Monday, January 30, 2012

KARE: Why public charter schools are important

Wayne Lewis and Hal Heiner of Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education (KARE) described their vision for charter schools in Kentucky this week, but with regrettable hypernbole.

This from Wayne Lewis and Hal Heiner in C-J:
For Kentucky, we want a charter school law that has a high threshold; meaning applicants wanting to open charter schools will have to meet a rigorous standard before being granted a charter. We also want the law written so that charter schools that fail to meet their agreed upon expectations will be shut down with minimal difficulty.
Good. Having a strong law is crucial. But then...
In addition to this outcomes-based accountability that comes with charter schools, any parent that is unhappy with the charter school that their child attends simply takes the child out of the charter school and sends him/her to another school.
Another school? It might have been more honest to suggest that such students would be returned to the traditional public school, which is an important consideration since it relates to the issue of charters "creaming" students from the traditional public schools. Then there's this...
Charter schools provide additional school options for parents. We believe firmly that every parent should have public school options when deciding on a school for his/her child. No parent should be forced to continue to send his or her child to a school that cannot or does not serve that child’s needs. But unfortunately, tens of thousands of parents in Kentucky are forced to do just that. As we work to improve our traditional public school systems in Kentucky, we must also work to increase the availability of public school options for parents, both inside and outside of our traditional public school systems.
I agree with the general notion, but "tens of thousands of parents in Kentucky" !? I think KARE should be required to tell us which parents these are. All of the parents in which schools? This exaggerated number is inflammatory and untrue. While I agree that there is a good argument for allowing charters is some limited situations such hyperbole only serves to undermine the credibility of the writers.
All parents deserve quality school options; regardless of their ZIP code, education level, income, or social capital.
Not only true, but if we substitute the word "education" for "school options" it is guaranteed by the Kentucky constitution.
Quality public charter schools can be instrumental in giving parents across Kentucky access to quality public school options.
Not hardly, but it could be one vehicle, which if judiciously applied in limited cases of long-standing failure, that can be justified. The problem is that the way one organized for instruction is never the main ingredient in school success.

C J says Legislature should strengthen anti-bullying law

This from the Courier-Journal:
Growing up, children are taught, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Everyone knows that’s just wrong — especially the kids who grow up to be bullied — by sticks, stones, words and worse — and that number may surprise you.

A recent anonymous survey of more than a half-million U.S. students in grades three through 12 showed that 17 percent of them said they were bullied two to three times a month each semester (that number was highest for third-graders, with 25 percent reporting abuse at that frequency in school); a quarter of girls and almost a third of boys said they had been bullied for several years; most said they felt sorry for bullied students if they saw bullying occur, but almost as many said they did nothing, even though they thought they should, as those who tried to help. Ten percent admitted to being the bullies.

Some 40 states have tried to step in with laws that try to stop bullying in schools, and those are good starts at what have to be holistic attempts to teach and live the Golden Rule, involving adults and children at home, in public, at school, at church, at work and in every relationship.

A bill was filed on Friday by Kentucky state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, to strengthen the state’s anti-bullying law passed in 2008. The new measure spells out protected classes of students who are targeted by bullies for their actual or perceived race, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their physical, mental, emotional or learning disability, and for other distinguishing characteristics...

The state’s anti-bullying law should be strengthened to protect children when they are away from their homes and their folks. But their folks need to do their own heavy lifting when it comes to lessons of respect. The truth about sticks and stones should be taught and learned in and out of school.

The Obamas, parents of young daughters, have hosted anti-bullying conferences at the White House. Last year, during one of the meetings to help set up bully-free zones in schools and communities throughout the country, Michelle Obama said, “When we, as adults, treat others with compassion and respect, when we take the time to listen and give each other the benefit of the doubt in our own adults lives, that sets an example for our children. It sends the message to our kids about how they treat others.”

Legislators should have everyone’s back on this.

...even if that means openly opposing Frankfort's chief bully.

Sunrise Over Morton

This from Charles Bertram at the Herald-Leader:

The cupola and weather vane were silhouetted against a colorful sunrise behind Morton Middle School, 1225 Tates Creek Rd. in Lexington Monday, January 30, 2012. The school was named after William "Lord" Morton, a wealthy merchant, who left one-tenth of his estate for the establishment of Lexington's first school in 1834 in downtown. The current school was built in 1938.

Kentucky Chamber members commit $1 million to train school principals

More donations needed to cover specific counties

This from the Kentucky Chamber Blog:
On Wednesday, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation announced it will invest more than $1 million toward creating a Leadership Institute for School Principals. Over the next five years, the Institute will offer new principals from public and private schools across Kentucky the opportunity to receive executive-level leadership training from the internationally acclaimed Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

Businesses large and small have stepped up to support this program that has been called a “game changer” for Kentucky education. Member companies such as LG&E and KU, UPS, Makers Mark, Alliance Resources, Booth Energy (of Inez), Computer Services, Inc. (of Paducah), and Toyota – along with dozens of small companies like English Lucas Priest and Owsley (of Bowling Green), Harper Industries (of Paducah) and Planters Bank (of Hopkinsville) have recognized the value of the Institute and pledged their support.

The Leadership Institute trains principals to:

  • build a high-performance culture in their schools;
  • influence others to ensure student success;
  • explore how knowledge of their own individual strengths and developmental needs can produce positive outcomes for students, schools and communities;
  • practice new behaviors for positive results.

The cost to attend the institute is $9,000 per principal – but because of the donations, there are no out-of-pocket expenses for them to attend. The training includes a three-day session at the CCL campus in Greensboro, N.C., and four days of training by CCL instructors at the Kentucky Chamber’s headquarters in Frankfort.

The Chamber Foundation began the project by investing $400,000 in a pilot program in 2011. Principals who participated in the pilot were overwhelmed by the the effectiveness of the program and the generosity of the Kentucky businesses who sponsored them.

“The Leadership Institute was the single most effective professional development experience in which I have ever participated,” said Jeff Jennings, principal of Butler County Middle School. “When I left Greensboro, I had a solid plan of action that will have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Mulberry Street May Fade, but ‘Mulberry Street’ Shines On

This from the NY Times:
“I’ll take you to see Mulberry Street,” said Guy McLain, the director of the Museum of Springfield History.

He meant the real Mulberry Street, the one that inspired the first of Dr. Seuss’ 44 children’s books.

I started to think what I might see on Mulberry Street. Truffula trees? Gerald McGrew? Gertrude McFuzz? A Once-ler or two?

