Wednesday, November 28, 2012

CREDO Finds Charter Schools Outperform District Counterparts

STOP THE PRESSES! In the attached report, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) discusses the results of its multi-year study of charter schools in New Jersey.  See also the press release below.

The punch line is this:  Charter schools in New Jersey dramatically out-perform their district counterparts, even controlling for demographic differences and other factors.

CREDO is highly respected, and one of their earlier studies – of national charter performance –  is often cited by those who oppose charter schools.  In that study, charter schools basically did no better than district schools across the country.  Using the same methodology, this study of New Jersey charter schools paints a much different picture.  Charter schools in New Jersey, particularly in the areas where they are needed most, are providing excellent options for kids.

From the press release (emphasis mine):

A significant finding came from the results of the urban charter schools in the state. Students enrolled in urban charter schools in New Jersey learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. In fact, charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional public school counterparts. Students enrolled in suburban charter schools also learn significantly more in both math and reading compared to their peers in traditional public schools; however, students in rural charter schools learn significantly less than their district school peers in both reading and math.

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Friedman Suggests Duncan for Secretary of State

A BRILLIANT, PROVOCATIVE op ed in tomorrow’s NYT by Tom Friedman:

President Obama is assembling his new national security team, with Senator John Kerry possibly heading for the Pentagon and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice the perceived front-runner to become secretary of state. Kerry is an excellent choice for defense. I don’t know Rice at all, so I have no opinion on her fitness for the job, but I think the contrived flap over her Libya comments certainly shouldn’t disqualify her. That said, my own nominee for secretary of state would be the current education secretary, Arne Duncan.

Yes, yes, I know. Duncan is not seeking the job and is not the least bit likely to be appointed. But I’m nominating him because I think this is an important time to ask the question of not just who should be secretary of state, but what should the secretary of state be in the 21st century?
Let’s start with the obvious. A big part of the job is negotiating. Well, anyone who has negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union, as Duncan did when he was superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools before going to Washington, would find negotiating with the Russians and Chinese a day at the beach. A big part of being secretary of education (and secretary of state) is getting allies and adversaries to agree on things they normally wouldn’t — and making them think that it was all their idea. Trust me, if you can cut such deals with Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, you can do them with Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu.

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Nocera Suggests Weingarten for Secratary of Education

I understand the appeal of appointing Randi as Secretary of Education, as Joe Nocera recommended in his column today (Steve Brill, for example, suggested her for Chancellor in NYC), but it’s a terribly risky idea. I can only imagine that she’d hire Ravitch as her #2, followed by Linda Darling-Hammond, Karen Lewis, etc. Maybe I’m wrong and she could be great, but let’s not experiment with 1.2 million kids in NYC or 50 million nationwide – let her run a small city or district and show what she can do.

With rumors that Arne Duncan may step down as secretary of Education, we nominate Randi Weingarten to replace him. Risky? You bet. But as the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten has long claimed to support education reform, so long as it is done with the nation’s teachers instead of at their expense. Making Weingarten the next education secretary would give her the chance to put her money where her mouth is.

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20 Colleges to Recruit KIPP Grads

Incredible news for KIPP!

Twenty colleges and universities, including some of the nation’s most prestigious, have pledged in the past year to recruit more students from a prominent charter school network that focuses on educating the rural and urban poor.

The latest are Georgetown and Trinity Washington universities in the District. On Tuesday, they plan to announce partnerships with the charter network called the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, in an effort to help more disadvantaged students get college degrees.

The signed pledges, unusual in the competitive world of college admissions, set recruiting targets and establish a detailed framework for cooperation, seeking to create a pipeline to college for KIPP’s mostly black and Latino students. There are no admissions guarantees or enrollment quotas for KIPP alumni, but the pacts suggest one path colleges could use to diversify at a time when racial affirmative action has come under question in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The agreements lay out an explicit quid pro quo: KIPP will promote the 20 colleges among its 39,000 students nationwide, and in exchange, the colleges will identify and recruit top KIPP students, help those who have financial need and ensure those who enroll stay on track to graduate.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: by itself, KIPP will materially change the matriculation of low-income, minority kids at top colleges – and this will significantly accelerate once the kids that started with KIPP as kindergarteners start graduating from high school. Then, add in all the kids from other top charter networks and it will be revolutionary!

