Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Spitzer's Education Agenda Promises Aid Increase

1) Spitzer's plan that he announced yesterday for reforming schools in NY state is AWESOME -- in large part because it closely mirrors the bold, revolutionary plan Bloomberg and Klein laid out recently for NYC schools.
Like Bloomberg and Klein, Spitzer clearly understands that more money without fundamental change to the broken system is unlikely to improve matters ("New York spends more on education per capita than all but one state in America, yet offers our children an education that is nowhere near the top...to be effective, new funding must be tied to a comprehensive agenda of reform and accountability.").  To bring about this change, he calls for "performance accountability, because unless we have meaningful consequences for good and bad performance, we will never be able to change the status quo that is failing too many of our children," and then outlined real consequences for failure (including closing "as many as five percent of all the schools in the state if we have to")!
Here's my summary of Spitzer's speech, with a few comments thrown in (you can read Spitzer's entire speech at http://www.state.ny.us/governor/keydocs/0129071_speech.html and see the NY Times coverage of it below):
- Lifting the charter cap to 250: "I will propose to raise the charter school cap from 100 to 250.  Charter schools help demonstrate educational innovations that work, many of which can be adapted to other parts of the public school system.  Charter schools make other public schools compete, which is why many strong school administrators welcome their presence." -- AWESOME!
- A new, simplified funding formula: "our upcoming budget will replace this flawed system with a straightforward and transparent mechanism [that] will distribute educational funding based on the needs of our children, not the needs of our politicians."
- Greater accountability for how the new money is spent: "Those districts receiving significant increases in funding under our Investment Plan must be able to show how that money is allocated, school by school, and show how they are using their money to produce the outcomes we expect."
- Smaller class sizes (this is one area in which I'm a bit skeptical of the value added, as discussed in previous emails; see my slides and the article, both below)
- More time in the classroom (great idea)
- Improve teacher quality (very best idea), specifically:
-- "encourage new models for teacher preparation, including expanding our alternative certification programs" (great)
-- Meaningful tenure decisions for teachers, driven in part by student test scores: "we must ensure that tenure comes to be recognized as something we as a society honor and respect, and that means it should be granted the way other professional decisions are made – based on the review of the supervisor, an evaluation by professional colleagues, and an examination of data as well as qualitative information about how a teacher’s students perform over multiple years." -- glad to see he doesn't agree with Randi that this is "immoral"!
-- introducing differential pay: "increasing compensation for qualified teachers moving to hard-to-staff schools or hard-to-staff subjects such as math and science or special education.  It could also include supporting other teachers in a new “Master Teacher” role, and rewarding the whole faculty in schools that show real performance improvements." -- this is REALLY bold, great stuff, if he follows through on it!
- Introduce universal pre-K (a fine idea, IF done correctly)
- "if children fail, adults must be held accountable.  And accountability means consequences, both good and bad, for the performance of schools and school districts."
- Careful tracking of individual students and schools: "It will be up to each district to establish real measures of improved performance.  That means telling parents, as well as the State, how many more children will read and do math at grade level, how many more students will graduate from high school with Regents diplomas, and how many of them will go on to college in each of the years of the Contract.  Without these goals, it will be impossible to measure success.  These reform plans should sunset every three or four years, requiring zero-based re-assessment to see if districts are making the progress they promised." -- love it!
- Reward success: "Schools and school districts that are meeting their targets should see positive consequences, the kind that matter to professionals, including school-based performance incentives and statewide recognition. "
- Punish failure: "If after this intervention and substantial new State investment, some districts are still failing their students, will demand an overhaul in their leadership.  That means new management.  We will seek to have every district in the state sign contracts with their superintendents that will require dismissal after substantial failure over multiple years.  And for school boards that fail their communities year after year, we will seek their removal by the Commissioner of Education...And we should be ready to close more schools that fail –  perhaps as many as five percent of all the schools in the state if we have to..." -- this is really bold as well, if he can pull it off.
One last thing, which I didn't see mentioned in the news articles: is Spitzer really talking vouchers here?! ("Many private and parochial schools do an excellent job of educating many of our kids and they deserve our thanks and support.  Our first priority must be funding public schools, but to the extent the law and our fiscal resources allow, we should support parents who choose to send their kids to private and parochial schools.")
Spitzer’s Education Agenda Promises Aid Increase
Published: January 30, 2007

ALBANY, Jan. 29 — Gov. Eliot Spitzer declared on Monday that he would propose a major increase in state aid for New York’s public schools in his first budget and would seek vastly expanded oversight of local school districts, including wide powers to remove school boards or force the dismissal of superintendents for repeated failures.

Laying out an expansive agenda in a speech at the State Education Department, Mr. Spitzer said he was proposing “the largest infusion of resources in our state’s history” but left a specific number for Wednesday, when he is to unveil his budget. Officials who have been briefed on the governor’s plans said he would propose $1.4 billion in added education spending statewide for the coming fiscal year, increasing to $7 billion in added annual spending after four years.

