September 2010 Archives

High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do

Remarkably little has been written about the state of citizenship education in our schools. One has to go back to the 1998 Public Agenda study "A Lot To Be Thankful For" to find a serious attempt to examine what parents think public schools should teach children about citizenship. The annual Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll on schooling has not asked questions about citizenship since 2000. When these questions were last addressed, respondents chose "prepar[ing] people to become responsible citizens" as the least important purpose of schooling from among those offered. And it's brutally hard to find much on what ...


Does School Choice "Work"?

I generally support proposals to expand school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools. I do so not because I think they are sure to improve test scores or quickly "fix" schooling, but because they're essential for creating unobstructed opportunities for problem-solvers. That said, for reasons I discussed last week in terms of merit pay, I'm skeptical that research can "settle" arguments regarding complex organizational reforms like school choice. I do think research can help inform claims about the wondrous powers or pernicious effects of choice--and help us pursue smarter, more serious market-based reforms. On that count, last spring, I ...


Some School Reform Tips for Vincent Gray

During his successful campaign to unseat Mayor Adrian Fenty, Mayor-in-waiting Vincent Gray promised he would not turn back the clock on school reform. On election day, he told CNN, "I am going to continue with education reform. I helped to shepherd the legislation through the council in the first place. I'm going to continue with a very strong chancellor." He said that reform wouldn't falter if Chancellor Michelle Rhee left because, "I've said many times that education reform has to be about more than one person." As the mayor-to-be plans to move forward on his pledge, here are a few ...


Some Constructive Advice for Superman's Fans

Last week, as was much remarked, I had some fun expressing my concerns about the cult of Waiting for 'Superman'. A couple folks asked if I might have anything constructive to say about how the attention the movie is generating might be put to good use. Heaven knows I'm skeptical about claims that Waiting for 'Superman' is going to have an outsized impact on school reform. And I'm borderline nauseous from constant urgings to praise and promote the flick. All that aside, though, I think it's a fine movie, a useful contribution, and could do some good—if the short-term...


Where I'm Coming From

This week, in light of my posts jabbing the Nashville merit pay study, the irresponsibility of tax cuts unaccompanied by spending cuts, and Waiting for Superman, I've seen a pretty big uptick in my "you're a terrible person" mail quotient. And that's been accompanied by some puzzlement about just "who the hell I think I am" and what my agenda is. In the spirit of being as clear as I possibly can, here are six tenets that I typically find guiding my writing, scholarship, and the rest: 1] Policymakers and policies can't "fix" schools or make teachers into good teachers; ...


Gates R&D Chief Tom Kane on the Nashville Merit Pay Study

In response to Monday's post on the Nashville merit pay study, Gates Foundation research honcho and Harvard professor Tom Kane sent me a really thoughtful, incisive take on the study's limitations. Tom, a good friend and one of the smartest folks in the business, is currently heading up the massive Gates research effort into teacher performance, evaluation, and pay. Tom and I sometimes agree and sometimes have spirited disagreements on these issues, but on this one we're reading from a shared hymnal. In fact, I thought his take so razor-sharp and succinct that I asked if I could share it ...


Waiting for Superman: My Conversion Experience

"In recent years, we've cracked the code. The high-performing charter schools, like KIPP and others, have figured out the system that works for kids in even the toughest neighborhoods." -Davis Guggenheim My pal Mike Petrilli has already ably addressed the hubris, banality, and, well, painful ignorance in that quote. I'll only add that, if Guggenheim or any of today's reformers think they're the first to decide that we've finally "solved" this challenge, they might want to acquaint themselves with the musings of Ron Edmonds or Ellwood Cubberley, or more recent, less-than-inspiring experiences with comprehensive school reform and small high schools. ...


