Teachers

According to this brief from Third Way, our current teacher pension system is a “rip-off”; furthermore, “no private plan would be allowed to behave this way.” Under federal guidelines set by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, private-sector employees are partially vested in their pensions in three years and fully vested in six years. By contrast, states have the authority to determine their own teacher vesting periods—which can last up to twenty years. Nineteen states “require their teachers to spend at least 10 years in the classroom before they can even vest at the minimum level of their retirement.” With 40 to 50 percent of teachers leaving the profession within five years, most teachers never reap their employers’ contributions, leaving states to eagerly inhale what’s left behind. Another big problem: teachers in twelve states (over 40 percent of the teaching force) work outside of the Social Security system, and no feasible guidelines exist for transferring one pension to another or a pension to Social Security coverage. To reboot the public pension system, the authors propose a mobile “cash-balance” system that would “allow cash flow to be uninterrupted for current and future retirees.”

SOURCE: Tamara Hiler and Lanae Herickson Hatalsky, “Taking Immediate Steps to Provide Teachers with a Secure Retirement,” Social Policy & Politics Program (Washington, DC: Third Way, July 2014).

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A new report by TNTP outlines the main pitfalls of the current teacher-pay system and offers some insightful solutions. The authors explain that teachers’ starting salaries are 25 percent less than in other comparable fields and are stagnant during the first decade of a teacher’s career. What’s more, teachers only receive pay raises in two ways: by climbing another “step” on the salary scale or by earning a more advanced degree. High-performing teachers earn their raises the same way as everyone else: by letting time pass. Since the system encourages mediocrity and there is no incentive to perform well, schools end up retaining vast numbers of average teachers and losing their high performers. The report’s suggested remedy: higher entry-level salaries, raises for performance, and incentives to teach in high-need schools—all while maintaining salaries at 65 percent of per-pupil revenue—and ending automatic raises for advanced degrees and enhanced credentials that have not been shown to improve student outcomes. (Yes, that sounds a lot like D.C.’s IMPACT system, a model that TNTP lauds.) Schools spent an estimated $8.5 billion on raises for teachers due to their obtaining master’s degrees and $250 million on automatic pay increases for ineffective teachers, the report notes. If these funds were redistributed along the lines suggested here, the teacher profession could become more competitive and a more attractive option for high-performing teachers.

SOURCE: TNTP, Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay (Brooklyn, NY: TNTP, July 2014)....

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Justin Bieber, Orlando Bloom, and pop culture ineptness

Mike and Michelle talk teacher-tenure lawsuits, charter schools offering pre-K, and teacher-union midterm politics. Dara ups the stakes with a study on high-stakes testing of voucher students.

Amber's Research Minute

"High-Stakes Choice Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program," by John F. Witte, et al., Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (June 9, 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host, Mike Petrilli, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Orlando Bloom of education reform, Michelle Gininger.

Michelle G:               I'll take that.

Mike Petrilli:             You know why we say that [crosstalk 00:00:36]? Orlando Bloom, who I'm not sure I know who that is, but I like him because supposedly he punched Justin Bieber this week.

Michelle G:               What do you have against Justin Bieber? Are you on the anti-Bieber chain?

Mike Petrilli:             Look, I don't know the Justin Bieb- ... the Biebster, what do we call him? The Bieber? Biebster? [Biebalicious 00:00:54]? I don't know. What do we call him? I don't know him all that well. But I will say this. [crosstalk 00:00:58] He does look pretty annoying. It sounds like he was what, hitting on Orlando Bloom's wife?

Michelle G:               Ex-wife, I believe.

Mike Petrilli:             Ex-wife? All right, then why'd he hit him?

Michelle G:               We probably should have had more information before we went [crosstalk 00:01:11] down this.

Mike Petrilli:             Folks, listeners, listen. There are many, many hundreds of you out there. Sometimes I need help with pop culture references, so send them my way at Michael Petrilli.

Michelle G:               But we do know education policy.

Mike Petrilli:             We know education policy and that's what we're going to get to. Michelle, let's do it. Brandon is here to help us. Brandon, let's play, Pardon the Gadfly.

