CMS named country's top urban school district
After three grueling years, staff, students and supporters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools basked in national attention and community pride after claiming the nation's top award for urban education Tuesday.
The 2011 Broad Prize brings $550,000 in scholarships, bragging rights for the district's 17,750 employees and a surge of educators and policymakers eager to see what CMS has done to help low-income and minority students succeed and graduate.
"It's a huge shot in the arm," said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a CMS graduate and parent. "Our schools have gained a measure of acclaim today that is analogous to the Super Bowl of education."
The recognition comes in the wake of layoffs, school closings and fierce policy debates that have eroded teacher morale and split the community. It also lands during a school board campaign and superintendent search that could determine whether CMS continues on the path charted by Superintendent Peter Gorman, who resigned in June after five years.
Gorman, who now works for News Corp.'s Education Division, shared the stage in Washington, D.C., with interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who acknowledged the stress that accompanied the gains.
"My hat's off to our teachers, our principals and other employees who have not been deterred by hard times," Hattabaugh said.
Among the things that caught the judges' attention were CMS' efforts to get top educators into struggling high-poverty schools, provide extra aid for the neediest students, and identify and reward the most effective teachers.
Still 'much more work ahead'
The prize doesn't mean criticism and challenges will vanish. Black, Hispanic and low-income students in CMS still trail their classmates on most academic measures - a national frustration acknowledged by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad as he introduced the four finalists.
"The four districts we honor today have made the greatest progress of urban school systems nationwide but as their leaders will tell you, they have much more work ahead of them," Broad said, noting this is the 10th such award he has presented to highlight successes, spur competition and spread good ideas.
"What has most surprised and, yes, disappointed us about urban education reform is the slow pace at which it occurs," Broad said.
The involvement of billionaires such as Broad and Bill Gates in public education reform has aroused suspicion among teachers and activists in Charlotte and nationwide. The Broad Foundation has invested deeply in CMS - training Gorman and the board, helping pay for central-office staff and providing more than $3 million in grants - and some resent what they see as the group's business-driven approach to education.
But in Gwinnett County, Ga., which edged out CMS and three other districts for the 2010 Broad Prize, the biggest payoff was a surge of community pride, said spokeswoman Sloan Roach.
"No matter where you were within our greater community, people were talking about their schools," she said. "Everyone recognized the hard work they were doing day in and day out was making a difference."
Broad and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan presented the prize. Hattabaugh, Gorman, school board Chair Eric Davis and a dozen other officials and educators were on hand to claim it.
In Charlotte, dozens of administrators and principals gathered to watch on the web.
Last year, a similar scene ended with staff quietly filing out after Gwinnett took the prize. Tuesday the Charlotte crew whooped and shouted when Duncan named CMS the winner.
"It sure beats last year," Davis said, laughing, after the ceremony.
Aid in superintendent search
CMS and Gorman already had a high national profile, said Tori Belle-Miller, communications director of the nonprofit advocacy group MeckEd. But she said the award will make CMS an even more attractive destination for superintendent candidates.
Successful public schools are also likely to be part of the pitch to the nation when the Democratic National Convention comes in September 2012.
"With the spotlight on our city, an award like today's is another great example of the city moving forward despite lots of economic headwinds," said Foxx, a Democrat who helped land the convention.
And N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg Republican who was a CMS parent and volunteer, said the recognition is a good prod for the state legislature to keep working on giving local boards more flexibility.
"Part of what you have to do is make sure we're not losing momentum around the creativity and innovation that got us to that point," Tillis said.
CMS was chosen from among 75 eligible districts, based on size, low-income enrollment, minority enrollment and urban environment. A screening panel analyzed data, and Broad representatives came to Charlotte in May to visit schools and talk to staff, students and families.
They also awarded the $250,000 in scholarships that CMS earned as a finalist in 2010. This year there will be more than twice as much to distribute to the class of 2012.
On Tuesday, Broad also noted the rise of public charter schools designed to encourage innovation.
"We may soon have a way to recognize America's best and most successful charter schools."
Why education reform keeps failing
What are we to make of articles extolling IMPACT, Washington D.C.’s fledging teacher evaluation system, for how many “ineffective” teachers have been identified and fired, how many “highly effective” teachers rewarded? It’s hard to say.
