Two reports caught my eye this week. They say a lot about what influences public education reform these days. They also say a lot about the difficulties involved in such “reforms” and even challenge the notion that some of the ideas can be tagged reforms.The first came from the nonprofit news organization, the Center for Public Integrity
. In its iWatch News, the group detailed its examination of the education money and ideas that have come from four billionaire philanthropists. The four, the group said, “have taken the lead in trying to use their private money to reform school districts around the country over the last decade.” Indeed when you talk education reform these days, the names Gates and Broad, in particular, and to a lesser degree Dell and Walton, pop up frequently in the conversation.iWatch News analyzed graduation rates and k-12 standardized test
scores in reading and math from 10 urban school districts – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C.
, Austin, Tex., Houston, Dallas, Milwaukee, Denver and Oakland – that received significant funding from the four foundations. It compared those rates/scores against the average for the rest of the schools in the respective states over five years.
The report says: “No yardstick is a perfect measure. And the billionaires’ gifts [which range from $400 million spent by the Dells to $3 billion spent by the Gateses] are a drop in the bucket when compared with the $600 billion spent annually on America
‘s schools.” Still, the results of this examination are sobering. Despite the money spent, the report said, “nine of the 10 school districts substantially trailed their state’s proficiency and graduation rates – often by 10 points or more, the analysis found. And while the urban districts made some gains, they managed only 60 percent of the time to improve at a rate faster than their states.” The gains did not reduce the achievement gaps between poor, inner-city students and more advantaged students.Some of the foundations have backed off some of their previous ideas. “[Bill] Gates has abandoned his $2 billion high-school campaign focused largely on shrinking the overall size of schools,” the iWatch News report
said, “in favor of a new effort to encourage effective teaching, saying he’d learned small schools alone can’t boost student academic performance.”And Broad put an initiative aimed at improving the training given school principals on pause and focused instead on charter schools, training for school district administrators and improving teacher performance.”
One area they haven’t backed away from is pay-for-performance – even though there have been decided failures. The superintendent of Denver schools, where one of the first such pay programs was launched with foundation money, said it failed to improve teaching from teachers on staff though it did lure strong new teachers. “No demonstrable motivational effect,” Tom Boasberg said.
Still, the second report I saw this week takes note of the burgeoning numbers of teacher evaluation systems that are linked with these pay-for-performance programs. The Brookings Institution said “U.S. public schools are in the early stages of a revolution in how they go about evaluating teachers.”
Brookings has endorsed the idea of “value-added” that uses student test scores to evaluate teachers – an idea that’s a bone of contention among teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where officials are developing a pay-for-performance plan. But researchers say “non value-added” measures are just as important. Researchers also said that “value-added estimates for individual teachers fluctuate from year to year and can be influenced by factors over which the teacher has no control.”
Indeed, the Brookings report pointed to “imperfections and limitations” of the “value-added” measure and how that casts a big shadow over the reliability of such measures. There are also “biases that are introduced by the differences in contexts in which different teachers work,” it said. The researchers recommended multiple measures for evaluating teachers.
Both reports underscore what we already know about education: There is no silver bullet to effectively tackle problems and challenges. Expect failure if you look for one.
See story @ http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/05/06/2275227/no-silver-bullet-for-education.html#ixzz1LbWuKTmI