Thursday, October 14, 2010
Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study
Position Announcement: Funding for Junior Researcher of Color
Graduate Project Assistantship or Postdoctoral Fellowship
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at UW-Madison, seeks a talented junior researcher of color to join the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study in 2011 as it prepares to enroll its second cohort of students.
The WSLS is the first-ever longitudinal randomized controlled trial of need-based financial aid. It is a mixed-methods study following two cohorts of Wisconsin Pell grant recipients through college and into the workforce. It is led by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including co-director Douglas N. Harris, and includes collection of administrative, survey, and in-depth interview data. For more information, please see the WSLS website.
Dr. Goldrick-Rab holds a William T. Grant Scholars award for her work on the WSLS. Her project, “Rethinking College Choice in America,” applies ideas and methods from developmental psychology and behavioral economics to examine how college students' use of time, emotional experiences and amounts of sleep interact with financial aid and affect chances of earning degrees.
The Scholars award includes the opportunity to seek supplementary funding (also from the William T. Grant Foundation) to help Scholars build strong mentoring relationships with students of color. According to the Foundation, “these awards address two issues that receive insufficient attention and resources: how to be a good mentor and challenges facing people of color in research careers.” The Foundation estimates awarding three to four awards in the amount of $60,000 for mentoring doctoral students and $85,000 for mentoring postdoctoral fellows (inclusive of a maximum of 7.5 percent in indirect costs). Funding will begin on July 1, 2011, and end June 30, 2012. Mentors and mentees will come together during annual winter meetings designed to support the mentoring relationships, Scholars’ development as mentors, and Junior Researchers’ development as researchers.
If selected and funded, the Junior Researcher will work with Dr. Goldrick-Rab on her Scholars project and also on an independent inquiry related to the second cohort of students participating in the WSLS.
Eligible applicants must meet the following criteria, according to Foundation rules:
• Junior Researchers of Color may be African American, Asian or Pacific Islander American, Latino, and/or Native American.
• Junior Researchers may be full-time doctoral students or postdoctoral fellows.
• At minimum, students must be in their second year of doctoral studies at the onset of the award.
• The Junior Researcher must be housed at UW-Madison or a nearby college or university.
In addition, per the needs of the WSLS and Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s project, eligible applicants must also possess all of the following qualifications:
• A background in social science coursework, preferably in sociology or anthropology and/or training in a public policy or social work program.
• Prior experience conducting in-depth interviews .
• Statistics skills, include comfort with regression analysis and preferably familiarity with STATA.
• Ability to demonstrate attention to detail, strong writing skills, and the capacity to work independently.
In short, the highly qualified applicant will have already begun to emerge as a skilled mixed-method researcher, or researcher-in-training.
This position is currently in the planning stage. At this time, Dr. Goldrick-Rab seeks interested students who would like to collaborate on an application for either a project assistantship or a postdoctoral fellowship, to begin in July 1, 2011 and conclude June 30, 2012. The final application is due March 2, 2011 and the award decision will be made in June 2011. The applicant is required to jointly prepare the application with Dr. Goldrick-Rab (as the Foundation mandates). To the extent that the student goes beyond the application planning and participates in laying the groundwork for Cohort 2, that work may be compensated on an hourly basis (to be negotiated), regardless of whether the award is granted.
If interested, students should contact Dr. Goldrick-Rab by November 5, 2010. Please send an email that includes a cover letter explaining reasons for interest, along with a CV and contact information for at least two professors who can provide recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your interest!
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I am convinced that too many educational reformers are happy to 'spin' the truth for rhetorical purposes. I think this is exactly what we saw in this manifesto. While this may help to simplify messaging, target solutions at a more narrowly construed problem, and focus in on what education leaders have direct control over, it carries an inherent policy danger along with it. That danger is two-fold: (1) teacher policy reforms may be set up for failure by overstating their potential impact; and (2) more comprehensive strategies desperately needed to combat rising income inequality and growing poverty in our nation may be discounted and ignored.
For me, this isn't an issue of setting low expectations for children from poverty. We must train and support our teachers to have high expectations and develop the potential in all children. But, from a policy perspective, which is the world in which I work, to not even discuss poverty and inequality -- even though the research evidence points to its preeminence -- is akin to taking it off the table as a policy priority.
Nor it is a lack of belief in the ameliorative benefits that sensible teacher reforms can have on student outcomes by expanding the recruitment pool of teacher candidates, improving initial training and on-going support of classroom teachers, improving teaching and learning conditions within schools, providing differential compensation to teachers for leadership roles, difficult assignments, shortage fields, and demonstrated effectiveness, and more....
