Arne Duncan, Suuuuuuuuuper Geeeeeeenius!

August 12, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Before he goes ahead with the plan to set himself up as America’s first one-man legislature, Arne Duncan might want to read this detailed, devastating takedown by Rick Hess.

This is pretty much what I was trying to get at in the comments earlier this week, except a whole lot better both on substance and humor value. I couldn’t stop laughing, and I also couldn’t stop crying.

(Although I do think I should get points for working in an Iron Chefs reference.)

If Duncan doesn’t pick up the clue Rick is putting out on the table for him, here’s how his tenure might be remembered:

 


The Gates Foundation and the Rise of the Cool Kids

July 28, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jay and Greg have been carrying on an important discussion concerning the Gates Foundation and education reform. I wanted to add a few thoughts.

Rick Hess and others have noted the “philanthropist as royalty” phenomenon in the past. Any philanthropist runs the danger of only hearing what they want to hear from their supplicants, and Gates as the largest private foundation runs the biggest risk. The criticism of the Gates Foundation I had seen in the past emanated from the K-12 reactionary fever swamp, hardly qualifying as constructive.

The challenge faced by philanthropists: how do you challenge your own assumptions and evaluate your own efforts honestly? Do you hire formidable Devil’s advocates to level their most skeptical case against your efforts?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, just that if I were Bill Gates I would be terrified of everyone telling me how right my thinking is because they want my money. This is however the best sort of problem to have…

Jay’s central critique of the Gates Foundation strategy seems to be that they have put too much faith in a centralized command and control strategy. They would be wise to entertain this thought. If command and control alone were the solution, then we wouldn’t have education problems-district, state and federal governance have all failed to prevent widespread academic failure for decades.

The Gates strategy does however embrace decentralization. Over the years they have supported charter schools, and fiercely opposed the worst one-size fits all policy of all: salary schedules and automatic/irrevocable tenure. Riley’s WSJ article makes clear that Gates understands the benefits of private school choice, but that he falls for the Jay Mathews fallacy of thinking it is just too politically difficult.

Sigh…perhaps next year Greg can make a dinner bet with Bill.

Gates is also the primary backer of Khan Academy. This new article on Sal Khan in Wired magazine makes clear that Khan understands the danger of being swallowed by school systems and that he is not going to allow it to happen. Khan academy is both radically decentralized and is in the early stages of being used by people within the centralized school system to improve outcomes.

Whatever the mistakes to date, the Gates Foundation has in my mind has succeeded in serving as a counter-weight to the NEA, mostly through funding the efforts of a myriad network of reform organizations collectively known as the Cool Kids. Today, there is a struggle for power going on within the Democratic Party over K-12 policy and the Gates Foundation deserves some credit in my mind for supporting  the ideas behind the “Democrat Spring” on education policy. This spring is following more of the Syrian than the Egyptian model thus far, but it is happening, and it is very important.

Does that mean that they are the “good guys” and Jay should lay off of them? Of course not-reasoned critiques of large philanthropists are in short supply for all of the factors cited above. Jason Riley wished that Gates were bolder in embracing decentralization reforms, but noted that in the end that it was the Gates rather than the Riley Foundation. This is absolutely true, but it doesn’t make the royalty problem go away, and leaves a continuous question of how the emperor gets feedback on his new clothes.

I don’t agree with the Cool Kids about everything. The next time I hear someone ask a question about having Common Core replace NAEP (the very pinnacle of naive folly) for instance I may pull out entire tufts of my graying, thinning hair in utter exasperation. Reformers of all stripes need to be on guard against the ship-wheel conceit, which is to imagine that if only my strong hands steered the ship, we’d sail through the rocky shoals of ed reform without a hitch.

