Kindling Flames
The Blog of GWU Education Policy Students

Now what, Mr. Secretary???

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 gives approximately $100 billion to education over the next two years. And President Obama has tied this funding to high expectations to schools, with the money expected to provide new opportunities for the education system to innovate—the vast majority of these funds are to supplement, not supplant, state and local education dollars. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has promised that "Where we see a state or district operating in bad faith or doing something counter to the president's intent, we're going to come down like a ton of bricks."

Well, Mr. Secretary…

In Loudoun County, Virginia:
“After hearing that an initial batch of $11.8 million in federal funds would soon arrive in Loudoun County, supervisors slashed $7.3 million from the schools budget. They also made clear that if more federal recovery money flows to schools, schools might be asked to give back an equal amount of county dollars.”
--The Washington Post, April 13, 2009

In Rhode Island:
“The second usage of the stimulus funds involves Individual Disability Education and Title I funds." These funds have a great deal of restrictions on how they can be spent," Lukon said. "The governor plans to reduce state aid by the amount of money we will be receiving in IDEA and Title I funds," she said. Essentially, this will create a situation wherein, although it appears to be an even trade, it is not, Lukon said.

Dr. Robert Fricklas concurred with Lukon, "These funds need to be directly tied into what IDEA is all about. There is little discretion in how these funds can be used," Fricklas said.

Lukon summed up the situation by explaining that the substitution of IDEA and Title I funds for general funds essentially leaves a hole in the operating budget of approximately $106,000.”
--The Jamestown Press, April 2, 2009

In Hawaii:
“Governor Lingle plans to cut the schools' budgets, replenish them with stimulus money and use the savings to fill the state's budget gap.”
--The Associated Press, April 13, 2009

Your move, Mr. Secretary...

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Thoughts on the Stimulus Money...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, approximately $100 billion has been made available for education in the next two years. Given my rudimentary understanding, it appears there are two main streams of this money: the State Stabilization Fund (which totals approximately $48.3 billion and which is meant to fill holes in state budgets that popped up due to the economic crisis) and increased funding to existing federal programs designed to promote educational equity (an additional $10 billion for Title 1 and an additional $11.3 billion for IDEA, with another billion going to the preschool and infants programs). There is an additional $5 billion to be spent at the Secretary's discretion on innovative programs—his “Race to the Top” funds. The rest of the funding is divided among other programs, some very controversial. If you are interested in a brief summary of the available funding, Jack Jennings at the Center on Education Policy has written an excellent one.

This money represents unprecedented federal spending in education, and the Obama administration is really pushing states, districts, and schools to use the money smartly, to reform education and improve achievement. See this Education Week article (published on-line April 7, 2009) as an example.

But a couple of things from the Ed Week article strike me as a little odd. First, one of the U.S. Department of Education suggestions for spending the IDEA funding is to “hire transition coaches to help graduating high school seniors find employment or get postsecondary training.” One of their suggestions for spending Title 1 money is to “create summer programs for algebra.” Both are fabulous ideas that could have an enormous impact on achievement. BUT…this funding is only guaranteed for TWO YEARS. Those are both long-term ways to raise achievement. What happens to these coaches and these summer programs in two years when the money is gone? Would they lay off the coaches and close down the programs? What does the DOE suggest…or are they even thinking about that issue?

In addition, the DOE suggests the following uses for the stabilization funds:
• Create new, fair, reliable teacher-evaluation systems based on objective measures of student progress and multiple classroom observations.
• Train educators to use data to improve instruction.
• Purchase instructional software, digital whiteboards, and other interactive technologies and train teachers in how to use them.

BUT near as I can tell, those funds are meant to prevent layoffs and to bring state spending up to previous levels (any leftover money (not guaranteed) flows to districts through Title 1 formulas). Unless such priorities were already included in state budgets, how is the state stabilization fund to cover that? Should states layoff teachers for the sake of new technology?

Another concern I had with the Ed Week article was Secretary Duncan’s quote, referring to the application for the competitive Race to the Top grants: “The first question, … I promise you, will be what did you do with the stabilization money to drive reform and improve achievement. It there isn’t a good answer to that, they might as well just tear up the form.”

A noble sentiment, to be sure. BUT, again…the stabilization money is meant to fill holes and prevent lay-offs. It isn’t necessarily new money. How innovative can states be if they are using the money as intended to prevent layoffs and class size increases, and repair buildings with asbestos falling from ceilings? (Note: I recognize that some states with less severe budget constraints may have additional money remaining once they have met their shortfall—those states may be able to use stabilization money more towards reform rather than simply stabilization…but those might also be the same ones that need the innovation funds the least).

This money is a great thing for education. I am just a little concern that expectations are a little too high for what states can do with this money in this time frame.


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New Reports on Charter School Impacts

Friday, March 27, 2009

Brookings just released The Impact of Milwaukee Charter Schools on Student Achievement. Among its findings: charter school attendance is associated with higher scores on mathematics exams than attendance at traditional public schools, but there is no statistically significant relationship between charter school attendance and performance on reading exams. These positive results are due to student performance in the initial years of the program—the performance of charter schools and traditional public schools is statistically indistinguishable for the most recent years of the study.

