Monthly Archives: October 2010

Paging Rand Paul: Do Disabled Kids Belong in Homeless Shelters?

Kentucky's next senator, Rand Paul, is a rabid opponent of Medicaid, the federal and state health program for the disabled and very poor. Paul has called Medicaid–which insures 800,000 people in Kentucky, more than half of whom are children–an example of "intergenerational warfare."* 

"We've made it too easy," he said earlier this month, for people to get government health aid–especially pregnant women seeking obstetric care.** 

Well, here's how easy life is for citizens of Indiana, just next door to Paul: With the state facing a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall, thousands of parents of severely disabled kids (those with autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy, and the like)  have not received the Medicaid vouchers they depend on to provide care for their children at home. Now the AP reports that some state workers have been telling the parents to consider dropping their kids off at homeless shelters.

Kim Dodson, associate executive director of The Arc of Indiana advocacy group, speculated the suggestions result from frustration among BDDS staff. Families have become more outspoken in complaining about waiting for waivers — waiting lists had more than 20,000 names last month — and upset that Family and Social Services has reduced services as Gov. Mitch Daniels has cut its budget. The Arc says cuts since July have eliminated 2,000 waiver slots.


“It is something we are hearing from all over the state, that families are being told this is an alternative for them,” Dodson said. “A homeless shelter would never be able to serve these people.”

* Paul's medical practice receives about half its income from Medicaid and Medicare payments.

** Paul opposes abortion in all cases (including rape and incest), saying he would support a Constitutional amendment establishing that fertilized eggs have the rights of born individuals. 

TFA ♥ Goldman Sachs, Or One Reason It’s Hard to Keep People in the Teaching Profession

An announcement from Goldman Sachs:

From: Human Capital Management

Date: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Subject: Teach for America-Goldman Sachs Summer Internship Program

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new partnership between Goldman Sachs and Teach for America, the Teach for America-Goldman Sachs Summer Internship Program. Through this program, Goldman Sachs will offer up to twenty paid summer internships to eligible TFA applicants. The internship with Goldman Sachs takes place between the first and second years of teaching, as part of the summer 2012 internship program.

We look forward to sharing this opportunity with your graduating seniors and appreciate your help marketing this important diversity initiative. If you have any questions please reach out directly to Julie Mantilla, Campus Diversity Recruiting.

By, the way, the average Goldman summer intern earns $11,538, and the $60,000 entry level analyst annual salary (plus bonuses!) is about double what a young teacher would make in most school districts across the country.

That's all hard enough to say no to without TFA telling you, hey, go right ahead!

Via Dealbreaker.

One Journalist’s Guilt About Not Paying for the Journalism She Consumes

I await the inevitable transition to paid online content* with optimism and a bit of impatience. I'm continuously frustrated by the guilt I feel in not paying for the very valuable journalism I consume. The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, are crucial professional tools for me, without which I would not be able to function as a magazine writer. I don't subscribe to their print editions, but it's not because I'm cheap; it's because print newspapers don't fit into my lifestyle.

With the exceptions of books and long-form articles, I read on my Android phone, my laptop, or my office desktop. I begin my day by downloading the morning Times onto my Motorola Droid 2 and then reading through it while I either eat breakfast or commute. For me, this is far easier and more natural than struggling with a sheaf of newsprint. I would read many more publications this way if they would simply develop a workable Android app.

I know I'm a rare media consumer because I'm a journalist and therefore understand how much labor goes into these products. But I, for one, would love to pay for my Times app. Instead, they are giving it to me for free–and ad-free, too!

(I do subscribe to several magazines I love and read them during my 1.5 hour commute from Brooklyn to Morningside Heights. I subscribe because their longer form articles lend themselves to print in a way breaking news or short opinion columns don't–and because I want to support their work.)

Given all this guilt, I'm excited to see that my friend Reihan Salam–a writer you should read–is launching a subscription-based email list for $2.50 per month. There's a neat webservice,, that allows writers to do this. Sam Lessin, another writer who launched a subscriber email, described his motivation this way: "F*ck blogging." He writes, "Because I control distribution I can give people content that I want to give content to. Anyone I don't know is free to signal real commitment to think about/comment back by paying. No slackers allowed."

