Curriculum & Instruction

The Sopranos edition

Common Core reading wars, union endorsements of convicted felons, schools that encourage patriotism, and the health of the charter movement.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

The civics edition

Independence scotched, letting 16-year-olds vote, destructive school boards, think tank journalism, and a deep dive on instructional practices.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics, vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

Transcript

Michelle:       Hello, this is your host, Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Braveheart of ed reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:           Freedom. How was that?

Michelle:       Eh, not loud enough. See ...

Robert:           Oh, OK, well, best I can do.

Michelle:       So why are we talking about Braveheart? Explain.

Robert:           Scottish independence, which didn't happen, but it could have.

Michelle:       It could have.

Robert:           It could have.

Michelle:       It nearly happened. Everyone was talking about how the vote was a wide margin. I didn't think it was that wide. I think ...

Robert:           Was it 56-44, I believe?

Michelle:       Yeah, that's pretty close.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       Like deciding the future of your country.

Robert:           Yep. In my other life I teach civics at a charter school in New York City, and this was a big topic for discussion for us because this was history, our own history, being revisited 250 years later. I think my students thought that they were going to vote "yes," and they voted "no," but still, a fascinating story.

Michelle:       Had they seen "Braveheart"?

Robert:           That's a great question. No, I don't know.

Michelle:       Because they're so young that they might not have seen the movie which is ...

Robert:           They might have missed it.

Michelle:       ... really sad.

Robert:           Might have missed it. Twenty years ago now?

Michelle:       Yeah, it's a long time ago.

Robert:           Back when people knew who Mel Gibson was?

Michelle:       Well, on that note, let's play part on the Gadfly.

Ellen:              Last week, 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. Should we do the same in America? Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?

Michelle:       OK, Mr. Civics ...

Robert:           Wow. Those are two very, very different questions, and I think I'm going to surprise you with my answer.

                        "Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?" Yeah, probably.

                        "Should we allow 16- to 17-year-olds to vote?" This is heresy, but I don't think so.

Michelle:       Why not?

Robert:           Because they're kids, Michelle. Why would you want 16- and 17- ... This is funny. I do civics education. It's one of my passions in this field, so you would think, "Of course Pondiscio's going to want 16- and 17-year-olds to vote." I'm not sure I even want them to drive let alone vote.

Michelle:       You're not for expanding the vote. You want to take away the rights: driving. Anything else you want to add to that?

Robert:           Now hold on a second. I'm not taking away the right for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. They don’t have it yet.

                        I guess, and this is again a little bit of heresy on my part, the more time I spend doing civic education, the more time I think that our goal should not be to encourage more voting, it should be to encourage more informed voting. And I'm not sure that just creating an entitlement for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote ...

                        On the one hand, maybe it would incentive them to pay more attention. On the other hand, based on just the sample size that I see of high school students, do we want them to vote? Are the paying attention to the news? If you could convince me that we could create boxcar numbers of really deeply informed 16- and 17-year-olds paying attention to the news, civically engaged, then sure. I think we've got to do one before we can do the other.

Michelle:       I agree. I don't know that 16- and 17-year-olds should vote, and I also don't want to get into the "Are these kids ... Do they know enough about civics to vote?" Because what are you going to do, have a civics test? And then are we going to have a voting test? All of those sort of things that's down a rabbit hole we absolutely in no way want to go down.

                        I think the fact that Scotland did not win independence ...

Robert:           And those kids could vote.

Michelle:       ... and those kids could vote I think is perhaps an indication that 16- and 17-year-olds could vote, and it wouldn't drive everything crazy. They wouldn’t be voting for insane candidates or ... Another question is, could we do any worse than we're already doing?

Robert:           If you want to set the bar there, Michelle. I haven't seen the breakdown of the Scottish vote, but I'm assuming that 16- and 17-year-olds broke heavily for independence.

Michelle:       Yes, I would assume so as well.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       So if they still didn't even get independence, maybe our 16- and 17-year-olds can vote and not want to legalize marijuana and lower the alcohol age and all these things that perhaps we would assume 16- and 17-year-olds would care about.

Robert:           Lower the age of compulsory education.

Michelle:       Yeah.

Robert:           Do all kind of mischief.

Michelle:       Exactly. All right. Question #2.

Ellen:              A recent "This American Life" episode told listeners about a New York State school board battle that escalated into an all-out war, complete with threats of violence and felony charges. In a democracy, where we respect majority rule, what could have been done to prevent the conflict?

Michelle:       This is not a new story, but "This American Life" just recently covered it, and after you've finished listening to our podcast, I encourage everyone to go listen to that podcast, but not before you reach the end of ours.

Robert:           After you watch "Braveheart."