I argue in my new book, Teaching and Its Predicaments (Harvard University) that fragmented school governance in the United States, coupled with the lack of coherent educational infrastructure, make it difficult either to broadly improve teaching and learning or to have valid knowledge of the extent of improvement.
Merriam-Webster defines “infrastructure” as: “the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization).” The term is commonly used to refer to the roads, rail systems, and other frameworks that facilitate the movement of things and people, or to the physical and electronic mechanisms that enable voice and video communication. But social systems also can have such “underlying foundations or basic frameworks.”
For school systems around the world, the infrastructure commonly includes student curricula or curriculum frameworks, exams to assess students’ learning of the curricula, instruction that centers on teaching that curriculum, and teacher education that aims to help prospective teachers learn how to teach the curricula.
The United States has had no such common and unifying infrastructure for schools, owing in part to fragmented government (including local control) and traditions of weak state guidance about curriculum and teacher education.
Like many recent reform efforts that focus on teacher performance and accountability, IMPACT does not attempt to build infrastructure, but rather assumes that weak individual teachers are the problem. There are some weak individual teachers, but the chief problem has been a non-system that offers no guidance or support for strong teaching and learning, precisely because there has been no infrastructure. IMPACT frames reform as a matter of solving individual problems when the weakness is systemic.
IMPACT and similar programs aim to distinguish more and less qualified individual teachers by using longitudinal measures of student achievement — especially value-added calculations — to estimate each teacher’s contribution to student learning. The goal is to reward teachers whose students gain more, or eliminate those teachers whose students gain less, or both. These programs, which promise large improvements in student performance without serious investment in system redesign, understandably have wide appeal, because they offer the appearance of a simple solution and cost little.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan favor such programs, as do a growing number of governors, state legislators, business leaders, and several large foundations. As with many states and localities, Washington D.C.’s efforts were undertaken with the support of federal and foundation incentives.
But niche “reforms” like this could not do enough by themselves to offer real improvement, even if they were accurate and reliable, which they are not.
In the case of performance pay, one problem is that the United States lacks an instructional system that would enable valid determinations of which teachers boost students’ test scores. Another is that researchers report that that performance pay does not boost student test scores (the most recent case in point is New York City’s decision to cancel its scheme after a RAND study that found that money rewards had no effect on students’ test scores).
And still another is that existing tests do not support defensible determinations of teaching quality, except perhaps at the very extremes of the distribution. (One reason for that last point is that the tests have limited reliability — scores on one administration of a test weakly predict scores on another administration of the same test a week or two later.)
Tests also do not agree very well; different parts of the same test that attempt to measure the same academic content seem to yield different results. Moreover, both the students who take such tests and their teachers have unequal access to educational resources, and some teachers systematically get more or less able students. For these reasons and several others, the existing tests can incorrectly identify teachers as ineffective or not. Hence this approach is suspect even in niche terms.
In making teachers the culprit for system failure, these policies assume that the causes of weak student learning lie chiefly in teachers’ deficient sense of responsibility, determination, and hard work. It’s true that some teachers are not responsible or determined, but dealing with that small fraction of the teaching force will do little to remedy the chief school-related causes of weak student performance — the absence of systemic clarity about what is to be taught and learned, how best to teach it, and support for teachers to learn those things — all things that well-designed infrastructure could offer.
The lack of infrastructure has been especially damaging in the high-poverty schools at which teacher accountability has chiefly been aimed. One result is that most accountability policies have set off a chain of disappointing results — including the gaming of tests by states setting the bar very low, or by district and school personnel cheating (recently in Atlanta).
To be fair, efforts to refine niche reforms have had several constructive effects: They have helped call attention to America’s longest-running educational problems; they have stimulated public and private work on these problems; and they have drawn attention to inequality in public education. But they have done little to provide the systemic support that infrastructure could offer for the quality instruction that students need.
