Charter school and tuition vouchers

John Ray (2008-June-26) linked this Wall Street Journal article on re-regulation of charter schools in New York. Years ago, Milton Friedman expressed a preference for school vouchers over charter schools, since current recipients of the US taxpayers' $500 billion+ per year K-12 education subsidy will relentlessly lobby legislatures to amend the laws and regulations which create charter schools and which define the limits on their autonomy. School vouchers also invite State intrusion, through the laws and regulations which determine institutional eligibility. Accreditation agencies represent established interests. Parent Performance Contracting offers system insiders fewer avenues by which to intrude.


Just Go There

The Headmistress/Zookeeper at The Common Room wrote this.

Beth Clarkson sent this link to "A Mathematician's Lament". The author's credential should command respect. His enthusiasm for Math probably inspires students. Still... his dismissive position on notation and symbolic manipulation gives me pause. Some problems are hard without notation and easy with notation. See postscript, below.

My bottom line? "What works?" is an empirical question which only a competitive market in education services can answer.

In related news, Georgia and Louisiana recently enacted school vouchers. Georgia, statewide, and Louisiana, limited. More, please.

P.S. A Sam Lloyd puzzle: A milkman has two 10-gallon dairy cans of fresh milk. Two cooks want to buy milk. One cook has a 5-gallon pail and one cook has a 3-gallon pail. Each cook wants two gallons of milk. The milkman has no way to mark the containers. There are no spare containers available. He does not want to pour milk away. How does he make the sale?

Just try this without notation.



Megan McArdle's guest blogger Conor Friedersdorf linked this article by the Urban Institute on the effects of Teach For America teachers on student performance.
Teach for America (TFA) selects and places graduates from the most competitive colleges as teachers in the lowest-performing schools in the country. This paper is the first study that examines TFA effects in high school. We use rich longitudinal data from North Carolina and estimate TFA effects through cross-subject student and school fixed-effects models. We find that TFA teachers tend to have a positive effect on high school student test scores relative to non-TFA teachers, including those who are certified in-field. Such effects exceed the impact of additional years of experience and are particularly strong in math and science.

Last session, the Hawaii Legislature killed a bill to waive current licensing requirements for Teach For America grads.

Update: There's this support for TFA in the Wall Street Journal:...
Teach for America volunteers tend to have much better academic qualifications (than typical College of Ed graduated teachers--my comment). They come from more competitive schools and they know more about the subjects they teach. Ms. Hannaway notes, "Students are better off being exposed to teachers with a high level of skill."

The strong performance in math and science seems to confirm that the more specialized the knowledge, the more important it is that teachers be well versed in it. (Imagine that.) No amount of time in front of a classroom will make you understand advanced algebra better.

Teach for America was pleased, but not exactly shocked, by these results. "We have always been a data-driven organization," says spokesman Amy Rabinowitz. "We have a selection model we've refined over the years." The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. "It's mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities." Sounds like the way the private sector hires. Don't tell the teachers unions.
Public sector unions dominate the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board. Their influence is not benign. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents, among others, College of Education faculty, is an NEA subsidiary.


Bill Gates Bought Me a Beer (ED in '08 Bloggers' Summit)

Someone told the organizers of the Ed in '08 bloggers' summit about The Harriet Tubman Agenda and this blog got an invitation. Thanks for the beer and cool event-labeled paraphenalia, Mr. Gates. I owe you. Here goes.

No, I didn't fly Honolulu to DC and back for the blogger's summit. The invitation came after I'd already booked Northwest from Honolulu to Memphis to attend my niece's graduation from Rhodes College, from Memphis to Minneapolis for a week in the woods along the Cascade River (Damn, those woods are cold. Deep, too) with my older sister, then a second-cousin's graduation from Adams-Friendship HS in Wisconsin.

What's the big deal with graduation? I only went to my HS graduation because they made me, and I didn't go to my college graduation. All parties involved took my departure as cause for celebration. Certainly, my experience isn't universal. Others have their own, and better, reasons to celebrate. My neice, the college grad (History), is off to teach English to Sri Lankan youngsters, and the HS grad is on to college. Good on them, I guess.

Viewed from Hawaii, the angular separation between Memphis, DC, and Grand Marais isn't much. DC wasn't much of a change in the itinerary, so I added that detour. The organizers promised Newt Gingrich and Joanne Jacobs, which sounded interesting. Then they began to fill the schedule with bloggers from the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and the establishment media, and the detour began to look less attractive. Sunk costs are sunk, however, so I tried to keep an open mind.