Michelle:       Actually, it's going to be third on the to do list after "Braveheart."

                        This isn't a new study, but I was listening to it on my morning commute into the office, and I thought the person next to me on the Metro was going to ask if I was OK because I was sitting there just getting so up in arms about the whole thing. Because talk about a breakdown in governance.

                        For too long we haven't focused on the governance aspect of education, and in this civics edition of the podcast, let's take it on. Robert, what's your take?

Robert:           I want to answer a slightly different question. One are the things, and this is a difficult device and story. Makes me a little bit sad, and I'm going to put back on my civics educator hat again.

                        I'm very fond of reminding people ... We talk all the time in our current ed reform era about college and career. The two C's. I like to remind people that it was a third C that started it all, and that was "citizenship."

                        If you go back and you read the work in Don Hirsch, Edie Hirsch's book, "The Making of Americans" talks a lot about this. You go back and look at the founding thinkers of American education, names you never hear any more like Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster, they were not concerned with things like college, career, STEM subjects, etc. They were really concerned with creating what Benjamin Rush called, I think, "republican machines." Small R republican.

                        Our entire public school system was really about making Americans. Creating this class of citizen who were deeply informed, who were capable of managing their own affairs.

                        This story just says to me how far we have strayed from that, and how much we've simply forgotten that we invest so much money in public education for a reason. We want self-governing, thoughtful citizens. This just shows how easily it can all fall apart.

Michelle:       I think this story is shocking in that it was a total breakdown of the public good and the private good of education.

Robert:           Exactly.

Michelle:       And we talk about that all the time. I want my kids to be well prepared, and have a great life, and be able to go on to college, and get a good career, and raise a family, and all of these great things. But I want all of your kids to do the exact same thing.

Robert:           Sure.

Michelle:       Mostly because it's what's best for our country, but also you can take the very fiscal route of we don't want to pay for people not to be able to support themselves.

Robert:           I wrote a blog post about this not long ago in response to Andy Smarick's very nice series about conservativism and ed reform. And I made what I thought was just a simple point, which is that there's an institutional value to public education that we tend to forget sometimes when we're focused on what you called that "private good," that "I'm going to go to college, I'm going to get a good job, I'm going to be upwardly mobile."

                        There is an institutional anchor purpose that schools serve in a community. On the one hand, we all want schools to perform better, but I worry sometimes that we can lose site of what is essentially a large, important public institution in our communities. And it sounds like the folks that "This American Life" were talking to have completely lost sight of that.

Michelle:       It would be interesting if in this new Common Core debate we're having, we bring that idea into it a little bit. Obviously Common Core isn't breaking down the school system like this example, but it would be interesting if everyone just took a step back. OK, Common Core high standards, what does this mean for the purpose of schooling? And I think we could have perhaps a more productive debate.

Robert:           Yep, and you're never going to hear me argue against civic education. It is that third C: college, career, and citizenship. I always like to remind people of that.

Michelle:       I like it. OK, Ellen, question #3.

Ellen:              On Saturday "The Economist" reported on the rise of think-tank journalism, a trend that's blurring an old line between creating news and distributing it. Is this change a good thing? Are there pitfalls?

Michelle:       This isn't an education story per se, but I think that there's an education angle we can get to.

Robert:           Sure there is.

Michelle:       And there's certainly a civics education angle we can get to [crosstalk 09:03].

Robert:           And here's my second movie reference vis-a-vis journalism. "I keep trying to get out. They keep dragging me back in." Name the movie.

Michelle:       I can't. I'm drawing a blank.

Robert:           Godfather III.

Michelle:       Oh, yeah.

Robert:           Yeah. I started my career in journalism. I still to this day spend far more years in radio news and the magazine business than I have in the classroom or here.

                        Yeah, these lines are blurry, but part of it is ... Look, American journalism has been sort of on a suicide mission for several years. If you're looking for high quality, thoughtful content about any public issue, there's a vacuum that needs to be filled, and folks like us like to think we have a role in filling it.

Michelle:       Absolutely, I think that this isn't necessarily the traditional story that journalism ... there's so few journalism ... journalism is failing and think tanks are filling the void.

                        I actually view it from a little bit of the opposite view. Instead of there being so many beat reporters and straight up journalism where you're just reporting on the story, or even doing an investigative story, so many journalists today are jumping to this commentary aspect. This "what does it all mean?" thing, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and I enjoy reading it, and I sort of appreciate it. But that role is more a role that think tankers have often taken.

                        So I think that it's actually journalism is going more towards the think-tank world as opposed to the think-tank world adapting to the journalism world.

Robert:           That's one, and you alluded to before there's a loss of subject specialty knowledge as well. I'll give you a good example. I worked for years at Time Magazine. Back when I started, we had a dedicated religion reporter, a law reporter, lots of science reporters, an education reporter. Now everybody is a generalist.