The East Germans ran a much better economy than the North Koreans, much to the benefit of Germans and to the detriment of Koreans. This is real and important in human terms- I do not make this point glibly. I never heard about an East German famine decimating the population, but food shortages have even soldiers starving to death in North Korea (pity the women and children). Better quality management is good and desirable, but…it will only take you so far. Today, Chinese apparatchiks are noisily crediting themselves for the tremendous economic progress in China without the slightest hint of irony. Without the market forces Deng introduced and with more apparatchiks, China would revert back to a starving backwater. With fewer apparatchiks, her progress would almost certainly accelerate.

As Sara Mead correctly noted in this guest post at Eduwonk, today’s education debate largely involves a mixture of technocratic and market-based reforms (neo-liberals) on one side and a group of reactionaries lacking realistic solutions on the other. A third of our 4th graders can’t read and have been shoved into the dropout pipeline. We need both technocratic and market based reforms, and we need stronger reforms of both sorts than those fielded to date.

Jay’s critique concerns the right mix of reforms within the bounds of the neo-liberal consensus. This of course is a matter of debate, and debate is the path to deeper understanding. The sheer size of the Gates Foundation has the potential to stifle such debate as it relates to their efforts, even passively, and reformers should recognize the danger in allowing it to do so. This isn’t about them so much as it is about us.


Salman Khan on Colbert

June 14, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Sal Khan appeared on the Colbert Report- I can’t embed the video, so watch it here.

Rick Hess takes to his blog to declare Khan the most over-hyped edu-entrepreneur. Rick’s post however makes a stronger case against his point that for it, and Bryan and Emily Hassel very helpfully finish the job.


Rankings Revised

January 6, 2011

Rick Hess along with Daniel Lautzenheiser have devised a ranking of the “public presence” of education academics.  They developed a 7 itemscoring rubric [that] reflects a given scholar’s body of academic work—encompassing books, articles, and the degree to which these are cited—as well as their footprint on the public discourse in 2010. ”

There is always something arbitrary and crappy about these rankings, but Rick is right when he argues, “For all their imperfections, I think these [ranking] systems convey real information—and do an effective job of sparking discussion (about questions that are variously trivial and substantial).”  Recognizing that these kinds of rankings are part recreation and part reality, I’ve made a slightly revised ranking presented below (with help from Misty Newcomb).

One of the problems with the ranking Daniel and Rick developed is that it combines some measures that accumulate over one’s career with other measures that only count accomplishments in the last year.  The career measures, Google Scholar and books published, will tend to be higher for people who have had longer careers.  Given that the ranking is meant to capture the current influence of education academics, these career items are biased in favor of senior scholars whose work may have been influential in the past, but less so in the present.

A more junior colleague pointed out this distortion to me, so I have tried to standardize the Google Scholar and book measures so that those with longer careers would have no particular advantage.  In particular, I calculated the sum of the two “career measures” — Google Scholar and books published.  Then I divided that sum by the years since the scholar received his or her terminal degree.  And to ensure that books and articles would still have the same weight in the overall score, I multiplied by the mean number of years since degrees were earned, about 23.2.

In making this adjustment I am assuming that every scholar would maintain the same rate of book and article productivity over his or her entire career.  So, the book and article “public presence” in the past year would be in proportion to the total book and article production per year over an entire career.

I make no changes to the 5 other measures in Daniel and Rick’s ranking: current Amazon sales as well as mentions in the education press, blogs, newspapers, and Congressional Record.  All of those measures reflect current “public presence.”  Adding the adjusted two career measures to these annual measures we get an adjusted total score.

Making the adjustment for length of career does not alter who is at the very top of the rankings.  As you can see below, Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling-Hammond still rule the roost.  But there are some significant changes below that, where more junior scholars jump in the rankings and more senior scholars drop.  For example, Martin West leaps to 10th place from his previous ranking of 69th, surpassing his mentor, Paul Peterson, who drops from 5th to 11th.  Roland Fryer moves up to 3rd from 11th.  Jacob Vigdor rises to 16th from 43rd.  Susanna Loeb goes to 18th from 49th.  Matthew Springer rises to 29th from 74th.  And Brian Jacob, Jonah Rockoff, and Sara Goldrick-Rab all jump almost 30 places.

