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The Start of an Interesting and Dangerous School Year

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Editor's Note: Bridging Differences returns today from its summer hiatus. The blog will resume its regular Tuesday-Thursday publishing schedule next week.

Dear Deborah,

School is open, and it is time to talk! What a busy summer for all of us who care about education.

I had a good summer, finished editing my new book, and got it off to the publisher. I also managed to finish George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, my main summer reading. It took 140 pages before I became fully engaged, but then the plot and the characters grabbed me.

The big education events of the summer were huge. Starting locally, the New York legislature renewed Mayor Bloomberg's one-man control of the New York City public schools. No surprise there. What was surprising and really shocking was a debate about whether to create a $1.6 million parent training center, a tiny bone tossed to critics of the mayor's high-handed rule. The legislators wanted to place the new center at New York University. Then the New York Post ran a scare headline warning that someone who had criticized the mayor's education reforms—Deborah Meier—would run the parent training center. This was laughable, since you are an adjunct and would have had nothing to do with the program. Nonetheless, the terrified legislators promptly shifted the appropriation (a grain of sand in our city's $21 billion education budget) to City University of New York, where the mayor can keep it under his thumb and where it will be harmlessly divided into five separate centers.

Nationally, the most important event was the release of the federal government’s regulations for the “Race to the Top.” Those regulations made clear that the Obama administration has fully aligned itself with the edu-entrepreneurs who favor market-based reforms. As I predicted on this blog, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are now the spear carriers for the GOP's education policies of choice and accountability. An odd development, don’t you think? The Department of Education dangles nearly $5 billion before the states, but only if they agree to remove the caps on charter schools and any restrictions on using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

What is extraordinary about these regulations is that they have no credible basis in research. They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by the people in power. Under normal circumstances, the Department of Education would need congressional hearings and authorization to launch a program so sweeping and so sharply defined. Instead, they are using the "stimulus" money to impose their preferences, with no hearings and no congressional authorization.

Is any charter school better than any public school? As we learned from the Stanford CREDO study of charters a few months ago, only 17 percent of charter schools are superior to comparable public schools; the rest were either no better or worse. Yet the Obama administration wants to open up the nation’s public schools—especially in urban districts—to massive privatization.

And with the encouragement of Secretary Duncan (and the support of the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation), privatization is taking root. Just last week, the Los Angeles board of education voted to turn over nearly one third of its schools to private management; this despite the fact that in the same week it was reported that the Green Dot takeover of Locke High School produced no gains. At Locke, 2 percent of the students met state standards in math; after a year of massive publicity about the Green Dot miracle at Locke, the scores came out, and 2 percent of the students met state standards in math. The excuses came thick and fast: the dropout rate was down, more students came to school, but…the scores were flat.

There is also no research that justifies the Obama administration’s belief that tying teacher evaluations to student scores will improve schools. I commend to our readers the response to the RTTT regulations by Professor Helen Ladd, an economist who has studied teacher evaluation for many years, as well as the one by Paul Barton, who has studied education issues for many years. What both of these responses clearly demonstrate is that there is no research basis for the priorities favored by Secretary Duncan.

This will be an interesting year. But also a very dangerous year for American public education.

Diane

89 Comments

To use a sports analogy, how long does a coach have to come in and change a "losing team?" The Locke transformation is working and if the data doesn't show it - well let's look at it this way, there were years when we didn't even register on the scoring charts because we did not test the required 95% of the student population.

Progress comes in increments not in sudden burst. Time, unfortunately is not on our side - everyone these days want things now. Patience. Locke, and current educational reform trends will prove to be the right course of action. After years of mismanagement and mis-education of our kids, why not give these current reform efforts a chance?

Years ago, I was a fifth grade teacher. The other fifth grade teacher's students always scored much higher than mine on standardized tests. I was embarrassed and perplexed by this and tried hard to find out why this other teacher was so much better than I was. I observed her class and asked her questions, but to no avail. She continued to be more successful than I.

One day this teacher announced her promotion to principal and told me that I would inherit all her "stuff." She handed me a big box of her accumulated materials. I was very grateful and thanked her for it.

That night I excitedly took the box home and opened it to examine the contents. At the bottom was a Xeroxed copy of the standardized test. I finally had my answer!

What I don't understand is why these tests are being taken so seriously when there is virtually no security around them. There is so much evidence that these test scores are being "manipulated" (as in cheating). It's my experience that teachers are encouraged, and even pressured, to drill the students on the exact test items. Of course this invalidates the test, but no one seems to care.
Why aren't groups, such as the teachers' union, demanding fairness and truth in testing? I hope some teacher, who is rated "mediocre" on the basis of her test scores, takes it to court and challenges the validity of these tests. It shouldn't be difficult to do. Also, if these tests are being used to get federal funds, I hope someone files a claim with the False Claims Act. Universities should be able to do much to rectify this situation. They should not agree to base any research on testing that they have no control over. I hope NYU takes the lead in this.

Linda:

I doubt that unions have much interest in shining a light on any of their members who are engaged in cheating on the tests. There are those who claim that cheating is the inevitable result of "high stakes" tests. But, you raise an interesting question. If what you say is true (that teachers and administrators are overwhelmingly involved in cheating), why are so many professionals interested in rendering the tests invalid?

Margo,
I think Linda's point is not that professionals are trying to render the tests invalid, but that they are trying to "do whatever it takes" to raise test scores. The resulting lack of validity is just a by-product. Of course, I don't mean to justify such behavior, but simply to point out that the professionals involved may not have the motivations (making tests invalid) that you have ascribed to them.

Diane,
I too have been worried deeply about the president's education policies. In the lead up to the much-hyped speech to students on Tuesday, I have tried to convince my friends and colleagues that, while Republicans have needlessly worried about what Obama might say to school children, Democrats are not nearly worried enough much about what he might actually try to do with his school policy.

ChitownStu,
Certainly you can see that if an advocate of a plain old traditional public school used your argument: "Just give us more time," the charter/reform movement would say "you've enough time, now step aside." Ironic to see the same argument deployed in the defense of charter schools. Why not deal with the harder question . . . how long is long enough to decide if charter schools are working.

Margo:

I have always thought that teachers are a very honest group, but they have been caught up in a culture of test prep and test invalidation. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I believe it is in teachers' best interests to make sure standardized tests measure the yearly progress of each child in the class (if any test can do that) and be valid and reliable. Teachers and their organizations need to insist on fair and honest testing because a whole educational infrastructure is being built on the basis of these tests.

Linda--I lean rather more in your direction. There may be some folks who cheat (in fact, I know there are)--despite regulations. But, they are not just "caught up," or manipulated, or otherwise just the piano player. They know that what they are doing is wrong. They may justify it to themselves or others in a multitude of ways. But--I think that they are frequently supported by folks (including unions) who would rather discredit the whole idea of accountability and the reliability and validity of the testing instruments in any way possible--including teacher-led (or principal-led)cheating efforts. I don't see them leading the charge to clean up. But, I would be happy to cheer them on if they did.

Keith...perhaps that argument would be valid if they hadn't had over 100 years (or even 40 years) to get it right. Public schools by nature, are built to resist change. So are teachers unions and...American politics. So what does that mean? That means that in order to make transformational change, one has to break through the dominant paradigm and norm.

Charters work. That is not in question. Ask any of the politicians who send their daughters/sons to independent schools (which are the model for successful charters). Smaller, and please if there is evidence to the contrary, enlighten me, is always better.

School choice should not be only in the hands of those in the know, but in the hands of the many.

ChitownStu,

You must not have read the post carefully; charter schools are NOT doing a better job, the overwhelming are do worse or no better than the public schools. These results come even after charters get to select their students and expel any student they choose.

Mike...again I refer you to the history. You're ready to condemn and write off a potentially monumental educational reform because of what? You might not have a job next year because you don't have tenure? The data (5-10yr max) doesn't add up compared to schools which have been in existence for decades?

Your misstatement about charter schools being able to "select" their students is ironic... Perhaps some are able to select, but they are selecting from a pool of already low SES, low performing, and low expectation students.

PS - public schools have a way of casually expelling students too, its just not well known - and usually comes around the time of...testing.

Diane,

Welcome back!

It's interesting to note that one of the charter takeover candidates here in LA is Figueroa Street Elementary School, where in 1996, Alfredo Perez, a 30-year-old fifth-grade teacher, was hit in the head by a stray gang bullet while he was in the school library with his students. The incident drew national attention not only to the violence surrounding our urban schools but to the brave teachers who teach at them.