I'm not about to say the same, because at this stage in my career, blogging publicly is still a very effective way for me to get new eyes on my writing, solicit feedback from readers (many of whom have more expertise in the topics I cover than I do!), and hopefully increase the number of editors who'd like to pay me to write now or in the future. But what do you all think of the idea of a cheap subscription letter? Would you pay to read a monthly update from me in that format, if it contained original content you couldn't access elsewhere?

I'm endlessly interested in creative ideas about how to make writing about important, serious topics financially sustainable for those of us who do it.

*Not to say that the advertiser-based revenue model, free for consumers, will necessarily die out in favor of micro-payments or the subscriber model. Rather, online advertising may become more profitable as more print publications die out and websites become more locally-targeted.

Can Character Traits Like “Grit” Be Taught in School?

Something called "character education" is quite trendy in education reform right now. It's based on research from positive psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson that suggests traits like "grit"–perseverance, goal-orientation, and long-term ambition–are more highly correlated with academic and workplace success than traditional measures of skill and talent such as IQ. 

There's a lot of interesting, if methodologically questionable, research on these findings. Check out this 2007 study, which attempted (via surveys, some administered online) to correlate the "grittiness" of a few thousand adults with their life outcomes. The researchers identified two major types of grit: "consistency of interests" and "consistency of efforts," asking respondents to rate themselves on a 5-point scale as to whether "new ideas and new projects sometimes distract me from previous ones," or "I have achieved a goal that took years of work."

The study concludes that even when IQ is controlled for, grittiness is associated with degree attainment and higher GPAs. The grittiest people, however, do not have the highest SAT scores. Perhaps those who perform well on standardized tests have so many other advantages going for them that they aren't forced to be particularly gritty in order to achieve their goals. 

You can see why a finding like this one would be fascinating to eduwonks. If people with low SAT scores but lots of grit are good at earning degrees, then maybe we can increase high school and college graduation rates for disadvantaged kids by somehow teaching them grit. When I heard KIPP founder Dave Levin speak a few weeks ago at a conference here in New York, he was very excited about the potential here, which he saw as a confirmation of his charter schools' focus on developing "character" in children. 

The problem is that we have no idea whatsoever whether traits like grittiness can be taught in school. To what extent are they taught at home? To what extent are they internal to a child's DNA? As Education Week reports, the largest to-date federal study of character education programs has found they lead to no discernible, long-term improvements in students' academic performance or behavior. 

This shouldn't be taken as the last word on character education; some smaller studies have reported more positive results, and school buildings that are suffused with talk of hard work, decency, honesty, and other positive character traits are likely affecting children's attitudes in ways that are impossible to quantify. 

Still, a helpful reminder of how complex the human brain is, and how very difficult it is to point to any one reform strategy and say, "Eureka, it works!"

New York, Denver, Mike Bloomberg, and Value-Added Teacher Ratings

New York City is not going to release individual teacher value-adding ratings today, after all–even though Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yesterday he would support such a move. As GothamSchools reports, the city and union agreed in court to postpone such a release until further legal hearings next month.

In other teacher reform news this morning, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is currently in Denver celebrating that city's school reform efforts. Interestingly, Denver's much-hailed teacher merit pay system, ProComp, is quite conservative when it comes to the use of value-added data; only between 8 and about 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation score under ProComp is based on growth in his or her students' standardized test scores. 

That said, Colorado's new Great Teachers and Leaders Law would–if it survives the inevitable post-midterm political upheaval in the state–require Denver to up the weight of value-added to 50 percent over the next several years. Bloomberg has spoken highly of that idea. Currently in New York City, value-added ratings are not part of teacher evaluation, but New York's state Race to the Top application calls for such measures to soon count for 40 percent of a teacher's rating. That's less than Colorado, but still significant–and more likely to withstand shifting political winds. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten's statement on the NYC value-added dust-up is after the jump. I haven't seen a DOE release; if I find one, I'll post it. 

Continue reading

Obama’s Sister Comments on “Waiting for Superman,” Seems Super Smart

I don't know all that much about President Obama's sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, but she seems incredibly smart and sober about education reform. Read what she had to say, in an email to friends and associates, about the film "Waiting for Superman." I'd call your attention especially to the last two paragraphs–about why successful charters work and how "the flow of innovation" must be "reversed" to put the focus on improving the vast majority of traditional public schools.

