August 2010 Archives

The HFT Is All About Professional Growth... Not

I'm always surprised at how often teacher unions claiming to be agents of professionalism reflexively slash at measures (like responsibility for results and differentiated pay) that are part and parcel of most professions. Even so, it's not every day that you see a union savaging an effort to promote professional growth as an anti-teacher conspiracy. Welcome to Houston Independent School District, where HISD superintendent Terry Grier is being mauled by the Houston Federation of Teachers... for proposing that principals work with all of their teachers to craft professional growth plans. Yeah, I'm scratching my head too. What's got the HFT ...


D.C. Mayoral Primary Looking Grim for Fenty: Edu-Implications

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is trailing City Council President Vincent Gray by 17% among likely voters in the city's Democratic primary. The primary will be held September 14 and, in almost entirely Democratic D.C., is tantamount to election. The WaPo results reflect survey numbers reported earlier by the Washington Examiner, and follow several weeks of straw polls suggesting trouble for Fenty. Fenty, who swept to a massive citywide victory in 2006, has held his support among D.C.'s white voters but has cratered among black voters--he's trailing Gray 64-19 among registered ...


Straight Up Conversation: Louisiana Schools Chief Paul Pastorek Reflects on RTT

Less than a month ago, our earnest Secretary of Education described Louisiana as "leading the way" with data systems that monitor teacher preparation programs and student performance. Louisiana has been ranked a top-ten state for teacher policy, data systems, and charter schooling by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the Data Quality Campaign, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (And, for what it's worth, in my new Fordham Institute study published this week, New Orleans graded out as the nation's most vibrant city when it comes to school reform.) All of this makes Louisiana's failure to win one ...


Why I'm Feeling Sorry for Sec. Duncan

Since its inception, I've regarded Race to the Top (RTT) as an important and valuable idea, but I also spent much of last fall and winter arguing that the administration's program design was not equal to the weight it was being asked to bear (what with its murky criteria for judge selection, ambiguous scoring system, focus on promises and grant-writing rather than accomplishment, and the remarkable emphasis that Secretary Duncan placed on union "buy-in" in round one). Unfortunately, the bill has come due. I actually feel more than a little sorry for the Secretary now that his big race has ...


Ugly Politics Ahead: Result of RTT's Focus on Words, Not Deeds

While I've my doubts about urging states to launch new initiatives when job one ought to be financial retrenching, I'm happy to see heavy lifts and real accomplishments recognized in places like Rhode Island, D.C., Massachusetts, and Florida. That said, in assessing a process that inexplicably left Louisiana and Colorado out of the winners circle, we need to recognize that Congress and the Department of Education conspired to create a competition that primarily rewarded states for embracing ED-endorsed best practices rather than the more mundane efforts to clear away anachronistic policies and reset the policy environment. As I wrote ...


Grading Race to the Top on a Proper Curve

Nope, I'm not talking about grading the Race to the Top (RTT) winners. Frankly, I don't have much confidence in the elaborate scoring system that the Department of Education jury-rigged--especially not after Ohio, Hawaii, and New York finished in the money while Louisiana and Colorado were ludicrously left out in the cold. As if my skeptical natured needed more cause for worry after the post hoc "norming" of i3 grades and the concerns raised regarding judge selection and training, blatant disregard for application guidelines, and emphasis on airy promises rather than concrete actions already taken. And, given the number of ...


The Nation's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform

The answer: New Orleans, Washington, D.C., New York City, Denver, and Jacksonville. The question: Which cities are in the mix when it comes to being the "Silicon Valley" of K-12 schooling? Or, more simply: If you're a problem-solver with some successes under your belt, where will you be most welcome? Cities rounding out the top ten include Charlotte, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, and San Francisco. What's all this about? Check out my new study, America's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents, coauthored with the talented Stafford Palmieri and Janie Scull and published today ...


A Few Noteworthy Thoughts from ECS

I spent the tail end of last week out in Portland, Oregon, at the Education Commission of the States annual confab. ECS honcho Roger Sampson quarterbacked an impressive gathering, chock full of state chiefs and key legislators. The chiefs in attendance were buzzing that the Department of Ed was sending word on Friday that governors should expect calls tomorrow morning from Duncan regarding round two Race to the Top (RTT) results (unless ED reprises its not-so-smooth i3 goof and accidentally posts the winners on TMZ this afternoon). On Friday, I had the chance to do a panel on state-federal dynamics ...