Pandering, Craven One-Upsmanship on Tax Cuts--the Edu-Implications

I try to restrict my commentary to education; I don't usually wade into broader policy debates. But the recent contretemps over tax cuts--especially the new Republican proposal announced last week by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell--has major edu-implications. The feds are already spending a trillion dollars a year more than they collect; more than 40 cents of every dollar we're spending is borrowed money. Optimistic scenarios have us cutting this to "only" a half-trillion a year by 2020. Responsible public leadership requires making choices. Promises of freebies and endless goodie bags undermine the resolve to make such choices. Those asking ...


Missing the POINT: Tomorrow's Big Merit Pay Study Will Tell Us... Nothing

Tomorrow, Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives will publish the Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) study, reporting the results of a major three-year teacher pay experiment in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. The study examines the effect of merit pay for middle school math teachers who were eligible for bonuses of up to $15,000 per year based on student test score gains. The study will, unfortunately, tell us nothing of value. Actually, it's worse than that. The study will confuse the issue, obscure the actual question of interest, and (depending on the results) lend either simple-minded advocates ...


Aftershocks from DC's Mayoral Election

It's Friday and it's been a long week, so I'll cut to the chase. Four things worth noting about the aftermath of Mayor Adrian Fenty's defeat in D.C. on Tuesday. First, the poaching is already on for the phenomenal staff that Michelle Rhee recruited to D.C. Assuming that Rhee is leaving, sharp-eyed talent hawks across the land are already contacting her team members. Unless they turn downs the outstretched hands en masse, this doesn't bode well for a transition. This means that it would behoove mayor-in-waiting Vincent Gray to move quickly on the leadership question, and to make ...


Reading the Tea Leaves on Mike Castle's Defeat in Delaware

In Tuesday's biggest surprise, Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell shocked heavy favorite Mike Castle in the GOP primary, beating the nine-term representative, former governor, and former lieutenant governor by about six points. The result put an exclamation mark on a series of Tea Party primary wins in Nevada, Kentucky, Alaska, Utah, and Colorado. When it comes to schooling, the impact of this primary season is not yet well understood. Some, like Secretary Duncan, seem inclined to presume that K-12 bipartisanship will breezily return after November's election. Indeed, Duncan is in good company, as seasoned Washington hands trust that any Tea ...


Gray's "Collaborative" and "Inclusive" Win

Yesterday, hours before he upended D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray appeared on CNN to chat about the contest. The early signs weren't great for those worried about what Gray's win means for the Michelle Rhee's reform efforts. Host John King asked Gray, "[The mayor] says...he's making tough choices and maybe he lost contact with some people. How do you keep that from happening to you...?" Gray answered, "Well...I'm a very inclusive person. I reach out to people. I've done that as council chair. I've been very inclusive with the ...


Lessons from Fenty's Loss

Last night, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty was decisively defeated in his reelection bid by City Council Chairman Vincent Gray. Fenty lost 56 to 42, a margin that pretty much reflected where the race stood last month. Gray's win throws D.C.'s nationally-significant school reform efforts into turmoil (see here or here for context). As early results trickled in, the cable television commentariat quickly made it clear that this result is likely to be interpreted largely as a referendum on D.C.'s school reform efforts. More than one talking head previewed what's likely to be one of the ...


Breaking News: "Leading Educators" in the Big Easy

Word on the street is that a cool new venture is rising in New Orleans, which is well on its way to becoming the Silicon Valley of American education (see its top finish in my recent study of America's Best & Worst Cities for School Reform). The newest effort involves taking the Big Easy's "Leading Educators" program national. To take the reins, they've recruited Jonas Chartock, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, my fellow NACSA board member, former executive director of TFA Houston, and all-around good guy. Leading Educators is intended to address the problem of high-energy, entrepreneurial teachers ...


ED Gets It Right: The Right Way to Promote Obama's Back-to-School Speech

A year ago, President Obama's plan to give a back-to-school talk to the nation's students erupted into a tempest when the accompanying materials, issued by the Department of Education, seemed pregnant with politics and hagiography. This year, happily, the Department seems to have learned its lesson--its press release for tomorrow's speech is admirably succinct and on-point, announcing: "The President's Back-to-School Speech is an opportunity to speak directly to students across the country. Last year, President Obama encouraged students to study hard, stay in school, and take responsibility for their education." A bit dry? Perhaps, but a welcome shift from last ...