If Alfredo Perez were teaching at Figueroa today he would likely lose his job (charters often fire entire faculties after taking schools over.) How many other teachers are out there like him, dedicated educators who put their lives on the line to teach in LA’s worst schools? And not just at Figueroa but at all of the schools on the takeover list?

But I almost forgot. The problem with schools isn’t poverty, gangs or violence. The problem is incompetent teachers.

I wonder what Alfredo Perez would think about that.

Welcome back, Diane and Deborah! I rejoiced today when I saw that Bridging Differences was back.

I frequently run into commentary along these lines: "There is no stopping the current course of reform; it's where we are heading, so we should get used to it." I do not see the logic in such an argument. Trends are not sacrosanct, nor do they last. It is one thing to recognize that they are happening. It is quite another to say that because they are happening, we must give in to them.

Last spring, in NYC, principals called teachers into their offices one by one to review their teacher reports (based on test scores). These reports ranked them in comparison with their peers and with other teachers citywide.

Today the New York Times published a sample report. It relies exclusively on test scores and demographic data. Such reports are bound to be at least as flawed and harmful as the school report cards. Apparently, many principals told teachers not to worry about these reports--that they were just one piece of information. But this was just the warmup, and the next rounds will likely have a different tone.

There are too many loose pieces here. The tests themselves require very little knowledge; test scores have gone up and up; teachers' subjects, responsibilities, and classes vary within a school and from school to school; and the grand, gleaming data systems have not shown their worth so far.

It may be where we are heading. But that is all the more reason to point out the pitfalls and problems.

Diana Senechal

Similarily to the HCR debate going on in this country, so too with the education debate, people tend to lean towards speechifying and misinformation.

What is it that you have a problem with about charters Cali Father? Is it the small class size or individualized attention you think will keep children left behind? Class size and personalization are two major contributors to a reduction in violence on campus'. As noted by researchers, pundits and authors far more famous than I, if things were working so well why aren't there better results - safer schools, higher grad rates, lower dropout rates at these warehouses aka as urban public schools?

By the way, I too put my life on the line at a famous (infamous?) HS in South Central LA. Teachers are part of the problem, but not the ONLY part. So are students...We need to cease the finger pointing and start with the grassroots organizing.

Multiple types of schools have existed in this country for generations - now we have a new incarnation hopefully with better, more directed results.
Time, patience and belief are what's needed.

I believe most politicians actually send their children to private schools not necessarily chartered schools.

Also the name charter school is actually derived from how the school is formed, through a charter, and not the educational philosophy of the school.

There are some chartered schools that are happy and successful drilling students while others are also happy and successful using the most liberal student centered philosophies of teaching.

Finally, most chartered schools have a lottery for students. It should not matter how rich or connected you are everyone is supposed to have an equal chance at acceptance.

Some charters work and some don't, but the only way I see that they can be used as a new blue print for education is along the lines of creating more smaller cluster schools that have different educational philosophies and students enrolling in the school most suited to there way of learning.

I didn't say it was a good idea.

ChitownStu,
Hmm, now I'm confused. You write "Charters work. That is not in question." Then, in your response to Mike, you seem to suggest that the jury is still out. "The data (5-10yr max) doesn't add up compared to schools which have been in existence for decades?" Diane cites evidence that charters aren't working as advertised (The CREDO study.) This doesn't prove that they don't. It does, however, seem to prove that the issue isn't settled in favor of charters.

Seems to me we keep getting further and further away from what is most important....education. We spend so much time burying ourselves in reform and this "fix it" attitude, that we forget about the point of education, which to me is to create lifelong learners. From having read Diane's books (more times than I can count now) I think the point is that reform, as we currently use it/see it/ talk about it...doesn't really work either. I am not opposed to change, I don't even necessarily argue that education today works, but ultimately my concern is for the students that are caught in the cross fires of educational "reform."

Interesting comments. Brendan I did say that many (not sure if it's "most") politicians send their children to "independent" schools which is the 21st century way of saying what we used to refer to as "private" schools.

Successful (key point here) Charter schools work because they provide students with exactly what Brendan mentions as the "most liberal student centered philosophies of teaching." I do not take that to mean 'liberal' in the political sense, but in the sense of utilizing differentiated instruction rather than static methods or strictly rote methods of teaching. "Liberal" to me in education means simply put, trying to reach students where they are to take them to new heights.

Keith, my perspective that "charters work" isn't exclusive to charters only. Small works. The data sets are not extensive enough to make a judgment that charters are a failure - especially when a closer examination and aggregation of the types of charters, how long they've been in existence, who runs them, rural/suburban/urban, what is their student population, etc...needs to be examined.

My anedoctal evidence of charters working is that they have created the types of changes in "typical" public schools - small schools, more student centered focus, diverse course selections, that we all want to see for public school students. In that regard, yes, charters have succeeded in changing how we view public schools, specifically urban public schools.

The jury is still out on almost everything, but this much we know. Charter schools are no panacea. They range from excellent to horrible. Profiteers are making big bucks running good ones and bad ones. If we don't work on improving our public schools, if we choose instead to privatize them, we will turn our education system over to edu-entrepreneurs who are focused solely on the bottom line, whether it is test scores or dollars.
Diane

Diane,

Great to have you back. You are a far better source than I am about the Duncan policy because of my Obamamania. My commitment to urban education is second only to my commitment to the Obama administration. And I'd never say anything like that before. If I had a magic wand, I'd never trade long term educational values for the success of any other presidential administration.

But still I'm more hopeful about this dangerous year. We didn't elect Obama to the school board and its up to us to defend teaching and learning. And when I read Bridging Differences, or the great great work of Diana Senechal, how can I be pessimistic? Think of the world we live in where someone like Diana could accomplish as much as she's done in the last few weeks in the blogosphere.

As I see it, obama split the difference on education, giving half the jobs to EEP-type reformers, and yes they are doing their worst. But after we take inventory of the $100 billion investment we've received, we need to remember that we haven't even lost yet on the $5 billion RttT.

And even if we lose on its anti-science agenda, we still have Round #2, the reauthorization of NCLB. Ladd, Barton, and others have documented the fake science of VAMs for evaluation. Even if we're taking some punches from the 21st century's version of Know Nothingism,I don't think we'll lose on reauthorization. And by the way, we still have the courts and I can't see how growth models for terminations, for instance, would survive in court except in places with "at will" employment.

As I see it, if we lose, we didn't fight smart enough. But I think we are going to win. Think of the eternal principles of liberal education, democracy, and the great chain of learning and scholarship, and ask how could educators give in?

Diane,

It's nice you and Deborah are back. Your summers "off" leaves many of us with too much time on our hands and too much mischief to stir.

Have thought long and hard this summer about Obama's RTTT program and will have to admit I am in agreement. Making the $4.35 billion available only to states that are willing to lift their caps on charters and tie student test scores to merit pay for teachers both make sense to me.

I've read your reservations against both of Obama's conditions for receiving RTTT funds and as I stated in the NYPost earlier this summer, I have all the respect in the world for your body of work but must respectfully disagree with you on these two criteria.

Charter schools offer a choice for many poor/minority urban parents, previously afforded only to students of wealth. For the first time ever many of these parents actually feel empowered to be able to decide where their children will go to school. This is huge and from much of what I've read this summer it trumped everything else in Obama's decision to expand charter schools.

Yes, SOME CHARTER SCHOOLS WILL FAIL. That's a given. However, it's then up to the state to shut them down. This is much easier to do than shutting down a failing public school.

As you're aware, one of the key variables in the success/failure of a child's chances in school is the level of parental involvement. If parents have a say in where their kids are going to go to school, they're going to be much more invested in their child's schooling. While this has the potential of creating a problem for those children/families left behind in regular public schools, the value to students who opt for charters can be immeasurable. As you're also aware, some of these failing public schools have been deplorable for decades, and with that stench there was never an alternative for many of these poor/minority families ghettoed into these failing schools. With his mandate of states lifting their caps on charters Obama is attempting to change all this.

As for merit pay being tied to student test scores, IT'S ABOUT TIME schools are going to be required (if they want a share of the $$$) to use quantitative data to figure out which teachers are and which teachers are not getting the job done.

I've expressed my absolute disgust with the pseudo-system of teacher evaluation schools have employed for far too long (and are still using today). I believe the word I used over and over was "embarrassing." These subjective BS evaluations contrived by school administrators had 98.5% of all teachers nationwide doing commendable work. As anyone who has ever worked in a public school can tell you that just ain't the case.