Interesting…especially because in the first year of the study (school year 2000), which showed the largest advantage for charter schools, the sample included only 4 charter schools. The most recent year (school year 2006—in which the authors actually found a statistically significant advantage for reading scores in traditional schools), they included 35. In the report, they give great weight to the fact that first year charters tend to have a negative impact on test scores, which could account for the decline in overall performance. However, in school year 2005, the study included 38 schools…which suggests that few if any new schools were included the 2006 data [because otherwise they would have had to eliminate several previously included schools, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense]. Might another idea be that charters performend better in the early years because the early charters were given only to the very best of the applicants, whereas a current push to increase the number of charter schools has led to less impressive applicants being granted charters? This notion has implications for Obama’s push to lift caps on charter schools…

Another interesting finding from this report: student mobility has a negative effect on performance and is a more robust predictor of student performance than the organizational factors the authors considered (which seems to me, as a teacher who dealt with student mobility, be a “duh” statement). Also, the positive impact of charters relative to traditional public schools declines as the number of years a student has attended a charter school increases (this could be really interesting to delve into…).

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of charter schools, check out this new RAND publication, How Charter Schools Affect Student Outcomes. It presents a much more complete picture [and actually incorporates the Milwaukee data used in the Brookings report]. The most promising results for charter supporters: The long-term outcomes of high-school graduation and college entry—in the two locations with available data on these attainment outcomes (Chicago and Florida), charter high schools appear to have substantial positive impacts, increasing the probability of graduating by 7 to 15 percentage points and increasing the probability of enrolling in college by 8 to 10 percentage points.

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Turning ex-traders into new teachers

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This article from the New Jersey Star-Ledger discusses a new pilot program just approved by the New Jersey state legislature to fast-track teacher certification in science and math. A likely recruitment target: recently unemployed Wall Street workers, who have a significant math background. Kudos to New Jersey for a policy that is intended to both put the unemployed to work and to provide qualified math and science teachers for urban districts struggling to fill those slots. As with any policy, though, we will have to wait and see whether it accomplishes either goal.

Of course, within the education community there is a great debate over the effectiveness of teachers who undergo alternative certification programs in general. People interested in the topic might be interested in this Mathematica evaluation on the efficacy of different teacher preparation methods in contributing to students’ academic achievement. It concluded that there was no difference, on average, to student achievement resulting from placing an alternatively versus traditionally certified teacher in the classroom.

Another study of interest might be this 2008 Urban Institute publication on the effectiveness of Teach For America teachers (who were specifically excluded from the Mathematica study) in secondary schools in North Carolina. While, like all studies, there are methodological limitations, the authors found that TFA teachers are more effective, as measured by student exam performance, than teachers certified traditionally working in the schools in which they are placed. They also suggest that TFA teachers are more effective than experienced secondary school teachers in those schools. Results are particularly strong in math and science. [Note: I do have slight bias in posting this study, as I taught high school math and science as a TFA corps member]


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In-State Tuition for Illegal Residents???

Monday, March 09, 2009

This article from Sunday’s New York Times jumps into the debate on in-state tuition for long-term undocumented immigrants. The article definitely calls attention to some of the arguments for giving such students the benefits of that tuition, including but not limited to the fact that current legislation (in the 40 states that do not currently offer that tuition rate) can be considered denying access to higher education to these students, many of whom have been in the United States nearly their entire lives. However, the article also includes the counterpoint that some stakeholders believe taxpayers should not subsidize the college education of illegal immigrants.

The article does not point out what this article from the February 27th Arizona Republic does--that undocumented students who graduate from college in the US are not eligible to work here and therefore 1) must either return to home countries they barely know to get meaningful work or toil underground in the same labor and service-sector jobs as their illegal immigrant parents; and 2) the state is unable to recoup the investment it makes in these students.

Aside from opinions about whether the policy of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is right or wrong (or just sound or unsound), I think its interesting that the NYT article makes such a major omission. Its a major point that would likely influence the thinking of many individuals. The omission seems to speak either to the perils of basing policy opinions on mass media, or to the fact that policies can be designed to exist in a bubble outside of reality…

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FY 2010 Budget, Department of Education

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thanks to Stacey for alerting us to the release of the White House's FY 2010 Budget blueprints! Check out the Department of Education document here (note: links directly to PDF) (click here to visit the White House budget page and check out impacts on other departments).

The budget would include funds for a variety of educational projects ranging from expanding access to high-quality early childhood education to preparing and rewarding effective teachers and principals. As Stacey points out, it also would also make some pretty major changes to financial aid for higher education. It would expand the Pell Grant program, put the program on sure footing (in other words, they wouldn't be subject to the Appropriations process anymore!), and tie the maximum grant award to inflation.

In addition, the budget would eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program (a US DOE program that provides for private organizations to market, originate, and service federally guaranteed student loans, such as Stafford and PLUS loans) by 2010. All new loans would originate from the Federal Direct Loan Program (in which the government acts as a direct lender). Not all stakeholders will be pleased with this development, though, as evidenced in this New York Times article published February 25...

Update: Here is a newer (February 26) NYT article on the changes to the student loan system.

