Governance

Andy Smarick, a partner in Bellwether Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at Fordham, dropped by Columbus last week to shake up the educational status quo, discussing his book The Urban School System of the Future.

The event, co-hosted by Fordham and School Choice Ohio, began with the premise that the century-old structure of the traditional school district is “broken” in large urban areas, leading to a long-standing cycle of poor performance for students and reform efforts that merely seek to “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic” while retaining intact the flawed structure. In fact, Smarick argued that maintaining the district structure—and primacy—was often the starting point of many reforms. Charters were conceived as radical departures from the status quo—groups of teachers going off on their own to “reinvent schooling” outside the existing paradigm—but today are defined primarily in terms of how (and whether) they are better or worse than the district schools in their vicinity. Private school vouchers and tax-credit programs were born as “escape mechanisms” for families from failing district schools, without directly addressing the structural failings of the district that led to the...

Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era, most schools in all 50 states have been given an evaluation of student performance and an overall rating. While crafting a thoughtful and nuanced accountability system is a frequent topic of discussion on The Gadfly (and is really what matters most), here I simply want to discuss the label that sums up a school's overall evaluation. Some might say it's wrong on principle to label schools. Others worry (and sometimes justifiably so) that a nuanced view of schools get lost when we attempt to boil it all down to a single school rating. Moreover, some may see these labels as nothing but a value judgment about "good" schools and "bad" schools when it's clear that parents value many different things about a school. From academics and facilities to safety and course offerings, even the "best" school might not be best for all kids. 

However, we can make objective judgments in some areas.  In addition, use of these labels is not only widely supported, it's also ingrained in federal policy through both NCLB and waivers. So the question is: If we're going to put schools into categories, what should those categories be called?  A few ideas to consider:

...

Over the last month or so, there’ve been a number of notable stories highlighting the passing of the torch from urban districts to urban chartering. The former continue their long, slow decline while the latter experiences the exhilaration and growing pains of emerging adulthood.

A sobering new study from Brookings, “School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant,” finds that district “superintendents are largely indistinguishable” in their ability to improve student achievement. For those who’ve hoped that the half-century struggles of the urban district might finally be remedied by a superhero leader, this has to be deflating. The study finds that district leaders account for an infinitesimal fraction of achievement differences, that hiring a superintendent is not associated with increased learning, and that longevity doesn’t improve a superintendent’s influence.

In recent years, we’ve put an inordinate amount of faith in (and money behind) bold urban district leaders. The continued dispiriting results from NAEP TUDA, the Newark boycott, the LAUSD iPad dust-up, the Atlanta cheating scandal, DC’s “disappointing” 2014 test scores, Chicago’s strike, and much more should force us to take stock. Why exactly...

In an era of increased teacher-effectiveness data, school leaders have unprecedented potential to be more strategic about their decision-making. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for principals to access, analyze, and apply this information. A recent study released by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College examines common hurdles to effective data use and suggests ways in which districts can better support principals to guide critical staffing decisions (e.g., hiring, placement, professional development, and retention, which together they dub “talent management decisions”). Based on hundreds of site visits, surveys, and interviews with principals in six urban school districts and two charter management organizations (CMOs) that have invested substantially in these improvements, analysts offer many practical recommendations. Among them: hold principals accountable for effective data use, differentiate principal training and support by specific data need, consolidate district statistics into a single dashboard (organized by talent-management decision type), and provide principals with ongoing access to multiyear information. Although a handful of the report’s final recommendations feel more aspirational than easy-to-implement, overall, Vanderbilt’s report provides districts and CMOs with helpful and concrete recommendations on how to help principals use effectiveness data to identify and retain the best teachers in our classrooms. Teacher quality is the most important...

On September 3, I participated in a launch event for Mike McShane’s new book, Education and Opportunity, a publication of AEI’sValues and Capitalism” initiative. The following are my amended remarks about the book, namely our improved understanding of K12 markets, the downsides of a unitary system of schools, and the intersection of such reform and conservatism.

I want to focus on three elements of this valuable new book. The first two relate to its contributions to our improved thinking about school choice. The third relates to the tension between school choice and conservatism.