So yes, charters and merit pay will be controversial for all the reasons you've stated. However, they both appear to me to be viable alternatives to the status quo.

My qualifier on these student test scores would be that for some prescribed period of time (i.e. 2-3 years) they be used primarily for improvement of instruction and not to make high-stakes decisions (tenure, raises, etc.). A teacher with a record of low student performance on these tests should be given all the professional development necessary to improve their performance. Only if the teacher in question fails to amend their practice and improve his/her students' test scores they should then be encouraged to seek alternative employment.

Paul,

I'm curious to know if you've read E.D. Hirsch and what role you think curriculum reform plays in improving schools. I'm reading The Making of Americans now and it reaffirms my sense that systematically and intensively building background knowledge from kindergarten onward is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet.

Ben,

Am a huge fan of the Core Knowledge philosophy. The "committees" working these past few months on national standards, etc., hopefully examined and (legally) duplicated much of Hirsch's comprehensive efforts. Believe firmly that background knowledge and its development over time through a student's formal school experience is an invaluable component to the success of any student. Let's face it, if all kids were exposed to (and expected to learn) the same rich body of knowledge as students in Massachusetts our country's public schools would be much more successful.

A silver bullet? I'd have to agree with you that CK is quite possibly the closest concept we have to a cure all for our schools. I am also still a strong believer that individualizing/customizing the education of very child would be a huge step in the right direction. I believe the two of these approaches combined with an early childhood approach similar to Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone, would be comprehensive enough to get the job done for the vast majority of students nationwide.

Paul,
I can agree in part with your statement "These subjective BS evaluations contrived by school administrators had 98.5% of all teachers nationwide doing commendable work. As anyone who has ever worked in a public school can tell you that just ain't the case."

But I wonder about other jobs like lawyers, doctors and police to name a few. What is the percentage that lose their jobs for incompetence? I bet it is comparable to teachers.

I have surveyed many teachers about the percentage of people they deemed incompetent in their schools and not one said it was much more than 5%, though a few said 10%.

The assumption that it is impossible to have over 90% of the teachers be competent can be explained by the fact that 50% leave early in their careers, many of them because they just couldn't do the job. In NYC they have 3- 4 years to weed people out before they get tenure.

We also found that some of the most incompetent figured out how to become supervisors as early in their careers as possible. They are the ones who instead of focusing on becoming better teachers, resort to scheming.

Now if you add quantitative measure, which often comes down to tests, I would bet the most incompetent and least concerned about a well rounded education for their kids, will find a way to make those numbers.

A close friend of mine is a retired superintendent, so I asked him about how many teachers are low-performing. He said it was between 5 and 10%.

People often fail to recognize the fact that almost 50% of teachers leave the field during their first five years. Many of these people are "counseled out" or realize themselves that the job is not for them. Since teachers are on contract, these people are listed as "resignations." Not many teachers are listed as "terminations" but that doesn't mean teachers weren't asked to resign.

Yesterday there was an announcement that got very little fanfare, but represents to me, a true paradigm shift in education, as well as a reform that I believe will be authentic and will become widespread once it catches on. In Denver a kindergarten teacher by the name of Kim Ursetta opened up a union-sponsored public school led by teachers (no principal). Once teachers have control of their profession, I believe we'll see significant improvements in education. Teacher-managed schools will have the effect of making teachers fully professional and that will attract highly educated people to K-12 classrooms. Intelligent people want to be decision-makers.

It will be interesting to see if the Department of Ed heeds the warnings of you, Paul Barton, and Helen Ladd. My bet is that they won't, based on the fact that Secretary Duncan's "Listening Tour" was all talk and no listening. He ended up the "tour" with the same canned beliefs he went in with.

The "Race to the Top" amounts to little more than the kind of "Acceptance of Terms of Agreement" one checks to download software. States that "don't get it right" in the first round can say "me too" more loudly in the second round.

The early returns from surveys of school administrators indicate that ARRA money is being spent on filling holes in state and local shortfalls. This was highly predictable and almost inevitable, given that "number of jobs saved" is an important ARRA consideration.

"Dangerous" may well prove too mild. "Disastrous" may prove more apt.

Lol, Linda, the arrogance of your last paragraph startled me to laughter. I don't say that to be mean, or to discourage you--I like your other comments. Yet that paragraph symbolizes in a few words the great national arrogance which earns teachers less acclaim and pay than say engineers, designers, accountants, marketers, and many other professionals.

Let us go back, then to 1620 when the Mayflower landed in New England. These worthies, having risked life, limb, and familial bonds on leaving the old world and sailing into the unknown sea, then took upon themselves a far more severe risk than merely sailing in a wooden ship. The risk they took? Communally allocating resources. You may know the result of their scheme of communal living: they nearly starved. They bickered and dodged and over-ate until the colony was nearly decimated by famine.

Anyone who has served on a committee or board knows the downsides of deciding every little thing by vote and collaborative decision. It works to a point, but without a clear leader, day-to-day progress grinds to a crawl.

This is not to say that your example school won't work. It will, as they have a strong leader, whether she has the title or no.

I'll argue that the model won't scale up. It won't work in every school.

On the other hand, I don't see any real paradigm shift here. This school falls on a spectrum of leadership configurations, none particularly more remarkable than the next. It would be hard indeed to say that any of the schools near here are not "teacher-managed", as all the administrators who come to mind are teachers first. Moreover the incentive structure, schedule, etc are all determined by union-negotiated contract.

What looks to be different in Denver is that they got rid of micro-managing administration. You don't have to switch to rule-by-committee to do that--just fire the person and move on.


Teachers for some reason imagine themselves to be unique professionals, unlike the many professions who find ways to work together under management without need of local unions and state political machines and a national organization so arrogant it spends teachers' (taxpayers') money meddling in Congressional elections.

Maybe they are so different from the rest of us. If so, I wish they'd explain why they are so unique.


With you, I applaud Ms. Ursetta's initiative to break out of the big system. The President want's to give many more schools and teaches the same power. Godspeed to him in that.

Ed:

I didn't say there would be no leader. I imagine teachers would choose a head teacher who would serve at the pleasure of the faculty.

Your attitude is a common one in our country and, I believe, the main reason why our system of education is not what we'd like it to be. Simply put, many Americans do not respect teachers or the work that they do. They too are LOL.

Hey I just realized this as I read the latest report on the invalidity of growth models for evaluation purposes, and then checked links. We read plenty of indictments of VAMs used for purposes they weren't designed for. But has anyone ever read a reply?

Of course, "reformers" respond with the sound bite that we just need "good enough" evaluations. But, I imagine Diane has given the data-driven folks plenty of opportunities to give an evidenced-based response to the challenges of social scientists. I wonder how often she hears a counter-argument.

You don't hear counter-arguments, John, because there aren't any. The closest VAMers can come is the same they use for standardized achievement tests. "There are some issues surrounding the methodology, but there are no better alternatives." And the beat goes on.

As with test results expressed in terms of scaled scores, the math is arcane, and the consequences are watered down so that not too many people are upset.

Of course there are better alternatives, but they involve differentiation of "teacher." Such differentiation would upset the apple cart of the entire teacher-training, credentialing, and "administrative" apparatus. The unaccountables above the school site level would become accountable. No "reformer" wants to see that happen.

"Everyone knows" the "problem" is the teacher unions, the teachers, and the kids. The kids have to be more responsible and do what they're told. The teachers have to be more "data driven." And the unions have to dry up and blow away.

It's a grand delusion, but it's reality on the ground.

Dick Schultz, you are fresh air, as always.

Teachers in my district, including myself, are pulling out all the stops to do what's required of us; we are no sandbaggers. Nevertheless, our superintendent seems to think the route to improvement lies in using test scores and more harrowing evaluations to weed out teachers who do not fit his dubious template of the ideal teacher. (Because I do a lot of direct instruction and employ pretty firm discipline, I believe I am in his sights. ) If only he read --and UNDERSTOOD --E.D. Hirsch's The Making of Americans, he would see that our already-hard work would yield a much more bountiful harvest if we adopted a Core Knowledge curriculum, infusing our kids' minds with the background knowledge required to read texts --and life --with comprehension.

Linda, blaming your problems on the attitude of the country is what I mean by arrogance. Instead of saying, "how can our profession analyze and adjust to the realities of the world?" you blame it on the attitudes of the majority of Americans.

Those attitudes are not some freak result of a publicity nightmare. Rather they are the result of a half century or more of choices made by the individuals and groups who make up teaching.