For teacher quality specifically, as I argued in my previous post, playing fast and loose with the facts isn't necessary. There is a powerful argument to be made based on the fact that teachers are the most important school-based influence on student learning. That's exactly what my colleagues at the New Teacher Center have done. We've made careful and honest declarations about teacher quality being the most critical within-school variable, but haven't framed the issue in a way that would make us education-industry Pinocchios.
And this leads us directly to the question of credibility. While I am personally inclined to support elements of what the superintendents' manifesto calls for -- and inclined to support elements of broader education and teacher reform agendas -- I am disinclined to associate myself with a clarion call that is dishonest on its face and misserves the national need for a critical conversation and accompanying set of public policies to address issues of economic inequality. That need extends well beyond the education system and requires responses much broader than merely strengthening the teaching profession and overhauling human capital systems.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently has been banging the drums challenging policymakers -- and Democrats, in particular -- to address our nation's historic levels of income inequality and rising levels of poverty. As reported by the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein, since 1976 "virtually all of the benefits of economic growth have gone to households that, in today's terms, earn more than $110,000 a year." Further, UNICEF reports that the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty among 24 OECD nations -- over 20% -- and the second-worst rate (barely ahead of bottom-dwelling Great Britain) of childhood well-being in the industralized world. Further, as Walt Gardner recently noted, a September 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report showed that the percentage of Americans below the poverty line in 2009 was the highest in 15 years. And the rise was steepest for children, with one in five affected. Think this has any bearing on U.S. students' relatively poor performance on international student assessments? Uh-huh.
So, let's talk about how to strengthen teaching and its central importance to student outcomes. But let's not fence ourselves in with self-serving rhetoric. Let's be honest in our communications and expansive in our thinking about policies needed to improve the lives of American children.
It's about education -- and a whole lot more.
Now, it's not often that I get to trumpet a band that hails from my adopted hometown of Burlington, Vermont (I'm technically a flatlander, in Vermont idiom). Plus, in this case, I get to see them live in concert tonight in Madison, Wisconsin! (For DC-based readers of the blog, check them out at Night of The Living Zoo on October 29th!)
The band's music is a mix of blues and good old fashioned rock 'n' roll. Its web site describes the band this way: "Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are like a modern-day version of Tina Turner stroking the microphone in a spangled mini-dress while fronting the Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers." Rolling Stone magazine called them one of the best new bands of 2010 saying, "The group’s third disc ... finds a sweet spot between rowdy, blues-driven live sound and tight, classic-rock songcraft.”
Highlights from the self-titled new album include "Paris (Ooh La La)," "Tiny Light" and "Only Love." The band's sound is undoubtedly buttressed by the entrance of bassist Catherine Popper, formerly with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals.
Check out the official web site at www.gracepotter.com.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I thought I would share some of my past blog posts on Rhee, including "Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword?," "A Generational Divide Over Teacher Pay," and "Towards More Equitable Teacher Distribution."
Perhaps the best post mortem was offered last week - "(D)issing (C)ollaboration."
Friday, October 8, 2010
"[T]he single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents' income -- it is the quality of their teacher."No. That is patently false.
Now, listen here. I work for a teacher-focused, non-profit organization, the New Teacher Center (NTC). Wouldn't it be powerful to go out and say that teachers matter more than ANYTHING else? But they don't. In terms of school-based variables, they do. But in terms of all variables that impact students, they simply do not. No research says that. In our messaging at the NTC, we are always careful to say that teacher quality is the most important school-based variable for student achievement (examples here and here (on page 4)). That's accurate, honest and powerful in its own right.
So why not make the case for improving teaching in a honest fashion? There is an incredibly strong case to make that improving teaching quality is a critically important and policy amenable part of the solution to increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students. But it's only part of the answer which requires solutions beyond the educational system. Let's not lose sight of that.
At the Shanker Blog, Matthew Di Carlo explored this same issue last month and took journalists to task for making similar claims. Back in July, he summarized existing teacher quality research.
September 16, 2010:
The same body of evidence that shows that teachers are the most important within-school factor influencing test score gains also demonstrates that non-school factors matter a great deal more. [emphasis added] The first wave of high-profile articles in our newly-energized education debate not only seem to be failing to provide this context, but are ignoring it completely. Deliberately or not, they are publishing incorrect information dressed up as empirical fact, spreading it throughout a mass audience new to the topic, to the detriment of us all.July 14, 2010:
Even though the 10-15 percent explained by teachers still represents a great deal of power (and is among the only factors “within the jurisdiction” of education policy), it is nevertheless important to bear in mind that poor educational outcomes are a result of a complicated web of social and economic forces. [emphasis added] People have to understand that, or they will maintain unrealistic expectations about the extent to which teacher-related policies alone can solve our problems, and how quickly they will work.
