Windmills in San Diego

Tilting at Windmills is Richard Lee Colvin’s account of Alan Bersin’s struggle to remake San Diego schools from 1998 to 2005.

“San Diego became notorious for the fierce resistance of its teachers union, abetted by school board members, to any and all efforts at change,” writes Nathan Glazer in an Education Next review.

Like Joel Klein in New York City, Bersin left a law career to become a big-city superintendent. He persuaded Tony Alvarado, the former New York City schools chancellor, to become his director of instruction.

Alvarado clashed with the union over literacy coaches. He wanted coaches trained in method he’d found effective. The union wanted peer coaches to help teachers use whatever method they preferred.

Alvarado believed principals should observe classes. The union wanted advanced warning of a principal’s visit.

Teachers denounced Bersin as a “dictator.” While a 3-2 school board majority backed him, one board member called him a “gauleiter” when he proposed letting charter organizers run the worst-performing schools. (Glazer notes, she inaccurately said gauleiters were “Jews who worked for the Nazis [to shepherd] their own people into the trains” to the concentration camps.

Bersin persisted for six years, in time gaining the support of some teachers and principals. A 2005 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found the improvement in reading “so definitive that San Diego’s efforts are well worth a look by other school districts in California and the nation.” Achievement gaps were narrowed significantly. But this was for elementary schools: similar efforts in high schools did not show the same results.

“If this is what it takes to make modest improvements in achievement levels and reduce achievement gaps, how often can we expect it to happen?” asks Glazer, a professor emeritus of education and sociology at Harvard.

Change without reform

After all the education reforms, what’s really changed in classrooms? Not a whole lot, writes Larry Cuban in his new book, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education.

Cuban looks at a 1:1 laptop program in a Bay Area high school in 1998-99 and 2008-10,   writes Mark Bauerlein in an Education Next review.  The project started with generous federal and state grants and funding from Silicon Valley donors, Cuban writes. Teachers were enthusiastic. But problems soon emerged.

The principal who’d spearheaded the idea left just as it was getting started; the school went through four principals from 1998 to 2010. Faculty turnover was high too and some teachers made little use of technology. Those who did rarely changed their teaching.

The school’s test scores fell, pressuring teachers to focus on test prep.

“Connections between student achievement and teacher and student use of laptops are, at best, indirect and, at worst, nonexistent,” Cuban concludes.

It’s not just a problem with digital learning, Cuban writes. Changes in governance, school size, curriculum, and organization “have had few effects on classroom practices and, consequently, students’ academic outcomes,” he concludes.

Encouraging teachers to collaborate and easing test-based accountability might change inside-the-box teaching for the better, Cuban suggests. But he makes no claim to have the answers, Bauerlein writes.

‘An Industry of Mediocrity’

Education schools are “an industry of mediocrity,” opines Bill Keller in the New York Times.

In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.”

Last month,  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised admission standards for state education colleges.

Deborah Kenny, who runs Harlem Village Academies charter schools, plans to train her own teachers, creating the equivalent of a residency program for new teachers.

“Where charter schools were 10 years ago, that’s where teacher preparation is right at this moment,” Kenny told me. With start-up money from the media executive Barry Diller (who says he hopes to see the venture amplified via the Internet) and a core of master teachers like (Bill) Jackson, Kenny has begun to build a graduate education school that will be integrated with her K-12 campuses in Harlem.

Ed schools are “cash cows” for universities, Keller writes. There’s “no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.”

Reformers want to make teacher colleges more selective, writes Keller. Only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates, estimates a recent study.

Reformers also advocate “sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached” by master teachers.

Susan Fuhrman, who succeeded Levine as president of Teachers College, support raising admissions standards and holding ed schools accountable, Keller writes.  But Fuhrman is worried about alternative teacher schools that aren’t part of a research university.

“One reason for the widespread mediocrity is that universities have had a cozy, lucrative monopoly,” concludes Keller. “It’s about time the leaders of our education schools did feel threatened.”

Hill: Don’t ditch NY City’s ed reforms

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education plan has raised graduation rates and created more high-quality schools, argues Paul T. Hill in The Atlantic. “Don’t ditch it,” writes Hill, who directs the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

Bill de Blasio, the likely next New York City mayor, has made a lot of promises about public education. No additional charter schools; no free space for many charter schools educating city kids; less reliance on student test performance to judge schools; and a moratorium on the closure of low-performing schools.

If the new mayor follows through, he’ll dismantle Bloomberg’s Children First reforms, writes Hill. That would be bad for students.