That’s the thing about Dr. Seuss. He gets in your head and stays there...

Springfield today is mostly poor and run-down, but on a tour, Mr. McLain, the historian, conjured a city from a century ago that was one of the country’s great manufacturing centers. The Indian company built the first motorcycles here, the ones Dr. Seuss drew for the policeman who escorted Marco’s parade down Mulberry Street. The rifles the hunters used to capture Thidwick the big-hearted moose were made at the Springfield Armory and used by American troops in World War I.

The earliest motorized cars and tractors were built in Springfield. Everett Barney, who donated miles of wooded land to the city for Forest Park — where Ted Geisel and his friends played as children — became rich by inventing clip-on ice skates and manufacturing them here.

Anything must have seemed possible and inventable in the Springfield where Dr. Seuss grew up.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prichard Breaks Down the Bad News

SEEK and the Governor's Budget

This from Prichard:

The SEEK base guarantee per pupil will go down:

  • $3,903 was the original SEEK base guarantee per pupil for 2011-12
  • $3,850 is the average guarantee that has actually been possible for 2011-12: schools turned out have more students than the budget expected and funding for each child had to be reduced as a result.
  • $3,833 is the proposed base guarantee for 2012-13.
  • $3,827 is the proposed base guarantee for 2013-14.
The total funding for the SEEK base will be flat:
  • $2.9 billion was the budget line item for 2011-12.
  • $2.9 billion is the proposed budget line item for 2012-13.
  • $2.9 billion is the proposed budget line item for 2013-14.
Why will the per pupil will go down while the total funding remains flat?  Primarily, because the number of students in average daily attendance is expected to rise...

Prich Pushes Back on False Charter Claims

Kentucky students are not behind 
Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, or the nation

This from Prichard:  
The information presented by KARE in commercials here and here and website text here invites serious misunderstandings. No matter your position on charter schools, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and the nation are not doing better than Kentucky on the student performance measures KARE presents.

Fourth-Grade Reading
KARE’s commercials cite 2011 NAEP results showing:
  • 65% of Kentucky students reading below the proficient level. 
That figure is correct, but Kentucky is not scoring behind the states with charter schools listed in the KARE commercial. Instead, the same assessment shows:
  •  67% of Indiana students reading below the proficient level.
  • 66% of Ohio students reading below the proficient level.
  • 74% of Tennessee students reading below the proficient level. 
  • 68% of students nationwide reading below the proficient level.
Fourth grade reading results do not show Kentucky scoring behind the states listed in the KARE commercial...

Competing pressures put strain on school principals

This from the Ventura County Star:

Principals are facing shrinking budgets and mounting responsibilities to lead teachers and keep schools running — creating competing pressures that may make the job untenable, a study has found.

Principals reported working 60 and sometimes 70 hours a week. As budget cuts thinned the ranks of support staff, they juggled roles as teachers, community liaisons, nurses, athletic directors, crisis managers and budget gurus.

"The consensus was that even if a principal can do each of several things well, it is tremendously difficult to do them all well at the same time," according to the recently released report from the Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group.

As part of its research, the group surveyed 600-plus principals throughout California and followed up with phone interviews with principals, veteran teachers and other administrators. A third of principals said a lack of time created barriers to improving teacher quality.

Meanwhile, the state has an increasingly veteran teacher workforce and a relatively inexperienced corps of principals, the study states. Half of the state's principals have been in the job for five or fewer years, based on survey results. Half have been at their schools for three or fewer years...

Obama on Higher Ed

“Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid… 
States also need to do their part, by making higher education 
a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities 
have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”
--President Barack Obama

This from The White House:

President Obama’s Blueprint for 
Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values. As an important part of keeping the American promise alive, the President called for a comprehensive approach to tackling rising college costs. In today’s global economy, a college education is no longer just a privilege for some, but rather a prerequisite for all. To reach a national goal of leading the world with the highest share of college graduates by 2020, we must make college more affordable.

President Obama has emphasized the responsibility shared by the federal government, states, colleges, and universities to promote access and affordability in higher education, by reining in college costs, providing value for American families, and preparing students with a solid education to succeed in their careers. Over the past three years, the Obama Administration has taken historic steps to help students afford college, including reforming our student aid system to become more efficient and reliable and by expanding grant aid and college tax credits.

This year, President Obama is calling on Congress to advance new reforms that will promote shared responsibility to address the college affordability challenge. If these proposals are passed, this will be the first time in history that the federal government has tied federal campus aid to responsible campus tuition policies.

President Obama will begin the third day of his post-State of the Union travels with an event at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, focusing on the importance of tackling rising college costs to ensure America’s students and workers can obtain the education and training they need so that we have a workforce prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.

• Reforming student aid to promote affordability and value: To keep tuition from spiraling too high and drive greater value, the President will propose reforms to federal campus-based air programs to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep net tuition down, and toward those colleges and universities that do their fair share to keep tuition affordable, provide good value, and serve needy students well. These changes in federal aid to campuses will leverage $10 billion anually to keep tuition down.

• Creating a Race to the Top for college affordability and completion: The president will create incentives for states and colleges to keep costs under control through a $1billion investment in a new challenge to states to spur higher education reform focused on affordability and improved outcomes across state colleges and universities. The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion will reward states who are willing to drive systemic change in their higher education policies and practices, while doing more to contain their tuition and make it easier for students to earn a college degree.

• A first in the World competition to model innovation and quality on college campuses: The president will invest $55 million in a new First in the World competition, to support the public and private colleges and non-profit organizations as they work to develop and test the next breakthrough strategy that will boost higher education attainment and student outcomes. The new program will also help scale-up those innovative and effective practices that have been proven to boost productivity and enhance teaching and learning on college campuses.

• Better data for families choose the right college for them: The president will call for a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions, designed to provide the essential information about college costs, graduation rates, and potential earnings, all in an easy-to-read format that will help students and families choose a college that is well suited to their needs, priced affordably and consistent with their career and educational goals.

• Federal support to tackle college costs: The president has already made the biggest investments in student aid since the G.I Bill through increases to the Pell grant, and by shoring up the direct loan and income-based repayment programs. In his State on the Union Address, the President called on Congress to: keep interest rates low for 7.4 million student loan borrowers to reduce future debt, make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permenant, and double the number of work-study jobs over the next 5 years to better assit college students who are working their way through school.