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Cutting Randi down to size

This excellent NY Daily News editorial nicely debunks the class size myth (I've also posted my slides on this at http://www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/Classsize&teacherpay.pdf):
Repeat after me, boys and girls: Class size matters most. Class size matters most. If you say it enough, you just might believe it. That's what teachers union chief Randi Weingarten is counting on as she tries to dictate how the city spends billions in new state school aid...

All other things being equal, nudging class sizes down, particularly in the early grades, is not a bad idea. But states and cities that have set out to drive down student-teacher ratios have exacerbated teacher shortages, strained facilities and locked up money that could have been used to greater effect by, say, raising salaries to attract quality math and science teachers - or rewarding the teachers who do the best job.

What's more, class-size evangelists ignore the fact that nationwide, we've seen a consistent decline in student-teacher ratios over the last generation - a slide that has been more or less mirrored in the city, yet hasn't paid dividends in student performance. But there is one way in which cutting class sizes would be effective: It would increase the ranks of dues-paying union members. That couldn't possibly be Weingarten's motive, could it?

Cutting Randi down to size
NY Daily News editorial

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

New York's Public Schools

I'm a big fan of the New York Times in general and its editorial/Op-Ed page specifically, which is why it's so disappointing to read this editorial.  It's the worst I've ever read in this paper -- it's not only completely wrong, but pathetic.  It would be one thing if it made a reasoned, tightly-argued critique of Bloomberg and Klein's recently announced reform plan, but instead it just meanders along, wrong-headed argument, indefensible assertion and random non-sequitor after another, doing everything to cast aspersions on a reform plan that the editorial page should be CELEBRATING!
Here's the editorial, followed by my line-by-line critique:
New York’s Public Schools
NYT editorial, January 28, 2007

New York lawmakers and the State Board of Regents are rightly nervous about the school reforms recently announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The third package of reforms to hit the nation’s largest school system in five years, this one radically alters funding formulas and guts the existing management structure — roiling a system already struggling to digest earlier changes.

The Regents and State Legislature have been fretting about the cold shoulder the city has shown to parents and communities since soon after legislators gave Mr. Bloomberg full control of the public schools. That’s when the city did away with the longstanding system of 32 community school districts and combined them into 10 regions.

It may have saved money, but it also put more distance between the school system and families. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has promised to rectify those problems. But the new reform, which sweeps away the 10 regions altogether, runs the risk of making the situation worse.

This page has long supported turning principals into school managers and holding them accountable for how staffs and students perform. But the young, inexperienced principals who have flooded the New York schools require guidance and support. Sweeping away the remains of the regional system might make it harder for them to get the help they need.

Urban school systems have a long and shameful history of dumping the least-qualified teachers into underfinanced schools that serve the poorest children. Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal would drive more money to the neediest schools, but there are serious questions about whether it will be sufficient.

At the same time, an analysis by a nonpartisan group, the Educational Priorities Panel, takes issue with a related scheme for changing the school personnel budgeting process. Currently, schools are held harmless for teacher salaries. The new system would eventually chalk up teacher salaries against a school’s budget. The panel believes that would penalize schools with the highest-paid, most-experienced teachers, driving principals to hire less-experienced teachers. The new formula would also be subject to tampering by politicians.

The Bloomberg plan expresses some noble ideals. But reforms that affect the lives of more than a million schoolchildren should not be made in haste or on the basis of consultants’ hunches. Given the mayor’s habit of ignoring reasonable criticism, the City Council, the Legislature and the Regents should use what leverage they have to ensure that the reforms are closely scrutinized and modified where necessary to produce the best possible result.


