The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, June 29, 2007

The argument for repealing NCLB

In an article on The Heritage Foundation website, Gene Hickok, one of the architects of the No Child Left Behind Act, offers his reasons (and the reasons of several Republican lawmakers) for now wanting to roll back NCLB. As a supporter of NCLB in principle, I'm not sure if he's right or not, but he certainly makes a strong argument.

He has two primary points: the first relates to the constitutionality of federal involvement in education, and the second focuses on the fact that it's so easy for states to subvert the intent of the law - much easier, in fact, than living up to its vision.

We're already seeing hard evidence of the second point: rather than improving student performance to meet standards, as NCLB requires, states are simply lowering their standards so that more students seem to be performing. Stephen Colbert sums it up nicely (with a hat tip to Alexander Russo of This Week in Education for first highlighting the clip):

The catch-22 is that if we respect the separation of state and federal powers on education, we can't do anything about this - the program has to be voluntary (which it is - states don't have to participate, only if they want the Title I funds that go along with it), and the feds can't dictate the standards, assessment instruments, or proficiency cutoff points. But if the feds don't set the criteria for those things, states will continue to game the system in order to continue receiving the desired funds without doing what it takes to actually improve student outcomes.

He's almost certainly right in saying that education system will find ways to subvert oversight of any kind if at all possible, and the law - under its current structure, and respecting the current thinking on the constitutionality of federal involvement in public education - prevents us from doing anything about that. It's a depressing acknowledgement, but it may be true.

But I find the alternative equally distasteful: repealing back a recognized accountability tool and leaving states to their own devices. The reason for the NCLB groundswell in the first place was that states weren't being transparent in their reporting - think back to 2000 and tell me how many states were offering disaggregated data on student performance, accurate dropout statistics, or any independent and reliable information on student achievement.

While Hickok holds up the charter school movement as evidence that the push for improvement at the state level than the federal, I'm less sanguine than he about the likelihood of transparency in reporting if NCLB is repealed. It's possible, I suppose, and there are programs in some states that do offer good information for those dedicated enough to seek it (such as Tennessee's TVAAS program).

But I still don't understand how rolling back NCLB will alter the universal, fundamental, political desire to seem, rather than to be. If the states are so willing to subvert NCLB, how can we expect that they'll be transparent and hardworking without it?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why reforms don’t scale

There have been countless reform initiatives over the years – and despite the efforts of so many, both inside and outside individual public schools and districts, there has been markedly little change in the goals, functions, and outcomes of the education system as a whole.

How can that be? Why wouldn’t successful reform efforts be replicated across the system? Why wouldn’t people in positions of authority seek out the islands of excellence that we all know exist, and improve their own outcomes by applying the principles of these isolated programs at a grander scale?

Paul T. Hill, writing in a February 2006 report titled “Put Learning First” for the Progressive Policy Institute, explains it in the following way:

The problem for reformers is that our current public school system is a lot like a building designed to withstand an earthquake. It has multiple, independent structural supports that flex and bend, dissipating outside jolts of energy. While this makes for a very stable educational system, it also diffuses pressures for positive change—most notably, efforts to reform schools to meet the shifting needs of students and society.

There’s great value in stability, of course – as Hill notes elsewhere, we all want the schoolbuses to arrive on time. However, when the outcomes the system was originally created to produce are no longer the outcomes we want, the system can’t catch up. The system’s objective is equilibrium and self-preservation; outcomes are secondary.

Rory, who blogs at Parentalcation, offers an excellent example of this in a post titled “Translation Services.” In it, he looks at the results of a pilot program in New Milford, CT in which they tested three math curricula: Everyday Math, Saxon, and Singapore Math.

According to the memo, students using Singapore Math rocketed ahead in terms of performance – in fact, some special education students actually began to perform ahead of their non-special education peers, in effect placing them out of special education altogether! Despite the clear instructional superiority of this program, however, the assistant superintendent recommended Saxon, even though parents and teachers felt that the pacing was so slow, and the materials so easy, that 30-50% of the students weren’t being challenged.

