well, is it more important to give high achievers challenge by putting them around other high achievers, or to maybe help bring up the performance of low achievers by exposing them to the high achievers?" It's kind of sacrificing the high achievers. These are really tough moral questions. I feel like we tends to paper over those issues in education reform with a lot of happy talk  like, "Everybody can get exactly what we need." These are the kinds of questions... and at the very least let's be open about the choices we face.

Marc Magee:             Yes, it's a very economic view. I feel like that's the tough hard trade offs that we often don't confront. We can't just snap our fingers and make it all go away.

Mike Petrilli:             Well, I get the equity push, that feels wrong to say that, "Well, we're going to preference the high achievers." And particularly if you're in a system where the high achievers are also the most affluent, or the... But we're usually now talking about urban systems, where basically, almost everybody's poor, right? And the affluent high achievers, their parents by and large have left the cities and moved to the suburbs or gone to private schools. They have found a way to ensure that their kids are in environments where they're around other high achieving kids. That's our system, I'm doing it with my own kids, there you have it, right? So I just think sometimes the equity advocates, they just lose the forest for the trees. What they don't see is their advocacy for equity is actually hurting a class of low income kids.

                                   

Marc Magee:             Yeah. And I think we would all feel better about providing these high achievers with these exclusive opportunities if we were doing a better job of making progress in the rest... This goes on if we didn't see low performers getting concentrated into a couple of neighborhood schools that are getting left behind.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, Pamela, topic number 3!

Pamela Tatz:             A UCLA and Rand survey finds evidence suggesting that attending a high performance charter school reduces the rates of high risk health behaviors among low income teenagers. Do you think this is evidence of charter effectiveness or skimming?

Marc Magee:             One of the things I thought was really interesting about this story is I've thought for a while that while we often point to test scores to say charter schools are doing better with kids, when you go and visit these high performing charter schools, you see them going way beyond just what it would take to get the test scores right and engaging the parents, engaging the communities, really changing life courses and behavior. So it's great to see us widening our view to see that there actually are bigger impacts than just test scores.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, and it was interesting. Specifically what they looked at were risky behaviors, like having unprotected sex, or binge drinking and the charter school kids were self reporting to do those things less frequently. They're self reports, in these schools they were not randomly assigned to these schools, so we really can't look at causation. And it's an interesting questions. You say, "Are these kids engaging in fewer risky behaviors because something they've learned at their charter school, or is it that kids who engage in less risky behaviors to begin with were the ones that were interested in these charter schools?" In other words, is this some indication that, aha, these schools, these kids, even though they may be poor, they may be eligible for free lunch, they might be in some way more advantaged than the other kids. Their families might be more intact or functional or whatever, and that's showing up in the data.

Marc Magee:             Yeah. We've started to... that's the perennial question we've had even with test scores is selection bias.

Mike Petrilli:             Selection bias.

Marc Magee:             And we've largely started to solve that question with more sophisticated studies, more experimental studies, tracking kids over time. I'd love to see us start to fold in these larger questions about outcome variables, and answer, "Is it really changing... giving kids so much more than just the basic knowledge?"

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely, and the studies that have been out there that are quite rigorous, there have been a few looking at charter schools and at voucher schools, and what they tend to show is that the long term outcomes far outpace what you'd expect just from the relatively small improvements in test scores. In other words, the charter schools and the voucher schools do better on test scores, but they do way better on some of these other long term outcomes, and that might be the non cognitive stuff, the character stuff, all this other stuff that we talk about.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. So we do this survey that couple months ago we put out, and we asked parents, what do they care most about in long term effects of a school? Setting their kids up for a job came in fourth, number one was character, number two was leadership. So, I think we'll go much further in really understanding how to give parents the education they want for their kids, if we can speak to these values issues.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. Alright, excellent Marc! Well played! That's all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly, now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute! Amber, welcome back to the show!

Amber Northern:      Thank you Mike!

Mike Petrilli:             Amber, before the whole common core thing, I'm just curious, did you like Glenn Beck?

Amber Northern:      I did. I kind of liked him, and now he's just gotten too... I guess I didn't realize he was extreme and didn't really look at data too much, I don't know. I just feel like I've had a change of opinion about him, and I really liked him, so I feel like I'm now leery of him. Because of this whole issue, it's raised my suspicions about him and how much he really looks into issues instead of just relying on the rhetoric.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, it's interesting, my mom, of course, is very angry at Fox News for being so anti common core all the time, thank you Mom, and I think it has raised some questions for her about some of the other Fox News reporting. Starts to think about maybe on these other issues that we don't follow as closely, are they being unfair on some of those things?