Brandon Wright:       7 families in Albany have filed the nation's 2nd Vergara-inspired lawsuit, arguing that New York State's teacher tenure and teacher seniority laws violate their children's right to effective education. Are these New York versions of Vergara a good idea?

Mike Petrilli:             So, what do you think, Michelle? This is the Campbell Brown suit. Campbell Brown. Do you support this? Are you happy?

Michelle G:               I'm pretty excited because we're going to disagree. I know you're not a big fan of the other states following suit. I am. Yes, it's a total mess when you bring in the courts. It's going to blow everything up, but teacher tenure is not good in any instance. I am against teacher tenure.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Let's [head 00:02:10] back this a little bit here. All right? Yes, there is a huge problem with getting the courts involved in this kind of education policy [crosstalk 00:02:17].

Michelle G:               On that, we agree.

Mike Petrilli:             All right. But, that's a huge issue. That's what this is. It's a court case, Michelle, okay? If the question is, should we be pushing in the New York legislature to reform tenure? Fine. I'm fine with that. I'm particularly interested in any kind of reform that gets at LIFO, that says that school districts have to consider seniority when making termination decisions. But here's the thing about New York versus California, right? In California, it was what, a 2 year probationary period for teachers. New York is 3. That makes a difference. Look, you've got 2 years, 2 cycles of teacher evaluations, 2 cycles of value-added scores, when you are trying to decide if somebody should get tenure.

                                    What we see in New York City is when Joel Klein came in and said, "Look, we're going to take this seriously. We're going to actually make real decisions at this point of determining tenure and we're not going to just automatically give tenure to teachers because they reached that period," guess what? It worked. They were able to push a lot of teachers out of the system. Why not focus on that, do that statewide, instead of filing a new lawsuit?

Michelle G:               I mean, I agree that doing things by the court is a really messy, not great way of doing it, but how long [crosstalk 00:03:23]. How long have we been trying, have ed reformers been out there trying to reform tenure in states? How long?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle G:               Right. A very, very long time.

Mike Petrilli:             That depends. We got some real reform in the last few years. We've seen a lot of movement.

Michelle G:               But then, and you know ... Bloomberg did a really great job of not just giving tenure to everybody, but that depends on who your leader is. Is Bill de Blasio going to be holding this up right and doing the right thing and not just handing out tenure to every teacher? I don't think so. I think that 3 years, 5 years, like in Ohio, isn't enough time to earn tenure. If you're not doing your job, you're not performing, it shouldn't be impossible to fire someone. You're going to be Fordham's incoming president later this week. If you're not doing your job, you're not bought in.

Mike Petrilli:             I didn't think you were going to go there, Michelle. I thought you were saying that I should have the authority to fire the staff at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Michelle G:               You do have that authority.

Mike Petrilli:             I do have that authority. Okay.

Michelle G:               Which is why we all do our jobs.

Mike Petrilli:             Which is why, in the end, you agree with me.

Michelle G:               Oh, yes, I do. Mike was right. Mike was right.

Mike Petrilli:             That's very well done. I'm just teasing about that. All right. Topic number 2, Brandon.

Brandon Wright:       In the upcoming school year, New York City charter schools will be allowed to offer pre-K for the 1st time, but many other states continue to make it all but impossible for charters to offer preschool services. Should they?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah. Michelle, we have a study in the works on this question by [Sara Meech 00:04:48], who is doing the study for us and for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, looking at what that landscape is out there across the states, in terms of charters getting access to preschool funding and policies. This is a no-brainer, right?

Michelle G:               This is a no-brainer and this is crazy that we're even in this situation, especially since some of these folks who are against charters want universal pre-K. How are they going to do that without including, say, charter schools? That's a huge sector that can educate a lot of pre-K kids.

