Does Head Start Still Work?

Education Week recently recognized the fiftieth anniversary of the Head Start Program.

When the nation’s first federally funded preschool program was begun, President Lyndon Johnson said “Five- and 6-year-old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators.  Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.”

The question today is whether the program succeeds in giving poor children the boost they need to be successful in school and later in life. Congressionally mandated studies of Head Start children have found that by early elementary school, they are academically indistinguishable from their peers who did not attend the program—a reason to drastically revamp or even discontinue the program, experts say.

For more information, see Ed Week article here.

Does Head Start Still Work?

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We Need a Real Debate About Common Core

By: Dr. Laurence Peters

Few can be puzzled why a group of southern states, most notably Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana are rejecting the Common Core. As Dave Powell writes in Education Week, all three states, “rank close to the bottom of all states on the Education Week Research Center’s 2014 K12 Achievement Index, which takes into account National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, scores? Advanced Placement scores? and high school graduation rates.”

What politicians in these states are clearly afraid of is the distinct probability that they would continue to fall to the bottom of any new national tests such as contemplated by the Common Core and then be faced with public pressure to spend more than they do (certainly as much on a per capita basis as their northern counterparts) to improve. But they are split personalities they want on the one hand the national kudos that comes from being identified as a progressive governor who supports well regarded movements as Common Core (and the federal dollars that accompanied adoption) on the other they want to stay popular with their core supporters, particularly, if like Jindal, they are considering running for national office. So when instead of engaging in reasoned argument they frequently fall back on demagoguery. And so a bellwether Republican Governor wanting out of Common Core talks about federal overreach even as he asks voters to ignore the fact that he took $17 million from Race to the Top funds when he joined the testing consortium known as the PARCC consortium. But somehow something happened after he banked the money to move him to change his mind and to send him into fits of hyperbolic rage as he suddenly realizes that “The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative,” the initiative that was fine a year ago “now becomes the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything.” How come? He does not explain. Meanwhile Louisiana continues to reduce education spending and is now, according to the Center for Budget Priorities among 35 states that have cut funding per student for the 201314school year than before the recession”

We are all worse off when politicians refuse to acknowledge the many factors that go into producing a high quality education system and instead pander to their base. For example, politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina talks about the need for “finding South Carolina solutions to South Carolina challenges” as a reason to reject Common Core. Clearly like Jindal, she feels no embarrassment in waving the states rights flag, but is that all she has to offer? There are some valid reasons to be opposed to common core but mostly these do not poll as well as the states rights issues and so we tend not to hear about them. For example, a number of issues have to do with the poor implementation related to the fact that while hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government have gone into development of a whole generation of sophisticated tests, states are left to scramble for dollars to pay for the enormous professional development costs Common Core adoption entails. We as educators need to encourage our communities to ask more searching questions about the reform initiatives and reject the media enabled punch and judy show that too often substitutes for serious debate.


Teaching is not a Business: But School System Administration is

In an opinion published in the The Sunday New York Times (2014, August 17), Professor David Kirp maintains (Teaching is not a business) that neither increased market competition nor technology are the key components to improving America’s schools.  He goes on to state that reforms such as high stakes testing, charter schools, vouchers, school reconstitution and online K-12 schools have all done very little to improve things.  In fact, he argues that most of them have harmed the progress of education reform.

Dr. Kirp’s prescription for education reform depends on “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He goes on to cite the Chicago Organizing Schools for Improvement as well as big Brothers and Big Sisters as good examples of this strategy. He even cites Johns Hopkins’s own Success for All and our Diplomas Now as successful examples of programs that build relationships inside schools. Kirp also correctly puts the emphasis on supporting teachers and teacher teams as the means for building relationships for students in order to help them to thrive. And I do not take issue with these thoughts.

Where I do take issue with Kirp is his basic assumption that teaching is not a business. That is an incorrect response to the transformational ideas now coming from outside of the traditional academy. Kirp is correct that teaching is not a business; teaching is a profession. Furthermore, all education reformers agree that teachers should have more control of their profession.  They need to borrow more of the responsibilities governed by practitioners in other professions. For example, like attorneys and physicians, teachers should have much greater participation in teacher preparation, professional recognition (licensure) and the discipline of their colleagues.

However where Kirp errs is his use of teachers to attack choice and free markets in education. Teaching is not a business, but managing schools, school systems and education policy dictates from three levels of government is a business. Or, at the very least, education leaders need to borrow more successful models from the private sector in developing strategies for running the education enterprise. Here are a few suggestions on how to run the education enterprise, meaning the nonacademic components, more like a business.