Shared Responsibility to Tackle Rising College Costs
Rewarding Schools that Keep College Affordable

• The President’s proposal to reform student aid to keep tuition from spiraling too high and drive greater value will improve distribution of federal financial aid and increase campus-based aid. This reform will reward colleges that are succeeding in meeting the following principles:

1) Setting responsible tuition policy, offering relatively lower net tuition prices and/or restraining tuition growth.
2) Providing good value to students and families, offering quality education and training that prepares graduates to obtain employment and repay their loans.
3) Serving low-income students, enrolling and graduating relatively higher numbers of Pell-eligible students.

The campus-based aid that the federal government provides to colleges through Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Perkins Loans, and Work Study is distributed under an antiquated formula that rewards colleges for longevity in the program and provides no incentive to keep tuition costs low. The President is proposing to change how those funds are distributed by implementing an improved formula that shifts aid from schools with rising tuition to those acting responsibly, focused on setting responsible tuition policy, providing good value in education, and ensuring that higher numbers of low-income students complete their education. He is also proposing to increase the amount of campus-based aid to $10 billion annually. The increase is primarily driven by an expansion of loans in the federal Perkins program – which comes at no additional taxpayer cost.

Colleges that can show that they are providing students with good long-term value will be rewarded with additional dollars to help students attend. Those that show poor value, or who don't act responsibly in setting tuition, will receive less federal campus-based aid. Students will receive the greatest government grant and loan support at colleges where they are likely to be best served, and little or no campus aid will flow to colleges that fail to meet affordability and value standards.

Creating New Incentives to Promote Affordability and Quality

• The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion will promote change in state systems of higher education. The President is proposing a program that would spur systemic state reforms to reduce costs for students and promote success in our higher education system at public colleges. This $1 billion investment would incentivize states to:

o Revamp the structure of state financing for higher education.
o Align entry and exit standards with K-12 education and colleges to facilitate on-time completion.
o Maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education in order to address important long-term causes of cost growth at the public institutions that serve two-thirds of four-year college students.

The Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion would incentivize governors and state legislatures around the nation to act on spurring this innovative reform. Through cost-saving measures like redesigning courses and making better use of education technology, institutions can keep costs down to provide greater affordability for students.

• The First in the World competition will improve long-term productivity in higher education by investing $55 million to enable individual colleges (including Minority-Serving Institutions) and nonprofit organizations to develop, validate, or scale up innovative and effective strategies for boosting productivity and enhancing quality on campuses. This initiative would provide modest start-up funding for individual colleges, including private colleges, for projects that could lead to longer-term and larger productivity improvements among colleges and universities – such as course redesign through the improved use of technology, early college preparation activities to lessen the need for remediation, competency-based approaches to gaining college credit, and other ideas aimed at spurring changes in the culture of higher education.

Empowering Families and Students to be Informed Consumers

• New actions to provide consumers with clearer information about college costs and quality will improve the decision-making process in higher education for American students and allow families to hold schools accountable for their tuition and outcomes. President Obama is proposing new tools to provide students and families with information on higher education, presented in a comparable and easy-to-understand format:

o The Administration will create a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions making it easier for students and families to choose a college that is best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.
o We will also make an updated version of the ‘Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,’ announced in October, a required template for all colleges, rather than a voluntary tool, to make it easier for families to compare college financial aid packages.
o The President is also proposing to begin collecting earnings and employment information for colleges, so that students can have an even better sense of the post post-graduation outcomes they can expect.

Redoubling Federal Support to Tackle College Costs

• As highlighted by the President in his State of the Union address, we are calling on Congress to:

o Keep student loan interest rates low: This summer, the interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% – a significant burden at a time when the economy is still fragile and students are taking on increasing amounts of debt to earn a degree. The President is asking Congress to prevent that hike from taking place for a year to keep student debt down, a proposal that will keep interest rates low for 7.4 million student loan borrowers and save the average student over a thousand dollars.
o Double the number of work-study jobs available: The President also proposes to double the number of career-related work-study opportunities so that students are able to gain valuable work-related experience while in school.
o Maintain our commitment to college affordability: Over 9 million students and families per year take advantage of the Obama Administration’s American Opportunity Tax Credit – supporting up to $10,000 over four years of college. In his State of the Union address, the President called on Congress to make this tax credit permanent and prevent it from expiring in 2012.

Building on Progress

President Obama has worked throughout his Administration to expand access to college and provide greater resources and support so that more students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce:

• Helping students and families pay for college: The Obama Administration has raised the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,635 next year – a $905 increase since 2008.

Making college loans more affordable: The Obama Administration’s “Pay as You Earn” plan will enable 1.6 million students to take advantage of a new option to cap student loan repayments at 10% of monthly income as soon as this year. Borrowers looking to determine whether or not income-based repayment is the right option for them should visit

Anti-Bullying Bill Filed In Kentucky House

This from WLEX:
Louisville Rep. Mary Lou Marzian on Friday filed Anti-Bullying House Bill 336 (HB 336) in the Kentucky State Legislature.

The measure would strengthen Kentucky's current anti-bullying statute by enumerating protected classes of students who are disproportionately targeted by bullying peers, as suggested by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. This includes protections based upon a student's actual or perceived race; religion; sexual orientation; gender identity; physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability; and other distinguishing characteristics.

Updated from last year's proposed law, HB 336 incorporates language from a 2011 amendment by Elizabethtown Republican Rep. Tim Moore affirming a student's right to religious freedom of speech regarding sexual orientation: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit or deny the civil expression by any student of religiously based opinions on issues related to sexual orientation" (Section 3).

Though Kentucky passed a broadly-worded anti-bullying bill in 2008, tales of continued harassment along with the recent tragic suicide of Woodland Middle School eighth-grader Sam Denham in Northern Kentucky have prompted officials to pursue stricter language in the law. A House panel on education approved the measure last year with a nearly unanimous 21-1 bi-partisan vote.

A Feb. 22, 1:30 p.m. Fairness Coalition Rally will be held in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort to support anti-bullying legislation along with statewide anti-discrimination Fairness laws (SB 69, HB 188), which would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to a recent survey, 87% of registered Kentucky voters support stronger anti-bullying protections, while 83% of Kentuckians support statewide anti-discrimination Fairness laws.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Shot, but a Miss

Penguin defecates on state Senate floor

This from H-L:
A penguin pooped Tuesday on the Senate floor near the desk of Senate President David Williams.