Mike Petrilli:             Yup. There's certainly plenty of states, like our home state of Ohio, where there simply is not much state money for pre-K. Okay? It's basically, there's the federal funds for Head Start and not much more than that. Look, I'm ready to say that's a problem, okay? I do think pre-K investment makes sense if you do high quality and all the rest. In states though that do provide some kind of funding to traditional public schools, they should absolutely make sure that funding goes to charter schools. We see here in D.C. what happens. When a charter school can start at age 3 with kids, they got an incredible impact, and particularly the high-performing charter schools. These 2 sectors, the charters and the preschool worlds, they need to come together.

Michelle G:               Yes. On this question, we agree 1000%.

Mike Petrilli:             It's like, what, peanut butter ... It's like, what, peanut butter and chocolate?

Michelle G:               Yeah. I thought you were going to say jelly, and then I was going to say, well, what kind of jelly do you like, and then that could bring us down a whole other path.

Mike Petrilli:             No, no.

Michelle G:               Because grape jelly is no good.

Mike Petrilli:             I prefer the Reese's peanut butter cup analogy.

Michelle G:               Yeah.

Mike Petrilli:             You can't beat peanut butter and chocolate. It's as good as it gets. That is what charter schools and pre-K ...

Michelle G:               Could be.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you. Very good. Okay, Brandon, topic number 3.

Brandon Wright:       Teacher unions are set to play hardball in this year's midterms and Politico reports that they'll likely spend at least $70 million and are encouraging female teachers to try to convince their husbands to vote Democrat. Is this likely to work?

Michelle G:               Mike, I have a question for you.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, Michelle?

Michelle G:               Does [Megan 00:06:44] dictate your vote?

Mike Petrilli:             She does not. She has, at times, dictated where I live, and that is how I ...

Michelle G:               That seems fair.

Mike Petrilli:             ... and how I turned up to be the only Bush administration appointee living in Takoma Park, Maryland, the Berkeley of the D.C. area. Look, this is funny. Mike Antonucci, who follows the unions better than anybody, of course he quipped that he is pretty sure that whoever devised this plan is not married, at least not successfully.

Michelle G:               Yes, I mean, there's a great ... What's the advertising show called?

Mike Petrilli:             Mad Men?

Michelle G:               There's a great Mad Men episode where they're talking about the Kennedy election, the wives are, and one of the woman says, "Well, I'm going to have to ask my husband how I'll vote." We have come a long way. Now, women are dictating how their husbands are going to vote. This is a win.

Mike Petrilli:             No, we'll see. It is interesting. There's a huge gender divide in our politics right now. Women, much, much more likely to vote for the Democrats, although it's really single women that are much more likely. Married women, it's not quite as pronounced, but still, unions are saying, in a lot of these swing states, in the South or in the Midwest, you've got ... The Democrats have a hard time getting the votes of white men, especially in suburbs, exurbs, small towns, but plenty of those men are married to teachers. So, we'll see. You know what I say to this, to the NEA? Thank God for the secret vote, for the secret ballot. I'm really excited that generally you are not expected to go into the voting booth with your spouse.

Michelle G:               So you think, will we have a case of many husbands voting for Republicans but telling their wives and just being shocked when the election results come in?

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly.

Michelle G:               I have no idea how this happened.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. You can tell that to Nate Silver. The exit polls on this one are not going to be accurate.

Michelle G:               And we can thank the union.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. All right. That's all the time we got for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks for helping us play, Brandon. You may notice a new voice there, Brandon Wright, taking over from the eminently talented Pamela Tatz, who is heading briefly to the West Coast, leaving us here at Fordham. We will miss her. We'll have her on the show 1 more time before we go and give her a hard time about this terrible career choice that she's making.

Michelle G:               And we do it every single day.

Mike Petrilli:             As we do. All right. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Dara Zeehandelaar, welcome back to the show.

Dara Z:                       Thank you, thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             You are pitching in for Amber, who is on a well-deserved vacation. This means that you get to answer the question of the day, what do you think about Justin Bieber, and would you like to punch him?

Dara Z:                       I wanted to high-five Orlando Bloom when I heard about this story. I'm pretty sure that it has something to do with somebody's girlfriend or I didn't read that far enough into the story. I think it's about girls and not out of just general spite, but I don't care about the backstory. I think I speak for everyone ...