First, it makes sense to leave the academic component of the education enterprise in the hands of teachers. They should be given wide degrees of freedom, like physicians and attorneys, in order to provide the best teaching and learning possible, and to build those relationships about which Kirp writes. A first step in providing teachers with more academic control and more freedom of action would be for schools to utilize the higher education model. Teachers should be given academic freedom and a faculty senate, in order for them to participate in the governance/management of the school’s academic product.  Teachers should also be allowed to have tenure, and, like other professions, they should set the standards for their profession and enforce them.  This more professional model will go far in giving teachers more freedom, more respect and toward building a stronger profession.

Second, there are some schools, and even some school systems, that are already being run by for-profit and nonprofit education management organizations (EMOs). We need more of these organizations; or more education leaders who think this way. The education enterprise needs to take lessons from the business sector in such topics as risk taking, incentives, economic efficiencies and entrepreneurialism.  The culture and rules of education systems need to adopt some new traditions and operating models from the private sector. This summer, I have watched my leadership students, many of them mid-career education leaders, wrestling with the implementation of entrepreneurial ideas into schools and school systems. Their work has shown me that changing school system cultures and operations remains a very difficult undertaking. However, these changes are necessary if we are to truly transform the education enterprise. Maybe the best way to break down the education bureaucracy is to bring new ideas from other sectors, including business.

Third, let’s do away with school boards. School systems will never be run efficiently if all major and minor decisions must be vetted through a political organization. The states and the federal government must also make policy decisions in conjunction with legislative bodies.  But each of those two levels of government also has strong independent executives to manage their organizations.  School system model runs upside down: The administrators (superintendents) work for their legislative bodies (school boards).

The politics of school boards has been one of the incentives fueling the effort to put mayors in charge of schools in many cities. And many mayors now have school boards who work for them, as having been appointed by the mayors.  Let’s go to the next step and just eliminate the school board altogether.  If a community does not have a mayor to run the schools, we should set up a system wherein their superintendents report to the chief state school officer.  Either of these systems is better than having a third legislative body, the school board, involved in the management of the school systems.

As Dr. Kirp points out, let’s continue to build those personal relationships between teachers and students. In fact, let’s give teachers more freedom to control those activities. Teaching, after all, is not a business, it is a profession. However, running school systems should be a business. Let’s shed the bureaucracies and develop efficient operating systems to manage the education enterprise. The sooner we recognize and adopt this approach to systems, the easier it will be for teachers to build those relationships.

Henry M. Smith, Assistant Professor


Baltimore’s Teacher-Pay Experiment Gains Foothold

via Ed WeekBy Stephen Sawchuk

Rhea Espedido has made a habit of going above and beyond in her Baltimore school, devising a reading-intervention program to decrease special education referrals, for instance. But this school year is the first time she’ll be rewarded for it.

When students return to Liberty Elementary, she’ll be teaching fewer classes, using the additional time to coach other teachers on reading and writing instruction—and earning close to six figures for her efforts.

Ms. Espedido is one of just a handful of “lead” teachers, a new position that marks the final piece of Baltimore’s four-year effort to transform the traditional teacher-pay schedule into one emphasizing professional accomplishments over credentials and seniority. Few of the nation’s 14,000 school districts have ever attempted the feat, and even fewer have crafted such a revision hand in hand with their teachers’ unions.

(Read more at Ed Week)


Education Post aims to take the sting out of national conversations about school reform

via The Washington Post
By Lyndsey Layton

Spend any time on Twitter or in the blogosphere and the national debate about public education quickly resembles a schoolyard brawl, complete with taunts, name-calling and piling on.

Issues such as teacher tenure, parent triggers, charter schools and the Common Core State Standards bring out vitriol even among policymakers and prominent figures.

A Colorado congressman tweeted last year that Diane Ravitch, an education historian and de facto leader of public school activists, was an “evil woman.” Ravitch, in turn, blogged that an advocate for parent trigger laws was “loathsome.” Racially tinged expletives have been hurled at Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor, while an entire Web site has been created to lampoon Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who is challenging teacher tenure laws around the country.

Into the fray steps Education Post, a nonprofit group that plans to launch Tuesday with the aim of encouraging a more “respectful” and fact-based national discussion about the challenges of public education, and possible solutions.

(Read the full article at The Washington Post)