On the other hand, some more senior scholars decline significantly in their public presence ranking once we make this adjustment.  Gene Glass sinks from 20th to 50th.  Henry Levin falls from 17th to 52nd.  David Berliner drops from 19th to 57th.  Kenneth Zeichner moves from 30th to 62nd .

These changes make sense and I think improve Rick and Daniel’s ranking.  Hotshot researchers like Roland Fryer, Jacob Vigdor, Susanna Loeb, Matthew Springer, Brian Jacob, Jonah Rockoff, and Sara Goldrick-Rab are having a large impact on current education policy discussions even though their careers have not been long enough to accumulate a longer list of books and articles.  The original ranking shortchanged these scholars in measuring their current “public presence.”

At the same time, more senior scholars, like Gene Glass, Hank Levin, David Berliner, and Kenneth Zeichner may have been given too much credit by the old ranking system for books and articles that were influential in the past but do not give them as much of a public presence in recent policy debates.

Of course, of greatest interest to me was what happened to my ranking.  I moved up to 21st from 39th.  This must be a better ranking.

Click on the images below to see the original and adjusted results for all 89 education academics that Rick and Daniel included in their “super-sized” ranking.  Have fun and, as David Letterman would say, please… no wagering.


Arne Duncan to schools: WAKE UP!

November 19, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Rick Hess has provided a summary of a speech that Arne Duncan delivered at AEI yesterday that is a MUST READ. The hyperlink function of the blog seems to be malfunctioning, so here is the link:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2010/11/bam_pow_whomp_sec_duncan_knocks_it_out_of_the_park.html

Go read it NOW.

P.S. The Longhorn family is happy to accept Mike Petrilli into the ranks of BOOM Nation. As Lyle likes to sing:


We Won!

September 29, 2010

I have no idea why a bunch of ed reformers are so gloomy.  Matt has already observed how Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli can’t seem to enjoy the moment when ed reform ideas go mainstream.  Now Liam Julian is joining the poopy parade, lamenting that the new crop of naive reformers are doomed to fail just as past ones have, and “it never works out.” And continuing the gloomy theme, Rick is worrying that school choice (in the form of vouchers) over-promised and under-delivered, losing the support of people like Sol Stern.

That may be, but as a graduate student observed to me today, choice (in the form of vouchers) may have lost Sol Stern, but choice (in the form of charters) just gained Oprah, the Today Show, and the Democratic Party platform.    Overall, he thought that was a pretty good trade, especially since he had to look up who Sol Stern was.

Let’s review.  It is now commonly accepted among mainstream elites — from Oprah to Matt Lauer to Arne Duncan — that simply pouring more money into the public school system will not produce the results we want.  It is now commonly accepted that the teacher unions have been a significant barrier to school improvement by protecting ineffective teachers and opposing meaningful reforms.  It is now commonly accepted that parents should have a say in where their children go to school and this choice will push traditional public schools to improve.  It is now commonly accepted that we have to address the incentives in the school system to recruit, retain, and motivate the best educators.

These reform ideas were barely a twinkle in Ronald Reagan’s eye three decades ago and are now broadly accepted across both parties and across the ideological spectrum.  This is a huge accomplishment and rather than being all bummed out that everyone else now likes the band that I thought was cool before anyone ever heard of it, we should be amazed at how much good music there is out there.

We won!  At least we’ve won the war of ideas.  Our ideas for school reform are now the ones that elites and politicians are considering and they have soundly rejected the old ideas of more money, more money, and more money.

Now that I’ve said that, I have to acknowledge that winning the war of ideas is nowhere close to winning the policy war.  As I’ve written before, the teacher unions are becoming like the tobacco industry.  No one accepts their primary claims anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be powerful and that people don’t continue to smoke.  The battle is turning into a struggle over the correct design and implementation of the reform ideas that are now commonly accepted.  And the unions have shown that they are extremely good at blocking, diluting, or co-opting the correct design and implementation of reforms.

