Flypaper

Amy Fagan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan made some waves today. In this Associated Press story he said poor children receiving vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should not be pulled out of school. Duncan opposes vouchers but said that D.C. is a special case. Could a battle be brewing between the Department of Education and Congressional Democrats, who are trying to end the federal voucher program in DC?

Charter schools in Ohio are under serious threat. The governor has presented a state budget that would cut funding for charter schools to the point that most schools would have to close, while all would face increased regulation.

Fighting to protect decent charter schools and the space for them to operate has been a tough road to hoe in the Buckeye State. The fact is that charters in Ohio have always faced tenacious opposition from teacher unions and others. And, far too often this opposition has been emboldened by, various scandals, and greedy operators. Consider the contrast between the following stories from today.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the Columbus City Schools superintendent Gene Harris has delayed taking a raise for the fourth time as superintendent citing the bad economy and the district's upcoming labor-contract negotiations. Harris, the Dispatch reports, earns a base salary of $172,000. While at the helm of the 52,000-student district (Ohio's largest) Harris has seen the district's academic performance steadily improve. In fact, for six straight years the district has made academic gains and the district has maintained a rating of ???????Continuous Improvement??????? ???????? the equivalent of a C on the...

I'm still making my way through the pile of reports that I put off reading for the last year and a half, and I'm finding some very interesting stuff. If you are interested in higher education accessibility issues????????a topic I touched on briefly yesterday--check out two things.

The first is a slide presentation from the Century Foundation. Figures 6 and 8 are very instructive.

The second is a great report from the Education Trust. Table 1 is really amazing.

Did you know that the highest-performing low-income students are as likely to go to college as the lowest-performing high-income students???

With less than $50 billion of discretionary spending, the US Department of Education's 2010 budget seems downright quaint compared to the money it's getting through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Even though the 2010 budget is mere pocket change compared to the figures being thrown around in DC nowadays, it's still worth a perusal. Three things jumped out at me.

First, evidently there's going to be more money to help turn around failing schools ???????with strong supports, not just sanctions.??????? This is interesting for a bunch of reasons. A) In general, turnarounds don't work, B) It's unfair to suggest that the No Child Left Behind act or the Bush administration only sanctioned failing schools, and most importantly C) Will shutting down bad schools count as turning them around? Because there's this little initiative taking place in some Midwestern city that's partially built around closing scores of persistently low-performing schools???????

Second, there's a little bit of tough talk: ???????The Budget supports additional investments in State and local efforts???????to implement systems that reward strong teacher performance and help less effective teachers improve or, if they do...

Interesting article in the New York Times about the proliferation of charter schools in Harlem. This borough has a substantial and growing share of NYC's charters. But what's with the headline? The article certainly shows the ???????more choices in Harlem,??????? but where's the ???????stir concern for public schools???????? The whole article is about the benefits of choice, not a developing war between the two sectors. Either an entire section was cut out of the article before it went to print or the editors are trying to stir a controversy that doesn't exist.

I've gotten a lot of feedback about my post yesterday regarding Achieve and its efforts (along with the NGA, CCSSO, etc.) to move states toward "common" standards. Many reformers in Massachusetts were glad that I expressed exasperation with the nomination of Governor Deval Patrick to Achieve's board, as they worry that he's determined to water down the Bay State's excellent academic standards. But many supporters of Achieve, and of standards-based reform in general, thought I unfairly maligned the organization, particularly with the over-the-top title for my post. Upon reflection, I agree, and regret the tone I took.

Here's what I should have??said, but didn't: For over??a decade, Achieve has been a stalwart supporter of standards, academic rigor, and higher expectations. Its leadership team, and especially its president, Mike Cohen, have been quite savvy about moving states incrementally toward more responsible positions on these issues. They understand the big debates swirling in education (around 21st Century Skills, etc.) as well as anyone, and have never indicated an inclination to back down from serious reform.

That's why I've been??experiencing "confusion," as I wrote.??Achieve has done such great work that I couldn't understand why it would let itself be...

Let me start by saying how glad I am that Andy Smarick is guest-blogging on Flypaper. I've known Andy for many years and think he's one of the smartest thinkers in education (see this great Education Next piece by him, for instance), and also among the world's nicest guys.

Now that I've said that, let me eviscerate his most recent post. Well, not eviscerate, but raise some concerns. Andy critiques a paper by Steve Wilson that we excerpted in Gadfly last fall. Andy writes,

Wilson found that the vast majority of teachers in the best urban charters are graduates of the nation's most elite colleges. ??He concludes that if we want to scale up these great charters we have two options: Either recruit a much higher percentage of graduates of these colleges into the charter world or make the job of teaching in a ???no excuses??? charter easier.

Personally, I found this conclusion extraordinarily frustrating, bordering on elitist. I don't know Mr. Wilson personally, but he cares about low-income students and has a very good reputation and an impressive and laudable background, so I don't want to be too critical. But I have to

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I'm delighted to report that our debate was so powerful and compelling that the AEI staff, after reading our comments, arranged an event to dive deeper into these very matters!

(Just kidding, though we shouldn't underestimate the far-reaching powers of this blog!)

Two responses to Mike. First, I stand by my contention that Wilson could have challenged these charters on their recruiting practices. Yes, Mike is right that Wilson was reporting on what they do. I don't fault Wilson at all for giving us the lay of the land????????as a matter of fact, his findings are very interesting and important. But he could've followed that by saying, ???????this is a suboptimal strategy for the following reasons,??????? instead of assuming that their practices are correct and then lamenting where that leaves us.

Second, I acknowledge Mike's second point. Based on the numbers, even if my strategy were employed and proved to be successful, we would still have too few teachers to staff all urban schools. But I didn't mean to suggest that my strategy was the full solution. I was suggesting that the universe of potentially great ???????no excuses??????? teachers extends beyond ivy-covered walls and that the...

I just had a chance to tackle Steven Wilson's ???????Success at Scale in Charter Schooling,??????? an AEI Working Paper that generated a good bit of buzz late last year. ????Wilson found that the vast majority of teachers in the best urban charters are graduates of the nation's most elite colleges. ????He concludes that if we want to scale up these great charters we have two options: Either recruit a much higher percentage of graduates of these colleges into the charter world or make the job of teaching in a ???????no excuses??????? charter easier.

Personally, I found this conclusion extraordinarily frustrating, bordering on elitist. I don't know Mr. Wilson personally, but he cares about low-income students and has a very good reputation and an impressive and laudable background, so I don't want to be too critical. But I have to point out that there is another option: ????Realize that there are very talented people who didn't graduate from the nation's elite universities!

First, America's elite colleges do not accurately reflect America. ????Students from privileged backgrounds are drastically overrepresented at these schools. As this invaluable paper found, fully 74 percent of students at the nation's most selective colleges...

I can't even begin to explain the confusion, disappointment, and exasperation I feel about Achieve right now, the organization that's purportedly??all about pushing states to raise standards. First there was the announcement last week that the National Education Association was joining the "common state standards" movement led by Achieve, the??National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It's fine that the NEA wants to be involved,??but in its release, the organization depicted the initiative as working toward "21st Century Skills."??Was this just spin, or is this effort really about pushing skills over content? There are worrying signs that it's the latter.

Then there's today's announcement that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is joining Achieve's board. This is the same Governor Patrick who has declared war on the Bay State's academic standards and rigorous accountability system. (See this great Education Next article for background.) And sure enough, there he is, in Achieve's release, talking about the 21st Century:

In Massachusetts, our students have achieved at the highest levels, but we still have a persistent achievement gap. We must continue to reform our education system so that every student

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