Why wouldn’t you use Singapore math based on this pilot, when it was shown to accelerate student learning so far ahead of other programs? The decision had nothing to do with student performance; rather, it was the fact that the education system couldn’t absorb this level of improvement in student performance.

Consider the systems that have to be altered as a result of this improved student achievement:

  • Special education students have to be re-categorized and removed from the special education track; this disrupts multiple systems, including scheduling, assessment, and teacher assignment, and disrupts a funding stream.
  • To quote the memo, “Adoption of such a program would change the ‘landscape’ that we know as math programming” – students would complete Algebra I, most of Algebra II and Geometry by the end of grade 8, whereas only 20-25% are tackling Algebra I in grade 8, and under 5% are tackling Geometry by then in a good year. This will cause a major disruption in course availability.
  • Implementation of Singapore Math will require additional teacher training and preparation time, and the current teachers may not have the depth of knowledge to handle the program – this would alter training and staffing systems.
  • This accelerated program would put us out ahead of the state standards, requiring changes to the standards. (This one, however, may be moot since the students would almost certainly perform extremely well on state tests.)

In addition to these known disruptions, there’s a lack of precedent here – New Milford would be on the cutting edge of math instruction, with few if any districts to model. This opens up the possibility of other unforeseen disruptions to the system.

So, again, we sacrifice academic achievement for district stability, allowing our children to wallow in subpar instruction and learning so that the administration has an easier time running the place.

This is an outstanding example of the primacy of stability over improvement in public education, and a wake-up call for would-be reformers, who must remember that for a reform initiative to be successful, it must be created in such a way as to be replicable. You can accommodate the system or you can force it to change (somehow), but you ignore its nature at your peril.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Building effective partnerships – advice from coalitions

In our new survey, “Business Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education,” we asked survey respondents to comment on the lessons they’ve learned from working with schools and districts and to offer advice on becoming attractive partners and on building effective partnerships. Due to space considerations, we weren’t able to include all of the responses in the survey report, so I wanted to share them all here on the blog.

This is the third of three posts, and provides responses to the open-ended question:

“What other advice would you give to schools in general on developing stakeholder relationships?”

The 55 responses received were as follows:

Again, business needs need to be heard. It is important that coalitions and stakeholder groups are equally balanced with business and education people. Usually every school organization has a seat in stakeholders group and business has one or two spots. Most of the education groups align with each other and business views get ignored.

Appoint a staff person to be the contact.

Be a willing and engaged partner. Typically the stakeholder relationship is extremely affected by level of engagement in whatever process.


Be consistent. Be open to suggestions, welcoming to the "outside."

Be flexible and establish protocols for contact.

Be flexible in how problems are solved.

Be honest about needs and ability to carry out long-term improvement plans that require results-based accountability.

Be open to changing relationships.

Be proactive in seeking assistance--have specific needs identified and be receptive to change.

Be welcoming...we're here to assist the schools, not spy on them. Drop the excuse "We've always done it this way."

Be willing to devote the time and effort necessary to make the partnership work. Don't go into the partnership expecting more than is possible. Follow through with commitments.

Be willing to help us gather resources to ensure best outcomes.

Be willing to participate in community and business events outside of school events.

Be willing to sit at the table and listen to what partners have to say. And involve partners in helping with legislative initiatives that impact schools, i.e. mandates, funding. Inform and educate without feeling defensive about perceptions that some stakeholders may have. Broaden the district staff who can participate.

Celebrate their successes.

Communication is key - we have an ex-officio position on the Board that provides that communication.

Consider partnerships with coalitions as having a "public relations" component. It is a way to positively (or negatively) affect the public's opinion of the job being done to educate the community's children.

