Archive for January, 2012

Public Education on the Pillory in NYS

January 17, 2012 Comments off

In separate speeches, Bloomberg and Cuomo  lashed public education for “failing students”. Here are two politicians who capped spending on schools, frozen or cut social programs, and used public funds to “attract new jobs” and now are claiming “public schools are failing to educate children”. Now Cuomo is claiming a new universal evaluation system will save the day. Andrew, more funds for the safety net and more coordination of services will help a LOT more!

In Boston, Mayor Menino is trying to change people’s minds about vocational education. Oh, he got a political dig in at the need to have “broad authority” to take control over the “faltering” school, but his ideas about vocational education make a lot of sense: students work a week and study for a week. That kind of program warms the hearts of a Drexel grad!

The Boston Globe editorial page featured an article about the new, improved, animated version of Cliff’s notes. On one level educators might view Cliff’s notes as “cheating”… but in many respects if a book is well written and well crafted the user of Cliff’s notes is cheating himself.

The Times features value added testing in its Room For Debate section. Herewith is a comment I offered to the portion authored by Chetty and Friedman, the economists who used a baseball metaphor to explain why value added testing is worthwhile.

The baseball metaphor is apt to this Red Sox fan who worked as a public school administrator for 30+ years. The Sox (and the hated Yankees) both recognized that there is no single metric for measuring performance and appreciated subtle metrics like OBP and the number of pitches a batter saw each time they came to the plate. Both teams also tried to get players who were “good teammates” as well… a metric that is VERY elusive and, as the Red Sox nation learned this year, VERY important. Statistics are nice, but character is more important. Let’s hope Bobby Valentine gets the statistically sound Red Sox back on track… and lets hope the quants begin to see that numbers are not all that matters in measuring teacher performance!



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Quick Weekend Links Update

January 16, 2012 Comments off

Gone this weekend… but luckily there wasn’t much to report! More tomorrow……

Common Dreams headline: It’s Easy to Gut Public Education When You Send Your Kids to Private Schools— The part of this story about the current Denver Superintendent,  a former telecom executive who lives in Boulder Colorado, is especially stunning…

Absenteeism among HS students is a major problem in Boston Schools, according to a study done by the Boston Globe… the article notes that Boston is not as bad as NYC or Baltimore, but offers no real solutions to the problem. Anyhting short of a K-12 overhaul will miss the mark…

A Boston Charter School teacher thinks that extending a teacher’s work year over the summer, reducing the work load during the school year, and providing more support for kids in after school programs would work wonders in terms of recruiting and retaining teachers… it would… but… the numbers won’t work unless people want to pay more for public schools…

Online Private education program boosted by Mitt Romney is owned by one of his major campaign donors… here’s a quote from the article on this for-profit college that Mitt thinks everyone should imitate: “The $81,000 video game art program, for instance, graduated just 14 percent of its 272 students on time and only 38 percent at all, while the students carried a median debt load of nearly $59,000 in federal and private loans in 2008, according to data that the federal Education Department now requires for-profit colleges to disclose in response to criticism of their academic records” This “affordable alternative” to traditional education has an annual tuition of $40,000… THIS is the future of college?

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Been there, done that….

January 13, 2012 Comments off

In reading today’s reports I found that I had written about or lived through nearly every issue…

Texas education leaders want post-secondary schools to focus on job training as opposed to seeking traditional degrees. Doing so will assure the students a job, which is key when students amass debt doing their college years. I have mixed feelings about this. As a Drexel graduate I greatly appreciated the cooperative work-study program. It provided me with salaried assignments in two major corporations for eighteen months, providing me with enough income to pay for my college tuition, room and board. Now, however, Drexel students would be hard pressed to attain that leave of income and businesses have moved toward internships as opposed to paid cooperative work-study assignments. Also, employment ebbs and flows for skilled laborers… just ask several former machinists who live in the Upper Valley. Learning a skill for a specific job in 2014 is not likely to help you much in 2024, especially if the job can be outsourced to a lower paying company in the Far East or to a computer… again… ask several former machinists who live in the Upper Valley. Finally, public school teachers are generally disdainful of jobs that require the use of one’s hands instead of one’s mind: the jobs they know and value are ones that are in offices or hospitals and require lots of schooling. Therefore strong students are encouraged to attend college… and the article is talking about getting more strong students into training programs.