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Not that this doesn't happen on the liberal side of the aisle either, Marc.

Amber Northern:      That's right, that's right.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so Amber, what you got for us this week?

Amber Northern:      We have a new report out from the University of Arkansas that compares the productivity of public charter schools and traditional schools, both in terms of their cost effectiveness and return on investment, or ROI.  For the cost effectiveness analysis, they consider how many test score points students gain on the NAPE 2010-2011, for each thousand dollars invested in their public education in the charter compared to traditional sector. You got that?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, sort of.

Amber Northern:      Key finding, for every thousand dollars invested, charter students earned a weighted average of an additional 17 points in math and 16 additional points in reading on NAPE compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special ed status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40% more cost effective, according to their calculations. And then a little bit about the return on investment, that calculates ROI by converting the learning gains over time by students in charter and traditional sectors into an estimate of the economic returns over a lifetime. This is Eric Hanushek's stuff, OK? In comparing those returns to the revenue amounts invested in their education. Key finding... I know, it's a...

Marc Magee:             Should we high five now?

Amber Northern:      Using Eric Hanushek's estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, we find that public charter schools delivered a 3% increase in lifetime economic gains, was the terminology they wanted to use, they didn't want to just say salary for a bunch of different reasons. For a student who attends a charter for one year, they look at how long if you're in a charter one year, six years, however years, a 19% increase for students who attend half of their K12 education. So bottom line, this obviously looks pretty good for the charter sector but they end with a discussion that I think makes a lot of sense, which is, "Does a higher productivity rest on the fact that charters get less funding to begin with? And they're therefore more disciplined in how they use these dollars, and if they were funded equally, which is what a lot of folks have been wanting, would we actually see these same productivity patterns?

Mike Petrilli:             Right, that nationally, at least, it looks like the charters are pretty similar to traditional public schools, in terms of test score gains, but they are 30% cheaper. Right?

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             So the point is not so much that they out perform traditional public schools, they do maybe by a little bit, but really where this all is coming from is they're much less expensive.

Amber Northern:      Right, per dollar.

Mike Petrilli:             They're getting a lot less money. And so what... I saw Bruce Baker from Rutger's got something up online about this, I haven't had a chance to look at it closely yet, what are people going to say? Are they going to just question the...

Amber Northern:      Yeah, so Bruce is going to say it's because they have... it's going to be a difference of the sped kids, and it's going to be a difference in the disadvantaged kids, but they spend a lot of time at the front end of the report saying, "guess what? The charters tend to reflect the demographics of the area," and so these charters are actually serving more disadvantaged kids. So that doesn't hold water.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, let me push back on one thing, though. So let's say we know that there's other traditional public schools that tend to be low spending schools. Let's say rural schools, tend to spend less than other schools, and you control for demographics and all of that, and even though they spend less, the results look pretty similar to other similar schools in the state, right? You could make the same argument for them, and it may be simply that because spending doesn't matter.

Amber Northern:      Could be.

Mike Petrilli:             Right. So we just don't know.

Marc Magee:             When you have it, you spend it. Sometimes you spend it on things that actually help kids, and sometimes you don’t.

Mike Petrilli:             Right. So maybe the answer here, Marc, I know, I've a great idea for you for advocacy. You should go out and advocate a 30% cut for all traditional public schools.

Marc Magee:             We just want kids to do better. And the efficiency argument is great, but hopefully we're figuring out a way, we got so many gains we need to make. If we're going to put any extra dollars into the system, how do we learn from this so that it actually gets results?

Mike Petrilli:             Very nicely said.

Marc Magee:             What do you think, Amber, are you convinced? Is this important? Certainly people like Marc are going to use it for advocacy.

Amber Northern:      Yeah, I think it's important, but you're right, at the end of the day, we care about the gains. The money matters, it's important to look at this stuff. But I don't know, it's hard to parse, because you can roll out a study that says that really shows that money matters, and you can roll out a study that says that it doesn't. So I think this is still in dispute, this whole question.

Mike Petrilli:             You know, one thing that is cool is they're basically combining their previous analysis on charter spending and the credo results in terms of achievement, and you put that together, and a few cities really do pop out as doing something very well. Like D.C...

Amber Northern:      D.C.