Michelle:       On the Media, clearly everyone knows I listen to NPR all day, On the Media just did a story on the loss of the beat reporter, so this is something that's well known and out there. Now within education reporting, Mike Petrilli has an interesting column coming out in the next edition of Education Next about how education journalism seems to be flourishing. So maybe in the local paper in Louisville there's not an ed reporter any more, though don't quote me on that. I feel bad for Louisville now. They're might be an ed reporter.

                        But we're seeing so much specialized reporting on whether it's Vox, whether it's VentureBeat launching an education channel. The Atlantic has an education channel. There is a focus on education. All the Chalkbeats.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       We can list and list and list examples.

Robert:           But hold on, Michelle. Why do you think that's happening?

Michelle:       Well it's foundation funded.

Robert:           And what makes education news sexy from the standpoint of a journalist? What do we have that a lot of other beats don't have?

Michelle:       Conflict.

Robert:           Exactly. We love conflict. And whenever people are willing to beat themselves bloody and get in high dudgeon over something that makes for good copy, you're going to see more attention.

Michelle:       And we have lots and lots and lots of players on both sides who ...

Robert:           Both sides?

Michelle:       ... happy to step up to the plate.

Robert:           There are multiple sides.

Michelle:       Multiple sides.  All right. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks so much, Robert.

Robert:           Thank you.

Michelle:       Up next is Amber's Research Minute.

                        Welcome to the show, Amber.

Amber:           Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle:       Have you seen "Braveheart"?

Amber:           "Braveheart?" As in Mel Gibson?

Michelle:       Mel Gibson. Yeah.

Amber:           Of course.

Michelle:       That's a little out of left field. I'm sorry. But we were talking about the Scottish independent vote.

Amber:           Ah, gotcha.

Michelle:       And that was our pop culture reference.

Amber:           Love that movie. Mel Gibson was phenomenal in it. I think it's a movie that appeals to women and men, which doesn't always happen. But yeah, I really enjoyed it.

Michelle:       Do you think it's because Mel Gibson is so young?

Amber:           He's some pretty good eye candy, right? At least back then.

Robert:           Used to be.

Amber:           Back then. Back then.

Michelle:       All right. What do you have for us today?

Amber:           We have a new study out. And by the way, it's a little long, but I'm going to do my darnedest to get through it quickly, but there's important stuff in here. It's called "Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Math Achievement."

                        Analysts studies two instructional practices in math. One, engaging students in discourse with the teacher and their peers to make sense of problems and explain their answers. We've heard a lot about this with the Common Core math. Explain your answer.

                        #2, using appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        Importantly, these practices reflect the mathematical practices of the common core, but that actually wasn't the purpose of the study, which is why I like the study. That was sort of like an afterthought. They realized later, hey, these actually reflect what the Common Core says in little bit different terms. The Common Core talks about constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. And the Common Core talks about attending to precision, including the use of appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        So there was a decent overlap between what they were studying and what the Common Core math practices say.

                        The study occurred as part of a larger evaluation of Project M-Squared, which is an advanced math curriculum covering geometry and measurement in Grades K through 2. I normally don't do evaluations of curriculum, but I like this study.

                        The final sample includes 34 Grade K-2 teachers and 560 students who participated in the field test of the larger evaluation. Teachers were randomly assigned to the intervention and control groups. The intervention group teachers attended roughly 10 days total of PD. That's not chump change. They were observed weekly during the study, which was a big deal. Whereby they were rated on fidelity of implementation to the content and those two instructional strategies.

                        The kids were administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a pre-test and as a control.

                        Bottom line. Teachers' implementation scores for those two strategies significantly predicted math achievement as gauged by the students' gained scores on an outcome measure known as the Open Response Assessment, which had me scratching my head. In other words, a kindergartener who was average on the ITBS standard score, and his teacher was rated "always implementing these practices," basically could be expected to gain about 72% pre- to post-test on this measure.

                        Problem is, at the front of this, it sounds like, wow, this is great data that bolsters evidentiary claims of the Common Core math, which people are always acting like, "let's see the evidence."

                        But they developed because there's nothing. And they're kind of like you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't because there's no good measure for geometry and measurement in Grades K-2, so they had to develop their own. So they developed both outcome measure, and they developed the classroom observation measure.

                        Lo and behold, the teachers who scored well on these measures, the kids did well, and so you kind of have to call into question the validity and the soundness of the findings because the analysts and the researchers themselves both created and evaluated the ... created the measures and evaluated the outcomes for the curriculum.