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Governor Asks Teachers to Work For Free

Friday, February 20, 2009

The economic crunch is hitting education hard. It's hitting everything hard. And states and districts are dealing with it in different ways, considering alternatives ranging from 4-day school weeks to eliminating sports programs.

But the governor of Oregon has presented what I think is one of the most extreme options: He has asked teachers to work for free some days this spring.

According to the article, Oregon legislative budget leaders have proposed cuts that would force many districts to close early by an average of about five days. The governor (who would lead by example and work four days for free over the next four months) has said that teachers should work without pay to prevent that scenario. While some Democratic legislators applaud the approach, citing "shared sacrifice" as a model to help the state survive the economic crisis. Republicans, though, would prefer that the state's reserve accounts be tapped. The state has an estimated $800 million in two savings accounts, one specifically for schools.

Probably because I am a former teacher, and I have certain sensitivities about the way teachers are treated in society, this proposal makes me so mad. Let me put aside the fact that I think that teachers are already underpaid. While I recognize the value of shared sacrifice, I can't help but notice that while other employees are being put on unpaid furloughs, they don't actually WORK during that time. If the governor is suggesting this, he should suggest unpaid WORK furloughs for other state employees--make them come in to work on days they don't get paid. To me, the fact that teachers are singled out screams disrespect.

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Expanded Learning Time...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thanks to Rebekah for compiling some resources on expanded learning time! (For those who don't know, expanded learning time is a school reform strategy that lengthens the traditional school day or year to increase learning time)

In January 2009 The Collaboratve for Building After-School Systems released Enhancing School Reform Through Expanded Learning, a report that aims to further the conversation of how school reform and improvement strategies can take full advantage of expanded learning opportunities to promote student learning, development, and engagement. It seeks to make an evidence-based case for the ideas that:
-->Expanded learning time can be an effective strategy to promote student performance.
-->The more effective school improvement strategies will be those that incorporate the key elements of expanded learning time.
-->Resources exist to enable districts and schools to build in expanded learning time activities as core components of their reform plans.

In July 2008 they released the policy brief More Time for Learning: ELT Initiatives & Enrichment Opportunities, which describes the momentum of various ELT initiatives around the country, identifies differences between ELT and traditional after-school programs, and calls for policymakers to explore how ELT might serve as an opportunity to strengthen connections between school and after-school systems.

The Harvard Family Research Project is also taking an interest in this concept, recently (January 2009) releasing the policy brief Supporting Student Outcomes Through Expanded Learning Opportunities (take note--this links directly to the pdf). This brief shines a spotlight on the role of afterschool and summer learning programs in supporting student success and to help bridge the divide between afterschool and summer programs and schools by offering some research-derived principles for effective expanded learning partnership efforts.

Of course, given the current economic situation and the fact that state education budgets are getting cut (though some help is theoretically on its way thanks to the recovery act), some states and districts aren't really looking at expanding learning time. They are looking more to cut it--or at least "reallocate it more effectively"--through 4-day school weeks. 16 states have already experimented with the idea, and proposals have been made in Washington, Utah, Maine, and California, among others. Principals' Partnership has a (nonrigorous) research brief (take note--it links directly to the pdf) out on the topic.

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KIPP/Union Update

Monday, February 09, 2009

The New York Times reported Friday that the environment at a KIPP school whose teachers recently voted to unionize has gotten tense, with administrators "making veiled threats" and meeting with students alone--a meeting at which the students "had been encouraged to talk about 'negative feelings and interactions' with [teachers]." This coming after the school's founding principal told those organizing teachers that he was "disappointed" and "not pleased."

Read the article here.

Personal opinion? While I unabashedly support teachers unions, I could put aside those thoughts and just reflect... Perhaps, instead of introducing further tension into the school, the administrators at this school could think about the environment at their school and why these teachers felt it was necessary to organize. If these administrators are so opposed to running a unionized school, how could they let their school culture get to a point where the teachers feel that organizing is their best bet to improve their working environment and their students education? What mistakes did they (the administrators) make?

In none of the press that I have seen on this issue have I seen the administrators publicly taking responsibility for this creating environment. Yet the whole notion of charter schools means that they had that responsibility. This situation is being monitored by many in the educational world and is an important precursor in education reform, in terms of union/charter partnerships or creating sustainable climates in charters (or in a number of other reforms). Yet what observers are seeing is administrators (like executives in other sectors of the American economy) blaming others for their problems. This from an organization that encourages personal responsibility.

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KIPP Teachers Organize

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Teachers at 2 Charter Schools Plan to Join Union, Despite Notion of Incompatibility"

The New York Times reported earlier this week that teachers at a KIPP school in Brooklyn have joined the UFT (the United Federation of Teachers, New York City's teacher union). Read the article here.

It seems that teachers at this school feel that their working conditions (which at KIPP schools in general are typically recognized as strenuous, to put it mildly) make teaching there unsustainable, leading to high teacher turnover and ultimately negatively impacting students' education. In addition, teachers want to make sure they can express their views on educational matters without fear of losing their jobs (see Leo Casey's post on Edwize for that one).

