Monday, January 21, 2008

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

This is a really, really important development -- which is why it made the front page of today's NY Times -- and is a bold and courageous step by Bloomberg and Klein, because the UFT will fight this tooth and nail.

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

Nobody disputes that teacher quality is, by far, the single most important factor in student learning and achievement, so it logically follows that teacher quality is the single most thing that needs to be measured to improve our schools and close the achievement gap.
At first glance, it wouldn't seem so difficult to measure this.  The primary job of teachers is to impart knowledge to children (don't even get me started on building self esteem -- self esteem is not taught, but rather comes from genuine knowledge and achievement), so you simply test kids at the beginning of the year and then test them at the end of the year and see how much kids have learned.
Of course, it's not this simple: though I think most tests do a pretty good job of measuring how well a child can read or do math, tests aren't perfect and some subject areas are harder to measure than others; students who live in broken, violent and/or dysfunctional homes or who don't speak English well or who qualify for Special Ed are obviously more of a challenge to teach; sometimes students have more than one teacher in a particular area (both an English and History teacher, for example, might be teaching a student how to write better); etc.
However, it's important not to let perfection be the enemy of the good.  As this researcher correctly points out, a well-designed measurement system is effective at identifying top and bottom performers:

William Sanders, a researcher in North Carolina who was one of the first to begin evaluating teachers and schools based on student test score improvements, said that while such a system could be used to make broad judgments, it was difficult to use it with precision enough to find differences among teachers who are simply average.

“Can you distinguish the top teachers? Yes,” Mr. Sanders said. “Can you distinguish the bottom teachers? The answer is yes, too. But it would be risky to make decisions using information at the classroom level for teachers who are just in the middle. You might miss a lot that way.”

But what about Randi's claim that “There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher”?  It's a clever but disingenuous argument: she's saying that because the system isn't perfect, that it's therefore useless.  But nobody is claiming that this system should be the only tool used to evaluate teachers, as this principal correctly notes:
“This should simply be one more way to think about things,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was participating in the experiment. “It is going to tell you some things you don’t know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a classroom.”
Then Randi argues: “These tests were never intended and have never been validated for the use of evaluating teachers”.  In fact, there are numerous studies which show that teacher evaluation systems very accurately identify effective teachers.  For example, see page 2 of this presentation I posted here, which shows results from a Hamilton Project study: student math performance in Los Angeles in the third year is hugely impacted by teacher quality measured in the previous two years.  Pages 4-7 show similar results for both math and reading in Dallas.
Pages 14 and 15 underscore the fact that years of experience (after the first two years) and what type of certification a teacher has do not predict student achievement, as today's article correctly points out:

But experts are grappling with how to determine what makes a good teacher. Neither graduate programs in education schools nor previous academic records are reliable predictors, they say. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that districts place a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom, which typically means one who has completed a certification program, but this, too, is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.

“It seems hard to know who is going to be effective in the classroom until they are actually in the classroom,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard, who is conducting several research projects on teacher quality in New York City, and who is involved in the new effort.

Mr. Kane said there was little evidence that teachers with the “right paper qualifications” were any more effective than those without them. “But most school districts spend very little time trying to assess how good teachers are in their first couple of years, when it is most important,” he said.

Turning to another lame argument, Randi says:
Ms. Weingarten said the system was not needed. “Any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective,” she said.
This is nonsense as well.  Any "real educator" will tell you that it's extremely difficult to determine if a teacher is effective based on five minutes (or five hours, five days or, sometimes, even five months!) of classroom observation. 
That said, the main problem principals face is not figuring out who their best and worst teachers are, but rather finding a way to overcome union resistence and the contract to reward and incent top performers and, more importantly, get rid of teachers who are unwilling or unable to effectively impart knowledge to children. 
This is why having data is so important.  Today, because classroom observation and other teacher evaluation metrics are so subjective, it's virtually impossible to deny a teacher tenure or remove a teacher for being ineffective (especially given the UFT's policy of grieving every single teacher removal case, no matter how egregious the circumstances).  With an effective measurement system rooted in hard data, these problems can be addressed.
Randi's real fear is that any system that would identify bottom performers is terrifying to those teachers -- and their union.  Hence, while Randi claims she's in favor of identifying and (if they don't improve) removing underperforming teachers, this is just PR -- here are Randi's true feelings: “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.”  On this, we can agree.  Allow me to translate what she's saying: "If I don't fight this tooth and nail, my members -- a substantial fraction of whom are ineffective and thus rightly terrified of being identified and losing their jobs -- will vote me out."
To see how substantial a fraction, see page 3 of my slides at  Bain & Co. did a study in the late 1990s that measured what students at various grade levels in Boston public schools had learned during a year, mapped it back to individual teachers and discovered that one third (!) of reading/English and math teachers failed to impart any knowledge during an entire school year!  To be clear, it wasn't that the students taught by the bottom third of teachers learned somewhat less than one year of material over the course of a school year -- they didn't learn anything at all!  I'm sure you will be shocked -- SHOCKED -- to hear that the study was attacked by the teachers union so vociferously that Bain buried it (fortunately, I have friends at Bain).
January 21, 2008

