Governance

At the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, Ohio’s school districts employed 132,000 or so individuals who were not classified as teachers or administrators in 2010. Who are these people, what services do they provide, and do their efforts help students achieve? In this new report, my Fordham colleague Matthew Richmond  explores the “hidden half” of school personnel in Ohio and across the nation. The study documents a huge increase in non-teaching personnel over the last several decades—an increase that has received almost no attention, despite its sizeable implications on district budgets.

In 2010, non-teachers comprised half of the U.S. public-school workforce—up from 40 percent in 1970, and 30 percent in 1950. Taken together, their salaries and benefits total one quarter of all current K-12 education expenditure. The story in Ohio mirrors national trends: In 1986, Ohio had just 47 non-teaching staff for every 1,000 students. By 2010, that number rose to 75. When the study disaggregated the category of non-teaching personnel (a sort of catch-all classification of non-teachers, including administrators), the largest growth occurred in the teacher-aide category. From 1970 to 2010, this group swelled from 1.7 percent of the U.S. public-school workforce to 11.8 percent, an increase of more than 590 percent.

The study indicates that neither enrollment numbers nor increased federal regulation is able to explain much of the growth of non-teaching staff (especially post-1980). But has the increase in the number of students with disabilities contributed to the growth? The study’s analysis suggests that increased demand...

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The lawyering-up edition

Mike talks with Andy Smarick about Governor Jindal’s legal war on PARCC, Wisconsin’s high-court take on union bargaining, and D.C. charter funding’s time in federal court. Amber doubles down on double dosing.

Amber's Research Minute

Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence From a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School by Eric Taylor, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, June 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host Mike Petrilli 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 cohost, the Russian hacker of education policy, Andy Smarick.

Andy Smarick:           1.2 million emails, passwords and going strong. How are you?

Mike Petrilli:             Wow! And this is a Russian crime ring that has stolen all these emails and passwords. 1.2 billion. Of course my response is, “Surely, it wasn’t mine. Surely mine … What are the odds that mine was one of those?”

Andy Smarick:           My wife and I have been the victim of two different mass hackings; one where we went to school and one where I used to have my payroll. Now when it happens to me, I’m like stand in line. I’ve been hacked so many times.

Mike Petrilli:             I did get hacked once with the one where they guy sends the email to all of your friends that I am on a trip in Croatia …

Andy Smarick:           You fell for that?

Mike Petrilli:             No, no. My email got hacked.

Andy Smarick:           Oh, wow.

Mike Petrilli:             What was interesting was to see which of my friends and family fell for it. To some degree it was like, well, they’re looking out for me. I know who’s interested in my safety, my wellbeing. On the other hand, I also know who needs to get a little bit hip to the internet.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right. But you also know who deserves to be in your will. They care about you.

Mike Petrilli:             Nice. Okay, Andy. Lots to talk about today. This is kind of a big deal, my first …

Andy Smarick:           I was about to say congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you.

Andy Smarick:           Just as I was walking into the building, I saw poor Checker Finn, out on the curb with all of his stuff out there. Mike ascends and then boots him out.

Mike Petrilli:             His weird false idols, Divishnu, and other things that are in his office. We did move Checker out of his office to a smaller office. It looks like an antiquities museum. The stuff kind of freaks us all out a little bit.

Andy Smarick:           Checker has amassed a lot of interesting things over 50 years in the business.

Mike Petrilli:             He has. No, no, no. He did step down as President. He is still on staff, will still be going strong. Probably cause more trouble than ever, because he doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day stuff of raising money.

Andy Smarick:           Less staff meetings, that right.

Mike Petrilli:             But it is an honor to become President …

Andy Smarick:           Congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             … of the Fordham Institute. Thank you. Of course, I have been the president of this podcast for eight or nine years.

Andy Smarick:           Has it been that long that it’s been going on?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes.

Andy Smarick:           Wow.

Mike Petrilli:             And you’ve been listening all that time.

Andy Smarick:           Well, I’ve been on for quite some time. I didn’t realize it was that long.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. Okay, guys. Let’s get going.

Andy Smarick:           Let’s roll.

Mike Petrilli:             Let’s play, Pamela. It’s a special, everyone’s lawyering up edition, of the Education Gadfly. Let’s play Pardon the Gadfly.

Pamela Tatz:             Last week, the Louisiana Board of Education voted to join a lawsuit against Governor Jindal challenging his executive order last month that barred the state from administering the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. Who has the authority to decide whether the state will ditch PARCC and the Common Core?

Mike Petrilli:             Andy, what the bleep is going on down there in Louisiana?

