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Archive for July, 2011

Who Can End the Debt Stalemate in Washington?

How about 8th-grade civics teachers? Another gem from The Onion.

Walmart, the Walton Foundation, and New York City Schools

The conservative Walton Foundation’s education spending has been in the news quite a bit this summer — including recent announcements of a $49.5 million dollar contribution to the expansion of Teach for America and the release of a list of how the Foundation distributed over $157 million in grants to education groups in 2010.

Overall, the Foundation’s largest grants last year went almost exclusively to organizations which support vouchers and charter schools, including over $2 million dollars to two New York state organizations with the most explicit commitments to supporting for-profit corporate charter schools and weakening teachers unions — the New York Charter Schools Association and the Brighter Choice Foundation. And interestingly enough, the $1.3 million that Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network received from Walton almost exactly matches the amount the Network spent on advertising her schools last year — an average of $1,300 per new student:

Walton Foundation 2010 Grant Totals (for Selected Groups):

  • Teach for America (National) — $16,652,436
  • KIPP Foundation — $8,650,000
  • New Teacher Project — $2,250,000
  • Education Reform Now, Inc. — $1,325,000
  • Success Charter Network — $1,310,000
  • New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) — $1,045,459
  • Brighter Choice Foundation — $995,332

More »

Putting the Merit Pay Debate to Rest

After the RAND Corporation released its report concluding that the NYC school-wide bonus program “did not, by itself, improve student achievement…,” the Hechinger Report asked our own Leo Casey and University of Arkansas professor Gary Ritter to discuss the program and the study. Casey writes that we should move past the merit pay debate and find new tools for improving student achievement:

If one lesson is to be taken from this study and from the literature on individual merit pay, it is that teachers do not answer to the economic calculus of stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers. This observation may not sit well with those for whom the rule of the market and individual financial incentives are an ideological first principle, established prior to logical argument and evidence, but it is the reality of our lives and our schools, and it is affirmed again and again by educational research on performance incentives. While we believe that our challenging and exhausting professional work should provide us with middle-class lifestyles, our primary motivation in entering the field of education is not economic gain, but to make a difference in the lives of the young people we teach. Educational policy must recognize this motivation to produce lasting, constructive change.

Why I’m Marching Forward (It’s The Only Direction)

Save Our Schools March

[Editor’s note: José Luis Vilson is a math teacher, coach, and data analyst for a middle school in Manhattan. He blogs at The Jose Vilson where this post first appeared.]

You’ve got to be wondering what a teacher like me is doing marching against the “reform” trends. For those of you unfamiliar with my background, I graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Syracuse University. A year later, after 6-8 months of unemployment and a stint as a data entry person at an educational database firm, I went into the NYC Teaching Fellows program, an offshoot of Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project. On the surface, I’m a perfect candidate to follow the corporatist thinking about education, and should be easily molded into the dominant thinking from elites who ostensibly believe they’re going into education for the common good. All it takes is the right amount of fear, the right amount of frustration, the right amount of ignorance, and the right amount of failure to tip people into the hands of those who wish to rotate our profession backwards.

Fortunately for me, I lucked out. And if you’re reading this, I’m thinking the same goes for you.

You see, I teach at a school that, somewhere along the line, decided to value veteran leadership and collaboration. They fostered a culture of discussion and unity that stems from decades of hardship from a neighborhood and administration standpoint. As leaders changed and gangs ran the block, teachers fortified the brick walls of the edifice. When I first came to that school, that legacy was indoctrinated in me in ways the teachers who mentored me probably didn’t realize. That first year, ideologies and trends changed so often, the only resort for me was to seek stability. I found that in the most experienced teachers in my building. More »

New Schools: Students Getting Passing Grades? Yes. Ready for College? Not So Much.

According to data recently released by the city, students graduating from the high schools created under Bloomberg are less prepared for college than the students in older schools with similar populations. In fact, on average, older schools outperform newer ones by 40%. Even though students in newer schools are less prepared for college, they are being awarded classroom credits more quickly. Credit accumulation matters for Bloomberg’s high-stakes accountability formulas. College-readiness does not.

The college ready data was released in June, and it is based upon the percent of students who earned a minimum of 75 on the English Regents and a minimum of 80 in math. It’s not that the Regents are such great tests, or that they necessarily assess what students need to for college. But students below those 75/80 benchmarks are far more likely to need remedial classes once they get there. (Of course, if — as the city plans — higher grades on the Regents become part of school accountability, those grades will mean less and less in future years).

I broke all high schools into ten groups of similar schools, and then compared old and new schools in each group. Here are the results:

Percent of students college ready at old and new schools

More »

A Deeper Dive Into Graduation Rates

Graduation rates went up last year.  Which is good. It is.

But when the State Education Dept. announced the 2010 grad rates on June 14, it put out a combined 139-slide PowerPoint presentation. There is a lot more than one sentence to say about the latest round of education data.