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Judge Dismisses Nevada Caucus Challenge

This judge's ruling yesterday in Nevada is very big news, not only for improving Obama's chances of winning there, but because of the story behind it.  In short, the teachers unions are burning their bridges with Obama, which will have profound -- and wonderful -- implications for education reform should he become President. 
Here's the latest news:
A union with ties to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton failed in court Thursday to block the state party's plans to hold caucuses at special precincts inside casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
I'll give you three guesses which "union with ties to...Clinton" was behind the lawsuit...  You got it: the TEACHERS UNION, as the article notes below:
Nevada State Education Association President Lynn Warne denied the case was linked to the Clinton campaign and said there would be no appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
What's going on in Nevada is really important because when one examines which unions are backing which candidate, it's clear that this is shaping up as a fight between high-paid government workers (teachers and clerks) and private-sector low-wage workers, whose kids are forced to attend failing schools.
In addition, such desperate attacks on a Democrat -- especially one who's been such a great friend to labor! -- are highly unusual and underscore how threatened traditional unions are by the change Obama represents.  The teachers, in particular, are much more swayed by Clinton's "35-year history of change" (yeah, RIGHT!)because they like the status quo just fine and especially just want to make it to retirement without much changing.

Judge Dismisses Nevada Caucus Challenge

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A union with ties to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton failed in court Thursday to block the state party's plans to hold caucuses at special precincts inside casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

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Unions bitterly divided in Democratic race

This article captures the union split -- and how those backing Clinton are pulling out all the stops to attack Obama (I've heard that not only is AFSCME importing members/organizers from California to defeat Obama in Nevada (as the article below notes), but the California Teachers Assoc. is doing so as well):
The intensity of the struggle between the Culinary Workers and AFSCME is matched by controversies inside AFSCME.

Seven board members have protested the degree to which their union is backing Clinton, including running what they described as negative ads in Iowa and New Hampshire about Obama's healthcare proposal. The seven wrote union President Gerald W. McEntee on Jan. 4 saying they were "shocked and appalled to learn that our union . . . is squandering precious resources to wage a costly and deceptive campaign to oppose Barack Obama."

They said the ads threatened unity among labor needed to defeat Republicans in November and undermined the union's reputation. Obama's supporters say his position on healthcare is closer than Clinton's to the union's own position, which opposes a universal mandate such as she has endorsed.

AFSCME, which has only a few thousand members in Nevada, is relying heavily on paid workers from outside the state, a practice virtually all national unions employ when they need reinforcements.

But the Culinary Workers' Taylor criticized the scale of the effort: "I have never heard of such an intensive member education movement in my life."
Unions bitterly divided in Democratic race

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Teachers Divided

This article captures the likely generational split among teachers, why older teachers will fight change fiercely, and how teacher compensation needs to change:
First, consider older teachers. Not only are they of Clinton’s generation, they also tend to dominate the teacher unions — the very unions that are at the base of her party-mainstream support. While the National Education Association hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate, its New Hampshire affiliate came out for Clinton (and Huckabee on the Republican side). (The Iowa union kept its powder dry.) When you hear about the “Democratic establishment,” think teacher unions; their members regularly constitute some 10 percent of all delegates at the Democratic National Convention, after all. As the “establishment” candidate, then, Clinton is and will likely remain the teacher unions’ favorite.

Everybody knows that those unions’ leaders and most active members tend to be older. Why? Simply because senior teachers have the most at stake. After toiling in the classroom for decades for modest pay, they are finally nearing their big pay-off: a plush retirement with full family medical benefits. Protecting this retirement is teacher unions’ number one priority. They want a candidate who signals a steady course, promises job stability, and isn’t going to rock the boat. Clinton fits the bill.
The calculus is much different for younger teachers. Not surprisingly, they are much more open to change — Obama’s theme song. A few years ago, Public Agenda found that a majority of new teachers (55 percent) believed that districts should be able to use other indicators beyond years of experience and higher education to reward good teachers; yet only a third of veteran teachers felt the same way. And newbies were almost twice as likely to believe that merit pay would be effective in recruiting more of “the best and brightest” into teaching. So Obama’s (mild) flirtation with performance pay is much less threatening — and perhaps even exciting — for these younger teachers.
Teachers Divided
Older teachers support Clinton, while younger teachers vote for Obama.