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Follow Up on Failure of Turnarounds

I got a TON of feedback to my last email, in which I forwarded Andy Smarick’s column on the widespread failure of efforts to turnaround failing schools and districts. I’ve included much of the commentary and Andy’s response below, but first wanted to weigh in with my own thoughts.

Having read the arguments, as well as thinking about this issue for a long time, my first comment is that this isn’t a black or white issue. At one extreme, I think most sensible folks would agree that if we could, overnight, replace every failing school in America with a KIPP-quality school, that would be nirvana. At the other extreme, most sensible folks would agree that pouring more money into a chronically failing school without fundamentally changing what’s going on at that school is sure to fail (in fact, by pouring more money in with no meaningful change, you’re just rewarding failure!) In particular, there need to be big personnel changes – at least 50% – for any turnaround effort to have a chance. It’s simply not possible that all the teachers and school leaders are wonderful in a school in which, say, 80% of children are reading below grade level, or that has a 50%+ dropout rate. Sadly, most turnarounds are completely lame – the school remains shackled to the bureaucracy, more mediocre people are hired, and the existing mediocre people are given more utterly useless “professional development” – so no wonder they fail! But it doesn’t necessarily follow that all turnarounds are doomed to failure and therefore we shouldn’t try, for a number of reasons.

First, just because badly designed and implemented turnarounds fail doesn’t mean that all will fail. Terry Greer, the super in Houston, describes below the turnarounds underway there, which look promising. And with the new contract in Newark, combined with various other factors (people: the four C’s: Chris (Christie), Chris (Cerf), Cory and Cami; competition from top charter operators; TFA ramping up, Zuckerberg money, etc.), I’m optimistic the many of Newark’s schools can be markedly improved.

Those last two words raise another point: how do we define success? When has a school been turned around? What if the students at a particular school currently fall into the following reading cohorts: 0% advanced; 10% proficient; 20% basic; and 70% below basic. Then, after a turnaround effort, the cohorts improve to this: 5% advanced; 20% proficient; 25% basic; and 50% below basic. Should we cheer or jeer these results? On the plus side, there’s been a 150% increase in the number of students who are proficient and advanced (10% to 25%) and a 28% decrease (from 70% to 50%) of below basic students – but this is still a mediocre school, in which half of kids are below grade level.

So is an improvement from terrible to mediocre (in a school or a district) success or failure??? I’d argue the former. Turning around failing schools and districts is BRUTALLY hard work – big (heck, even small) broken system are notoriously hard to change – so in the vast majority of cases, even if you’re successful, there will be a gradual change from terrible, to lousy, to mediocre, to okay, to good, to great. This whole process might take 20 years and, to get to great, will require big systemic changes far beyond individual schools and districts like how all teachers in this country are recruited and trained.

The implications of what I’m saying are very troubling: even in a best-case scenario, millions of children are going to get lousy-to-mediocre educations over the coming decades and hence most of them are screwed for life (along with dire implications for our economic future, income inequality, social cohesion and stability, etc.). I wish I were wrong – but I don’t think I am. It’s taken up 40+ years to turn the best system of public education in the world to one that’s middle of the pack, and I see no way to turn around this supertanker very quickly, especially given how decentralized the system is (90% of K-12 public school spending is state and local).

“Hold on there just a second, Whitney!”, you might be saying. “Instead of the brutal slog you’re describing, why don’t we simply immediately replace all of the failing schools with ones like KIPP that you’re so familiar with?” Indeed, this is what Andy calls for below: he argues that the best option is “a new-start charter strategy or expansion effort of an existing high-performing charter network that operate outside of traditional politics and policies and can build new approaches to instruction, human capital, and school culture?”

