Category Archives: Education Policy

Wendy Kopp Defends Teachers

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post today pushing back against NYC publicly posting the value added scores of teachers. Two parts of her op-ed stuck out to me:

First, Kopp pretty succinctly described how I feel about where education reform and policy stands in 2012 :

No single silver bullet will close our educational achievement gaps—not charter schools, or vouchers, or providing every child with a computer, or improving teachers. Each of these solutions may have merit as part of a larger strategy, but on their own they distract attention from the long, hard work required to ensure that our schools are high-performing, mission-driven organizations with strong teams, strong cultures and strong results.

 Secondly, Kopp pretty smartly places TFA into the context of quality teaching and school leadership, while defending traditional teachers from the impact of publicly posted value added data and other harmful policies:

That’s why Teach For America focuses on channeling the energy of our country’s future leaders against the problem of educational inequity. Investing in their success as teachers is important not only for today’s students but also for cultivating their long-term leadership potential inside the classroom and outside of it—preparing them to drive changes in the ways schools operate, in the ways our school systems promote teacher development, and in the political and community contexts in which schools exist.

Essentially, Kopp states that  TFA teachers are not here to only invest in the communities where they  teach, but also stick around to impact long-term educational change. This change is not limited to “inside my four walls” classroom teaching, but instead focuses on bringing communities together around positive reform that impacts the achievement of students.

Middle Schools Are Evil

A study recently published in Education Next looks in depth at what the authors’ call the “Middle-School Cliff,” or the significant drop off in student achievement for students entering middle school in 6th or 7th grade. The authors’ compared the test scores at stand-alone middle schools to the achievement of peers attending K-8 school.

Our results cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the middle-school experiment that has become such a prominent feature of American education. We find that moving to a middle school causes a substantial drop in student test scores (relative to that of students who remain in K–8 schools) the first year in which the transition takes place, not just in New York City but also in the big cities, suburbs, and small-town and rural areas of Florida.

The authors’ attempt to find a cause for this “cliff,” and drew blanks on every explanation except “school culture.” They could not find any significant differences between resources, cohort size, or educational practices, but did find that principals reported higher instances of violence and feeling that teachers were inadequately meeting the needs of the students. This study gives credence to a recent movement by districts and charters to create more K-8 schools and make the transition to high school a one-time disturbance in a child’s education.

Where I teach, in a rural Louisiana parish, the parish split the schools between K-6 and 7-12 grade classes. When the split was made promises were made to parents that the “gold shirts,” our 7th and 8th graders, would remain separate from the rest of the student population – a promise impossible to make at a rather small school. The bulk of our disciplinary issues come from the aforementioned “gold shirts” and the school struggles year-after-year with the steep drop off in achievement by our 7th and 8th graders.

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The Annoying Voucher Debate

According to my numbers this boat would be the size of a thimble, thus dumb.

Governor Jindal is moving forward with an ambitious education reform agenda in Louisiana, which, unfortunately, includes a focus on vouchers to send kids in public schools to private schools. His push for vouchers, partially funded by my favorite Michigan conservatives – the DeVoses, is shielded by his argument that parents ought to have maximum choice in the education market. Private schools, his agenda argues, must be in the mix for there to be true school choice.

I disagee with the entire idea of vouchers. I strongly believe that if you play with public money you must play by public rules, which is something I do not really believe private, religious schools in Louisiana are willing to submit to. Regardless of this belief, I do not believe that the voucher debate is anything the proponents or oponenets of education reform ought to spend any amount of time on. The fact stands that there are not enough seats in private schools in Louisiana to support a large surge of public school students, thus making this entire issue moot.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops estimates that there are only about 1,000 seats for students opting to take a voucher and attend private schools. Under Jindal’s plan nearly 380,000 students will be eligible, which means only .003% (using my real complex math) of students will find seats in private schools. The entire idea that vouchers will play a large role in the education market place is merely a stick thrown into important discussions by those certain factions pushing for and standing against reform in Louisiana education.

Where TFA and the Marines Meet

Education Next recently posted this interview with David Gergen, advisor to many presidents, discussing the motivations of young, liberal Teach For America Corps Members and how they interact with unions. He points out a central tension between a TFA CM’s liberal pro-union beliefs and their participation in a program that many teachers unions see as a battering ram against job security. He argues that TFA CMs of 2012 are not looking for job security, high pay, and health benefits as considerations 1, 2, and 3 immediately out of college. Instead, he argues thats TFA CMs are more interested in having an interesting job that is changing their world in a meaningful way.

Another interesting point he makes is that pre-911 the Marines were facing a serious lull in recruiting. They addressed this problem not by lowering the bar to admission, but rather raising the bar and making the Marines even MORE selective. They saw a huge increase in high quality, energetic recruits immediately after these changes were put into effect. Many education reform advocates have emphasized the need to increase the prestige of teaching and the quality of teachers entering the profession.