By Michael J. Petrilli

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As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

Obama's change also threatens the old guard of the civil rights movement.  This article has it exactly right: it is indeed "amazing" (horrifying, really) that the civil rights leadership isn't pulling out all the stops to elect a black President:

The most amazing thing about the 2008 presidential race is not that a black man is a bona fide contender, but the lukewarm response he has received from the luminaries whose sacrifices made this run possible. With the notable exception of Joseph Lowry, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference veteran who gave a stirring invocation at Obama's Atlanta campaign rally in June and subsequently endorsed him, Obama has been running without much support from many of the most recognizable black figures in the political landscape.

That's because, positioned as he is between the black boomers and the hip-hop generation, Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence.

The most recent example of the old guard's apparent aversion to Obama was Andrew Young's febrile YouTube ramblings about Bill Clinton being "every bit as black as Barack Obama" and his armchair speculation that Clinton had probably bedded more black women during his lifetime than the senator from Illinois -- as if racial identity could be transmitted like an STD. This could be dismissed as a random instance of a politician speaking out of turn were it not part of an ongoing pattern.


As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

By William Jelani Cobb
Sunday, January 13, 2008; B01

Washington Post

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when "black president" was synonymous with "president of black America." That was the office to which Jesse Jackson appointed himself in the 1970s -- resigned to the fact that the actual presidency was out of reach. In 2003, Chris Rock wrote and directed "Head of State," a film about the first black man to win the presidency. (It was a comedy.) And in the ultimate concession, some African Americans have attempted to bestow the title of black president upon Bill Clinton -- a white man.

In the wake of his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama has already permanently changed the meaning of that term. It is no longer an oxymoron or a quixotic in-joke. And this, perhaps more than anything else, explains his tortured relationship with black civil rights leaders.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Conscience of a Liberal & my views on unions

I'm sure my many Republican friends on this email list are going to take issue with my thoughts in this email, but that's OK -- we can agree on school reform but will probably have to agree to disagree on a lot of other things.
Over the holidays, I read Paul Krugman's book, The Conscience of a Liberal (, and highly recommend it -- see further thoughts in it below.  Because I've been highly critical of teachers unions (for a summary of my views, see and, I particularly want to comment on what Krugman had to say about unions, which he summarized in this NYT Op Ed last month (

Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement.

These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite.

Today, however, the American union movement is a shadow of its former self, except among government workers. In 1973, almost a quarter of private-sector employees were union members, but last year the figure was down to a mere 7.4 percent.

Yet unions still matter politically. And right now they’re at the heart of a nasty political scuffle among Democrats. Before I get to that, however, let’s talk about what happened to American labor over the last 35 years.

It’s often assumed that the U.S. labor movement died a natural death, that it was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor.

Don’t take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled “How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay.” The article explained that “over the past two decades, Corporate America has perfected its ability to fend off labor groups.” It then described the tactics — some legal, some illegal, all involving a healthy dose of intimidation — that Wal-Mart and other giant firms use to block organizing drives.

These hardball tactics have been enabled by a political environment that has been deeply hostile to organized labor, both because politicians favored employers’ interests and because conservatives sought to weaken the Democratic Party. “We’re going to crush labor as a political entity,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, once declared.

I think Krugman is right about the reasons for the decline in unions (the most compelling statistics in the book showed that in 1960, the U.S. and Canada had roughly the same percentage of unionized wage and salary workers (30.4% and 32.3%), yet  by 1999, the U.S. was at 13.5% vs. 32.6% for Canada) and want to be clear that my criticisms of the teachers unions does not mean I'm anti-union -- though the teachers unions cleverly like to accuse their critics of this.  I'm against bad union behavior, but am very supportive of the role unions play in raising wages, protecting workers, providing health care and other benefits, shaming companies that pay CEOs egregious amounts, etc.
I think there needs to be a healthy balance between the power of employers and the power of labor, and I think the pendulum has swung way too far toward the former.  I'm looking forward to a Democratic President who can help restore this balance.
More general thoughts on the book:
Krugman traces how the United States went from having huge inequality and a weak middle class from the Gilded Age (1870s-1900) up through the 1920s, then the rise of a strong middle class and relatively low income inequality in the 1950s and 1960s, to a reversion to the 1920s today.  He attributes these shifts to government policies, mainly highly progressive taxes and New Deal programs ( that emerged from the Great Depression.  He decries the fact that government has been backing away from these policies in the past 20-30 years, driven largely by the rise of the radical right -- what Krugman calls "movement conservatism" (more commonly called neoconservatism:
I think Krugman is right that the rise of extreme income inequality (though I've personally been the beneficiary of it) and the fraying of the safety net is very bad for our country, that it's absurd that I (and many other high-income Americans) pay a lower tax rate than my secretary, and that it's an outrage that the wealthiest country in the world, alone among developed countries, doesn't guarantee basic health health care to its citizens.  Despite spending roughly double what any other nation spends on health care, 15% of Americans have no health insurance and one study showed that among "moderate income" Americans ($20-35,000/year), more than 40% were uninsured at some point over a two-year period.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sharpton: I'd welcome a Bloomy run centered on education

