Flypaper

The Post writes up Chancellor Rhee's attempt to overhaul the District's teacher evaluation system. ????This is tougher work than it may seem. ????In addition to the obvious political hurdles, there are more mundane and trickier issues--not all teachers teach courses with standardized tests, the statistical reliability of value-added measures, the objectivity of evaluations by principals or master teachers, etc.

Rhee has a former national teacher of the year leading this up internally and has hired some reputable outside experts to help out. ????She's also set up focus groups so teachers can weigh in. ????Not a bad process.

Look for other districts to begin work on similar projects soon: to get stabilization dollars under the stimulus legislation, districts must report how many teachers receive each rating under the state's evaluation system. ????This is going to cause some embarrassment when it's revealed that lots of urban districts have all above average educators.

Lynne Munson of Common Core has the latest low-down, here.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has been running a powerful series of articles about the troubles facing that city's generous public pension systems. The newspaper's editorial board says enough is enough:

Long-term change is needed. Pension benefits for current retirees and those near retirement cannot and should not be changed. But new work rules can and should be established for younger workers and new hires. That means higher deductions and contributions on health plans, longer service for pension eligibility and a moving away from guaranteed payment plans and toward investment contribution systems such as those found in the private sector.

The Enquirer further wonders whether the city of Cincinnati could find itself laying off police and firefighters to cover the pension tabs of their retired colleagues. Could the same thing happen to teachers????? It's not out of the question. The Buckeye State's teacher retirement system faces an $18 billion unfunded liability (a whopping $15.5 billion more than that of the larger Ohio Public Employees Retirement System). Fordham alerted Ohioans to problems with the teacher pension system in 2007 and made suggestions for shoring up the system.???? Lawmakers didn't take heed at that time. Will they start to...

Think of all of the energy that some folks are putting into killing the $13 million DC voucher program. Then consider the following:

The DC voucher program is 0.024% of the size of the $54 billion stabilization fund in the stimulus package, meaning it would take 4,153 voucher programs of this size to equal the stabilization fund.

This is the difference between the GDPs of the United States ($13.8 trillion) and Rwanda ($3.3 billion).

This is the difference between the populations of New York City (8.3 million) and Casselton, North Dakota (1,900).

This is the difference between the calories in 400 Big Macs (230,400) and one apple (55).

The difference between the volume of the earth and Jupiter (1:1,300) is less than one-third of the difference between these two programs.

Is killing DC vouchers really this important?

Photograph comparing Earth with Jupiter from the Adler Planetarium website...

As Mike noted, the third-year report on the DC voucher program, showing statistically significant benefits for scholarship recipients, presented a challenge for the folks at ED, who responded by using the time-honored tactic of releasing unwelcome news on a Friday afternoon.

The Washington Post, however, refusing to be bamboozled, turned in three separate pieces in Saturday's edition. ????Under the headline, "Study Supports School Vouchers," a front-page Metro article reports on the main findings and sets up the debate to follow between program advocates and detractors.

Though the article says that the Department released a statement, I can't find it anywhere (it's not on their press releases page) and the Duncan quote used in the story is from a previous interview with the Post.* That quote uses possibly the weakest argument against the program--that it should be scrapped because it only helps some DC students instead of all. ????But that same line of reasoning could be used to kill other targeted programs like Head Start, Title I, IDEA, AP, IB, and free and reduced-price lunch. ????The obvious response to that criticism is, "Since the voucher program is helping approximately 2,000 students today, let's keep it going...

Releasing bad news on a Friday afternoon is a time-honored tradition among governments of all political leanings. (The public is distracted by weekend plans; few people read the Saturday paper.) The Obama Administration is showing itself to be no different; it's no coincidence that the latest (very positive) findings about the D.C. "Opportunity Scholarship Program" were released this afternoon. It creates a conundrum for Team Obama and its allies on Capitol Hill, all of whom want to kill the program (some sooner than later). Here's the key news, as spotted by our fantastic research director, Amber Winkler:

After 3 years, there was a statistically significant positive impact on reading test scores, but not math test scores. Overall, those offered a scholarship were performing at statistically higher levels in reading--equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning--but at similar levels in math compared to students not offered a scholarship.

Keep in mind that, as Education Week just reported, almost every "gold-standard" study in education finds "null" results. So the fact that researchers could detect such dramatic impacts for reading is a very big deal. (And it's not too surprising that the same can't be said about math.)

...

After sitting idle for a week, our Obama Administration Reform-o-Meter is about to get a workout. That's because things are finally happening over at 400 Maryland Avenue. Wednesday brought news about Title I regs, some important details about the stimulus package, and the name of the next Under Secretary of Education. I'm playing a bit of catch-up; we'll start today with the regs. (I've already said a bit about them here and here.)

The main thing to know is that Arne Duncan plans to overturn very few of the regulations implemented by Margaret Spellings on her way out of office. (In terms of importance, these are key provisions, and foreshadow the Administration's thinking on NCLB reauthorization, so I'll rank it a six of out ten.) This shouldn't be a huge surprise; as I wrote last fall, these regulations already reflected the left-of-center school reform consensus, particularly on graduation rates. Critics of Duncan will say that this action shows him to be Spellings reincarnated (and thus a "conservative"); a better interpretation is to say that Spellings would have been comfortable working for Obama. But I digress.

As for the changes, some are...

While the name "No Child Left Behind" might be history, the law's animating principles are here to stay. So it appears from Secretary Arne Duncan's recent policy letter. Note this passage:

I am writing with regard to the Title I regulations that were issued by my predecessor in October 2008... I have heard various comments on these regulations from a number of interested parties - some supporting the regulations and others urging me to repeal them. I have carefully reviewed each of the October 2008 Title I regulations with these comments in mind. I am also mindful of the fact that it is important to balance the need to plan for the reauthorization of the ESEA with the need to review existing regulations. On the whole, these regulations support the educational goals for which I will advocate as Secretary: greater transparency, particularly for parents; flexibility in return for accountability; improved assessment and data systems to better track the growth of students and improve instruction; and increased focus on high school graduation. I have decided to propose changes in a few of the regulations, while leaving the majority of these regulations in effect. (Boldface added.)

For the better...

The third-year evaluation on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program reports that students who received vouchers outperformed their non-voucher peers in reading. There was no difference in math.

Of course, there will be lots and lots written and said about this over the next several days, and of course this all will have a bearing on the reauthrorization of the program (which, I'm strongly in favor of).

Though this evaluation is invaluable (not to mention required under federal law), it has the effect, in my opinion, of distracting us from the more important discussion. ????Here's my take:

While I emphatically believe in school choice--meaning the right of low-income children to access safe and high-performing schools when the public schools assigned to them are dangerous and of poor quality--not every non-assigned school is stellar.

There is wide variation in the quality of traditional public schools. ????There is wide variation in the quality of charters. ????There is wide variation in the quality of private schools. ????The evaluation findings simply suggest that the quality distribution of private schools is shifted a bit to the right of the traditional public school sector.

But we shouldn't care much about the...

This time I'm not making an April Fool's Day joke. If you give Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's new??letter about the Title I regs* a good look, you'll notice a subtle linguistic shift:

I support the core principles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), including closing achievement gaps and demanding accountability for ensuring that all students achieve to high standards. But the law can be improved.

Note that he avoided calling it the "No Child Left Behind act." Say goodbye, NCLB.

* Yes, I'll put it through the reform-o-meter soon.

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