Teachers alone among professionals believe that it was merely coincidence that the Pilgrims of 1620-1623 quickly began to starve. Teachers alone as a profession vote 85+% for the left wing. Teachers alone as professionals encourage their national representative body to spend their funds on partisan political attacks, rather then research, standards development, and professional support.

To be blunt, no other profession is spending its dues to influence the vote here in the 18th Congressional district of Ohio. Only teachers have such rude, absurd arrogance.

Or do you have a contrary example of professionalism?

Ed:

I didn't say that the MAJORITY of Americans show disrespect for teachers. I said that MANY do. And, yes, I blame people with these negative attitudes for hurting our schools. They are the MAIN reason why our schools are less than stellar. ALL countries with enviable educational systems have citizens who revere teachers at all levels.

Fortunately, most polls show that the majority of Americans believe, as I do, that teachers are among our nation's heroes. In fact three out of four people would want their own children to be teachers (See this month's Kappan). Our teachers have helped to build our great democracy and they have educated some of the world's most creative and successful adults. Look at the prizes given in any field of endeavor and you will see American recipients. Most of these people went to public schools. Yes, teachers have done a superb job during the last half century but they know they must meet the challenges of the 21st century. Today is Patriot Day so I say a big thank you to all American heroes, including our teachers! Thank you, Teachers! I know from personal experience about the many sacrifices you make for your students. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen in our schools unless YOU make it happen!

Dick,

Please define what you mean when you mentioned differentiation of "teacher."

Here's what I was trying to get at with the term "differentiation."

A "teacher" today has a complicated job.
The role is ostensibly defined by grade and subject. But the kids a teacher has to deal with are not homogeneous fits into those ticky-tack conceptual boxes. It's not until Advanced Placement in high school and in a few other courses that kids have been screened by the system to give a teacher a clear shot at defined instructional accomplishments.

If schools were managed rather than "administered," there would be a differentiation of personnel. Outside of school, pay is ordinarily based on the scope of responsibility and/or the specialization. That doesn't hold in education. The "teacher" is accountable for "everything."

Currently, "everything" hinges on once- a-year standardized achievement tests in math and reading in certain grades.
There are no means of crediting the cumulative instructional accomplishments of either individual kids or individual teachers. All the talk of "data driven," "formative evaluation," "merit" and such is just happy talk.

Some kids learn with little or no instruction. Some learn despite unintended mal-instruction. The system takes credit for these "placebo effects." The rest are said to have "specific learning disabilities," drop our, are pushed out, or "graduate" with few academic qualifications.

The system is out of control, and it's going to take both more and less than "national standards" to ameliorate the condition.

Ed Jones writes:
To be blunt, no other profession is spending its dues to influence the vote here in the 18th Congressional district of Ohio. Only teachers have such rude, absurd arrogance.

I don't know the specifics of the OH-18, but I think you're naive if you believe that the AMA and the Trial Lawyers (and most other professional associations) aren't spending dues money on elections and lobbyists.

Ed,

It's a new school year and I was really looking forward to the conversations again on Bridging Differences until I read another disrespectful "Ed Jones" post for the umpteenth time, something most of the rest of the posters refrain from. Do you think we can have a constructive instead of destructive conversation this year, whether we agree or disagree? Your insults and inciteful language are becoming tiresome.

Richard,

You've essentially lost me with your explanation. Looks like you could have been in a bit of a hurry when you wrote it because it's not as carefully constructed as what we've come to expect from you on this blog.

"But the kids a teacher has to deal with are not homogeneous fits into those ticky-tack conceptual boxes (grade and subject)." In elementary schools it's pretty much a given most districts did away with tracking years ago. As kids progress into and through secondary school classes become more specialized as academic merit determines placements.

So does it pretty much then boil down to a problem in elementary schools as to how do we address the differences with student abilities?

Sorry about the clumsy communication.

"Does it pretty much then boil down to a problem in elementary schools as to how do we address the differences with student abilities?"

No. Academic abilities are enabled by instruction, not inherent within kids. With few exceptions, kids enter K with adequate prerequisites to be taught to read and to acquire other academic capabilities. But these assets are not acknowledged or systematically expanded. Rather schools compare kids relatively, look for "deficits," and try to fill them in. That's a bootless task.

There is a big difference between "tracking" and having intelligence regarding the Status/Performance of each individual student on an academic capability the school aspires to deliver.

However. That's not what I was trying to get at with "differentiation of 'teacher'" Moving kids through "teachers" and "grades" is anachronistic in the digital age and the world that the present cohort of kids will be dealing with.

The age x grade structure is convenient for administrators and for text and test publishers. But the Procrustean matrix precludes any management or improvement of the enterprise.

The current "accountability" is illusory. The strength of the el-hi enterprise is actually at the teacher and student level. Aggregate teachers work hard and aggregate students try to do as they are told. But neither hard work nor trying to do as you're told is sufficient to right the dysfunctional enterprise.

The weakness is at the top of the Ed Chain (which is very resistant to change. The "standards and accountability using standardized achievement tests" has failed at every step since the late 1980's. That's 30 years of repeated failure in which nothing has been learned.)

Richard Elmore comes at it from a bit different but compatible perspective in "Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement:"

http://www.shankerinstitute.org/Downloads/Bridging_Gap.pdf

I hold that dramatic improvements in the el-hi enterprise are feasible in the short-run, but join Elmore's long-run perspective.

Meanwhile, to get back to ranch of Diane's post, let's run a quick thought experiment:

Let's say we immediately fired the "bad teachers." (We can't even identify them, but play along for experimental purposes.)

Let's say we immediately double the salaries of the remaining "good teachers."

Let's say we immediately make all schools "charter schools."

Let's say we immediately "turned around" the 5% "worst schools" in every district.

Would anyone contend that kids would receive a better education or that the citizenry and government would be any happier with the schooling enterprise?

I don't think so.

Then why in the world are these nostrums
being promoted by the Federal Government and the media?


Ed Jones, why do you keep repeating that TOTALLY false statement that teachers vote 85% for Democrats? Oh that's right, you come from the ilk that believes in "death panels" and the president isn't a citizen, and the president is a nazi, and the president is brainwashing students in socialism by making a speech to them about doing well in school. Sorry. I forgot how easily you believe repeatedly proven false statements.

Ed Jones, again ... "NEA found that 45 percent of teachers are Democrats, 28 percent are Republicans, and 27 percent have no party affiliation. NEA's own political surveys, taken after each election cycle, show similar results. But when asked about political philosophy, 56 percent of teachers described themselves as conservative or "tend to be conservative" while only 44 percent said they were liberal or "tend to be liberal."

Dick Schutz,
I like your thought experiment. If we fire all the "bad" teachers (the ones whose students did not post higher scores every year); hire only TFA teachers; turn every school into a charter school; we would soon discover that we have wasted billions of dollars, millions of lives, and are still disappointed with our educational results.
I think this is called barking up the wrong tree or rushing headlong off a cliff.
We have had many, many fads and fancies in American education, but seldom have so many invested so much in unproven ideas, supported in this instance by the power and purse of the federal government.
Diane

"but seldom have so many invested so much in unproven ideas, supported in this instance by the power and purse of the federal government."

Amen. How do you account for this happening, Diane?

I too am very perplexed at the direction the Obama administration is taking. In President Obama's books and campaign speeches, he demonstrated a good understanding of the complexity of education. He talked about the importance of parental involvement, infant and prenatal care, health care, preschool, varied and enriched curricula, multiple measures of evaluation and the need for a qualified teacher in every classroom. He chose an excellent school for his own daughters, one that keeps students' test scores private. And yet his adminstration seems to be turning away from the research-based principles that he espoused and turning to practices that are unproven and unsupported. Why? Did he make a mistake in choosing Arne Duncan but doesn't want to interfere with the secretary's decisions? Is he making concessions to the conservatives and the rich "reformers?" It's all very puzzling.

Diane and Dick Shutz - and how many teachers that are "bad" would not be "bad" if their hands weren't tied by required programs and poor assessment models and the like, and were responsible for developing their lessons and their craft themselves, with appropriate support and supervision?

"how many teachers that are "bad" would not be "bad" if their hands weren't tied..."

The thing is everybody's hands are tied, nobody's hands are tied, and one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing--to badly mix metaphors.

We're getting a bit off-topic. But the quality of individual teacher is not a reasonable unit in considering the el-hi enterprise.

The lowest reasonable unit is the one that has discretionary budget authority. That's currently the district in most situations. And that's where there's an imbalance in "accountability" that engenders squabbling about "charters," "school decision-making" and such.

