New Teacher Prep Study Asks The Wrong Question

The Journal of Child and Family Studies has published a new meta-analysis of research on teacher training that seeks to determine how alternative certification programs stack up to the traditional route when it comes to preparing new educators for the classroom.

What did they find? Denise Whitford, an assistant professor of education at Purdue University who co-authored the study, told Education Week: “We found there really wasn’t much difference between the two [types of preparation programs], but the small difference we did find was in favor of alternative programs.”

And what about Teach For America, the program that education reform opponents love to hate? Whitford and her colleagues found that TFA teachers were often more effective than those who came out of schools of education, particularly when it comes to teaching science and math.

Why do so many academics in ed schools hate Teach For America? Because TFA has beaten them at their own game.

Some folks will look at this study as a vindication for alternative certification. Others will point to it to emphasize that alternative certification programs don’t produce superior teachers. However, the question we should be asking is why traditional four-year education programs aren’t producing teachers who are vastly more effective than their alt-cert counterparts.

After all, 80% of new teachers who entered classrooms across the country last year graduated from traditional teacher training programs. They endured four years worth of coursework and spent tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars in the process. But if they emerge, on average, no better prepared to teach than someone who took the shorter and less costly alternative route, what was the point?


Anti-Charter Bias In Politico Piece On School Discipline

Politico Magazine is out with a new piece from freelance journalist Ben Hattem on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools that not only misses the mark, but leaves readers with the unfounded impression that the overuse of these practices are primarily an issue at charter schools.

Part of the problem appears to be that Hattem lacks the context needed to do the story justice. For example, he makes the point that restraint and seclusion techniques are “disproportionately used on special education students,” and yet that makes sense to those of us who have experience working in schools. Restraint and seclusion are only supposed to be used in extreme situations, such as when a student’s behavior poses a threat to themselves or others. Teachers most often encounter these types of behaviors when dealing with students who are identified as having emotional or behavioral disorders and therefore have an IEP.

Elsewhere, Hattem draws conclusions that are not logically supported by the facts he presents, such as we see in this paragraph:

“For the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which federal data are also available, Connecticut found that about 28 students were restrained out of every 1,000 served under IDEA, the federal special education law. In the federal data collection for that year, the nationwide data showed about 8 students getting restrained out of every 1,000 IDEA students. For charter schools alone, the nationwide reported rate dropped to fewer than 4 students per 1,000. If Connecticut’s numbers are representative of the national rate, it appears that more than 70 percent of restraints used on special education students in public schools are not reported to the federal government, and more than 85 percent in charters.”

Does Hattem have any evidence that Connecticut’s numbers are representative of the national rate? Nope. So how can he extrapolate that schools are underreporting the use of restraints across the country by anywhere from 70 to 80 percent? (Oh, and someone tell Hattem that charter schools are public schools.)

Freelance journalist (and current Stanford Law student) Ben Hattem.

However, the biggest issue with Hattem’s piece is that most of it focuses on the use of restraint and seclusion at charter schools, which doesn’t make sense when you consider that less than 10% of the nation’s public school students attend charters. Although he fails to provide any evidence that the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion practices are more prevalent in charters than traditional schools, he cites the allegations made in two lawsuits filed against charter schools in D.C. at length, which amounts to little more than a cheap shot.

Why? Because courts haven’t determined whether the claims made by the plaintiffs have merit. Plus, privacy laws prevent school officials from addressing the specific allegations made on behalf of students in those cases, which means they can’t truly defend themselves against them in the press.

Does the use of restraint and seclusion in schools raise troubling questions? Definitely. Are there schools using restraint and seclusion inappropriately? Almost certainly. But Hattem missed the opportunity to shed light on the scope of the problem by using his article to paint charters in an unflattering light.


A Disgrace In DCPS

NPR’s Education Team is out with a new investigation from reporter Kate McGee showing that administrators at Washington D.C.’s Ballou High School handed out diplomas to dozens of students who failed to meet the requirements for graduation last year.

Ballou, which has long been one of the city’s most troubled high schools, garnered national attention this spring when district officials announced that 100% of its graduates had been accepted to college. However, as McGee’s investigation reveals, most of those students never should have even graduated.

Internal documents and communications show that teachers were pressured to change failing grades and overlook excessive absences in order to make students eligible to walk across the stage on Graduation Day. As McGee notes in her report:

“Half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school…An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. In June, 164 students received diplomas.”

Administrators also steered failing students into questionable “credit recovery” classes, in which they were supposedly able to make up months of missed work in the span of a few short weeks.

But perhaps the most outrageous part of the story is the reaction of district officials, who don’t really seem all that concerned about the unethical behavior at Ballou. When McGee asked DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson how Ballou administrators were able to graduate students who either failed or rarely attended classes, he fumbled about for an answer before abruptly ending the interview, claiming a scheduling conflict. Moreover, subsequent statements from DCPS never squarely addressed the fact that Ballou’s leadership used smoke and mirrors (and violated district policies) in order to boost their graduation rate.

As of now, no one has been disciplined at Ballou for these shenanigans. Not only does Ballou’s principal, Yetunde Reeves, still have her job, but she just so happened to launch a new anti-truancy initiative the day before NPR’s piece aired:

What a joke. If Wilson isn’t willing to hold the leadership at Ballou accountable, he’s in the wrong job.


What is Retort?

What is Retort?

A new initiative of mine where I’m serving up brief reactions, additions, refutations, corrections, etc., on education reform-related news.

I’ll still be writing longer-form, more in-depth pieces on my main site, PE+CO, but wanted a place where I could add my quick two cents on the latest developments and controversies in the education reform debate.

That’s Retort in a nutshell. I hope you’ll follow along.