'Through Fat, Flesh, and Bone'? Duncan Needs Some New Briefing Books

Yesterday, I discussed our earnest Secretary of Education's unfortunate proclivity for quick fixes that promise to worsen the budgetary hole districts are in. But that's not all. In the same briefing where he made it clear that he's not a big believer in planning ahead, Duncan also made the fantastical claim, to USA Today's Greg Toppo, that, "The vast majority of districts around the country have literally been cutting for five, six, seven years in a row. And, many of them, you know, are through, you know, fat, through flesh, and into bone." Duncan added, "We want people to be ...


Duncan's First Rule of Holes: "When You're in One, Dig Faster"

I'm a simple guy. I admit it. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of the first rule of holes. You know: "When you're in one, stop digging." But that's not the way our earnest Secretary of Education likes to do things. Scott Pattison, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, says, "There are so many issues that go way beyond the current downturn...This is an awful time for states fiscally, but they're even more worried about 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014." Lydia Ramos, spokeswoman for L.A. Unified, says, "You've got this herculean task to deal ...


1-800-HowsMyBlogging?

It's been six months since I first stuck a toe into the blogosphere. At a minimum, that got pals like Alexander Russo, Andy Rotherham, Sara Mead, Kevin Carey, and Mike Petrilli to stop ridiculing me for being behind the times (though they're now telling me my posts are too long, too removed from the blog v. blog fray, and insufficiently linky. Sometimes, you just can't win...). Anyway, as I told former Ed Week honcho Caroline Hendrie when she suggested that I try my hand at blogging, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I had a notion of wanting ...


LAT on Teacher Value-Added: A Disheartening Replay

On Sunday, the L.A. Times ran its controversial analysis of teacher value-added scores in L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD). The paper used seven years of reading and math scores to calculate performance for individual teachers who've taught grades three through five, and plans to publish the effectiveness ratings with the teacher's names. The actual analysis was handled for the paper by RAND analyst Richard Buddin. If you want to get quickly up to speed on this, check out Joanne Jacobs' stellar summary here and Stephen Sawchuck's take here. The story has triggered an avalanche of comment, including cheers ...


My Final Word on "Edujobs": Harmful, Not Just Wasteful

I thought I'd been pretty clear about my view of the Edujobs bill, but a flurry of interviews last week made it plain that reporters had trouble believing that I really thought the $10 billion Edujobs bill was flat-out bad for K-12 schooling. So, I want to be crystal clear. I think that Edujobs was not just wasteful but was positively harmful. And, yes, I think this even though ED promised to streamline its normal processes so that states will "receive funding as quickly as possible" and whipped up some calculations touting the number of jobs it's claiming to save ...


Two Camps on Ed Tech

I was struck recently by the degree to which we're having two distinct, contrary conversations about technology and schooling. I was up in Boston last week for a three-day symposium on "Personalized Learning" (hosted by the Software & Information Industry Association, ASCD, and CCSSO) and felt like I was witness to two completely unrelated visions of education technology. The romanticist camp traces its roots to Rousseau's Emile and its radical "progressive" vision of the unchained learner. This stance, voiced by so many educational administrators and pedagogues talking of the "tyranny of testing," celebrates the need to let "imagination blossom" and recoils ...


School Boards as a Symptom, Not the Cause

For the past year, our earnest Secretary of Education has been banging the drum for mayoral control. As I've noted many times, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that mayoral control, done smart, can be a useful step in turning around troubled school systems. But I've been concerned about the tendency to romanticize its promise and to overlook its potential problems--especially the likelihood that mayoral control will limit access to independent metrics and performance data. Over at Flypaper, my good pal Mike Petrilli voiced some second thoughts about mayoral control earlier this week after reading a WaPo column from a ...


"[Dis]ableing the Race to the Top": Say What Now?

In a new Teachers College Record commentary, Penn State professors Kathleen M. Collins and Joseph Valente make an impressive contribution to the ranks of incomprehensible edu-babble. The abstract of "[Dis]ableing the Race to the Top" is all you really need (or may want) to read. It begins, "The authors present the notion of [dis]ableing as way of making visible the presence and limiting effects of ability-normative thinking." It concludes, "In this commentary they briefly introduce [dis]ableing and demonstrate its usefulness in uncovering the influences of ability-normative thinking through a snapshot analysis of discourses pertaining to the Race ...