Accountability without authority is as unfair as taxation without representation, but at the elementary level the lowest reasonable unit is the school. At the secondary level there are departmental, and other options.

President Obama has called for responsibility and transparency in education, but has placed the burden of responsibility on kids and parents. Responsibility above the school site and the entire matter of transparency are not on the scope.

Both responsibility and transparency can be easily attained via responses to a very few questions:

What are you going to do?

How will you know when you've done it?

How are you going to go about it?

When will you first have "proof of concept" information and what are the additional costs (or preferably savings) to get to this point?

Those four questions shut most people up pretty quickly. Responses are most easily formulated at a school level, but they can be formulated at a district or state level. Formulating the responses at the federal level is an impossible and unnecessary undertaking.

Diane,

Again, I must respectfully disagree with your views on charters and student test scores tied to teacher evaluations. I do not believe we are either, "...barking up the wrong tree or rushing headlong off a cliff."

You also go on to state, "Seldom have so many invested so much in unproven ideas, supported in this instance by the power and purse of the federal government." To this day I still believe LBJ was correct regarding his war on poverty but it was seriously flawed in the trenches. I have as much faith (if not more) in Obama's education agenda.

He is not a moron like the previous occupant of the White House. He is surrounded by some very bright minds. These folks have not pulled this educational agenda out of a hat. I cannot believe they have set themselves up to look like fools.

For now, he all he can handle on the health care front but his education agenda has essentially been set and states must fall in line to receive the prescribed monies.

There is always more than one side to a debate. Your argument is clearly based on history and data, his more on conjecture. As well as I've come to regard you and your work, I'm not betting (or rooting) against his agenda. He is clearly a good and decent man with genuine intentions, especially with regard to children. I cannot even contemplate believing he could be wrong.

Dick,
Why is the Obama administration moving decisively to promote their panaceas for which there is little or no evidence?
I try to answer this in my new book, so I can't explain in only a few sentences. But for a short answer, I'd suggest the American love of quick and easy solutions (which never work, because they are too quick and too easy). Add to that the vast resources of the Gates and Broad Foundations, whose alums populate the highest levels of the Obama Department of Education, and you will be close to the story.

Diane

Hi, Paul Hoss,

We part company on these issues. I see no reason for the Obama administration to push states to remove all limits on charter schools. They range from excellent to abysmal, and the CREDO study shows that most are not excellent and not even better than the local public school. I deal with this at length in my new book.
I also part company on the value of evaluating teachers by their students' test scores. I think there is no reason to NOT look at the scores, but they should be only one factor in an evaluation for tenure or promotion, and the decision should be made by on the ground supervisors, not economists or actuaries.
I am surprised you have so much faith in Duncan, who after all has a mediocre record in Chicago, having produced no big improvements there.
Diane

Paul,
I agree with you that President Obama is a smart man, but he is not knowledgeable about education. If he were, he would not have bought the George W. Bush approach to education--incentives, choice, accountability--all the thinking of businessmen and the mega-foundations. Where is the evidence that they are right? Bloomberg's accountability program, which Duncan has praised, just produced ludicrous results (97% of all schools got a "grade" of A or B, including some of the schools that the state says are "persistently dangerous." Bloomberg is very smart. But being smart does not mean that you know how to redesign the nation's schools. If Duncan is so smart, why does Chicago still have one of the worst-performing school systems in the nation?

Diane

Diane,

Sometimes between BD and Robert P's blog on CK I fail to remember what I said, where.

Arne Duncan has no more answers to education reform than Margaret Spellings or Rob Paige. They all have ideas to offer but so do you and a number of other prominent experts in the field. It's a different ball game now because the "experts" aren't the only ones being heard. Who is to know which strategy will work? I tend to believe there is no one answer for all the problems in our schools. Just like all kids are different so are the myriad of problems. I simply like the direction the Obama administration is taking in the path toward reauthorizing NCLB. Bush was clearly a buffoon and made many many errors with the original legislation but his intentions on this legislation I believe were in the right place. Obama's NCLB 2.0 should contain numerous improved amendments. Sure, he'll still make some mistakes along the way but it's going to make US schools better in the long run. And BTW, we all know it's never going to be perfect and it's clearly never going to satisfy everyone.

As for charters, I believe finally affording poor/minority urban families a choice is a huge step toward closing the achievement gap. By itself it will not get the job done because there are simply too many lousy charters out there clogging the field. States need to be much more perspecatious in the process and hold charter wannabees to stricter scrutiny. They also need to pull the trigger (pardon the expression) much faster on the duds. If only it were that easy with failing regular public schools.

As for student tests tied to teacher evaluations, I too believe it should not be the sole criteria but I do believe it should be a significant factor as part of the evaluation process. I've maintained for years the existing system is an embarrassment to our profession and we absolutely need to incorporate a quantitative variable into the process. Principals coming into a teacher's room (warning them a week in advance) for a forty five minute dog and pony show is as negatively transparent as it can get, especially in lieu of the marginal performance of some teachers. I've also maintained any high stakes decisions connected to these tests should be held in abeyance until the VAM can be refined to the point of reasonableness.

I will also staunchly maintain random placement of students and/or teachers cannot be a valid argument against using the tests and it absolutely cannot be the straw that breaks the camel's back in making the decision on VAM's. Having been part of the placement process for three and a half decades qualifies me to make this assertion. The school administrator coupled with the local union (yes, parents and specialist should also be "heard") protecting each of its dues paying members should be able to come to a fair, reasonable, and pragmatic solution that will address this seemingly insignificant excuse used by some to thwart the notion of injecting objectivity into the process. ONE TEACHER SHOULD NEVER GET ALL (OR EVEN MOST OF) THE PROBLEMS should be the credo that guides this mole hill of an excuse.

Have just finished Hirsch's new book and although I believe strongly in his CK philosophy of previous knowledge used as building blocks for future learning have a bone or two to pick with much of what he espouses. He obviously has it right on this level but he is way off base with his teacher discussions/lectures with the whole class being superior to individualizing the pace of instruction for each student. My God! Are teachers in the classroom to make their lives simpler or to address the individual needs of their students? His philosophy against this rhetorical makes him lose a great deal of credibility in my estimation. Has he ever been in a classroom where the teacher takes each student (at their pace, not the teacher's or the class's) through the curriculum. Based on the manner in which he bashes child-centered classrooms versus teacher directed classrooms, I would have to concur he never has. Not all child-centered classroom are "open" classrooms from the 70's. And for my money any teacher teaching the same lesson to the whole class should be out delivering mail for the US Postal service somewhere because they are ingraining the same tired civil-service mentality to their job as does a US mail carrier (sorry, Diana).

Can't wait to read your new book.

I also part company on the value of evaluating teachers by their students' test scores. I think there is no reason to NOT look at the scores, but they should be only one factor in an evaluation for tenure or promotion

You have unwittingly admitted agreement with Obama and Duncan; nothing that they're doing would make it mandatory to use test scores as the only form of teacher evaluation, and Obama has said repeatedly that teachers shouldn't be evaluated solely on test scores.

To the contrary, the main thing that they're making mandatory here is that states mustn't pass laws banning ANY use of test scores, even as part of a larger evaluation process. And you say you agree with that point.

Agreed then. So we can stop the whining about how horrible Obama is for wanting to know whether a teacher is churning out illiterate students.

Dick, Sorry...I just cannot seem to find the source for that stat. And, my memory is that it is actually more above 90%. I'll keep looking.

Meanwhile, I think we can take the extreme political activities of the NEA and the state education associations as sufficient proof that teachers as a group are not so politically self-restrained or humble as say electrical engineers or accountants. (I.E.E.E.)

Rachel, if you want to put your profession in the league with trial lawyers, go right ahead. Wonder how that pays off in public response?

Jason, you can shoot the messenger if you want. Maybe it will help, who knows?


I was a bit vague about the NEA's current use of your dues (derived from our taxes). They current run ads on local radio specifically supporting Zack Space for Congress; saying that the schoolchildren are better off for Zach's work on health care.

OK, two questions:
1) What entitles the NEA to speak on behalf of the children of Appalachian Ohio? Are the NEA officials elected by parents of these students?

2) What expertise does the NEA have in the economics of health care? Have they really so well mastered the issues of education delivery that they now feel certified to share their success re the delivery of health care?


I totally agree with Linda that we could solve some problems if we get the teachers and the public back on the same page.

I'd love to have a serious conversation about that public disconnect. Or, we can pretend its all the peoples' fault and not at all due to the political and other activities of the profession.

Hmm, Paul. I don't follow your logic:

"Bush was clearly a buffoon."