Andy Smarick:           It is a cluster. I have never seen anything like this before. It’s one thing to file lawsuits, but there are these ethics charges against people, there are audits going on, people worried about their reputations. It’s gone from bad to ugly to gory.

Mike Petrilli:             I understand Bobby Jindal wants to President or Vice-President at least, and he’s decided he’s going to be the Tea Party candidate because his policy wong shtick wasn’t working, okay. I think that’s horrible and bad for the kids of Louisiana. Of course I’m a supporter of Common Core. I sort of get all of that. He can stand up. He can oppose the Common Core. What he may not have expected was that his own Board of Education pushed back, and his own Board of Regents pushed back, the Republicans in the legislature pushed back.

Andy Smarick:           His hand-chosen State Chief, John White.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, pushed back. David Vitter, running to replace him, has pushed back. I would think that, hey, Bobby, you’ve done enough. You have shown the Tea Party you’re with them, so say, hey, I gave it my all. But instead, he’s going to go after poor John White with ethics charges. He’s going to file lawsuits. This is madness. Stop the madness.

Andy Smarick:           I agree. I consider myself a friend of John White, so I’m biased in this too. There’s this wonderful Jonathan Swift line. It’s something along the lines of you know true genius enters the world when the dunces are in the confederacy against him. I think that Jindal was betting on the idea that he can say, when he’s running for office, that all these other people who are aligned against me, this is just proof that they all have it wrong, that I’m willing to be on and on with it.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, except that he appointed many of them, and he helped elect many of them …

Andy Smarick:           Well, there’s that small …

Mike Petrilli:             … and he’s worked with many of them on other parts of his agenda. I don’t know. It’s hard to watch. Look, long-time listeners of the show, you should know that one key figure in all of this is Stafford Palmieri, who was on the show, …

Andy Smarick:           Former Fordham.

Mike Petrilli:             … former Fordham, and is now Jindal’s Policy Director. I have not had a chance to talk to her recently. I would love to find out what the heck is going on. I would just say, look, you’ve made your point. Enough is enough. We’re now, what, nine months away from when they’re supposed to give the PARCC test?

Andy Smarick:           That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             I don’t know what they’re going to do if they don’t give that PARCC test instead. Give the test! Give it up!

Andy Smarick:           I don’t know. I think this issue is a poker sweepstake. He’s pot committed. He’s put all of his chips in on this hand, and I don’t think that you can retreat with dignity here. This may go on.

Mike Petrilli:             Maybe he can lose in court with some dignity. Okay, topic number two in our special edition on everyone’s lawyering up.

Andy Smarick:           Sponsored by the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you.

Pamela Tatz:             Wisconsin’s high court just affirmed the constitutionality of Act 10, the controversial law passed back in 2011 that, among other things, restricted collective bargaining rights of states’ teachers unions. Will it spread to other states? Is this good for ed reform?

Andy Smarick:           Had you asked me three months ago or six months ago, I would have said, “No, this is an outlier. It will stay in Wisconsin. It will go no farther.” But what is happening currently with the teachers union and Vergara and how they are digging their heals in and becoming more and more stubborn on these issues, I’m wondering if there’s going to be an increasing backlash to unions and they are unwittingly actually giving the fuel to the fire of these kinds of pieces of legislation and then lawsuits.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. It’s a really good point. Look, it’s already spread. Michigan passed a law that was somewhat similar. Indiana did it, I think mostly through executive order, at least diminishing the authority of unions, teacher unions, to bargain. All these issues, there’s a whole bundle of them. It’s what can you collectively bargain over? There’s the tenure issue. There’s the LIFO issue. Those are different issues, but they’re kind of this bundle, as you say, Andy. Look, if this turns out to be a wave election for Republicans, like many people think it will be, you could see even more Republican supermajorities in state legislatures, and a lot of those states would be more than happy to take it to the teachers unions.

Andy Smarick:           We’re seeing a perfect storm, potentially, here for the history buffs out there. Midterm elections for the President’s party are always bad. The second midterm election of a sitting President’s party are particularly bad, going all the way back to the …

Mike Petrilli:             Well, though ’98 was an exception, perhaps because of impeachment.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right, because of impeachment. But in every other one, it usually is a bloodbath. When you combine that with the fact that the teachers unions, by digging in, are giving a lot of the base a reason to lash out at organized labor. Unless the unions have decided to do a course correction, they may be on the wrong side of this.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Topic number three in our special lawyering up edition.

Pamela Tatz:             The D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools has filed a Federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia, alleging that the government has underfunded the Charters to the tune of almost a billion dollars, in violation of D.C. law. Do these Charters deserve equal funding? Does it matter that the DCPS spends an exorbitant amount of money?

