Under the Eduflack Tree 2010

It is that time of the year again.  Most of the year, Eduflack can be critical, cynical, and downright combustible about what is happening in the education community.  We spend a great deal of time talking, but little time delivering.  We get caught up on the 20 percent or so of improvements we don’t agree on, thus neglecting the 80 percent that could make real change now.  And we regularly fall into a cult of personality, rather than focusing on the substance of both character and ideas.

But Christmas is a special time of year, that time when we all get a blank slate and we all look forward to a new year with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.  As for Eduflack, I don’t believe in naughty lists (personally, I’m worried about what all of my general agitation would mean for such databases).  And with two little kiddos at home who are the absolute loves of my life and motivations for getting up each morning, I’m all for being generous and giving gifts for both a great 2009 and the hopes of an even better 2010.  So without further ado, let’s check out what’s under the ol’ Eduflack tree this holiday season.
To NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a return to the spotlight.  In 2008, Chancellor Klein was the king of the ed reform kingdom.  Scores were up in NYC.  The city was coming off the Broad Prize, and Klein was on the short list for U.S. Secretary of Education.  But a funny thing happened in 2009.  The good chancellor seemed to take a public back seat, dealing with collective bargaining agreements, a city council that was trying to take away mayoral control, and other such operational issues.  He even seemed to take a back seat with the Education Equality Project, letting Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich play center stage for much of 2009.  But 2010 is Klein’s year again.  With states and districts desperate to demonstrate sustained student gains on assessments and a closing of the achievement gap, there is no better model than the revolution that has happened in NYC over the last decade.  And the NYC experience is one that can serve as a research-based model for many urbans looking to secure i3 grants in the coming year.  Klein has always been a force, but with all of the elements coming together, 2010 can very well be the year of Klein.
To Detroit’s de facto public schools chief Robert Bobb, a wide berth.  By now, most of us have written off Detroit Public Schools, believing there is no hope for America’s most struggling urban district, whether it declares bankruptcy or not.  But for those not paying attention, Bobb is really trying to do God’s work up in the Motor City.  With a new mayor and a renewed sense of purpose, Bobb and his team and rebuilding the DPS infrastructure while taking on instructional reforms designed to improving student learning and close the dreaded achievement gap.  Bobb has thrown a lot against the wall in the past year.  Here’s hoping the city (and the nation) the time to see what sticks and build on what works.  Improvement is possible in Detroit, with the right time and support.
To EdSec Arne Duncan, a continued bounce in his step.  Without question, the past 12 months have been the year of Arne.  He started off strong, and quickly built a cult of personality around the nation.  (Some may even call it idol worship.)  He’s won friends where previous secretaries could only find enemies.  He’s talked, passionately, about issues that were taboo to previous federal education bosses.  And he has emerged as one of the leading voices for the administration, even on issues like economic stimulus and other issues not previously in the EdSec’s purview.  For the coming year, Duncan needs to keep pushing through, talking the tough talk, while walking the tough walk.  Many expect to see real results when it comes to Race to the Top and i3, so he has to be ready to talk about where we are (with details) and where we are going.  More importantly, though, he needs to keep that bounce and forward motion even after we discover that ESEA reauthorization is a gift most likely received in 2011.  Just keep driving to the basket, Mr. Secretary.
To House Education Chairman George Miller (CA), incremental success.  For a good portion of 2009, we assumed that Chairman Miller would successfully lead ESEA reauthorization in the first half of 2010.  Now, we know such thoughts are only for the most optimistic of optimists.  Eduflack realizes that healthcare reform has taken a lot out of your committee, but now is the time for you to move forward and make crystal clear to all involved that you are the educational top dog on Capitol Hill. Through the House Education and Labor Committee, let’s get your Graduation for All Act of 2010 passed into law as quickly as possible.  And while we’re at it, let’s make sure that Congress (both your House and the Senate) make Senator Patty Murray’s LEARN Act (focusing on reading) the law of the land before school’s out for summer.  Instead of looking for that four-bagger to win the game with one swing right now, let’s play a little small ball and move some very real education improvements now, improvements that can help many, many kids right now.
To Senator Mike Enzi (WY), ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, an itch to fight for the home team.  In 2009, we spent a lot of time focusing on education reform issues that seemed custom tailored for urban areas.  RttT has turned into a focus on turning around low performing urban districts.  Despite the extra points for rural districts, most also see i3 as a reward for the Council of Great City Schools sect.  And even the most recent NAEP TUDA puts our gaze on what’s happening in the cities.  It falls to Senator Enzi (and to a lesser degree Rep. John Kline of Minnesota) to make sure that the voice of rural districts and the needs or rural students are heard in these school improvement discussions.  There are too many students attending small districts and rural schools for us to neglect them.  If we are going to improve achievement for all American students, we need to give rural schools the same attention we give urbans.  And we can’t forget that closing the achievement gap is about closing the gaps between white and black and closing the gaps between rich and poor.
Fortunately, Eduflack is feeling generous this season.  There are also gifts under the Eduflack tree for those who have done good work in 2009, those good little boys and girls like EdTrust’s Kati Haycock, EEP’s Ellen Winn, AFT’s Randi Weingarten, Rethink Learning Now’s Sam Chaltain, Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, and the Alliance’s Bob Wise.  And special stockings for the EdWeek bloggers who keep us fed on a daily basis.  Keep it up! 
We also have those policy gifts that all get to enjoy for the coming year, those issues that can truly lift all boats.  We have STEM education, one of the few topics that can help all states and localities maximize the opportunities under Race to the Top and effectively link education reform to economic recovery.  Chicago’s Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which may likely be the posterchild for effective i3 spending and the model for how we can really get an effective teacher quality and incentive program.  For scientifically based education, which is back with a vengeance as ED talks over and over again about evidence and innovation.  Effective teacher professional development, with more and more people realizing that improved student achievement and test scores requires a better equipped, better supported teacher force.  The rediscovery of data, both the continued exploration of good data versus bad and, more importantly, how we can effectively use data to improve our schools.  And
, of course, common core standards, which is hoping to work through a rough past few months to deliver every U.S. school child, regardless of zip code, one common yardstick to determine if we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the future … or not.
And with that, I’ll put my edufinger to the nose attached to my broad face and little round belly, and wish a Happy Eduholidays to all!