But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). [emphasis added] Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).Let's take Di Carlo's and Joe Friday's advice. Just the facts, please.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Mayor Fenty, of course, hired Michelle Rhee to serve as Schools Chancellor in June 2007. Both have governed in a non-collaborative, take-no-prisoners style and numerous election post mortems have identified that style of leadership -- both his and hers -- as a primary reason for Fenty's defeat.
Here are the three best analyses I've read about how Mayor Adrian Fenty (and, by association, Chancellor Michelle Rhee) lost DC:
(1) Sam Chaltain, 9/15/2010: "Why Adrian Fenty Lost the City -- and How Vincent Gray Can Win It Back"
(2) Judith Warner, New York Times, 10/1/2010: "Is Michelle Rhee's Revolution Over?"
(3) Dana Goldstein, The Daily Beast, 9/15/2010: "Obama Loses a Mayor"
In his blog post, Sam Chaltain draws from his new book -- American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community -- to underscore how Fenty and Rhee went wrong.
[A]ny organizational leader ... needs to develop three foundational skills: self-awareness, systems thinking, and strategically-deployed collaborative decision-making.... When these three skills start to take root in individuals and the organizational culture of which they’re a part, a palpable shift takes place. Transformational change, and the collective will and clarity needed to achieve it, becomes possible.... To me, the most accurate (and damning) criticism of Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee was that they failed to understand, or even value, the importance of addressing the human elements of change.Judith Warner, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, diagnoses the self-destructive leadership style of Michelle Rhee.
[T]he night after the mayoral primary, Rhee appeared at the Washington premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s much-talked-about education documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” and told an assemblage of prominent Washingtonians that the election results “were devastating, devastating. Not for me, I’ll be fine . . . but devastating for the school children of Washington, D.C.”
In the local blogs that buzzed with outrage after Rhee’s comment, a theme became clear: people — even people who seemed destined to most benefit from the work of a committed reformer like Rhee — don’t like to get the message that their communities are on the wrong track. That their schools are no good, the teachers in them subpar; that their decision to back a politician who doesn’t share the reformer’s particular style of quasi-missionary zeal would consign their kids to disaster.
It became clear that people don’t much like stern-faced do-gooders telling them how to think and what to do; that they prefer “a reform agenda that’s being done with people, not to people,” as Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently put it. They don’t like collective slap-downs — like the one Rhee managed when she referred to the hundreds of fired teachers indiscriminately in an interview with a business magazine as people who “had hit children, who had had sex with children.” They don’t like to see respected members of their community seemingly compared to dirt, as Rhee unthinkingly did by agreeing to pose on the cover of Time wielding a big broom. They like policy makers who at least appear to be taking their concerns to heart, as Rhee pointedly did not, bluntly telling the magazine: “I’m not going to pretend to solicit your advice so you’ll feel involved, because that’s just fake.”
Dana Goldstein, a Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at Columbia University, writing in The Daily Beast, said:
The words used to describe Fenty by the 53 percent of District residents who opposed his reelection—brash, arrogant, condescending—are really descriptions of his schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a woman who has said, over and over again, “Collaboration and consensus building are quite frankly overrated in my mind.”Undoubtedly, DC schools have made progress under Fenty/Rhee on numerous metrics. Test scores. Student enrollment. Supplies. Basic functioning. I have been both complimentary and critical of Michelle Rhee in past blog posts. But the lesson of the election perhaps is that substance and results should carry the day, but style is not inconsequential, especially when it gets in the way.
Indeed, the tragedy of Fenty’s loss is that the Michelle Rhee reform agenda may now be aborted before it has been fully implemented, giving education reformers one less data point in their search for strategies that work.
One hopes that if D.C.’s new mayor, Vincent Gray, asks Rhee to stay on, she will. (Gray has been unclear about his intentions on this question.) But one also hopes that, in Fenty’s defeat, Rhee has learned a lesson crucial to any effort at institutional reform: Collaboration and consensus building aren’t overrated, after all.