Waiting for...the Biebs

A few weeks ago I suggested that ed reformers should take care not to rely too heavily on the filmmakers of the new wave of edu-agitprop flicks. For one thing, it'd be a shame if lots of time, money, and energy were spent building them up and featuring them as spokespeople--only for them to do what documentarians do, which is move on to a new project in a new area of interest. So, I was amused last week when the news broke that new school reform icon Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting for Superman, was in negotiations to direct Paramount's ...


Sunday NYT Celebrates a -ubious New Policy

In its inimitable style, the New York Times yesterday featured a page one ed story celebrating an aimless new district policy and the superintendent responsible. In a story headlined "Little as They Try, Students Can't Get a D Here," NYT's Winnie Hu enthusiastically hailed the new "no D's" policy adopted by New Jersey's Mount Olive school district. The notion is that, well, the district will no longer issue D's. "D's are simply not useful in society," explained superintendent Larrie Reynbolds. While Mount Olive students could previously pass a class with a 65, and earn a D, they will now pass ...


i3 Winners: Long on Talent, Execution, & "Best Practices"--Not Transformation

I see I wasn't the only observer disappointed by how the administration's overhyped i3 program played out. When winners were leaked Wednesday, savvy analysts including Alexander Russo and Mike Petrilli remarked upon what they saw as the disappointing and "been there, done that" nature of so many "innovative" winners. While I have enormous regard for a number of the winners, the reality is that most (with a few exceptions, such as NYC's "School of One") are built more on elbow grease and aggressive recruiting of talent than on new technologies or obviously scalable innovations. That's fantastic when it comes to ...


Two Cheers for Professor Pallas

This morning, Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas sounded a responsible (if hasty) retreat from last week's attack on DCPS. After writing last week that DCPS had seemingly used "preposterous" assumptions to adopt an "idiotic" teacher evaluation policy, Pallas wrote this morning in the Washington Post's "Answer Sheet" blog that, "I'm happy to hear that DCPS seems not to have botched the calculation of the value-added scores [by doing simple-minded subtraction]...even if this is what DCPS is telling teachers it's doing." Pallas also did a little legwork, reaching out to DCPS technical advisor Rick Hanushek and talking to DCPS data ...


Value-Added: The Devil's in the Details

In response to the mail I've received since Monday's column critiquing Aaron Pallas's attack on the DCPS teacher firings, I think it's useful for me to weigh in on the live-wire question of value-added systems. Monday's column was not meant to be a simple-minded defense of value-added systems, but rather an attempt to defend a smart, careful effort against an unfair attack. The truth is that value-added systems (including DCPS's IMPACT) are more an art than a science, and the slew of decisions involved in designing them can be reasonably questioned and ought to be subject to responsible public scrutiny. "Responsible...


It's Raining Money

The folks at the Department of Ed were no doubt pleased to see that the Senate voted 61-38 to end debate on a spending bill that had been in limbo just a couple days ago. This means the bill will pass the Senate in short order and will in all likelihood pass the House in mid-September. Included in this bill was $10 billion to help school districts and states avoid making tough calls on staffing for another 12 months. (The new spending was technically offset by gimmicks such as promising to end stimulus-expanded food stamp benefits in 2014 rather than ...


ED Redefines "Courage" to Mean "Spend, Baby, Spend!"

On Monday, the Senate Democratic leadership temporarily pulled the $26 billion kitty for state and local governments (including the $10 billion "teacher bailout"). ED spokesman Massie Ritsch circulated a statement endorsing the proposal on Friday, with no reform quid pro quo, because Secretary Duncan believes that "jobs and reform go hand-in-hand." (I'd no idea that tripling the number of teaching jobs in the past 50 years meant we'd been so busy reforming!). Senate Majority Leader Reid told POLITICO earlier this week that budgets will be tighter going forward, and White House economists have lamented the slack recovery. As part and ...


Professor Pallas's Inept, Irresponsible Attack on DCPS

Last week, Columbia University sociologist Aaron Pallas savaged the DC Public Schools IMPACT teacher evaluation system in the Washington Post's "The Answer Sheet" blog, attacking the teacher evaluation system as "idiotic" and based on "preposterous" assumptions. Pallas asked, "Did DCPS completely botch the calculation of value-added scores for teachers, and then use these erroneous scores to justify firing 26 teachers and lay the groundwork for firing hundreds more next year?" He asserted, "According to the only published account of how these scores were calculated, the answer, shockingly, is yes." At the same time, however, Pallas was forced to concede, "Value-added ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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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