Setting the Standard in Education

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

I’m Baaaack

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 12:13 am

I am now done with leading the tour group, so I will now be continuing with the blog. We won’t quite be back to the previous regularity for another two weeks, since I am still in Israel, but I’m hoping to still get three or four posts in each week. Look for one in the coming days.


Can Ed Schools Keep Up?

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2010 at 1:04 am

I have had quite the busy week. I’ve been preparing to go to Israel on Sunday night to lead a group of college students on a tour with Taglit-Birthright: Israel. What does that mean for you? Well, the most obvious impact is that I will not be able to blog quite so often. I will attempt to get a few in, but from May 17-27, I will be out of commission for the most-part. For the two weeks following, I will be in Israel still, but should have regular internet access, so I am hoping to be able to continue on a regular basis. No guarantees until June 10, though.

Anyway, I promised on Tuesday that I’d write about an article from Monday’s LA Times that talks about how schools of education need to adapt in order to catch up to the alternative certification pathways that have recently been taking root. Better late then never, right? In the article, Jonathan Zimmerman, a faculty member at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development does something that few in “traditional” programs have done: admitted that the crop of students that ed schools get stinks. I read an article in The Economist a couple of years ago (Aren’t subscribed to The Economist? You can find a bootleg version of the article here.) that pointed out one of the big differences between countries that are successful in educating their students and those that aren’t. Future teachers in countries like South Korea, Singapore, and Finland are the top students and are given difficult requirements to become teachers. For example, Finland requires all teachers to have a Master’s before teaching.The US on the other hand recruits a large proportion of its teachers from the bottom third of graduates.

Before they became teachers... Image thanks to

Zimmerman says that right now, schools of education are in a do or die scenario. They must either keep up with alternative certification programs or they are done for. Zimmerman brings up examples of legislation that are pushing this particular envelope, such as the New York Board of Regents’ unanimous decision to allow alternative certifiers the ability to grant Master’s degrees. If other states follow suit, it will force colleges to rethink how their programs work. Alternative pathways are becoming more and more popular. This past year, Teach For America had over 46,000 applicants. Not only that, but it draws top students. Over 12% of Ivy League  seniors applied to TFA this past year. It will no doubt be the biggest employer at some of the best schools in the country as it was last year. Remember how we said the best countries have the best students teaching? Teach For America fits with that model.

So what does Zimmerman suggest? First of all, he thinks the night classes currently offered to Teach For America and other alternative pathway students need to be revamped. Having experienced them myself, I couldn’t agree more. They are often just a big waste of time. What use are theoretical classes when you are a first year teacher struggling to keep 12 year olds from throwing books at each other? This doesn’t seem particularly extraordinary. This past year, Arizona State allowed Teach For America program directors to teach classes themselves, rather than relying on ASU faculty. TFA didn’t even have to wait for legislation to be passed allowing them to grant Master’s degrees – they simply partnered with the school to have more control.

However, changing the classes is small peas compared to Zimmerman’s other idea. His major concept is to start a year early. Have organizations such as TFA recruit college juniors, rather than seniors. Then, the schools of education provide classes during the students’ senior years and have them act as full-fledged student teachers during the entire summer. While intriguing, I doubt that this is particularly practical. First of all, the reason that these students get picked by Teach For America is that they are in rigorous programs already. These students can’t just give up their senior years of college to take education classes. They’re probably already double- or triple-majoring as it is. I know I certainly would not have been able to fit any extra classes into my year. Future Teach For America candidates are too busy not only with classes, but extra-curricular involvements as well. It’s not worth it for a Harvard senior to give up his or her time from their crammed schedules. Even if they might theoretically have the time, students are not ready by the beginning of their junior years to decide what they want to do after college. As it is, the first round of Teach For America selections happens in October and November of senior year, requiring them to make decisions much before many of their peers.