Let's go through it point by point:
1) "New York lawmakers and the State Board of Regents are rightly nervous about the school reforms recently announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg." -- This is GOOD!  Given politicians' and bureaucrats' record overseeing the collapse of NYC's public schools over many decades, if they WEREN'T nervous, then we'd know the reforms weren't strong enough.
2) "The third package of reforms to hit the nation’s largest school system in five years" -- The way this sentence is written is so perjorative -- and so wrong -- making it seem like the prior two packages have failed, so it's on to the next plan to "hit" the school system.  Why not write: "Building on a foundation of earlier reforms, which have already started to move the nation's largest school system in the right direction, the latest reforms are the boldest and most courageous yet..."
3) "radically alters funding formulas" -- Given how grossly unfair the existing funding formulas are, this is GREAT NEWS!  It's HELPING the neediest kids the most(supposedly the kids the NYT editorial board is most concerned about)! 
4) "and guts the existing management structure" -- More great news!
5) "roiling a system already struggling to digest earlier changes" -- Are they not aware that this is a horribly broken, dynfunctional, unaccountable system that NEEDS to be shaken up hard and urgently?!  Are they seriously saying that we should take our time (and condemn yet another generation of children to miserable lives that nearly inevitably result from failing schools)?!
6) "The Regents and State Legislature have been fretting about the cold shoulder the city has shown to parents and communities since soon after legislators gave Mr. Bloomberg full control of the public schools." -- A "cold shoulder" is causing them to "fret"...  Oh, cry me a river!  At long last, SOMEBODY was given responsibility for the failing school system and is shaking it up in big way, and we're supposed to give a crap that the Regents' and State Legislature's feelings are hurt because Bloomberg and Klein aren't allowing them to be the obstructionists that they would otherwise be?
7) "But the new reform, which sweeps away the 10 regions altogether, runs the risk of making the situation worse." -- This is the only sensible critique in this entire editorial.  Cutting 10 regions down to 4 and giving principals choice about hiring one of these four regions or going elsewhere for services is, based on some conversations I've had, sure to be REALLY tough to pull off smoothly.  If the details aren't handled well, there is indeed "the risk of making the situation worse" -- IN THE SHORT RUN.  But the idea is sound and the kinks will eventually be worked out.
8) "Sweeping away the remains of the regional system might make it harder for them to get the help they need." -- Underlying this sentence is the presumption that the existing system is providing great support to principals.  Where, pray tell, did they get THAT silly idea?!  Isn't it sort of obvious that principals are likely to be the best judges of what organization(s) can best support them?
9) "Urban school systems have a long and shameful history of dumping the least-qualified teachers into underfinanced schools that serve the poorest children. Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal would drive more money to the neediest schools, but there are serious questions about whether it will be sufficient." -- HUH?!  They make a great point in the first 1 1/2 sentences and then make a completely nonsensical conclusion: "but there are serious questions about whether it will be sufficient."  If I'm reading this correctly, they seem to be applauding this new funding plan, which will send a lot more money to the neediest schools, and their only critique is that it's not bold ENOUGH.  Well, fair enough, but they should at least be applauding a major step in the right direction.
10) "At the same time, an analysis by a nonpartisan group, the Educational Priorities Panel, takes issue with a related scheme for changing the school personnel budgeting process. Currently, schools are held harmless for teacher salaries. The new system would eventually chalk up teacher salaries against a school’s budget. The panel believes that would penalize schools with the highest-paid, most-experienced teachers, driving principals to hire less-experienced teachers." -- Instead of mindlessly repeating what the Panel says, why don't think apply some independent thinking and ask, "Gee, does it make any sense that every teacher, regardless of actual cost, is budgeted at the exact same cost?  And, given then the most experienced (and costly) teachers tend to cluster at the schools serving the LEAST needy children, it this system fair to the MOST needy children?"
This is what I wrote about this in my email last Thursday:
Let's be clear -- THIS is Randi's real beef: "The chancellor’s plan will...give principals a disincentive to hire experienced teachers simply because they cost more."  Well, no kidding!  I have the same disincentive to, for example, hire an experienced painter to paint my house vs. an inexperienced high school kid.  Those are the trade-offs managers have to -- and should -- make in life!
The dirty little secret of NYC public schools (and public schools nationwide) is that the least experienced, unproven teachers -- the last-minute, desperation hires -- are dumped into the high-needs schools.  Then, for the teachers who stick around, gain seniority and become more experienced (and experience DOES impact student achievement in the first 2-3 years), they move to "better" schools.  The result is that high-needs schools (and low-income, minority kids -- the ones who most need the BEST teachers) are instead endlessly screwed by a system that provides them, every year, with the worst teachers...
11) "The new formula would also be subject to tampering by politicians." -- Where do they get this completely wrong-headed idea?  The CURRENT funding system is the one that's subjects to tampering, and it's the NEW system that will be much more transparent and LESS subject to tampering by politicians and others.
12) "But reforms that affect the lives of more than a million schoolchildren should not be made in haste or on the basis of consultants’ hunches." -- Where's the evidence for this?  How do they know that the reforms proposed last week were made in haste?  Based on what I saw and heard, what was proposed could only have emerged from DEEP, THOUGHTFUL study of best practices drawn from all over the country.
13) "Given the mayor’s habit of ignoring reasonable criticism, the City Council, the Legislature and the Regents should use what leverage they have to ensure that the reforms are closely scrutinized and modified where necessary to produce the best possible result." -- This totally vacuous sentence is a fitting ending to this totally vacuous editorial!
I hope and pray for the children of New York City that the City Council, the Legislature and the Regents have the common sense to embrace these reforms and the courage to resist the forces of the status quo that are pulling out ALL THE STOPS to try to derail this revolutionary reform plan.  It's so sad that the NYT editorial page, which should be championing this plan and what it will do for the children -- especially the neediest children -- of New York City, has instead laid a massive goose egg.  Shame, shame!