The Chicago students are going to be attending school 7 1/2 hours per day starting next year according to today’s report in the NYTimes… because logic dictates that more of the same kind of schooling will result in higher test scores. My brief encounter with a longer school day in Maryland in the mid 1990s (to offset 14 snow days) showed that adding time didn’t add value, especially at the lower grade levels where students were wiped out during the last 45 minutes of the school day. Better: have every school offer an onsite structured after-school child care center.

The agreeable fantasy of merit pay lives on in the minds of Bloomberg and Cuomo neither of whom heeded my article in EdWeek in March 2010, which was drawn from the “Race to the Top: NO” White Paper on this blog page. Ay yi yi!

The Fixes column in today’s NYTimes describes the LIFT program, which has served 50,000 clients in five urban communities. The LIFT model resembles the kind of wraparound services envisioned in the White Paper on waivers. The program acknowledges that poverty erodes the spirit of people and diminishes their aspiration and recognizes the power of mentoring. Instead of thumping the drum for merit pay Bloomberg and Cuomo should expand programs like LIFT.

“Run Schools Like A Business” has been the battle cry for decades, and was the subject of the following comment I submitted in response to Paul Krugman’s NYTimes editorialNever underestimate the political belief that “running government like a business” is the answer to every social problem. Take a look at public education where politicians in BOTH parties have adopted the business model across-the-board: reduce the measurement of effectiveness to something easy-to-quantify-but-beside-the-point; outsource schooling to de-regulated non-union for-profit enterprises; eliminate defined benefit pensions; reward “superstar” CEO-Superintendents with lavish contracts while outsourcing custodial and food services to low-paying for-profit enterprises; fire bad teachers and reward good teachers with money that will come from— well, we haven’t figured that out yet but we’re sure there’s LOTS of places money can be saved. Taxpayers value the notion that schools are “full of waste” and want to believe that painless cost cutting is possible… and the taxpayers resent the benefits and job security in the public sector that were typical in the private sector until the 80s… and politicians in both parties capitalize on these attitudes.

THIS JUST IN: online learning is less expensive than traditional or blended learning according to an EDWeek Blog. Oh… but the Fordham report didn’t know whether the student outcomes were comparable…  The source of the savings? “…virtual schools can often reduce those costs by increasing the student-teacher ratio or by reducing teacher salaries by hiring only part-time teachers or paraprofessionals, said the report, spending an average of $2,600 per student, compared to an average of $5,500 per pupil in a blended learning environment.” There you go, Mr. Krugman! Lets run it like a business!

A T.H.E. Journal article has a raft of predictions regarding technology use for 2012… and I found all of them heartening. One issue that many districts and schools will face, however is bandwidth! If teachers and kids are going to be using handheld mobile devices I’m not sure that there is sufficient bandwidth to make these ideas possible.

This Orlando Sentinel article validates the Agreeable Fantasy article referenced above… districts serving poor children pay less for teachers than districts serving affluent kids… and where do you think the better teachers work? We have merit pay!

Linda Darling-Hammond’s article on redlining in the Nation echoes the points I made in the White Paper on Waivers and is further evidence that the business model prevails in congress… We know that more services (and therefore more $$$) is needed to help schools serving kids in poverty but it’s a lot easier (and a lot less expensive) to believe in the business fairy.