Andy Smarick:           I love that question. Are you going to argue against fair funding?

Mike Petrilli:             I really struggle with this, Andy. I’ll be honest. If you had to pick, of all of the places in the country where we should have a fight over Charter funding, I’m not sure I’d start with D.C.

Andy Smarick:           Right, I hear you.

Mike Petrilli:             Look, it is true, that compared to DCPS they get shafted. There is a local ordinance that says they’re supposed to get share funding. Looking at it, they’ve got a case. But they get so much more money than Charter schools anywhere else.

Andy Smarick:           Probably three times as much maybe in some places in California.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, yeah. They get preschool funding. They get facilities funding, which I’m in favor of, but it gets you back to this old question again about equity versus adequacy.

Andy Smarick:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Petrilli:             Right? You can make the same … Look, we know, we have a system that has these vast inequities in education funding across districts, between districts and Charters, and frankly, Andy, it’s not fixable. Right? There will always be inequities, I believe, because of our system of taxation, because of local control, for all these reasons. Then you start to say, well, if rich people are always going to be able to spend a bazillion dollars on their own schools, and there’s really no way to stop that, then you get to this point where you say, what we really got to focus on is making sure that there’s no school that is funded at such a low level they can’t provide good services to their kids.

Andy Smarick:           I think the politics of this may turn out to be the most interesting thing. It is one thing for a court to hear a case when the Charter sector is, say, 2%, 5% of a market share. Then the court can kind of say, well, yeah, you’re getting underfunded, but it’s really not that many kids. We really need to protect the district and make sure that all the equities there are taken care of.

Now that the Charter sector in D.C. is serving almost a majority of students, it’s not like the court is … We cannot assume that they are going to defer and always do what the district wants anymore. The Charter sector can come in and say increasingly we are serving a higher number of kids. We are growing, the district is getting smaller. We need to get ahead of this thing, make sure we have the resources we need.

Mike Petrilli:             Although I don’t even know, Andy, that that stuff would come up in a lawsuit, per se. The court’s going to look at the law. I guess there are some constitutional issues that the plaintiffs have raised, but mostly it just says, look, there’s this law that D.C., I think the D.C. Council, I assume, has passed that says that Charter schools are supposed to get equal funding. Are they living up to that law or not? You don’t even have to address the constitutional questions. It’s not really up to the court to figure out all the other ramifications, or the politics or anything like that. You just say, look, are you living up to that law or not?

Hey, by the way, let’s get those laws passed in other states, too. That’d be awesome if we had a law in Ohio that said, hey, Charter schools have to get equal funding compared to district schools and you guys figure out how to make it happen. That would be very interesting.

Andy Smarick:           It would be. This gets complicated because the formula is one thing, but then part of the argument is that DCPS is getting in-kind services from other agencies in the city, so you could make the argument that the funding formula is being fairly administered. It’s all these extra add-ons that turn out to be inequitable.

Mike Petrilli:             I see, I see, I see. All right.

Andy Smarick:           We shall se.

Mike Petrilli:             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, welcome back to the show.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Mike.

Mike Petrilli:             Back from a week off at the beach.

Amber Northern:      Man! It rained three solid days, though. Three solid days. I’m not very tanned.

Andy Smarick:           You look relaxed, though.

Amber Northern:      I’m relaxed. I mean, how many movies, how many shops can you go to when it rains?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, okay. Look, I know it’s tough, but imagine if you had two small children along with you and it rained.

Amber Northern:      Yes, that’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Then you’d be pulling your hair out.

Amber Northern:      Quick plug for a movie. We saw Get On Up. You heard about this movie?

Mike Petrilli:             Get On Up.

Amber Northern:      Get On Up.

Andy Smarick:           Never heard of it.

Amber Northern:      You got to go see it.

Mike Petrilli:             James Brown?

Amber Northern:      James Brown life story.

Andy Smarick:           Get On Up.

Mike Petrilli:             Who plays in it?

Amber Northern:      It was awesome.

Andy Smarick:           I do.

Amber Northern:      Some guy you’ve never heard of, but who was phenomenal.

Mike Petrilli:             Really?

Amber Northern:      Yeah. Got to see it.

Andy Smarick:           But I could play him.

Mike Petrilli:             Your dance moves.

Andy Smarick:           He was an inspiration.

Amber Northern:      You know, there’s like two lines in that. Get on up. I’m a sex machine. That’s it.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s right.

Andy Smarick:           That’s the whole song.

Amber Northern:      He just repeats it over and over. The whole movie theater’s like doing the little jive.

Andy Smarick:           That’s awesome.