The penguin, from Newport Aquarium, was in the chamber as Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, presented Senate Resolution 92, a measure to honor the aquarium for its contributions to the "aquatic world in general through its stewardship of sea life and penguins."

Williams, presiding over the chamber, interrupted Stine to inform her that the penguin "just defecated on the floor." An aquarium employee placed the penguin on the upper part of Williams' desk after it did its official business and while Stine finished with her resolution. 

This from Joel Pett at H-L:

Hat tip to Mikey

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can a Few Years’ Data Reveal Bad Teachers?

This from the New York Times:

With years of data, it seems possible to distinguish good teachers from poor ones. Does that indicate that, after collecting two or three years’ data on each new hire, districts should be using test scores for decisions about firings, tenure and pay?

The following in an online "debate."

The Value of Test Scores

Raj Chetty Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman, economists at Harvard, and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia co-wrote the recent study "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood."
John N. Friedman
We all agree that teachers can make a tremendous difference in the lives of students, and we all can remember a great teacher who was important in our own lives. The challenge is to identify more great teachers. Value-added measures, which rate teachers based on their impacts on students’ test scores, can help us do so. Our recent study shows that when a high-value-added teacher enters a school, test scores for students in the grade taught by that teacher rise immediately (as shown in the figure below). And the gains don’t stop there: the students who learn from that teacher are more likely to attend college, earn more, and are less likely to have children as teenagers. Even when new teachers are evaluated with just a few years of data, those who get high value-added ratings produce large gains for their students...

Let’s Not Rush Into Value-Added Evaluations

Jesse RothsteinJesse Rothstein is an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He has studied the relationship between classroom assignments and estimates of "value-added" by teachers.

The new Harvard-Columbia study provides important information about the relationship between student test scores and longer-run outcomes. But there is much that we still don’t understand. We need careful study of pilot programs, not to remake our education system.
One unheralded new result is that teachers’ effectiveness changes over time. The study shows that some teachers are ineffective at first but improve as they age, while others start strong but then burn out. Policy design must account for this. How many teachers who are fired early on for poor student achievement would improve given the chance? And how many who get early raises will continue to draw them through years of later coasting? Calculations that firing a poor teacher saves $2.5 million entirely ignore this factor...

Dawn ShirkDawn Shirk teaches English as a second language at Reidsville Middle School and Reidsville High School in Reidsville, N.C.

Traditionally, teachers have been observed by their principal once a year, and evaluated solely on that one encounter. Long-time teachers would often go years without having an observation, or even a casual walk-through by an administrator. Fortunately, times are changing.
In North Carolina, we are in our second year of using a new teacher evaluation system, developed by Mid-continent Research for Education and Leadership. Through a series of rubrics, teachers are evaluated in five areas — leadership, respect for diversity, understanding the content they teach, the lessons they create and execute, and their reflection on their own teaching. Sub-topics include use of technology, global awareness, relationships with parents, and the use of data from standardized tests to drive instruction. It is a yearlong process that includes several observations, by principals and peers, conferences between administrators and teachers, and a collection of artifacts that teachers present to demonstrate the many things they do that may not be seen in an observation, which includes parent conferences, teacher collaboration, working with community organizations, professional development, committee work and much more...

We Know Which Teachers to Fire

Lance T. Izumi is the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

Lance T. IzumiA study of 2.5 million students by Harvard and Columbia researchers strongly indicates that individual teacher quality based on student test scores significantly impacts students’ life outcomes. While that should be enough evidence for school districts to consider using testing data to help inform firing, tenure and pay policies, the key will be overcoming teacher union opposition.
Analyzing two decades of test results, the researchers found that improving teacher impact on test scores, referred to as “value added,” even in a single grade raises the probability of students attending college and increases their future earnings. The data also suggests that getting rid of the lowest-performing teachers would significantly raise students’ lifetime incomes. Yet, many teacher unions are likely to be unmoved by these findings...

Results Are In; How Will We Respond?

Arun Ramanathan is the executive director of The Education Trust—West.
Arun Ramanathan

There is plenty of strong evidence that we can use data to assess the impact of teachers on student outcomes. In a recent report, The Education Trust—West found that on average, students placed with the strongest teachers gained half a year more in English than students placed with the least effective teachers.
Differences of this magnitude are important for all students, even our highest achievers. But they can be devastating for low-income students and students of color who often enter school already behind. With a series of effective teachers, struggling students can quickly catch up to grade level. But one or two weak teachers can prevent them from reaching their academic potential.

Unfortunately, our research revealed that African-American, Latino and low-income students are far less likely to have access to the best teachers. Just as worrisome, high-need students can lose access to highly effective teachers as the result of quality-blind layoffs based solely on seniority. No wonder we have failed to close the achievement gap...

Use the Data, but Constructively

Sydney MorrisSydney Morris is a former public school teacher and the co-founder of Educators 4 Excellence, a national nonprofit that seeks to elevate the voices of teachers in education policy.

The recent study by Harvard and Columbia economists showed a link between quality teaching and higher test scores and between higher test scores and positive life outcomes. Researchers found that students with top teachers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, more likely to enroll in college, and more likely to earn more money as adults. These new findings highlight something that we as teachers have always intuitively known – that what we do everyday in our classrooms has far-reaching impact.  
Despite this knowledge, a false dichotomy exists between proponents and opponents of using student-growth data to evaluate teachers. We often hear of the “reformers” who want to use student test scores to identify and fire the lowest-performing teachers, and conversely, the teachers’ unions who are painted as defenders of the status quo.  
Lost in this back and forth are the voices of real classroom teachers who want meaningful evaluations that give them the feedback and support they need to improve their craft. In Educators 4 Excellence’s work with nearly 4,000 teachers in Los Angeles and New York City – the nation’s two largest school districts – we have consistently heard from educators that they believe their students’ academic growth should be one, among many, indicators of their performance...