Tests in the news

January 12, 2012 Comments off

Nick Kristof’s NY Times editorial extols the findings of the recent Value Added research. Here’s the comment I submitted: One HUGE practical problem with value-added testing: it can only be used for a limited number of teachers. Standardized achievement tests are administered to students in grades 3-8… and only teachers in grades 4-8 can have the value added analysis applied. How, then, do you measure the value added of a music teacher? an art teacher? a middle school science teacher? a social studies teacher? ANY high school teacher? Is it possible that one of the students who did so well later in life had an exceptional HS English teacher? Or was influenced by a coach or music teacher?The more we rely on standardized tests to measure performance, the more we narrow the scope of schooling. See also my white paper on waivers for a more detailed review of value added testing’s limitations.

An Education Week report on the development of common core assessments is heartening.  It appears that the tests under consideration will be administered on computers and will be far more comprehensive than the current “bubble” tests. From my perspective this is assuredly good news on two fronts: it will reinforce the need to integrate technology into the classroom and will provide timely information to teachers on student performance. What remains to be seen is how effectively the assessments measure higher order thinking skills as touted in this report.

What gets tested gets funded. EdWeek reports that the Feds are eliminating funding for history and foreign language and ramping up money for literacy. Education is underfunded to begin with… and now with zero sum budgeting in place I expect to see all funds for “non-tested” curriculum areas to shrivel.

What gets promised politically doesn’t get COMPLETELY funded. A big “oops” in Idaho is understated in the Idaho Statesman. As is often the case, a “bold new innovation” announced one year gets grossly underfunded in year two and then folks wonder why teachers (and the public) gets cynical. While I strongly disagree with the way Idaho went about its technology/merit pay initiative (it perversely redirected $$$ for salaries to buy computers and was supposedly going to provide new funds for “merit pay”) , it is still sad to see the State Superintendent receiving half the funds he needed to implement the technology portion of the initiative. The whole debate on technology is completely muddled by the union-busting legislation that happened simultaneously.

The NY Times headline reads: “NYC Charter School to Close Charter School for Mediocrity“… If I were starting a charter school I wouldn’t call it the “School for Mediocrity” ;-)…. To NYC’s credit, they are living the aphorism: “Good enough is the enemy of excellence”…


Technology application links prevail!

January 11, 2012 Comments off

Today’s links are almost all about technology applications. Why does this happen? Anyway… several interesting articles!

Web Music lessons are saving parents and instrumental music teachers time according to a NYTimes article. As is true in all video applications, bandwidth is the key.

Today’s NYTimes editorial opposes for-profit on-line schools that do not yield results that match public schools. Embedded in the brief essay are two choice sections: “A growing body of research shows that charter schools generally perform no better than traditional schools and are often worse as measured by student test data. This is particularly true of online charter schools, which educate more than 200,000 full-time students and are spreading quickly across the country.” and the closing paragraph: “Online programs that supplement traditional schooling have a place on the menu of education options. But there is growing evidence that full-time online schools may be inappropriate for a great majority of students and need to be monitored closely in states that allow them.”  Bottom line: Unregulated privatization is NOT the answer to the problems facing public schools, and on-line learning cannot replace the interaction between adults and students.

An article in today’s NYTimes describes an on-line interview show hosted by an MIT prof who interviews scientists in an effort to provide “…content for a relatively highly educated audience who appreciate material that is not dumbed down and has some technical depth as well”. The link to his interviews is here.

Retirees are a potential source for support services to schools, as described in this NYTimes “Fixes” article about ReServe, a program designed to offer low paying jobs to highly qualified idealistic retirees. In the coming decade, there will be a large pool of people who meet this profile.

Students in MN are taking advantage of dual enrollment opportunities, an opportunity that should be seized increasingly. See my White Paper on Waivers for my analysis of how HS should be organized to promote more of this kind of cross-enrollment.

Chris Dede advocates universal availability of mobile devices to provide every student with “anywhere, anytime” learning opportunities. If only broadband were universally available!