Michelle G:               We're unclear on the facts too.

Mike Petrilli:             But already, no, the fact that Dara had seen this headline. She knew what we were talking about. We had to just like Google pop culture and see what popped up, but you had actually [crosstalk 00:09:49].

Michelle G:               You're not supposed to tell people we do that.

Mike Petrilli:             I know. Is that what we do? Is that how we do it?

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. I wish that ...

Mike Petrilli:             Should we go to the trashy magazines? Anyways, very impressive, Dara, that you are in the loop even though you sit over there in that office doing research all day.

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. Could I take that back? I'd like to pretend like I didn't know what you were talking about.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay.

Michelle G:               Too late. [crosstalk 00:10:07]

Mike Petrilli:             Dara, not a Bieber fan. Okay, Dara, what do you have for us this week?

Dara Z:                       I've got a study from this month's Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal from John Witte, Patrick Wolf, Joshua Cowen, Deven Carlson, and David Fleming, all stars. It's called "High-Stakes Choice, Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program." It's a unique look at 1 very interesting aspect of the Milwaukee parental choice program. Now, we very well know that voucher programs, writ large, have little, if any, accountability mechanisms. We've talked about this before.

Mike Petrilli:             Mechanisms beyond parental choice itself.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             I mean, test-based accountability.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Great.

Dara Z:                       But, in Milwaukee, as of the 2010-11 school year, private schools participating in the voucher program are required to test students who receive the vouchers with the reading and math portions of the state test, and to report the results for public consumption. Now, the researchers had that data, but they also, for a group of students, had pre-reform test scores, because this group was already doing an evaluation of the voucher program. This gave the authors the opportunity to estimate the impact of the accountability policy on student achievement outcomes.

                                    What they found is that high stakes testing has a positive impact on the achievement scores of voucher students, in the 1st year after private schools were required to test those students. They determined this by looking at the test scores of voucher students over a 3 year period, 2 years before the change and 1 year after. They had a fairly limited sample of 437, mostly 7th and 8th graders participating in the program, compared this group to a similar group of Milwaukee public school students.

                                    The voucher students saw a significant growth in their test scores during the 1st year of the accountability policy, with particularly positive results for students who were already at the high end in math and at the low end in reading. The policy had a positive impact on African American students in both reading and math, and for Hispanic, white, and Asian students, in math only. The authors did a number of tests of this result, and they fairly convincingly argue that the positive impact of the policy was a result of the policy, and not because of other factors.

                                    But, of course, a few caveats. It's hard to generalize to students in other grades, and it's very hard to generalize to students in other cities and other voucher programs, because of the scope of the Milwaukee program. It's also possible that the public reporting requirement motivated private schools to do better, period, and it had nothing to do with voucher students. Finally, because the researchers could only look at 1 year of data post-reform, it could be that this is a 1 year bump in scores, rather than a sign of sustained improvement.

Mike Petrilli:             [Woof 00:12:54]. Wow. That is very exciting, Dara, and this is in fact 1 argument we make when we argue for more test-based accountability for voucher programs. It was our hope that this would, in fact, raise student achievement. There were some indications from Milwaukee that that might have been the case, and this sounds like this is a much more in-depth, sophisticated analysis that says, "Yes, indeed, that's exactly what happened."

Michelle G:               Yes. This is really exciting news. I think there's been a lot of debate within the choice movement about accountability and maybe Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber can work it out, just like the 2 sides of the voucher argument can work it out too. Can we be optimistic here?

Mike Petrilli:             Beautiful. Beautifully said, Michelle. I love it. I do suspect that it could be a 1 year bump or at least a bump that is not sustained forever. We've seen that in the traditional public schools. That, you look at the nation as a whole, we got a big 1 time bump in the late 90s or early 2000s, when states embraced test-based accountability. The improvements eventually faded out. They hit a plateau. Now we maintain that higher level of performance. We didn't get back down.