Speaking of black leaders speaking the very blunt truth, check out this Daily News Op Ed by Al Sharpton -- yes, Al Sharpton!

All across the country, African-American kids drop out or flunk out of high school in alarming numbers. How can those children pursue the American Dream? How many successful people do you know in your line of work or your neighborhood who do not have a high school diploma?

Education as a civil right needs strong articulation by a leader willing to say it like it is. In results from a recent international test, U.S. students lagged behind those in 16 of 30 industrialized countries in science - and were further behind in math. Science scores for African-American students are below the national average of all 30 nations. Our national future requires bold action here.

Whether you are black or white, Republican or Democrat, it is undisputed that those with the most education have the best chance of realizing their dreams, and that race becomes less of a factor for those most educated.

While I am not endorsing Mayor Bloomberg for President, I am endorsing the idea that a Bloomberg candidacy centered on education as a civil right would be good for America.

Sharpton: I'd welcome a Bloomy run centered on education

Friday, January 4th 2008, 4:00 AM

Be Our Guest

There was a time when Presidents and presidential candidates took bold and principled steps on critical issues of the day. Candidate John Kennedy helped free the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from jail on a ludicrous charge during the 1960 campaign. President Dwight Eisenhower used federal troops to protect the right of the Little Rock Nine to attend an integrated school. Some wonder if we may ever see such leadership again, particularly on issues we care about.

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Charlie Rose Lobotomized by "education" Guest

Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ's charter school recently got an A -- kudos!) was on Charlie Rose on the 2nd, saying smart, AWESOME things that drove this blogger (Gary Stager, nuts:
Last evening, January 2nd, my favorite journalist/talk show host once again demonstrated how his IQ can drop in half when the subject being discussed is education. Rich guy, and probably well-meaning, philanthropist Geoffrey Canada saluted the Bloomberg/Klein cabal, touted merit pay, bashed teacher unions, demanded a longer school day, pretended that the multi-billion dollar disaster of American standardized tests compared our kids to foreign students, supported KIPP Academy and even went so far as to cite the Houston public schools under Rod Paige's leadership despite the documented evidence that the "Houston Miracle" that spawned NCLB was a complete fraud for which only the whistleblower was punished. Mr. Canada also took umbrage with the phony baloney issue of "social promotion" and wishes NCLB were fully-funded.
The 34-minute video of the interview is posted at the bottom of the blog post ( -- a must-watch -- after the list of people Stager suggested would be better people for Rose to interview.  Jonthan Kozol?  Check.  Diane Ravitch?  Check.  Stager himself?  Check.  But how did he miss Linda Darling-Hammond?!  LOL!
Keep speaking the truth Geoff!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Charlie Rose Lobotomized by "education" Guest

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Clinton attacks NCLB again

In her Iowa concession speech, Sen. Clinton took another ill-founded shot at NCLB.
"if we’re serious about ending the unfunded mandate NCLB, I’m your candidate."

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Panels Approve New Jersey School Financing Plan

Following up on my recent email asking New Jersey residents to support a bill in the legislature that would help charter schools like KIPP: the NYT article below notes that the bill passed two important legislative hurdles on Thursday and will go the floor of both chambers on Monday, but I have since learned that this bill is opposed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, which surprised me, given his strong support for charter schools.  A friend explains the unusual political dynamics:

Booker's in a tough spot.  The new funding formula is more fair and I'm guessing that Booker supports it philosophically, because what it does is take all the Abbott money that currently goes to just 31 districts and redistributes it to ALL districts that have poor kids - the dollar truly follows the child who needs it. So, just to make up some numbers that are roughly close to the real ones: the Newark public school system (NPS) used to get about $20,000/student, but now every district with poor kids will get $16K/poor student and $10K/non-poor student. Both levels of funding are lower because all that Abbott money is now being distributed over a much larger population.