KIPP is a darling of a certain faction of the education reform community, so this displeases many...Some believe that "A union contract is actually at odds with a charter school” (Jeanne Allen, executive director of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington group that supports charter schools). For the record, AFT (the American Federation of Teachers, UFT's parent organization) and its affiliates do not, and have organized teachers at charter schools in other regions of the country, as well as opening and running charter schools of their own
(check out this AFT press release or this EdWeek Teacher Beat post for just a bit more information).

Regardless of whether one believes that charter schools and teachers unions are incompatible, my favorite response to the development is Alexander Russo's: "I guess this is what happens when your teachers get past the starry-eyed hero worship stage, or when your network of schools gets beyond a certain size."

So some feel this is inevitable...I wonder about the collective impact of this type of individual charter school teacher organization on the future of the charter school movement, and on the future of education reform in general.

1.22.09 Update: I also enjoyed Ezra Klein's posting

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A Couple Interesting New Reports...

Friday, January 09, 2009

New reports are out on both early childhood education and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Given that both are on the chopping blocks in many districts thank to budget cuts, this research could be particularly timely…

Check out the National Early Literacy Panel’s new report "Developing Early Literacy" (click here to open the executive summary, and here to open the full report, both as PDFs).

Or read through a College Board report on the college outcomes AP coursework (click here to open the report as a PDF).

And note that the economy is impacting education not only through government budgets…even in spite of the recent report on the positive impact of AP courses, the College Board is cutting several AP exams, most notably Italian (see this New York Times article for more information).

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Incentives for Hard-to-Staff Positions

Monday, November 24, 2008

On November 20, the Center for American Progress released "Financial Incentives for Hard-to-Staff Positions: Cross-Sector Lessons for Public Education." This report examines research from other sectors, such as the military, and suggests a variety of options to help education leaders overcome the problem of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers in hard-to-staff areas. Check out the executive summary (links to a pdf of the entire document). You can also check out Public School Insights thoughts on this piece.

I also personally enjoyed Ariel Sacks reaction to this report. Ariel is a teacher who presented at the CAP’s release, and she has some very interesting words about how she feels after being at a meeting of the policy community. My favorite quote? “I actually had the heated thought, "Well if this is what our profession is being turned into, maybe I will leave after all. Most of these people obviously wouldn’t care.”

I think her piece is a great reminder that in the policy community’s haste to develop what we consider innovative solutions to challenging circumstances, we have a tendency to ignore the reality of those actually in the classroom…which may not be the best way to create lasting change.

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Major Policy Speech

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In her first major policy speech since her election as AFT president, Randi Weingarten spoke at the National Press Club yesterday, outlining both provocative and proven approaches to improve public education. She also expressed her desire to seek common ground on various contentious issues often thought to be off-limits for teachers unions.

Check out a summary of what she said (it links to a pdf of the speech itself).

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Selected Events: Week of Nov. 17, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Around the Washington, DC, area? Consider going to one of the following events…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008, 8:30am-1:30pm: Education Policy in Transition: A Report of the National Academy of Education White Papers Project
Join leading education researchers and policy leaders, including education advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, Congressional staffers for education, and other policymakers in a discussion of the findings and recommendations from the white papers, including topics on teacher quality; standards, assessments and accountability; science and mathematics education; and equity and excellence in American education. Learn more and register here.

Wednesday, November 19, 4-5:30 pm: The Future of Education Research: An Address by Anthony S. Bryk
Anthony S. Bryk, one of the nation’s preeminent education researchers, became president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching this fall. In his first major policy address since taking the helm of the prestigious institution, Bryk will discuss his revolutionary new vision for research and development in American schooling, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for his organization, and the lessons they hold for the future of school reform. Learn more and register here.

Friday, November 21, 2008, 8:30am-2:30pm: 2nd Annual Calder Research Conference: The Ins and Outs of Value-Added Measures in Education: What the Research Says
Join distinguished panelists to discuss value-added measures and credentials; how these measures apply across time, tests and contexts; and whether disadvantaged schools lose the best teachers. Learn more and register here.

If you have an event you would like to promote on this blog, e-mail epsa@gwu.edu.


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New Brief on KIPP

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Columbia University’s Jeffrey Henig recently released a brief reviewing seven studies on the effectiveness of KIPP charter schools. Some of his conclusions? Students who enroll and stay in KIPP schools tend to perform better on standardized assessments than similar students in more traditional schools. However, Henig adds caveats to this finding, discussing unobservable biases in student motivation and support, as well as high (and seemingly selective) student attrition. He also points out that few studies actually examine the KIPP “process,” which includes high teacher turnover, and the implications of that process on the expansion and sustainability of the KIPP model. Ultimately, Henig provide recommendations to policymakers on how to best utilize the existing evidence on KIPP in informing education policy and reform strategies.

Learn more by checking out the executive summary or the full policy brief (both accessed from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice). You can also read the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews’ response to Henig's analysis.

If you are interested in more data on KIPP schools, check out SRI International’s three-year study of Bay Area KIPP schools, which found some promising short-term academic results but could not draw any long-term conclusions given the high and seemingly selective student attrition at these schools.