                                    You may see something here. [Lookit 00:14:04], when you suddenly know, as a school, that somebody's looking over your shoulder and they're going to look at the student achievement results, it makes sense. Any bit of little more focus, a little more focus on what's on the test, and you can see these kinds of results. Look, people on the other side of this issue, it doesn't take away from their argument, which is that, look, that might have led to teaching to the test. It might have forced schools to do something that ... to stop doing things that made them unique and made them special and made them in effect private. It's not that it answers these questions about trade-offs, but it's pretty compelling that this policy seems to be pretty good when it comes to student learning.

Dara Z:                       When it comes to student testing. When it comes to student learning, again, not to keep beating this drum, but we also need high standards and good tests.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, no, that's absolutely right. This is using whatever standardized test they were using for the evaluation or the state test?

Dara Z:                       It's the state test.

Mike Petrilli:             It's the state test. This is a big question. We finally, with our friends in the voucher world, came to say, you know, if we would prefer you to use the state tests for the voucher schools, including common core tests, if that's what you're moving to, but we understand the sensitivities around that and if it's just some kind of reputable standardized test, we are okay with that. That might be the best that we can do, because again, the trade-offs. We don't want private schools to lose their distinctiveness and feel like they all have to look like everyone else.

Dara Z:                       Right, although it does put some people into kind of a catch-22, because these researchers were able to say that the voucher students saw improvement, because they were using the same test, the state test, as the Milwaukee public school students. You can't make that conclusion robustly if you're not using the same test.

Mike Petrilli:             I see. I see. So if they'd used the Stanford 9 instead, we just don't know if they would have seen the same results.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Michelle G:               Right, and I think that was our inclination to using the common yardstick, as it being a tool for parents too. If you can see how a private school is performing on 1 test, and the public school on the same test, you get an understanding of where they are, even though, of course, tests aren't the perfect measure.

Dara Z:                       Right, but, like I said, it puts some people into a tough position because they want to be able to prove that the voucher system is effective, but they also don't want to sacrifice the flexibility of being forced to use the state test or not, in order to prove that it works.

Mike Petrilli:             Gotcha. The big question, where is Justin Bieber on this question? Do you think he's pro-accountability or no?

Michelle G:               Why don't you tweet him and ask?

Dara Z:                       I don't think that he would pass the 7th grade Wisconsin state test.

Mike Petrilli:             Ouch. Ouch. Throwing it. Loving it.

Michelle G:               Oh, man, I could actually, because [crosstalk 00:16:43].

Dara Z:                       Whatever. Bring it. I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             You could bring it.

Dara Z:                       I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah, that.

Michelle G:               But could you take Orlando Bloom?

Dara Z:                       Why would I want to?

Mike Petrilli:             Well said. Okay, gang. That's all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger.

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

I’m looking forward to Elizabeth Green’s forthcoming book Building a Better Teacher. A sneak preview will run in the New York Times magazine this weekend and already is up on the website.

The lengthy Times’ excerpt tells the story of a teacher who fell in love with novel ways of teaching math that were pioneered by reformers in the United States and adopted in his native Japan, reportedly to great success. But when Akihiko Takahashi came to our country years later, he was surprised and saddened to learn American classrooms were not the hotbeds of innovation he expected. “It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it,” Green writes.

I’ll set aside for now the question of whether or not those methods (such as “reform math” championed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) are superior. But Green’s next paragraph leapt from the page:

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

This observation, that poor teacher preparation turns everything to garbage, strikes me as the skeleton key that unlocks so much of our failure to make and sustain gains in American education, regardless of grade, setting, subject,...

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When it comes to what constitutes a superb education in America, the general public and teachers have vastly different views, say Peterson, Henderson, and West in this book, a compilation of research reported originally in Education Next. Surveys fielded by over 5,000 teachers and members of the general public (2007–13) conclude that, overall, teachers and the public disagree most on issues pertaining to tenure, pensions, union efficacy, charter schools, school vouchers, and standardized testing. The authors also found that when a member of the general public was informed that their local school district’s national ranking was low, the teacher-public divide deepened. While teacher opinion doesn’t change when given new information, the public grew eager to support universal school vouchers, charter schools, and parent-trigger laws. The book meticulously underscores the striking way in which education is viewed through the scattered, often fluctuating lenses of the general public and solid stance of teachers. In the end, the authors conclude that in education, the public and teachers are more divided than Democrats and Republicans, young and old, rich and poor, and white and disadvantaged minorities. As a teacher—and one who does not consider herself to be “versus the public”—I agree that bridging the divide is key.