Both sides need to "give" to the success of the project. If a school or district only wants the resources that might come from a project without a serious commitment to using those resources to improve student outcomes in workforce and higher-education readiness, then the partnership is not likely to be meaningful.

Contact your Tech Prep partnership.

Develop and maintain open communications, invitations to co-construct concepts, shared decision making processes. Think creatively.

Do not be defensive! The entire community has a stake in the educational system being successful and everyone understands that schools, teachers and administrators cannot make successful students all by themselves.

Don't ask for money; there are MANY ways business and the community can provide resources to education, such as used equipment, time, talents of employees, and training (professional development opportunities).

Don't just ask for funds - make sure you want "involvement" and that you’re willing to be totally transparent in your dealings with the community.

Education and business must work together to clearly define requirements, expectations, and constraints. Neither side understands the other and we must break down those barriers. Employ basic people skills.

Follow through and keep open communication.

It takes time to build relationships.

Just because a business organization, particularly a membership organization, is focused on fueling the pipeline for talent, and on economic development, doesn't mean they are your public servants. You are not paying their salaries, their members are. To the extent your goals align and collaboration is a true partnership, much can happen. No one can do it all by themselves.

Know that when they get involved with the business community, the business community expects results....quickly and measurable.

Know what their objective is - what do they want to achieve. Don't enter partnership for vague purposes.

Listen first. Find out what business' impetus is in connecting with education.

Listen. Be receptive to input from non-educators. Break the mold.

Look beyond your school, neighborhood and district. School officials needs support at the state level, and can not rely on their associations to represent them alone. If they want funding, reform, etc. they must make sure key constituents know who they are and what there needs are. Make "the case" to those that matter most.

Make sure that all stakeholders have the same mission as your school. "To make sure that each child gets the best possible preparation for the future."

Make the partnerships real in terms of curriculum development, resource sharing, etc. Don't offer a lunch with a "dog and pony show" about your program and then escort business folks out the door...they will keep walking.

Make the time to discuss the concerns of the community in order to get to constructive discussion of how the community members can be solution-oriented.

Mean it -- don't simply seek short-term source of funding or new program.

Most schools already have processes for developing stakeholder relationships with parents, taxpayers, etc. However, they need to improve their relationships by getting input on what the business community really needs from the educational system. Business needs to tell educators what they need instead of educators telling business what educational programs are needed. Schools teach a lot of theory with very little application that translate to business operations.

Must be two way partnership with commitment all the way from the top down to the people who will implement. Cannot be an appointee who does not believe in this nor can it be a teacher who doesn’t have the authority to implement.

Open and maintain a regular and ongoing dialogue with the school's major influencers, i.e. corporate community, local government, local colleges and universities, local community organizations.

Openness to work with external parties - focused on the school's and partner's shared goals.

Partnerships do not develop overnight; individuals have relationships -- organizations do not. Demonstrate long term commitment; not another "flash in the pan."

Realize (admit) that we have problems in math/science education and that it takes the efforts of all key stakeholders to improve the situation.

Recognize their value and that there needs to be on-going dialog and contact.

Schools are often a one way street -- what can the school get out of the relationship -- never what can they give. I realize everybody is coming at them but they have a role in the community they need to play--sadly, often they do not play it!

Seek relationships that contribute to your identified priorities.

Share the great things that are going on in the school, capitalizing on the strengths, while looking at ways to improve.

Take a business approach to the relationship where all stakeholders receive some level of benefit/gain from the "transaction."

To come to the table as a two way street, not just with hands out, but with ears open.

To not only be looking for money and to follow - through on their end of the partnership.

Trust is important. Deliver on every promise you make. Think long term. Don't get sidetracked by short-term fixes and knee-jerk responses to the emergency du jour.

Understand it is a partnership - not a vendor relationship. Respect the partnership.
Understand that there is more to having their students be successful than mastering the three r's. They need to stress soft skills.