Rick Hess correctly demonstrated how important design and implementation are almost two decades ago in his books, Spinning Wheels and Revolution at the Margins.   And it is always useful for him and others to remind reformers of the dangers that lurk in those union-infested waters.  But for a moment can’t we just bask in the glow of our intellectual victory — even if our allies are a new crop of naive reformers?

(edited for typos)


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.

Hmmmm…

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 Lioness in the Winter?

September 9, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m seeing increasing eduland chatter that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty is trouble in his reelection bid.  Rick Hess provides an on the scene view of what is at risk:

When it comes to teacher evaluation, the teacher contract, textbook distribution, special education, scheduling, data systems, and much else, Rhee’s team has gotten DCPS to the point where it is functional. It isn’t yet an especially good school system, but it’s no longer broken and it’s positioned to be something much more.

I’m even a bit more bullish than this on DCPS. In our rankings of state NAEP performance for ALEC’s Report Card on American Education, DC came up with the second highest overall gains between 2003 and 2009, behind only Florida. The NAEP gains in the District predate Rhee’s tenure, but accelerated between 2007 and 2009.  If the Fenty/Rhee regime survives, an academic golden age of improvement lies within the grasp of the long-troubled district.

If not, it will likely take longer. The bottom-up pressure on DCPS in the form of a large and growing charter school sector will remain.  I have some hope that the union’s pillow smothering of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program might be reversed after many of their minions are forced out of Congress.

That's my lobbying job! No MINE!!!!!

The path to reform is difficult. There have been and will continue to be bitter losses along the way. For the sake of the 56% of DC 4th graders who still can’t read at a Basic level despite the progress to date, I hope that prematurely losing Rhee will not be one of them.


Only 40% of UFT Voters Are Actual Teachers

April 14, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over on NRO, Rick Hess points out that only 40% of the voters in last week’s UFT elections were actual teachers.

Do you think this sort of thing might have something to do with the problem of runaway, unfunded teacher pensions? Looks like at least one union is representing retirees at least as much as teachers.

This also sheds some light on why the unions favor policies that destroy the working environment for public school teachers. Only 40% of their voters are affected by the destruction of the teacher working environment.

And this is after the implementation of a new rule that counts each vote by a retiree as only 0.72 of a vote. If the retirees’ votes hadn’t been diluted, the teachers would only be 34% of the electorate and the retirees 46%.

In case you’re wondering, the other 22% of the UFT vote is composed of what the union calls “functional teachers,” i.e. almost entirely non-teachers (librarians, nurses, counsellors, etc.)


The Special Ed DC Bubble

August 23, 2009

One of the (many) problems with education policy analysts is that a large number of them live in or around Washington, D.C. 

D.C. is a remarkably abnormal place.  Because of the giant distortions of the presence and subsidies from the federal government as well as the atypical set of people who live in that area, policy experiences in DC are very often quite different from the experiences in the rest of the country. 

The problem is that people tend to generalize from their immediate experiences.  If something happens to you, you hear about it from people you know, or you read about it in your local paper, you tend to think that’s the way it is for everyone.  So, DC education analysts are always at-risk of drawing policy conclusions based on incredibly atypical experiences.

For a prime example see Andy Rotherham and Sara Mead’s thoughts on special education vouchers:

In fact, if special education identification led to funding for private school attendance, it would be unusual if this did not create an incentive to participate in special education in many communities, particularly those with low-performing public schools. For example, Washington, D.C., and New York City currently contend with substantial abuse of special education by affluent parents. In addition, there are reports of parents seeking to have their students diagnosed with learning disabilities in order to gain accommodations on the SAT or for other reasons. [fn 27] 

For another example, listen to Amber Winkler, Mike Petrilli, and Rick Hess discuss our most recent study on special education vouchers (it starts around minute 11:00).  They generally do a good job of describing the study but they express doubts about our findings because they believe that parents, especially affluent parents, have considerable influence over special education placements.