Here are 10 observations on New York’s data, just from perusing those slides:

1. A genuine uptrend….. New York City graduated 61% of its 2006 incoming ninth graders (Class of 2010) on time in June of 2010, a gain of almost 15 percentage points over the last five years. Before that, the city’s graduation rate was stuck at about 50 percent (using an older measure) for decades. There is a really significant uptrend here.

2. …..Or not? Whether this is genuine improvement or the result of a constricted focus on test-passing, heavy use of credit recovery schemes and/or easier Regents tests becomes is an urgent question. The state’s new “Aspirational Performance Measure” of college-readiness, discussed below, suggests that most students are graduating unprepared. On the other hand, we all know highly accomplished graduates and the teachers who worked their hearts out to help them. The answer may be a tale of two cities. More »

Charter vs. District Student Demographics — Beyond the Lotteries

Now that the school year has ended, the research and writing season can begin for those of us who study charters. This summer, we’ll be working on updating our 2010 report on student demographics in charters compared to their local district schools, including our analysis of charters’ proportions of special education students and their levels of need (once that data arrives from the state and city.)

In the meantime, though, a few other bloggers have been posting some cautionary essays about the importance of acknowledging the different demographics of students in charters compared to the schools in their neighborhoods. Like charters’ academic performance, those demographics can vary widely across the sector — but given the new charter law’s requirement that all charters in New York State must recruit and retain proportions of high needs students similar to those of their local district schools, it’s worth a reminder of what the research has shown so far. More »

Credit Accumulation Soars in NYC, But Students Remain Behind

Credit accumulation after phase-in of high stakes accountability

Click on the graphs for larger versions.

Credit accumulation in high need schoolsIt’s standard fare to question the effects of high-stakes testing on education. Mention tests and people will tell you about the narrowing of the curriculum, the lowering of the standards, and the changed understanding of what it means to be educated, which used to have something to do with pleasure and imagination and now has mostly to do with isolated, testable skills. But in New York City, testing is not the only thing that is high stakes, and as it turns out, there are more ways to dumb down an education than to add another high-stakes test to it. Consider, for example, New York City’s high stakes credit accumulation scheme.

In this city, the number of credits awarded to students in high schools truly is high stakes. It counts as nearly one third of each high school’s Progress Report grade, and the Progress Report counts for just about everything, including the removal of principals and the closing of schools. Since the Progress Reports were introduced in 2006-2007, the percent of students earning 10 or more credits each year has leapt a (truly) incredible 16 percentage points citywide. For schools with the highest concentration of high need students (the schools most likely to be threatened with closure) the jump is 18 points. Most schools accrued those gains between the first and second years of the Reports. More »

NY Times Invites Readers to Weigh In on “Fixing the Schools”

In today’s New York Times is a letter from Diane Ravitch in which she responds to David Brooks’s recent column about testing and charters. She begins:

Mr. Brooks has misrepresented my views. While I have criticized charter schools, I am always careful to point out that they vary widely. The overwhelming majority of high-quality research studies on charters shows that some are excellent, some are abysmal and most are no better than regular public schools.

Some charters succeed because they have additional resources, supplied by their philanthropic sponsors; some get better results by adding extra instructional time. We can learn from these lessons to help regular public schools.

The Times adds this note below the letter:

We invite readers to respond to this letter, as part of our new Sunday Dialogue feature. We plan to publish a sampling of responses in the Sunday Review, and Diane Ravitch will be given an opportunity to reply. E-mail: letters@nytimes.com

Joel Klein’s Bad Faith Argument: The Contours Of Ideological Thinking

(This is the second of two posts written in response to Joel Klein’s manifesto, The Failure of American Schools, which was published in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly. In the first post, I addressed Klein’s attribution of an apocryphal anti-union quote to the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker.)

The defining characteristic of a bad faith argument is not that it is wrong, although it certainly is that, but that the person wielding it knows that it is wrong, or with a minimal exercise of due diligence, would discover that it is wrong. Klein’s Atlantic essay is replete with bad faith arguments, so many that it would require a small pamphlet to respond to every such argument. Consequently, I will restrict myself to analyzing a number of the more central propositions he puts forward.

Using Value-Added ‘Teacher Data Reports’ To Evaluate Teachers
Klein declares that he is “still shocked” that the UFT opposed his efforts to use the value-added ‘teacher data reports’ he had developed for high stakes decisions on tenure and discontinuance. “As a result, even when making a lifetime tenure commitment,”  Klein writes, “under New York law you could not consider a teacher’s impact on student learning. The Kafkaesque outcome demonstrates precisely the way the system is run: for the adults.”

What Klein avoids addressing, but what he certainly knows well, is that both his value-added “teacher data reports” and the New York State English Language Arts [ELA] and Math exams used  to develop these reports had serious, fundamental flaws that prevented them from being a meaningful measure of educational progress. More »