Mike Petrilli:             They spent a ton of money, but compared to the D.C. Public Schools, they spend less and they get a really strong results. Few other states that have a strong showing. Our home state of Ohio looking pretty mediocre as they have on other measures. But again the lesson we looked at this in the Walkathon, Marc, is that some states are doing the charter thing much better than others. That's an issue about policy, authorizing, spending, it's also an issue about...

Amber Northern:      Operators.

Mike Petrilli:             Being able to do operate... recruiting great people. So this is where we inside the reform movement need to keep learning, is saying, "What do we keep doing to get those laggard states and cities to look a lot more like the D.C.s, or the Tennessees, or the Rhode Islands, and less like...

Marc Magee:             Rhode Island! [crosstalk 19:44] Little Rhodie, always overlooked!

Mike Petrilli:             Little Rhodie! I did that for you, Marc.

Marc Magee:             Thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             And less like the Ohios, and the Texases of the movement.

Amber Northern:      Good summary.

Mike Petrilli:             Excellent. Alright, well, that is all the time we've got for this week! Until next week...

Marc Magee:             Hi, I'm Marc Porter Magee.

Mike Petrilli:             Almost a little bit early there, Marc, a little too...

Amber Northern:      Jumping the gun.

Mike Petrilli:             Too fast on the draw. Marc Porter Magee, thank you for joining us! I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education Gadfly Show, signing off.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An edited version of this piece appeared as a letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, July 19, 2014.

School choice often engenders controversy. From districts arguing amongst themselves about the impact of open enrollment to charter schools and districts squabbling over funding and facilities, the Buckeye state—a national leader in providing education options to parents—is no stranger to the debates that arise about school choice.

In a July 8 editorial (“The law is the law”), the Columbus Dispatch called out two Ohio districts for allegedly circumventing public-records laws in order to prevent families from knowing about their school-choice options. The editorial drew attention to a current lawsuit brought by School Choice Ohio (SCO) against Cincinnati Public Schools and Springfield City Schools. Dispatch editors wrote, “Public schools understandably want to avoid this [losing students to private schools], but they should fight against it by making their schools safer and more effective—not by scheming to prevent families from knowing about their options. Scheming in defiance of state law would be even worse.”

That sums it up quite nicely. The legal and ethical implications of Cincinnati’s and Springfield’s actions are clear: hiding voucher eligibility from students and their families, many of whom are stuck in failing schools, isn’t just dishonest, unfair, and shameful—it’s also illegal. But the most compelling part of the Dispatch’s argument is that if public schools don’t want to lose students to other schools, they must...

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The latest report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) examines how cities with a significant amount of school choice can ensure that it works for more families. Starting with a case study of Detroit, a city where families have a plethora of school options but precious few that could be called high quality, the report paints a picture of the challenges faced by Motor City parents. Testing their observations from Detroit, CRPE expands its focus by surveying 4,000 public school parents in eight cities (including Cleveland). The survey shows that while families from all walks of life are now actively choosing their kids’ schools (55 percent), the majority of parents (61 percent) considered only one or two schools. One explanation might be the barriers parents face when choosing a school: 33 percent had difficulty understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend, 25 percent said they had difficulty getting information about schools, and 26 percent lacked convenient transportation. The report also found that, by and large, disadvantaged, less educated parents and parents of students with special needs are far more likely to experience difficulties in exercising choice. Finally, the report suggests that the fractured governance structure in place in many cities effectively means that no one is focused on overall school quality or removing the barriers faced by parents. Fixing the governance issues this report raises will require city and state-wide action to more efficiently align services and resources across district and charter boundaries—and that could prove...

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Ode to Weird Al

Pardon the Gadfly

Mike and Dara talk school discipline, teacher-prep programs, and high school exit exams.

Amber's Research Minute

Amber gets practical about school choice. Making School Choice Work Michael DeArmond, Ashley Jochim, and Robin Lake, (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, July 2014).

Mike: This is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me welcoming my cohost, the Weird Al of education policy, Dara Zeehandelaar.

Dara: How did I know you were going to say that?

Mike: I love these news songs that Weird Al is out with. I have to admit, I’m a big Weird Al fan. I mean, go figure. Word play, parody singing, he's got it all. Do you have a favorite Weird Al song?

Dara: I don’t find him particularly funny or entertaining?

Mike: What, are you serious?

Dara: Yeah, and this is not just now? This has been since whatever the … in the 90s and “Eat It.”

