A Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis
from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 9, Number 39. November 5, 2009.
This week on The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Mickey perfects the dramatic pause
From Stafford's Desk
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast
From Stafford's Desk
Ed schools, hallowed no more
Education schools are under attack--yet again. But don't yawn and assume that this, too, shall pass. For unlike innumerable previous assaults, which these institutions withstood with awesome obstinacy, this one may actually crack their fortified walls. That's no sure thing, of course, given the history of failed attempts at reform in this area. But the current combination of forces at work on them, from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the budgetary woes of state governments, may be weakening those rampart walls enough to yield some overdue change in how teachers (and principals) are prepared.
Duncan has officially added ed schools to his lengthening list of major components of American education that are not getting the job done. In recent speeches at UVA's Curry School of Education and Columbia's Teachers College, the Secretary laid it out plain: For the most part, ed schools churn our mediocre teachers, have no mechanisms for self-evaluation, and are located in states that have low certification standards. We need a "sea-change in our schools of education," he declared at Columbia.
In particular, Duncan emphasized the disconnect between teacher effectiveness and where the teacher was trained. At Curry, he put it this way: "In all but a few states, education schools act as the Bermuda Triangle of higher education--students sail in but no one knows what happens to them after they come out. No one knows which students are succeeding as teachers, which are struggling, and what training was useful or not." To remedy this problem, Duncan says ed schools should tie student achievement data back to individual teachers, adopt more residency programs like those used for aspiring doctors, and teach would-be teachers how to use data as an effective tool to appraise and get feedback on student achievement and their own classroom practice.
Jawboning, yes, but the development and refinement of value-added assessment, the widening use of data-based decision-making in education, and the improvement of state and district data systems, have made Duncan's proposals more realistic. And it doesn't hurt that his Department is making the capacity to link pupil achievement data to teacher evaluations one of the criteria for Race to the Top funds. Money-hungry states' yearning for those federal dollars may make them more inclined to take Duncan seriously. Another power player in teacher preparation has also hinted that it's on board. Jim Cibulka, President of NCATE, responded to Duncan's Columbia talk by saying that his organization will "continue to use its position as an accreditor as a lever to make such improvements the norm." That's no assault on ed schools, to be sure--after all, they keep NCATE in business--but it does signal a kind of openness to change that NCATE has not traditionally displayed. Over at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), President Sharon Robinson quipped that her organization "enthusiastically embrace[d]" Duncan's suggestions--though she also noted that she believed Duncan's proposed sea-change was already underway, a doubtful assertion.
Meanwhile, there are signs that the ed schools' near-hegemony over teacher preparation is weakening. Myriad alternative certification programs now compete for aspiring teacher candidates. Though many of them--too many--are more or less in the hands of the ed schools, these programs do signal that it can be cheaper, faster, and less arduous to enter the classroom. Many new teachers even learn on the job. Community colleges now offer teacher preparation programs (in Florida, for example) to people who already have bachelors' degrees. A growing number of charter schools, as well as the overwhelming majority of private schools, don't even require certification. A few districts, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, and some charter school operators, like High Tech High, simply train their own. It has also become accepted practice to hire non-educators for school and district leadership positions. Ron Huberman, Arne Duncan's own successor as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, came from that city's police department, while New York Chancellor Joel Klein is a lawyer and likes to hire McKinsey-trained subordinates.
Some districts now opt for alternatively-prepared individuals rather than ed school products. Baltimore and Boston recently chose to hire Teach For America corps members over traditionally-trained educators, notwithstanding their own budgetary travails. The New Teacher Project is the primary provider of urban residency programs, while such programs like New Leaders for New Schools and the Broad Residency in Urban Education are a favored way of preparing school leaders. New Orleans, for example, retained NLNS in 2007 to select and train 40 new principals for post-Katrina schools.
Further weakening the ed-school strangle-hold is a growing body of research that shows "certified" teachers and ex-teacher school leaders are no more effective than anybody else. In some cases, they're less effective. Harvard Business School Professor Stig Leschly found that New Leaders turns out exemplary school leaders, while the Louisiana Board of Regents discovered that New Teacher Project-trained teachers were more effective than those from other preparation paths, particularly in math.