That Sort of December

Just a quick word of apology from Eduflack.  December has been that sort of month, and as a result, Eduflack posts have been few and far between.  Between a busy speaking and writing schedule, family obligations, and what has been a relatively boring ed policy month (just how much can we write about Race to the Top), I just have not been posting with the frequency that I want or intend to.

So never fear.  Eduflack will be back in January with a vengeance.  Our goal will again be to post at least three times a week.  And some of them may actually be interesting, informative, and provocative.  So please bear with us in 2010.
Happy holidays!

Jockeying for Race’s Post Position

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the list of all states that have indicated that they will file Phase One applications under Race to the Top.  Each of these states hopes to submit a comprehensive application that highlights both their successes to date and their plans for the future on areas such as academic standards, assessments, data systems, teacher and principal quality, school turnaround, charter schools, and STEM, to name the highlights.  And they each hope to be awarded a “big cash prize” before we get too deep into the spring of 2010 and before the merriment of commencement commences.

What states are planning on having their state departments of education work around the holiday clock to complete these RttT applications?  ED has received letters of Phase One intent from the following:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Of the 15 states receiving significant help from the Gates Foundation to prepare their applications, 13 are planning on Phase One apps.  Not surprisingly, Texas is not on the early intent list (as the Republic of Texas is likely trying to figure out how to make up points for the big dings it will take over its resistance to common core standards.  Surprisingly, North Carolina has NOT indicated its intent to submit in Phase One, despite the Tar Heel State’s reputation for being a true leader in education reforms over the past three decades.
Other surprises?  Eduflack finds it interesting that both New Jersey and Virginia are intending to file for Phase One, meaning that both states will submit their apps before their new governors of different political parties than the currents take office in January.  It is particularly surprising since Eduflack heard that the Garden State had originally issued an RFP to hire consultants to assist with its application, and then returned all proposals, unopened, after the November gubernatorial election.  That likely means that Jon Corzine’s team is putting together a comprehensive plan that Chris Christie’s team (which will bring a SLIGHTLY different perspective to education reform) may have to live with.
While the official RttT scoring makes clear that past accomplishments are worth more points than plans for the future, we see a number of states that have made major changes in recent months (firewalls, charter caps, etc.) just to be compliant with Race requirements.  States like California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin will have to demonstrate — in just a few short weeks — that recent legislative action is the culmination of a commitment to school improvement, and not simply fast action to win some quick money.
And who is missing from the list, besides North Carolina?  Rhode Island is not there, probably indicating that State Supe Deborah Gist is working to do it right (with regard to detailing her aggressive reform agenda in a few hundred pages of prose).  But otherwise, the early app list reads like a list of those most likely to win and those most hopeful to win a major prize.
In recent interviews RttT Czar Joanne Weiss has indicated that a number of states will be rejected in Phase One.  What is yet to be told is if those states will be given a second bite of the apple in Phase Two.  The numbers don’t lie.  Most states will be requesting the max, except for those states like Colorado which will be asking for more than their assigned category allows for.  That means that we are likely looking at a dozen state winners, max, assuming that only half of the Group A states (California, Florida, New York, Texas) win an award (and we all know that Florida has already all but locked up one of those spots).  
For those states looking to jump in first, is it a strategic decision, as they hope to get at the money before much has been doled out?  It is a tactical decision to just get the app off their plates before the new budget season starts up?  Or is it an act of desperation, with states needing the money to keep their forward progress?  Time will tell.  Clearly, there are likely to be more disappointed faces in this early applicant pool than there will be excited winners.  And just think of the added stress to those states waiting to submit in the spring.
UPDATE — Late Wednesday evening, Eduflack heard from Glenn Kleiman, the Executive Director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at North Carolina State University’s College of Education.  Professor Kleiman said “NC has planned to submit all along and we have the proposal well underway.  The USED letters of intent were optional, and don’t tell anyone whether or not a state will actually apply.”  For the record, Eduflack never doubted that North Carolina would apply, the issue is whether the state would apply in Phase One.  Professor Kleiman hasn’t answered that directly, but I suspect that such a response suggests that Phase One is indeed in the cards for Carolina.  So where is the harm of North Carolina filing a two-paragraph letter announcing its intent (particularly when everyone knows they are applying)?