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mayor's Promise To Reform Teacher Tenure Process Sparks Speculation

Someone told me Randi said this, but I had a hard time believing it, so I searched the web -- and sure enough, here it is!  Unbelievable...
"Using individual student's test scores in the evaluation process of new teachers and that is not only morally bankrupt but legally incorrect," said Weingarten.
Student learning should be the overwhelming MOST IMPORTANT factor in evaluating teachers and deciding whether to give them tenure.  While student test scores aren't the only way to measure this, they're a critically important way.
I'm sick and tired of hearing how awful testing is.  I have no doubt many tests could be improved, but when the NAEP shows that the majority of black and Latino 4th graders are ILLITERATE, the problem is not the test!!!
Mayor's Promise To Reform Teacher Tenure Process Sparks Speculation
January 22, 2007, NY1

In his State of the City speech last week Mayor Bloomberg said he wants to reform how teachers gain tenure as part of the next phase in his schools overhaul. The remark has triggered a whole lot of speculation and debate. NY1 Education Reporter Michael Meenan filed the following report.

"We are building a more rigorous review process – one that will assure that tenure decisions are made thoughtfully and based on the facts," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

With that line Mayor Bloomberg seemed to be taking on one of the teaching profession's most sacred cows and teachers union President Randi Weingarten says she had no idea it was coming.

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Ryan Sager is spot on:



 Ryan Sager, January 19, 2007, NY Post


IF Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein don't go down in New York City history as the team that turned the public schools around, it won't be for lack of effort, new ideas or boldness. In his State of the City Address on Wednesday, the mayor made clear that he wants to make the last three years of his tenure count on this score as much as the first five.

And one way he's looking to do that is by reforming tenure. Teacher tenure, that is.

Teachers in New York City's public schools now gain tenure after three years in the system. Officially, a "review" process ensures some degree of quality control; in fact, the process is mostly on auto-pilot. A full 99 percent of teachers who stick it out for three years win lifetime tenure, reports the Department of Education, with little or no consideration given to the individual teacher's success or failure in the classroom.

That's lifetime tenure - lifetime job security and the promise of lockstep pay hikes awarded for years served.

Whether you're the inspirational math teacher played by Edward James Olmos in "Stand and Deliver" or Ben Stein's droning economics teacher from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," you're golden. You essentially can't be fired - without a principal going through years of paperwork and endless union grievance processes - come hell or high water.

Simply put, the tenure system, coupled with the grievance system, has protected for decades thousands upon thousands of teachers who simply can't do their jobs.

Now Bloomberg and Klein are saying enough: Tenure must be earned, not simply given away. And they've got a clever plan to get their way.

But first, two words on the whole concept of tenure for public-school teachers: It's nuts.

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It's good to see some teachers rallying to support ending automatic tenure...




 January 18, 2007 -- Even some teachers, such as Washington Irving HS math teacher Rachel Kessous, oppose the tenure system that provides instructors with lifetime job protection after three years.

Kessous is a probationary instructor who is eligible for tenure at the end of this school year - if she receives satisfactory ratings from her supervisors.

But she supports Mayor Bloomberg's merit-based system and opposes tenure as undermining academic accountability and professionalism.

"I don't believe in tenure. Tenure doesn't set a very high standard. No one should get lifetime tenure," Kessous told The Post.

She said all teachers should be re-evaluated every few years instead of having a tenure system that nearly guarantees lifetime employment by making it difficult to get rid of poorly performing instructors. Tenure rules are covered by state law.

"Teaching is a very difficult profession. It should be held to the same standards as other professions," Kessous said.

She said tenure tempts teachers to get lazy and lapse into mediocrity.

"I've seen that more often than I like to admit," said Kessous.

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It's good to see a principal rallying to support ending automatic tenure:


 January 18, 2007 -- A veteran Queens principal yesterday gave Mayor Bloomberg an "A" for attacking the lifetime-tenure system for teachers.

"The mayor is on target. I'm completely supportive of the mayor's position on providing an equal level of commitment to all students across the city," said Anthony Lombardi, principal of PS 49 in Middle Village.

"I'm for tenure reform. Tenure has allowed teachers who've been identified as incompetent or non-performers to return to the classroom. Tenure undermines effective management, innovation, accountability and important school reforms that we need to meet future global challenges," Lombardi added.

"Tenure promotes a culture of paralysis. Tenure supports a culture of mediocrity, low expectations for teachers, principals and students."

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

What's Wrong With Vocational School?