The "Buy-In" Tar Pit

The "buy-in" tar pit is located adjacent to other similar geographical oddities, like the "consensus-seeking" sinkhole and the "capacity-building" briar patch. These are all easy ways to blame process rather than substance when the complaint is really about substance. So efforts to close lousy schools, trim benefits, or toughen up evaluation are inevitably attacked for a lack of buy-in or stakeholder support, no matter how much time was spent on just those things. (Meanwhile, you hardly ever hear any complaints that across-the-board pay raises were decided with insufficient input.) Right now, the Washington Teachers Union (the AFT's D.C. local) ...


Grim Tea Leaves for the Vaunted Tradition of Edu-Bipartisanship

While waiting to go on the Diane Rehm radio show yesterday (with my friend Cindy Brown of CAP and Ed Week's own journo ace Alyson Klein), we listened to our earnest Secretary of Education predicting that education's vaunted legacy of bipartisanship means grand things for NCLB (nee ESEA) reauthorization, Race to the Top implementation, and federal education policy. I'm skeptical whether that tradition will offer the sustenance that Duncan is counting on. First, there is a strong tradition of bipartisanship in education, and splits (like on NCLB accountability) rarely track party lines. Moreover, Obama and Duncan have talked more explicitly ...


Stretching the School Dollar

I know, I know. I'm always kvetching that schools need to do more with less. That superintendents aren't making the tough cuts. And, when they do, that they aren't cutting smart. When folks press me for specific details or suggestions, they want something more than broad discussions of staffing levels or analogies from other sectors. They want concrete ideas. Because I strive to please, the result is the just-released Harvard Education Press book Stretching the School Dollar: How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best. Stretching the School Dollar represents the best efforts of coeditor Eric Osberg ...


"Drill Bit" Leadership in D.C.

In D.C., it's looking increasingly like City Council Chairman Vincent Gray is going to beat Mayor Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary. This is a shocker. Given Fenty's deep pockets, huge 2006 victory, and positive developments on crime and schooling, he was widely thought a lock for re-election when this year began. In edu-circles, the question is what this means for D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who's had a tempestuous three years while struggling to transform a broken system that couldn't track personnel records, open schools on time, or provide textbooks to students. When drilling through a tough surface, ...


Help Wanted: Four Intriguing Edu-Jobs

Despite the nation's tough job market, the news is brighter for those in the education sector. In the last week or so, I've gotten word of four terrific edu-jobs--Dean of the Hunter College School of Education, a program officer with the Walton Family Foundation, a researcher focused on innovation at the Gates Foundation, and a director of research and evaluation at Teach For America (and this doesn't even include the new hiring taking place at Fordham, Bellwether, and Brookings). Check it out: Hunter College is looking for a Dean of the School of Education to fill the huge shoes that ...


Eduwonk Hits Me for Insufficient Deference When Critiquing RTT

My pal Andy "Eduwonk" Rotherham took the time on Tuesday to level a series of charges at me regarding Race to the Top (RTT). Having voiced his own set of concerns about RTT and called for Secretary Duncan to convene a panel to explore what went wrong, Andy would now prefer to discount all prior critiques that fail to meet his standard for gentility. I was amused to see that Andy's newfound concerns largely echo those that I'd raised six months ago but that he tried to soften them by pairing them with an attack on me for not criticizing ...


Vapidity Is the Watchword When It Comes to Edu-Leadership

It's like a bad joke. You're interviewing candidates for an important education job and ask each about their views on using performance-based metrics to evaluate and potentially remove teachers. Who actually answers the question, much less inspires confidence that they're up to snuff? The ex-basketball player who says, "We have to elevate the status of the profession. We can't do enough to recognize great teaching. We can't do enough to shine a spotlight on success. And we have to be willing to challenge the status quo together when it's not working." The union lawyer who says, "I think the issue ...


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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