Everyone’s favorite fad is now ‘core aligned’

Rialto Unified’s idiotic essay assignment — is the Holocaust a hoax? — was justified as meeting the Common Core’s call for teaching “critical thinking” skills, writes Greg Forster on Jay Greene’s blog. The Core didn’t dictate the assignment, he writes. But it opened the back door.

When “you set yourself up as the dictator of the system, you officially own everything that happens in the system,” he writes.

This is simply what you get when you announce that you have set a single standard for a huge, sprawling, decentralized system with literally millions of decision-makers, very few of whom have much incentive to do what you want, but very many of whom have some pet project they’d like to push through using your name to do it.

If Reform X is truly voluntary, fewer systems adopt it, “but those that adopt it will really adopt it.” Or it’s possible to “force, bribe and cajole systems to adopt Reform X,” then tell them exactly how to run their schools to enforce the reform.

Common Core standards used the “force, bribe and cajole” strategy to get states to say they’re adopting the reform, then let them implement it, Forster writes. The result:  Everyone  will adopt their preferred fads and “call it Reform X.”

Implementation — how a thing is done day by day in the real world — is everything, writes Peggy Noonan.

Rhee’s record

The case against Michelle Rhee is full of holes, writes Paul Peterson of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance in the Washington Times. Ed Next has his full analysis.

Rhee was more effective than her predecessors, he writes, contradicting a recent study (pdf) by Alan Ginsburg, a former director of Policy and Program Studies in the U.S. Department of Education.  And, contrary to a National Research Council (NRC)  committee’s preliminary analysis, which downplays progress, there’s reason to believe Rhee’s reforms made a difference.  

Like Ginsburg and the NRC committee, Peterson looks at NAEP data, since it’s a low-stakes test with no incentive to cheat. He excludes the scores of charter schools beyond Rhee’s control, which caused a blip in the data in 2007, inflating pre-Rhee progress. He finds progress accelerated after Rhee took over as chancellor.

 Once the data are corrected and adjusted for national trends, it becomes evident that during the Rhee years, fourth-grade students gained at a pace twice that seen under her predecessors in both reading and math. The gains in math by eighth-grade students were nearly as much, although no eighth-grade reading gains are detected.

Gains are not enormous in any one year, but over time, they add up. In 2000, the gap between the District and the nation in fourth-grade math was 34 points. Had students gained as much every year between 2000 and 2009 as they did during the Rhee era, that gap would have been just 7 points in 2009. Three more years of Rhee-like progress and the gap would have been closed. In eighth-grade math, the gap in 2000 was 38 points. Had Rhee-like progress been made over the next nine years, the gap in 2009 would have been just 14 points, with near closure in 2012. In fourth-grade reading, the gap was 30 points in 2003; if Rhee-like gains had taken place over the next six years, the gap in 2009 would have been cut in half.

The NRC committee claims that District gains “were similar” to those in 10 “other urban districts” for which comparable data is available.

In fact, D.C. students gained 6 points between 2007 and 2009 in both math and reading, while the average gain for the other 10 cities was just 1 point in reading and 2 points in math. In eighth-grade math, D.C. gains were 7 points, as compared to an average of three points for 10 other cities. Only in eighth-grade reading did the District lag behind, dropping a point while elsewhere, students gained 2 points.

The committee also admits that student and teacher attendance improved significantly during Rhee’s tenure, but questions the significance of the change.

Rhee said she wanted to change the culture, Peterson notes.  When students show up to learn and teachers show up to teach, that’s considered a very good sign. But Rhee’s enemies don’t want to give her credit for anything.

Wisconsin teachers’ union backs reforms

In a surprising shift, Wisconsin’s largest teachers union has endorsed performance pay and evaluating teachers with value-added measures and peer review, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. In addition the Wisconsin Education Association Council proposed splitting up the Milwaukee Public Schools system, an idea the union opposed when it was advocated by former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Wisconsin needs an organized way to move underperforming teachers out of the profession, said Mary Bell, WEAC’s president. The union’s proposal includes “career transition services” for teachers who fail to meet performance standards over three years.

She also said that the state’s outdated model of paying teachers based on years of education should be replaced with one that rewards high-performing teachers who meet learning objectives with students. Instructors who take on hard-to-staff positions and additional responsibilities should receive extra compensation, as should teachers who earn their national board certification, she said.

WEAC’s proposal to break up MPS is not supported by its Milwaukee local. The governor and state education department officials had no comment.

State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon), the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called WEAC’s announcement a “huge move.”

“I think they know this is happening across the country, and we’re going to do it in Wisconsin, and so they decided, ‘We can sit on the sidelines or we can play ball,’ and I’m glad they’re interested in playing ball,” said Olsen, who is working on reform efforts aimed at ensuring that schools can remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

An eight-part Journal-Sentinel series, Building a Better Teacher, reported that Wisconsin legislators and union leaders have resisted teacher-quality reforms pursued in other states.