Don’t Know Much About History …

As Eduflack has written before, I am the son of an historian.  My father is actually an expert on the American presidency (the office itself, and the evolution of presidential leadership over the past two centuries in particular) and is the author of countless books and articles on the subject.  Add to that four years at Mr. Jefferson’s University, and it would be hard for me not to be fascinated with history, particularly American history.  That’s why I am always fascinated with the latest numbers on how little the American people know about our country.  We struggle to name the VP.  We can’t recall how many members are on the U.S. Supreme Court.  We struggle to ID our own elected officials.  And forget it if we’re asked to recall the facts, figures, and dates for the truly significant moments in our nation’s history.  (And we only have 200-plus years of it, imagine if we were Chinese, Greek, or British.)

So I was, of course, taken by a survey shared with me today from the American Revolution Center.  Eduflack was shocked — shocked, I tell you — to learn that 83 percent of adults failed a basic test on the American Revolution (and this is after 89 percent of those surveyed believed they could pass such an exam with no trouble).  Among some of the highlights from ARC’s survey:
* 90 percent of Americans think it is important for U.S. citizens to know the history and principles of the American Revolution
* Half of those surveyed believe we have a direct democracy, despite having pledged to “the republic for which it stands” every morning as a school kid
* More than half of those surveyed attribute a famous quote from Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” to George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama
* No surprise, but more people can ID Michael Jackson as the singer of “Beat It” than know the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution
* Half of those surveyed believe the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, or War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution
* One-third of Americans do not know the right to a jury trial is covered in the U.S. Constitution, while 40 percent think a right to vote is covered (when it is not)
For more of these interesting factoids, give a gander over at the report on ARC’s website — <a href="http://www.AmericanRevolutionCenter.org.
Every congressional session, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (WV) offer legislation to refocus on the instruction of American history (particularly around our nation’s founding).  And Eduflack’s former boss, the esteemed Senator Byrd, still carries around a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, as a reminder of the very reasons why he has committed his life to our nation’s government.  Legislation focusing on the importance of history of civics in a K-12 classroom may not be sexy, but can we really question whether it is seriously needed?  While we may not be developing common core standards on U.S. history, shouldn’t every high school graduate know the basics about their country, its history, their rights, and other such noble pursuits?
Each year, thousands upon thousands of immigrants study up on U.S. history in order to pass our citizenship test.  They learn more about the nation they hope will soon adopt them than those who are born and raised in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It’s a shame we don’t all have to pass a citizenship test to be an adult citizen.  Just as we register with Selective Service, if you want a driver’s license or a student loan or the right to vote, why not require passage of a basic skills test.  I’m just sayin’ ….

Cart Awaiting a Horse

A little more this week from Eduflack guest blogger, Dr. John Jensen …
Several decades ago when differences between right and left brain thinking were first explored, a story was told to illustrate.

During World War II, many harbors in Hawaii were blocked by sunken warships, one important channel in particular. After the war, engineers puzzled over how to move them out of way. As they found themselves stumped, someone said, “I know a captain who has a reputation as a good problem solver.  Let’s invite him in.”     

They brought the captain to an overlook where, standing among the important brass, he could see the masts of vessels protruding from the water. As he stared at them, someone nearby heard him muttering, “Mother… Mother… the garden.”  The image that came to him was of his mother breaking large clumps of sod into smaller ones, which suggested his solution: Don’’t try to move the ships. Break them into pieces and leave them there–a solution that worked.

Which is to say that if we find ourselves stumped over education, could we consider a different viewpoint? 