The organizers were generous, courteous, and efficient. Thanks Holly, Mark, and the guy whose name I forget. Sorry. I didn't take a lot of notes. The staff of the Palomar Hotel supplied this wanderer with guidance. Thanks, all.

Day 1. Saturday. Cocktail hour and film.

I spent the cocktail hour cowering in a corner, nursing a beer and admiring the sharp clothes and easy sociability of everyone else. The screening of Two Million Minutes offered the chance to sit in dim light and enforced silence. The makers of Two Million Minutes, a film about the waste of time and talent in US high schools relative to the schools of China and India, followed six students, a male and a female in each country, through their daily routine. They interviewed economists and entrepreneurs who discussed the causes and consequences of the systematic differences between student motivation in India and China, on the one hand, and in the USA on the other. Maybe the economists' dire predictions of US decline will prove correct, but I am not convinced that exceptional performance at the top end of the academic scale matters all that much. The performance of the US economy from 1800 to 1900 suggests otherwise. Richard Arkwright, James Hargreaves, and Thomas Highs were homeschooled or only marginally schooled. Cyrus McCormick was homeschooled. Thomas Edison was homeschooled and went to work at 13. Hyram Maxim left school at 13 and apprenticed. A legal regime of secure title, freedom of association and freedom of contract, and a relatively transparent, small, and honest government matter more than exalted performance by academic stars. The Soviet Union created world-class mathematicians and physicists, and look where that got them. Bill Boryk, who visited the Russia before the collapse of communism, described life in the Evil Empire as "PhDs living in the stone age".

Day 2. Sunday. Panels, lunch, and a conversation with Joanne Jacobs.

The powers behind the Ed in '08 conference recommend three repairs to the US school system: standards, qualified teachers, and time to learn. This will more likely move US academic performance backwards. The major system insiders, the teachers' unions and their allies, will use the "standards" and "qualified teachers" imperatives to enhance centralization of the US education industry. Enhanced "time to learn" means students will have less time to pursue their own interests, outside the failed command economy of the government school system. The largest cost of the compulsory, tax-funded US school system is the opportunity cost to students of the time they spend in school.

One speaker bucked the tide. Newt Gingrich spoke during lunch and extolled self-paced instruction. He endorsed technology and institutional innovations which free students to pursue their own interests and to advance through the required curriculum at a faster pace than the prescribed 12 years to college.

Joanne signed a copy of Our School for me. I gave a copy of these charts to Newt Gingrich as he passed our table.

The weather in DC was fine. I did not meet an unfriendly soul in DC. The man at the National Airport visitors' information desk, the clerks at Motel 6, the bus drivers, and the young man waiting for the bus outside MacDonalds, who left Stockton, California to escape the gang temptation, were all helpful and friendly.

I did not have time to visit any monuments or museums, and flew out at 7 a.m. Monday.

"Their inner Alfie Kohn"

Ho ho ho. Love that line. "Their inner Alfie Kohn".

Some of my colleagues closed their gradebooks two weeks before the end of the school year and dumped the last two week's assigned student work in the trash. Shouldn't this prompt doubts about the enterprise? Like much assigned classwork throughout the year, the last week's work was for show. I believe that teachers often assign classwork and homework with no larger instructional purpose than to keep students occupied or to prove to parents or supervisors that they (teachers) are doing their jobs.

As a rule of thumb, if you have to lie, you're doing something wrong.

Early in my career, I assigned enough classwork to keep students busy. I assigned homework. The problem was, grading enough work to occupy students' time in class kept me busy for hours after class (and I was a Math teacher. For English or History, it's worse). Grading assigned homework involved another problem: who's work was I grading, anyway? What can a grade mean if I don't know where the student got the answer?

So I stopped. We practiced on worksheets of my own composition (teachers routinely violate copyright). I graded a short test once a week, but not classwork, and a quarter final each quarter. The only homework that mattered was a file of all collected classwork and tests, which counted 1/2 of a grade point (i.e., C+ => B).

Really, now. If you lift weights for an hour a day five times per week, you'll bulk up. If you trot around the track for an hour a day five times a week, you'll get fit. Use class time honestly and you'll find you use it well. You'll save the students' time and your own.