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State of NCLB

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In last night's State of the Union, NCLB was near the top of the speech, but President Bush didn't say much that is new. There was a brief nod to choice--though he didn't specifically mention vouchers as they did in the press release--and a repetition of the whole "The gap is closing" mantra. Then he specifically called for reauthorization this session, which some people think is still not sealed up.

The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children, and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law.


It seemed to me, though, that the transcriber was slacking on his or her duties... as they panned the Congress, it looked like only about half of the members were clapping. Perhaps it should have said "Tepid Applause"?

AND on NBC, at least, the camera misidentified Secretary Spellings. While I understand it's easy to confuse a lavender suit with a powder pink one, don't they have a seating chart to help with these kinds of things?

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NYC Public School's New Years Resolution

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Joel Klein recently appointed Chris Cerf, former president of Edison Schools, will become deputy chancellor for operational strategy, human capital and external affairs. This is a crucial move by the chancellor to create infrastructure for private partnerships and influence in our public education system. Keep watch on this one....

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Deal or No Deal?

DCPS has a possible partnership with a non-profit education agency, EdBuild in order to improve achievement at some poor performing schools in the district. While EdBuild is said to have "little-experience," the organization does include some experienced staffers including a TFA alum and the former deputy mayor. If EdBuild is granted the deal, it will be interesting to see if other education non-profits take note and apply for contracts as well.

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Tough Choices? You Bet!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

With the national standards and accountability movement in goosestep by the end of the 90’s, a major education reform like NCLB was bound to happen. Unfortunately, the result didn’t quite capture the creativity and innovation the new Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce outlined in their new report Tough Choices OR Tough Times. NCLB just created more frustrating problems across the nation within the same old system offering no real changes to the problems facing our public school system. However, this new report offers a delightful and refreshing glimpse of a democratic education system built as a catchall; almost ensuring no child left behind. Most importantly, the recommendations support the projections of what America’s job market is slowly turning into. The last time I checked the local job listings, I didn’t see a post for someone who can cunningly take a standardized test or recite a complex mathematical equation without any contextual knowledge. Instead, I see jobs demanding proficiency in writing, multi-tasking, creativity, and special attention paid to those of who can speak something more than English.

So let’s say our education system stays relatively the same…and when I am an old man and Ivory soap is still 99.9% pure, Margaret Spellings is still saying, after many extensions of course, that we will get every child proficient in math and reading in just 8 more years. Either America would have to revert to an agriculture nation or careers in reading will skyrocket. The reality is that our public schools are not really preparing students for the workforce. NCLB goals are ambitious and admirable, but the old adage “what is taught is what is tested” is verified by NCLB. This means the arts, foreign language, social studies, PE and other subjects that foster innovative, creative, smart, and well-rounded student are in the periphery of a Federal government hell-bent on making every child proficient in math and reading (maybe science?) by 2013-14. The subjects lost are those that help create a competitive workforce able to effectively communicate and interact with other nations in the global economy.

America’s public schools need a complete overhaul…it goes beyond offering more classes. It is about reorganizing our resources to better suite those in need. It is about recruiting teachers and making them feel like valued players within the school. These recommendations and many more, outlined in Choices, are not piecemeal fixes but big and ambitious changes that are long overdue. Of course there are many “controversial” recommendations like private management of schools and increased testing, but these likely concerns are needed to foster dialogue and debate among education leaders who must find the middle ground in pursing a system overhaul.

It is hard not to dream of a better education system and a educated populous when you read Tough Choices OR Tough Times…but the more you read, the more frustrating and depressing it is to hear out nation’s education leaders come up with such a needed plan that will be probably never be implemented.

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Brown v. Board for the 21st Century...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this week about the issue of voluntary integration plans for the school districts of Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington.

Advocates, including civil rights groups, argue that racial integration fosters tolerance and better relations across all racial lines, and segregation "reduces academic achievement". Opponents, including the current administration, argue that integration policies violate the equal protection laws of the Constitution and thereby children should not be labeled by race.

In previous Kindling Flames posts, Nicole and I (on this blog and offline) have discussed color-blind policies in higher education and whether racial preferences actually benefit poor minority students (which if you read the posts, do not necessarily). This court case, while different than a higher education discussion, touches on the same issue of equity in education, and what it means to have diversity in our schools. Which begs the question, does voluntary racial integration policies provide equal opportunities in education, especially for those children (from low ses) who need it the most? Or do we need to take a different approach to ensure that all children receive quality education?

The Century Foundation issued a brief arguing that based on socioeconomic status would help close the achievement gap as well as foster diversity in schools. Basically, it will have the same intended results as the voluntary racial integration policies but under a more solid constitutional grounding.

I wanted to hear people's thoughts on this case and the issue of integration. Anyone game?

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The New Prez

GW just found their replacement for outgoing University President Stephen J. Trachtenberg. Steven Knapp, former Provost at Johns Hopkins University will take office at the end of the summer. This choice highlights GW's attempt to focus on research and diversity in faculty and students as a priority for the University in the upcoming years.