Quick Hits

How schools are coping in the wake of the "Great Recession"?: Many states plan to spend less on education this year than in 2011 -- a symptom of the country's economic downturn that has caused schools to cut back on services and, in some cases, raise class sizes or drop courses with lower enrollment. This article from ASCD's current Educational Leadership offers insights on how best to navigate these difficult times from four educational leaders: Michael A. Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University; Allan Odden, professor of educational leadership and policy analysis and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Anthony Rolle, professor at the University of South Florida's College of Education and chairman of the college's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; and James W. Guthrie, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute. (Educational Leadership)

Students' own technology supplement school resources:  Students in a Kentucky school district are being encouraged to bring their own technology to school, says superintendent Keith Davis. He says the devices will help supplement resources the district cannot afford. "We are trying to buy devices for our classrooms when we can, but there’s just not enough money for us to buy one for every kid," he said. "If there's a student who has their own and wants to use it, well, then that frees up the school computer for someone who doesn't." (The Courier-Journal)

How can community schools best support students, teachers?:  Community schools can help support teachers who work to address students' unmet needs by providing health and other services that allow teachers to focus on academics, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress and the Coalition for Community Schools. In a separate report, the two groups recommended strategies for community schools on collaborating with partners in the community to improve outcomes for students. (Beyond School)

What are the key elements of successful school turnarounds?:  Authors and educators Alan M. Blankstein and Pedro Noguera see problems with the federal government's prescribed methods for improving struggling schools, from failure to diagnose a school's particular problems to overlooking issues with discipline, parent engagement and others typically found at disadvantaged schools. Key elements of a successful turnaround include focusing on positive change, making simple changes to effect improvement early in the process, and providing examples of successful schools that serve similar student groups, they write. (Education Week)

New system for grading Fla. school districts is released:  A new system for grading Florida school districts is designed to help better track and compare performance across districts, officials said Monday. The districts' grades are based on students' scores on state standardized tests. Some, including the state teachers union, are critical of the system for overlooking districts' particular socioeconomic challenges or other factors. (State EdWatch blog)

Amid battles, many support a common definition of effective teaching:  The bureaucratic battle over teacher evaluations in New York state is overshadowing the fact that many policymakers and educators agree on the common qualities found in effective teaching, according to this article. Many on both sides of the battle support a rubric created 16 years ago by economist Charlotte Danielson -- now being used in several states, plus many New York City schools -- that rates teachers in four areas and establishes a common definition of good teaching. (The New York Times)

Should blogs be used to replace the traditional term paper?:  More educators in the U.S. are replacing traditional academic research papers with blogs as a vehicle for teaching writing to students. Advocates of the method, including Duke University English Professor Cathy N. Davidson, argue that the medium is more fun and engaging for students. But critics defend the traditional term paper, saying it requires more student reading and is a better tool for teaching students critical-thinking and other important skills needed in the job market. The New York Times (tiered subscription model)

Survey finds teachers seeking more access to school technology:  At least four out of five teachers say they lack access to adequate education technology, according to the results of a new survey by PBS LearningMedia. About 93% of responding educators said they believed interactive whiteboards enhance classroom learning, with 81% saying the same of tablet computers. (Digital Education blog), (T.H.E. Journal)

Is Internet use leading to more student plagiarism?:  The availability of material online is making it easier for students to plagiarize, some educators say. A recent survey of high-school and college students found that between 33% and 40% have committed "cut-and-paste plagiarism." A high-school teacher in Pennsylvania says she uses a software program called Turnitin, which scans the Internet for signs of plagiarism. She also focuses on teaching students how to properly cite their work and confronting plagiarism when it is discovered. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Teachers fill a void by writing their own textbooks:  Some high-school teachers who can't find the teaching materials they need have written their own textbooks. A teacher in Utah wrote a book about sports psychology after finding there were none available for high-school students, and a teacher in Georgia encountered a similar problem when textbook manufacturers did not respond to a change in the state's math curriculum. A potential drawback is that teachers often can repeat in class what they've written in the textbook. (High School Notes blog) 

Kentucky. districts cut fuel costs with hybrid buses:  Districts in Kentucky have a fleet of 160 hybrid school buses, which use a combination of diesel fuel and electricity to operate. The state is in the early stages of an experiment to determine if the buses could yield significant savings in fuel spending. In Jefferson County, which has 50 hybrid buses, officials expect to save at least $75,000 thanks to the hybrid buses' better gas mileage. (WLEX-TV)

Md. county may eliminate reading instruction in middle school:  School board officials in Howard County, Md., are considering a new schedule for middle-school students that would eliminate traditional reading classes. Instead, literacy instruction would be integrated in other courses throughout the school day. The change would not affect students reading below grade level, who still would receive reading-specific instruction, and advanced readers could elect to take a course in "advanced inquiry and innovation." (The Sun)

Can school choice improve education in the U.S.?:  A nationwide campaign is promoting school choice as a way to improve education in the U.S. The second annual School Choice Week is set to include more than 350 rallies and other events nationwide. In Utah, the state teachers union criticized the movement, saying that charters and alternative schools divert funding and resources from traditional public schools. "To promote choice is not necessarily the same thing as promoting educational excellence, and we would much rather promote educational excellence," said Mike Kelley, the Utah Education Association's director of communications. (The Spectrum & Daily News)

How to create engaging lessons using mobile technology:  School Technology Director Anthony Luscre suggests in a blog that educators capitalize on students' engagement with mobile devices as communication tools to provide more dynamic and interactive learning opportunities. Luscre debunks common concerns about using the devices for lessons, suggesting that teachers utilize the many websites that are not commonly blocked by school filters and recognize texting and tweeting as modern-day vehicles for student writing. (T.H.E. Journal)

Duncan: Next round of Race to the Top to target school districts:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan is planning the next round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition, which, he says, will offer funding directly to school districts. For fiscal year 2012, Congress has allocated $550 million for Race to the Top, which could be particularly useful for school districts in states that have not been successful in previous grant competitions, Duncan says. (Politics K-12)

Ideas for teaching students about income inequality:  The writers of this blog post suggest a lesson in which students learn about income and wealth distribution in the U.S. and what that inequality means for society. To begin, students should fill out a socioeconomic survey and review related resources. Then, students can be divided into groups of two to make and support societal arguments. (The Learning Network blog)

How drawing on students' prior knowledge can enhance a lesson:  Former teacher and instructional coach Elena Aguilar describes a writing lesson on heroes in which second-grade students defined their version of the word and listed heroes in their lives. Though the lesson veered away from Aguilar's original plan, it prompted a celebration honoring family and community heroes and plans for a classroom-authored book, all of which provided a more authentic learning experience for the students, she writes. (Elena Aguilar's blog)

6 design elements of a successful high-tech classroom:  Successful 21st century classrooms are not just filled with technology, but designed to maximize the benefits of technology on student learning. Key elements of such classrooms include furniture designed and arranged to support collaboration, enough electrical outlets to provide adequate power supply to charge students' and teachers' devices and a "smart" teacher lectern equipped with USB ports and other features. (T.H.E. Journal)