What Gergen is pushing on is something I have experienced myself.  I come from pro-union Michigan where my political beliefs were forged in union halls. Since joining TFA my views have adapted into believing that unions, although important, must also adapt to the changing education landscape. More importantly, the experience teaching has informed and changed my views of education reform in ways that no class or political campaign could have ever done.

Would Nick Saban Field TFA?

What is the teaching equivalent of medical gray shirting?

In a continuing display of ignorance, Answer Sheet, WaPo’s anti-education reform blog, published a piece arguing the simple question… what if a college football team employed a similar philosophy to Teach For America?

Using the logic of the Huntsville City Board of Education, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban should only use his youngest, most inexperienced players when his team plays a Top Ten opponent.

The author goes on to engage in the tit-for-tat argument pitting one negative study against a body of positive research about the effectiveness of the organization.

What I want to hone in on is the ridiculousness of an argument that ignores the reality of TFA and football. His basis is that you would not play young, inexperienced players, which is, in his mind, the same as top college graduates committing to educating children in challenging schools. Setting aside the insulting nature of his argument he fails to acknowledge the numerous teams where older, underperforming players are passed over in critical games for younger players willing to fight and perform for the position. For example, the New Orleans Saints playing Mark Ingram ahead of older players, or U of M playing a Denard Robinson ahead of an older Tate Forcier (Michigan reference for Michigan friends).

Additionally, most football teams work on a basis where new, high-performing players take the field alongside more veteran team members, thus supplementing the old talent with the new. The coach has the ability to make personnel decisions that place players in the positions where they will be the most effective to move the team towards their overall goal. Many anti-reform writers, like Answer Sheet, argue against giving individual principals the power to make the personnel decisions that best benefit students – one of those decisions being whether or not hiring TFA would be beneficial to students.

I just really wish these people would stop making this really dumb arguments, because this one is really bad.

Rethinking Retention (TFA)

by necs2010

Meaningful change is happening right there.

**Also, sorry if this is disjointed. I wrote it on the car ride home.**

One of the biggest complaints thrown at Teach For America is that the two year commitment and retention rate (debated by TFA and anti-TFAers) hurts education and wholly devalues the education profession. Wading into this argument is EducationNext, a Harvard education think tank, that just released a study investigating the impact TFA corps members have on the broader movement of bettering public education in America.

What EducationNext found was that in the work histories of founders, co-founders, and top management team (TMT) employees of 49 influential and entrepreneurial educations organizations (like KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, and Uncommon Schools)  TFA lead the pack in being listed across biographies and resumes.

What I found significant and illuminating was the conclusion that the authors’ established: “Finally, our research suggests the value of rethinking how TFA and its alumni have been studied in education and also how we think about retention.” The authors’ argue that the debate around Teach For America’s retention rate should not be seen through the lens of “Teacher-in-the-Classroom,” rather what impact TFA Corps Members have in the field of education after their 2 years are up.

The authors’ wrap up their findings by posing a series of questions meant to challenge our traditional views of retention. These are questions I would like to pose to any of my 50 or so page viewers that feel the desire to chime in.

Another intriguing question is how to weigh the impact of a single Mike Feinberg, Mike Johnston, or Michelle Rhee. Is their impact equal to that of having 100 teachers stay another year? Of 1,000 teachers staying another five years? Is it worth having thousands frequently depart classrooms if it increases the likelihood that a single game-changing entrepreneur—a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates—will emerge? Conventional debates about retention and TFA teacher effects may start to seem trivial when we compare the potentially enormous impact of a few such individuals.

Michigan is the New New Orleans

I don’t like Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder. Since entering office earlier this year he has proposed radically draconian budget reforms while instituting an Emergency Financial Manager program that effectively disenfranchises cities declared “failed.” Snyder fashions himself a benevolent overlord, but in reality he is just a less brazen WI Governor Scott Walker.

This week Snyder unveiled his plan to revolutionize education in the state of Michigan. I have some thoughts…

* One note. Read his plan in whole or read a summary… my incoherent thoughts might not help you come to your own conclusion on the merits of this plan.*

The Good 

What Snyder proposes puts Michigan on a serious path to putting children first in terms of education policy. His proposal consolidates early childhood education under one office which will help cement together fragmented programs with fragmented funding. He looks to pass anti-bullying legislation that has been stalled due to lack of Republican cooperation. Finally, he wants to expand and emphasize opportunities for college-bound students. Each one of these proposals put students back into the education discussion.

The Ambitious 

The Snyder proposal also works to end the monopoly of geography-based school districts in the State of Michigan. Through a combination of lifting charter school caps and forcing district to take students from other districts if they have room students will be given a choice and agency in their education. He also includes several systems to grade, evaluate, and reward schools that make significant progress with their students. All in order to provide parents and students more information to make crucial educational decisions.

This would essentially start turning some districts in Michigan into education systems that look like New Orleans. The benefit here is that independent schools led by independent school leaders will be able to innovate and offer unique educational opportunities to students who were previously denied a choice in education.

The Ballsy  Continue reading