Education

Diane Ravitch Talks School Reform, the Chicago Strike, and the "Testing Vampire"

(Credit: DianeRavitch.com)
Click here for part 2 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. Diane Ravitch is famous* for two things: championing the education-reform movement, then leading the opposition to it. The movement, which broadly supports an agenda that emphasizes student assessment (a.k.a. testing) and school choice (a.k.a. charter schools), has come to dominate American education policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held...

Reaping What Elections Sow

(Flickr/ BKM_BR)
In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding. In a few weeks, voters in most states will be choosing new lawmakers again. They'll make their decisions based in part on how they believe the incumbents governed over the last two years. But because of the massive scale of changes ushered in by Tea Party Republicans, it's going to be extremely difficult—if not downright impossible—for voters to judge the effects of those changes...

Jerry Perenchio: California's Sheldon Adelson

(AP Photo)
While Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers have become emblematic of outside spending at the national level, it is local outside spending that could have the greatest impact on policy. Jerry Perenchio is California's homegrown Sheldon Adelson, and he's using his fortune to decide the future of the nation's most populous state. California's income inequality is among the worst in the country. And as the ongoing fight over Proposition 30 shows, that often translates into political inequality. Proposition 30, which Californians will vote on this year, is Governor Jerry Brown’s attempt to solve the state’s budget deficit while maintaining funding of California schools by raising taxes on individuals making over $250,000 dollars a year. The initiative is badly needed. Without Prop. 30, California's budget deficit would slash education funding by $6 billion . Perenchio recently made a $200,000 donation against Prop. 30. As it is, California lags behind the rest of the country when it comes...

Richie Rich Aces the SAT

(Flickr/sacmclubs)
(Flickr/sacmclubs) A California high schooler takes the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The College Board released its data on 2012 SAT scores on Monday, and beneath the headlines (which tallied how much SAT scores have slipped as more and more students take the test) was a revealing picture of the influence of students’ household income on their performance. The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000—starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000—then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497—all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000...

Advanced Placement

The Chicago Teachers Union is poised to lead in the next school-reform fights.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Public School teachers and students were back in classrooms Wednesday morning after union delegates voted Tuesday to end their seven-day strike. The union won a number of significant victories —including a provision that student test scores will count for no more than 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and another that will give teachers more pay for longer school days and years. The proposed contract should be finalized and approved in the coming weeks. By almost all accounts , though, in its fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the union is emerging as the clear winner. One of the sticking points in negotiations was over teacher evaluations and the role students’ test scores play in them. Emanuel is one of a number of national reformers who see unions as a roadblock to improving student performance and who subscribe to the philosophy that what poor, underperforming school districts need most are better teachers. Chicago teachers have emphasized throughout this fight that they...

Into Week Two, a Slightly Subdued Strike

(AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong) T oday, the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) principal decision-making body, the 700-member House of Delegates, will vote on ending the strike that erupted last week over teacher evaluations, re-hiring of laid-off teachers, and pay negotiations over the teachers’ contract that expired July 1. If the delegates vote to end the strike, Chicago schoolchildren will return to class on Wednesday, and an approval of the contract should be within sight. If it does not, Chicago teachers will stay on the picket line, and will likely face a new round of attacks from the mayor’s office. The strike’s segue into a second week surprised many Chicagoans, who thought public school students would return to class on Monday. But after a Sunday vote, union leaders announced they needed more time to go through the specifics of the proposed contract. “We haven’t heard enough,” says Jill Bates, who has taught Head Start at Yates Elementary on the near Northwest Side for 32 years...

Outrageous Teacher Pay?

How does teacher pay compare to other professions, and in big school systems across the country?

The Chicago Teachers' Union strike may be over, but it has reignited the broader debate over education reform. Behind Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s negotiation stance is that underperforming schools are caused, at least in part, by underperforming teachers, and improving those schools requires better teachers who work harder and are easier to fire. Bad students just need better teachers, the thinking goes. It’s was part of the policy stance behind the attitude of former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, and was popularized in the hit documentary , Waiting for Superman . If reformers are starting from that idea, then it must seem ridiculous that part of the Chicago contract negotiations hinge on paying those teachers better. There’s a popular idea that all of these teachers, who, after all, get summers off, are overpaid. We can’t answer the policy questions, but it’s pretty easy to see whether teachers are overpaid compared to other certified professionals with bachelor’s...

The Chicago Teachers’ Balancing Act

The paradox of unions is that they are at once armies and democracies—an oxymoronic construct that means they can seldom be as efficient as a top-down organization, or as expansively deliberative as, say, an idealized New England town meeting. There no ideal equipoise for a union—some, in which member participation has atrophied, can be essentially autocrat; some are more democratic (although democracy can impede growth if members insist on making the union devote resources to servicing their needs at the expense of organizing new members). The better unions try to balance their dual roles, and that looks like what the Chicago Teachers Union did Sunday night. No one can question the union’s capacity as a unified force. A change in state law required the union to get a 75 percent vote of the members to authorize a strike; the union got 90 percent. The week-long strike has not been shaken by any member dissent (at least, none has been reported). But on Sunday afternoon, the union also...