A coherent educational infrastructure in the United States could enable valid judgments about the quality of teaching and learning and about which teachers do a better job of helping students learn. If teachers and students used common curricula, for example, they would have more equal chances to teach and learn. Teachers could have meaningful opportunities to learn to teach the common curriculum in preservice or later professional education. And there could be assessments of students’ learning that were valid for the common curriculum, so students could have less unequal chances to be tested on what they were supposed to have been taught. Reform should aim to build these key elements of infrastructure, and build educators’ capability to use it well.
The mere presence of these things would not, of course, assure quality education. That would depend on how infrastructure was designed and how educators used it, and use would depend on the capability of school systems, the people who work in them, and how society supported their work.
But because teachers in the United States have lacked these resources, they have had great difficulty building shared occupational knowledge and skills. They have had no common framework with which to make valid judgments about students’ work and no common vocabulary with which to identify, investigate, discuss, and solve problems of teaching and learning.
Hence, they also have little common knowledge that could be systematized for use in the education of intending teachers. Individual teachers have developed their own knowledge and skills, and some have become quite expert — but public education has had no organized means to turn teachers’ individual knowledge and skill into common know-how, let alone remember it, improve it by analysis, and make it available to novices. Thus, even aside from the question of whether they are valid and reliable (and they are not), small, narrow programs such as IMPACT can distract the nation from how best to solve the schools’ central problems.
This was written by David K. Cohen, John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
Source: Washington Post
Why We Need For-Profit Colleges
Last month, a company called Education Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice. Education Management is a for-profit education company; in fact, it is the country’s second-largest such company, with more than 150,000 students attending classes on more than 100 campuses, where it offers degrees in business, accounting and nursing, among other subjects.
According to the government, Education Management had a “ ‘boiler-room’-style sales culture.” Its recruiters used “high-pressure sales techniques, and inflated claims about career placement to increase student enrollment, regardless of applicants’ qualifications,” as The Times put it in an article about the lawsuit. And it supposedly paid recruiters bonuses based solely on how many students they enrolled — which is against the law.
Although Education Management vehemently denies the charges and vows to fight them, this is hardly the first time a for-profit university has been accused of impropriety. Indeed, during the last half-dozen years or so, scandal has dogged the industry. In recent years, Kaplan, a division of the Washington Post Company, faced allegations that it recruited unqualified students and had an unacceptably high percentage of defaults on its student loans. This summer, it settled a lawsuit (without admitting wrongdoing) that claimed it failed to place students in externships.
The allegations all stem from one essential fact: The for-profit college industry makes its money by recruiting students — overwhelmingly poor and working-class students — who must draw from the federal till to pay tuition. In many cases, as much as 90 percent of the revenue of a for-profit college company comes from the federal government, in the form of Pell Grants and student loans. The more students the companies enroll, the more federal money they get — and the more profit they make.
This has led to a widespread view that the for-profits will do just about anything to get that federal money. Although for-profit colleges enroll 12 percent of the nation’s college students, they soak up about 25 percent of the federal government’s student-aid budget. Fewer than half the students who enroll in the four-year for-profit schools graduate. Roughly 47 percent of those who were paying back their loans in 2009 defaulted by 2010.
The shadow of scandal has, in turn, done a lot to color the way the larger society thinks about the industry. No one is much willing to listen to its defenders, who point out, for instance, that higher default rates are inevitable given the higher-risk populations being served, or that state schools also receive enormous taxpayer subsidies that just don’t happen to be as obvious, or that the allegations hurled at the for-profit schools are sometimes overblown or unfair. Educating the poor and the working class is something that should be encouraged, rather than scorned, they say. Jeffrey Leeds, whose private-equity firm owns a big chunk of Education Management, says, “Our mission is straightforward, and one we are proud to take on — to help students, typically nontraditional students, successfully complete college programs with workplace skills that enable them to get good jobs in a tough economy.”
Instead, the industry’s transgressions have led many critics to conclude that the only way to “fix” for-profit education is to get rid of it entirely. One such critic is Steve Eisman, the famous short-seller and hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short.” Last year, he said in a speech that the for-profit education industry was “as socially destructive and morally bankrupt” as the subprime-mortgage industry. Having bet against for-profit education stocks, he then made similar remarks in Congressional testimony. Not surprisingly, this caused more stock declines in the sector.
All of this obscures what really ought to be the most important fact about the industry: the country can’t afford to put it out of business. On the contrary, America needs it — and needs it to succeed — desperately.