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Catch Margaret Spellings on Jeopardy!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jeopardy is having their celeb Jeopardy tournament, and rumor has it that Spellings will be on tonight! :-)

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An Bachelor's Degree In Service

Friday, October 20, 2006

When Thomas Jefferson read a draft of our U.S Constitution, he wrote to the rest of the Founding Fathers: "This constitution of yours worries me because it asks so little of its citizens." Jefferson was alarmed because he believed that a democracy required active citizen participation in order to survive.

Currently, national service programs like Americorps and the Peace Corps have been seen as the "Jeffersonian Patch" to helping foster civic engagement and democratic principles. And even though these programs provide an invaluable educational experience (I myself am an Americorps alum), there is a missing link between one's year in service and one's experience in higher education. The majority of colleges and universities do not have a mainstream curriculum built around teaching the concepts of citizenship and public serivce.

Until now....

Recently, Senator Hillary Clinton (NY) with her co-sponsors Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), Sen. Mukulski (MD), and Sen. Kennedy (MA) introduced the "Public Service Academy Act of 2006", which will create an undergraduate institution that will "promote public service and citizenship". The four year undergraduate institution will also require summer internships in various service industries so that college students will graduate with a well rounded "service" education.

Check out the U.S Public Service Academy website for info and how to help support this initiative

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The Politics of Education

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In this week’s Class Struggle, Jay Matthew’s tells the story of a KIPP school run by Principle McDaniel in Oklahoma, who was blocked from expansion and almost forced to shut down because of political conflicts between KIPP and the school district. Matthew’s exasperation is evident as he unfolds the series of events where politics is at the helm of the move to strike down this high achieving school. Mathew’s writes, “The political problems McDaniel had to deal with irritate me and seem irrelevant to how children learn, my first interest.”

Most people probably agree with Matthews. I have heard many educators, parents, and even politicians complain that our education system would run more smoothly if politics were left out of it. Sure, I am not a fan of politics playing such a large role in the lives of our students, but, this is where Matthews and I disagree.

Politics is not irrelevant to how children are educated, because education, by its very nature, is political.

Mark Hanson, a professor who has researched education systems worldwide, talks about how education creates political conflict because it is the “principle instrument” in how we allocate social roles and status to the next generation. Schools are the vehicle through which societies transmit their values and norms. And a shift in the education status quo especially creates conflict because it symbolizes a societal shift as well. According to Hanson, education and politics will always be interconnected, whether we like it or not.

Therefore, instead of trying to separate politics from our education system, we should be figuring out what actions will push politics towards improving education.

Many innovative education reformers are already doing just that. Examples of actions that have "pushed" the politics of education can be found in L.A, where Steve Barr and others mobilized parents from across the city and demanded mayor control over the school district. It can also be found in charter schools that are opening in increasing number nationwide because of actions taken by a mobilized community. And even in the case of the KIPP school, it was the actions of key stakeholders that prevented the school from closing its doors for good.

Like most of us, Matthews might not like the politics of education, but we have to be able to understand it in order to take action to change the status quo of education on a local and national level.

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A Nation at Risk...of being Monolingual

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I am not a regular Anderson Cooper blog reader, but randomly fell upon it today and found this post, about the best way to instruct non-native English speaking students. A CNN correspondent wrote about his visit to a school in Texas where children were learning in both Spanish and English. He posed this question:

Is there an issue with American taxpayers footing the bill for public school education taught primarily in Spanish?

While some respondents disputed the issue, the majority consensus was that "This is America and we should all speak English."

As we now become a nation that has hit the 300 million population mark with a rapidly increasing diverse population, ethnically and linguistically, it amazes me the amount of concern to make sure all our children learn English. In an age of globalization and transatlantic communication, shouldn't we really be posing this question:

Isn't there an issue with the fact that we are the only country who does not value bilingualism?

In the next decade or so, over 25% of our school age population will be speaking other languages than English. While I support the learning and acquistion of the English language, it will be a huge missed opportunity for the nation if we don't look at ways to systematically and structurally capitalize on the diversity of our childrens' languages. If we don't start to become a country that values other languages besides English, we will really be a nation at risk....of ceasing to compete in a global market.

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It's Not Really about the "H" in the "H"-Debate

Friday, October 13, 2006

Since everyone who is anyone in the edupolicy blogosphere has been writing about this, I thought it's about time we jump in. The brief back story is that the Edpresso blog brought up the question of whether public officials, involved in some way with public education, are being "hypocrites" by sending their children to private schools. This has hit a edublog nerve and has led to a back and forth debate about the issue.

I agree with Joe William's point-that no parent, public leader or not, should be forced to send their child to a poor performing school. But they also shouldn't block other parents from making the same choice, rich or poor.

I however, think that this debate is about something deeper. It's not really about whether "John, the public official" puts his kid in private school or public school, but rather, about whether our country's political and education leadership are representing themselves in ways that are congruent with what they stand for, politically and socially.

Hubie Jones , legendary Boston change agent, used to lecture my young people about leadership. He would repeatedly tell them, "your private life and public life have to be the same!" Hubie would look them in the eye and say, "you can't fight for diversity and equity during the day and then go home at night and only hang out with people who are just like you." This concept of being congruent strikes a cord with many of us. It's why Mahatma Gandhi is so famous for saying that we have to; "be the change you seek in this world." He believed that in order to be an effective leader, you have to be truthful with yourself and with your community and only act how you want the world to be.