I’m 100% in favor of this – and I’m also 100% in favor of ending childhood (and adult!) poverty, not to mention obesity, cancer and wars. And a chicken in every pot!

OK, now let’s return to reality. After 12 years of breakneck expansion, there are 125 KIPPs nationwide serving 39,000 students. This is a drop in the ocean of the 100,000 K-12 public schools with 50 million students in this country. Of course, there are other excellent networks and they’re expanding too – but I’d guess that there are only maybe two dozen in the country. So now it’s a thimble in the ocean.

I’m not in any way knocking the importance of what these schools are doing: they’ve giving a few hundred THOUSAND kids a chance in life, are making a HUGE impact in certain cities/areas like New Orleans, Newark, and Harlem, and are changing the whole ed reform debate. As I wrote on page 90 of my school reform presentation (

        KIPP and a handful of other similar schools are both laboratories of innovation – developing, testing and implementing new educational practices that can then be adopted more widely – and are also "black swans."
        Just as the existence of even one black swan proves that all swans aren't white, even a small number of high-performing schools proves that, without spending any additional money, schools have the capability to change the life trajectories of children and send nearly all low-income, minority students to college. They prove that demography is not destiny!
        KIPP schools have been a major catalyst in transforming the debate about the achievement gap, from one focused on excuses ("we just need to spend more money") and blaming the victims ("it's impossible to educate those kids") to one that centers on how to make every school as successful as KIPP schools.

Thus, we should be doing everything we can to help high-quality K-12 schools (whether regular public, public charter, or yes, even parochial) expand and replace failing schools.

But at the same time, we need to be realistic that the capacity of wonderful operators who can come in and replace failing schools is maybe 1% of the need each year, so we’re going to have to figure out cost-effective, impactful ways to improve the other 99% of schools.

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Andy Smarick Responds on School Turnarounds

Turning to the various responses to my last email, here is Andy Smarick:

Hi Whitney,

It feels like deja vous being back in another turnaround debate!  Thanks for letting me briefly respond to the turnaround defenders you’re hearing from.

It seems like three categories of responses are warranted.  The first is for those who aren’t aware of the LONG history of failed turnaround efforts over the last couple generations.  I’d really encourage them to read Chapter 4, “The Failure of Fixing,” of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future. It walks through the history of previous initiatives, cites more studies than anyone should ever read, and offers an explanation for why these efforts keep failing.  For those who don’t want to read a book chapter, “The Turnaround Fallacy” from Ed Next, though a couple years old, covers much of the same ground.  If someone wants a view other than mine, they could read Tom Loveless’s research or David Stuit’s.

The second category is for those, believing UDED’s storyline, think the SIG results aren’t so bad.  First, they ought to read what I wrote for Flypaper and look at the data.  BILLIONS were spent and more than 1/3 of schools got WORSE.  And these were already among the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Moreover, there are lots of red flags.  Why did the DOE try to bury the story by releasing the data on a Friday before Thanksgiving when they’ve had it available for some time?  Why do they not compare SIG results to non-SIG results (as is common practice)?  Why don’t they give us the pre- and post-intervention scores (as is common practice)?  Why does the Secretary’s own quote from the Dept’s press release discuss “change” instead of results (a common defense of failed turnaround efforts)?  Why do they downplay the results, emphasizing that this is the first year and that this is a long-term process, when first-year results are usually the best in turnaround attempts?  This is all frighteningly similar to decades of previous turnaround work: Lots of spending, disappointing results, downplaying of data, requests for more time and money, repeat.

Third, the opportunity costs of this latest failed turnaround venture are enormous.  Imagine if these BILLIONS had been instead spent on new school starts, replications and expansions of great charters, and high-quality authorizing.  The experience of the Charter School Growth Fund, the best CMOs, CREDO’s research on New Orleans and New York City, and much more show that this is by far a better path for growing the number of high-quality seats.