You have concerns. Tell us what they are. Most problems can be worked around. Help us keep the focus on what is best for students. Tell us when we get in the way - instruction comes first! Hold well-organized and effective (short) meetings (presuming that business partners are used to this). It's okay to share credit for success.

To see the answers to other open-ended survey questions, you can go to:

Attracting a business coalition partner – advice from coalitions

In our new survey, “Business Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education,” we asked survey respondents to comment on the lessons they’ve learned from working with schools and districts and to offer advice on becoming attractive partners and on building effective partnerships. Due to space considerations, we weren’t able to include all of the responses in the survey report, so I wanted to share them all here on the blog.

This is the second of three posts, and provides responses to the open-ended question:

“What should schools and districts do to make themselves attractive to coalition partnerships?”

The 60 responses received were as follows:

Open, honest communication. Willingness to work as a partner. Enthusiasm to do good things for students.

Ask for our help or assistance to help their students. Don't ask for money.

Attend and participate on our boards. Make plain their commitment to public engagement in public education - from the very top of their organizations. Ask us to make presentations to the board of education. Explore ways to attract resources that can only occur through collaboration.

Be clear about what resources they need from the business community. Respect parameters for business and education partnerships. Ex. Teachers should not decide to change the date of job shadow experiences without informing host businesses and have students show up at the business on a different day from the one planned. Learn the culture of business...teach the culture of education to business persons.

Be clear regarding needs and outcomes and why this is in alignment with organization's goals. Show up and follow through.

Be cooperative and follow through with everything you commit to do.

Be open to new ideas; help partners know how they can contribute; when you say you want a business partner, make it mean more than just a yearly coffee to award certificates; get out into the business community for awareness and relevancy.

Be open to participation and responsive to business concerns and point of view. Administrators need to invite us to the table for discussion and planning if they want support.

Be open to partnership and all that it implies.

Be open to suggestions and input.

Be open to suggestions and proactively seek partners for a variety of programs.

Be organized, be willing to commit time, don't expect checks with no accountability.

Be proactive. Market your desirability as a partner...not just your need.

Be willing to be accountable and responsive to the time, services and resources that the coalition offers to them. In those instances where schools truly want to improve instructional effectiveness, assessment practices, and building/district leadership the partnerships have worked out well. Committing fully to an improvement process seems to be a most difficult thing for schools or districts to do.

Be willing to collaborate.

Be willing to come to the table to discuss possible solutions. Keep an open mind to partnership opportunities.

Be willing to come to the table with community and business leaders, listen to each other, be willing to put time & effort into the partnership.

Be willing to find the time to work on the action items determined by the project goals.

Be willing to listen to business' needs and concerns without defensiveness. Schools and districts should identify one point person who can aggregate the partnership opportunities and be the primary contact person. Identify the benefits to the business of collaboration (e.g. a more prepared workforce, better responsiveness to business workforce skill needs, future workforce pipeline development etc).

Be willing to modify their projects to meet the requirements of the partnership (generally not a problem but must be done).

Build a track record of success with new, systemic change initiatives.

Be willing to put in the time required to develop and manage partnerships... including measuring outcomes.

Be willing to work with us.

Business needs to have equal representation for a true partnership to occur. Usually we are outnumbered and don't feel we are heard.

Commit to efforts of the partnership. Demonstrate a need and a desire to meet that need.

Communicate clear goals and values to identify partners with similar goals.

Conduct innovative and results driven planning, be willing to think creatively.

Contact us with their needs.

Demonstrate openness to new ideas/innovation.

Express a need and an interest in the work and support of the partnership. Be willing to cooperate, collaborate and financially participate.

Get involved. Be consistently honest with themselves. Build distributive leadership infrastructure.

Have a positive approach to partnering without fear of allowing community members to see inside their operations. Be clear and specific in expressing their needs for assistance. Be open to accept the help of the community.