                        I didn't like that, but at the same time, I thought, wow ... What gave it credibility at the outset in my mind, they didn’t go into this thing saying we're going to measure these two Common Core math practices. It was just sort of an ah-ha moment was kind of how I read it when they reflected back on the evaluation.

Robert:           But I'm going to push you on something that you said early on. You said you don’t like to do evaluative studies of curriculum and instruction? Why?

Amber:           Sometimes they just really, really micro-level in some ways, so if you look at what works clearinghouse, a six in math ...

Robert:           What doesn't work in clearinghouse?

Amber:           You've got about 50 different nuances that you can't cover. Granted I do 2 minutes around here, but, you really can't give justice to, and I think in some ways a lot of these studies are supported by the curriculum developers themselves. So unless it's an external evaluation by a third party, I ...

Robert:           I'm just always going to be the guy that wants to see more study of curriculum and instruction because I'm always going to be that guy who says, that's what really matters.

Amber:           I think around here we care more about curriculum obviously now than we used to. But there are scads of evaluations. I used to work at a firm that did this for a living. And obviously, any developer of anything wants to have their product evaluated. But obviously it's always best if they're not paying for the evaluation. That's usually the nature of the beast. And if you hire a qualified evaluator, then that's half the battle of making sure you've got some reliable information from reliable evaluators.

Robert:           But am I also not right to say that the effect sizes that we know of are larger for a curriculum than for most other factors?

Amber:           I think it depends ... I know that the success for all has posted some pretty impressive research. I'm not so sure ... When you look at What Works Clearinghouse, I'm actually surprised there are more evaluations of curriculum. I don't know if you've looked at it.

Robert:           But to your point, that has to do with the nature of the studies as opposed to the curriculum, generally.

Amber:           Right. Yeah. If it's a well done study. Yeah, and you've got a decent sample size, and all that good stuff.

Robert:           More well done studies of curriculums, please.

Amber:           Yes. And I was hoping this was one. And it sorta, kinda was, but then once I read that they had developed all the measures, I wasn't as enamored. But regardless what I liked was that they really went down and got into a specific practice. You know how, Robert.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Sometimes you just look at the curriculum writ large, and you don't really know what is the "it" about the curriculum that actually is doing something good.

Robert:           Yeah, look, you've got me excited. Ten days of PD, measuring implementation weekly, I thought, yes, this sounds great.

Amber:           Yeah, and these two defined strategies. They just didn’t look at Project M-Squared, like what's it? And looked at these two specific things, so, that's the kind of detailed information that useful for teachers on the ground.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Anyway.

Robert:           It was a disappointment.

Amber:           Yeah.

Robert:           Just like "Braveheart."

Amber:           Sorry, Michelle, I got a little wonky today.

Michelle:       No, I like it, and you know, any time you mention curriculum in front of Robert, you know where the conversation's going to go.

Robert:           Sorry, ladies.

Michelle:       All right. Thanks so much, Amber.

Amber:           You're welcome.

Michelle:       And that's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show. Til next week.

Robert:           I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle:       And I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.

photo credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via photopin cc

Over the last few years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to incorporate character development into school curricula, and various efforts to do so have received wide attention. Perhaps the best-known effort is the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which has been implemented in close to 150 charter schools across the country.

KIPP is aimed at children and teenagers from low-income families. Its explicit goal is increasing college enrollment by combining an emphasis on factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction) with a novel focus on developing seven character strengths—zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence. These strengths are tracked on a “character growth card” and encouraged through classroom discussions and assignments that incorporate lessons about character into more conventional academic activities. Teachers also go out of their way to both model and praise displays of good character.

KIPP has a long record of impressive accomplishments that have garnered much media attention, including Paul Tough’s bestseller, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Students attending KIPP schools have higher rates of high-school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion than students from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend other types of schools. Numerous evaluations of KIPP schools have found that students show larger-than-expected gains on various measures of achievement....

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Fuzz-free math

Mike and Dara discuss CCSS myths, noncognitive skills, and Dana Goldstein.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Gifted Education Work? For Which Students?, by David Card and Laura Giuliano, National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2014).

In many school districts, classroom observations make up as much as 75 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores, according to a new study published in Education Next. And these scores predict a teacher’s ability to raise student test scores the following year, as measured by value-added models. With that in mind, analysts did a deep dive into the observation practices of four school districts. They found that score stability and the quality of the information gathered improved as the number of individual observations increased, and that evaluations by trained, independent, outside evaluators (instead of principals) were more predictive of the following year’s value-added gains. The report recommends that districts observe teachers at least two or three times annually, using an outsider at least once. Moreover, the study draws attention to the latent bias against teachers with lower-achieving students or who teach in struggling schools. Although value-added models are careful to control for students’ backgrounds and achievement levels, there’s often no such adjustment for classroom observations. (Simply put, it can be much harder to teach a great lesson when the kids are below grade level or unruly.) Unchecked, this can push teachers to avoid these roles, widening the achievement gap. The authors suggest that states conduct statistical analyses to control for these variables. If districts hope to retain and improve their teaching force, making the most of their teacher observations is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Grover J. Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos, and Katharine M. Lindquist, “Getting Classroom Observations Right,”...