What might a major change in the way ed schools operate look like? For starters, it would link teacher evaluations back to the institutions that prepared them. The Higher Education Act actually tried to do this by requiring states to report pass rates on state tests of graduates of teacher preparation programs, to rank (in quartiles) the institutions of higher education at which those teachers were prepared, and to name the criteria for identifying low-performing schools of education. This didn't work out very well, as states figured out how to flummox the reporting system (such as redefining as "graduates" only those who had already passed the state text). HEA is way overdue for reauthorization, and there are surely ways to redesign these requirements when the occasion arises.
Meanwhile, a few states have begun to tie student achievement back to programs that prepared those students' instructors. Besides Louisiana's better-known foray into value-added teacher preparation program assessment, Texas and New York are considering or have dabbled in value-added assessment of teacher preparation programs. All of these schemes properly look both at ed schools and alternative certification programs.
An ed-school overhaul would also involve more hands-on training. Though there are a number of stand-alone alternative residency programs (typically TNTP-spawned), most education schools require only 10 weeks of student teaching with minimal observation by their professors (and wide variation in the quality of mentor teachers in the classroom itself). Duncan and Susan Engel recommend that ed schools look to multi-yeared and expert-mentored physician residency programs for guidance. In particular, these schools should make classroom performance during said residency experience a significant part of graduation requirements. Or, if following the medical model, a condition of certification and/or job placement. Just because a student passes all their education school classes doesn't mean they'll excel in the classroom.
Teacher training would move outside the ed-school ghetto and become the job of entire colleges. Ed school professors might concentrate on pedagogy while content courses would be taught by discipline-based faculty. Teacher prep programs should strive to attract the top college students--and raise admissions standards accordingly. For undergraduate education degrees, this may simply mean restricting the provision of teacher training to the top 200 tertiary schools in the country. For graduate programs, stronger ties between ed schools and the universities with which they are affiliated would help. Graduate admissions are often department-based, but since ed schools and programs are typically on the lower end of that quality spectrum, a stronger relationship could confer higher standards for admission on the education programs (and make the marrying of content courses in other departments and pedagogical courses in ed schools easier).
No, none of this is guaranteed. Education schools and the universities for which the old model is usually quite lucrative are powerful, hidebound, and practiced at fending off "reform." But their walls are a bit weaker today than they were yesterday and the attack is stronger this time. Possibly we're at the beginning of a new era in teacher preparation.
By Stafford Palmieri
The Parent Revolution in Los Angeles continues to bring home the bacon, having managed to put organized parents squarely in the center of local education politics. In August, the LA Unified school board launched a new school choice policy, a corner stone of which is the outsourcing of 200 underperforming schools to outside operators. This fall, the Parent Revolution lobbied LAUSD Superintendent Ray Cortines to bump schools to the top of the 200 if a simple majority of the school's current or future (i.e., feeder schools') parents support a takeover. Though the final version of the so-called "Parent Trigger" clause is weaker than the original proposal (to the point of being "more likely to frustrate parents than empower them," according to the L.A. Times editorial board), we still can't help but admire Parent Revolution for its assertiveness and surely hope that kindred parent unions spring up and seize power in many other cities. Tom Vander Ark, former Director of Education for the Gates Foundation, called the Parents Revolution an idea "that will change the education landscape." Let's hope he's proven right.
"LA Unified to allow parents to initiate school reforms," Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2009
"L.A. Gives Parents ‘Trigger' to Restructure Schools," by Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, November 4, 2009 (subscription required)
"Parents Unite to Transform Your Schools! (Just Kidding…)," by Ben Austin, Parent Revolution blog, November 2, 2009
High school diplomas go retro
In perhaps the worst decision since the resurrection of the legwarmer, the North Carolina General Assembly has effectively granted retroactive diplomas to scores of high school seniors who failed graduation tests. Apparently to cut costs (though how, exactly, is not self-evident), the Tarheel legislature has eliminated the requirement that students pass state graduation tests in math, English, and computer skills. But in an odd, and seemingly unnecessary twist, they've made the measure retroactive to 1981. Paging Jim Hunt (who authorized the state board of education to institute the graduation test requirement): One of your reforms has just been sent the way of the side ponytail. It's not clear how many students will take advantage of the new rules, since only those who completed all other graduation requirements save passing the tests are eligible, but the measure is certainly not going to be much of a money-saver. Districts will now have to spend time and dollars to determine who is eligible for a diploma; this will be particularly difficult for non-graduates from more than five years ago, as the state's present data system was not in place then. Don Martin, Superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board called the move just another "unfunded mandate" and "tedious." But we're left wondering about the greater repercussions on North Carolina's work force. Will students retroactively be able to get into UNC? Retroactively earn their lost income? Retroactively attend senior prom? The potential chaos is endless.