I think Zimmerman is missing the boat with this idea. Rather than taking classes on top of or instead of senior-year classes, training needs to be pushed a semester or a year out.  Ed schools shouldn’t just keep their normal programs and have ways for alternative certifications to pick parts of their programs that they like; they should skim the fat. They need to change their entire courses of study. One model that seems to be taking root and I am hoping will spread is the residency program. You are probably familiar with doctor’s residencies. They go to school for a few years and then spend a few years with partial responsibility, working their way up to a full position. This is the way it needs to be. Some alternative certifiers are already playing with similar models. A friend of mine joined Math for America, a program that requires five years, rather than Teach For America’s two. The first year is just your Master’s classes, which include student teaching.  Then, fellows teach for another four years as part of the program. I don’t see Teach For America switching to a five-year program any time soon, but adding that additional year, similar to Zimmerman’s idea but after college, would be a much more practical solution.

Better yet, partnerships with school districts should allow for a true extended residency. Even so-called residency programs try to cram in their programs into a smaller time-period. The Urban Teacher Residency is one example. Again, they have one year of classes and apprentice teaching. Here is what I would like to see: a first year of classes and student teaching. Perhaps Monday through Wednesday could be classes and Thursday and Friday would be days to come for student teaching. You don’t have your own classroom, so it’s not a genuine experience, but it’s enough to get your feet wet. After a semester or two of that, you get your own classes. However – and this is the important part – you still do not take on a full load. The biggest problem with being a first-year teacher is that it takes much longer to do everything. You have to write new lesson plans and figure out how you are going to grade essays. You are constantly learning new things and having to change your tactics and find what you are comfortable with. It is simply nonsensical for a first-year teacher to have five classes with 150 students like any that starts out in high school. Why not have three or four classes to begin with and add onto that load once a teacher has proven they can handle it? Even in elementary schools, teachers could switch off and only teach part of the day.

Allowing teachers to transition into teaching, rather than taking on a full load at once has a few benefits. Obviously, it allows the teacher more time to get their work done. But it also, gives them time to analyze their teaching. First-year teachers could be given mentors who sit with them every day or at least a few times a week and help them problem-solve. Another added benefit is that newer teachers would thus be teaching fewer classes and, in addition to being better for those students they would have, they’d be  negatively affecting fewer students if they did not have strong skills. A residency such as this could also create a logical salary scale: beginning teachers teach fewer classes and get paid less, intermediate teachers would have a full load and be paid more, and veteran teachers would take on mentoring as well, increasing their pay accordingly.

I have way more to say on this topic, but I think I will continue it at another time, since this entry is already getting to be pretty long. I will say one more thing, though. Education schools need to learn to keep up, but the various parties (schools and legislators included) need to work together on these problems, rather than trying to do their own thing and hope that others conform to them.

Tuesdays with Arne: Duncan Keynotes Policy Forum… At DeVry!?

In Federal on May 12, 2010 at 12:49 am

You may have heard about the speech Robert Shireman, the Under Secretary of Education, gave a couple of weeks ago comparing for-profit colleges to Wall Street. In it, he talked about the expansion of Pell Grant subsidies in the last year and how much for-profit colleges have reaped from them:

Corinthian Colleges – 38% increase for first 3 quarters this year compared to last year for
a total of $800M
DeVry – a couple people here from DeVry? – 42% increase up to $1.7B
ITT – you guys here? A 44% increase up to $623M
Strayer – still here? Is that you? Well this one – 95% increase, may be something about
the quarters, but up to $414M
APEI – Wally here? And Russell? 94% increase up to $44M
Kaplan – they here? So this total is actually all the Washington Post owned entities, 33%
increase up to $909M, and again this is the first 3 quarters of the year so the totals for the
year are obviously more than that
Career Education Corporation – 29% increase up to $1B this first three quarters
EDMC – several folks here; a 16% increase, $1.1B
Capella – over there? 40% increase to $378M
And I think I’ve just got a couple of others: Grand Canyon – 55% increase to $260M
And University of phoenix – you there? – 9% increase but obviously that’s on a larger base. So probably that increase is as much as a lot of others’ total dollars, and that increase is $2.7b total
And Bridgepoint – you guys here? – 61% increase, $393M
I think those were all that I had numbers for, obviously I know that there’s a few others here as well.