This is why I think NYC Educator and Edpresso are calling public officials hypocrits. I think they are tired of all the education rhetoric. They are tired of the "incongruent" public officials preaching one thing and practicing another. And to that, I totally feel you guys...I do.

Maybe if more of our public officials were "conguent" and became the "change that they seek" in our communities, we wouldn't care where they send their kids. I know I don't care where Hubie or Gandhi sent theirs.

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It's a Different World...Community Forums part 2

Friday, September 22, 2006

So I went to my second forum last night on DCPS school reconstruction (for backstory, see here). Talk about a different world. The stark constrast between the two meetings represent the economic and racial segregation of this city (monday night's meeting in SE was 100% African American and mostly middle to low SES and last night's meeting in NW was 99.9% White and mostly middle to high SES). And while similar concerns were raised about the reconstruction, the reasons behind the concerns were very different:

*Why certain schools were first on the list: Parents and community members were concerned about how schools were prioritized. They had issues with DCPS using the educational adequacy score (how well the building meets the standards of the Master Education Plan) and test scores to make their list of the order in which schools were to receive construction. In other words, if a school has middle to low educational adequacy scores but higher test scores, they could be moved down on the list of priorities than other schools who had similar educational adequacy scores but low test scores. Parents were upset about this because they felt that their schools were being "punished for doing things right". In other words, if they are following NCLB and their children are successful, that shouldn't hinder the timeframe for reconstruction. On DCPS's side, they were saying, well, if your school is doing academically well, then obviously the building isn't explicitly causing an immediate problem, so it can maybe wait a couple of years.

*Demographics: this was an interesting issue because apparently, NW is considered a "stable" neighborhood according to the demographers because there is no new construction, housing, etc in the works. The parents however, had an issue with that because while the neighborhood is "stable" (no new construction going on), the neighborhoods are turning from old retired couples to young families, which is creating a population swell in these schools.

*Swing schools were also brought up in this meeting, but only as a logistical issue for parents. No mention of youth violence, gangs, or mixing rival neighborhoods.

*Interim facilities support: same concerns were raised. Parents were mostly concerned about air conditioning and plumming in schools.

**What was interesting in this meeting was the difference in empowerment, trust, and emotion of the participants. On Monday, emotions ran high. There was a lot frustration from parents for a system that keeps failing their kids; anger because they keep hearing the same things over and over and don't see any change in the status quo; and a sense of helplessness for being a change agent in this process.

Last night's meeting was much more calm. While some parents were tenacious in bringing up their points and concerns, there wasn't the level of anger or sense of powerlessness. While the lack of trust was still there, people were much more optimistic and hopeful that change will come.

The differences between these community forums demonstrate the institutionalized system of privileges and societal structures that have created this economic and racial segregation in our country. This was just another example of why we need to make sure, above everything, that poor children are in good schools. Or else,we are never going to get out of this state of inequity and disempowerment.

....stay tuned for next week b/c there are a few more forums!

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Come See the Edu-Action...DC style

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Forget scheduling happy hours with your fellow edupeeps for the next two weeks and instead, attend the DCPS community forums on school reconstruction....because it's edu-action drama...and it's awesome!

Backstory: The forums are for community members to provide feedback to the draft master facilities plan for reconstructing DC schools. Since DC City Council allocated approx $3 billion for reconstruction, DCPS will be able to begin reconstruction shortly. In a nutshell, the plan will modernize buildings that do not need to be completely reconstructed and also create several organizational school models including; a Hilltop Campus (combining Phelps and Springarn, Young and Browne), Comprehensive Theme High Schools (specializing in law and public safety, business admin, engineering, and arts & media), and creating several prek-8 demonstration schools.

The Meeting: The kick-off meeting occurred last night at Kramer MS. Members from DCPS and the architecture firm who designed the plan were present to answer questions. You could definitely say that there were a lot of tension in the room. Some of the main issues addressed:

*Why certain schools were first on the list as opposed to other schools. Anacostia High School was a big contention point. Apparently, construction for Anacostia was put on hold about a year or two ago due to funding issues and now it is back, but not slated as one of the first schools to be reconstructed. There was actually two seniors from Anacostia High School there who argued that since Superintedent Janey has high school's as a priority, Anacostia should be one of the first to be reconstructed...not middle or elementary schools.

*"Swing Schools" (schools that will house kids while their original school will be under construction). In addition to logistical questions about this process, there was a lot of concern about safety. Parents and community youth workers brought up that combining two groups of kids from rival neighborhoods together in one school, or bringing kids to a school near a rival housing project, could lead to an increase in youth violence.

*Interim facilities support for schools. Principals were concerned that there are currently items that need to be fixed now and can't wait for their scheduled slot. To the credit of the DCPS, the deputy director of facilities was there and personally gave his email and phone number out to people so that they can contact him if work is not getting done.