The title above hints at a shift. Recently I happened across two reports, one on the ongoing work on national standards, and the other on the international education conference in Helsinki earlier this fall. The reports presented exactly opposite views on how to get quality education. The Finns hosting the conference, as is widely acknowledged, get the best educational results in the world. Two features of their system stood out for me. They 1) insist that teachers know their subject matter, and 2) they allow them great latitude in designing what they personally will teach. 

How unusual!  Find someone who knows and ask him to do what he knows.  What an innovative model!  One wonders what would happen to the entire American economy if such an insight were widely accepted instead of having the state micro-manage everything from the top down.  The US model in contrast 1) presumes that teachers don’t know their subject matter.  Once accepting that as inevitable, the second step follows: 2) spoon-feed them every detail they must teach.  

It’s clear that the Finn model works and, as best we can tell, the US model doesn’’t. The conclusion is obvious. Do the US model more intensively!  Bring into education more people who know even less about teaching, and specify in even more detail what they must teach. Exert more control of the process with less confidence in and freedom for teachers to teach what they know.

I sympathize with policy-makers who don‘t know what to do with their big hammer, the billions they’’re anxious to spend. They don‘’t know what, among their myriad of options, to spend it on that will make the most difference.  A possible corner is at least to define what students need to know in the subjects most commonly taught.            

Sensible as it may sound, even this has its holdouts. Alaska and Texas want no part of it.  Texas, I assume, is independent  enough to believe that their own people know better what their children should learn, but Alaska (my home state) is a different matter.  The knowledge useful for living in many of its remote communities and even larger cities can diverge greatly from what one needs to know in the continental US; climate, weather, geology, environment, wildlife, fish, transportation, Native heritage, and energy, for instance.  The concerns of a Boston or St. Louis are far off the mark, hinting further that a varied and changing world could soon make the current knowledge disseminated today
 in any city moot even there.

But let’’s say the macro-plan has its way and we could standardize what students need to know, what then?

To me this is the cart waiting for a horse, a cart we wouldn’’t need if we just had a horse.  What curriculum do you want to tow along?  Ask the Finns, who say that the curriculum is what a teacher who knows the subject is ready to teach. But even settling that, we still need the horse:How do we get students to learn what is either in the teacher’s mind or, lacking confidence in their mind, in the national standards?

How?  That we even have to ask the question is my concern. If we have any doubt about how to do this, then it’s premature to define standards nationally or require particular knowledge in teachers. The “horse” is what moves everything else–to know that you can teach students whatever you want to teach them each, always, and every time. Do this with a lot of learning (a good start is “whatever the teacher wants to teach.”). After much of that, look around and inquire, “Is there anything essential we haven’’t covered?” Let teachers teach what they want to for eleven and a half years and spend the last semester on lacunae.  These are likely to appear much less significant once you already have a child saturated with usable knowledge, but if something is both missing and important, cover it then.

First, though, do the big chunks, the stuff good teachers already know.  Stay out of the way while they do it and don’t micro-manage.


(John Jensen is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Silver Bullet Easy Learning System: How to Change Classrooms Fast and Energize Students for Success (Xlibris, 2008), which he will send free as an e-book to anyone requesting it. He can be reached at jjensen@gci.net.  This post represents the opinions of Dr. Jensen only.)

Calling All Researchers: How Do We Use Class Time?

In our continued effort to bring additional perspectives to Eduflack’s discussion of education reform, following is a guest blog post from John Jensen, Ph.D.  We’ll be seeing a few more posts from Dr. Jensen later this week …

There are at least two good reasons for doing research about educational methods. One is for adults to decide whether or not to employ a particular strategy or condition. The other is to motivate students directly to alter what they do. If, for instance, you tell a boy playing basketball “You completed 70% of your passes today. Let’s see how you do tomorrow,” he is likely to think for the entire game about passing accurately so he gets to 80%.

By stimulating this motive, we can engage students in many ways to take objective account of themselves, teaching them communication skills, concentration, and classroom cooperation by means of specific, countable behaviors. I note several in my book (cf. below). To help adults decide what to do with classroom time, however, I’d like to suggest a study that could be valuable to your district.

First you need an idea or hunch to test out that makes theoretical sense. Your selection depends on the limitations you accept in your thinking. For a while after I discovered that the ERIC files contained over a million references, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of research. Then I discovered that it seldom influenced anyone; that instead people usually had an idea about what they wanted to do and chose the research that supported it. I surmised, maybe incorrectly, that we might just cut to the chase and do what we want to in the first place.

But to encourage rationality, I’m moved to welcome research. The fact that education has not yet been transformed despite the million pieces in ERIC hints that the field still awaits a transforming idea.