This is what running a for-profit college must be like. Image rights owned by Newsweek.

He was the man, laying down the law. His speech was s0 successful that for-profit colleges’ stocks crashed afterward. Well, it seems as though Arne got a little worried that that speech went overboard. He decided to give the keynote speech at the DeVry Public Policy Forum. Yes, that’s the same DeVry with a 42% increase in Pell Grants from last year. While Shireman had the cajones to to come out against these money machines, Duncan believes his job is to be the politician instead, smoothing over any hurt feelings:

Let me be crystal clear: for-profit institutions play a vital role in training young people and adults for jobs. They are critical to helping America meet the President’s 2020 goal. They are helping us meet the explosive demand for skills that public institutions cannot always meet.

Now, I’m a big fan of Duncan for the most part, but this makes less sense than his comment on NPR that he’s had “zero” public opposition to his policies. Mother Theresa didn’t have zero public opposition to her policies. At least in that case, I could give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s just saying he’s had good vibes from Joe on the street about what he’s doing. But by not only speaking at a for-profit public policy forum, but saying that those institutions are “vital”, Duncan completely undermines the message Shireman gave and backs down against the very businesses that are wasting tax-payer dollars.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’m morally opposed to people making money on education. I think whichever way we can educate students best should be pushed. However, these companies – and that’s what they are, not schools – are ONLY in it for the money. If they actually cared about educating students, they’d create environments that help students become successful, but they’re not. Without regulations that require them to provide quality services, they scam unsuspecting students into spending their money, along with the governments money, on a sham. Does it sound like I am being hyperbolic? I’m not. The purpose of a post-secondary institution is to give a marketable degree and skills they can use. Not only are the degrees these institutions provide not marketable, because they skimp on the skills, they don’t even give degrees to most of the students who enroll.

When I was a high school teacher, I posted some degree statistics for my students to be able to compare institutions. Ivy League schools have freshman retention rates of virtually 100%. All of them have above 95% of their students returning the next year. They all award degrees to over 90% of the students who enroll. Harvard’s 6-year graduation rate is 98%. If you go to Harvard, you will pretty much be guaranteed to graduate. I compared that to the state schools in Arizona (the state where I taught). Arizona State has one of the lowest freshman retention rates of a public four-year institution in the country – 79% and a 6-year gradutation rate of just 55% (only 27% in four years). However, those schools look like gods compared to for-profit schools. The prestigious DeVry University for which Mr. Duncan expressed  his admiration typically graduates less than 1/3 of the students who enroll. I suppose they’re the cream of the crop when compared to the University of Phoenix, whose Las Vegas campus had a 1% 4-year graduation rate recently. That is not a typo. OK, I’ll be fair – they had a whole 14% 6-year graduation rate. I suppose that’s better than their graduation rate for those who take their classes online.

My point is simple. If for-profit schools can’t bother to improve their practices to ensure that their students graduate, then why should the government give them money to keep them in business? You want to try to scam unsuspecting students? You should be shut down, not appeased. And Arne, learn from Rob. Be a man.

Link Chain

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Yesterday was  my birthday, so instead of writing a long opinion on something, I just compiled some links to some interesting articles from yesterday. I’ll have my weekly Tuesdays with Arne column later and tomorrow, I’ll give my thoughts on an LA Times article from yesterday about how Ed schools need to change to keep up with alternative certifications.

Revolutionary Colorado District Actually Pays Teachers What They’re Worth
While the state of Colorado has been in the news recently for trying to pass requirements that districts add in teacher effectiveness to their hiring and firing practices, Harrison School District Two is going one step further. They’re changing their pay to be completely based on effectiveness.

Massachusetts is Looking for the Best Teachers for the Worst Schools
The state of Massachusetts is aggressively trying to improve the teacher quality in some of its worst schools.

Duncan is a Little Too Confident in Himself
Some people seem confused about Arne Duncan saying he hasn’t seen any public opposition to what he’s doing. Maybe that’s because they think that politicians and bloggers are “the public.”