Dara: See, I just … I think that he's clever, but it’s not really my cup of tea, maybe for the same reason that I can’t stand karaoke and I really don’t like cover bands, either.

Mike: Oh, Dara. What is this?

Dara: I hate fun. I hate fun, Mike.

Mike: There it is. You have now alienated most of our listeners, all right, with all of that.

Dara: I hate fun.

Mike: You are somebody who likes to go run for fun. That right there is a sign.

Dara: I’d rather listen to the original, and if that means a DJ instead of a cover band at a party, then fine.

Mike: You don’t listen to Weird Al because of the music. You listen because of the funny lyrics.

Dara: Okay.

Mike: “Just eat it. Just eat it.” That is my favorite, I have to say.

Dara: Why?

Mike: Because I never quite understood the original lyrics on that one, “Just beat it.” Anyway, “Just Eat It,” that was a great song.

Dara: It’s funny. I never really … I knew you—

Mike: You don’t like puns either, do you?

Dara: I knew you … It’s because I hate fun and I’m not funny.

Mike: You know …

Dara: I knew you were going to come in and ask me …

Mike: You know, the ironic thing is—and I hope this is irony, but maybe it’s not—is that Dara’s actually very good at our April Fool’s Day Gadfly efforts. She comes up with some of the best ideas. You are funny.

Dara: Because I’m always the straight man. I’m the last with the joke. I’ll think of the punchline like two hours after the joke, so I can do the straight stuff, but I’m not … I’m just not very clever, Mike, it’s true.

Mike: If you haven’t, check out Weird Al’s new song “Word Crimes.” It’s an ode to those grammar hawks like Pamela and a lot of fun. Okay, let’s play Pardon the Gadfly. Pamela, kick us off.

Pardon the Gadfly

Pamela: Mike, in today’s Gadfly, you argue that the Obama administration’s application of disparate impact theory to its school discipline enforcement policy is an enormous mistake. Can you elaborate?

Mike: It’s a really, really big enormous mistake? Is that what you had in mind?

Pamela: Yeah, about that.

Mike: Okay, yeah. Here's the deal. Dara, look, totally understand the point that there are schools out there that are not doing school discipline well. They don’t have a strong school culture. They resort to a lot of suspensions and even expulsions, and in some of these schools, you look at the numbers, and it’s mostly black and Latino boys who are being expelled and suspended in high numbers.

The office of civil rights looks at this and says, “We've got to do something about this.” Okay, I certainly understand that there may be schools out there that are not doing this well, and that might even be discriminating, and it’s the job of office of civil rights to deal with that.

Here's the problem. They’ve come out with this policy that said explicitly to administrators, “Even if you have a policy that is race neutral, and you apply it in a race neutral way - okay, there's no evidence that you’re treating, in other words, African-American kids differently than white kids - you can still be found guilty of discrimination if it has a disparate impact.” In other words, if you end up suspending more black or Latino kids than white or Asian kids, I think that’s nuts. What do you think?

Dara: From a former teacher perspective, I had no idea what the discipline policy at my school was. I didn’t even know how to discipline a student should that occur. I think that this is perhaps giving too much credit that there is actual thought put into these policies. I mean, at my school, discipline was handled by one person. It was the assistant principal.

Mike: You were at a big high school.

Dara: I was at a large urban school, and beyond that, I had no idea how my school handled discipline. Suspension, in-house suspension, sent home. Search me. I think in order for any discipline policy to work, you have to … In order for any discipline policy to work, you have to acknowledge that most people have no idea what they’re doing.

Mike: You mean the teachers don’t have a good strategy, and that the schools don’t have an actual plan. I mean, you go into some of these high-performing schools, including high-performing charter schools and some Catholic schools, and they do. They have a school-wide approach to these issues, and they say very explicitly, “Here's how we handle these things. Here's how we try to create a positive learning environment.”

They train the teachers on it, and the whole hope is to get to the point where you don’t have to suspend kids or discipline kids because you’re sweating the small stuff, and you're making sure that these problems don’t happen in the first place, but if they do happen, they have a plan for dealing with them, right? I totally get it. We should help schools get much better at this than they are today, but some of those charter schools still end up from time to time suspending kids, and in my view, that's okay. That’s important because you know what? It’s not just about the kids who get suspended, and what's the best way to handle their problems, maybe help them get back on the straight and narrow.

It’s also about all the other kids, and we know that disruptive students, one disruptive kid can have a huge negative impact on student achievement if teachers feel like they have no option but to keep that kid in the class.

