We know what works, but it’s not easy

We Know (A Few) Things That Work to improve high-poverty schools, write economists Greg J. Duncan of University of California at Irvine’s School of Education and Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, they describe the success of Boston’s pre-K program, the University of Chicago’s K-12 charter school network and New York City’s small high schools of choice. 

Does choice create quality?

Accountability doesn’t mean “government-imposed standards and testing” argues an education manifesto signed by leaders of the Cato Institute, the Friedman Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Center for Education Reform and others. “True accountability” comes from “parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality.”

Despite his strong bias toward school choice and parental prerogative, Robert Pondiscio is “not quite ready to act upon the argument that choice, not standards, is the best guarantee of excellence, he writes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

I taught in the lowest-performing school in New York City’s lowest-performing district. There was choice available to the families we served. The original South Bronx KIPP Academy was a few blocks away. There were other charter schools and good Catholic schools, too. In my school, meanwhile, our principal knew all the families by name, spoke fluent Spanish, and parents appreciated that we were respectful and nice to the kids. Our motto was written in big, bold letters on the playground wall: “Job Number One: Keep Everyone Safe!” Job Number Two, directly under it, read “Get a Good Education.”

Those were the de facto standards that arose at my school. One hundred percent of our students were safe. Sixteen percent could read on grade level.

Choice and standards need each other, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. Not all parents want no-excuses, data-driven instruction.” In Washington, D.C., parents can choose Montessori charters, Catholic charters, Hebrew immersion, Reggio Emilia, No Excuses, and on. “All are held accountable to the same standards, but real innovation is not only possible — it is encouraged and thriving. In fact, that innovation is possible not in spite of the standards but because of them.”

“Having standards to which all publicly funded schools are held accountable doesn’t strike me as an undue burden,” writes Pondiscio.

On This Week in Education, Paul Bruno takes on the faulty logic of the “other people’s children” argument. Reform critics charge reformers push for ideas — such as the “no excuses” model — that they wouldn’t want for their own kids.

. . . it seems plausible that different kids have different educational needs and that the children of prominent reformers are likely to be systematically different than other children, particularly the least-privileged children who tend to be the focus of reform efforts.

That makes sense to me — if low-income parents have a choice of different school models, as in Washington D.C. 

Gates speaks up for Common Core

As more states rethink Common Core standards and testing, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates says high, consistent standards are essential to keep the U.S. competitive with other nations.

The Gates Foundation has spent $75 million to support the Common Core movement.

The Common Core is under attack from all sides. The right complains of federal meddling. Teachers’ unions are backing away, citing poor implementation. Parents are confused. And reform opponents really don’t like the fact that it’s backed by Bill Gates. He must know that, but think he has clout with other factions.

The mayor vs. the charters

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s denial of school space to three Success Academy charters is “part of the national “pushback” movement against school reform,” write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire on Slate. So far, it’s not going well. “By going after the charters, he is attacking one of the most promising urban school reform strategies available to Democratic mayors across the country these days, and he’s doing it without offering a clear alternative.”

De Blasio misread his mandate, writes Conor Williams on The Daily Beast.  

. . . at one of the schools he’s evicting, Success Academy Harlem 4, 83 percent of students scored proficient or better on the state’s math assessment in 2013. Nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the school is getting great results.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted a video purporting to tell “the real story” of school co-locations. It features parents touting the virtues of the non-charter schools that were sharing a building with Success Academy Harlem 4. “They have plenty of activities, they have a very good after-school program,” says one.

At P.S. 149 — the district run school in the building –5 percent of students scored proficient on the math test; 11 percent were proficient in English.

Democracy Now hosts a debate on “privatized education”  with former public school teacher Brian Jones and Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter network.

Sam Chaltain thinks this “isn’t really about co-locations, or charter schools, or the right of a parent to choose: it’s about the ongoing tension between our country’s delicate, dual allegiance to the core values of capitalism (consumption & competition) and the core values of democracy (conscience & consensus).”

Does democracy demand that Harlem parents send their children to P.S. 149?

“I voted for DeBlasio,” says Shamona Kirkland. “But I didn’t vote for you to take my child’s future.”

AFT says ‘no’ to Gates funding

The American Federation of Teachers won’t take any more Gates Foundation money for its Innovation Fund, reports Politico. President Randi Weingarten said union members don’t trust the foundation’s approach to education reform.