To start with the obvious, a college education has never been more necessary for a decent life in America. Many manufacturing jobs now demand a level of skill and education that virtually requires a college degree. A lot of white-collar employers won’t even consider a job applicant who hasn’t graduated from college.
And yet for the poor and the working class, that education is not easy to attain. State university systems have become increasingly expensive. Community colleges are terribly overcrowded. The schools most capable of meeting the country’s growing education needs are the for-profits. In the decade beginning in 1998, enrollment in public and private universities went up less than 25 percent. Enrollment in the for-profit colleges, meanwhile, was up 236 percent.
What’s more, the traditional university isn’t really set up to educate a person who has a full-time job. The for-profits can offer class times that are convenient for students, rather than for professors. They can offer online classes, which many traditional universities have been reluctant — or unable — to dive into. They pay professors to teach, not conduct research. A well-run for-profit college could teach its nonprofit counterparts a thing or two about efficiency and innovation. That’s the part of the profit motive that grades well.
The bad part, of course, is that capitalists will always behave more or less like greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit, motivated by whatever incentives are put in front of them. Just as the federal government created perverse incentives that helped bring about the subprime crisis, so have the government’s rules for the for-profit industry unwittingly led to its excesses. When industry reaps all the profit from student loans and the taxpayer has to pick up the losses, how can we be surprised when things turn out badly? What is needed now is creative, enlightened policymaking that will change the incentives so that good outcomes matter more than sheer volume.
Recently, the Department of Education issued a series of regulations that are supposed to do just that. Unfortunately, the new rules are cumbersome, complicated — and more than a little punitive. The most controversial of them, known as the gainful employment rule, is built in part on the actual earnings of all the graduates of a given for-profit college. Yet, astonishingly, the schools themselves are never allowed to see the income numbers of individual graduates because the government considers them private. Rules like that aren’t likely to help fix anything.
There is an easier way. Robert Silberman, the chairman and chief executive of Strayer Education, widely regarded as one of the better for-profit companies, suggests replacing the plethora of regulations with two simple changes. First, he says, the government should force the for-profits to share in the losses when a student defaults. And second, the government should set up a national eligibility test to screen out students who lack the skills to attend college. Would there still be defaults? Of course. But plenty of students at nonprofit universities default, too. Silberman’s solution would help ensure that both the government and for-profit companies are taking smarter risks on the students they enroll and educate.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of for-profit education. The for-profits have flaws, but so do nonprofits, with their bloated infrastructure, sky-high tuition, out-of-control athletic programs and resistance to change. In a country where education matters so much, we need them both.
“Joe Nocera is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times and the co-author of "All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis."
Source: New York Times
Education Impact of Jobs Bill Under Debate
Educators and analysts are taking a hard look at whether the $55 billion K-12 portion of President Barack Obama’s nearly $450 billion jobs plan will provide the jolt to schools still feeling the pinch of a sputtering economy that the administration hopes.
The plan faces long odds on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are struggling to trim at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the next 10 years in a climate hostile to tax increases. But, if the plan does pass, some sympathetic analysts argue it would help school districts cover the cost of long-delayed school repairs and avert big layoffs and program cuts.
Others, however, question the White House’s prediction of 280,000 teacher layoffs this year—a key argument raised in favor of the need for $30 billion over two years in job-preservation aid.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the proposal, some local officials are eager for the funds.
In once-rapidly-growing Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas, the school district’s student enrollment has stabilized at nearly 310,000, but construction needs persist to the tune of $270 million in already-identified construction projects, officials there said. For that reason, extra money would come in handy.
“Our challenges right now are providing equitable learning environments and keeping up with maintenance and repairs,” said district spokeswoman Cynthia Sell. Any additional school aid also would help with class-size pressure brought on by staffing pressures. “The district is always trying to reduce class sizes. [Class size] continues to be a problem for us,” Ms. Sell said.