Happy 50th Birthday, California Master Plan!

In California on May 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I know I’m a couple of weeks late with this, but April 26th was the 50th anniversary of the California Master Plan. Sounds devious, doesn’t it?

Hopefully better than his Master Plan. Rights to this image owned by New Line Cinema.

As an astute reader, I’m sure you’ve inferred  that the CMP is not actually the work of an evil genius. Instead, it was the state of California’s 1960 plan to improve the state of post-secondary education. The Quick and the Ed has a history of the California Master Plan and issues that it has caused along the way with racial inequality and problems with transferring. I won’t go into all of that, but it’s an interesting read if you’ve got a few minutes. Essentially, the organization of the various universities, colleges, and community colleges was irregular to say the least. The Master Plan put into writing the way that the schools are now classified: the big research schools (the UCs) that take the elite students in the top 12.5 percent of their classes, the state schools (the Cal States) that take students that are in the top third of graduates, and the community colleges who take everyone else.

I do want to comment on the outlook of the California Master Plan in the next 10 years. The Quick and the Ed points out some startling facts that needs to be resolved ASAP and the easiest way would be a revision of the CMP. This past year, the UCs enrolled 2,300 fewer students. Not impressed by that number? The Cal States took 40,000 fewer. Want your socks knocked off? The CCs enrolled nearly a quarter of a million fewer students than the previous year. Aside from the obvious education gap that this creates, it works against the state in its quest for a qualified workforce. One estimate is that at current rates, California will need an additional million people  to have bachelor’s degrees by 2025. With baby boomers starting to retire, there will be a huge need for current students to replace them and even add to them, because of probable changes to economic demands. So what needs to happen? Well, first of all, more students need to go to college in the first place. Only 36 percent of 19 year olds are enrolled in college. The national average is 42. Despite the strong institutions in the state of California (or perhaps partly because of them), California ranks near the bottom in college enrollment rates, but near the top of community college enrollment rates. However, it doesn’t do anyone any good for so many students to be enrolled and not actually get a degree or transfer. Even though California accounts for 23% of CC students in the US, it only gives out 13% of the associates degrees. That’s not because students are transferring to four-year institutions, either. Only 10-12% of community college students actually do so. This is an abysmally low rate, although it seems to be fairly common among community college transfer rates. One problem is the inability of the community colleges to coordinate transfer requirements. The UCs and Cal States all seem to have different requirements for transferring in credit and required classes. This becomes extremely frustrating to those who want to create a path for themselves to succeed. When community college advisors can’t tell their students what to do to prepare, then the students end up going nowhere, but that’s a separate rant completely.

So that’s where the California Master Plan comes in. The CMP needs to be revised to create systems of coordination and communication between the various institutions to better guide students through the process. The 4-year institutions need to graduate a higher percentage of their students and the community colleges need to prepare  their students better and get them into the 4-year schools. It’s a tough burden to educate students better, but a much tougher one to find money to push more of them through at the same proficiency rates.

Are the Right States Being Rewarded in Race to the Top?

In Federal on May 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Paul Peterson and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón of Education Next recently wrote a report about the improvement (or lack thereof, depending) in state standards across the US. They compared students’ achievement levels on the state tests in comparison to how well they did on the National Assessment of Education Progress. For those unfamiliar, the NAEP was created by the Department of Education and is based upon average international standards of achievement among the  industrialized countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Overall, they found that while reading standards have risen some in recent years, math standards have actually dropped. However, just as important as growth are the levels at which standards are currently. The only state to have higher proficiency requirements than the NAEP in either reading or math was Massachusetts and that was only in math. The state with the lowest standards? Tennessee, one of the two winners of round one of RttT, was hands down the worst state in standards. How terrible?

Based on its own tests and standards, the state claimed in 2009 that over 90 percent of its 4th-grade students were proficient in math, whereas NAEP tests revealed that only 28 percent were performing at a proficient level. Results in 4th-grade reading and at the 8th-grade level are much the same. With such divergence, the concept of “standard” has lost all meaning. It’s as if a yardstick can be 36 inches long in most of the world, but 3 inches long in Tennessee.