What theory do we want to test out?

We want something completely under our power and control to alter, first of all. There’s no point in studying the height and weight of our students if there’s nothing we can do about what we find; or their parentage or race or a myriad of other characteristics of students, teachers, and the situation. We want something that we can vary due to the data we get, so we look carefully at our own options, our flexibility of response..

One thing we can vary is our use of classroom time. We can specify so many minutes for this and this, alter the numbers, and see what happens to our results. If more of this and less of that shows different results in learning, then we’d like to be able to tell that to our teachers because, come Monday, they might shift gears that way.

The study I’d like to propose first is about the amount of time students spend recalling what they learn. The outcome can lead directly to something controllable, a specific use of time, this over that. And the conduct of the study can be objective and fair, measured with minutes spent and tallied.

And the theory? Making it a good candidate for a study is a core understanding about skill development: practice makes perfect. And practicing knowledge essentially means calling it up and expressing it. I was impressed many years ago when undergoing training as an ROTC officer. One class concerned how to train recruits in skills they needed. Our instructor passed on to us a statistic developed by the military’s long experience. To train someone in any skill, he said, spend 5% of the time explaining, 10% demonstrating, and 85% practicing. Applying this to a classroom, one uses about five times as much time practicing what’s presented as time spent presenting it. This fit with a report I encountered back in the 1960s in which researchers investigated the uses of time in the classroom leading to the most permanent learning. Their finding was that the most effective means was the effort to recall used with between 40% and 80% of class time. .

Despite the long-established effect of practice (top performers in any field practice more), there appears to have been a decision made decades ago by the teaching profession to avoid it. Its role instead was to present knowledge and it was up to students–if they were so motivated–to practice and learn it through completing the homework assigned (an assumption that has not proven out). Teachers were led to believe that class time was so limited that they could not allocate any significant portion of it just to deepening students’ learning.

So how could you set up a study about practice during class time? A district with two or more of any kind of school could do it this way: Select one school for the study and another with matching characteristics as a control. Pair up classrooms with comparable results, teacher competence, and teaching methods by subject and grade.

Reading. Students in the study school spend half the allotted time explaining to a partner what they just read (a quarter of the total time for each partner), and connecting it to everything they read before. In the control school, all the time is just for reading.

Math. Students in the study school spend 1/3 of the time per hour listening to the teacher explain ideas or reading in order to input definitions, formulas, and explanations; and 2/3 of the time explaining to a partner what they gathered. In the control school, teachers use their customary methods.

Social studies: Students in the study school read or listen to lectures or media presentations and take notes on them in question and answer form for 1/3 of the available time. For 2/3 of the time they ask and answer the questions with each other. In the control school, teachers use their customary methods.

If teachers experience discipline problems and object that they cannot hold their students to specified times at anything, this simply stretches the spectrum of results. Provide all teachers with a kitchen timer and ask them to track to the second the key variable, the amount of time students do spend explaining their learning to a partner. My prediction is that a correlation will hold along the entire spectrum–the less practice time, the less learning.

The district staff may want to assess many outcomes, but the primary one should be the sheer retention of learning. A valid way to do this is, at the end of the study period, with no preparation nor forewarning, to make a single request of students about each subject–reading, math, and social studies: Write down all you can remember about the subject that you have learned since the beginning of the study.

What you will get is a direct report of the conscious, usable knowledge students possess (distinct from their passive knowledge dependent on someone else asking them a question or giving them hints). It can be quantified by (e.g.) their number of lines of writing, the time it takes them to write it, and (if you want to be more particular) the number of points of knowledge their writing contains. A point of knowledge here is a question answered at the level one would put it on a test, essentially one sentence of independent knowledge. The only caveat is to apply the same measure to both the control and study schools.

After such a study, the district should be able to tell its teachers “If you adopt the 1/3-2/3 method, you’ll increase student learning by 50%“ or some such figure. I’m optimistic here, since students retain almost no proactive knowledge without the practice and typically rely on forewarning so they can cram.

If you want to nudge your district in this direction, please let me know. We need more empirical thought in education, and the ERIC database is working on its second million.

(John Jensen is a licensed clini
cal .psychologist and author of The Silver Bullet Easy Learning System: How to Change Classrooms Fast and Energize Students for Success (Xlibris, 2008), which he will email without charge as an ebook to anyone requesting it. He invites comments sent directly to him at 
jjensen@gci.net.  The opinions are strictly Dr. Jensen’s.)

Beginning of End for ESEA Reauth?

If one talks to those on Maryland Avenue, there has been a relatively steadfast belief that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would be coming in the first half of 2010.  Staff have been busy at work on the planning pieces.  Most have been assuming that the framework developed for Race to the Top, particularly the four key pillars, would stand as the foundations of ESEA.  And they’ve even been talking about dropping legislation after the start of the new year, with a goal of completing reauthorization before the summer recess.