"Eligible for a diploma?: Schools tackle retroactive change in requirements," by Kim Underwood, Winston-Salem Journal, October 29, 2009
Arne Duncan may continue lambasting teacher preparation programs nation-wide, but Texas could soon give him something to smile about. A proposal authored by veteran state Senator Florence Shapiro would impose stricter standards on the state's 177 traditional and alternative teacher prep programs. (Final approval is expected in February, 2010.) Heretofore, program accreditation was based on only one factor: percentage of teaching candidates passing a written certification exam. Shapiro's two-step plan would raise the combined passing rate of all teacher candidates from 70 to 80 percent by 2012 (a move initiated in Rhode Island last month), and would also establish three other accreditation criteria: mandating evaluations by the principals of schools into which the products of teacher prep programs go to teach, instituting teacher prep program follow-up with certified graduates for at least one year, and ensuring that prep program graduates are improving student achievement for their first three years. Linking student test scores back to teacher training programs would be a big step for Texas; currently, such scores are only used to determine yearly bonuses for teachers. But the current proposal (pdf) leaves undefined the required "improvement in student achievement" of prep program graduates, the details of program follow-up with graduates, or how principal evaluations will be weighted; setting these bars too low and/or making them easy to circumvent, of course, would undermine the changes entirely. It's also unclear if beginning teachers' student achievement will be averaged over three years (as is done in Louisiana) or evaluated year by year (which would be hardly fair for the newbie teacher). The good news is that if a program is on "accreditation probation" for at least one year, the state can remove accreditation and/or order it to close. We'll give one cheer for a good first step and reserve the second for when we get more details.
"Teachers' trainers must make the grade, too," by Ericka Mellon, The Houston Chronicle, November 1, 2009
"I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep…Those numbers completely changed my professional life," says Sarah Fanning, referring to 1999 test scores that revealed a full third of freshmen at Buckhorn High School in New Market, Alabama, where Fanning oversees curriculum and instruction, read at or below the seventh-grade level. In response, Buckhorn became an early adopter of the Alabama Reading Initiative, which focuses on incorporating literacy instruction across all subjects. Buckhorn's implementation seems to have three points of emphasis: Teach reading skills in all classes (not just English), use whatever methods it takes to help students understand and engage with concepts (visual aides, pop culture tie-ins, and hands-on projects are especially prominent), and make sure that every student understands all the content, even if that means starting at a basic level. The school now consistently outperforms surrounding high schools on reading tests. Programs like this can go horribly awry if, for example, they give teachers the power to substitute fluff projects for actual subject material. But, responsibly implemented, schools like Buckhorn show that putting reading and writing skills into practice in real courses is more successful than teaching them in the abstract.
"An Ala. High School Makes Literacy a Schoolwide Job," by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, October 30, 2009 (subscription required)
When the Gates Foundation announced in July that it would give up to $250,000 grants to fifteen states to help them with their Race to the Top applications, it was exercising the right of a private organization to be selective with its funds. But then the neglected 35 cried "unfair." And the financial floodgates opened. Now all fifty states will get financial help with their RTT proposals. Will the same thing happen when the Department of Education determines RTT winners? And shouldn't a private foundation be showing how to be selective rather than yielding, government-style, to political pressure?
"After Complaints, Gates Foundation Opens Education Aid Offer to All States," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, October 28, 2009
Call before you print--that's the lesson for Linda Vista Elementary School in Yorba Linda, California. That school's PTA recently made tee-shirts for a student jog-a-thon that featured the school mascot (a lion) and an inspiring seven-letter slogan transformed into a 1-800 number. Turns out the toll-free digits lead callers to a real phone number--one that, a curious parent discovered, connects to an adult chat line. (We're pretty sure none of the chat operators were participating in the jog-a-thon.) The school caught the gaffe and hastily recalled the dirty shirts. According to the Orange County Register, Linda Vista isn't the only school to err with this particular phone number. (Though the Register didn't supply the actual digits, Gadfly's own research reveals the guilty phrase was "eat dust." We don't recommend typing that into your nearest phone, however.) But Gadfly is slightly stumped; doesn't every combination of seven letters potentially connect to a real phone number, once an area code or equivalent prefix is attached? This may be an "innocent mistake" as a Linda Vista school official claims, but we guess that depends on your definition of "innocent."