When Bloomberg became mayor, less than half the students in New York City’s high schools graduated in four years.  Today, nearly two-thirds graduate on time. Every year, more than 18,000 young people graduate high school than would have been expected in 2002. The percentage of graduates who enter college without needing to take remedial courses has doubled since 2001.

Furthermore, “new small high schools started during the Bloomberg administration are more effective than the schools they replaced,” writes Hill.

On campuses where new small schools replaced large underperforming high schools, the overall graduation rate increased from 37.9 percent to 67.7 percent. . . . Students who entered the new small schools with the lowest test scores benefited from them the most.

New York City charter students are learning more than their counterparts in traditional schools, according to the most recent CREDO study. That’s especially true for low-income minority students and special education students.

Across the city, in new schools and old ones, the trends are positive, writes Hill. New York’s next mayor should commit to key parts of the Children First agenda:

 Keep pupil-based funding. Continue to increase the share of total funding that goes directly to schools. The students most in need benefit most from pupil based funding.

Preserve gains in the teaching force via recruitment from many sources, rigorous tenure processes, and mutual consent hiring at the school level.

Keep opening new schools especially in neighborhoods where there are few or no high performing schools. Don’t cut off chartering as one route to creating effective new schools.

Preserve gains in the quality of principals via rigorous selection and training and by maintaining principals’ control over their school’s staffing and spending, in-service teacher training, and purchases of assistance.

Perfect, don’t scrap, reporting on student gains by school.

Keep performance based accountability and continue re-staffing and closing/replacing persistently ineffective schools.

Continue the iZone experiment with new uses of money and technology, and help all schools use ideas that are emerging.

Is there a good old days of public schooling to which New York City could return?

Gove: Stop lying to kids

“Lying to children” is a crime, said Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, at the National Summit for Excellence in Education in Boston. Children are being “told they’re ready for college, a job or the military” when they’re not, he said.

He compared inflated exam grades on Britain’s graduation exams to Soviet tractor production propaganda, notes the Guardian.

“For years, ministers in previous governments looked at the way more and more people were getting GCSEs and they congratulated themselves, like Soviet economics ministers on the growth in statistics,” Gove (said) . . .

Slipping into a mock Russian accent and syntax, Gove said: “Look in Russia, thousands more get GCSEs. Surely now we are education powerhouse?”

Instead, he told the audience in Boston, “the truth is that we were lying to children” by telling them they would be able to go to university or find skilled work.

“Employers said: ‘You have a piece of paper that says it, you’re qualified in English and mathematics. But you can’t write a business letter, you can’t do basic arithmetic required to work in this store or on this shop floor.’

Both Britain and the U.S. are “houses divided by inequality and lack of opportunity,” Gove said. Access to the best universities in schools is “rationed and restricted, increasingly, to those who live in upscale neighbourhoods, have parents who have access to connections, and are supported by stable families.”

Children without those advantages need “a great school with great teachers,” but many won’t have that chance, Gove said. They’ll never reach their full potential.

Born to an unwed mother, Gove could have been “robbed of opportnity,” if he hadn’t been adopted, he said. Instead, he was raised by parents who made sure he attended excellent schools.

In the name of equity, Gove strongly endorsed Common Core standards, high expectations for all students,  testing (“tests are liberating!”) and competition.

The haunted school

Students Last, a humor site, visits The Haunted School.  “A robot-like coed sporting a Teach for America t-shirt and a forced smile . . .  promised to guide us through the house” but mysteriously disappeared.
cuomo

“Michelle Rhee” leapt at our oldest child trying to tape his mouth shut. As my son cowered behind me, she threatened to remove my tenure while menacing me with a copy of the Common Core.

A second TFA guide appeared, but quickly vanished.

In the next room, “Executioner Andrew Cuomo” threatened to execute our school if it failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

When the third TFA guide abandoned the group, “we wandered into what we thought was a roomful of zombie children but it turned out they were actual kids just preparing for the specialized high school exam.”

Job 1: Educating for self-sufficient citizenship

Education young people to be self-sufficient citizens is Job 1 for public education, writes Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

“College and career” readiness isn’t enough,he writes. We need citizenship readiness. (Citizenship First suggests that every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam. See how you do here.)

The most basic requirement of citizenship is self-sufficiency, Petrilli argues.

If we haven’t prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed our most fundamental duty. And the “we” is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, all of us.