What's good about it is that districts that are 40% free/reduced get funding for their low-income kids now, and this time charters were not excluded. Charters still only get 90%, but now it's 90% of the new numbers (average of $15K or so) rather than 90% of $10K, which charters get now. Charters also still don't get facilities funding, so it's still not

perfect, but it's a LOT better than the system we have now.


Booker’s between a rock and a hard place. He has to protest this formula because after the indefinite hold-harmless period (it was originally to be three years), NPS stands to lose $85 million/year out of a $700 million budget. That will be particularly painful for Newark’s new superintendent (who wants a job where you have to cut a huge percentage of the budget right away?), and will mean layoffs, deep program cuts, bigger classes, and Booker will have to raise property taxes again.  It's bad for him and it’s bad for the district.  In Newark, the only people it helps are the kids in the charter schools.


Unfortunately, the culprit here is the original Abbott law. It was unfair to poor non-Abbott kids and to charter schools, and it raised the funding expectations of Abbott districts to obscene levels.  NPS should be able to educate kids on $15K/student (it's probably more than that, actually), but when they can't do it on $20K, it's tough to imagine them being successful with less.


So this has created really weird bedfellows. Both NJEA (the teachers union) and charters/E3support it. Urban mayors are strongly opposed. Corzine of course is in

support, and so is Senate President Codey. Most Republicans support as so all the non-Abbott districts. Charter schools with no low-income kids oppose.


Panels Approve New Jersey School Financing Plan

Published: January 4, 2008

TRENTON — Despite mounting criticism from the mayors of the state’s largest cities, Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposal to revamp New Jersey’s formula for financing schools cleared two important legislative hurdles on Thursday.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

America's dismal results on international tests

In response to the article in my last email about Japan responding to the educational challenge by India, a friend sent me this comment:
What’s frightening though is that while Japan is working to improve its still high international rankings, the U.S. lags way below especially in science, math, and problem solving at 18th-24th out of 29 developed nations (scores worsen as students get older, stuck in our failing school system)$FILE/JT03237658.PDF and,3343,en_2649_37455_39713238_1_1_1_37455,00.html.

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I recently joined the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which recently took a huge step forward by raising $11 million (though this is a tiny fraction of what charter school opponents spend to undermine them).
Three major national philanthropies have awarded the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools a total of $11 million to forward the organization’s work of ensuring that high quality public education options are available to families who need them the most.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the Alliance $5.5 million, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund $3.4 million, and the Walton Family Foundation $2.1 million, each over three years, to advance the Alliance’s efforts to build the infrastructure needed to support high-performing charter schools, communicate the successes of quality charters to families and policymakers, and to develop sound policy environments to nurture school quality and growth.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, and Walton Family Foundation Support Alliance’s Work 

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Train, pay our teachers better

This is pretty remarkably bold stuff -- scathing even -- from a mainstream newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

And that's what the General Assembly ought to make its No. 1 priority — fostering the nation's finest teaching corps.

Where are the 10 hours of public hearings on how to persuade the brightest students at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech to choose teaching? The most effective teachers are those with high SAT or ACT scores and grade point averages, yet few of those high-achievers at the state's premier universities now go into teaching.

Those students should not have to come out of colleges of education, which have held the franchise too long without producing results. It's time to retire the education colleges and teach math teachers in the mathematics departments and science teachers in science departments.

In student achievement, experience matters and inexperience hurts. New teachers should serve longer and more meaningful internships. And they should have a deep background in their content area, especially if they are teaching math and science, which can't be faked.

To keep these smart, young people in the classroom, Georgia must abandon its one-size-fits-all raises that assure the lackluster teachers are overpaid and inspiring ones underpaid. The state must introduce a pay-for-performance system that rewards excellence.

Georgia also has to end the costly and counterproductive practice of handing out huge raises every time a teacher gets a master's degree, even if the sheepskin comes from a fly-by-night diploma mill and has no relevance to the teacher's content area. Georgia continues to reward teachers based on degrees on their walls rather than real accomplishments with their students.

As a result of this absurd policy, Georgia teachers have become the best customers of fast-food master's programs, where teachers essentially pull up to the drive-thru, order a quickie educational leadership degree and return home with credentials and higher pay in as little time as a month or two.


GEORGIA LEGISLATURE 2008: Our wish list for next year's session.

Train, pay our teachers better
We already know effective educators make the most difference

Published on: 12/26/07

When the Georgia Legislature resumes next month, it will take up several bills to change schools in the state. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation will do very little to actually improve them.