"Adult chat line accidentally printed on school shirts," by Jessica Terrell, Orange County Register, October 27, 2009
A weekly selection of the best offerings from Flypaper, Fordham's blog.
Making middle schools work, Kathryn Mullen Upton
The Columbus Dispatch writes today that "the truth about Columbus middle schools is brutal." More than 70 percent of the district's middle schools are rated "D" or "F" by the state and none of them met federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets. A bright spot in this urban education landscape is the new Columbus Collegiate Academy (which the Fordham Foundation authorizes)….Read it here.
Is Robert Louis Stevenson writing Ohio education policy?, Mike Lafferty
Ohio education policymakers seem to have a split personality when it comes to what they say they care about and what they fund. The frequency and impact of this disconnect make it all the more frightening. This Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast was evident today when education experts gathered in Dayton to discuss the state of the state's schools at a discussion sponsored by the Ohio Grantmakers Forum….Read it here.
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast
Mickey perfects the dramatic pause
Andy and Stafford co-host, debating the Hawaii furlough debacle's media attention, Texas's new teacher prep accreditation requirements, and North Carolina's bizarre decision to make a graduation-requirement change retroactive. Then Amber tells us about the new NCES report on the lowering of state standards and Mickey rates the merits of eating flies (Gadfly is shocked—and fearful!). Click here to listen through our website and peruse past editions. To download the show as an mp3 to your computer, click here (no iPod required--this link will play through any music software on your computer, including Windows Media Player or RealPlayer).
When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
Consortium on Chicago School Research
University of Chicago Urban Education Institute
Chalk up another mark on the growing "no-effects" list of school-reform research: This study finds that students impacted by school closures in Chicago Public Schools between 2001 and 2006 did, on average, no better or worse after leaving the shuttered schools. But no surprise here: 42 percent of the displaced students went from bad schools to equally bad ones (namely the bottom quartile of schools in Chicago). The rest of the findings are a mixed bag: There were some ancillary negative effects (lower summer school attendance and a temporary test score drop after students learned that their schools were slated for closure), some marginal positive effects (better scores for the 6 percent of students who subsequently entered high-performing schools), and a combination of both (for the 52 percent who wound up in second or third quartile schools). Behold the chicken-and-egg dilemma with school closure: What's the point of closing failing schools when there aren't any better options available? The authors point out that although some schools were closed specifically for low-enrollment rather than low test scores, the two categories typically overlap. (Some of the closed schools reopened as new schools but the report does not disaggregate effects on student achievement for doing so.) Andy Smarick writes that school turnaround should really boil down to a simple formula: "close failing schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, repeat." But as this study signals, timing is a significant problem. It's far faster to close an old school than to open a new one. Should cities ideally wait until enough new seats are available before eliminating old ones? Perhaps so. Read it here.
By Mickey Muldoon
3X for All: Extending the Reach of Education's Best
Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel
In order to ensure that every child in America has access to a high quality teacher, this working paper suggests a seemingly basic strategy: increase the influence and reach of excellent teachers already in the system. The authors start with two assumptions: First, that teacher effectiveness has the greatest in-school effect on student achievement; and second, that the top quintile of teachers produce pupil gains three times that of the bottom quintile (hence the label "3X teachers"). Therefore, they go on to explain, efforts to improve teacher recruitment, incentives, and professional development are noble, but are incapable of producing widespread gains anytime soon. Instead, if schools committed now to extend the "reach" (number of children served) and "touch" (direct interaction with students) of their 3X teachers, they could immediately reduce the shortage and increase the distribution of high quality teachers without actually hiring any more. This can be done in three ways. First, schools could restructure teacher organization and responsibilities to allow 3X teachers to concentrate on instruction and eliminate time wasted on rote activities (e.g., 3X teachers could simultaneously manage multiple classrooms while other teachers work under their supervision.) Second, schools could use technology to bring a 3X teacher into classrooms by remote means. Ideally, this would occur on a scale small enough to allow for personal interaction but large enough to reach two or three times more students. Third, 3X teachers could spread their best practices and lessons through mass production of lesson videos and literature, allowing them to reach an unbounded number of students. To make this system work, explain the authors, teacher pay would need to be tweaked; for the extra work, 3X teachers should receive per-pupil bonuses (like those used in districts trying to incentivize larger class sizes) and, for option three, paid royalties for the instructional materials they produce. The authors do not address the myriad instructional and bureaucratic roadblocks that all such reforms would face or question whether such models would be attractive to any or all teachers--even with more pay, some 3X teachers might balk at the required workload. Yet it is easy to see the potential of such a simple solution: Why not make better use of the best teachers we already have? Read it here.