Have advisory board with real roles. Be prepared to offer meaningful roles for partners.

Have goals and exhibit interest in having business people participate/contribute.

Have one point of contact for community partnership activities. Provide in-depth professional development to teachers and administrators to learn how to work with partners, such as what to ask of them and delivery expectations.

Have to show a willingness to change. Business partners find it very difficult to get schools to change to the changing times -- in terms of careers, etc. and what the employer needs.

Identify a key contact who will respond in a timely and complete fashion - Most business partners get frustrated because of the time spent chasing answers.

It is critical that they are committed to working long term with specific outcomes in place.

Key contacts. Periodic updates. Connect partnerships with educational priorities.

Let us know how we can help.

Let us know they're interested and what their needs are.

Make a commitment to follow through once they are back in the schools clearly; designate a contact and communicate throughout the school that this partnership exists.

Make sure they involve them in the beginning of the project so the community buys into the project not just come for funds after the fact. If only want funding make sure there is an accountability component and that PR opportunities are there for the partners.

Most schools and districts do not have a good communication plan. In short they never tell their success stories. The partnership should include a budget to hire a broker that will make both sides accountable.

Not act like their world is an ivory tower that no one else from the outside can penetrate. Also, not expect that any partner who is willing to come to the table should just 'contribute money' or 'buy the incentives' for the kids as a way to partner. Many partners can offer much more in the way of time and resources.

Not criticize business when we are not fully in agreement.

Not just ask for money from business to do just what they want to do but to listen to business.

Not only should they keep us informed of their needs, but they should also spend more time asking businesses opinions, and truly considering what they could do to make recommended changes, instead of considering the recommendations as criticism.


Personnel from school districts should look for opportunities to serve on committees within the education structure of the state. As special projects/products are found to be measurably successful, the coalition helps to showcase the results. Schools and districts must be willing to open doors and minds to sharing and collaborating.

Recognize the value of other partners.

Request, respond to, and welcome input from business and community leaders as education stakeholders make school a welcoming place for community volunteers.

Responsiveness, follow through, openness, willingness to speak to others as champions.

Schools can commit to ensuring participation and implementation of programs with fidelity.

Show a commitment to make changes that are necessary for improvement.

Show their willingness to commit and prove it by fulfilling their obligations.

Take position stands.

TBEC are a business and education coalition--educators are active participants in the decision making processes. We have a business and education co-chair. Schools must be willing to commit time and effort to the coalition and bring expertise and resources to the partnership.

Think about the system and not just a few teachers.

Understand their strengths and resources from the perspective of the business community.

To see the answers to other open-ended survey questions, you can go to:

Lessons learned by coalition leaders

In our new survey, “Business Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education,” we asked survey respondents to comment on the lessons they’ve learned from working with schools and districts and to offer advice on becoming attractive partners and on building effective partnerships. Due to space considerations, we weren’t able to include all of the responses in the survey report, so I wanted to share them all here on the blog.

This is the first of three posts, and provides responses to the open-ended question:

“What lessons have you learned that you would apply to future partnerships?”

The 47 responses received were as follows:

1. K-12, higher ed, and Chamber - - three different cultures, methods of operation. 2. When you have K-12, higher ed, and business working together you have an extremely powerful and effective coalition.

Acknowledge style and agenda differences up front and find a collaborative model that works for all.

All partnerships must be win-win for all parties involved.

Be open and flexible. Learn about the legislative and mandated programs that educators must deal with. You cannot treat an institution of public education as a free market business, there are too many dissimilarities.

Be ready for your business partnerships. When industry is involved they want to see immediate results and want to support now.

Clear direction and someone with the time to ensure actions move forward.

Collaborative partnerships work.

Constant communication with all stakeholders is a key to success. Relationships make or break a change effort.

Design a contract that spells out each party’s responsibilities and have it approved by the local school board & CEO. Then have the parties sign it.

Devote more resources to developing and maintaining contacts.