But then we ran into major public comment with RttT, delaying the release of the final RFP by a month or two.  We’re now facing a similar push on common core standards, with the full K-12 draft standards now expected by the end of 2009, and moving to the states for implementation by mid-2010.  Layer onto that i3 and other such pieces, and one has to ask if we have the stomach for ESEA reauthorization, with everything else, ed reform wise, that is happening.
Recent pieces of information seem to signal that the timetable for ESEA may now be pushed back.  Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (WA) introduced the LEARN Act, the logical successor to NCLB’s Reading First Initiative.  While LEARN could easily be folded into reauthorization, it is beginning the process as a stand-alone bill, and could become law well before NCLB is every replaced.
Today, U.S. Rep. George Miller (CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the Graduation for All Act of 2009, an impressive piece of legislation that focuses on boosting high school graduation rates and improving the secondary school experience.  Some are even calling it the “S” component of ESEA.  The full description of the legislation can be found here.  While Graduation for All could be seen as the first component of ESEA to move forward, it is easily a signal that revamping NCLB may not be a major priority after all for the coming year, and the good chairman wants to move forward on one of the most pressing education concerns facing K-12, and an issue that is not directly addressed in RttT or i3.
But perhaps the most interesting news impacting ESEA is the headline delivered by Alexander Russo on his This Week in Education blog this morning.  According to Russo (and found here), Alice Cain is leaving the House Education and Labor Committee to join the Hope Street Group and lead its new teacher quality efforts.  While that is terrific news for Hope Street, it leaves a gaping hole on Chairman Miller’s committee staff.  Cain is the go-to staffer on all things K-12 and was seen by many as the quarterback for ESEA reauthorization.  Miller is clearly calling the shots on congressional reauth, and Cain was the person to run the plays for him.  It’ll be tough for Miller to fill her shoes, and quickly, as so many of the best congressional staffers have already moved to ED or the White House, and her departure may very well be a signal that reauthorization isn’t coming as quickly as many of us thought or hoped for.
Regardless, it is all still a guessing game.  But right now, that Magic 8 Ball is telling us “don’t count on it.”

Raising the Gates on Teacher Effectiveness

As most know by now, yesterday the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially named the four school districts that will share in the coveted “Deep DIve” prize.  Originally billed as a $500 million endeavor, we learned yesterday that the four winners are now sharing in $335 million grant money.  Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa, FL received $100 million; Memphis, TN secured $90 million, Pittsburgh took in $40 million; and five charter school systems in Los Angeles (including Aspire and Green Dot) picked up $60 million to fund teacher quality and effectiveness efforts.  A full article on the announcement can be found in this morning’s Washington Post here.  And Stephen Sawchuk has a particularly good writeup of the decision over at EdWeek here.

In addition to the district awards, Gates is committing another $45 million to determine how one actually measures teacher effectiveness, an important rubric as most states now scurry to meet the high-points expectations of the teacher quality section of the Race to the Top RFP.  Details to come, Eduflack guesses.
I’ll leave it to the experts to determine the efficacy of these four winning applications, how soon we should see results, and how we’re actually measuring such results in the first place.  These districts are wading into relatively unknown waters at this point, at a time when too many people are defining teacher effectiveness based solely on student test scores.  A lot of eyes will be on these districts, which represent a pretty good cross-section of the challenges facing public education across the nation.  All we needed was a good urban district, and we’d have our little model U.S. public school system.
But the announcement begs three questions.  For nearly a year now, we’ve been hearing how Gates was committing a half a billion dollars to this effort, with WaPo even stating that this investment is on par with the discretionary moneys that Duncan and company are spending over at ED.  So where is the remaining $125 million going?  Is that money that will be spent on this topic at a later date, either to replicate the promising practices found in the winning districts or to further engage in national explorations of measurement and tracking?  Or is this a scale back in overall investment, with Gates already looking to move some of this funding to new priorities and new areas of interest?
Second, why, exactly, did Omaha drop out of the running as it was approaching the final tape?  Did it read the handwriting on the wall and think it would be the only partygoer left without a seat come announcement day?  Did the school district have a change of heart?  Or was it as simple as the “financial constraints” argument they offered EdWeek, where they found that accepting the grant would mean all sorts of additional costs and investments they just weren’t prepared for (a realization that far too many aspiring RttT states still have yet to internalize)?  And if it was an issue of financial constraints, how much are each of the winning districts expected to bring to the table themselves in order to enjoy the dollars being showered by those well-meaning ed reformers from the Pacific Northwest?
And finally, how will this Gates money complement, intersect, or interfere with the $100 million that the Ford Foundation is investing to transforming secondary education.  A big chunk of that money is going to investigate similar issues of teacher quality, both in terms of preparedness and effectiveness.  The American Federation of Teachers is one of the early beneficiaries of this stream of Ford support.  Is there the possibility of collaboration in struggling urban districts like Memphis, or will this become a territorial thing.
It will be interesting to see some of the early returns coming in from the Gates Deep Dive, particularly in Memphis.  Somehow, this city has quickly become ground zero for education reform.  Memphis City Schools is one of the central components to New Leaders for New Schools’ EPIC program, funded through federal TIF dollars.  Tennessee is a clear frontrunner for RttT funding.  The state’s business community has recently moved a major education reform agenda forward.  And now they win a Deep Dive grant.  It’s a city with a strong union presence and many of the pitfalls of modern-day urban public education.  In short order, the glances of all ed reformers will soon be on Memphis, with expectations higher than ever before.