By Janie Scull
Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2007
Victor Bandeira de Mello, Charles Blankenship, and Don McLaughlin
National Center for Education Statistics
Newsflash: Many states have lowered the proficiency bar in response to NCLB. Faithful Gadfly readers already knew this, of course, since we published a report on this very topic two years ago (and another one earlier this year). The difference this time around, however, is that the messenger is the federal government itself. NCES analysts mapped state proficiency standards in 48 states onto the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scales. The result? "All NAEP scale equivalents of states' reading standards were below NAEP's proficient range; and in mathematics only two states' NAEP scale equivalents were in the NAEP proficient range…" To top it off, most states' fourth grade reading standards were below NAEP's basic level of performance. Readers might find the stats-speak hard to parse, but NCES does an excellent job of presenting the data. User-friendly tables lay out precisely (i.e., by naming them) which states lowered their proficiency standards between 2005 and 2007; the data are separated by which states have comparable results (i.e., because they kept the same tests) and those that do not (i.e., they changed their standards/tests/testing policies). Interestingly, nearly half of states changed aspects of their test or assessment system over that two year period. But when each version of these states' tests was mapped onto the NAEP scale, results revealed that a third to a half of states (depending on subject and grade) had lowered their previous standards. Yikes. You can find the report here.
By Amber Winkler
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Report: Summary of Programs and State-by-State Data
U.S. Department of Education
Drawing from new data released on October 30 by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, this report reviews the distribution of federal economic-stimulus funds to date and their effects on state economies and education systems. Bail-out indeed! Despite early talk about important reforms being driven by these dollars, in education at least, the federal largesse has been about jobs, jobs, jobs. Specifically, 325,000 jobs created or retained in this sector. (The report tries to smooth this over by stating the original purpose of the funds as "delivering emergency education funding to States" and sadly spends just a half-page in its 248-page entirety reporting on "ARRA Reform and Outreach" evidenced by "anecdotal accounts to the Department of Education.") The report lauds the funds for restoring "nearly 100 percent of the 2008-09 budget gaps and significant portion of the 2009-10 shortfalls." Call us naysayers, but we're not convinced this is a big reason to break out the champagne. As we predicted when ARRA was in its infancy, the bailout dollars have likely retarded education reform; shielded from reality for another two years, states, districts, and schools left their unsustainable organizational bloat intact. And some of the news is even worse. Since ARRA only required states to maintain 2006 levels of funding, a number of states (such as Hawaii--and its furlough mess) used their federal funds to actually cut the state contribution to education. And what will happen in 2011 after the stimulus is spent? One may fairly shudder at the prospect. You can read the report here.
By Janie Scull
A second look at national standards
If you missed the event and webcast of "National Education Standards circa 2009" yesterday, don't fret. You will be able to find the archived video on our homepage tomorrow.
Upwards, not outwards
Last week's editorial "Remembering Ted Sizer" misidentified the outreach program at Harvard Graduate School of Education as "Outward Bound," a well-known outdoors program. The program was actually "Upward Bound," a federal college preparation program for low-income students and first-time college goers.
The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Jack Byers, Amy Fagan, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Mickey Muldoon, Jamie Davies O'Leary, Eric Osberg, Stafford Palmieri, Emmy Partin, Michael J. Petrilli, Laura Elizabeth Pohl, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at email@example.com. Would you like to be spared from the Gadfly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe gadfly" in the text of your message. You are welcome to forward Gadfly to others, and from our website you can also email individual articles. If you have been forwarded a copy of Gadfly and would like to subscribe, you may either email email@example.com with "subscribe gadfly" in the text of the message or sign up online here. To read archived issues or obtain other reviews of reports and books, go to www.edexcellence.net and click on the Education Gadfly link.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary/secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.