Flypaper

Alex Klein

Quotable

"Hunger doesn't take a summer break." ??--Montgomery County, MD, Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring)

WaPo: 'Hunger Doesn't Take a Summer Break'

Notable

< 10% : MetEast High School in Camden, New Jersey, has just over 100 students--less than one-tenth the enrollment at other city comprehensive high schools.

AP: In high-dropout Camden, Big Picture kids prep for college

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Laura Pohl

Our own Checker Finn is opining for National Journal's just-launched Education Expert Blog, which poses a question every week to a panel of education heavyweights. Checker gets straight to the point in answering this week's query, "What is the best use of stimulus money?" Checker's response: "I feel????as if contributors are being asked to opine on whether the sun should rise and set tomorrow." Read more on the Education Experts Blog.

The Fordham Institute is unique in the school reform sector in that we have offices in both Washington, DC and Ohio. From the Buckeye State vantage point, we see a growing disconnect between reformers inside the Beltway and those toiling in the states. The federal government is flush with money (granted it is borrowed!) and there is big talk about reform; while the states are broke and in the middle of brutal budget cutting that is threatening to set back school reform efforts big time.

Exhibit A: Washington, DC - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a gathering at the National Charter School Conference last week in Washington that now is the time to turn around the country's 5,000 lowest performing schools, and he said the federal government has $5 billion to spend on this effort over the next two years. Sec. Duncan and the President are actively encouraging more charter schools, dramatic school turnaround efforts, common academic standards across the states, and other reforms backed up by federal "Race to the Top Dollars."

Exhibit B: Columbus, OH - the General Assembly and the...

I got deeply involved in the closure/new start vs. turnaround debate because it has a major bearing on the basic argument of my book project. So I started thinking through and researching the various angles several months ago when this was still a relatively sleepy, back-burner issue. Little did I know that the stimulus legislation would include $3 billion for the School Improvement Fund or that Secretary Duncan would make turning around 1,000 schools per year one of ED's priorities.

As I've mentioned many times, I'm concerned that the good intentions and hope motivating the turnaround crowd could lead us to spend inordinate sums of money on a venture that hasn't worked well to date, and which, based on the evidence, I believe has little potential to do much better in the future.

Since major policy and funding decisions on turnarounds will be made in the months to come, I've turned my chapter on turnarounds into an article. The great people at Education Next have accepted it and accelerated its publication; it should be out in print this fall, with the online version available even sooner.

Hopefully this will play a small role in helping ensure...

As this brief explained, it's unlikely we'll get much reform out of most of the stimulus legislation's education funds. But Secretary Duncan could squeeze some more reform out of the law if he's willing to be bold.

It's not exactly a trump card, but it's certainly more than a bluff. Given that we've already spent $75 billion, maybe the best card analogy would be pocket jacks when you're pot-committed.

Guest Blogger

The school turnaround debate goes on. See Andy Smarick's first post , Bryan and Emily Hassel's reply , and Andy's rebuttal . Here's another round, again from Bryan and Emily Hassel of Public Impact .

Four quick responses to Andy's latest on turnarounds .

First, the IES study did not find that school turnarounds are futile, just that there's not much good research about them.?? If you look outside education, success rates for new start ups and for turnaround efforts look pretty similar, in the 20-30% range. There's just no evidentiary basis for Andy's belief that new starts are a higher-probability strategy.

Second, all of Andy's critiques of turnaround research apply equally to research on successful charter schools.?? In both cases, we have imperfect knowledge based on success stories. Let's get better info, but we'd be foolish not to use imperfect knowledge to help kids now. If we accidentally emphasize a few wrong factors (as in Andy's West Point example), that's better than doing nothing.

Third, one of the reasons we have so little good research on school turnarounds is that so few real school turnarounds have been attempted.?? Most...

Guest Blogger

This post, written by Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel of Public Impact, is a response to Andy Smarick's June 25 post about turnarounds.

Andy Smarick's June 25 post "IES and turnarounds" makes the case against trying to turn around existing failing public schools. Instead, he says, we should put all our eggs in the basket of starting new schools.?? His rationale? The lack of gold-standard studies that show what makes turnarounds successful.?? Hmmm . . . what if we had applied that thinking at the dawn of chartering?

He misses the main point: turnarounds (bad-to-great transformations, typically with a new leader) and start-ups sometimes work--in other sectors and, it turns out, in schools. We don't have perfect knowledge of the "why," but we know more in both cases than Andy lets on.

It's true: most of the research on successful turnarounds come from case studies of successful efforts to fix failing organizations, without a rigorous control group methodology.?? But the same goes for the new-school startups that Andy (and we) find so enchanting.?? We're not aware of gold-standard studies that definitively prove what makes KIPP, Achievement First, and the other high-flyers tick. What...

Do you miss reading the work of Liam Julian, who until he left Fordham last??year was one of??Flypaper's most??prolific and talented writers? Then get your fix with this New Atlantis piece on virtual schooling. If you hate the idea of cyber-schools, you'll love Liam's argument that these settings are terribly suited for kids with motivation problems--i.e., many of the kids who have been "left behind." And if you love the idea of cyber-schools, well, you won't hate his argument that "individualized virtual learning is one promising path to incrementally improving modern American education." Of course, true techno-enthusiasts, who think virtual learning will "transform" our system, will scoff at the word "incremental." So be it; incremental change looks a lot more likely to me.

Feeling blue about school reform? This riveting no-nonsense address by Howard Fuller at last week's National Charter School Conference will relieve your doldrums.

Alex Klein

Quotable

"I've gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can't get reforms?" ??--Boston Mayor Tom Menino

WSJ:??Charter Schools Win a High-Profile Convert

Notable

53% : The percentage of Queens students that attended a "crowded" school in the 2006-2007 school year.

NY Daily News:??Packing in an education: Report says Queens schools most crowded in city

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