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In The Teacher Wars, reporter Dana Goldstein offers a stirring account of the 175-year history of the public school teaching profession. The book, which ought to be required reading for education reformers and status-quo defenders alike, notes some obvious but oft-overlooked realities. Namely, we need a lot of teachers, and men and women of ordinary abilities will have to fill these jobs. Goldstein points out that even if every graduate of Ivy League institutions went into teaching, there would still be a significant staffing shortfall. Most striking are the familiar themes that recur throughout the history of teaching. (Indeed the conversations in 2014 aren’t that different from the ones in 1924.) First, the demands and goals placed on teachers and education have always been nearly impossible to meet—such as the mandates to integrate races or to end poverty. Second, teacher prep has always been mediocre. Third, political and social tensions in the rest of the country, not surprisingly, infiltrate the teaching profession. Goldstein calls teaching “the most controversial profession in America.” And she endorses both misguided and useful reforms: Dramatically reduce the stakes attached to standardized tests (misguided) and end outdated union protections (useful). In all, Goldstein, with a self-described left-leaning bias, concludes that a bottom-up approach is right for education reform.

SOURCE: Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession. New York: Doubleday, 2014.

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photo credit: roberthuffstutter via photopin cc

Much of the criticism recently leveled at the College Board’s new framework for its Advanced Placement United States history course and exam is hysterical and undeserved. There’s also reason to suspect that some of the harshest critics may be motivated at least in part by the riches they have reaped by prepping high school kids for the old version of the test.

That’s not to say the new framework has no flaws. Both Rick Hess and Jeremy Stern have responsibly pointed them out. But the College Board has agreed to undertake revisions. And the sample exam they recently released is pretty good. Among its short questions, I spotted a few that were poorly worded and one that I judged unfair to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, but the overwhelming majority looked fine and the medium- and long-answer questions are plenty challenging, well-conceived, and unlikely to be answered successfully without a fair command of the essentials of American history.

But AP framework builders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The fundamental concept of Advanced Placement, after all, is to provide able-enough high school students with college-level coursework that, if successfully mastered, can actually yield them credit as they enter the ivy walls.

It works, too, though not nearly as easily as it once did. Back in the late middle ages, I was able to skip...

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Hoping to gather lessons from recent teacher-evaluation reforms, a new report by Bellwether Education Partners analyzes four years of teacher-evaluation data from seventeen states and D.C. It is more a policy analysis than an empirical study. Keeping that in mind, these are the four key findings: First, states have largely moved away from binary ratings of teachers to four- and five-tier ratings. Second, states are using more extensive protocols for teacher observations, like the Charlotte Danielson framework that provides more detailed, formative feedback. Third, overall, districts are not factoring student growth into evaluation ratings. Many states vaguely mandated the inclusion of value-added models, but didn’t specify how or when districts should use growth in teacher evaluations. Further, some states allow district administrators to change certain teachers’ growth ratings from the state, causing very uneven implementation. In Delaware, for example, 12 percent of teachers statewide in 2012–13 were deemed “unsatisfactory” but eligible for an upgrade to a higher “satisfactory” label; the percentage of teachers subsequently receiving such an upgrade ranged widely from 32 to 90 percent across districts. Fourth, districts in the seventeen states studied generally don’t use evaluation results to inform staffing decisions. Only a tiny percentage of teachers are let go because of results—and most aren’t rewarded, financially or otherwise, for excellent ratings. In short, the analysts find that states have made some changes to the evaluation instruments themselves, but have done next to nothing with the results. Going forward, Bellwether recommends that states give evaluation systems a chance...

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photo credit: Night Owl City via photopin cc

Many of our recent ed-reforms—e.g. Teach for America, alternative certification, the Hamilton Project, and various “new teacher” projects—implicitly subscribe to the idea that great teachers are born, not made. Ed schools, too, largely consider “training” teachers to be beneath their dignity. Hence the path to instructional excellence is to welcome all sorts of smart people into the classroom via all sorts of entry paths, then weed out those who don’t cut it.

In her new book, Building a Better Teacher, veteran education journalist Elizabeth Green sets out to dismantle this notion.