At the point in the film when children were crying because they weren’t selected in school lotteries, many people around me couldn’t suppress tears and, as a mother of two girls, I too felt intense grief and empathy for the parents of the children.  After the film, I spoke with a wonderful longtime public school teacher and she was teary as well, for a different reason; she was shedding tears of frustration about the fact that the film ignored the enormous commitment and talent of many public DOE teachers and the great work taking place in the classrooms and schools where they throw in their hands and spend large parts of their days. I was one of Randi’s teachers myself in my first years of teaching in NYC. I was even the union rep. for a couple of years. I do understand the hurt, but I urged this teacher not to let the imbalanced nature of the documentary frustrate her, and instead to go talk with others in the community about what she knows, feels, remembers, and can use to help make schools even stronger.

Marveling at the emotion generated by both those who are critical of the film and those who wholly accept the film’s assessments, I’ve become increasingly glad that this imperfect but also compelling film has come along at this time.   Here’s what I hope doesn’t happen:  I hope that we don’t grow more embittered and angry with one another and expend huge amounts of energy in senseless shouting; I hope that public school teachers are not vilified by people who think that they know more than they know about what happens in classrooms.  I hope that the film’s emphasis on test scores doesn’t make us lose sight of the many other potent and meaningful forms of learning and assessment that exist like creative writing, projects of civic engagement, Socratic learning forums, and multifaceted portfolio presentations.

Here’s what I hope happens:  I hope that the film will increase the amount and caliber of dialogue between teachers, administrators, community members, and parents.  I hope that it will encourage teachers everywhere to share their craft and schools loudly and proudly, when pride is merited, and welcome the community’s assistance as well as new opportunities for collaboration.  I hope that the film will help people to see the importance of graceful negotiation when trying to change a system and recognize the true power of persuasion.  I hope that people will think of public schools as belonging to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids in the system, or have kids period.

I hope that we begin to view successful experiments, like good charter schools, as opportunities for evaluation and implementation of best practices.  Of course a larger percentage of charter schools are healthy learning environments, not because the teachers are all better but for the following reasons: charter schools are usually smaller and therefore more manageable; school charters require greater buy-in and contribution from parents; charter schools have the freedom to create cohesive school cultures surrounding issues of local interest and imperative (i.e. Hawaiian language and cultural immersion schools); the choice and freedom in charter schools often allow for a greater sense of ownership by teachers, students, and administrators; and whether conversion schools or new, charter schools are often built using innovations that have been tested and found effective in older, larger, and more overwhelmed regular DOE schools.

Now it is time to reverse the flow of innovation and use charter schools as laboratories for what might work in larger DOE schools.  Let leaders of schools, government, and community focus on building a strong sense of school family, orohana, in every public school with less tracking, smaller class sizes, smaller learning groups within the classroom, and family-style attention to the whole child.  Let’s think about how to get the community more actively involved in public schools, find new ways for families to participate and share in the culture of the school, and bring the kids out into the community more.  Let’s work to offer free after school, extended year, and parent-enrichment programs, and have school event daycare options for single and overworked parents.  Let’s think of our public schools as the center—the beating heart—of our communities.   Go check out the film, by all means, but then let’s keep talking.

Via Sam Chaltain

New York City to Release Individual Teacher Effectiveness Ratings: A Discussion of “Value-Added”

The New York City Department of Education is telling reporters that on Friday, it will release the value-added ratings of 12,000 New York City teachers who teach tested subjects and grades–reading and math in grades 3-8.

Value-added is a complex mathematical technique, favored by economists, that attempts to measure a teacher's effectiveness by looking at the change in his or her students' test scores from one year to the next, while controlling (to the extent possible) for out-of-school factors like poverty and race.

When the Los Angeles Times published an online searchable database of teacher value-added rankings in August, it ignited a national debate about whether the publication of such sensitive, experimental data is appropriate. The L.A. Times used teachers' real names; it is unclear if New York City is planning on making the data available with or without teachers' names attached. The United Federation of Teachers is negotiating with the DOE on this point, and suing to prevent any release of the data.

There are a few things we know about value-added. First, even its proponents admit that it is a volatile measure. About 20 percent of teachers who have a very high valued-adding rating this year will be in the bottom 40 percent next year, and visa versa. For this reason and many others, value-added measurements are most useful when  they are averaged over several years.

Unfortunately, while some of the 12,000 New York City teachers have up to four years of data available, many are new to the system or new to their current grade-level and subject area assignment, meaning their scores will be based on far less data than researchers agree is ideal.