All in all, this is the question the reform community should be asking itself:  If you were given a discrete set of resources (for example, $500,000, one great principal, and 20 great teachers) and told to maximize the number of high-quality seats available to disadvantaged kids, would you invest in (A) a “turnaround” effort of a long-dysfunctional school embedded in a long-dysfunctional district with decades of failed practices and policies, constraining labor contracts, and adult-centered politics or (B) a new-start charter strategy or expansion effort of an existing high-performing charter network that operate outside of traditional politics and policies and can build new approaches to instruction, human capital, and school culture?

I’d choose (B) every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  Evidently I’m still on the fringes.  But until I see a single high-performing urban district or one convincing example of a great, large-scale, sustainable failing-school turnaround strategy, I’ll just keep repeating the following: The traditional urban school district is broken, it cannot be fixed, it must be replaced.”

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Reactions to School Turnaround Report

Here’s a response from a friend familiar with the DOE’s recent SIG report:

When you get a chance, take a look at the School Improvement Grant report that the DOE released. It only covers the FIRST YEAR of implementation of the program. In what context can we call any effort to turn around schools where the majority make notable progress in the first year a failure? At minimum, it’s premature and in time it could be flat wrong.

Remember when people panned the small schools work in NYC, until MDRC showed the dramatic improvement of those redesigned high schools. BTW, that MDRC report dramatically understates the turnaround because it compares the treatment schools to control schools going through other reforms not the prior schools. When compared to the prior schools, the small schools effectively double the graduation rates across all subgroups.

Here is Terry Grier, Superintendent of Houston ISD:

You should come down to Houston ISD and see the turnaround work we've done with Roland Fryer. We respect, admire, and support good charter schools, but they are not the only answer!

In each turnaround school (4 high schools and 5 middle schools), we replaced ALL of the principals and assistant principals and between 40-80% of teachers, but kept ALL of the kids (unlike most charters) in year one. We replaced four of the of the original nine principals plus another 23% of teachers in year two. We are now in year three. We are implementing tenants of good charters -- working with Doug Lemov and Eva Moskowitz to train our teachers, etc.

We’re have promising results, but it’s still early. Attached you will find the 'first-year' study of our Apollo 20 turnaround program conducted by Harvard University's Roland Fryer. 

A response from Mark Bourdenko:

I want to point out that "turnaround" encompasses a broad and diverse range of efforts, some of which are quite successful. In Boston, UP Academy Charter School turned around a failing district school last year, and they have shown enormous growth in their MCAS scores. This video gives a brief intro to it. 

I work for the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago, an organization that manages multiple turnaround schools in the city. Several of those schools have shown dramatic gains in achievement; check out the differences in scores at the Morton School of Excellence (the school was turned around in 2008). Dodge Renaissance Academy is another success story; while it had 22% meets/exceeds back in 2002, look at its scores now.

AUSL's turnaround process, by the way, is deeply controversial: the entire staff of a school is fired, one or two people might be rehired, and everyone else is brought in by AUSL. Typically about half the teachers are graduates of AUSL's teacher residency program, considered to be one of the best in the country. Because the process sparks so much anger, it is important not to overlook the successes that it has brought forth. 

These turnaround efforts have to be distinguished from the typical, district or state managed turnaround. Entrepreneurial organizations such as UP and AUSL are making a huge difference, and they certainly cannot be called failures! I would deeply appreciate if you could make a note of that in one of your emails.

From another friend familiar with Newark:

I've had the turnaround debate hundreds of times in NJ.  In the corporate world you invest in turnarounds because you can buy them, theoretically, at a big discount to their proper value and be rewarded for it. Everything is on the table to restructure.

School turnarounds are nothing like that. I get no more reward for the money and hassle than giving a top charter network more money to start another school. The latter has certainty and low risk. It’s the opposite of investing (where the concept comes from): the upside is fixed or equal in both scenarios (great education), while the downside is limitless for the broken schools. Oddly, the school sector provides obvious disincentives for turnarounds...which practice has amply proved out.