On what basis do these D.C. education analysts believe that a significant number of parents, especially affluent parents, are gaming the special education diagnostic system to get access to advantageous accommodations or expensive private placements?  The evidence Andy and Sara provide in footnote 27 consists largely of newspaper accounts from Washington, D.C..  Mike and Rick provide no source and we can only assume that they are drawing upon their immediate experiences.

Of course, the antidote to mistaken generalizations from our limited and potentially distorted set of immediate experiences is the reliance on systematic data.  If we step back and look at the broad evidence, we can avoid some of the easy mistakes that result from assuming that everyone’s experience is like ours.  As it turns out, DC is a gigantic outlier.

School officials, not parents, make the determination of whether a student has a particular disability and what accommodations are necessary.  Parents are entitled to challenge the decisions of school officials, but they rarely do and even more rarely win those challenges. 

In the fall of 2007 there were 6,718,203 students receiving special education services between the ages of 3 and 21.  And that year there was a grand total of 14,834 disputes from parents resolved by a hearing or agreement prior to completion of a hearing (see Table 7-3).  That’s about .2% of special education cases that are disputed by parents or 1 in 500.

And as Marcus Winters and I described in our new study, schools prevail in most of these disputes:

According to Mayes and Zirkel’s (2001) review of the literature, “schools prevailed in 63% of the due process hearings in which placement was the predominant issue.” In cases where the matter went beyond an administrative hearing and was actually brought to court, one study cited in Mayes and Zirkel’s review found that “schools prevailed in 54.3% of special education court cases,” which the authors say is in line with the findings of other studies. In suits seeking reimbursement for private school expenses (because a special-education voucher program is unavailable), Mayes and Zirkel found that “school districts won the clear majority (62.5%) of the decisions.

In addition, as Marcus Winters and I documented in a 2007 Education Next article, private placement is amazingly rare.  Using updated national numbers from the federal government, as of fall 2007 there were 67,729 disabled students ages 6 through 21 who were being educated in private schools at parental request and public expense.  That’s only 1.13% of the 6,007,832 disabled students ages 6 through 21 and barely one tenth of one percent of all public school students.  If private placement supports Andy and Sara’s claim of “substantial abuse of special education” we’d have to redefine “substantial” to include minuscule proportions of students.

The systematic evidence clearly shows that school officials dominate special education, parents rarely challenge school officials’ decisions, schools win most of those challenges from parents, and parents very rarely get their children placed in private schools at public expense. 

So, why do Andy, Sara, Rick, and Mike ( as well as all of those DC reporters who Andy and Sara cite) believe that parents, especially affluent parents, control special education decisions?  Well, perhaps it is because in D.C. parents do have much more control than in the rest of the country. 

Remember how there were 14,384 students nationwide who resolved a dispute with their school over special education in a hearing or by agreement prior to the completion of a hearing?  DC contained 2,689 of those 14,384, or about 18% (see Table 7-3).  But DC represents only .15% of total student enrollment nationwide.  That means parents in DC are about 120 times more likely to lodge these challenges than the typical parent nationwide.

And while private placement is very rare, it is somewhat less rare in DC.  Out of 67,729 students privately placed at parental request, 1,864 of them were in DC, or about 2.75% of the total.  Again, given that DC student enrollment represents only .15% of national enrollment, DC students are about 18 times more likely to receive a private placement than students nationwide.

It’s clear that DC is just different — very different.  Making generalizations from DC experiences or newspaper articles is like saying that Seattle is a sunny place if you happen to arrive there on a day when the sun was shining.

D.C. isn’t the only outlier.  New York is also pretty atypical when it comes to special education.  Dispute resolution hearings in New York state are about 7 times more common than in the rest of the country.  And private placements are almost 3 times more common in the state of New York than they are nationwide.

It’s too bad that so many of our media and policy elites live in these two atypical places because they are giving us a very distorted picture of special education.  They need to get outside of their bubbles and rely on systematic data rather than immediate experiences.