But others are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Jobs Package and Education
President Barack Obama last week unveiled a $447 billion jobs bill that would include $60 billion in new education spending. Among the highlights:
- $30 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs and create jobs
- Money could be used for compensation and benefits
- $25 billion to revamp K-12 facilities
- 40 percent would go to 100 large school districts, based on need, and 60 percent to states thought a formula
- Uses could include emergency repair and renovation, energy-efficiency upgrades, new science and computer labs, and modifications under the Americans with Disabilities Act
- $5 billion to revamp community college facilities
Jan Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education, said it was too early to say whether that state would welcome the money. She said Michigan would need to see specifics on both aspects of the package, such as more detail on the strings attached.
The Obama administration—which tried, and failed, to get school construction aid as part of the 2009 economic-stimulus package—is estimating its new proposal would pay for repairs to at least 35,000 schools.
Forty percent of the $25 billion in school infrastructure aid—$10 billion—would go to 100 of the nation’s largest school districts, allocated according to need.
The direct federal grants to the largest districts would range from $28.2 million each for the Corpus Christi school district, in Texas, and the Marion County, Fla., school system to $1.63 billion for the New York City public schools.
The remainder of the infrastructure money would go to states, which could give half to districts through a formula and the other half to districts through competitions, with priority going to rural districts. States would have until Sept. 30, 2012, to obligate all of the money to districts. Districts would have from 24 to 36 months from the time of enactment to spend the funds, depending on whether they got that money through the Title I formula or through a state competition.
Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, said that while $25 billion would be a good start, it’s a tiny fraction of the overall need. He estimates that at least $270 billion in delayed maintenance and repairs is needed at K-12 schools.
Still, he said, “this is a good way to marry two problems. One is high unemployment among construction workers, and the other is the need to work down the maintenance backlog at the nation’s public schools.”
But Neal McCluskey, the associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center on Educational Freedom, said that pumping money into a government-operated school construction program isn’t the best way to spur job growth because the projects would have to abide by the federal law known as Davis-Bacon, which requires that workers be paid so-called prevailing wages. Those wages typically are the union wages paid to different classifications of employees in the area.
“Districts in many cases will overpay for labor,” he argued, and that would result in fewer workers being hired. “What is the goal here? Is this about getting the most union jobs?” he said.
The school facilities money wouldn’t have the same impact everywhere, said Michael Griffith, the senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States, based in Denver.
“Most places will burn through it quickly, simply getting their schools up to safety standards,” he said, as well as taking care of routine maintenance projects, such as plumbing and fixing roofs.
He said the danger for the Obama administration is in promising big changes to facilities. “If people think they’re going to get new science labs, I think they’re really being delusional,” he said.
The $30 billion proposed to help avert layoffs would flow to states on the basis of population figures and could be spent over two years.
If the jobs measure is enacted, it would mark the third installment of federal aid to states aimed at helping avert cuts to the education workforce.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package passed in 2009, contained some $100 billion for K-12 education, including about $40 billion to avert layoffs. During the height of the stimulus effort in 2010, anywhere from 1.9 million to 4.8 million jobs could be attributed to the ARRA, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Then, in the summer of 2010, Congress approved $10 billion to help stabilize education budgets. That money helped save more than 110,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The White House has not put forth a specific estimate of the number of jobs the new proposal would save. But the president’s Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that there could be 280,000 education jobs on the chopping block this year if the measure does not pass.
Mr. McCluskey, of the Cato Institute, is skeptical of that estimate.
“I’m highly suspicious of the source of it. ... The president’s Council on Economic Advisers gave him a giant number, which just happens to help sell his program,” he said.
And he said, if the measure passes, it won’t mark the final installment of federal funds to prop up education during the current economic doldrums.
“There is very little reason to think this would be the last federal bailout,” he said. “This would be the new normal.”
But other analysts applauded the administration’s direction.
“I think it’s a very effective approach,” said Michael D. Leachman, the director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization in Washington that focuses on the needs of low-income families. The CDPP estimates that states cut nearly 200,000 education jobs between August 2010 and August 2011.
“That’s been a real drag on the overall economy,” Mr. Leachman said.
And he said there’s no way that school districts can make up for a collective shortfall in the states of nearly $100 billion this year simply by finding efficiencies and trimming unnecessary programs.
Mr. Griffith, of the ECS, estimates that the jobs package over two years would save 356,501 jobs in K-12 and 40,511 early-learning jobs.
Source: Education Week
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