I am neither Dem nor Rep...but part of the reason I am suspect of a blanket commitment to pay more taxes is a lack of resolve to stop pissing away money on efforts like this.

As for Newark, the new contract is precedent setting but that is hurdling a low bar.  I wonder now -- between educational and fiscal cliffs -- if we shouldn't just fight for a complete blow up of the current system? I hoped Rahm might do it in Chicago. There’s no guarantee that we have the people to make it better, but the status quo is just tragic. Personally, I've lost faith that the system can deliver any broad measure of quality, so maybe we need a New Orleans style restructuring.

Another friend wrote:

Here's a rare school turnaround that worked at New Dorp High School on Staten Island.

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Bryan Hassel Responds on School Turnarounds

And here’s a response from researcher Bryan Hassel:

SIG: A Disappointing But Completely Predictable Reaction From Smarick

As usual, Andy is half-right on this stuff.  He’s half right b/c of course far too many SIG schools have followed the pattern set in past waves of this work, under names like Restructuring.  They pursued incremental changes like providing more PD for their teachers, bringing in new curricular programs, and the like, none of which is very likely to lead to transformative change in a dysfunctional school.  Far too few SIG schools have brought in carefully selected leaders or organizations with the capacity to lead turnarounds, and given them room to do what’s needed.

Andy is also right that we shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the political deck is stacked in most school districts against doing something more fundamental.  In theory states could use SIG to tip the balance, and some have more than others, but in most places that won’t tip enough.

But Andy’s only half right because of his conclusion that therefore we should stop trying to fix failing schools and put all our eggs in the basket of new school creation.  This has never made sense to me for 2 reasons.  First, there’s no evidence that new school creation is demonstrably better as an overall strategy than turnarounds.  Andy, if we divided charter schools into three groups, those that were “double digits” better than comparable district schools, those that were single digits better and those that were worse, where would the proportions fall?  Would they look a lot better than the SIG numbers?  If so, show me.

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Rotherham Critiques Ravitch New Yorker Profile

David Denby (yes, the film critic) wrote a lengthy profile of Diane Ravitch in the latest issue of The New Yorker (subscription required), in which I’m mentioned a few times. Below is Andy Rotherham’s critique of it – here are excerpts:

Just read the New Yorker profile ($) on Diane Ravitch (who I’ve known for more than a decade). The article is easy to caricature . It’s set against a Detroit backdrop, a place where parents are running for the exits - and few New Yorker readers would send their own kids. But a few thoughts on the article, some issues it raises, and my basic question about Ravitch.

First, the good.  The writer, David Denby, a film critic for The New Yorker, provides some context that I think gets lost in all the back and forth about Ravitch.  I don’t, for instance, think she’s wrong that the hysteria about international test scores is overblown (though Ravitch at one time flamed that herself).  And whether traveling with the right or the left she’s long been an important champion for a content rich education and a view of education that goes beyond purely private, utilitarian, or vocational purposes.  You can find some of what she’s saying now objectionable, inconsistent, or ridiculous but there are some common, and serious, threads that run through her work over the years.  The idea that she’s done a 180 on everything overstates what’s happening here.

The big winner in the profile? New York finance whiz Whitney Tilson! I know Whitney, too, and he’s done great work for KIPP and is a passionate and tireless (literally tireless as best I can tell) advocate for better schools.  But when Denby writes that reform has been championed by a “variety of entrepreneurs and fund managers including, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Whitney Tilson,” well, that is quite a promotion for Whitney! It’s also sort of a weird trio to choose, too, and one  that sounds more talking point oriented than analytical. Whitney doesn’t have $100 million to donate, at least as far as I know, but he’s more involved in education reform than Zuckerberg, who is still finding his way into philanthropy in general and education philanthropy in particular. And there are others, California education reform advocate and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings comes immediately to mind, with more history on this issue than Tilson and more activism than Zuckerberg.  There is Julian Roberston, too, of course.  Or the Fishers. On charter schools the Walton’s, especially the late John Walton.  The point here: The Zuckerberg-Gates-Tilson axis is a superficial way to look at what is not a recent phenomenon – rather two decades plus – and a more complicated one than the article lets on.