Equality of partners is essential to avoid business-dominated or education-dominated practices and processes.

Fostering a sense of ownership by all partners.

Got to have the superintendent's full support. Have to have the school principal's support.

Have to have someone in the school (and community) committed to the program/activity.

Have agreement on outcomes, process. Make sure you are adequately covered for expenses that will be incurred. Be clear regarding who your customer is, e.g. Department of Education, superintendent, principal, sponsors, and what their various, and sometimes differing, expectations are. Encourage participation, involvement, sponsorship opportunities for business leaders and organizations to cover costs; get people hooked into the process. More does not always equal better.

Have commitment from the top as well as the schools. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Have identified contacts between the partners and regular scheduled connections - i.e. - serving on task forces, boards, councils, etc.

Having substantial financial resources at the beginning of the project assists with the launching of the project and keeps up with accountability.

Identify key data that must be turned in at the beginning and get in writing the dates this is due. Try to find ways to keep locals more focused on the long term goal.

Importance of clear expectations and roles in the partnership. Ongoing communications system and alignment of efforts to avoid silos and duplication of efforts.

It is all about building relationships and trust and providing the services that schools districts cannot.

It is important to be included in education discussions from the beginning. Being a statewide organization, be sure to network with all and not just the few that come to us. Watch for those who might use our name to further their personal "pet" projects.

Keep key educators/administrators and business partners at the table working together, set specific goals and some measurable outcomes.

Looking to leadership on all levels and obtaining top down commitment.

Make sure of system's intent beforehand and make sure the system is committed to the project beyond verbal commitment.

Make sure that both parties bring to the table equal resources to make the partnership successful, and then make sure both parties follow through.

Many but most importantly, the partnership objective of developing college access and success for the city's at-risk youth is the focus above and beyond any single partners agenda.

Need to identify the "right" people. Those that want to partner. Have to have a vision and be able to communicate effectively.

Never assume that district administrators understand what is being asked of them. Be more careful to establish a strong foundation of communication with the school system in each situation.

None yet.

Not sure our work is applicable to your survey. However, an unmet goal is working collaboratively with the authorizing school district to share best practices.

Partnerships are based on relationships and accountability. Good accountability and outcomes help build the relationships.

Partnerships require that both give at least 51%. When you don't care who gets credit, you get a lot more done. Focus on victories and celebrate them. Be passionate about what you believe.

Patience is a virtue. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to fruition - almost as if there were a proper time for a project to happen. If we share our ideas and plans NOW, at some point we can call upon them to implement projects that will make them a reality. Example: 12 years ago we wanted stringed instrument instruction in our schools. We funded a pilot in 2004 and last Thursday we announced the expansion to 3 more schools.

Projects must have potential to influence or change public policy.

Quality/capacity of school leadership is critical.

Reciprocal partnerships, where each partner benefits, are the most productive.

School administrators are pulled in so many ways that you need the correct leadership or do not start the project to begin with!

Schools sometimes do not want "outside influence" on how to change schools. They are happy to take financial and human resources, but do not always commit to seeing a project through successfully and gathering impact data to justify sustaining the practice. Union environments and internal friction make some school districts extremely difficult to work with in improvement efforts.

Set reasonable common goals and benchmarks.

Specify more up front - don't assume partner will deliver.

Strong leadership is essential. Real reform must come from the top down. Schools can not make reform work if districts are not ready for change.

The educational community is not typically interested in partnerships where the business community is trying to direct or change programs in regards to learning for future business success. They do not like to be informed of deficiencies, but rather want to be the ones to initiate for their needs. We now do not offer our assistance, but consider their requests on a limited basis.

The importance of all math & science teachers from schools being involved in specific professional development activities.

The partnership cannot be connected to a district employee who may be "here today and gone tomorrow". The tide of education changes and flexibility must be built in to accommodate such changes in state and district policies and mandates.