Dara: Right, so I think that ultimately, I’m agreeing with you, but what I think is important is that you can’t … You can’t include something like disparate impact theory saying that a discipline policy has a disparate impact when it implies that there is a discipline policy to begin with.

Mike: Gotcha. Very, very good. Okay, topic number two.

Pamela: Also in today’s Gadfly, Boston middle school teacher Peter Sipe argues that ed. schools don’t prepare teachers well enough for the classroom, illustrating his point by comparing his ed. school experience with his wife’s medical school experience. Should ed. schools focus more on practical training, or should teachers continue to gain that with on-the-job experience.

Mike: Oh, Dara, this piece is just aggravating. It’s so well-written, but he shows … I mean, his wife’s in there cramming for exams learning practical things like, I don't know, how to cut open bodies and stuff, and he's sitting around talking education theory for hours on end. Why are our ed. schools seem so against teaching teachers practical stuff that might help them in the classroom?

Dara: Okay, you just said a lot there, Mike, and I will briefly say and not dwell on the fact that I highly disagree with the author.

Mike: Okay.

Dara: That training teachers and training doctors are two completely different things. Okay, so I’m going to put that aside for a second. Putting aside the faulty analogy here, the question that Pamela asks is should ed. schools focus more on practical training. The fact is, they do. Part of the traditional ed. school preparation is a large amount of student teaching.

Mike: Mmm-hmm (affirmative).

Dara: What they are lacking, however, is meaningful feedback and reflexivity on that student teaching experience.

Mike: Yeah.

Dara: I think it’s … You have to … Saying that ed. schools don’t have any practical training is misleading. They do.

Mike: All right, that’s fair. Student teaching.

Dara: There's very little guidance, and especially the fact that you unleash a new teacher in a classroom with zero supervision, there's another big failing, right, that you assume that once you’ve given them this training that they do have the practical skills and they have a once-a-year observation or maybe twice with the new teacher mentor or something like that. I think that really what is lacking here is meaningful practical preparation.

Is there too much theory taught in ed. schools? Probably, but saying that there is no practical knowledge is not entirely accurate, I think.

Mike: All right. Let me talk about my own experience. Many, many moons ago now, going through to ed. school, University of Michigan, right? I did this on the side, had my political science degree, and then I got my teaching certification on the side, and yes, I did student teaching, so that was practical, did not get a whole lot of great feedback, but otherwise, the courses I took, they were both super easy - I mean, everybody knew you were going to get an A without doing any work. It was totally different than my poli-sci classes, but also, they were all theory.

I mean, we sat around talking about Piaget. Fine, okay, but then you pick up the book, like the newish, recent book by Doug Lemov, and here he says, “Here's these practical things I’m going to teach you about how to be an effective teacher, how to stand in front of the room, what to do when the kids come in, how to make eye contact, how to ask questions.”

Ed. schools by and large have said, “No, no, no, we are not about that. That is vocational training. That is the kind of thing that might happen at one of those two-year community colleges. We are part of academia, and as part of academia, what we do is we talk about … We have a body of scholarship, and we share that, and we do research, and we share that too.” All of which is to say, well, fine, then you know what? Maybe four-year colleges should not be training teachers because they seem to think it’s below them to provide practical help for their teachers.

Med schools don’t seem to worry about this. I don’t think law schools, business schools … Most of these other professional schools seem to understand that part of their job is to help their graduates actually succeed on the job.

Dara: I think “n” of two here, right, I think that your experience is not what we should be aiming for and this idea that you can include vocational training into teacher preparation is absurd.

Mike: Thank you.

Dara: My experience was different from yours. I went through an alternative certification program, and half of my boot camp classes were theory, and we learned about Piaget too, but the other half, literally, one of classroom class assignments for our class was “What are you going to do on the first school? Write a first-year lesson plan.”

Mike: Good.

Dara: Teaching icebreaker activities. Teaching classroom management.

Mike: Good.

Dara: I did have some of that practical training in my experience. Interestingly, obviously, my theory classes were taught by university professors. The practical classes were taught by teachers.

Mike: Yeah, makes sense. By the way, can we get Piaget out of the curriculum? I mean, that guy just really annoys me. How about Paulo Freire, for God’s sake. You didn’t have Paulo Freire.

Dara: I did have Freire. I liked Freire.

Mike: You liked Freire? Are you serious? He tried to run the schools down there in South America. It was a complete disaster.