SOURCE: Paul E. Peterson, Michael Henderson, and Martin R. West, Teachers versus the Public: What Americans Think about Schools and How to Fix Them (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, April 2014)....

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An increasingly bright and pitiless spotlight is being shined on America’s schools of education. With the encouragement of the federal government, states are developing systems to tie student performance data to teacher preparation programs; competition and comparisons with alternative certification programs are bringing additional pressure to bear. The upshot for those who train our teachers is increased scrutiny and ever-louder calls to prove that the teachers they turn loose on the nation’s classrooms can actually do the jobs they were trained, certified, and licensed to do. Against this backdrop, a task-force report from the American Psychological Association aims to offer a practical resource for accreditors, state education departments, and policymakers seeking to improve teacher-preparation programs. The report focuses on three data sources that are “well-established scientific methods that have evolved from the science of psychology” and that the authors argue should form the basis of all credible evaluation systems: value-added assessments; standardized observation protocols; and surveys of graduates, employers, and students. To their credit, the report authors are clear-eyed, taking pains to note the “utility and limitations” of value-added and the other proffered evaluation systems—but maintaining that we should judge the merits of teacher-prep programs “with the best evidence that can be obtained now, rather than the evidence we might like to have had, or that might be available in the future.” The report offers thirteen recommendations for evaluating teacher-prep programs, the most important of which is to insist that such programs have “strong affirmative, empirical evidence of...

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Peter Sipe

Twelve years ago, my wife and I went back to school. Not the same one, though: she went to medical school and I went to education school. I don’t think I’ll shock even the gentlest reader by asserting that the former was harder than the latter, but I would like to offer a glimpse of how differently rigorous they were.

Here’s a reconstruction of a typical conversation from our school days:

Me: “How was school, dear?”

Wife: “I have to master the circulatory system by Monday or repeat the entire year. How was school, dear?”

Me: “I have to write a one-page reflection on what education should be.”

Wife: [Mutters oaths, none of them Hippocratic.]

I can’t imagine a professional school more rigorous than medical school. And I’ll leave aside for now how crazy hard it is just to get in, or the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-illegal madness of what happens after a doctor graduates. (Free romance tip: marry a doctor after she’s finished residency, not before.) But say what you want about it—and my wife and her classmates did, believe me—those med students learned how to be doctors.

Me? This ed student’s classes generally went like this: a professor would speak for a bit on some theoretical matter, then we’d break into small groups to discuss it for an extravagantly long time, then we’d get back into a big group and share our opinions some more. I remember a class one evening in which you could not speak unless you had been...

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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.

 

One of the great misconceptions in education is that the reform movement is monolithic. There have always been competing camps, often defined on ideological grounds. Conservatives and libertarians tend to stress school choice, for example; liberals are much more comfortable with an intrusive federal role.

But the divisions feel more rigid today than at any other time that I can recall, the rivalries more heated. This is a big problem, one we need to get a handle on lest school reform go the way of Syria, with rival factions spending more time clobbering each other than fighting a common foe.

I was reminded of this on Friday, when I had the honor to speak to the nation’s state superintendents. During a panel session on the Common Core, I made an off-hand comment that riled several of those in attendance. “Let’s be careful about the happy talk,” I said, “about Common Core and teacher evaluations peacefully coexisting.” I went on, “It’s not hard to understand why teachers are nervous when we tell them that we expect them to teach to new, higher standards but that their heads are on the chopping block if they don’t succeed.” We should allow for a pause in the consequences associated with the evaluations, I argued, echoing a recent statement from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Not surprisingly, this rankled the handful of state supes who are pushing hard on the teacher accountability agenda. And upon reflection, I can...

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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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