We are primarily and advocacy coalition operating at the state level to secure adequate state priorities and funding. Longevity, consistent contact, and trust building are key with K-12 and postsecondary, but is difficult with legislators because committee assignments change and legislators are constrained by term limits of 8 years.

Work together on goals from the beginning.

You must have at least one business sponsor that provides a major part of their funding as unrestricted funds--to use for overhead.

To see the answers to other open-ended survey questions, you can go to:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Equity AND excellence

I’ve written recently about the inherent conflict between focusing on equity and excellence – to sum up, it’s impossible to do both, and even when we’re trying to just do one we can’t seem to get it right.

Fortunately, the people at the Department of Education aren’t held hostage to my limited thinking on the subject. This is from the June 1 Ed Review, their biweekly e-newsletter:

As of May 24, the Department is using a revised mission statement that reflects educational priorities for the 21st century and beyond. The new mission statement retains the agency's historical role of "providing equal access to a high-quality education." However, it also emphasizes the complementary need to improve the academic performance of all American learners. The updated statement reads as follows:

The U.S. Department of Education's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

This mission statement is part of the Department's "Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2007-12," which also took effect on May 24. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO

So the new mission is to do both – equity and excellence. Glad we got that worked out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Coalition leaders speak out on education

In our last major survey (see "Community/School Partnerships: A National Survey" on the DeHavilland Associates resource page), we asked school and district leaders about their practices, outcomes, and interests in the area of community/school partnerships. One key finding was their interest in working with business coalitions, which they ranked as their most desired partner on future initiatives.

Based on this interest, we decided to survey the leaders of business coalitions involved with education to learn about their work with schools and districts. It took some work to build a list of coalitions - there was no such list available - but starting with the directory of organizations on the Business/Education Partnership Forum (see here), and spending a significant amount of time identifying other organizations in the field, we were able to develop a list of more than 500 such coalitions, and set out to solicit their input.

The result is a new survey titled "Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education", which will soon be available from DeHavilland Associates. We're still finalizing the report, but I wanted to share the key findings as soon as they were available. Key findings include:

  • Workforce preparedness ranked as their top priority in education, followed by graduation rates and mastery of basic skills.
  • While coalitions do tend to work more in urban areas than in suburban or rural ones, accessibility to location is the least important factor when selecting partners. The most imporant criteria when selecting education partners are their willingness to collaborate, their commitment to the project, and their interest in obtaining measurable outcomes.
  • Coalitions spend more than twice as much time working at the high school level than at the elementary, middle, or postsecondary levels.
  • When asked how actively they work in certain areas, coalition leaders indicated equal weight to a broad range of interests related to workforce development, including career awareness, college preparedness/entry, essential skills such as reading and math, STEM education, and vocational education.
  • When asked about the different types of support they offer to education partners, coalitions cited expertise most frequently, with other common areas including providing volunteers and mentors, goods and services, and political support. Direct financial giving ranked last.
  • While business coalitions do manage a number of structured education initiatives, they focus the majority of their efforts on collaboratively building programs tailored to the needs of their partners. Once a project has been launched, they follow through by tracking activity and outcomes.
  • Coalition leaders are predominantly either satisfied or extremely satisfied with both the partnership process and with partnership outcomes.

The complete report will be available in a few days, and of course I'll post a link from the blog. I'll also spend some time diving further into some of these findings in the near future - stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NBPTS - fix or eliminate?

On EduWonk, Andy Rotherham writes:

If you follow the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards issue you'll want to check out the CALDER site, a lot of the recent research all in one place. Regardless of where one comes down the evidence is not very compelling -- especially considering the cost. The Board needs to get on top of that.

I respect Andy Rotherham – he was, after all, the one who effectively forced NBPTS to release the less-than-flattering Sanders study they had commissioned and were apparently trying to bury. He’s proven himself to be someone who wants to get the facts on the table regardless of the issue, rather than do so selectively to support pet causes (as is otherwise so common in education).