Catching up on links… with inequity and cost shifts the predominant theme

January 11, 2012 Comments off

New York schools are falling short of the Race-to-the-Top grant standards according to an article in today’s NYTimes and, if they don’t straighten up and fly according to RTTT guidelines they might have to pay back the money they got. The major problem with implementation: getting all the unions in the state to agree to an evaluation plan that meets the template set forth by the USDOE. The maddening part of RTTT from the outset has been the federal government’s insistence that States and districts impose an evaluation system that has never been demonstrated to improve student performance. The White Paper “Race to the Top: NO” describes this flaw in detail.

Corporations avoid taxes and schools make cuts: An article in Common Dreams describes two recent studies of education funding that come to this bottom line: Corporate state tax avoidance is about $14 billion for one year <=> State education cuts amount to about $12.7 billion for one year. My recent post “Tax Racket” describes the mechanism that makes this kind of thing happen all too often.

In America’s Unlevel Playing Field Paul Krugman of the NYTimes makes a concise argument for the kind of wraparound services described in the White Paper on Metrics and the article I wrote for Education Week eight years ago, A Homeland Security Bill for Education, advocating a coordinated effort by social services agencies analogous to the effort advocated for law enforcement agencies.

Finland is HOT! The Atlantic profiles Finland’s education success in this on-line article my daughter Hannah set me… Here’s the kicker: there is no word for “accountability” in Finnish. The article says: “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

State governments are now paying for training the private sector used to provide as reported in the Sunday NYTimes. This is maddening on two counts: when I was a teenager my father earned a good income providing training to managers and salespersons for DuPont as part of DuPont’s employee training division. His assignment doesn’t exist any more. Training is outsourced. I’m sure this helps DuPont’s bottom line but it eliminates a solid middle class job and eliminates capacity building within the organization. Secondly, the dollars diverted from the community college budget to train Caterpiller employees are dollars that COULD be used to reduce tuitions for all students attending those colleges. The tax racket continues….

Museums and cultural institutions suffer collateral damage as Texas cuts school budgets according to a Saturday NYTimes article. This is not surprising given my recent experience— field trips are “an easy cut” to make even though field trips are among the most memorable experiences students have from their schooling… also, field trips don’t help you get higher test scores and getting those high test scores is important: especially if teacher evaluations will be linked to those test scores!

Nick Kristof’s NYTimes Sunday editorial focuses on an “uncomfortable truth: poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.” Further reinforcement for the need to coordinate services for youth BEFORE they attend schools.

Beta site reader Lori Langlois of North Country Education Services sent this link to a technology blog post that asserts that technology should not be seen as an enhancement, extension or support for teaching but a cornerstone of classroom instruction. It concludes “…the future of educational technology lies not in regarding it as an add-on or enhancement but as being fundamental to education”. The problem, alas, is that the digital divide is widening with every passing year, and the students attending poor schools or rural schools where internet access is NOT readily available in homes and wide bandwidth is not available in schools cannot compete with those areas that have the infrastructure. FDR gave rural areas electricity: maybe Obama can still give very home bandwidth…. or maybe not…

Assessing Value-Added Metrics and On-line Learning

January 6, 2012 Comments off

Only two links today and there won’t be any links for the next three days… though I will be publishing three essays I wrote over the past few years, two of which were published as op ed pieces in the Valley News.

The value added research debate continues in today’s New York Times. Three economists, two of whom were reportedly skeptics of value-added assessments, concluded that “good teachers” are markedly superior to “average teachers” and an equal gap existed between “average teachers” and “poor teachers”. The categorization of the teachers was primarily based on standardized achievement tests. The researchers evidently tracked student performance over time, which means the practical application of this may be limited since administrators are required to make tenure decisions within a three year window in most states.

An adverse assessment of on line learning also grabbed headlines in today’s NYTimes. As is often the case  duality prevails in news coverage: “online learning” is pitted against “brick and mortar” learning. The article also pits “for profit” on line schools against “non-profit” schools. Here are the findings in a nutshell: brick and mortar is better than schools that are exclusively online and not-for-profit-online schools outperform for-profit-online schools. Neither of these findings is surprising… and… as is almost always the case… neither finding is completely conclusive.