If she’s right and the reformers are wrong it would be good news, for then we could devise purposeful strategies for improving classroom instruction at scale—and not subject kids to a trial-and-error process of teacher selection. This possibility makes Building a Better Teacher an important book. Alas, Green offers scant evidence to support the made-not-born thesis. Indeed, her biggest proof point—a lengthy examination of the teaching techniques pioneered by a small cadre of math teachers in Michigan—comes perilously close to undermining the case she sets out to build.

This narrative focuses on the work of Deborah Ball, currently dean of education at the University of Michigan. Back in the day, she was a gifted fifth-grade math teacher at Spartan Village Academy in East Lansing. While still a student at Michigan State (MSU), Ball and a colleague, an equally...

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Hitting pause on testing, vouchers, and union solidarity

Michelle and Robert applaud Secretary Duncan’s reasonableness, question a North Carolina trial judge (but have a solution), and disparage union agency fees. Amber tells us how classroom peers affect the achievement of students with special needs.

Amber's Research Minute

Peer Effects in Early Childhood Education: Testing the Assumptions of Special-Education Inclusion,” by Laura M. Justice, et al., Psychological Science (2014): 1-8

Transcript

Michelle G:               Hello. This is your host Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at EdExcellence.net. Now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Seth Meyers of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert P:                    I'm not even sure what that means and hello Michelle.

Michelle G:               Hello. I guess you unlike everyone else in America with not watching the Emmy's.

Robert P:                    No, no, I have a 16 year old daughter so of course my daughter.

Michelle G:               You know more about this than anyone.

Robert P:                    I describe this as the cultural equivalent of secondhand smoke, you're close it. You absorb some of it unintentionally but does that mean I'm focusing on it, no. Were you happy with who won?

Michelle G:               I've heard some of these reviews. I thought it was funny. I thought Seth Meyers did a pretty good job. There are some jokes that I laughed. I felt ...

Robert P:                    Okay. He's a funny guy.

Michelle G:               I felt like a real American. Usually I don't want all the award shows are doing any of that but I thought I was participating in what America does. Maybe I'll watch a football game this season.

Robert P:                    All I know is what I heard in the background blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones.

Michelle G:               Isn't that all you need to know about TV?

Robert P:                    Pretty much.

Michelle G:               All right, with that we're going to play part in the Gadfly with our Com. Dev. intern Ellen. Ellen, take it away.

Ellen Alpaugh:          Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared that states with NCLB waivers could wait until the 2015 - 2016 school year to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Is this just one year delay and nothing more or does this say something bigger about the testing over the long run?

Michelle G:               Both. Robert, you want to elaborate.

Robert P:                    Lordy, this is such a complicated question and no I don't think it goes away. I think it ... This delays it but I think a hard rain is going to fall on this. There was some polling data out last week that we talked about. A PDK poll on education next poll and you should never I suppose paint with two broader brush based on any particular finding. Look, let's be honest, testing is not popular. I was a teacher for several years and you can't blind yourself to the deleterious impact that testing is having on our classrooms.

                                    Curriculum narrowing, anxiety, lots of push back against testing. What's interesting when you look at the polling numbers is that testing itself is not necessarily unpopular. Something that jumped out to me ... At me in the ed next poll is that things like SAT testing, AP testing are really popular or as popular as a test is going to be. It's when you start looking at these accountability test in grade three through eight under whether there's no child left behind or common core.

                                    The people have lost track of why we do this. You have this kind of conundrum which is the ed reform movement is still largely popular. People like things like charter schools and choice and even vouchers but testing is really unpopular right now. Testing you could or it has created the momentum for these things at the same time it's almost threatening to turn on itself. Arne Duncan thanks for giving us a year off, buy us some time for common core and all these other good things but at some point we're going to have to decide what is exactly the role of testing in K-12 education and in ed reform.

Michelle G:               I completely agree. Yes, testing is no fun, it's awful, it's an imperfect measure, all of those things but if you look at what we support in education or what the public supports in education. A lot of it is because we have evidence that it work and we have evidence that it works because of test. Voucher programs even some school choice supporters don't like the independent evaluations that we've had on the DCPS program and the program in Milwaukee. Yet, those same folks are using those testing results to show that school choice work. You can see this across the issues. Why do we like charter schools? Probably because we're seeing some data that they are educating students better.

Robert P:                    When you say data, you mean?

Michelle G:               Results from test.

Robert P:                    There you go.

Michelle G:               It's sort of like dieting. It's not fun, no one likes eating rice cakes and celery and exercising but if you want to stay slim and fit you got to these things.

Robert P:                    Sure.

Michelle G:               It's just the way it is. It's not fun thing but guess what, it's life.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and I wrote a piece about this early this week and I describe this using Jefferson's quote from 1820's about slavery. Our relationship with testing is like holding a tiger or a wolf by the ears, you don't much like it but you can't let go.