Amber Northern:      We’re digging it. It was a great song.

Mike Petrilli:             See? See, and if it had not rained, you would have missed that.

Amber Northern:      I know. There were some highlights.

Mike Petrilli:             Look on the bright side, Amber. Okay, what you got for us this week?

Amber Northern:      We got a new study out by Eric Taylor out of Stanford. It examines whether a double dose of math for low performers … meaning you take one remedial class, you take one grade level math class … improves math achievement. He looks at student data from ‘03-‘04 through 2013 in Miami Dade County Public Schools. He tracks the outcomes of middle school students who score just below and just above a predetermined cutoff score on the previous spring state assessment.

Mike Petrilli:             Does this mean a discontinuity analysis?                    

Amber Northern:      [inaudible 00:12:32] discontinuity, Michael Petrilli. Woohoo! He got it.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive, Mike Petrilli.

Amber Northern:      All right. So the kids just below are, obviously, taking the double dose; just above, you’re just taking the regular course. He found that students taking the double dose made significantly higher gains on math assessments compared to those students who were just above the cutoff score and didn’t double dose.    

Yet over time, the gains diminished. One year after returning to a single math schedule, just a third to a half of the gain remained. Two years later, the gain was about one-fifth to one-third of the original. Once students finished high school, there was little evidence of achievement differences between the groups. This was kind of an interesting little thing he looked into. Treated students were no more likely to have completed Algebra I by the end of ninth grade or to have completed Algebra II by the end of high school.

Then he starts talking about fadeout and it’s similar to other intervention. Fadeout’s like reducing class size. He’s got this nice discussion section about what other courses they weren’t exposed to like Art. I think some of the kids, he looked at it and there fewer kids taking foreign language, obviously, because there was this crowd out.

It was an interesting study. Then you’ve got another few studies that show the opposite, that actually show a double dose in Algebra and it did actually show kids enrolling in college enrollment at higher rates and completing. I just feel like this is not the last word on double dosing. But it showed a fadeout.

Mike Petrilli:             It showed a fadeout. Let me ask the obvious question. They said, okay, you get a big jump if you do double dosing, but then once you stop double dosing, you get a fadeout. Why not keep double dosing?

Amber Northern:      Yeah, that’s right. I do believe he looked at a double dose again, but because of the kids, and don’t quote me on this, but I think he lost some of the sample as he kept tracking and wasn’t able to say definitely …

Mike Petrilli:             Schools don’t tend to do that. They do this one year, and then that’s it? That’s the idea?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Interesting.

Andy Smarick:           Interesting. The opportunity cost question is an interesting one. What do they lose by getting this additional, secondary dose of math, whether it is foreign language stuff? What are the costs of that compared to the benefits?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             We’ve published some work by Nate Levenson that says in the special education world, double dosing is something that looks highly effective. If you’ve got a student who basically has some kind of learning disability, that rather than do team teaching or have a lot of expensive aides, that they might just need more time with the reading or more time with math, and that can be quite effective.

Amber Northern:      The research on extended day is pretty compelling, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. And I’m sure, look, it matters what do you with that time? Are the classes good? Are the teachers good? What’s happening during that time?

Andy Smarick:           And this was only in math, right?

Amber Northern:      Only in math.

Andy Smarick:           The interesting question, because all the research I know of says that reading games are so much harder to get because it’s just cumulative knowledge, you have to get so many hours. I wonder if there’s less of a fadeout effect when you do double dosing of reading because it just builds up your hours, your words, and so forth.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s a good question. Of course, look, I bet everything fades out, right?

Amber Northern:      Yeah.

Andy Smarick:           Sure.

Mike Petrilli:             There’s probably not a single reform that doesn’t fade out to some degree. That’s something we have to accept.

Amber Northern:      It’s not harming the kids, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Unless, the tradeoff, unless they’re missing something. But you know, if they’re missing underwater basket weaving, it’s probably not a huge problem.

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Which I, by the way, got an A-plus in.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive again.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you. All right, thank you, Amber. That is all the time we’ve got for this week’s show. Until next week …

Andy Smarick:           I am Andy Smarick.

Mike Petrilli:             And I’m Mike Petrilli, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

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

For decades, much ado has been made over parental involvement in schools. Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), as part of the 2012 Cleveland Plan For Transforming Schools, requires by law that all parents meet with their child’s teacher by December of every school year. About 75 percent of elementary school and 60 percent of high school students had a parent meet with their child’s teacher this past school year, the first covered by the new law. District administrators call these numbers “pretty impressive” (at least at the elementary level), but the outcomes resulting from mandating parental involvement are unclear. For starters, it’s impossible to compare the totals to previous year’s totals or even to other districts’ totals, including those of suburban counterparts, since the state doesn’t require them to keep track of parent-teacher conference attendance. Despite the good intentions of the Cleveland mandate, a question remains: is there an academic benefit to this kind of parental involvement?