Despite these low standards, it was at least holding fairly steady with only a 1% drop in its standards between 2003 and 2009, compared to Arizona with a 48.5% drop and South Carolina with an astounding 65.2% drop in its standards in those six years. In the report and in a podcast with Peterson and Chester Finn Jr., the success of Tennessee and Delaware in Race to the Top is questioned, considering that Tennessee was 51st out of all the states and DC and Delaware wasn’t much better at 36th. Peterson complains

In Tennessee, the gap [between proficiency on state tests versus the NAEP] is wider than any other state, so from that, we gave Tennessee an F. If you go by how well Tennessee has done in the past, how can it possibly be a candidate for one of the two top awards?

He and Finn joke about how federal funding is based upon promises and this is a clear example of that. If past performance were the main indicator, then Tennessee would be one of the first eliminated, rather than the biggest winner.

However, we need to think about the function of Race to the Top. What is its ultimate goal? I would assume  most would agree that RttT is aiming to be a catalyst for change. Duncan and Obama keep patting themselves on the back for all the reforms states have made in the past year without even receiving a penny in return. The money, therefore, is not for crossing the finish line. That’s the wrong metaphor. What’s the point of giving money to Massachusetts for their past performance if they’re going to do well regardless of the money? As mentioned in a previous post, Massachusetts lost out on RttT points because of not being quick enough to adopt the national standards – as the state with the top standards in the country, they would probably be lowering their standards if they adopted the national consensus ones. Why shouldn’t they get points for strong standards, then? Because the point is to get the low performers up. Peterson and Finn point out that both Delaware and Tennesee agreed to adopt the national standards. As both states currently have low standards, adopting the national ones can only move theirs up. I don’t have a problem with grading states based on moves they’re making – these are not for promises at some point in the future. The states have a proposal that has been accepted and is being funded, the same way non-profits or researchers submit a proposal for a grant and get money based on fulfilling the requirements. How else can you fund immediate innovation?

Is California Getting Some Help with RttT?

In California, Federal, LA on May 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

This article in the LA Times suggests that the state of California has recently been told by the federal DOE that it doesn’t need to get full participation from every district for Race to the Top as long as LAUSD (which has more students than half of the states in the US) takes part. There has been a lot of talk recently over whether it is better to have full buy-in from the districts, unions, etc. or to be bold. Duncan has had some frustration with this topic. There has been lots of speculation that because Delaware and Tennessee both had strong union support of their ideas, that was the way to go. However, Duncan has specifically said, “watered-down proposals with lots of consensus won’t win.” This points to an opening up of how the funding works. If it’s true that the strength of the proposal lies in how much reform there is, California has more incentive to target just a few districts that are willing to make greater strides than a large number of districts.

California probably figured it could win the race by shedding some weight.

Andy Smarick isn’t so sure that the article is accurate, though. His contentions are that: 1. Any application would be game if this were true, as long as they meet the data requirements. 2. It doesn’t make sense that the Department of Ed would have given them specific advice, since they are not apt to do that. And 3. It’s the judges that do the scoring, not the Ed Department anyway.

I’m not so sure there’s as big of a problem as Smarick thinks. First of all, if you take a look at the Race to the Top FAQs, question A-4 says that

The State’s applications for funding under Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (Stabilization) program must be approved by the Department prior to the State being awarded a Race to the Top grant.

It doesn’t say anything about not being allowed to make sure your application is legitimate; in fact, it implies the opposite. While the DOE last year said that LAUSD couldn’t apply on its own separate from the state, they never said the state had to have all of its districts in the race for its own application. In fact, if you take a look at section K of the FAQs, it talks about the process for LEAs (local education agencies, usually districts) to sign up (emphasis added):

Participating LEAs must agree to implement all or significant portions of the State’s plan and must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or other binding agreement with the State that specifies the scope of work that the LEA will implement. The expectation is that participating LEAs will implement significant aspects of the State’s plan…If the State is awarded a Race to the Top grant, its participating LEAs (including those that submitted too late to be included in the application) will have up to 90 days to complete final scopes of work (referred to as Exhibit II in the model MOU). At the conclusion of that period, States will notify LEAs of their final section 14006(c) subgrant.