The Obama administration maintains the Bush Administration policies and adds requirements that have no evidential basis.

Yet, because "President Obama is a smart man," you can't conceive of the ARRA initiatives failing.

Irrespective of the personal characteristics of the two presidents, it seems to me that if policy has failed and it's continued, the consequences are predictable.

Right again, Dick Schutz.
If George W. Bush was such a dope, why is the Obama administration adopting his education policies and using the power of the purse to push them?
Diane

For a good laugh, look at this site, which quotes from this blog: http://edtweak.weebly.com/uploads/1/5/1/6/1516909/edtweak12.pdf

Diane

OK, two apologies and a thanks. One it was Nev who called me on the 84% of teachers, and two, I now think he's more correct than not, though I cannot find the proof I want.

What it seems is that the 84% figure refers to professors of liberal arts, and that in a now oldish survey of Ivy league professors. I knew I had lost the reference I wanted, but no one had ever called me on it, and I just couldn't find another. Meanwhile, the exit polls showed that 90% of blacks voted Gore in 2000 and 88% Kerry in 2004, and... So I got my figures confused, though my gut told me all along America's teachers weren't that out to lunch.

Thanks Nev for speaking up.

So, apologies for the letter of the post, but let's return to the spirit:
If 56% of teachers think of themselves as conservative, why is the NEA spending their money to influence congressional voters on behalf of a clearly far liberal bill?

And don't you think that kind of out-of-touch activism has an impact on the public perception of teachers and education advocates?

Dick,

NCLB has not been a failure. It's had more than it's share of problems but it has provided us with data that has finally illuminated the problems in our schools, not least of which is the achievement gap. Many from the educational establishment are willing to bash the legislation but these are the same people who have been in denial about the problems in our schools. According to them everything was hunky-dory. Well, it wasn't. Because of NCLB we have been able to identify where the problems are and are finally starting to address them.

Obama's amending the legislation will improve it.

Paul, the "achievement gap" has been recognized since at least the 1960's. The "gap" was the main impetus for Title I of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act. NCLB has done (next to)nothing to close the gap, despite the spin that it has.

"Obama's amending the legislation will improve it." Who knows? It will be Congress that amends the legislation, not the President. It's almost certain the name will change. If the Administration's "Race to the Top" gets to the top in two years, "Each Child Celebrating" might be apt. If we still haven't made it to the top, "Sisyphus Revisted" might do.

But NCLB wasn't the matter we were talking about. The Obama administration to date has done nothing to break with the el-hi ed policies of the Bush administration. Can you refute that contention?

If George W. Bush was such a dope, why is the Obama administration adopting his education policies and using the power of the purse to push them?
Diane

Bush's education policies? Clinton was one of the biggest pushers of charter schools, back when you used to support them too (which means you ought to remember that fact). Don't pretend charter schools are a Bush policy.

Nor can you pretend that testing is just a Bush policy. It's equally a Ted Kennedy policy. NCLB was bipartisan, don't forget.

Now here's a Bush policy: The DC voucher program. But the Obama administration is doing its best to let that wither on the vine.

Diane,

Thank you for the outstanding Op-Ed piece in this morning's Boston Globe (www.boston.com). It refutes the critical thinking/cooperative learning "blather" diluting the education of too many students.

Massachusetts is potentially headed in this direction and if we go there we'll soon slip from the top trend setting position we've earned throughout the education reform movement of the past quarter century.

Dick,

Obama is taking from the positive components of the bipartisan Bush/Kennedy (thank you John Doe) NCLB legislation the worthwhile while amending the aspects that are in need of revision.

And again, the educational establishment was in complete denial regarding the achievement gap until the entire country saw the irrefutable evidence garnered from the NCLB tests. The loonies at Fair Test and the NEA could not longer claim our schools were doing just fine. The tests proved our schools, especially for poor/minority kids, were a disaster.

Paul Hoss,
No Child Left Behind will go down in history as George W. Bush's legislation. Yes, he got Kennedy's support and it was a bipartisan bill. Sadly Kennedy ignored the spectacular success of his own state of Massachusetts, which was built on solid academic standards, not on a diet of basic skills only.
Obama has fully embraced George W. Bush's NCLB approach of basic skills-only, minus any meaningful standards. This will not raise academic achievement in any significant way. NCLB has not been a colossal failure; just a colossal waste of talent and time. Scores on NAEP are up a bit, but not nearly as much as they were up prior to the passage of NCLB.
Sorry, but you can't bash Bush on one hand and simultaneously praise Obama for being Bush-heavy.
Diane

Yikes! John (Doe) and Paul--

You've obviously not read either the literature of the 1960s re the achievement gap nor the recent IES evaluation of the D C. voucher program (euphemized as the "Opportunity Scholarship Program")

http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094050/

The abstract should be sufficient:

"The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for 5 of 10 subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress — students applying from "schools in need of improvement" (SINI) — did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships, however the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship."

And the Abstract is a positive spin. The difference in reading was not practically significant. And although parents were more satisfied with OSP schools, students were LESS satisfied. The main consequence of the "vouchers" was to increase segregation on the basis of parents' religion. This may be regarded as positive by wingnuts, but Congress, in its wisdom was not impressed and discontinued funding.

Making up "findings" to support one's personal beliefs is not ordinarily considered proper.

John Doe, you will have to read my new book to see why I have come to view charters and test-test-test as a diversion, not an education reform strategy.

The DC voucher program was not the rave that its partisans believe. The students who saw no gains were boys and those from the lowest-performing schools. So, based on results, there should be vouchers only for girls from moderately successful public schools.

Diane

Diane,

We must part ways again. "Sadly Kennedy ignored the spectacular success of his own state of Massachusetts, which was built on solid academic standards, not on a diet of basic skills only." Standards, shmadards. There weren't a handful of teachers/administrators in Massachusetts who could tell you what a standard was/is.

Massachusetts has done fantastic because of the Commissioner at the time, David Driscoll, and his insistence that the teachers and the students in our state could do it. The expectations were sky high and no one, I mean no one, was allowed to retreat from that mantra, especially inner city kids and teachers. "What do ya mean kids from Dorchester/Hyde Park can't pass these tests and succeed in school? We (the DOE and the state legislature) aren't buying it. You can and you will succeed" - and they have, not just relative to other kids in the state but to kids nationally and even globally.

The Boston Globe and parents are also to be applauded. Their relentless demands that Massachusetts could do this contributed enormously to our success.

Meaningful standards? I'll bet there aren't a hundred teachers/administrators in the entire state who have ever read them, never mind know what they are or have ever followed them. They're simply dust collectors on the ahelves of so many well intentioned theorists. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 combined with the MCAS graduation requirement instituted in 2003 (and adherence to it) are the reason Massachusetts schools/students have been so successful. And your Globe op-ed piece this morning was so convincing.

And as for Bush, he's still a buffon but his NCLB legislation was his most successful, albeit misguided, effort of his eight years in power. Again, a ton of problems because he simply lacked wherewithal.

Paul, I disagree. Massachusetts has the best, most well defined standards in the nation. Its success coincides with the implementation of those standards, and MCAS, which is a far higher quality assessment that most states have. I reviewed MCAS a few years ago for Achieve, and I was very impressed by the quality of the questions. And every national review of state standards has concluded that Massachusetts' are the best. This, coupled with the introduction of tests for incoming teachers, to weed out those who had not mastered basic skills, gave a big impetus to academic achievement in Massachusetts. For that, I give credit to David Driscoll, but also to Sandra Stotsky, who fought the battle for higher standards year after year.
You may claim that academic achievement soared merely because of incantations of "we can do it," but that doesn't persuade me. Massachusetts put up big new money, high and coherent standards, a sound assessment, and saw great results. I wish it were possible to achieve these results by saying, "yes, we can," but it isn't.
As for Bush being a "buffoon" who launched a great program (NCLB), that is factually untrue on all counts. Bush is not a buffoon, and NCLB is not a great program. It is not a standards-based program, but a basic skills testing program. We will look back some day and say it was a diversion from improving our education system. Our students are not wiser, more motivated, or better educated because of it.

Diane

Diane,

I live here, was a player in the process and "we can do it" WAS/IS a major factor. Yes, the money was also a big help combined with the "no excuses" philosophy attached to the MCAS graduation requirement coupled with Driscoll's and the state legislature's demands that this could be accomplished were the difference makers.

David Driscoll is now with NAEP in some capacity but I was always curious how his methods would have worked in other states. He has a great demeanor and way about him that challenged most everyone here to show this challenge could be met. HE was a huge success in that capacity and I was disappointed when he left.