With the central tenets of Murray's thinking so thoroughly discredited, I hesitate to make much effort to rebut his 2nd and 3rd Op Eds in last week's WSJ.  (What could the Journal have been thinking giving so much space for so much nonsense?)  That being said, here goes:
In the first Op Ed below, What's Wrong With Vocational School?, Murray immediately lays an egg with the silly assertion that, among the youth with above-average IQs, "far too many of them are going to four-year colleges."  This argument might make sense if you share Murray's belief that schools don't matter and that a person's intellectual capabilities are set in stone long before college. 
I believe otherwise.  I believe that, even among the young people who have fallen behind in life through 12th grade through some combination of bad luck, bad parenting, bad choices and bad schooling, most can still turn their lives around -- and good schools are critical to this.
I think that, to compete and succeed as a nation, we should set the goal that every child should get 17 years of education, not 13.  I'm willing to concede that perhaps the bottom 20% might be better off going to vocational or technical school after high school, but Murray seems to think the opposite: that only perhaps to top 20% should go on to real higher education.
The real tragedy here is that our K-12 public schools are failing so badly that, to some extent, Murray's argument seems reasonable.  Consider the following horrifying statistics:
  • Close to half of the students who enter college need remedial courses
  • At Cal State, the system admits only students with at least a B average in high school, yet 37 percent of the incoming class last year needed remedial math, and 45 percent needed remedial English
  • According to scores on the 2006 ACT college entrance exam, only 21% of students applying to four-year institutions are ready for college-level work in all four areas tested: reading, writing, math and biology
  • Lack of preparedness leads to nearly half of all students beginning higher education by attending a community college, which has negative consequences:
    • One study showed that 73% of students entering community college hoped to earn four-year degrees, but only 22% had done so after six years
    • The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that three-quarters of community college graduates were not literate enough to handle everyday tasks like comparing viewpoints in newspaper editorials or calculating the cost of food items per ounce
In summary, millions of our children are suffering through 13 years of poor schools, resulting in stunted intellectual development.  Murray looks at this problem and, instead of addressing it, seeks to merely compensate for it by shunting millions of children away from college -- a system in which the U.S. probably is the best in the world! -- to a collection of often-lousy community colleges, vocational schools, etc.  What a totally lame answer!
In some cases, the only chance a young person has in life is given to them in college.  A good analogy is what KIPP does: it takes children who have been miseducated for five years (K-4), resulting in them being 2-3 years behind grade level, spends one year (5th grade) nearly entirely on remedial work, but then has three years to accelerate them toward higher learning and a better future.  It's often the same in college: nearly half of entering college students need remedial work thanks mainly to lousy K-12 public schools, but colleges are probably pretty good at bringing these students up to speed in the first year or two, and then students can really learn in their last couple of years.  Murray wants to eliminate this and send fewer kids to college?!

On Education
What's Wrong With Vocational School?

January 17, 2007; Page A19

The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.

Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

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Aztecs vs. Greeks

In his final essay, Murray argues that we should identify our top 10% of smartest kids and make sure they get "training as citizens" and "encouragement of wisdom."  Gee, while we're listing the feel-good nostrums, what about motherhood and apple pie?
Of course our schools should be preparing our students to be good citizens and trying to give them wisdom, but why on earth would we limit this to only the children who've been blessed with the best combination of good genes, parenting and schooling?!  ALL great schools do the things Murray calls for, regardless of whether they educate the most privileged or the most disadvantaged children.

On Education
Aztecs vs. Greeks

January 18, 2007; Page A17

If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed. That number demarcates the top 10% of the IQ distribution, or about 15 million people in today's labor force -- a lot of people.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Chancellor Klein's Remarks on the Next Phase of the Children First School Reforms

PS--Here is the speech Klein gave yesterday to the Partnership for New York City on the new reforms.  A great speech -- and I heard it was even better in person!

Chancellor Klein's Prepared Remarks to the Partnership for New York City on the Next Phase of the Children First School Reforms

Good afternoon. I am grateful that so many of you were able to be here on such short notice to learn more about the significant reforms we are launching to improve the lives of the 1.1 million children we serve every day. These are indeed profoundly important changes that will shift the way we think about education in New York City, changes that will allow us to provide our students with the kind of education they need and deserve.

But, before I elaborate on the particulars, I want to put them in their appropriate context...

[The rest of the speech is posted at:


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The new school reform proposals for NYC -- WOW!

I was traveling the past couple of days and am behind in sending out my school reform emails (two more dopey WSJ Op Eds by Charles Murray need a good ripping -- I'll get to all of this!), but I can't let another moment go by without commenting on the UNPRECEDENTED, REVOLUTIONARY school reform plans laid out this week by Bloomberg and Klein.  I don't want to go too crazy with the hyperbole, but I really am stunned and overjoyed...
Run, don't walk, to read the presentation about these reforms, which I've posted at: http://www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/ChildrenFirstNYC.pdfI predict (and hope!) that it will be come a model for cities across the country for years to come.  I've also included three articles from the NYT about it below.
The highlights:
- Reforming the tenure system so that it's no longer automatic -- so that terrible teachers don't get tenure, which makes them virtually impossible to remove.
- Adopting weighted student funding, to address the outrageous funding disparities among schools.  (This shows how critical more money is: without it, this proposal would be politically a nonstarter because it would be a zero-sum game, taking money from schools in wealthier areas.)
- Pushing power down to the school level and making principals entrepreneurs -- given them real power and control, but also making them accountable.
- Greatly reducing the bureaucracy and giving principals the power to get services from other vendors rather than being tied to the bureaucracy.
- Setting up sophisticated measurement systems, both for students and schools, and then publicizing the results.  Giving each school a letter grade is HUGE!
- Giving more money to good schools that are making real progress (instead of the current system, under which the worse a school performs, the more money it gets!).
I've long felt that Bloomberg and Klein have been doing the boldest, most spot-on reforms of any major city in the country, but they've just taken things to a whole new level.  As one of my friends, who's been in the trenches of school reform for a decade, just told me: "Fewer than 1% of the school superintendents in America would have the guts to propose even ONE of the three pillars of reform that Klein just proposed."  Another friend wrote:

I just finished reading the document on their plans and it is shockingly bold.  What they are doing is using every tool within their power to restructure the school system and it is impressive.  For example – did you realize that schools are being graded A-F and that schools in A or B will get paid an extra $750 -$1,500 to take kids from D or F?  Also they are moving to weighted average student funding.  While they can’t eliminate tenure, they are going to force principals to make a conscious choice to tenure a teacher, rather than just the teacher equivalent of social promotion.  This is an incredibly important, aggressive, bold thoughtful development.

(Charter school advocates may wonder why charter schools are not mentioned, but this proposal only deals with reforming the current system -- separately, Bloomberg and Klein are fighting to lift the charter cap and Bloomberg highlighted this in his speech.)
What's remarkable about this plan is not each piece by itself -- nothing in it is completely new; in fact, EVERY piece has been proven to work in other schools, school systems (including ones like KIPP), cities or states.  What's remarkable is that ALL of it is being introduced at once.  This is not only the right thing to do -- kids need better schools and teachers NOW, before yet another generation is robbed of the opportunity to get a decent education -- but it's politically brilliant.  The forces of the status quo are going to pull out all the stops to derail this plan, but it's far better to make them fight 20 battles at once, rather than letting them beat you up and force you to make compromises on each item, which is what would happen if you tried to do this sequentially.
Now comes the hard part: first, overcoming the opposition and then actually making it work.  Both are going to be brutally difficult. 
If this plan runs into trouble, I predict it will be for one or more of the following three reasons:
1) The forces of the status quo muster the political muscle to kill or neuter major elements of the reform plan;
2) The teacher union contract prevents reform in critical areas -- in particular, removing ineffective teachers.  I'd guess that at least 20% of NYC public school teachers fall into the category of "teachers who suck" (as opposed to the "badasses" at opposite end of the spectrum, to once again use my friend's marvelous phrases!).  It would be fantastic to reform the tenure process such that only good teachers got tenure, but even if this happens, the impact on teacher quality will only be very gradual. 
Everyone -- and I mean everyone; students, parents, other teachers and principals -- know who the terrible teachers are, but even if principals have the incentive to remove them (and, critically, the measurement tools to document how terrible they are), can they be removed or are the union protections too strong?  Time will tell...
3) Principals who have spent their careers in a command and control system, when suddenly forced to become entrepreneurs and are held accountable for OUTCOMES (i.e., student learning), might crash and burn in large numbers.  One of the biggest problems in the system is WAY too many lousy principals, who have strong union protection (and, just like teachers, everyone knows who they are).
I think there's a historical precedent that will likely play out again: when Giuliani and Bratton set out to reform the NYC police department nearly 20 years ago (which at the time was as bureaucratic, dysfunctional, unaccountable and ineffective as NYC's school system is today), they pushed power down to the precinct level and then held precinct commanders accountable.  Guess what the turnover was within the first two years?  TWO-THIRDS of the precinct commanders didn't cut it.  But this was great news, as younger, more competent, go-getters were promoted and crime is down 80%!!!
January 18, 2007
News Analysis

In Sweeping Schools Vision, Big Risks for Mayor

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday effectively doubled his bet that the nation’s largest school system is capable of unprecedented improvement, wagering the education of the city’s nearly 1.1 million students and his own legacy on a far-reaching decentralization plan that puts enormous pressure on principals to raise student achievement.

The mayor’s announcement, in his State of the City address, made clear that by the end of his second term he hopes to leave behind a school system irreversibly changed and virtually unrecognizable from the bureaucracy that existed before he took office.

It will have new rating systems for schools, principals and teachers, a new finance system designed to break the lock that many schools in middle-class neighborhoods have had on highly paid veteran teachers, and a sharply increased role for private groups in helping to run schools. It will also make it harder for teachers to get tenure.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s plan, while cementing his place at the forefront of urban education reform in America, also carries huge risks, raising questions about whether yet another reorganization will bring such swift and noticeable improvement in test scores and graduation rates that it can mute critics who say the administration is using constant change to mask mediocre results.


Bloomberg Seeks Further Changes for City Schools

Published: January 18, 2007

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out ambitious new plans yesterday to overhaul the school system by giving principals more power and autonomy, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous review in order to gain tenure and revising the school financing system that has allowed more-experienced teachers to cluster in affluent areas.

The plan, which would also increase the role of private groups, represents the most sweeping changes to the system since the mayor reorganized it after gaining control of the schools in 2002. Although the mayor has chosen to spend some of the city’s current surplus on tax cuts, he said he could invest more in schools with money promised by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to equalize state education aid across New York.

The administration can undertake most of the education measures unilaterally, without City Council or union acquiescence.