Dara: Not until grad school, all right.

Mike: Pamela, topic number three.

Pamela: During the Common Core transition, 21 states will continue to make students pass exit exams in order to graduate from high school, and 10 of these states will switch to tougher Common Core aligned tasks. Anne Hyslop argues in a recent policy brief that unless states address the possible consequences, this could be a disaster. How should states handle this?

Mike: So Dara, this is not going to be a disaster because I can’t imagine any state is going to be dumb enough to say, “Hey, we’re going to use a much tougher test, and we’re going to set these super high cut scores, and we’re not going to change our policies around graduation requirements at all.” Anne is right to say that states have to figure out a plan and how they’re going to handle this transition.

Dara: I think that is an excellent point. We’re not headed towards disaster, and obviously states have to thing strategically about this, but they already did this the first time they implemented a high school exit exam. For example, in California, students take the CAHSEE, the exit exam, in the 10th grade for the first time. They have up until the 12th grade to pass it, and it’s already aligned with the state standards, just not necessarily at a 10th grade level. This question of high school exit exams aligned to state standards is not a new one, and it hasn’t been disastrous yet.

Mike: All right, but what states will need to do, most likely, is they had to set two different passing scores, right? The whole promise of Common Core is to have a high cut score that meaningfully measures college and career readiness. For 11th graders or 12th graders, you say, “If you hit this score, we predict that you will be able to go take credit-bearing courses in college or get a decent paying job.” You’ve got to make sure that is maintained.

That should not be the level that you have to hit in order to graduate from high school because we’re pretty sure that the first few years it’s going to be something like a third of our kids who are hitting that level, and we are not going to flunk two-thirds of the kids and not give them high school diplomas. That means you got to set a lower level as well that indicates more some kind of basic literacy and numeracy. That is what should be tied to high school graduation.

Dara: I think I agree with you and all, so channel checker for a moment, which is to say that a smart exit exam system will also be used by the state university system, and instead of having an SAT or an ACT or something like that, that you have this test whose results can be applied more universally. Again, it’s do you get a diploma? Are you college and career ready, and for entrances into the high education system.

Mike: That’s a tough one, I have to say. I don’t think we’re going to much success in getting colleges to use it for their admissions necessarily, but there is a move to make them or encourage them to use it for placement. They’ve got these other tests out there. They use Accuplacer and other things to decide if the kid ends up in remedial education, and the hope is say, “Hey, if you pass the park or smarter balance at the college and career-ready level, that should mean that you do not have to take a remedial course.” End of story.

Dara: It was worth the plug.

Mike: It was worth the attempt, Dara. Very nicely said. Okay, that’s all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite, Amber’s Research Minute.

Amber’s Research Minute

Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber: Thank you, Mike.

Mike: So Amber, Dara loves Weird Al. I’m just wondering if you do too.

Dara: Dara does not.

Amber: I used to think he was pretty creepy. Still think he's kind of creepy?

Mike: He did used to look … He still looks a little creepy.

Amber: Yeah, the hair and the lankiness, I don't know.

Mike: I’m not asking you to kiss the guy. I just want to know like do you find his songs funny?

Amber: Oh, funny. I mean, I guess in some elementary school way, right?

Dara: I just don’t find him particularly entertaining, that's all.

Mike: I am now out on a limb.

Dara: Did Nico find him entertaining, Mike?

Mike: I did have Nico watch “Word Crimes,” and yes, Nico thought it was very funny, especially the line about hitting the guy over the head with a sledge hammer or something like that. That stood out to Nico.

Dara: So, makes sense.

Mike: Fine. They always say never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. All right, you and Dara. No sense of humor at all.

Amber: Sorry.

Mike: What you got for this week, Amber?

Amber: We've got a new report out from the Center for Reinventing Public Education called Making School Choice Work. It surveys 4000 parents and interviews other civic leaders in eight choice-rich cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indy, New Orleans, Philly, Washington DC, and helps …

The report’s purpose was to help civic leaders in these cities, help them improve their existing choice system, regardless of whether these parents have kids in charter or traditional schools.

Three key findings: One, the majority of parents are actively choosing a school for their child, though they also report considering just one or two schools, so the natural question is how many options are there to begin with, and then on that question, about half report that if their current school was not available, there were no other schools that would satisfy them.

Number two, parents identify a number of barriers to choosing schools, including inadequate information, transportation, and a lack of quality options. Not understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend was the most often-cited barrier. Those challenges were not unique to the charter or the district sector.