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NYT Article Condemns Testing, Accountability

A truly stupid op ed in yesterday’s NYT, in which the writer condemns all testing, accountability, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top based on – get this – anecdotes from one year in one school. (Is Michael Brick a nom de plume of Michael Winerip? ;-) This is exhibit A in what Dave Levin calls “the tyranny of the anecdote.” These are all serious issues worthy of debate, but a few stories about the opinions of a handful of teachers from a single school shed no light:

In his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it’s the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.

For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.

So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic internationalrankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
And yet now, policy makers in both parties propose ratcheting it up further — this time, by “grading” teachers as well.

It’s a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don’t begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.

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The Cost of the College Dropout Crisis

Here’s a WSJ article about the terribly high cost from the college dropout crisis:

The rising cost of a college education is hitting one group especially hard: the millions of students who drop out without earning a degree.

A bachelor's degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class. Even today, amid mounting concerns about the rising cost of higher education and questions about the relevance of many college degrees, recent graduates have lower rates of unemployment, higher earnings and better career prospects than their less educated peers.

But as more Americans than ever before attend college, more too are dropping out before they ever don a cap and gown. That means millions of Americans are taking on the debt of college without getting the earnings boost that comes from a degree. Dropouts are more than four times as likely as graduates to default on their student loans.

While the high school dropout crisis gets all the attention, believe it or not the college dropout rate is TWICE as high, as this chart shows (from page 53 of my slide presentation):

Note that this chart UNDERstates the problem, as it only shows people pursuing four-year degrees. Here’s the data on two-year degrees (from page 63 of my presentation):

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 (and only 35% had earned a college degree of any sort)
-        41% of students at public two-year colleges drop out after their first year and only 28% have earned a two-year degree after three years
-        A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts 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

Continue Reading...

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Teacher Fights Student in Florida

A scary video of a student and teacher brawling: 

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The Hidden Costs of Education in China

What a horrifying article about the system of “public” education in China:

For Chinese children and their devoted parents, education has long been seen as the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive society. But just as money and power grease business deals and civil servant promotions, the academic race here is increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected, who pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools.

Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.

Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary “donation.”

“Of course I knew it was illegal,” she said. “But if you don’t pay, your child will go nowhere.”
Bribery has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party’s new leader this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics.

But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Andy Smarick on School Improvement

STOP THE PRESSES! The biggest debate within the ed reform community is a massively important one: namely, what is the best way to achieve our objective of providing a quality education to every child, especially those trapped in failing schools? Is the best solution to try to improve these schools, or to replace them? Here’s Andy Smarick with an article about powerful new evidence (on top of vast previous evidence) that the former is almost completely ineffective, no matter how much money is spent, so let’s focus on the latter:

When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news.  When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.
And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)

The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.

It’s not just me. Tom Loveless’s 2009 Brown Center Report showed the dramatic failure of turnaround efforts over 20 years, and David Stuit’s remarkable and devastating 2010 study powerfully reinforced these findings.

Now the Department, doing its job, is trying to paint the new data as a good-news story. But that clearly belies the data. No amount of lipstick-gussying can change the facts.
…So we sent BILLIONS of dollars into deeply troubled districts, which then funneled the money into deeply troubled schools. And according to this eye-opening CRPE study, the interventions were often of suspect seriousness and vigor. No wonder the SIG results are even more disappointing than those generated by decades of previous turnaround attempts.
Now we face a fork in the road.