That's because lawmakers remain fixed on the wrong priorities.

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Charter school grows to elementary level

Three cheers for North Star's new elementary school (part of the Uncommon Schools network).  KIPP is going in this direction as well -- there's already an elementary school open in Houston and the plan is to open four over the next few years in NYC, feeding into the four existing middle schools.
I'm excited to see the results when KIPP, Uncommon Schools and other top programs get kids for 13 (!) years, rather than four.  When the low-income minority kids these school serve don't enter good schools until 5th grade, they're on average a couple of years below grade level (and grade level is a pretty minimal standard to be sure), so there's a limit to what even the best programs can do.  While nearly all kids from these programs go to college (a miraculous, nearly unprecedented achievement), there's still plenty of room for improvement in terms of how many get 4-year degrees and how many attend the most elite institutions (only a small fraction today).  I'd bet a lot of money that the majority of students who attend KIPP or Uncommon Schools schools for 13 years will go to top-20 colleges.  Now that will truly be a miraculous, unprecedented achievement!

Charter school grows to elementary level

North Star Academy's first class of kindergartners shows promise
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Newark Star-Ledger Staff

The 4- and 5-year-olds sit on the floor in a broad circle, with their legs folded "criss-cross-apple sauce," following as their principal leads them in counting.

Today, the students count to 100.

The 75 students are members of the inaugural kindergarten class at North Star Academy in Newark, which opened in September. .

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Harvard's Aid to Middle Class Pressures Rivals

I think it's great that Harvard's move to expand financial aid is pressuring other universities to do the same:

William G. Durden, president of Dickinson College, said it did not have the money to match aid from Harvard, which has announced it will discount costs for all but the wealthiest students.

“He even said, ‘I know this costs a lot of money, but you should do it anyway,’ ” Dr. Durden said. The president replied that Dickinson, a small liberal arts college where the full annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board nears $45,000, did not have the money to match Harvard’s largess.

Because of Harvard, Dr. Durden said ruefully in recalling the exchange, “a lot of us are going to be under huge pressure to do these things that we just can’t do.”

By substantially discounting costs for all but the very wealthiest students, Harvard shook up the landscape of college pricing. Like Dr. Durden, officials of other colleges say its move will create intense pressure on them to give more aid to upper-middle-class students and will open the door to more parental price haggling.

Some colleges had already been moving to eliminate loans from all their financial aid packages and replace them with grants. In the weeks since Harvard’s announcement, a stampede of additional institutions — the University of Pennsylvania, Pomona, Swarthmore, Haverford — have taken the same step, which will help middle- and upper-middle-income families.

I don't think this argument is correct, but it's worth watching closely:

Some administrators say there will now be pressure to provide more merit aid to relatively wealthy high achievers, reducing the amount available to poorer students.

“It could lead to schools’ doing this sort of thing because they want to be part of the top group,” David W. Oxtoby, president of Pomona College in California, said of Harvard’s move. If that meant those colleges had to reduce the number of their low-income students, Dr. Oxtoby said, “that would be terrible, exactly the wrong outcome.”

This all misses the big issue, however.  As I've written before (

I applaud Harvard for doing this, but, even if all of the other top colleges do this, I think it will do very little to change the fact that today, at the 146 most selective colleges in the country, 74% of students come from top 25% income households, 17% come from 2nd quartile households, 6% from 3rd quartile households and a miniscule 3% from bottom quartile households...
Here's why: the main reason for the under-representation noted above is NOT that poor kids can't afford Harvard and therefore end up at a community college (though I'm sure there are a few exceptions).  Rather, it's that so few poor kids are academically prepared for Harvard and like schools.  Why?  Because in addition to all of the other obstacles associated with being poor, the key factor is that most poor kids are forced to attend mediocre to catastrophically bad schools and are taught by way too many mediocre-to-catastrophically bad teachers.  That's the main problem we face as a nation.
My most fervent hope is that some day Harvard and other rich, powerful, influential schools, will wake up to this fact and start using their clout to call for genuine education reform.  To date, they have been totally absent in this struggle.  Shame, shame!
Harvard’s Aid to Middle Class Pressures Rivals
Published: December 29, 2007

Just days after Harvard University announced this month that it would significantly expand financial aid to students from families earning as much as $180,000 a year, William G. Durden, president of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., got a query from a student’s father, asking whether the college would follow Harvard’s lead.

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Weighing Expansion as More Top Students Clamor at Ivy Gates

It's good to see top universities expanding (or at least considering expanding) enrollments. 