There are two ways to help children, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. We can try to “make bad parents less relevant” or “make bad parents less bad.”  He puts preschool and education reform in the first category; home visits and parent training — which smack of “Big Mother” — are in the second.

These programs “help at the margins but they aren’t breaking the cycle of poverty,” writes Petrilli.

Let me float a third option: A renewed effort to encourage young, uneducated, unemployed women to delay childbearing until they are ready–emotionally, financially–to start a family. Let’s promote a simple rule: Don’t have babies until you can afford them. If everybody in America followed this rule, most long-term child poverty would disappear, and parenting would improve dramatically.

. . . Social scientists have long known about the “success sequence”: Finish your education, get a job, get married, start a family. Stick to that sequence and you avoid poverty, and so do your kids.

Petrilli asks Deborah Meier, the other half of the Bridging Differences dialogue, if schools can encourage students to follow the “success sequence.” Offer effective pregnancy prevention programs?

Should we consider paying low-income individuals to put off childrearing? Mayor Bloomberg is already experimenting with cash incentives to encourage all manner of positive behaviors. Maybe offer “25 by 25″: All young men and women who graduate from high school get a post-secondary credential, get a job, and avoid a pregnancy and a prison record get $25,000 in cash at the age of twenty-five. Is that worth trying?

Or is the best way for schools to tackle this issue simply to provide a top-grade education to their charges? To instill in them the “hope in the unseen” that they, too, can aspire to college, to a good career, to an early adulthood full of intellectual and social and emotional challenges and experiences, not to include parenthood (yet)?

I wish schools would teach this statistic: Ninety percent of children born to an unmarried teen-ager who hasn’t finished high school will grow up in poverty. If the mother waits to have her first child till she finishes high school, turns 20 and marries, the risk her children will be poor is 9 percent. They could add the stats on the percentage of unmarried fathers are supporting or visiting their children after the first few years.

There needs to be more focus on showing young men from low-income single-parent families how to qualify for a decent job with or without a college degree. One path to success– a bachelor’s degree or bust — isn’t enough.

Update: When parents have conversations with their children, it makes a huge difference, writes Annie Murphy Paul. Robert Pondiscio responds:  ”On my bucket list of ed projects: a PSA campaign to inform low-income parents on the benefits of reading to kids and engaging them in conversation. Cognitive development classes in inner-city hospitals can teach inner city parents the habits that more affluent parents do reflexively. And if the Gates Foundation wants to help, let’s get low-cost books — say 25 cents apiece — into inner city bodegas.”

The forgotten history of testing

bookPen-and-paper exams were created to reform schools, writes William J. Reese in Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History.

Today’s reform critics believe standardized testing “forces a dull, routinized and stifling learning culture,” notes Education Gadfly. However, the old system was characterized by “public exhibitions” of “well-rehearsed oratories and parades.”

Reformers Horace Mann (Massachusetts’s first secretary of education) and Samuel Gridley Howe (a member of the state’s School Committee) fought to replace exhibitions with written tests. In 1845, the first written test produced abysmal scores. Howe was voted out of office. The testing wars continue.

Fix schools by not fixing schools

Fix Schools by Not Fixing Schools advises Jay P. Greene. Instead of trying to reform traditional public schools, go around them.

We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools. ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools.  We can also expand access to enriching non-school activities, like museums, theaters, historical sites, summer camps, and after-school programs.  Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.

Traditional public schools don’t want to be fixed, writes Greene.

The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.  Trying to impose reforms like merit pay, centralized systems of teacher evaluation, new standards, new curriculum, new pedagogy, etc… on unwilling schools is largely a futile exercise.  They have the political resources to block, dilute, or co-opt these efforts in most instances.

“Second, attempting to impose reforms on traditional public schools requires a significant increase in centralized political control,” Greene writes.  When traditionalists subvert “most reforms through poor implementation,” the centralization remains.

 Centralized reforms that can be adopted and implemented have to be watered-down enough to gain broad support for passage and implementation, rendering them mostly impotent.

. . . even if by some miracle an effective and appropriate centralized reform with bite is adopted and properly implemented, there is no natural political constituency to preserve the integrity of that reform over time.

Traditional public schools don’t resist the creation of alternatives “with the same ferocity that they oppose reforms that directly effect their daily working life,” Greene writes. Creating alternatives doesn’t require centralization or pleasing everyone. Successful alternatives build their own constituency.

 

Teacher Quality 2.0

The American Enterprise Institute’s Teacher Quality 2.0 includes nine research papers on how to improve teacher preparation, evaluation and support and rethink staffing.