Last, responsibility for schools often fall to multiple parties: school districts, charter school authorizers, state agencies, and so on and so forth, and too many cooks in the kitchen makes it difficult for parents to navigate information they found, so we know this. Phoenix has 28 school districts. Houston has 19. If you think about a charter operator trying to coordinate an enrollment timeline, for instance, and having to negotiate agreements with all those districts would be a nightmare. They give you some pragmatic examples of what these governance challenges, how they’re impeding quality school choice.

In the end, they recommend that in some cases, we need to change laws to ensure districts and charter authorizers are working together. Maybe we need to address … Governance seemed to be the big thing that they ended up with because you just got a morass of different people with their hands in the pie, and they cannot coordinate, and parents are confused in some cases. Anyway, I think some of this stuff we knew, but to have this information out of the mouths of parents is exceedingly helpful.

Mike: That point about governance, Robin Lake from CRPE  has been writing about Detroit especially, though I think this probably certainly applies to cities in Ohio we know too where you’ve got multiple authorizers, many of whom aren’t there in the city. They’re all of the state of Michigan, and they may be authorizing schools that are not very good, right?

Amber: Right.

Mike: There's nobody in charge, right? There's nobody … Somebody in Detroit, if the mayors say, “Hey, we've got to shut down these bad charter schools,” there’s not a lot … He can’t do it, right?

Amber: That’s right.

Mike: On the one hand, you say, “Look, this is dynamic. There's a free market. There's a lot of competition.” On the other hand, it feels a little bit like the wild west, and when you’ve got a real quality problem, say, “I don't know how to get our hands around this.” It’s a problem.

Amber: It’s a problem.

Dara: Did they have any recommendations or observe any differences in cities that had a common application?

Amber: Not that I am aware of. The drilldown they did was Denver, and what they're going to do, I mean, they said … I mean, it’s apparently a whole body of work. The next reports are going to drill down in each of these cities, so I’m anticipating that they’ll address that question in upcoming reports.

Mike: You would think that the common application should help, and that’s something that’s important. Look, CRPE does great work on just getting these details right. In my view, the big argument on school choice is over. I can’t imagine that we’re going to …

Mike: We’re not going to go back to a day when parents don’t have choices. Now the question is, how we make the system work, as they said in the title here. How do we get the infrastructure? How do we deal with quality? How do we deal with these different trade-offs around flexibility and regulation. All of these things, which in some ways are very wonky and technical, but they’re critical.

Dara: Isn’t this striking that the key barrier from a parent’s point of view is “Can my kid go to that school? Are they allowed?”

Mike: Sure, sure, yes.

Dara: How do I find out if they’re allowed?

Mike: How do I find out? It’s confusing.

Dara: That’s the most basic question, right?

Mike: You would think that GreatSchools and some of these other folks that are focused on providing parent information, this should be fixable. I mean, we should be able to figure out a way to get good information to parent that … That one … There are some other problems that might be harder to deal with, right?

Dara: Right, so like a charter support organization, like here in DC, like The Focus, like a group like that.

Mike: Yeah, sure, or something that's really parent facing, like GreatSchools that says, “We’re going to make sure that parents have a way, either online or in some kind of walk-up, walk-in center where they can get clear information on “Here are the choices. If you want sometimes within a mile of your house, here's what you might look at. Three miles, five miles.”

Dara: That’s right.

Mike: Here's the best information we have in terms of whether these are quality choices. I mean, that should be doable at this point.

Amber: I agree, like a central warehouse, right? A parent’s not like, “Okay, I've got to call the charter school up the road,” or if you asked your district school, like, “What are my options?” Not a huge incentive there to answer that question, which we found out in previous research.

Mike: Absolutely. Good. Okay, thank you, Amber. That is all the time we've got for the Research Minute and the Education Gadfly Show. Until next time.

Dara: I’m Dara Zeehandelaar.

Mike: And I am Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Announcer: The Education Gadfly Show is a production of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington DC. For more information, visit us online at edexcellence.net.