Just the Race Facts

For now, Eduflack is generally done opining about Race and what we should infer by the the final Race to the Top docs released by the U.S. Department of Education.  But there are some additional facts now out there that are worth consideration and thought.

First up, the final RttT docs are finally posted by ED (Interestingly, though ED seems to be using the RTT tag.  Good to know).  The final docs can be found here.
More importantly, though, we now know how much money each state can potentially receive.  Officials over at ED have divvied up our great 50 states (and DC and Puerto Rico) into five categories.  The $4 billion in Race money will be divided based on the following designations:
Category 1 — $350-$700 million
* California
* Florida
* New York
* Texas
Category 2 — $200-$400 million
* Georgia
* Illinois
* MIchigan
* New Jersey
* North Carolina
* Ohio
* Pennsylvania
Category 3 — $150-$250 million
* Arizona
* Indiana
* Maryland
* Massachusetts
* Missouri
* Tennessee
* Virginia
* Washington
* Wisconsin
Category 4 — $60-$175 million
* Alabama
* Arkansas
* Colorado
* Connecticut
* Iowa
* Kansas
* Kentucky
* Louisiana
* MInnesota
* Mississippi
* Nevada
* Oklahoma
* Oregon
* Puerto Rico
* South Carolina
* Utah
Category 5 — $20-$75 million
* Alaska
* Delaware
* District of Columbia
* Hawaii
* Idaho
* Maine
* Montana
* Nebraska
* New Hampshire
* New Mexico
* North Dakota
* Rhode Island
* South Dakota
* Vermont
* West Virginia
* Wyoming
Why are these categories important, when each state’s application will be judged on its own merits?  Do the math.  We have $4 billion total to distribute.  If we assume that half of states win (50 percent from each category) and each of those states received the mid-range of their category, we spend $1.05 billion on Category 1, $1.05 billion on Category 2 (awarding 3.5 states), $900 million on Category 3 (awarding 4.5 states), $940 million on Category 4, and $380 million on Category 5.  That’s $4.23 billion.  So for those good with numbers, less than half of all eligible states are going to win Race awards, and far less than half will win if states receive grants in the top half of their award range.  So again, we are back to planning on 15 or so states winning awards, unless we oversample Category 5 winners (who can demonstrate faster results with smaller grants).  
Now if only someone would tell us how many points, out of 500, it will take to win one of these prized grants …

The Race Officially Begins … Now

At 9 p.m. this evening, the starting gun for the Race to the Top officially started.  While many states are already laps into their applications (and many may even be running in the right direction), the U.S. Department of Education officially released the RFP, along with some interesting insights as to how applications will be scored moments ago.

