Administration vs. Teacher Reforms

Teach reforms range from the structural to the financial and in many cases, they are minor changes. Real structural reform not only focuses on teachers, but also on other school employees as well. In today’s Slate article about principal reforms, Dana Goldstein wants us to focus away from teachers and onto the role of the principal:

If the job of being a principal in a high-poverty school were less about feeding paperwork into accountability systems and more about teaching teachers how children learn, better educators would become principals, and would, in turn, help attract our best teachers to the kids who need them most. The United States must launch a principal-quality movement as robust as our teacher-quality movement has been. Only then will we begin to realize the potential of great instruction to fight inequality.

Structural reforms look at the whole picture and realize how much bigger the reform is when adjusting for all administrative staff.

According to the Friedman Foundation’s “The School Staffing Surge” (2012):

  • Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent.
  • Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.
  • If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as the growth in students and if the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year.

A Standing Ovation for More of the Same Harder in OKC

On August 19, Oklahoma City’s new superintendent, Robert Neu, got a standing ovation for promising to spend a lot of money to buy gadgets and hire better teachers to squeeze improved performance from virtually insurmountably challenging teaching circumstances. His “bold plans” are bold only in the sense that he expects success with policies that have already repeatedly failed (Rick Hess’ “same things over and over“) to deliver noteworthy academic improvement. While I want to applaud Superintendent Neu’s determination and good attitude, my core reaction is serious consternation and dis-belief. I’m not sure whether to be more concerned with Superintendent Neu’s plan to spend big bucks on “More-of-the-Same” harder, or the standing ovation from his audience. I’m not sure which is worse, Mr. Neu seeking the expectation of improvement from a gullible audience without expecting it himself, or expecting it to work despite the extensive evidence that it does not. By the way, I regard Mr. Neu’s plan to hire better teachers as different from the much-needed dismissal of dysfunctional teachers. It is one thing to fail to secure much improvement from putting more skilled, more determined teachers in difficult circumstances. It is quite another to hold back everyone assigned to classrooms staffed by burned out or unqualified teachers. The latter case is a frequent result of epidemic out-of-field teaching (“69 percent of 5th to 8th graders are being taught math by teachers without a mathematics degree or certificate, and 93 percent of those same students are being taught physical sciences by teachers with no physical science degree or certificate”); a key root of the problem that arises from the single salary schedule (price control that ignores market differences for different teaching skills). A teacher may be unqualified (or uninterested — not passionate) to teach the subject of a classroom they are assigned to, but qualified and passionate for other subjects and pedagogies.

In closing, let me explain the rational basis of general audience and even educator gullibility. In a school system based on sound assumptions and facts about student learning and the multi-dimensional nature of student and educator abilities and engaging interests, hiring better teachers should produce improved schooling. But we have a school system that federal, state, and local political processes have grounded on implicit heroic assumptions. Because the key elements of the current school system are notoriously resistant to substantive change, sincere efforts to improve outcomes are repeatedly channeled into things that sound good (improved inputs like teacher skill and better tools, higher standards, and improved accountability), and there is denial or failure to discover or confess the dismal track record of “sounds good” policies. So, the Roots of the Problem mostly survive Superintendents, Governors, and Secretaries of Education determined to wring improved performance from the current system. They secure applause by proposing things that seem like they should produce a lot of improvement, but produce little, if any, improvement. Superintendent turnover is high, in part, because reality quickly sets in, and they must move on. Moving on mostly means another school board hires them in the hopes that the new person has the magic to do what his/her predecessor could not; improve the school system without changing it; satisfy a diverse parent/student clientele with a one-size-fits-all comprehensively uniform product.

USDA Snack Showdown

Everyone remembers bake sales — that time-honored tradition where parents bake a myriad of cookies, cakes, and other treats and sell them at school to raise money for a sports team, school trip, or parent organization. Recently, many have raised concerns that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Smart Snacks in School provisions will put the kibosh on bake sales.

Luckily for us, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon took to the USDA’s blog to clarify what is — and isn’t — regulated under the Smart Snacks regulations. It came down to a few questions:

When are the snacks being sold?

Snacks sold during the school day are subject to federal regulation. Snacks sold at after-school or weekend events are regulated by the states.