*Lack of trust from community for the DCPS staff. This was the most interesting part of the meeting to me. It was fascinating hearing the dialogue between the DCPS and community members because of the history of DCPS. You are talking about a school system who has had 5 superintendents in 10 years. That's a lot of turnover. So when community members vent their frustrations about things that have happened, the response from DCPS is, "I wasn't here a year ago, I just got here." Which then spurred the reply, "We hear this from everyone...the 'I just got here yesterday' excuse. How long are you going to be here? Everyone for the past 20 years has said that they just got here. "

Superintendent Janey and his crew have to fight an uphill battle in order to regain back the trust and support of a majority of the District. And even though the issues run deep...at least the dialogue is beginning. But seriously, it's edupolicy in action, and I highly recommend your attendence.
full disc: I am a volunteer recorder for a couple of the forums

Here's this week's schedule:
Tuesday: Savoy ES
Thursday: W. Wilson HS
Friday: Clark ES
meetings run from 6pm-8pm

***Just as an afterthought, I realized that I didn't see or hear about anyone from the charter community. Since DCPS is discussing consolidating schools, there will be space available for charters....so it would maybe be a good idea for them to be in on this, no?

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A Shift in Accountability

Friday, September 15, 2006

Really good NY Times article came out today about the ridiculously low college graduation rates of 2 and 4-year public universities (i.e. under 20% of students graduate in 6 years). One question asked was, "If you're accepting a child into your institution, don't you have the responsibility to make sure they graduate?"

Interesting question... Traditionally, college students have been taught that they are "on their own" and have to take responsibility for their actions, i.e going to class, passing, and even graduating. While colleges provide advising and freshman orientation, they certainly treat persistence as something that is up to the individual. In addition, the fiscal responsibilites of higher education make discussing rates of persistence complex and murky.

What I find most interesting about this article, is how it sounds eerily familiar. This same conversation about "shifting" responsibility from the student to the institution is what drove the accountability movement and ultimately, No Child Left Behind in the K-12 arena. Before NCLB, the responsibilty for success was up to the student, not the school. Now, it is the institutions job to make sure all their children all successful, regardless of the socio-economic and external conditions of the student.

Could this be a sign of NCLB accountability shifting the status quo in higher ed?

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Quote of the Day

Friday, September 01, 2006

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something. There's not much needed in the way of change."
-Secretary Spellings, commenting on upcoming NCLB updates
**this should make for an interesting reauthorization process....

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Off Topic: CMail work-around

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Everyone I know complains about GW's student email, CMail. The web interface is clunky. The quota is much too small. And on.

I thought I'd share what I did to get around this problem. I forward my mail to a gmail account, and it's been a lifesaver. CMail doesn't save a copy, so my quota is never used up, and you can set up gmail to allow you to send mail as if it were coming from your colonial mail. You can also set it up to automatically filter your GW messages into a separate folder, skipping your inbox, so that you can read them only when you want. Plus emails are stored in threaded conversations, rather than in the order they arrive, so it's easy to follow all the back and forth. Can't recommend it highly enough!

If you don't yet have a gmail account and want to be "invited," let me know.

The downside: If there's stuff in your CMail that you want to have access to through gmail, you'll have to forward it. But it's a small price to pay for never having to open the cmail web interface!

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It's Ok to Fail

Arizona is blaming the U.S Department of Education for increasing the number of failing schools, by making educators count ELLs only after two years of learning a language. Sure, language acquisition is complex and can take students several years depending on various factors, but to blame ELLs and to request longer terms of exemption is not the solution. Superintendent Tom Horne states:

No person with common sense can believe a person can come here from Mexico and pass the AIMS test in three years," Horne said. "They're saying that if you have a significant number of ELL students, we condemn you to failure, no matter how good you are.

But really Tom, how good are you if your ELLs aren't prepared with skills (including language proficiency) for life after high school?

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Back to Square One

Monday, August 28, 2006

Anyone who has been following the telenovela that is "Arizona v. its ELLs," should not be surprised at the lastest drama (for backstory see here). Last week, federal court of appeals recanted the most recent court decision demanding an increase in ELL funding for education, and kicked the case back to its original starting point, the district court. Also in this ruling, the court exempted ELLs from the state exit exams as a graduation requirement.

What makes this angering, is that many of Arizona's legislators and educators are blocking a quality education to a group of children who need it the most (I have to wonder that if Arizona didn't have such an anti-bilingual, anti-immigration culture, this would even be an issue up for the courts to decide).

In addition is the issue of exit exams. To prohibit ELLs from taking an exit exam is in my opinion, a terrible decision. While I don't always advocate for exit exams, Arizona's exclusion of ELLs from taking this exam is a vehicle for schools to not really spend the time preparing them for post-education opportunities.

Every child needs to be prepared to graduate from high school. Being a non-native English speaker provides unique challenges which Arizona needs to step up and take on, not brush under the rug.

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A Shout-Out to Principal Russo

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Today's editorial in the L.A. Times highlights the Murphy School in Dorchester, MA as a model for how a previously failing school is now a success story. Although I am not convinced that this is due to mayorial takeover, as the editorial claims, but rather to the extraordinary efforts of the school's principal, Mary Russo.

Mary Russo is the kind of principal who, when you are around her, makes you want to be a better educator, a better professional, and in general a better human being. Her committment to the children and community of Dorchester is one of the reasons why I have hope in the future of education. I am glad she is receiving a much deserved shout out for her efforts....

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