When the President of the United States says, "That statement doesn't r-e-s-i-g-n-a-t-e with me," (with a degree from Yale and Harvard not withstanding) HE IS A BUFFOON; not a bad guy, just a moron. That's just my opinion, nothing more.

Sorry, Paul, cheerleading alone does not make for high achievement. As you know, Massachusetts was one of the top scorers in the world on the recent international tests, and Dave Driscoll has been gone for a few years. Dave led a tranformation based on high standards--not just big talk--and backed up with money and a high-quality assessment.

David is now a member of the NAGB board, on which I sat for seven years. I think he is terrific, but give credit where it's due to Sandy Stotsky for fighting the battle for high standards for students and teachers.

As for Bush being a "buffoon," it seems odd that you would say that at the same time that you embrace his signature education program. This "buffoon" brought NCLB from Texas, and persuaded Ted Kennedy and George Miller and other Democrats that Texas had the secret formula for success. We now know that the secret formula didn't work in Texas, and it won't work in the nation. Read Walt Haney on the "Texas miracle," and Linda McNeill's "Avoidable Losses" (google both).
Diane

Ha, Paul, I don't normally engage in debate with people who judge others' intelligence by their metathetic slips. Yet I thought it would be fun to remind readers of Presidential Prerogative when it comes to the word "nuclear".

At least four presidents pronounced-- what looks to be an easy word-- as "nucular". One, Eisenhower, certainly had it much on his mind. And we all know how much the intelligentsia loves to quote him on the industry of defense.

The second, Carter, trained as a nuclear engineer. Who knows how he made it through the US Naval Academy with such bad linguistics. But he was alleged to be brilliant in all respects. (Did his hero, Adm. Hyman Rickover so pronounce it?)

The third, Wm. J. Clinton, well, he was a nice guy with a charming personality and we can forgive him just for that.

No word yet on how The Smartest President Ever pronounces it--I'm still agoggle over his superlative understanding of economics, individual choice, and executive power in a free market federal republic, and haven't heard his speeches using the word. Perhaps he just says 'fission'.


A good laugh this summer came from the Gettysburg Address exhibit at the national military park. Here is what the Chicago Times said of Lincoln's remarks:

"The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

Perhaps the Times is hiring editors, Paul.

Dick Schutz and Diane: you both need to learn to read. I didn't say anything about the value of the DC voucher program. What I said was that it was a Bush initiative (which it was) and that Obama is trying to discontinue it. Which means that Diane is completely off-base in saying that Obama is just continuing the Bush agenda -- promoting charter schools and testing were always bipartisan, while the one thing that you can properly call a "Bush" agenda (as opposed to a bipartisan consensus) is vouchers, but Obama isn't promoting that.

Anyway, even though you guys were responding to a point I didn't make, you still manage to be completely wrong. As Patrick Wolf has written (and he has more social science experience on a daily basis than either of you have had in your entire lives), the DC voucher program has overwhelmingly proven to be "most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far." Every other educational program that has been tested either shows no gains at all, or shows gains that are much less than in the DC voucher program. See http://educationnext.org/lost-opportunities/ You'd be well advised to read that article before spouting off in ignorance again.

Making up "findings" to support one's personal beliefs is not ordinarily considered proper.

But that's exactly what you're doing in claiming that the reading gains weren't substantively significant. If you actually read the report, rather than just the abstract (which you dishonestly dismiss as positive spin; it's quite the opposite), you'd find that students who had been in the voucher program the longest had by far the biggest gains:

"Students from the first cohort of applicants (21 percent of the impact sample) scored an average of 8.7 scale score points higher in reading (ES = .31) if they were offered a scholarship compared to not being offered a scholarship and 11.7 scale score points higher (ES = .42) if they used their scholarship compared to not being offered a scholarship. These impacts translate into 14.1 and 18.9 months of additional learning (1.5 to 2 years of typical schooling).

This is going out on a limb, but only slightly: You can't point to any other educational program, reform, funding, or anything whatsoever, that helped some students leapfrog their peers by 1.5 to 2 years within a mere 3-year period. Nothing else has even REMOTELY come close to producing that level of achievement gain.

The EducationNext article heightens the spin.

The report found an effect size for Scholarship OFFER of .13 and of Scholarship USE .15 in Reading.

"an effect size of 0.2 to 0.3 might be a "small" effect, around 0.5 a "medium" effect and 0.8 to infinity, a "large" effect."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_size

The obtained effects in reading are "below small. Moreover, there was considerable variability among sites
and the average score was still below the 50th percentile.

In math: zilch

That's not much "success."

The article sweeps two other important findings under the rug.

Yes, parents preferred the voucher schools. But kids didn't.

The vouchers increased religious segregation.

The article reports nothing new, but it does indicate that the principal investigator was hardly unbiased in his stance on "vouchers."

Diane,

In the spirit of Bridging Differences, lets' just say we all hope the reauthorization of NCLB is a MAJOR improvement of the initial legislation. How could it not be? I always told my kids in school, one of the best learning mechanisms we have at our disposal is the mistakes we make. Just as with history, learn from your mistakes so you don't repeat them.

Yes, Stotsky did much behind the scenes for Mass ed reform but David Driscoll was the real trooper. You wouldn't believe some of the garbage he put up with in public meetings from the no-nothing critics and cynics of MCAS. He handled it as well as could have been imagined and always came out smelling like a rose. He's a real keepah as we say up here in Beantown.

Desperately waiting for your new book. I'm sure it will be terrific.

Ed,

Thank you for the nice note on the smartest president ever and the "nuclear" reference. For my money, I'd have to go with the guy who died 7/4/1826, the same day John Adams died - Thomas Jefferson. Not sure too many others could have accomplished what he did, especially on the country's "maiden" voyage on becoming a new republic.

Dick --

The only person spinning (and quite desperately) is you. Like I predicted, you can't name any other educational idea -- not one -- that has ever produced as much improvement as the DC voucher program did for its third-year students. Now if Patrick Wolf were actually engaged in spin, he would have highlighted that fact to the exclusion of everything else. He didn't. Whereas you -- a master spinner -- completely ignore that fact and pretend that the only findings are negligible or even negative. You're the master spinner here, not Wolf.

(And enough with the silly argument that the finding re: parental satisfaction was "swept under the rug"; that finding was actually in the Executive Summary in bold print.)

John (Doe)--

When did quoting verbatim from an original report constitute "spin," and a researcher's selectively cherry picking the results of his report not constitute "spin."

Wolf didn't claim that the DC program produced the greatest improvement ever; only that it produced more improvement than any other recent IES evaluation.
Even that is a dubious claim, but it is true that other IES evaluations have shown "no impact" of Reading First, Reading Comprehension Instruction, or Beginning Teacher Mentoring. That's something to worry about, not something to brag about

Still and all, the statistical significance that was squeezed out in Reading represents no practical "improvement."

The DC results are consistent with those of other studies of "choice" schools. There is a lot of variability in both charter and public schools, but charters at the present time are no better than public schools.

Both charter and public schools remain a black box instructionally. We don't know what's going on instructionally in either. The performance differences are due to student and/or school personnel selection differences.

Dick wrote: "The vouchers increased religious segregation."

So?

Again, the longest-running participants in the DC voucher program were leapfrogging 1.5 to 2 years' worth of reading ahead of their peers in the DC public schools.

Only someone who is either completely dishonest or completely unfamiliar with the education literature would deny that this is a staggeringly large effect.

Ed Jones raises a good point: who cares about religious "segregation," whatever the heck that means? And how are you making that claim in the first place, given that the overwhelming effect of the DC voucher program has been to send non-Catholic inner black kids to Catholic schools? Indeed, one of the prominent criticisms of voucher programs in DC and elsewhere is that many non-Catholic kids have no option but to attend Catholic school with the voucher.

inner CITY black kids . . . .

"the overwhelming effect of the DC voucher program has been to send non-Catholic inner black kids to Catholic schools"

Precisely. This may be one reason that Kids in the voucher schools were more satisfied with public schools.

"the longest-running participants in the DC voucher program were leapfrogging 1.5 to 2 years' worth of reading ahead of their peers in the DC public schools."

That's a cherry-picked "finding" in the secondary article, not in the original report of the evaluation.

I have no further interest in pursuing the dialog on the voucher evaluation study. It's tangential at best to Diane's post. Anyone interested in the matter can read the original report at:

http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094050/

Bzzz, wrong yet again. Reading: good for you, and it prevents you from saying stupid things. Such as that the finding I already blockquoted for you wasn't in the "original report." (Hint: page xxix.)
If you don't want to bother reading, at least use the search function.

