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Annotating the News 11/1/13

Posted on | November 2, 2013 | Comments Off

I’ve been away, so education periodicals have been stacking up on my desk, and on a balmy Friday night I am multitasking as I watch the USC-Oregon State game (Holy Cow! They won.  Fight ON!)

K12 Inc. saw its stock price tank from a high of $37.85 to $17.60 after criticism by hedge fund manager Whitney R. Tilson, Education Week reported.  By Nov. 1, it had rebounded to $18.47.  After talking to K12 leaders, Tilson said he was convinced the company was “not evil,” not targeting students that were sure to fail, but that the program worked less well with challenging students than with those who had a college-educated parent at home tending to the home schooler’s lessons.

In our case study of CAVA, the California K12 charter management company, we came to similar conclusions.  Virtual learning depended on a real parent or other supervising adult.  The California schools suffered from a disconnect between its marketing arm and those delivering education.  Despite some interesting innovations, it’s not an educational silver bullet.

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Inequality.  Robert Reich’s new film Inequality for All deserves attention.  I don’t know whether it will raise the social conscience about poverty the way An Inconvenient Truth did for global warming.  But the toll of inequality on American families is immense, as is the strong tendency on the political right to blame the victims and indulge in chatter about government rewarding the lazy and undeserving.

So, is no wonder that schools are filling up with poor children.  Child poverty has risen in every state.  In 17 states, including California, students in poverty are a majority of students statewide, according to an analysis by the Southern Education Foundation.

Even the Economist has weighed in on the declining share of productivity gains accruing to labor (or in their case labour).

The political surprise is that declining incomes has created a war on the poor rather than a war on poverty.

(For a dramatic lesson, see Suzan-Lori Parks’ in the Blood, a retelling of the Scarlet Letter in which Hester is a welfare mother, who is systematically victimized by those who are supposed to be helping her.  Claremont colleges students did an impressive job with difficult material in a Pomona College theater department production over the weekend.

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Education journalist John Merrow declared that he was finished writing about Michelle Rhee, this after he had trouble placing articles critical of her reign in Washington, D.C.  But as I suspected, that didn’t last long.  This week he weighed in on a report by Stanford University professors James Wyckoff and Thomas Dee found that the D.C. teacher evaluation system known as IMPACT was raising teacher quality.

Problem is, says Merrow, that no one correlated the evaluation system’s rankings with student performance.  Chances are that a highly ranked teacher would be in an upper income area and lower ranked teachers would be teaching poverty students.  Merrow doesn’t think the evaluation system is measuring teacher quality as much as it measures student poverty.  “If you want to be a highly effective teacher in Washington, choose your students carefully! On the other hand, if you want to increase the chances of losing your job, teach poor kids,” he writes.

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Teacher Merit Pay.  Texas has discarded its much-heralded teacher merit pay plan.  The bottom line of the story was the bottom line of the state’s budget.  Nearly half of Texas teachers boosted the achievement scores of their students enough to qualify for merit payments, and the state paid out $392-million in 2010-11.  Too expensive said the state even though the schools with merit pay saw greater test score gains than those without.

One would have thought those market warriors in Texas would have applauded and doubled the incentives.  But no.

The abandonment of merit pay is typical of the fate of merit pay plans.  Historically, studies of these plans show that they are abandoned when the payout gets too large.

Teachers may not like merit pay plans for other reasons, but they should certainly be wary of their transitory nature.

 

 

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