The answer is complicated. Some types of involvement, such as reading to elementary students at home, discussing school activities or college plans, and requesting a particular teacher, do yield positive results. But other common practices, like helping with homework, usually don’t alter a child’s academic experience or trajectory. That’s not to say that parents should be shut out of schools. Parents deserve to know what’s happening in their kids’ schools, and if they want to be involved, there should be opportunities to be productively engaged. But instead of blanket mandates for involvement,...

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The Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow, with Hispanics making up nearly 17 percent of the total population. This population is young (33 percent is of school age) and is changing the demographics of schools in many states, Ohio among them. From 2000–10, the Hispanic population in Ohio grew to approximately 350,000 individuals, representing 3 percent of the state’s total population. That’s obviously smaller than in, say, Texas, but the number is rising.

Unfortunately, Hispanic students in Ohio schools are struggling. On the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA), administered in May 2013, Hispanic children scored lower than the state average in both reading and mathematics at every grade level tested. Similarly, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2013, Hispanic students in Ohio scored, on average, seventeen points lower than their white peers in fourth-grade reading and fifteen points lower in fourth-grade math. Further, only 66 percent of Hispanic students in Ohio graduate from high school, compared to 80 percent for all students. These results indicate that the achievement gap remains wide in Ohio, and with the population of minority students growing , the education challenge is only going to intensify. Demographics ought not dictate destiny.

Which brings us to early literacy. Myriad reports have been conducted on the subject, including a recent study by...

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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.

 

Articles of the week from the Education Gadfly

Whither the NEA?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | July 9, 2014 | Flypaper

On school discipline, let’s not repeat all our old mistakes
Michael Petrilli, @MichaelPetrilli | July 8, 2014 | Flypaper

Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
Jessica Poiner, @jpoiner17 | July 7, 2014 | Ohio Gadfly Daily

Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teacher unions
Andy Smarick, @smarick | July 7, 2014 | Flypaper

Fordham in the news

Public schools like KIPP are most powerful as a “direct retort to people who say we must first end poverty before we can do anything to improve education.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | New York Post | July 9, 2014

"Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role."
Lacking Leaders report | StateImpact Ohio | July 7, 2014

Sweet Tweets

I’ve never been to the annual conference of the National Education Association and I’ve never regretted it http://gadf.ly/U5r6GW
@educationgadfly | July 10, 2014

I love this piece so much I'm posting it twice. "The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy’" http://nyti.ms/1ku4SFi #reading ...

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Balanced literacy is off balance

NEA saber rattling, a teacher-quality decree from the White House, and balanced literacy crawls from the grave yet again in NYC. Amber spills about TFA spillover effects.

Amber's Research Minute

Examining Spillover Effects from Teach For AmericaCorps Members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools by Michael Hansen, Ben Backes, Victoria Brady, and Zeyu Xu (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

In which Mike offers/threatens to kiss Joel Klein

Mike and Brickman talk poor-quality math instruction and the ramifications of this week’s Supreme Court decision on union dues. Mike pitches a new bumper sticker: “Keep NCES boring.” And Amber is psyched about New York’s tenure reforms.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City,” by Susanna Loeb, Luke C. Miller, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 115 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

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. 

Last Friday, I laid out policy scenarios that might result from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. To recap, the case involved plaintiff Pam Harris and other Illinois home-healthcare workers whom public-employee unions had successfully organized (with the help of their allies in the Democratic political establishment). The problem was that Harris and others didn’t want to subsidize the union, didn’t think they were even public employees, and simply wanted to go back to providing healthcare services to their patients, who were often sick family members.

I theorized that the Court would either (a) side with the unions and tell healthcare providers to take it up with the state legislature, (b) side with the healthcare providers but limit the decision to them alone, or (c) extend the decision broadly to say that all public employees needn’t pay union dues or “fair share” payments if they did not want to subsidize the union’s activities. Option “c” is a doomsday scenario for public unions (the unions’ “gravest threat” in the eyes of one commentator) and would effectively prohibit “fair share” payments for workers nationwide.

Why this would cripple the unions isn’t hard to figure out. Last year, the Wisconsin Education Association Council reported a nearly 30 percent drop in membership in the two years since the Act 10 collective-bargaining law took effect. (Act 10 eliminated “fair share” payments, though it also limited collective bargaining, which the doomsday scenario would not do.)

On Monday, the Court ruled decidedly...

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