Where is it meant to be consumed?

Food meant to be consumed at home, such as frozen pizzas or cookie dough, are subject to state — not federal — regulation.

Is it part of a “time-honored tradition”?

Foods that are brought in as part of a birthday, holiday, bake-sale or special event will not be regulated by the USDA under Smart Snacks.

In this age of overregulation and federal overreach, it isn’t surprising that people jumped to conclusions regarding the fate of bake sales. However, it’s good to see the federal government stepping back — even if it’s in an extremely small way — and relinquishing some control back to the state governments.

An Important Static World Fallacy Example

Ohio has a very limited tuition voucher program. Only children from low income families assigned to “failing” traditional public schools are eligible. But the experience with it has still been deemed worthy of study to answer general questions such as: “What do we know about the private schools that educate voucher students?” The findings will be published in a forthcoming study, “Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers.”

How existing schools adapt is part of the story of school system transformation through school choice expansion, or failure to achieve transformation because the policy reform-driven expansion is too small. Hopefully, the authors will avoid the common Static World Fallacy that choice expansion will not significantly increase the number of choices by noting such an outcome is to be expected only because of the Ohio program’s very limited scope. A school choice expansion with the scope we need to drive school system transformation, “the private schools that educate voucher (or tax credit or education savings account) students” will include many that did not pre-date the policy reform-driven expansion. Hopefully, the authors will point out that the critical question that we need data to address is how/whether a large, unrestricted school choice program transforms the menu of schooling options. That means documenting the nature and quantity of new schooling options, as well as changes in existing options. We need policy changes that transform the menu of schooling options — that provides specialized schooling options for the children that don’t fit the mainstream pedagogy of their assigned schools — not just movement among existing choices.

Common Core’s Rough Week

Many students around the country are starting their first day of school this week. The schools they attend are constantly trying to adapt to make the content they teach more effective. Traditionally, this has been left to the state and local school boards, as well as the individual teachers, to make the call on how best to approach teaching the students. But since the enactment of Common Core standards, traditional decision makers for education have had to accommodate national standards.

Common Core standards, the sweeping and divisive federal education reform, is facing growing skepticism. We discussed this at length in a post last week.

  • According to a poll by Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup, 46 percent have heard a “fair amount” or “great deal” about the Common Core standards.
  • Yet, 60 percent of respondents say that they oppose Common Core standards.

But public opinion is one part of the issue that Common Core proponents have had to deal with. In Ohio, for example, the Legislature took up a bill that would repeal the standards, joining five other states in the process. Moreover, the campaign in support of Common Core has had to deal with high-profile opposition from many politicians but also celebrities and parent activists.

To counteract this slew of bad publicity, supporters have sought to get help from groups such as Latino evangelical pastors. But at an event held by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference they had former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as a guest speaker. This is ironic considering that Huckabee is a strong opponent against Common Core, even writing a blog post titled “Common Core is Dead.”

California published a “communications toolkit” to help educators respond to criticisms of Common Core. However, this is unlikely to sway popular opinion toward Common Core. In reality, only 46 percent of public school teachers even support the standards according to a poll by Education Next, and this is the group that needs to be most supportive of them.

As opposition continues to mount, it is likely that the whole notion of top-down standards in education will be revisited.

Additions to Rick Hess’ List of Misleading Phrases

Dr. Rick Hess says beware of:

  • Best Practices
  • Eliminating Achievement Gaps
  • Innovation
  • We need the right policies for this to work
  • Collaboration
  • Teacher Leadership
  • There are implementation challenges
  • Smart Regulation
  • Equitable Distribution of Effective Teachers
  • Turning Around Schools

As Rick points out, those are widely used “baffle with BS” phrases. Yes, Rick uses the term “BS”, and he doesn’t mean Bachelor of Science.

Survey Says: No to Common Core

Blog 8 21 CC Survey

There are serious issues facing the American education system — and the public is speaking out. In the latest Gallup poll, Americans expressed their worries over the challenges facing the nation’s schools, including the President’s lack of support, the issues with Common Core, money woes.