So what are we looking at?  We’ve essentially whittled 80 pages of a draft RFP into an “easy-to-read” 14-page summary.  The four pillars of the Duncan regime remain the same (standards, assessments/data systems, teacher quality, and school turnaround).  To win, states must have no barriers to linking student achievement data to teachers and principals for the purpose of evaluation.  The timetable is as projected back in the early fall, with Phase One applications due in mid-January (to be awarded in April 2010) and Phase Two apps due June 1 (to be awarded September 2010).  But we’ve added two bidders’ conferences scheduled for next month in Denver and DC.  So there are some new factoids here.
In addition to the four pillars, RttT lays out six additional priorities:
* Comprehensive approach to education reform (an absolute priority)
* Emphasis on STEM (a comprehensive preference priority)
* Innovations for improving early learning outcomes
* Expansion and adaptation of statewide longitudinal data systems
* P-20 coordination, vertical and horizontal alignment
* School-level conditions for reform, innovation, and learning
Of these priorities, only STEM is worth extra points on the scoring, offering an all-or-nothing 15-point bonus to those states with both a clear record and clear plan for STEM education.  (That 15 points represents 3 percent of the total score.)  The others are general value-adds or reflected in other larger scoring buckets.  
So what does that overall scorecard look like?  What’s the rubric on which states will be evaluated?
States are working toward a max of 500 points (including STEM emphasis).  “State success factors” represent 125 points, or 25 percent of the total score.  These factors include how well the state’s reform agenda is articulated, whether the state has infrastructure to implement the agenda, and its ability to demonstrate success in raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap.  “Standards and assessment” is good for 70 points, or 14 percent, essentially measured by adopting common core standards and developing the assessments to measure against those standards.  “Data systems to support instruction” is worth 47 points (9 percent) and is focused on the longitudinal data systems all are talking about.  
“Great teachers and leaders” are worth 138 points, or a whopping 28 percent, and while it continues to focus on teacher quality and effectiveness, this time around it has a far greater emphasis on principal quality and effectiveness.  “Turning around the lowest-achieving schools” is worth only 50 points, or 10 percent of the total.   “General” collects the remaining 55 points (11 percent), with most points coming from ensuring conditions for high-performing charter schools “and other innovative schools.”  
As these 500 points are broken down, ED is giving slight emphasis to what states have already done (52 percent of the score), or their “Accomplishments” versus 48 percent of the score coming for “Plans” for the future.  So that’s an interesting wrinkle for those who are trying to build a new reform city on their old education hill.
In announcing the RFP, ED says it reviewed the nearly 1,200 responses (1,161, actually) that were submitted to the draft, and made changes reflecting the ideas put forward by those concerned citizens and groups.  But despite a 12-page document prepared by ED on the “major changes” that have been made to the RFP, the final looks remarkably similar to the original draft that sparked so much interested many months ago.  Yes, there are some changes, including the highlight that states should use multiple measures to evaluate teachers and principals.  School district buy-in also plays a larger role in the final than it did in the draft.  But while some of the definitions have changed, the overall goals, tenor, and vision remains whole.  It seems ED has clarified some of the gray areas from the first go-around, but hasn’t quite changed those issues that many found objectionable or fraught with potential problems.  Based on many of the comments Eduflack has read, there are going to be a significant number of disappointed organizations out there, even among the traditional ed reform circles.
So what do we make of all of this?  First off, it is clear that those with the dreaded teacher firewalls are going to have a hard time meeting the point threshold.  So California, Nevada, New York, and possibly Wisconsin may have some problems.  Signing on the dotted line for core standards is also a must, so Texas and South Carolina may be on the outside looking in as well.  But it seems ED has softened its overall approach to “my way or the highway,” making firewalls and common standards the only true non-negotiables for winning a grant.
Eduflack is most interested by the emphasis on accomplishments, though.  We’ve heard a great deal about what states are doing right now to better position themselves for Race.  The thought seems to be that a new coat of paint on the ole education system would provide more curb appeal and give the impression that a state is “reform minded.”  But with the final scoring, ED is making clear that Race states are those with both a strong track record on improvement and innovation and a desire to ratchet up current work to the next level.  This is not a start-up enterprise, with states needing to demonstrate a proven and ongoing investment in the four pillars prior to the RttT announcement.
And what does this mean for the total number of winning states?  We’ve heard everything from four or five total winners to upwards of 40 states getting a taste of the winner’s circle.  Based on the summary and documents circulating this evening, Eduflack suspects it will be somewhere in between.  In Phase One, we’re likely to see four or five winners, stacked mostly by those states in the Gates Foundation’s Top 15 list.  Phase Two will probably see another dozen or so, giving us 20 or so total winners.  Interestingly, there will be time for Phase Two applicants to see who wins Phase One and make some final changes to their apps before submitting in June.  (And we should also note that ED cites $4 billion available for RttT, with the remaining $350 million going to support the development of assessments aligned with core standards, funding that is being discussed at ED-sponsored public forums this month.)
Regardless, the 500-point scorecard is going to have many states (particularly those Gates-incentivized states that have been feverishly writing their apps believing the draft RFP would be final are going to be scurrying the next two months to revise and extend their remarks.  Teacher and principal quality is priority one, with strong explanation of state success factors a very close second.  The two represent more than half of the total score.  Standards, assessments, and data systems clock in for nearly another 25 percent.  School turnarounds are worth only 10 percent, with charter school conditions worth almost the same amount as overall commitment to turnaround efforts.  And those states that are already invested in STEM (like Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) need to take advantage of the 15 percent bump their track record provides.
How many points will it take to win the Race?  That’s to be determined.  We still don’t know what curve states will be scored on.  But at least
we are now clear on distance, terrain, and other Race conditions.  The gun has officially sounded …