Department of Education seeks feedback on cheating scandals:  Following reports of cheating on standardized tests at schools nationwide, the federal Department of Education is taking steps to address the problem. The department hopes to publish a list of best practices -- compiled through public feedback -- used to "prevent, detect, and respond to irregularities in academic testing." At issue, according to this blog, is the pressure to perform well on high-stakes standardized tests. (The Answer Sheet blog)

This from ASCD:
What is your professional role, and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself leaving education in the next five years.  19.25%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself in the same role in five years.  18.72%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself leaving education in the next five years.  15.33%
I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself in a higher-level administration position in the next five years.  14.35%
None of the above.  12.12%
I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself in the same role in five years.  10.87%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself becoming an administrator in the next five years.  9.36%

Four kinds of heretics attacking the gospel of education

Education is as close to a secular religion as we have in the United States. In a time when Americans have lost faith in their government and economic institutions, millions of us still believe in its saving grace. National leaders, from Benjamin Rush on, oversaw plans for extending its benefits more broadly. In the 19th century, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie famously conceived of schools as ladders on which the industrious poor would ascend to a better life, and he spent a good bit of his fortune laying the foundations for such an education society. After World War II, policy makers who believed in the education gospel grew numerous enough to fill stadiums. One by one, the G.I. Bill, the Truman Commission report, and the War on Poverty singled out education as the way of national and personal advance. “The answer to all of our national problems,” as Lyndon Johnson put it in 1965, “comes down to one single word: education.”

The American education gospel is built around four core beliefs.
  • First, it teaches that access to higher levels of education should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or previous academic performance. Every educational sinner should have a path to redemption. (Most of these paths now run through community colleges.)
  • Second, the gospel teaches that opportunity for a better life is the goal of everyone and that education is the primary — and perhaps the only — road to opportunity.
  • Third, it teaches that the country can solve its social problems — drugs, crime, poverty, and the rest — by providing more education to the poor. Education instills the knowledge, discipline, and the habits of life that lead to personal renewal and social mobility.
  • And, finally, it teaches that higher levels of education for all will reduce social inequalities, as they will put everyone on a more equal footing. No wonder President Obama and Bill Gates want the country to double its college graduation rate over the next 10 years.

The advance of the education gospel has been shadowed from the beginning by critics who claim that education, despite our best efforts, remains a bastion of privilege. For these critics, it is not that the educational gospel is wrong (a truly democratic, meritocratic school system would, if it existed, be a good thing); it is that the benefits of education have not yet spread evenly to every corner of American society, and that the trend toward educational equality may be heading in the wrong direction. They decry the fact that schools in poor communities have become dropout factories and that only the wealthy can afford the private preparatory schools that are the primary feeders to prestigious private colleges. The higher education Establishment recognizes critics like these as family. They accept the core beliefs of the education gospel and are impatient only with its slow and incomplete adoption...


Other heresies are more radical, and thus more disturbing to settled beliefs about the power of education. One currently growing in popularity we might call “the new restrictionism.” According to the new restrictionists, such as the economists Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, co-authors of the 2008 paper “Leisure College USA: The Decline in Student Study Time,” access to higher education may have gone too far. Our colleges and universities are full to the brim with students who do not really belong there, who are unprepared for college and uninterested in breaking a mental sweat. Instead of studying, they spend time talking on the phone, planning social events, chitchatting about personal trivia and popular culture, and facebooking. Faculty members demand less of these students, according to Babcock and Marks, both because they are incapable of doing more and because they will punish faculty members with bad evaluations if they are pushed to try harder. The students often consider courses that require concentration “boring” and “irrelevant.” They argue and wheedle their way into grades they do not deserve. The colleges, out of craven financial motives, do not squarely face the fact that not all of their students are “college material.” Worse, they cater to ill-prepared and under-motivated students, dumbing down the curriculum to the point where a college degree is worth less, in terms of educational quality, than a degree from one of the better high schools. Institutions at the tail end of academic procession are, as David Riesman once put it, “colleges only by the grace of semantic generosity.”

In previous generations, critics of access for all were found mainly among the upper classes, who found the working classes unsuitable companions in learning. Hard-driving working-class kids were not the sort of people with whom one wanted to associate, and they lacked the cultivation to appreciate what the best education had to offer. This is the world of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale. Today’s restrictionists are not snobs but staunch meritocrats: people who made their way through the schooling system, and who believe in it. They are dismayed by what the system has become in an age they see as one of near-universal access.

Furthermore, where the old restrictionists merely wanted to keep the working classes out, new restrictionists argue that colleges are not providing what poorly prepared students need to succeed...

Another heresy, and a very old one, is the idea that schooling provides education for servitude rather than freedom. It crushes the spirit, rather than expanding it. It is easy to see the elements of truth in this critique: Schools do line students up in rows, make them raise their hands, set them on task after evaluated task, insist on discipline in the classroom, and reward the motivated conformists. The “free the students” heresy goes back at least to Rousseau; though popular among Romantics of all eras, it had a major resurgence in the 1960s, when Paul Goodman, John Holt, and Ivan Illich carried the “free the students” flag. For them, children are born creative and curious, only to have the schools drum out these natural dispositions in order to create good soldiers for “the system.”...

John Marsh is a proponent of another old heretical sect: the “fool’s gold” group. These heretics specialize in debunking the social progress beliefs of the educational gospel. Although education does indeed lead to social mobility for some, Marsh argues, it cannot do so for most. For the working classes, a much better approach, he believes, would be to attack the proximate sources of inequality: tax laws that privilege the rich and labor laws that restrict the rights of unions and set the minimum wage below a decent living standard. “Given the political will,” he writes, “whether through redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions, we could decrease poverty and inequality tomorrow regardless of … the number of educated and uneducated workers.” Left to its own devices, he argues, expansion of the educational system will produce not social equality but credential inflation: the condition in which higher levels of education (or distinctive brands of education) are necessary to “buy” standards of living previously associated with lower levels (or generic brands) of education. As workers attain the bachelor’s degree, middle-class incomes become associated with the attainment of master’s or first professional degrees, and access to truly powerful opportunities requires attendance at an elite institution...

Finally, there is the “true educators” sect, to which University of Chicago professor of education Philip W. Jackson belongs. This group takes the standpoint of the Platonic form of education to inspire deeper appreciation of craft and, at least indirectly, to hold up a mirror to the deficiencies of our current system of schooling. For these heretics, upward mobility is beside the point; to dwell on such sociological factors is to neglect the true nature of education. What does “true education” look like? Drawing on Hegel, Kant, and Dewey, Jackson has an answer.

