JPGB Enters the 21st Century

October 1, 2010

You may have noticed some changes on the Jay P. Greene’s Blog.  We’ve added buttons on each post so that readers can share them easily via Facebook and Twitter.  We’ve also established a page on Facebook so that readers can follow our posts by “liking” the blog’s page.  And we’ve established a Twitter account so that people can follow our posts that way.

Watch out, Tony Wagner!  We’re getting all 21st century-skillsy around here.

The Determined Pessimism of Rick and Mike

September 23, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My friends Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess have been either (a) cautioning people about becoming overly optimistic about Waiting for Superman  and our ability to improve K-12 outcomes or (b) ridiculing the idea completely.


Let me begin by saying that I am no starry-eyed naif when it comes to the possible impact of the film. I wrote the other day that I am starting to entertain the idea that it might be a big deal. Union reactionaries do find themselves increasingly isolated in K-12 policy discussions, and many of their catspaws will be turned out of office in November.

Let me say in advance however that the unions are not going anywhere. They still control hundreds of millions of dollars, legions of organized activists and all the lobbyists that they care to employ. I’m not claiming that a tipping point has been achieved and it is all downhill from here for them, merely that they are in for what could prove to be a sizeable rough patch.

Where I seem to differ with Mike and Rick is with their seeming determined pessimism regarding the realm of the possible for improvement. Rick and I appeared on a panel together at the State Policy Network a couple of weeks ago, and discussed the same issue.

Readers of this blog find themselves subjected to my battering away with Florida’s NAEP scores on a regular basis. I won’t bother going into the litany because you already know it, so let’s take a couple of other examples where real reform agendas have been instituted, and what has been going on with their NAEP scores.

I pick a couple because, well, only a few exist. You have to be in a position to roll the establishment to do these things, and keep them rolled. Very few have pulled that off. However, the results are encouraging.

I am encouraged that New York City now outscores some statewide averages on NAEP, despite a student body that is 84 percent minority and 85% FRL eligible. NYC kids scored 217 on 4th grade reading in 2009, only 206 in 2002. That’s a meaningful difference, and should embolden Chancellor Klein.

Likewise, DCPS is still an academic blight, but has made substantial progress since the mid 1990s. When my coauthors and I tracked the learning gains of general education low-income students for the 50 states and DC from 2003 to 2009 in all four main NAEP subjects, Florida came in with the biggest gains and DC came in with the second largest gains. Coincidence? I doubt it- both Florida and DC have engaged in far-reaching reforms.

MA is justifiably proud of having the nation’s highest NAEP scores accompanying their standards-led reforms. It has been mentioned before that the usual suspects fiercely opposed their adoption.

Notice that there is no one path up the mountain here-but there are some common threads to the reforms: testing, accountability, choice. So maybe I’m like Ronald Reagan and I just think that there has got to be a pony somewhere in all that manure. It seems to me, however, that there is a pattern here: in the limited number of instances when jurisdictions take control of policy away from the reactionaries, keep it away from them for a sustained period, and implement reforms that they hate, NAEP scores make substantial improvement.

My own experience in interacting with lawmakers, candidates and philanthropists around the country is that they almost all like substantial improvement in NAEP scores. It doesn’t matter whether they are on the right or left or center. The funny thing is that everyone but those directly benefiting from the status-quo seem to not only want improvement, many of them are willing to fight for it.

So have we “cracked the code.” Yes, as a matter of fact, I think a few places have done so. Yes with fantastic difficulty and always imperiled sustainability. The success of reformers is limited and fragile, but very real. If the third largest state in the union doesn’t represent “results at scale” then what pray tell does? 

We have learned a great deal over the past 20 years. Our decisions are being guided less by theory and more by experience. Less and less this is less about “Assume a can opener” and more and more about “You know, they did something like that in X, let’s see what we can learn about the results.”

If throwing money at schools, lowering class sizes, expanding preschool, open classrooms, whole language or <fill in the blank here> had produced these types of results, this blog would not exist. There would be no need for an education reform cottage industry, and no one would donate to it. They failed. It’s too bad, because I would much rather be spending my life an executive at Rhino Records putting together compliation CD’s of punk rock bands covering all of Dean Martin’s greatest hits. The cover would have a guy in a tux holding up a martini above a violent mosh pit.