First, Education and Opportunity offers a sophisticated view of public school markets, how to understand them, use their strength, and appreciate their limitations.

The book’s thrust is neatly summarized by one of its early sentences: “A vibrant marketplace of education options is the most effective means of developing the schools necessary to meet the needs of students today and in the years to come.”

Many writers on school choice have focused on the importance of options. But note the use of “vibrant” and “developing.” This suggests a portfolio of schools that’s full of energy and dynamism. This is not a minimally diverse...

Eflon/Flickr

Judging by the rhetoric of some legislators and wonks, it may come as a shock that public policy is not the stuff of magic whereby just the right regulatory language will, like one of Harry Potter’s spells, instantly reduce a monster of a problem to dust. Instead, policy is about the careful consideration of a series of tradeoffs. Education reformers in particular have been accused of leaping from one panacea to the next, rather than carefully considering practical alternatives. That doesn’t mean, however, there aren’t still a number of critical ingredients that must be a part of any witch’s brew to cure what ails our education system. One of them is the reform of, if not removal of, tenure. 

Everyone has his or her own list of prerequisites to a great education system. For some, it might be small class sizes and wraparound services that reach the “whole child.” In my view, it includes parent-empowering school choice, a reduction of the compliance culture to promote innovation, and strong standards and accountability. The other essential items on the list? Staffing policies that allow us to recruit, retain,...

photo credit: afsart via photopin cc

Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sued the U.S. Department of Education over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a particular focus on the role that Race to the Top (RTTT) played in encouraging their adoption. And three days later, rumors arose that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin might haul that same agency into court for revoking its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. Together these two suits bring some of the most criticized recent federal education policies under legal scrutiny. But President Obama’s conditional waivers are much more vulnerable to legal challenge than is his Race to the Top initiative. Here’s why:

Jindal’s lawsuit claims that the federal government has used legislation to incentivize state adoption of the CCSS. The complaint asks the court to (1) declare that these actions violate the United States Constitution and a number of federal statutes and (2) enjoin the federal government from continuing. There are a number of lenses through which the court could view these actions.

Let’s first look at the constitutional claim, which has virtually no chance of success. Louisiana alleges...

Marc Schare

Marc Schare is the Vice President of the Worthington City Schools Board of Education (in suburban Columbus), now serving his ninth year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marc Schare testified before the Ohio House of Representatives’ Rules and Reference Committee on August 26, 2014, opposing House Bill 597 which would repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards. The following is from his written testimony before the committee.

We in Worthington are confused by this legislation. Perplexed really. Baffled might be the right word.

You see, the State told us back in 2009 that our “Excellent” rankings didn’t mean much anymore because Ohio’s academic content standards and cut scores were too low and that too many kids statewide were having to take high school all over again once they got to college. Fair enough, so Ohio responsibly adopted new academic content standards and recommended that we develop a curriculum based on those standards. For the next three years, teams of teachers representing over 20% of our total teaching staff met in small groups to re-write Worthington’s local curriculum. It was an enormous undertaking. The teams would methodically, standard by standard, define learning targets, compile lists of resources, determine best practices and associated professional development on...

Nearly half of all new teachers will quit within five years, and countless studies demonstrate the detrimental financial and academic effects of such turnover. To retain high-quality teachers, schools need to build opportunities for educators to speak up and collaborate with peers. In Pathways to Teacher Leadership, former superintendent Marya Levenson proposes three avenues that make this possible. Road one is Instructional. Groups of teachers meet regularly to collaborate on curriculum and lesson plans, confidentially discuss frustrations and dilemmas, and ask questions both as individual teachers and as part of the school’s instructional community. The second is Institutional, in which teachers adopt administrative responsibilities, bridging the gap between principals and classrooms by facilitating school-wide reforms and discussion groups. Last is Policy. Teachers assume leadership roles and tackle ed-policy issues by joining networks or nonprofits, such as Teach Plus, that encourage educators to share their views. Teachers may choose one route over another based on time commitments, comfort with administrative duties, or desired outcomes. The important part is pushing past the “collective plateau,” a place where educators feel professionally stagnant. And this model, says Levenson, applies to early- and second-stage teachers alike. It’s a vision of teacher...

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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