 

In recent years, Ohio’s businesses have lamented the challenge of hiring highly skilled employees. Surprisingly, this has occurred even as 7 percent of able-bodied Ohioans have been unemployed. Some have argued that the crux of the problem boils down to a mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of job-seeking workers. A new study from Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution sheds new light on the difficulty that employers face when hiring for jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Using a database compiled by Burning Glass, a job-analytics company, the Rothwell examines 1.1 million job postings from 52,000 companies during the first quarter of 2013. The study approximates the relative demand for STEM vis-à-vis non-STEM jobs by comparing the duration of time that the job vacancies are posted. Hence, a job posted for an extended period of time is considered hard to fill (i.e., “in demand”).[1] As expected, Rothwell finds that STEM-related job postings were posted for longer periods than non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs were advertised, on average, for thirty-nine days, compared to thirty-three days for non-STEM jobs. The longer posting periods for STEM jobs were consistent across all education levels—from STEM jobs that required a minimum of a graduate-level degree to “blue-collar” STEM jobs that required less than a college degree. For Ohioans, the study also includes a useful interactive webpage that slices the data for the state’s six metropolitan areas (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus,...

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The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released results from its latest public-opinion survey. The national survey of 1,007 adults examined their views concerning the state of American education, with a particular focus on school choice, the Common Core, and standardized testing. The survey shows that most Americans—58 percent of those surveyed—tend to think that K–12 education has “gotten off on the wrong track.” Interestingly, those who are white, higher income, residents of rural areas, and older tended to express the least satisfaction with K–12 education. High percentages of respondents support various school-choice reforms. Big takeaways include the following: Charter schools and vouchers are supported broadly across racial, income, and political-party segments. Overall, 61 percent say they favor charter schools, while only 26 percent say they oppose them. Similarly, 63 percent say they support school vouchers, with only 33 percent opposing them. When it comes to accountability for test results, 62 percent of those surveyed say that teachers should be held accountable. But fewer respondents thought principals should be held accountable (50 percent), and just 40 percent thought state officials should be accountable. Finally, half of the respondents expressed support for the Common Core. What the public thinks matters—and in this new survey, the results pose an interesting (if unintended) question: If choice programs have so much public support, why are they so politically controversial?

Source: Paul DiPerna, 2014 Schooling In America Survey (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, June 2014)....

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Inter-district open enrollment often flies under the radar in discussions about school choice. It may be that way because it has been around so long (established in 1989 and operating in its current form since 1998); perhaps because it is not universally available or because many of the most-desirable districts do not allow open enrollment; or perhaps because it is choice “within the family” (that is, the traditional district family). Despite its usual low-profile, two recent newspaper stories shined light on the topic of open enrollment, showing a disconnect between those administering this unsung school choice program and those who actually use it.

From a district’s point of view, open enrollment can easily devolve into “just business” – dollars in and dollars out to be accounted for year after year. Just check out this story from Hancock County in Northwest Ohio. Net financial “winners”—those districts that have more open-enrollee students coming in than leaving—seem to be fine with the system, as might be expected. But net financial “losers” are objecting more strenuously as the losses go on. Their objections, however, often have very little to do with why students are attending a school outside of their “home” district. In fact, most of the district officials quoted in this in-depth piece don’t even seem curious as to why large numbers of their residents are opting to go somewhere else when given the opportunity – even when seizing that “opportunity” requires jumping through several hoops.

When long application lines and even...

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When it comes to educational options, there are sundry open doors available to the nation’s more affluent kids—and far fewer for their poorer peers to walk through. In her new book, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley follows the trajectories of ten children from less-than-ideal circumstances who are given the opportunity to attend private schools via in the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a nationwide initiative founded in 1998 (and funded by Ted Forstmann and John Walton, both now deceased) that offers tuition assistance to low-income students in grades K–8. Each of the ten kids are given their own chapter, and the stories are peppered with asides on education-policy topics like college and career readiness, private school diversity, and the monetary value of a high school diploma. These uplifting, journalistic stories are a perfect summer read and make a compelling argument for expanding parental choice in education. (For a complementary look at how private schools adjust to an influx of scholarship students, see Fordham’s Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers.)

SOURCE: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Opportunity and Hope: Transforming Children's Lives through Scholarships (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014).

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On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

VIDEO: On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

Richard Whitmire’s forthcoming book, On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope, is “the best account yet of what is happening with charters,” says the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews. But big questions still abound: Can Rocketship and other high-performing schools scale up quickly, a la the “Fibonacci sequence”? Can charters do so without falling into the pitfalls of the past? Will struggling urban areas embrace this form of school choice? And what about smug suburbs?

Join the Fordham Institute for a conversation with Whitmire and a panel of experts about his book, the Rocketship network, and the future of charter schooling. 

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