A’int Love a Kick in the Head? Oi….let me demonstrate! But I digress…

Our ideas have barely been tried, and very rarely in sustained concert with each other. Unless someone is able to demonstrate the Florida NAEP, the DCPS NAEP, and the Trial Urban District Assessment NAEP for NYC and Miami have all been cooked, the only reasonable conclusion to reach is that unions hate policies that succeed in substantially improving the education of children.

There have been and will continue to be misteps. There will be gains and losses along the way. This is a war, and war is hell. The unions are not going away, but neither are we nor the evidence of our successes. As Dino’s pally Frank used to say, the best is yet to come.

The First Education Buzz Carnival is Up

August 4, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Education Buzz Carnival replaces the Carnival of Education, you can check it out here.

Blogs at Ten Paces!

May 17, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend, ALELR ran the numbers on Technorati and posted the Top 20 Education Blogs on his blog, Intercepts. Coming out on top – Joanne Jacobs. But what do you expect given that she’s married to royalty?

Tied for #10? Jay P. Greene’s Blog and . . .  Intercepts.

I say we settle this like men - on the field of honor. There can be only ten!

Jay’s Laws

March 31, 2010

For anyone interested in pursuing an intellectual career, I have three laws to suggest:

1) Never say anything you don’t believe.  This may sound obvious, but I’m struck by how many people in academia and think-tankdom tailor their comments to please others while deviating from their true beliefs.  Remember, we aren’t politicians, so we don’t have to lie.  Some people get confused and think that they are politicians and craft what they say to produce a desired result as opposed to expressing their sincere convictions.  Being able to say what you think is true is the one great compensation of an intellectual life so don’t throw it away to fit in with colleagues, please a funder, or to fool the public or politicians into doing something you want.

2) Never work with people with whom you do not want to be working.  This law is harder to obey, especially earlier in one’s career, but please keep it in mind as an important goal to reach as soon as possible.  People who work primarily for money have to put up with a lot, including nasty colleagues, because they feel obliged to do whatever get’s them more money.  People who pursue an intellectual career should be primarily interested in ideas, not money.  Since jerks as colleagues tend not to contribute to the development of your ideas and since their jerkiness distracts you from developing your own ideas, you should get as far away from them as quickly as you can.

3) Never work on projects that you don’t think matter.  I’m not suggesting that every project needs to change the world, but you should see the projects on which you work as part of a broader intellectual agenda that has the potential to affect the world.  If you work on projects that you don’t think have any effect on the world, then you will have a hard time caring about it.  And if you don’t care about it, why should anyone else?  You’ll probably also do a lousy job if even you don’t care about it.  Besides, if you want to work on stuff you don’t care about you might as well work in a law firm or something else that pays better but does not require you to care.

Cory in the House!

January 13, 2010

This Examiner article from Jan. 5 has just been brought to my attention:

Another concern is that private schools work against segregation and decrease tolerance. On the contrary, in a study by Cory Forster of The Friedman Foundation who compared segregated levels in private voucher schools and public schools, less segregation was found in the private schools.

In my time I have been cited in newspapers as Greg Forester, Greg Foster, and other spellings. But I have never had the honor and privilege of being a Cory.

I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

Best Group Blog Nomination

December 14, 2009

I just noticed that JPGB has been nominated for the Best Group Education Blog from the Edublogawards.  That’s nice.  Click and vote if you feel like it.  Voting ends on the 16th.

If I win, I promise to donate all of the proceeds (of which there are none) to charity.  And I promise to give an awesome acceptance speech, like the one Obama gave for the Nobel.  But to fit that mold would I have to say the opposite of everything else I had been saying?  Would I praise the teacher union and the need to assign students to schools based on where they live?

Besides, what do they mean by “group blog”?  Don’t they know that it’s been all me, me, me (except for all of the funny stuff — that’s Matt, and all of the smart stuff — that’s Greg).

Blog Envy

December 4, 2009

I’m suffering from blog envy.  Other blogs have had some great posts — much better than what I’ve come up with recently.  If I can’t beat them I might as well link to them and poach their material.