Jackson distinguishes between mimetic and transformative education. Mimetic education “gives a central place to the transmission of factual and procedural knowledge from one person to another, through an essentially imitative process.” By contrast, transformative education seeks to accomplish a “qualitative change … a metamorphosis” and particularly addresses “all those traits of character and of personality most highly prized by the society at large.” Mimetic education, in other words, imparts knowledge; transformative education does so as well but, more importantly, it changes people. Transformative education is an enterprise in which the spirit of wanting to know is also cultivated...

Texas School Drops Athletics To Save District

This from the Huffington Post
In a desperate effort to boost student performance and save a school system from closure, one Texas school district has made the mid-year decision to eliminate its athletic programs -- in a state where sports are a highly coveted pastime.

The Premont Independent School District in South Texas lost accreditation last year after it had failed to meet adequate yearly progress requirements since 2007 under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Premont ISD was slated to close by this July, but the closure has been suspended to allow the district more time to turn around its student performance and attendance rates.

"A Not Accredited-Revoked status means that the Texas Education Agency no longer recognizes the district as a Texas public school," according to the Houston Elementary Education Examiner.

Threats to closure have already sent many packing, and others are looking to leave the district. Enrollment has fallen to 570 students this year, from 800 five years ago, the Associated Press reports. About 100 students take part in school athletics.

Now, schools Superintendent Ernest Singleton is looking to go door-to-door for truant students, seeking to raise the district's 88 percent attendance rate. The Texas average is 96 percent, according to AP. Student athletics will be suspended at least until next spring.

By cutting sports, Singleton seeks to increase study time for students and save $150,000 over two semesters, to be reinvested into bringing in highly qualified teachers and install two new science labs by August.

Parents and critics are worried that the elimination of athletics will decrease students' opportunities for physical activity and increase chances for bad behavior. Some say that the loss of sports could further demotivate students to go to school, and do well.

The Texas Education Agency, charged with school accreditation, can suspend Singleton's experiment at the agency's discretion if the district is not making sufficient progress.

"The hole is so deep it's going to be very hard for them to dig out of it," TEA spokesperson Debbie Graves Ratcliffe told AP.

Overall, Texas' education policies and curriculum have seen mixed reviews. A report in the fall by University of Texas at El Paso professor Keith Erekson said the state's K-12 standards in history are inadequate, ineffective and "fail to meet the state's college readiness standards."...

Summit Makes a Case for Teaching Handwriting

This from Education Week

Handwriting still has a place in the digital age, its proponents say, and they hoped that what they billed as a "summit" on the subject this week would spotlight their case for the enduring value of handwriting in the learning process.

The Washington conference was designed to draw together research from psychology, occupational therapy, education, and neuroscience to demonstrate handwriting's role in students' physical and cognitive development, states' learning standards, and the classroom.

The occasion also marked National Handwriting Day, Jan. 23—the birthday of that most famous exemplar of penmanship, John Hancock.

Doubt about the continued worth of handwriting skill is "similar to what happened with math as calculators and computers came into vogue," said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which co-sponsored the gathering with Zaner-Bloser, a Columbus, Ohio, company that produces a handwriting curriculum. "People wondered whether students needed to learn how to do math. The answer in both cases is absolutely yes. Writing is not obsolete."

Proponents of teaching—in some cases, reintroducing—handwriting in the school curriculum say their concern over the fading importance of handwriting became more urgent with the advent of the Common Core State Standards. The standards, which were released in 2010 and have been adopted by all but four states, mention keyboarding but not handwriting.

"The conversation about handwriting instruction has been growing," said Kathleen Wright, the coordinator of this week's event and the national product coordinator at Zaner-Bloser.

The company advocates that states supplement the common core with handwriting standards, as Massachusetts and California have already done. Ms. Wright said the conference, called the "Handwriting in the 21st Century?: An Educational Summit," was timed so policymakers could address any lack of attention to handwriting while their states are still rolling out their own versions of the common core...

Harlan independent, county schools reach agreement on who goes where

This from WYMT (video):
Board members from both school systems reached a three year reciprocal agreement that will allow some students from the county to attend city schools if they choose.

“Our contract for non-resident students to attend our school district expired last June,” said Joe Meadors, the Harlan Independent School Board Chairman.

A fluctuating number was chosen that both districts are comfortable with.

“Basically every year that number will decrease from the 275 the first year to the 250 to the 225 for the non resident students,” said Gary Farmer, the Harlan County Board Chairman.

A yearly number had to be chosen because that dictates where state funding for the student will end up. If it is left unclaimed, it goes back to Frankfort. Those numbers do not include employees' students.

“Anybody that works in either district, their children can attend that school free of charge whether they are resident or non resident and the schools still get full funding,” said Meadors.

Meadors said that there were also siblings of some of those students who were “grandfathered in.”

Board members said that they had to meet in the middle, but they were glad to negotiate among themselves.

“This is a Harlan County issue that we needed to solve locally,” said Meadors.
“We did not need the state commissioner nor the state board of education to rule on this.”

Both agreed that the current economic status is weighing parents’ decisions enough.

“It is not something we both wanted, but it is something that we both compromised and both districts can live with,” said Farmer....

Searching for Resources to Teach the Common Standards

This from Curriculum Matters:

If yearning had a sound, the air would be full of noise right now. That's because teachers across the country are looking for help in teaching the common-core state standards.

We heard this message loud and clear in August, when we hosted a webinar on the common standards. The biggest vein of questions pouring in during the Q&A period could be summed up this way: "Help! Where can I find resources to help me teach these new standards?"

Immediately, we felt their pain. We looked around on the Web to see what kinds of help was out there for teachers, and it wasn't easy to find, at least in any centralized kind of way. (See our blog post here.)

That isn't really a surprise, since each state and district is grappling with the issue its own way. The two consortia of states that are developing assessments for the common core have instructional resources planned, but most of them aren't available yet. The groups that organized or advocated for the common core have a few things out there. (Consider this resource list from the Council of Chief State School Officers, which includes links to a math curricular analysis tool, sample instructional English/language arts units, and some other information sources.) But either the pickings are still a bit thin, or folks just can't locate them easily, or both...