The implication seems to be that there is no expectation that all districts will comply. There even seems to be an expectation that they won’t and that the funding is based on those that do, rather than what the whole state is doing. So perhaps, the LA Times article wasn’t wrong, so much as misleading. What probably happened is that those in charge of the state’s application asked if they could have a more limited scope, because the population of California is bigger than the 18 smallest states combined. I don’t think that there were necessarily any lengthy negotiations of what they could or could not do. California may have submitted a proposal that was then approved. The author of the Times article also seems a bit unfamiliar with what they’re writing about, making it seem as if the deal with the Department of Ed means that the portions about charter laws and other factors can be glossed over. If anything, with fewer districts, expect the state to have its application more in line with what Duncan et al. want with more loosening of charter laws and tying performance to pay for teachers. The scenario really appears to be a win-win. The districts that participate have a higher chance of winning and the Administration doesn’t have to spend as much money if California wins, while still getting their participation.

Also, can someone please tell Andy Smarick that there are three words that start with ‘t” in Race to the Top, not two?

Update 5/6: It looks like my hunch was right. Edweek says that there was no deal between California and the Department of Ed. Rather than having a deal where California didn’t have to ask any other districts to participate (which the article never actually says, btw), the idea is that there is not a requirement that there be a large number of LEAs participating. There never was in the first place, but there were probably some conversations with Duncan encouraging the state to apply and reassuring them it would be OK. You can read the DOE’s damage control here.

Tuesdays with Arne: And You Thought Mom Just Made Mac ‘n Cheese

In Federal on May 5, 2010 at 1:39 am

Although it’s technically Wednesday, I’m still awake, so I’m considering this my Duncan post for Tuesday. With all of the hullabaloo about teachers’ rights with tenure issues and training questions, one constituency seems to be forgotten in schooling: the parents. There seem to be two unproductive polar opposite views when it comes to improving the education of students. One view is that children can not learn more, because parents are responsible for a child’s upbringing. The other is the Teach For America view that a teacher can mold regardless of what is going on at home. However, there is a third mindset that needs to be instilled in our schooling system if we are ever to fully close the achievement gaps that exist. Schools need to be seen as places that interact with parents, not just students, so that a child’s education can be an integral part of their lives, rather than something that only happens from 7:30 to 2:30 each day. Luckily, my main man Arne has seen the light. Yesterday, May 3rd,  Duncan gave the keynote address at the first annual Mom Congress, a meeting of 51 moms from around the country, representing all 50 states plus DC. The event was held at Georgetown University and was sponsored by Parenting Magazine. I thought perhaps instead of going through the entire speech, I’d simply highlight some important things he said.

First of all, he began by telling a story of Obama asking the equivalent of the Secretary of Education in South Korea what his biggest challenge was and he said that parents are too demanding. He contrasted this with what he sees as the state of parents in the US:

Too many people say, “Schools are bad, but my school is good. Sorry to hear about the low math scores, but my Johnny is doing just fine.”

I thought that his concept of what parents should be doing in connection to their children’s educations were clear and make sense:

I want all parents to be real partners in their children’s educations… Parents can serve in at least one of three roles: partners in learning, advocates and advisors who push for better schools, and decision-makers who choose the best educational options for their children.

I would like for him to have talked a little more about the subject. These sound like wonderful ideas, but how do you get parents to do these things and what is ideal for how much they’re doing them? I would venture the assumption is that all parents should  the first area, but that the other two are a little more hazy. However, I liked the direction he went from there. He talked about what schools need to do in order for parents to feel like they have a stronger connection to the schools their children are in:

Schools should be places that honor and respect families, that meet parents on their own terms, and that may mean teachers giving out their cell phone numbers to field questions at night and calling back that single mom who missed the parent-teacher conference, because she had to work. Unfortunately, that mutual engagement and support is still missing for far too many of our nation’s schools… We have a long way to go before all schools support student learning and healthy growth, but parents aren’t off the hook here either in this partnership between schools and families.