Michelle G:               A lot of people on Twitter were liking your analogy there, bravo on that.

Robert P:                    Bravo Mr. Jefferson.

Michelle G:               All right, Ellen.

Robert P:                    A steal from the best.

Michelle G:               Question number two.

Ellen Alpaugh:          On Thursday a North Carolina trial court judge held unconstitutional a state voucher law that allowed public money to pay tuition at private and religious school. How big of blow is this for voucher proponents and how should they respond?

Michelle G:               All right, I'll say that this is a moderate blow to voucher proponents but a big blow to families in North Carolina.

Robert P:                    Especially when they're starting school and they got to write a tuition check.

Michelle G:               Yes, just over ... Almost 2,000 scholarships have been issued for this program and private schools started this week for a lot of student in North Carolina. That just puts a lot of upheaval in many families lives. That's what the first issue but the second is this is a program that was means tested. Families qualified if they were at or below 133% of the poverty level and according to the Alliance for School Choice which I worked for, full disclosure there.

                                    They hit seven of the eight accountability measures for voucher programs. It's very, very, very high on the accountability spectrum. In all intent and purposes this was a great program. Why it was ruled unconstitutional? I'm not a lawyer. The North Carolina does not have a blind amendment but this is a blow to families. I think they'll go back at it and they'll try to pass the program in the slightly different way. Perhaps changing the funding mechanism or whatever is needed but it's just a longer wait time.

Robert P:                    Sure. I'm reading for the decision here and it says that, "General assembly fails that children of North Carolina when they're sent with public tax payer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything. I guess you could argue that but I'm not sure that's a credible argument. Look as Brandon Wright our colleague in Legal Expert says, "If that's the test, well then you just need to go back to the drawing board. Pass a law that says that private schools will give out the accountability measures, the test, etcetera and then problem solved.

Michelle G:               Yeah, and I think that proponent should have seen this coming. I looked back there's a great study that the Institute of Justice put out many years ago that I still go back to which looks at the ... State Constitutions in all 50 states and says whether school choice programs, whether vouchers or scholarship, text credit programs would be constitutional and it says yes, no depending on the program. For North Carolina it did say vouchers and scholarship text credit programs were constitutional but it did say that if a bill was to be ... Law was to be passed it should not draw from the public school funding stream which is basically what they did. No surprise in the long run.

Robert P:                    Of course there'll be an appeal.

Michelle G:               It's America, there you go. Ellen, question number three.

Ellen Alpaugh:          New York City's United Federation of Teachers supported a Saturday march against police brutality. Pitting one city union against another and angering many teacher union members. Teachers in NYC can choose not to be a member and avoid dues but all teachers still have to pay agency fees. What does such union activity say about these mandatory contributions?

Michelle G:               Mr. New Yorker?

Robert P:                    Man, the contributions is not withstanding. This is such a good old fashion New York City style food fights. Some of the stuff that's coming out with the police just the outrage from that the UFT would take this on and that Michael Mulgrew would participate in this protest is just amazing. I heard one teacher say, "Would we want cops protesting in our schools over low test scores?" The head of the PBA said something, I got it right here in front of me, "How would Mulgrew like it if police officers with the activist who oppose his efforts to shield bad teachers and undermine effective charter schools?" This is quite ... The fur is flying here.

Michelle G:               Only in New York it seems.

Robert P:                    Sure but you have to wonder what was Mulgrew thinking. This is ... Look, you can't make light with this, this is serious incident somebody died but if you're deciding where to spend your political capital and your members capital capital. I'm not sure this was the wisest decision.

Michelle G:               I think this is what happens when you work outside of your very narrow issue. On one hand you're building a strong coalition on the other hand when you go outside of your one issue for us education or for the unions education you're going to get people who's ... Your own members here are going to say, "I don't quite agree with that," and that just what happens. I think it's a decision that you have to make and in this case it looks like it was a messy one.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and Mulgrew ... Push back by saying, "Look, we have a history as a union of getting involved in these kinds of issues. You invoked union, activism around the freedom riders many, many years ago. Sure you can understand the process that got him from A to B but still the police are institution in New York City and as many police officers have been saying, "Look, you know, our sons and daughters and wives and husbands are teachers." It just feels this was a little bit of a third rail that did not need to be touched.

Michelle G:               Couldn't agree more. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly and now it's time for Amber's Research Minute. Welcome to the show Amber.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle G:               You were on Fox and Friends this weekend weighing in on this very issue [UFT police brutality protest]. What do you have to say about?