Overhaul of Schools Would Let Teachers Rate Principals

Published: January 19, 2007

Pressing the case for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s latest round of changes to the city school system, Chancellor Joel I. Klein yesterday detailed how the new powers being granted to principals would be accompanied by new evaluations of them: teachers for the first time would be able to rate their supervisors.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Intelligence in the Classroom

Charles Murray (auther of The Bell Curve) is back with more toxic nonsense in an Op Ed in today's WSJ.  Essentially what he's saying -- though he'd deny it -- is that the reason 58% of black and 54% of Latino 4th graders can't read is because they're stupid!  GRRRR!!!
What makes his arguments especially dangerous is that SOME of what he says is true and thus the reader can be lulled into believing it all.  Yes, putting political correctness aside, some people are really smart and some (gasp!) are really slow.  He's right that all the talk about emotional intelligence and multiple intelligences don't change this simple fact.  And yes, half of all people are of above average intelligence and half are below.
But how to people become smart/intelligent?  I'm no expert on the research, but it seems abundantly obvious that it's a combination of nature and nuture.  There was something special about Albert Einstein's brain that made it capable of operating on an entirely different level than the rest of us.  Similarly, there are people who, no matter how much good parenting or schooling they get, simply aren't going to be very bright, however one wants to measure this. 
I hypothesize that, at birth, the intellectual outcome of every human 25 or so years later -- again, however you want to measure it, but for simplicity, let's just say IQ -- is going to be on a bell curve -- even two idential twins, with identical brains at birth might end up with very different IQs (for the average person, the bell curve is centered on an IQ of 100).  But then the nurture part kicks in -- in a HUGE way.  If the child is loved, well fed and healthy, is read and spoken kindly to, is exposed to lots of positive experiences (travel, museums, etc.), has parents (or teachers or other role models) who teach (and lead by example) the values of discipline, hard work, being nice and the importance of education, and, most importantly, goes to a great school with great teachers who excel at motivating, inspiring and imparting knowledge, then the average child is HIGHLY likely to end up MUCH smarter than average (say, an IQ of 120, equal to the 90th percentile).  Conversely, if the child does not have all of these factors -- in particular, a lousy school with mostly lousy teachers -- then he/she will end up with, say, and IQ of 80 (10th percentile). 
This is Murray's first major flaw: the intelligence is somehow immutable.  If Albert Einstein had grown up in a broken family, in which no adult had graduated from high school, in a chaotic and dangerous community, and attended failing schools for his entire life, I have no doubt that Murray would have tested him as an adult and concluded that he was stupid.  My experience is that it's actually quite remarkable how nature spreads out innate intelligence.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who were born into privilege and who’ve had every educational advantage, yet are complete dopes; and, conversely, how many people I’ve met who come from modest beginnings but are brilliant. 
The key is what happens AFTER birth.  There are countless factors that determine where a child ends up (both intellectually and otherwise) and it would be unfair to place the entire burden on schools, but my observation over many, many years and seeing dozens of highly successful schools is that a great school, filled with great teachers, can make an ENORMOUS difference.  I'm talking about schools like KIPP that are taking kids with many, many disadvantages, such that by the time they reach KIPP in 5th grade, they are reading, on average, at the 2nd grade level and doing math at the 3rd grade level.  Put another way, maybe 10-30% are at grade level.  No doubt Murray's intelligence tests would rank these students, as a group, WAY below average.
But if Murray were to test them four years later (in some cases, only 1-2 years later), he'd rub his eyes and swear there was a problem with the test or there must have been cheating (I kid you not -- KIPP students' test scores in Texas were so remarkable and unprecedented that the state launched an investigation, which of course turned up nothing).  The SAME kids would "magically" be far more intelligent (I recognize that an IQ test is not the same as the NAEP math or reading test, but it's hard to imagine a child doing well on an IQ test who CAN'T READ!).
Underlying Murray's argument is that American students' current level of knowledge (ability to read, do basic math, etc.) is somehow closely related to their intellegence.  Did it ever occur to him that there are MILLIONS of really bright kids who aren't learning because they attend lousy schools and are taught by lousy teachers?  This is not a hypothesis, but rather a tragic FACT.  There are more than FOUR MILLION students who today attend schools that have been identified as failing for SIX CONSECUTIVE YEARS!  Of course, most of these students are poor and/or minority, leading dopes like Murray to conclude that they're just stupid.  Thank goodness for KIPP and similar schools, which show that if you give these kids great teachers, set high expectations, and ask (no, demand) that they work hard and be nice, THEY ACHIEVE AT VIRTUALLY THE SAME LEVEL AS OTHER KIDS!!!!
This being said, even the greatest schools, even after four years of intense schooling, can't get 10-20% of kids to grade level.  I don't know why for sure, but I'd hypothesize that it's rooted in some combination of the child's status at birth (a crack baby for example), the intellectual impairment in the child's first 10 years before KIPP, and ingrained dysfuncational behavior patterns that can't be modified.
Murray might look at these kids and say, "Ah ha!  That's my point.  Even the most intense interventions can't help these kids become smart."  (In this article, below, he writes: "even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.")  But this misses two HUGE points:
1) If we assume that 20% of kids were at grade level entering 5th grade and 80% are at grade level four years later, than SIXTY PERCENT of kids have made TREMENDOUS progress!
2) Even the kids who aren't at grade level are still a WHOLE LOT better off than they were before KIPP (and where they'd be had they remained in their prior failing school).  For example, these kids were likely at the 1st grade level entering KIPP and let's say that by the end of 8th grade, they're at the 7th grade level.  Yes, still below grade level, but they've made SIX YEARS of progress in only four years and are far better positioned to make something of their lives.