The recent soul-searching is not just triggered by remorse. These colleges have been earnestly trying to open themselves to more kinds of students — from low income or black, Hispanic and Native American backgrounds, from foreign countries or remote states — yet have been trying to stay the same congenial size. As with a person who wants to eat rich foods while remaining the same trim weight, the zero-sum game has proved untenable.

Perhaps no motive is more gingerly discussed then the need to preserve so-called legacies.

Claire Van Ummersen, a vice president of the American Council on Education, pointed out that expanding enrollment would allow many colleges to continue to diversify but also let them keep admitting the same numbers of children of alumni, who contribute a large proportion of the colleges’ revenue and believe their families should retain that legacy advantage.

Speaking of legacies, if I were tsar, this favoring of the most priviledged students on the planet would be banned.  It's totally un-American.  I know the very practical, pragmatic reasons schools do it -- but that doesn't change the immorality of it.  My three daughters will be legacies at Brown and Harvard.  They've had every conceivable advantage in life -- and then they should get an edge at getting in to Brown and Harvard?!  How absurd is THAT!?
Weighing Expansion as More Top Students Clamor at Ivy Gates
Published: December 26, 2007

In the mid-1960s, when William R. Fitzsimmons was a student at Harvard, the college took in a freshman class of roughly 1,550, including students at Radcliffe, which it would eventually absorb. In the four decades since, the population of the United States has ballooned by two-thirds, applications to Harvard have tripled and Mr. Fitzsimmons has ascended to the job of dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, but this year’s freshman class is only about 125 students larger than when he was a student.

That reluctance to grow has been true of many selective colleges that want to sustain their genteel scale. But with ever more students pressing at their gates, admissions officers find themselves having to reject what Anthony W. Marx, Amherst’s president, calls “astonishing applicants.”

The most elite institutions are accepting historic lows of 10 percent of applicants, and next year the sieve should become excruciatingly finer with applications from baby boomers’ offspring expected to crest.

At least four of the nation’s most exclusive institutions — Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Amherst — are either modestly expanding enrollments for the first time since the late 1960s (when some began admitting women) or have task forces studying the matter.

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Gates Donates $30 Million to Make Education a Campaign Issue

An article about Ed in '08, which is funded by the Gates and Broad Foundations.  I think Ed in '08 nicely complements what we're doing with Dems for Ed Reform.  Let's be clear: the opponents of genuine education reform are totally partisan and political, so reformers need to be as well.
Gates Donates $30 Million to Make Education a Campaign Issue

By Matthew Keenan and William McQuillen

Bill Gates is spending $30 million on the U.S. presidential campaign for a cause, not a candidate. The world's richest man plans to make education the No. 1 domestic priority with voters.

The 52-year-old Microsoft Corp. chairman has poured $3.4 billion into school improvements and scholarships since 2000 through his Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the foundation's records. Now the charity says it is providing half the money for Strong American Schools, a bipartisan group with a $60 million effort called ``Ed in '08.''

The Washington-based organization, led by former Democratic Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, wants the next president to rally support for learning standards, increased pay and training for teachers, and longer class days and school years. It says those ideas would improve access to high-quality education, boost economic vitality and reduce the number of U.S. high school dropouts from 1.2 million a year.

Ed in '08 has been ``a strong presence out there in the field in the key primary states, getting the grassroots going, getting online going, getting volunteers going,'' said Jonathan Prince, deputy campaign manager for Democrat John Edwards, whose policy aides have conferred with Strong American Schools officials. ``They've taken a very smart approach.''

The Gates-backed effort is nonpartisan by design, said Marc Lampkin, 43, the executive director of Strong American Schools and a deputy campaign director for Bush in 2000. Gates and Romer weren't available for comment. Lampkin said the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, a frequent Gates partner on education projects, is providing the other $30 million for the Strong American Schools' effort.

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Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India's Schools

Substitute the word "America" for "Japan" and you could write an identical article.  China and India are going to kick everyone's butts for the next century, not just ours.

But in the last few years, Japan has grown increasingly insecure, gripped by fear that it is being overshadowed by India and China, which are rapidly gaining in economic weight and sophistication. The government here has tried to preserve Japan’s technological lead and strengthen its military. But the Japanese have been forced to shed their traditional indifference to the region.

Grudgingly, Japan is starting to respect its neighbors.

“Until now, Japanese saw China and India as backwards and poor,” said Yoshinori Murai, a professor of Asian cultures at Sophia University in Tokyo. “As Japan loses confidence in itself, its attitudes toward Asia are changing. It has started seeing India and China as nations with something to offer.”