Secondly, value-added measurements are based on flawed standardized tests administered to students. This is a particular problem in New York, where last spring the state decided its tests had become far too easy and told many schools that a greater number of their students were below-grade level than had been previously assumed.

Across the country, most states do not administer tests that are vertically aligned. Such tests are designed to be administered together, year after year, in order to chart student growth. They therefore test students on this year's skills, but also a bit on last year's and next year's, to get the best possible snapshot of how much a student knows at any given point in time. Students' scores over several years on vertically aligned tests will tell us more about them and their teachers than their scores on standardized tests that are not vertically aligned. 

On the upside, the New York City value-added system is very complex, and strives for fairness by comparing teachers only to other teachers with a comparable number of years on the job, and who work with demographically similar students.

At this link, courtesy GothamSchools, you can see a sample teacher value-added report. To learn more about value-added, I suggest the following two papers:

Cautiously in favor: Douglas N. Harris, "Would Accountability Based on Teacher Value-Added Be Smart Policy?

Very much against: The Economic Policy Institute, "Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers"

In Defense of Computer Engineer Barbie

Computerengineerbarbie This new Barbie is an early holiday season release, and was chosen by popular vote online from among five career options: news anchorwoman (the other winner), surgeon, environmentalist, and architect.

The Gloss snarks, "I had never known that being a computer engineer entails wearing sequined pants and browsing some sort of Barbie based site. Being a computer engineer is so much sparklier and pinker than I ever expected."

Lori MacVittie writes that what girls need to get interested in computer science are details about the skills a computer engineer uses and the cool products they develop–not a doll that glamorizes the profession while promoting unrealistic beauty standards. 

It's true that girls need and deserve detailed and accessible introductions to technology. And that's why it's a good thing that some girls will be introduced to computer engineering as a possible career path by this rather silly-looking Barbie doll.

Women earn 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees, but just 15 percent of those in computer science and 11 percent of those in computer engineering. 

In academia, just 18 percent of tenure-track computer science hires are female. 

The Department of Labor estimates that women make up just 19.4 percent of computer hardware engineers; 24.8 percent of those in "computer and mathematical" jobs (like programming); and 27.2 percent of computer and information systems managers.

In other words, the gender gap in high-tech fields is so huge that we should be reaching out to girls wherever they are to promote a more active interest in science, technology, math, and engineering. 

These are highly-paid jobs in fields that are growing, not contracting. Computer engineer Barbie's anchorwoman Barbie friend, on the other hand, will likely be out of a job soon when her local station is folded into an international conglomerate that airs advertorial instead of serious investigative journalism.


The Dumb and Confusing Reid/Angle Exchange on Abortion Last Night

My head is spinning, there is so much wrong with this Harry Reid/Sharron Angle debate exchange on health reform and abortion. First, let's review what was said.

Mitch Fox, Moderator: Thank you, this is a straight up yes or no question, Mrs. Angle, you’ll get it first. Do you think the health care reform act should include coverage for abortions?

Angle: No.

Moderator: Senator Reid?

Reid: The law we passed maintained the Hyde amendment.

Moderator: That would be a yes or no?

Reid: Uh, under the law, that exists today, the Hyde amendment which has been the law in this country for thirty years is still there.

Obviously Reid's answer was evasive and incomprehensible to the average American who has no idea what the Hyde Amendment is. 

But Fox's question was also uninformed and misleading. He asked the Senate candidates what they "think" about whether health reform "should" include abortion coverage. This totally ignores what the health reform law actually says: that women who gain coverage through the new exchanges and expansion of Medicaid may not use their federal funding to purchase any insurance plan that includes abortion coverage. 

Therefore, the bill–which has already been passed–does not expand access to insurance coverage of abortion. Yet by phrasing the question in this way, Fox buys into the Sarah Palin-promoted lie that health reform represents a massive pro-choice victory.

What's more, we already know very well what Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks of abortion rights. He doesn't always support them. Reid has voted to maintain the abortion ban for women serving in the military, and has consistently voiced support for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid dollars from funding abortion. "The Hyde amendment has been a pretty good way to go," he said last year.

Translation: Harry Reid does not believe poor women have the same right to an abortion as middle class and affluent women. His negotiations on health reform made sure to enshrine and expand this concept.