I think that nearly every American -- no matter where they are on the intelligence spectrum -- has the intellectual potential to be able to read, do basic math, understand a little bit of history, etc. In other words, enough to function in our society, be a good citizen and hold a job, even if only as a janitor, bus driver or some other professional that doesn't require much intellectual horsepower.  There's no shame in this -- the shame is that our schools are failing so many students in giving them even the BASICS (and that people like Murray are willing to excuse this).


It is so horribly wrong to take millions of low-income minority children (who already have two strikes against them in life), put them in failing schools, and then when -- surprise! -- they don't achieve, to write them off because they're stupid.  Instead, we should be asking, “How can we fix the current K-12 public school system so that EVERY child -- not just the privileged ones -- attends a consistently excellent school and is taught by consistently excellent teachers?”


Here are more comments on Murray's article from some friends:

A) Oh my Lord what a crock. I'd like to see Mr. Murray explain the success of places like Kipp.

B) Charles Murray argues that it is unreasonable to expect significant progress in educational achievement because achievement is constrained by cognitive potential – by IQ.  One (of many) obvious criticisms is that for Murray to be correct, he would have to assume that most students are already approaching the achievement that their cognitive potential would allow.  What evidence does Murray produce that most students are already near their maximum potential?  None.

C) It’s sad what we’ve lost in Charles Murray. He’s clearly an extremely bright guy and a very talented scientist. But he got run out of polite society over the Bell Curve book (partly because of vicious distortions of what he actually wrote), and now he seems to see the whole world through the prism of vindicating that book’s hypothesis. All facts and common sense must be sacrificed on the altar of the IQ gods, so that Charles Murray can nurse his grudge against those who did him wrong.

The word “tragic” has been overused to the point where it doesn’t mean much anymore, but Charles Murray really does come across a lot like Oedipus – a man of great potential, self-ruined.

And there's also the fact that a number of policy interventions (like, ahem, vouchers, but also accountability testing and other policies) have been shown in controlled trials to improve test scores. He says in the op-ed that his Bell Curve thesis was never refuted "with data." What exactly would count as "data"?

D) There's an economist at Brookings, Bill Dickens, who has very strong empirical evidence that IQ moves a lot over a person's lifetime in response to effort and environment.  And if individuals are, in fact, endowed genetically with a maximum IQ threshold, Dickens' research (and examples like KIPP) suggests that it tends to be very high and, as Jay Greene points out, Murray does not and probably cannot demonstrate that students are hitting their thresholds in their current sub-optimal educational environs.

E) I'm puzzled as to why the WSJ would set aside three days for this.   I can't think of a parallel.   It will weaken the very valuable voice that the WSJ has had on education issues.   Unless they editorially take a different position, which would be very odd, given the unusual amount of space accorded to this on their pages.

The tragedy of the Bell Curve is that there was an important point to be made, which was on firm ground, but then they went on to much weaker ground to make further points that got all the attention.   the valid point that was to be made was that test scores are an important predictor of many outcomes (earnings, etc.);  they were right on that and on the fact that social scientists were largely gun-shy about putting test scores in their equations (with a few exceptions, such as June O'Neill, if memory serves).  having made that valid point, they then went on into "g," heritability, etc., which put them on much weaker ground.

Intelligence in the Classroom
Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.

How about raising intelligence? It would be nice if we knew how, but we do not. It has been shown that some intensive interventions temporarily raise IQ scores by amounts ranging up to seven or eight points. Investigated psychometrically, these increases are a mix of test effects and increases in the underlying general factor of intellectual ability--"g." In any case, the increases fade to insignificance within a few years after the intervention. Richard Herrnstein and I reviewed the technical literature on this topic in "The Bell Curve" (1994), and studies since then have told the same story.

There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend. Nor can we look for much help from the Flynn Effect, the rise in IQ scores that has been observed internationally for several decades. Only a portion of that rise represents an increase in g, and recent studies indicate that the rise has stopped in advanced nations.

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder--the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution (education of the gifted is another story), the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of "The Bell Curve."

This is not to say that American public schools cannot be improved. Many of them, especially in large cities, are dreadful. But even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.

To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It's no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence. It's no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones--for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It's no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student's underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it's no use to say that there's no such thing as g.

While concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences" have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.

Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This is the first in a three-part series, concluding on Thursday.

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