First, Brian Kisida has a superb post at Mid-Riffs on the predictable waste and banality of consultant reports in the political and education arena.  He demonstrates this using as his examples a “curriculum audit” that the Fayetteville school district has commissioned from Phi Delta Kappa for $36,000 as well as a “visioning” report that the City of Fayetteville commissioned from Eva Klein & Associates for $150,000:

To be sure, the report that Phi Delta Kappa comes up with won’t look exactly like the same ideas the community gave them.  They’ll be re-written in such a way that any resemblance or lack of substance will be obfuscated by consultant-speak gobbledy-gook.  For example, when the Rogers School District hired Phi Delta Kappa to conduct an audit, one of the recommendations they received was:

Develop and implement a comprehensive curriculum management system that delineates short- and long-term goals, directs curriculum revision to ensure deep alignment and quality delivery, and defines the instructional model district leaders expect teachers to follow in delivering the curriculum.

Translation: Establish a system to set and achieve goals. And make it a good one.

Here’s another recommendation from the Rogers audit:

Research, identify and implement strategies to eliminate inequities and inequalities that impede opportunities for all students to succeed.

Translation:  Do what you and every other school district has already been doing (or should have been doing) for decades.

I’m willing to bet Fayetteville’s audit will contain many of the same recommendations given to Rogers.  These types of consultant groups have stock boiler-plate language that they recycle time and time again.  I also expect to see some of the views of the community rewritten in consultant-speak.  Here’s some of the comments and concerns the Northwest Arkansas Times picked up from teachers and parents at one of the focus groups:

  • Weaknesses in foreign languages
  • lack of flexibility, especially at the high school level
  • poor communication about special programs
  • lack of strong leadership in some schools
  • the need for more vocational classes, including in middle school
  • too many different intelligent levels in the classroom
  • special needs and at-risk students need more technology
  • need more literacy coaches, especially one at the high school
  • more coordination in all programs
  • need more time for physical activity
  • need more writing in classrooms
  •  I got this list from the newspaper, which cost me fifty cents–a whopping $35,499.50 less than Phi Delta Kappa is going to charge for repackaging these ideas in consultant-speak.

    I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses.   Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do?  So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?

    Wow.  Great blogging!

    And Paul Peterson is hitting his stride as a blogger over at the Education Next Blog.  There he notes the political difficulty posed by teacher union financial might for President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s efforts to turn Race to the Top rhetoric into reality:

    The National Education Association (and its local affiliates) gave $56.3 million dollars to state and federal election campaigns in 2007 and 2008, more than any other entity. That’s what we learn from the recently released report issued by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) together with the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

    The much smaller American Federation of Teachers tossed in another $12 million dollars into political campaigns….

    The money is wrested directly from teacher paychecks as an add-on to their monthly dues (unless teachers specifically object), a power granted unions by school boards as part of collective bargaining deals.  So the NEA’s slush fund is in fact built by taxpayer dollars, which flow directly to the NEA instead of into the teacher’s own bank account.  Yes, some individual teachers object and don’t make the political contribution, but unions typically collect the money by default.

    With all that cash in hand, unions are in a position to tell state legislatures what to do, if they want campaign dollars next time around.  Significantly, over $53 million of the $56.3 million dollars went for state-level expenditures, a clear indication that unions know that the action is not in Washington but in state capitols.

    This enormous cash nexus that swamps anything any business entity has contributed creates a huge problem for President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is asking states and school districts to put merit pay into place.

    Have you “Experienced” The Riffs at Mid-Riffs?

    September 15, 2009

    Mid-Riffs, a blog started by a bunch of my friends, is off to a great start with several posts on the high school millage in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t, but they are always fun to read.

    The election is today, so be sure to check out their excellent information and analysis.  In particular, they have argued:

  • The high school is not falling apart. (In a 2006 statewide ranking of buildings needing repair, Fayetteville high school was ranked 988 out of 1,129 K-12 public school buildings, where 1 was most need of repair.)
  • There is no evidence buildings improve student outcomes.
  • The current facility has deficiencies, but they don’t necessitate complete demolition and reconstruction.
  • There is a case to be made for economic development, but any positive effects will be much diminished by the necessary tax increase.
  • But Mid-Riffs did make a case for why we might want to spend $116 million to tear-down the currently functional building for a brand new one — we like shiny new things.  We don’t need to buy diamond engagement rings, but people like to have them.  We don’t need a new building, but we might still want to have one.

    It’s not a very compelling argument, but it is no worse of a reason than your reason for buying that new Lexus.

    Facebook in Reality

    September 13, 2009

    (ht: a Facebook friend)


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