It’s definitely a two-way street, but schools can only control one part of that street. With some work, they can get the other side working, too. Duncan also brought up the effects of the home environment on student learning. He pointed to a study by Kaiser that showed that adolescents spend 12 hours a day with media and that that number is even higher for African American and Hispanic children. This is compared to the 25 minutes a day students spend reading books. The kicker? Only 1/3 of parents in the study said they set any rules at all on how much their children could use the media. The results? Students who used media more were more likely to do worse in school, spend less time reading books, and got into more trouble. Coincidence? I think not.

We are never going to put the electronic genie back in the bottle, nor should we try, but parents can do better about setting limits on children’s use of electronic media and work towards using it more creatively to support student learning. There are extraordinary examples of using technology to engage children in their own learning, but more and more parents are realizing that media saturation and even addiction are real problems for their children.

We need to draw a line somewhere.

Being the Secretary of Education, Duncan brought it back out to what they need to be doing:

It is time for us to look in the mirror and not just out the window – and that includes us at the department of education… For 45 years, ever since the passing of the ESEA, the federal government has required or encouraged states,  districts, and schools, especially those with large numbers of low-income students, to promote parents’ involvement in students education.

I think this may be an area where Duncan sees a foothold into expanding the power of the federal government. If there are already provisions for these programs and they are so neglected, the DOE has a strong opportunity to have a lot of influence. However, as I’ve noted in other articles, one of the problems in policy these days is the lack of research into what works and parental involvement is no exception, as Duncan points out:

There is surprisingly little research on what works and what doesn’t in family engagement programs to accelerate student learning.

So the big question is, what should be done to improve the situation? Just like the other policies that have ruffled many feathers, the answer Duncan is providing is in money, since that’s what changes minds:

Our proposal [the Blueprint] allows family engagement to be included as one measure of success in teacher and principal evaluations… Today, we propose to double funding for parent engagement from one to two percent of  Title 1 dollars to bring that total to $270 million and at the same time in order to drive innovation. We will allow states to use another 1 percent of title 1 dollars, about $145 million, for grant programs that help support, incentivize, and help expand district-level, evidence-based parental involvement practices

I know, a lot to take in, but I think overall, the message is clear: we can’t just focus on what students are doing inside of the classroom. Students only spend 8 hours a day there for half of the days of the year. To improve education, we need to take into account all of the rest of the time in a student’s life.

Is There Something I’m Missing?

In California on May 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Today, the AP reported that state senator Joe Simitian (D Palo Alto) is trying to pass a bill that would change the age of admission for children entering kindergarten or first grade. The goal is two-fold, according to the article in Education Weekly. First, it argues that children are not prepared for kindergarten at four years old. I can understand that possibility. I didn’t even realize that it was standard for children to enter school at four years old in California. I personally turned six during kindergarten and as far as I know, that’s pretty standard in the country. However, the science behind this is mixed. The research that seems to be the most cited is a 1986 study by Lorrie Shepard and Mary Lee Smith. It basically says that moving the age earlier makes little to no difference:

Despite the promises, providing an extra year before first grade does not solve the problems it was intended to solve. Changing the entrance age will not correct the problems of the youngest first graders because a new youngest group will emerge.