Paul Hoss,

When I reviewed MASS standards and assessments for Achieve a few years back, my team went to a school in Watertown, where the teachers were very knowledgeable about both and explained how their practice had changed.

Curious to know: what grade do you teach?

Diane

Diane Ravitch, despite her sneering at the DC voucher program, obviously can't identify any educational intervention that has a larger effect for students after three years.

For the record:

"Students from the first cohort of applicants (21 percent of the impact sample)scored an average of 8.7 scale score points higher in reading (ES = .31) if they were offered a scholarship compared to not being offered a scholarship and 11.7 scale score points higher (ES = .42) if they used their scholarship compared to not being offered a scholarship. These impacts translate into 14.1 and 18.9
months of additional learning (1.5 to 2 years of typical schooling). The statistical significance of this finding was not robust to adjustments for multiple comparisons."

In simple English. The Effect Size of .31 is "Small" and the "months" were not statistically significant. The gain can be attributed to variables other than the Opportunity Scholarship.

I'd like to suggest another view of the DC vouchers. I hesitate to cite research while in the company of people like Diane and Deb, so I'll just say that I'm under the impression that low-achieving and poor children make better progress when they are mainstreamed with middle and upper-income children. Therefore, if I could choose just one intervention for children trapped in low-performing schools, I'd choose a way of getting them out of these schools and into schools with a majority of students who are at grade level or above. These children would get PUBLIC school vouchers that could be used at any tax-supported public school. Transportation would be provided.

Although I believe that children who had vouchers to DC private schools probably did benefit from this experience, I don't support private school vouchers because they weaken the public school system that is so critical to the strength of our democracy. I might be wrong but I believe most citizens want their tax dollars to go to the public schools. I know I do, even though my own sons were educated at public and private schools.

I suspect that I experienced the kind of educational benefit we are discussing when I was a child. My first years of school were spent in a working class section of Brooklyn where I attended a parochial school that had 60 girls in one class. When I was nine years old I moved to a middle-class suburb in New Jersey, where many of my classmates' parents were professional people. At my new public school I noticed that the other children knew more than I did. They all seemed to know the meanings of words like "allowance," which I had never heard of. Their parents seemed very concerned about their progress at school and they got better grades on their report cards. All this bothered and offended me, but I assumed the other children were just smarter. I made a conscious decision to keep up with them by taking my books home (I remember thinking that this was outsmarting them!) and within a year or two, I was doing just as well as my classmates. I suspect this is the sort of thing that happens when disadvantaged children are placed in high-performing schools. I think it's probably a good thing.

Linda, good reporting and a good idea. Can we really scale it up?

I believe Ohio offers just such opportunity--we call it open enrollment. Not sure of all the details, but I know our district has lost students because of it.

Our Mike has offered another variant, where the urban District is simply enlarged to include the 'burbs. My copy of Hope and despair in the American city : why there are no bad schools in Raleigh / Gerald Grant waits now for me at the library. Presumably this helps the kids who remain behind by sending tax dollars the other direction.

Your experience is interesting. What if your teacher had not just you, but half a class of imports from 'working class' Brooklyn? Circa 2009?

In simple English. The Effect Size of .31 is "Small" and the "months" were not statistically significant. The gain can be attributed to variables other than the Opportunity Scholarship.

1) You can't point to a discredited Wikipedia article to say that .31 is a small effect. In education, .31 is huge.

2) The gain was statistically significant at the .04 level initially; when the researchers made Benjamini-Hochberg Adjustments, the p-value went to .08 (see Table B-1). That means that under a particular model, there's an 8% chance that the large reading gains for Cohort 1 weren't due to the vouchers. Yes, that slips past the 5% level, but we're still allowed to use our common sense here.

Ed:

I believe these interdistrict public school vouchers are being offered in cities across the nation: Boston, St. Louis, Milwaukee, East Palo Alto, Wake Forest, etc. with good results. To me this might be the "solution" we've been searching for.

Of course, the receiving schools have to have a say in this; otherwise they'll become overburdened with disadvantaged students and that would defeat the purpose. I know someone's done research on the "tipping point"(i.e. how many low-achieving children to admit before achievement is negatively impacted for whole class) but I don't remember what it is. One idea is for state and federal governments to offer monetary incentives for suburban school districts to set aside about 20% of their spaces for children from outside their districts.

Although my post said nothing about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), there has been a spirited debate about it.
The evaluation by Patrick Wolf offered the following conclusions:
"The OSP improved reading achievement for 5 of the 10 subgroups examined. Being offered or using a scholarship led to higher reading test scores for participants who applied from schools that were not classified as “schools in need of improvement”(non-SINI). There were also positive impacts for students who applied to the Program with relatively higher levels of academic performance, female students, students entering grades K-8 at the time of application, and students from the first cohort of applicants. These impacts translate into 1/3 to 2 years of additional learning growth. However, the positive subgroup reading impacts for female students and the first cohort of applicants should be interpreted with caution, as reliability tests suggest that
they could be false discoveries.
• No achievement impacts were observed for five other subgroups of students,
including those who entered the Program with relative academic disadvantage.
Subgroups of students who applied from SINI schools (designated by Congress as the highest priority group for the Program) or were in the lower third of the test score distribution among applicants did not demonstrate significant impacts on reading test scores if they were offered or used a scholarship. In addition, male students, those entering high school grades upon application, and those in application cohort 2 showed no significant impacts in either reading or math after 3 years."
Students in the voucher program showed no gains in math. Those who showed gains in reading entered the program with relatively higher achievement and from relatively better schools. Those with the lowest achievement from SINI schools did not show gains.
Anyone who argues to the contrary should read the evaluation.

Diane

No one is arguing to the contrary, Diane, except for the folks (including apparently you) who want to dismiss vouchers in favor of other educational programs that have MUCH LESS effect than what Wolf found.

I'd add that the whole subgroup analysis -- which the Department of Education mandated here -- muddied the waters considerably, because the more you divide up a sample into smaller subgroups, the more you make it hard to detect an effect of vouchers. (Here's your econometrics lesson for the day: Reduced sample size means less statistical power, which means less ability to prevent Type II errors, which means less ability to see a real effect that is happening.)

Gee whiz, the Washington Post reports today (September 17) that about 1/5 of the voucher students are missing, and no one knows what happened to them. Senator Durbin of Illinois contacted the 49 schools that participate, asked them for the number of students enrolled in the OSP program, and hundreds of students were unaccounted for. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/16/AR2009091603332.html?sub=AR.
The federal government is paying out $12 million for 1,718 students, but Senator Durbin was able to get verification for only 1,334. Are the schools collecting money for students who dropped out? If they dropped out, why the high attrition rate?
Diane
T

I'll use myself as an example again. When I transferred to the school in a middle class town in New Jersey, I'm fairly certain I was in the bottom third on standardized tests. I remember clearly that the principal wanted to put me back a year but my mother wouldn't allow it. By the time I got to high school, I was around the 50th percentile on achievement tests. Anyway you look at it, I was child of average abilities. However, when I think about that school, I remember that my interest in books and learning had its beginnings there. For the first time in my life I visited a library and checked out a book. To this day I can still picture the kindly librarian and how she patiently helped me make my selection. Do you remember Francie's new school in A "Tree Grows in Brooklyn?" That was me. This marked the very beginning of a lifelong love of books. Today I'm a collector of signed first editions!

Anyway, did my test scores show a significant difference? Maybe not. Did I change for the better? Yes, I believe that I learned that school was something to be valued because almost all of my friends and their parents valued it. Also, the school itself, a beautiful Georgian building, was in sharp contrast to the dreary brick building in Brooklyn and I was well aware of that. I loved being one of only twenty children in the class with the freedom to move about the room and the opportunity to draw whatever I wanted during art class. The change in me was something that probably could not be measured. It's entirely possible that these changes had nothing to do with school. I'm just guessing.

My own sons were brilliant from birth and went on to Harvard and Stanford. Were they born with that much more "grey matter" than their own mother, or did their performance reflect a privileged upbringing as well as the "best" (i.e. affluent) schools? Is this something we can know?

Perhaps it takes generations to provide a child with the type of education my sons received. Maybe the best we can do is offer the impoverished child the kind of school that the privileged child takes for granted. Common sense should tell us that the child will probably benefit in some way, even if we can't measure the results.

Comments are now closed for this post.

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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