Leadership style matters in any enterprise, even in education, despite denials by prognosticators (such as The New Republic's Seyward Darby who said "the future of D.C. public education doesn't rest on personal style") and reformers (such as Andy Rotherham AKA Eduwonk who dismissed the style issue and said the "more serious problem is intense organized opposition to what she’s trying to do." I reject these notions that Rhee's longevity is irrelevant and that opposition to Rhee was purely substantive. Compare her to Ronald Reagan, a president who maintained strong personal support through much of his presidency even when the public disagreed with numerous of his public policy stances. He achieved that through a tremendous force of personality, an uncanny sense of people, and an upbeat vision of America -- and got more done as a result. A very different approach to leadership.
Leadership -- and personal -- style matters for urban school superintendents because it is directly related to their longevity and to the sustainability and breadth of their reforms. And they are closer to the ground, addressing issues related to people's children and to teachers' careers, where everything is more personal. They need to engage with stakeholders and connect with them. It gets to Larry Cuban's excellent point about sprinters versus marathoners. "A sprinter in D.C., however, may not last to change how nearly 4,000 teachers teach and 55,000 students learn. Or look at San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin who ran out of gas in 2005." In short, we need the latter, Cuban says.
A key part of leadership style is inclusiveness and collaboration. It is apparent that the absence of effective partnerships -- or even willing dialogue -- between the Fenty/Rhee team and teachers, parents and the school community (and DC's African-American community, in particular) may have been exactly what led to the dissolution of this political partnership between the mayor and his city. Rhee's rhetoric, including claiming falsely that unspecified numbers of teachers were dismissed because they had sexually assaulted students probably wasn't a good way to build community either -- and her public image, seared into public consciousness as the broom lady on the cover of TIME magazine, simply made things worse. None of that -- none of it -- was necessary to get the job done. In fact, it made it more difficult and has put the entire enterprise in jeopardy.
Now, there were those who were critical of Rhee since day one because of the content of her reform agenda. Perhaps those naysayers never could have been brought along. And there were others whose support was undoubtedly lost by the wave of changes advocated and unleashed by Rhee. That's an unavoidable consequence of leadership. But there were many others who could have been and should have been brought along. The problem was that there has appeared to be an overarching focus on doing reform TO people as opposed to adopting reforms WITH people. Substantively, the balance was off a bit as well. Rhee's decision to rhetorically highlight and prioritize teacher evaluation (and the resulting teacher firings) and to downplay efforts to build teacher capacity is telling. DC's winning Race to the Top proposal arguably has the least focus on teacher professional development, mentoring and induction of any of the 36 Phase Two proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
Rhee has been unwilling to admit, at least publicly, that her style contributed to Fenty's downfall -- and potentially her early departure from the District. And that's not surprising given her past comments basically shitting on collaboration and consensus building. Rather, Rhee has chalked up the defeat to a failure to communicate "why we were making the decisions that we did." That's certainly a piece of it, as Matthew Yglesias recently argued, saying: "Michelle Rhee unquestionably ended up doing this city a disservice with her habit of spending more time courting a nationwide constituency than on painful block-by-block selling of her message in skeptical communities."
But there were some, like Robert Pondisico ('Michelle Rhee Is Scaring Me', 12/1/2008), who can rightly say that they saw this coming:
Here’s what worries me: accurate or inaccurate, fair or unfair, the increasingly confrontational, impatient, blunt, even rude public persona that’s affixing itself to the Washington, DC schools chancellor runs the risk of getting in the way of what Michelle Rhee wants to accomplish. I’ll put it bluntly: piss off enough people whose help is essential to your success, and your failure becomes inevitable, a consummation devoutly to be wished. Then for years to come, the answer to the reforms anyone proposes becomes, “Oh yes, we tried that in Washington under Michelle Rhee and you remember how that worked out.” If she fails, Michelle Rhee’s failure will not be hers alone. At worst, she runs the risk of damaging the ed reform “brand” for a generation.Change never was going to come easy to DC Public Schools given its historic dysfunction. Rhee, as Schools Chancellor, has made major strides in three years on the job and set the system on a course for future improvement. But one has to wonder if she had included even an occasional spoonful of sugar to doses of her brand of medicine -- or at least thought about asking folks which flavor they might prefer -- whether things might have turned out just a bit differently.
10/7/2010 UPDATE: Check out Robert McCartney's highly relevant piece in the 10/7/2010 Washington Post -- and this recent Baltimore Sun story -- about the new teachers contract achieved by a collaborative approach between Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso and AFT head Randi Weingarten.
10/8/2010 UPDATE: "Fenty says education reform cost him re-election" (Mike DeBonis/Washington Post)
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
What do Monty Python and O'Donnell have in common? Why, witches, of course!!!
One of the highlights from the Pythons' 1975 feature film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a scene that employs a scientific method -- one that I can easily see some Tea Party candidates employing in public policy if given the chance -- to determine whether a woman is, in fact, a witch.