PS—Here’s a quote from Smarick’s new book, The Urban School System of the Future (

"Unfortunately, efforts to fix long-broken schools simply don’t work like we need them to. The evidence shows forcefully that turning around failing schools is not a scalable strategy for improving urban systems. Moreover, by putting so much of our energy into preserving failing schools, we have actually impeded the development of other activities central to the healthy management of our portfolio of schools."

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Summary of Landmark Teacher Contract in Newark

A NYT editorial on the teacher contract in Newark, which was approved a week ago:

Newark and its teachers’ union deserve praise for the groundbreaking contract that the two sides have hammered out. The relatively calm negotiations that led up to the union’s ratification vote this week stood in sharp contrast to the vitriol that surrounded a similar agreement earlier this year in Chicago that led to a polarizing strike.

The need to improve teacher performance has long been evident in Newark, whose perennially troubled schools do a particularly poor job of preparing its 37,000 students for higher education.

…A new contract alone will not magically remake this system, but it offers reason for hope that the quality of teaching will improve. 

Here’s a summary of the key terms of the contract – a MAJOR step forward:

· Performance Pay: Newark will be the first city in the country to implement a comprehensive performance-based compensation system that: (a) meaningfully differentiates between ineffective, partially effective, effective, and highly effective teachers – and (b) has cash incentives for the best teachers and teachers who take the hardest assignments.  The hope is that this new system will be emulated across the state and country.  Key features:

o   Teachers no longer automatically receive step increases solely on the basis of additional seniority; only teachers evaluated effective and highly effective move up a step;

 o   Teachers will no longer be in different “lanes of pay” according to how many graduate degrees a teacher has;  Teachers who complete a district approved training program, however, are eligible for a large one-time cash bonus.  (This incents them to get real training that we approve rather than some drive-by graduate degree which has little correlation with increased student outcomes.)

o   There will be a cash incentive system under which highly effective teachers and teachers in high needs schools or shortage-area subjects (who are also highly effective) will receive additional compensation.

·      New Evaluation System and Immediate Implementation:  Another first: swift implementation (no phasing in).  Newark has already launched a new 4-level rating system aligned with the new state law.  The union has agreed to the new evaluation system and has agreed that there will be four categories of measurement as outlined in the new tenure bill. Implementation of the new system will occur in this school year.  All administrators and about 400 teachers have been trained on the new system this summer.
Key features:

o   Effectively immediately, all teachers will be evaluated on the new system.  The framework emphasizes student outcomes.

o   Effective immediately, all new hires and all teachers with a Bachelor’s degree will be on the new compensation system. 

o   Teachers currently on the MA and the PHD scale can elect whether or not to join the new unitary pay ladder.  Importantly, however,  existing MAs and PhDs who chose to stay in their  old “lanes” will only advance a salary step based on performance.  Any such individual electing to go to the new system will receive an incentive payment based on their years of service and level of education. 

·     Turn-Arounds Schools and Extended Time:  The contract will give NPS the ability to designate ten schools each year as Turnaround Schools.  For schools so designated, the new contract will allow the district to implement different work rules  to create a platform for  radical improvements.  Key features:

o   Schools will be exempt from scheduling/other constraints in the CBA.

o   Teachers are eligible for a stipend (as opposed to an hourly rate) for more instructional time, summer training, and added faculty meetings, also precedent-setting (all other CBAs extend hours through an hourly rate)  

·      Work-Rules Waivers:  Principals of non Turn-Around Schools will be allowed to petition their teachers to change elements of the CBA (except those related to compensation and time).  Key features:

o   25% of the staff can propose a vote

o   If more than 50% of the teachers approve of the change then the school will have the right to make this change.  This “waiver language” is also precedent-setting for the country as there are very few with waiver language and those that exist require generally 65% to pass.

·      Removal of other bureaucratic barriers: There are other key “wins” that involve removing barriers to success, examples include:

o   NPS can now post vacancies on-line

o   NPS can now videotape teachers

o   Approved “teacher leaves” will be limited.

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