Value-added evaluation of teachers - yet more problems

This from the Daily Kos:

The default assumption in the value-added literature
is that teacher effects are a fixed construct that is
independent of the context of teaching (e.g., types of
courses, student demographic compositions in a class,
and so on) and stable across time. Our empirical exploration
of teacher effectiveness rankings across different courses
and years suggested that this assumption
is not consistent with reality.
In particular, the fact that an individual student’s
learning gain is heavily dependent upon who else is
in his or her class, apart from the teacher,
raises questions about our ability to isolate a
teacher’s effect on an individual student’s learning,
no matter how sophisticated the statistical model might be.

Those words are from a new study on the stability of teachers scores using Value-Added methodologies toascertain teachers effects upon students scores on tests.

The study in question, titled Value-Added Modeling of Teacher Effectiveness: An Exploration of Stability across Models and Contexts, was released late last month at Education Policy Analysis Archives, a peer-reviewed online journal of education policy previously edited by our own SDorn, Sherman Dorn of the University of South Florida (disclosure - and like me an alumnus of Haverford College), who is still on the editorial board.  Two of the four authors of this study, Edward Haertel and Linda Darling-Hammond, are also among the authors of the EPI policy brief.

Recent policy interest in tying student learning to teacher evaluation has led to growing use of value-added methods for assessing student learning gains linked to individual teachers. VAM analyses rely on complex assumptions about the roles of schools, multiple teachers, student aptitudes and efforts, homes and families in producing measured student learning gains. This article reports on analyses that examine the stability of high school teacher effectiveness rankings across differing conditions. We find that judgments of teacher effectiveness for a given teacher can vary substantially across statistical models, classes taught, and years. Furthermore, student characteristics can impact teacher rankings, sometimes dramatically, even when such characteristics have been previously controlled statistically in the value-added model. A teacher who teaches less advantaged students in a given course or year typically receives lower effectiveness ratings than the same teacher teaching more advantaged students in a different course or year. Models that fail to take student demographics into account further disadvantage teachers serving large numbers of low-income, limited English proficient, or lower-tracked students. We examine a number of potential reasons for these findings, and we conclude that caution should be exercised in using student achievement gains and value-added methods to assess teachers’ effectiveness, especially when the stakes are high.

In other words: 
We find that judgments of teacher effectiveness for a given teacher can vary substantially across statistical models, classes taught, and years.   The key words are vary substantially -  if we are talking about something that is basic, it should not vary that much because of the particular value-added methodology being used.  For point of comparison, where I do measure you by yardstick, tape measure, using at one time inches and another centimeters, if I am really measuring the same thing (height) I would get consistent results (which perhaps some slight variation due to measurement error).

But the method of measuring is only one problem.  If there are different results because of classes taught, that MAY be because of different levels of effectiveness in different curricula, or it could be something else.  And if there is substantial variance from year to year, either the teacher is very inconsistent (which does not seem all that likely) or that variance is due to something not under control of the teacher.

Furthermore, student characteristics can impact teacher rankings, sometimes dramatically, even when such characteristics have been previously controlled statistically in the value-added model. -  this is CRITICAL.  People have justifiably argued that using the single score at the end of a year tells us little about what the teacher has done, and may be primarily due to knowledge with which students arrived.  Value-added analysis is supposed to provide a method that allows us to control for different characteristics among students, and thus enable use to focus in on what impact the teachers actually had.  But if despite our attempts to control for variance among students, that variance still seriously impacts the derived value-added score, then relying upon value-added approaches is dangerous, because we will be making decisions that cannot be justified by the data we are using...

A Conversation With Arne Duncan

This from Politics K-12

sat down with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently for a wide-ranging interview on the hot education topics of the day: waivers, Race to the Top, reauthorization, and the election. If you want more than just the highlights, check out the full transcript.

On Waivers
Q. The first waiver announcement is expected soon from your department. You've talked about how this is not a competition, and so you want all states that want to, and can commit to certain things, to get a waiver under No Child Left Behind. But you also say you want to keep a high bar. How do you do both?

A. I think the first goal is clearly more important, to have a high bar. The goal is not to just give a waiver to everyone. ... We're going to go back and forth with states and say this looks great, you've got a challenge here, think about it in different ways. Again, no hard deadlines. This creates an opportunity for those who want it.

Q. People have been clamoring for the ability to measure growth. In reading the first 11 waiver applications, it's clear growth is a huge part of these new accountability systems. Are you worried that there will be so much emphasis on growth that you lose this desire to still get kids to a certain level of proficiency?

A. I think all of these are false choices. The only way you ever hit a high bar is by better growth. So it's growth to what? ... I think some of these accountability systems will be more complex, there will be more factors, but I think it will be such a more fine-tuned system. And not that it's going to be perfect. ... So, yeah, the growth is important to me. But look at graduation rates. Look at dropout rates. Look at our kids going to college. ... And so I think you're going to see a level of sophistication that just didn't exist 10 years ago, and we want to look at a range of factors. ...

Union Bashing in Favor of an Improbable Solution

This from WFPL:
While Rallying for Charter Schools,
Supporters Ask Unions to Stand Aside
Advocates for charter schools in Kentucky took their cause to Frankfort today.

A handful of organizations support charter schools. One of the most vocal has been the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities or BAEO. Its national president, Kenneth Campbell, helped lead the rally for charter schools at the Capitol. And he told the crowd Kentucky’s education system doesn’t serve all students equally.

“You know children and families in Kentucky are in crisis, as they are in a lot of places across this country,” Campbell said. “And the one tool we have for turning this whole thing around is education. And it doesn’t work for too many of our children. So what we want is for the political leaders of Kentucky to take a stand on behalf of children.

Many lawmakers were on hand for the rally, which came after a march around the Capitol. Former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner—who chairs a group running ads in support of charter schools—spoke to a crowded Rotunda audience. So did state Rep. Brad Montell, who has repeatedly filed legislation to legalize charter schools.

Supporters of the legislation are telling opponents—largely teachers’ unions—to get out the way.

“Again I think the only thing that holds it up are people who are supporting institutions more than children and families,” said Campbell. “People who are supporting adult issues and their organized interest versus the interests of children. At the end of the day nobody can look at our performance and say that what we have right now is working for all kids. And if it’s not then we need to talk about being bold and taking action.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo has signaled an openness to charter school legislation this session. And House Education Chairman Carl Rollins says he may allow a bill to be voted on in his committee.

But opponents of charter schools say education improvement isn’t a certainty with charters. They point to mismanagement of charter schools in other states, lackluster improvement and the draining of funds from other public schools as reasons not to support charters.