As covered by the Washington Post, here are the highlights from the Gallup poll:

  • Over 70 percent of Americans give President Obama a C, D, or F for his support to public schools
  • Close to 80 percent of Americans expressed disapproval for the nation’s public schools
  • 68 percent of parents of kids in public school think standardized tests aren’t helpful
  • Over 63 percent of Americans favored charter schools
  • 60 percent of respondents opposed charter schools

Respondents also said that the biggest problem facing public schools today was their lack of financial support. Additionally, while respondents said they favored charter schools, many were confused about just what a charter school was — many equated free, public charter schools with tuition-charging private schools.

Just like all politics are local, apparently so is education — the results made it painfully evident that parents want control of their education given back to their local governments. Dissatisfaction with federal overreach was loudly expressed by survey respondents.

As for Common Core, the public isn’t happy. This year, 80 percent of respondents had heard of the standards — a big change from last year’s 33 percent. Unfortunately for Common Core, the standards didn’t sit well with the majority of respondents. They expressed concern over the lack of individualization in the classroom and the amount of control Common Core gave to the federal government.

Opening up school choice, giving parents and local governments more control over the education system, and giving children personalized attention — these are the reforms that parents want to see. Returning choice and competition to the classroom could soothe the woes of parents and policymakers alike.

A Close-Up of the Struggle With/Against Pricelessness and Pervasive Fallacies

The first in a promised series of reports makes recommendations for improving the usefulness of existing school choice programs. Since Milwaukee was not included in the survey, the survey data does not reflect any experience with private school choices, even at the minimal level of the restriction-laden Milwaukee voucher program. So, it is about improving the usefulness of public school choice, including choice that includes charter options. That is where the struggle with/against pricelessness comes in; an issue not mentioned in the report. The words price and tuition do not appear anywhere in the report.

The report’s recommendations (p. 1) are the latest effort in a so far futile struggle to make central planning (price-less decision-making grounded on top down accountability) produce decent academic outcomes. The long-time futility is seen in, for example, the report’s assertion of fierce “competition” in the Detroit education “marketplace” among largely persistently low-performing public school choices.

A For-Profit Solution to Higher Education? Unlikely

There is no question that policymakers and administrators need to revisit the current model of tertiary education in order to make it relevant to today’s needs. College costs have spiraled out of control, much of it due to federal lending policies that have allowed institutions of higher education to artificially inflate their prices. Several steps are being taken by lawmakers to cap and reduce student loans, change the accreditation process, and revise federal lending practices.

One particular step the Obama Administration has taken is to begin shutting down for-profit higher education institutions. In a time when the cost of non-profit­ universities are exorbitant, some entrepreneurs think it is a solid business plan to open a new for-profit university. In this month’s Atlantic magazine, Graeme Wood looks at an educational venture, called the Minerva Project that seeks to offer a new way to do college.

Persistence of “Failing Schools”

An especially noteworthy symptom of dysfunctionality is a system’s failure to reform or purge low performing producers. It is a hallmark of the public sector wherein low performance is often widely asserted as an entitlement to increased funding. Certainly that has been true for K-12 schooling where massive per pupil funding increases frequently follow documentation of horrifically poor performance.

All traditional public schools (TPS) fail at high rates because one size cannot fit all, plus additional heroic assumptions about educators, children, economics, and politics. At some TPS the “one size” is so poorly produced that it fits everyone badly. States’ formal, top-down assessment rubrics recognize only the latter failure to serve anyone adequately.

Programs that document such total failure, including the programs that provide increased access to TPS alternatives for children assigned to officially “failed” assigned schools, have not put themselves out of business.  Such massive failure persists despite the shame, the often increased funding and attention that goes to schools labeled “failed”, and supposed greater access to assigned school alternatives made possible for students assigned to “failed” TPS.  In the rare cases where access to alternatives creates some rivalry behavior, it falls far short of the needed genuine competition. Failure persists because the anti-failure strategies address few, if any, of the roots of the low performance problem.

Even the relatively rare markets suffering “failure” (to be perfect) for one or more of the standard reasons (information deficiencies, not enough competition, and relevant spillover effects), rapidly eliminate low-performing producers. The rapid resolution/disappearance of low-performing producers is a hallmark of markets with the key features of price change, profit/loss, and total openness to newcomer attempts at choiceworthiness.