Last month, a national cry of alarm greeted the announcement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that in a survey of math skills, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to 10th place, behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. From second in science in 2000, Japan dropped to sixth place.

Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools
Published: January 2, 2008

MITAKA, Japan — Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence these days about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. But even in this fad-obsessed nation, one result was never expected: a growing craze for Indian education.

Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Obama vs. Clinton and Edwards on education reform

As I've highlighted in previous emails, when it comes to education reform, relative to what I'd like to see, Sen. Obama has disappointed me in terms of what he's said (and not said).  But my views -- for a Democrat anyway -- are WAY out there.  Given the political realities in the Democratic party nationwide, esp. during the primaries, it might be more relevant to compare Sen. Obama to the other two major Democratic candidates.  My take on this is that Sen. Clinton is no better on this issue and Sen. Edwards is worse.  Take NCLB as an example:
1) Here's an email from Dems for Ed Reform board member Dianne Piche of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, blasting Sen. Clinton for her incorrect "unfunded mandate" attack on NCLB.

Today I was incensed to learn that HRC has escalated her pandering to the Wrong People in Iowa and elsewhere.  Check out the new ad, on YouTube, in this link.

This one happens to hit me where it hurts most:  the unfunded mandate vs. civil rights debate.  As many of you know, my organization and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights intervened in the NCLB litigation in Connecticut (on behalf of the NAACP and low-income kids).  We challenged the argument proffered by AG Richard Blumenthal that NCLB is an unlawful “unfunded mandate.”  (The judge threw out most of the state’s claims; the one remaining claim is proceeding at the federal judiciary’s usual snail’s pace.)  Similar arguments were advanced w/o success by the NEA in their anti-NCLB litigation in Michigan

If anyone would like more info on these cases, please let me know. []

2) And here's Edwards' lameness:

John Edwards on NCLB: We May Have to Ditch It

Even the presidential candidate with one of the most comprehensive plans to re-tool the No Child Left Behind Act is now saying those fixes might not be enough.

At a campaign stop in Iowa Monday, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards spoke for about two minutes about NCLB, even going as far to say that the federal education law is really just an attempt by President Bush to privatize public schools. Edwards said that even with his proposals to amend NCLB, "it may be that this just can't be fixed." And if that's the case, then it's time to "ditch it," Edwards said. This is one of the first times we've heard another Democrat besides New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson talk about completely getting rid of NCLB. (Although in a new campaign ad, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton talks about ending the "unfunded mandate" of NCLB). The thing is, testing, accountability, and data-driven decision-making are here to stay—and many states were leading the charge on this before NCLB came along.

3) Here's an Op Ed from the LA Times (,1,193485.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true) on the candidates and how they stack up on education.  Some nice words at the end for Obama:

For all the flaws written into the No Child Left Behind Act, Bush emerged as a true "education president" by insisting, in word and deed, that schools had to do better. As we contemplate his successor, we look for candidates who consider schools a national priority, who will press for high standards and uphold such basic values as the separation of church and classroom. This means a firm public stand against school prayer and the teaching of creationism and "intelligent design." And it means withdrawing the millions of dollars the Bush administration has devoted to abstinence-only sex education.

Schools must provide innovation, choice and accountability. We look for candidates who encourage charter schools with funding and political support, who call for and fund more innovative public schools, including magnet schools, and who support responsible home schooling. However, we also look to a president to take a firm stand against private-school vouchers and related tax breaks, which are the antithesis of a free and public education, and which make true accountability nearly impossible. Republicans Mitt Romney, Giuliani and McCain have been steadfast proponents of using public money to fund children's private education. Yet private schools do not have to hire highly qualified teachers, administer standardized tests or meet other accountability standards. And vouchers will almost surely result in grosslyunequal education, with affluent and educated parents better able to take advantage of the system than low-income families.

A president can fight low expectations for students by rewarding states that raise their academic standards and lower their dropout rates. The next president should continue Bush's work by supporting the accountability principles of No Child Left Behind, but also reforming the law's tremendous shortcomings. Just as the law was a true bipartisan effort by Bush and some Democrats in Congress, approaches among the candidates tend to split along irregular lines.

So far, only Obama has emerged with a platform that marks him as an education leader, through "innovation districts" that receive federal money for modeling excellence, making rigorous high school courses more common and available, cutting red tape on credentialing more qualified teachers and expanding access to both preschool and college. McCain's website doesn't even mention schools as an issue, which might be a good thing, as in the past he has spoken up for prayer, favored vouchers, supportedincluding creationism as part of the curriculum and opposed accountability in federal education funding.

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