The Innovation Fund has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants for the last five years, primarily to help teachers implement the Common Core standards.

The AFT receives millions more in other Gates grants. The union’s executive council hasn’t voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said it’s unlikely the AFT will take any money from Gates.She plans to ask union members for a dues increase to replace the lost funding.

Emanuel tries to turn Chicago schools

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought fiercely for education reform in Chicago, writes Alexander Russo in Ed Next.  When he took office in 2011, Emanuel pledged “to do bold, concrete things—enact a longer school day and year, implement principal performance bonuses, expand International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and revamp teacher evaluations—and get them done as quickly and visibly as possible.” After three years, results are mixed.

Test scores have risen in the Windy City, but lag far behind the Illinois average.

Emanuel faced a $1 billion budget deficit and massive and unfunded pension liabilities. Enrollment was declining leaving schools half empty. The mayor rescinded teachers’ 4 percent salary increase to balance the budget.

The “newly energized” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), led by Karen Lewis, went on strike for seven school days at the start of the 2012-13 school year. The new contract blocked merit pay and gave teachers 2 to 3 percent raises. 

Yet Emanuel was able to extend the school day and year and introduce a new teacher evaluation program.

Despite some progress, Chicago schools face budget problems, bitter fights over school closures and $19 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Emanuel and Lewis have not been able to work together on funding or pension issues.

Emanuel was pushing for a delay in addressing pension liabilities. “I’m going to turn this battleship around,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times, but “I’m not going to reverse 30 years of bad practices in just three years.”

‘If I need geometry, I’ll learn it then’

Scott Hamilton is the Forrest Gump of education reform, although with a lot more IQ points and fewer chocolates, I write in an Education Next profile.

He worked for Bill Bennett in the U.S. Department of Education and for Benno Schmidt at the Edison Project. He authorized charter schools in Massachusetts, co-founded the KIPP network, quadrupled the size of Teach For America (TFA), and introduced blended learning at urban Catholic schools. He’s been around.

Now 47, he’s started a new initiative called Circumventure, based in San Francisco. Through surveys, focus groups, field tests, and interviews, Circumventure is asking fundamental questions: Do people want what schools are offering? If not, what do they want? Can technology make it happen?

Being a “good learner” is valued by the students and parents he’s interviewed. Being “well educated” is not. “Young Millennials and their Generation Z siblings” believe they don’t need school to learn new things. They’ll do it all themselves—if and when they feel like it. “Teens think, ‘I’ll never use geometry. If I need it, I’ll learn it then’.”

How ed ventures succeed

Many for-profit education entrepreneurs have crashed and burned, writes Julie Landry Petersen in Education Next. She looks at three innovators who’ve had an impact and stayed in business: Larry Berger (Wireless Generation), Jonathan Harber (SchoolNet) and Ron Packard (K12).

“The economics of education investing are changing,” writes Petersen. Ed tech companies raised $1.1 billion in venture funding in 2012, more than double the amount raised the prior year.

 

Teacher retention is up in reform era

Teachers are staying in the classroom, despite education reforms some said would create rapid turnover, according to a U.S. Education Department survey.

In the past, half of teachers would leave in their first five years, write Kaitlin Pennington and Robert Hanna of the Center for American Progress. But 70 percent of teachers who started five years ago have stayed in the profession.

The Great Recession started in 2009, which may have discouraged job switching, they observe. With many experienced teachers retiring, new teachers may have expected more opportunities.
Still, the new research should “give pause” to reform critics, write Pennington and Hanna.

Some claimed that teachers would react strongly to teacher evaluations that are based in part on student test-score growth and that the stress would drive many of them out. Bob Sullo, an education consultant and author, called it a “recipe for disaster.” And education historian Diane Ravitch predicted that “many will leave teaching, discouraged by the loss of their professional autonomy.”

Over the course of President Obama’s first term, about two-thirds of teachers said that if they “could go back to college and start over again,” they would “probably” or “definitely” still become teachers.

74% favor school choice

For National School Choice Week:  74 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of “school choice” and 72 percent favor “parent choice,” according to a Center for Education Reform survey.

Support for school choice unites Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is about as liberal as it gets, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s about as conservative, reports Reason.