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district. Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax , an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall “approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike.” Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago’s schoolchildren are minority.) So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of...

Why We Strike

The Prospect talks to one of the thousands of teachers at the picket line in Chicago.

Flickr
Frank Menzies started working in Chicago public schools in 2000 and is now the director of instrumental music at Jones College Prep, where he oversees the orchestra, concert band, and jazz group. He’s also the school’s head bowling coach. Menzies is a member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and one of the roughly 29,000 Chicago public school teachers that have been on strike since Monday. Why did you vote to go on strike? Many of the members in the CTU didn’t really want to do it, but we have understood that this is one of the mechanisms that is in place for union membership to try to bargain for a better deal. We are definitely in favor and desirous of a fair contract. The bottom line is the teachers did not really want to do it, but that [a strike] seemed to be one of the only avenues left to us to be able to try to get what’s necessary for us to have a fair contract. That’s the bottom line. The strike was brought about simply because teachers that love their students had no...

Is Chicago the Next Wisconsin?

Whatever the outcome of the teachers' strike in the Windy City, it has big implications for the future of labor nationwide.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago on the second day of a strike in the nation's third-largest school district. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual and school officials say only so much money can be squeezed out for teachers’ salaries. More important, they want major changes to fix schools that they say are failing the city’s kids. On the other side of the table, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has its doubts about the finances and frets about protecting its rank and file. It especially doesn’t like the way charter schools are opening and public schools are closing, wiping out its members’ jobs. That’s the much-reduced nub of the dispute between the Chicago Teachers Union and city officials, which has drawn 26,000 teachers into the streets and thrown the nation’s third largest school system into a tizzy. Outside Chicago, you can find the same mega issues pumping up like storm clouds in school...

Battle of the Romney Plans

(Flickr / caniswolfie)
Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary. Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four. If by the Mitt method (school choice) or the George method (residential integration), students now living in Detroit were to attend schools where concentrated disadvantage did not overwhelm school capacity, each school in the area, including those in Detroit, might have about 30 percent African American and 39 percent lunch-eligible enrollment. Of course, no policy should aim for such a mechanically even distribution; these numbers...

Let's Not Make Sally Ride a Gay Icon

Let’s remember her for what she cared about most—women in the sciences.

(Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
A single line in Sally Ride’s obituary has caused a lot of fuss over the last day—the fact that she spent the last 27 years of her life with another woman. It’s a bit of a shame that the buzz of the public revelation has taken away from what it seems Dr. Ride would have preferred her legacy to be: pushing young women into careers in math and science. It doesn’t appear that Ride’s sexuality was a secret to those who knew her, just to the rest of us, the ones who knew her only as the trim woman in a NASA jumpsuit, sporting a soft halo of '80s hair. That’s exactly what she was to me as a little girl, a name and a picture in a history book: the first American woman in space. Firm evidence that we had been there, done that. Ride embraced that legacy, starting a company later in life that provided materials to make the teaching of science more accessible to young students. She also spoke out about the problem of peer pressure and norms of socialization that led girls away from studying math...

A Student-Loan Solution We Should Be Talking About

(Flickr/Philip Taylor PT)
Tuesday, Senate leaders said that they had reached a deal to freeze student-loan rates at 3.4 percent —rather than allowing them to double on July 1. It's welcome news for the millions of students in this country who rely on such subsidized loan rates to help pay for school. But the deal doesn't get at the overwhelming national problem of student debt, which, at more than $1 trillion, now exceeds credit-card debt in the country. Among the factors that contribute to those numbers is the problem of remedial coursework. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007-2008, "approximately 36 percent of first-year undergraduate students reported that they had ever taken a remedial course." That spikes up to 42 percent among undergraduates at two-year institutions. In some states, the proportion of students needing those courses can be dramatically higher; in Colorado's community colleges, the remediation rate was 58 percent this year. That means students are taking extra...

The Return of President Sullivan

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
After two weeks of sustained activism by faculty, students, and alumni at the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors reinstated President Teresa Sullivan by unanimous vote. As I wrote last week, she had resigned after the Rector of the Board—Helen Dragas—covertly gathered votes to force a resignation. This sparked a backlash that consumed the U.Va community, and forced Dragas to back down from her previous position–as evidenced by the fact that she also voted to reinstate Sullivan. The takeaway, for U.Va at least, is that Teresa Sullivan has far more power and support than she did at the beginning of this debacle. If she wants to take the University in a new direction, she has—for now at least—the necessary political capital. By contrast, the Board of Visitors has taken a tremendous political hit. Even after Dragas leaves her rectorship (it ends on July 1), the Board will have to work with students, faculty, and donors to rebuild its position and authority. One last thing. For...

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