The study looks at programs that hold kindergarteners back a year and concludes that it doesn’t help proficiency and if anything, hinders development, because of the emotional stigma of being held back, but that’s another story. Newer research has been more positive with a RAND study in 2005 concluding that there is a slight boost to reading scores when students wait until they are 6 rather than 5 to enroll. The study showed that in both reading and math, students who waited longer not only scored higher, but grew more and that the effect was amplified in children in economically disadvantaged families. While this is positive, there are two things missing from it. The study needs to be more longitudinal. It claims that the effects are lasting, based on persistence for two years. I would be interested to see whether these effects stay longer, as the Shepard and Smith research claimed that within three years, the effects were negated. The other point of contention I have is that it shows that the students were at higher levels and grew more when they were older, but isn’t that just logical? What the study should really show is which students gained more and were at a higher level when they were the same age. For example, would a student do better at seven if they had started at five, rather than waiting until six. I suppose opponents may argue that the student will have thirteen years of school no matter what  and that it’s how they do at the end of the grade that matters, not at a particular age, so that point could be moot. The question becomes how prepared a student is when they enter the workforce, rather than at a certain grade, given that that is arbitrary. I’m sure if we didn’t start students until they were 20, they’d be at a higher level than a 5 year old, too.

However, the second reason, the one that will sway the most opinion because California is $20 billion in debt, is that the bill’s proponents claim that the date change will save $700 million each year. I don’t really get the math behind that. I can understand that perhaps the first three years when the age requirements are being phased in, there will be fewer students in school, so there may be some money saved because of individual student costs. But, once the date is changed, there won’t be fewer students coming each year. There will be the same number, as the kids who didn’t quite make the cutoff the previous year will be added onto the following year. In the long-run, it doesn’t change anything. On top of that, the costs associated with a different number of students for one individual year can’t possibly be particularly high. It’s not like a school is going to fire a teacher for a year, because they have fewer students in that grade, only to hire them again the next year. If anything, it just means students in the roll out years of the bill will have slightly smaller class sizes, which isn’t a bad thing.

The RAND study points out one major downside of delaying the start of a child’s education – childcare costs. The parent has to do something with their child for another year while they’re not old enough for school, which disproportionately hurts poorer families more than richer ones. The bill tries to counteract this problem by taking half of the savings and funneling it toward state preschool programs, but as mentioned before, the savings won’t amount to a proportional amount and additionally, not all children benefit from state preschool programs anyway.

This is what you’d need to deal with for another year if your child has to wait.

Moral of the story? There may be some academic benefit to the change (yay!), but the financial differences in the long-run are negligible and end up costing parents more (boo!). my personal thought is that if the state can somehow help parents pay for the extra childcare (through tax-credits or what have you), then I’m all for it, but that it shouldn’t be seen as a cost-cutting measure.

Shuffle the Deck and Maybe You’ll Have New Cards

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

A report from the Aspen Institute promoted their recent efforts at improving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The strategy was simple: take proven principals and place them in under-performing schools with enough autonomy to make changes necessary for turning them around. This included being able to take five teachers, an assistant principal, a literacy specialist, and a behavior management technician (sounds like a repairman for malfunctioning brains).

This is kind of what I imagine a "behavior management technician to look like."

While I think there are some positive aspects to their “Strategic Staffing Initiative,” I have a hard time seeing it as a long-term solution. First of all, because of all of the politics, no one gets fired. Any teachers the new principal doesn’t want get reassigned to another school in the district. CMS and the Education Resource Strategies (ERS) people at the Aspen Institute seem pleased with only spending $175k  for the new schools to be turned around (that’s the total in bonuses they offered the principals and teachers to move to the under-performers and doesn’t include all the resources spent by the outside organizations and consultants). The numbers look pretty good, too. The schools with new teachers and principals had an average rise of over 5% in their students reading scores and almost 10% in math in just the first year. But what about the schools with people reassigned to them? If the difference is in leadership and teachers, doesn’t that correlate with lower achievement in the schools that the under-performers  went to? Making the best use of your resources means knowing when to dump the extra weight, rather than wasting gas to take them along. If specific people are identified as weak links, they need to be removed from the chain, not moved to a different part of it. The report also pointed out the fact that eventually, there won’t be principals that are strong enough to move to the worse schools, so it can’t work indefinitely.

All in all, the report seems to be glowing about the schools that needed improvement, but the whole point was to improve the district and there is nothing mentioned in aggregate data or anything about the schools the lame ducks went to. You have to wonder if the improvements in these schools were offset by the backwards motion of the other schools.