Amber Northern:      I was. I start out with it's outrageous. It's outrageous and teachers know ... Teachers always know, "Well, some of our donations, some of our fees go to politics," but wow this was right in their face. I loved it. I was like, "You know what, they finally get it." They finally get it because this was ... The zebra was showing it stripes, we just went off on Fox. They call me the next day and said, "You want to do it again tomorrow." My families called me like, "You are riled up," I'm like, "I know, like it just got me," and I dug into the contributions.

                                    Because Doug and I write a report about teacher union strength what seem hasn't been that long but it's ... I think it was two years ago. Anyway, and then when Doug back in the contributions and year after year after year they we giving donations to Al Sharpton's National Action Network along with plan parenthood and a host of other liberal leaning causes. Teachers need to dial like, "Hey, this is where some of our money goes to, like it or not."

Robert P:                    My money, $35 a paycheck for five years. Never joined the union but they got my money.

Amber Northern:      I think they knew this intuitively but then it was just out there blatant. I thought it was good that it happened. I didn't know how it works, you don't get a lot of time to go into the new ones. I didn't even get to talk about ...

Michelle G:               You don't get ... I can go in TV to go into new ones, I'm shocked.

Amber Northern:      I was, "I didn't get to take the agency fees," and all that stuff but anyway it was fun.

Michelle G:               You got riled up and you got your pay across.

Amber Northern:      I got riled up and I then I have a friend of mine taped it because I hadn't watched. My whole face was contorting. I was mad, I was, "Wow. It was really ugly doing that segment," but that what happens when you're riled up but anyway ...

Robert P:                    She's riled up again right now.

Amber Northern:      Riled up about our new study this week. It is a new study out in psychological science that's called peer effects in early childhood education, kind of a boring title but this is interesting study. It examines the performance of preschoolers both those without and with disabilities and how they are impacted by their peers when they're in a mainstream classroom. This is actually according to the authors and I think they're right. This is the first study of peer effects an inclusive classroom that serves preschoolers with disability.

                                    We've got a lot of peer effect research but never on the preschool level and never with kids in the mainstream classrooms. Anyway, they study the language skills of 670 preschoolers average age of four in multiple school districts in a single mid western over the course of a year about half of the kids had high EP's. Three key findings, number one there was indeed evidence of peer effects in the classroom have shown by the strong relationship between kids spring language scores and the language skills of their peers. Definitely a strong relationship between the two.

                                    Number two, the impact of peer effects varied based on whether the child had a disability. Specifically peer effects were stronger for kids with disabilities than those without. Preschoolers in classroom of kids with high language skills tended to have better language scores than preschoolers in classes of kids with lower skills. The lowest skilled kids, if you got that, made the greatest gains. This is what we've seen in other studies.

Robert P:                    Yeah, no surprise there.

Amber Northern:      Kids at the bottom make the greater gains. Kids with disabilities are more influenced by their classrooms language skills than children without. Last bottom line, children with the highest skills were not adversely impacted by the lower performing kids whether they had disabilities or not which is what everybody is always searching for, right? Like, "What about the kids on the other end of the spectrum.?" The study was correlational, it's not causal.

                                    It was one year, it's not a trend study and they also ... The instrument they use which I was kind of dug in. It was a teacher report instrument ... It's a dibble or something.

Robert P:                    It's squishy.

Amber Northern:      Which you typically have to do with young kids you have to deal one on one measure but it wasn't really standardized in a way. A little bit of clumsy there but I think it was encouraging because it showed us once again that peer effects matter and they matter greatly when we mainstream these kids. Which it's not an argument for against mainstreaming but it's interesting stuff.

Robert P:                    Persuasive because the kids at the high end so to speak no adverse effect.

Amber Northern:      They were harmed, right. Why do I want help? They weren't harmed either. They still scored at the end of the year higher than ... Their post test was still higher than a pretest. It wasn't a bad thing.

Michelle G:               Is your recommendation more research?

Amber Northern:      Wow. In my case I won't do it. Anyway, it was a needed area to do research. I think it's a neat idea because they're really striving for balance. On this half the kids with IP's. It's not like you've go 90% of the kids with Ip's you know what I mean. They're really striving to get what set up optimal affect and impact on kids. Half and half seems to be interesting, seems to be a positive outcome. I don't know if they change the percentages whether we would have see the same thing.

Michelle G:               Exciting stuff.

Robert P:                    Is it my imagination or we seeing a lot more pure effects research lately?

Michelle G:               I feel I've been reading more. It's also one of my sort of ... What do we call that, sew boxes if that's the word again. I tend to pay more intention to it just because he's interested in it. He wrote a lot about it in his book. Yeah, I don't know saying more as maybe just we just cover it more.

Robert P:                    You're paying attention. Fair enough.

Michelle G:               Either way both a good thing I think. All right. Thank you, Amber. That's all the time we have for the Education Gadfly Show till next week.

Robert P:                    I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

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