But I think he punted here – and it’s emblematic of a classic flaw in thinking in the education industry that is only now starting to change.

What the body of research on national board certification says, in essence, is that teachers certified by NBPTS are no more effective in producing academic gains in students than are uncertified teachers – and even for the subset of studies that does find an effect, the effect size is extremely small (in the area of 0.1 to 0.2) and can hardly justify the tremendous expense of the certification process and ongoing bonuses paid by the states.

So, while the idea of teacher certification is a good one in theory, we have clear evidence that the current program doesn’t work. What now?

Logically, one would think that we should just eliminate the program – it’s expensive and it doesn’t work, so it’s gone. But something funny happens with new initiatives in education – once they’ve been added to the mix, it’s extremely rare to see them eliminated.

Instead, we throw more and more resources at them in order to revise them, when (a) it may not be possible to change them based on the faulty assumptions on which they’re based, (b) we let the same people who gave us the faulty program take the lead in trying to fix it, and (c) even if it is possible to ultimately fix them, the fiscally smart course of action is to shut them down in favor of something that can accomplish what you want now, instead of sometime down the road.

Rotherham may just be reflecting the reality of the additive paradigm by calling on the Board to “get on top of that” issue. But if a program, particularly a program as expensive as NBPTS, is shown to have no value, I would argue that the right course for education is to eliminate it.

In fact, they’re trying to do that right now in South Carolina, and it’s playing out just as you would expect. The governor, citing the ineffectiveness of the program, wants to dismantle the certification program in their state and redirect funds to initiatives that are proven to increase student performance. And he’s facing quite a fight from people who ignore the body of evidence, apparently for no other reason than that they like the program in theory. (See the January 24 article in Education Week - Bonuses for NBPTS-Certified Teachers at Risk in S.C. – for the whole story).

But supporting a program with no outcomes has real costs – including opportunity costs.

If nothing changes, South Carolina will spend $52 million in the coming year on certification programs and bonuses – again, with virtually no return on its investment. (Given SC's $6.5 billion budget for education, that’s close to 1% of total spending, just on this one initiative.)

What if we instead gave that $52 million directly to the schools for them to spend?

With 1,100 schools in South Carolina, that would be just over $47,000 per school. In a system where principals have so little discretion over funding, wouldn’t that mini-windfall allow them to do things that actually did improve education outcomes?

Or what if we used it to fund a statewide program that did offer proof that it could accomplish its stated performance outcomes?

Or what if we did anything else besides throw away money on a program that is proven not to work, rather than try to tweak it?

Tweaking, by the way, is the most expensive path of all, since we’ll be funding an ineffective program for years while the same people who got it wrong the first time try to get it right – and we’ll have to wait years more to gather any evidence of the impact of their reforms. It’s much, much better to shut the program down and redirect the funds toward something more productive.

Will South Carolina be able to eliminate funding for board certification programs? It’s possible – and it’s possible also for other states to pursue this course as well, as mentioned in the EdWeek article. This may all be a positive indicator in retrospect – as we continue to change our focus from inputs to outputs in education, we can only hope that we see more performance-based thinking, and less of a legacy mentality.

Monday, June 04, 2007

New look for the Business/Education Partnership Forum

It’s taken some time, but we’ve finally done a material update to the Business/Education Partnership Forum. If you’re not familiar with the Forum, it's an online resource for education and business leaders interested in building solid and sustainable partnerships. The site, which is a pro bono project of DeHavilland Associates, offers the largest directory of organizations and listing of resources in this field – a needed clearinghouse in an underserved segment of the education market.

We’ve not only updated the look of the site, we’ve also streamlined it by removing some elements and making it much easier to find what you need in the resource area. Take a look at the site – I’d love your thoughts on the new version of the site, and I’d particularly appreciate suggestions on other ways in which we could improve this service.