In one of the most bizarre beginnings to a political advertisement EVER, 2010 Senate candidate O'Donnell announces that "I am not a witch."
O'Donnell, as you may have heard, admitted in 1999 on Bill Maher's ABC show, "Politically Incorrect," that she had "dabbled in witchcraft" and had a date "on a satanic altar." Whether or not it's actually true, it is just downright bizarre, especially when considered alongside her other wacky quotes. In addition -- to bring it back to education -- O'Donnell has repeatedly lied about her education credentials, claiming falsely that she studied at Oxford, claiming that she was taking graduate classes at Princeton University, and claiming for years that she was a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Delaware Republicans must be so proud, having thrown a well-respected, long-serving congressman Mike Castle under the bus, for a woman, who even Karl Rove admits says "a lot of nutty things."
Is it just me or has this political year brought out some of the craziest -- and, in certain cases, dangerous -- assortment of public officials ever? The likes of Michele Bachmann, Ken Cuccinelli and Jim DeMint already represent some Americans. The likes of Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle and Carl Paladino would like to.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I struggle in making a professional assessment of Diane Ravitch's conversion from a Lamar Alexander-era U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and a No Child Left Behind proponent to chief curmudgeon on all things draped in education reform. Her past explanations about "accumulating evidence" and getting "caught up in the rising tide of enthusiasm" for school choice don't seem to tell the whole story. I'm not suggesting she's insincere, but I just don't understand how she got from here to there.
Don't get me wrong. I find myself in agreement with many of Ravitch's recent statements, especially those about the one-sidedness and rhetorical hyperbole surrounding Waiting for Superman and other education reform PR vehicles, such as NBC's Education Nation. And I think she is right in her efforts to recast what education reform is or should be. So it's not that I think that people don't have the ability to change. It's more about trying to process and understand so fundamental a change that takes someone from being a ringleader for an accountability-driven education system to a few years later being the foremost national critic of educational accountability, charter schools, and business-style approaches to education reform. How could a highly educated person have gotten it so wrong and so immediately reversed herself? Perhaps I should just go and read her book and see if the answer lies within?
Ravitch doesn't make my job of processing her transformation any easier with her misleading tweets and blog posts. On 9/23/2010, Ravitch tweeted about the recent Vanderbilt University teacher merit pay study and its connection to the federally funded Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF):
Vanderbilt U study discredits merit pay so next day USDOE hands out hundreds of millions for...merit pay. Blind to evidence and research.Really?!? Ravitch is too intelligent not to know that she is engaging in deliberate simplification in support of her apparent stance against differentiated compensation of teachers. With spin like that, she should go run a political campaign. 'Tis the season, after all. Ravitch is engaged in the same kind of hyperbole that she rightly criticizes in what Alexander Russo has taken to calling "reformy types".
The National Council on Teacher Quality provides a wise counterpoint to Ravitch on the merit pay study here:
Good teacher pay strategies are never written in a vacuum: they're part of a well-thought out system of incentives and professional supports designed to attract and keep the best teachers.... First off, it's no surprise that the findings showed no correlation between performance pay and increasing student achievement, meaning that the very premise of the study might be called into question. Performance pay is a reward system designed to send strong signals that the profession honors and rewards results but, perhaps even more critically, it should increase the profession's appeal to individuals who might not otherwise consider teaching, convinced that the profession disdains excellence. It's a silly notion to think that teachers leave their "A" game at home, absent the promise of a little extra pay.Funded TIF proposals -- and the federal program itself -- are about much more than pay tied to student test scores. Proposals all have a compensation component, but also embed other critical elements such as classroom evaluation, professional development and collaboration. As examples, check out the CLASS Project led by the Chalkboard Project in Oregon, Chicago Public Schools District #299, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards proposal for the state of Maine and Richmond, Virginia, and several successful Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) proposals, including one in Knox County, Tennessee.
Absolute, steadfast consistency in the face of mounting or available evidence is not my suggested goal here. Blind faith and arrogance are found in too many education advocates and policymakers on all sides of the debate. So, at a certain level, I appreciate Ravitch's conversion. But the credibility of her current positions and statements are, in part, determined by a plausible explanation for that evolution.
As a final thought, I recognize that I've been especially critical of some education reformers and reform ideas as of late (here and here and on Twitter). Given that I place my personal views somewhere in the middle between the most aggressive reformers and the most steadfast defenders of the educational status quo, I only felt it appropriate to share some nagging questions I've had about someone on the opposing side of the debate.