DePaul University: The Biggest, Happiest College in the US?

Keep an eye out for my article on DePaul University ("Happy U.") in the new issue of Chicago Magazine, which asks: how did DePaul University -- long a small Catholic commuter school known mostly for basketball coach Ray Meyer -- get so big, and so happy?

With 25,00 students, the school is the 8th largest private nonprofit university in the country, and the largest Catholic university. Two years ago, it was rated as having the students who were happiest with there university experience.

It turns out that getting big was a big part of getting happy. And it turns out that it wasn't really by chance.


My Own Private Staff Retreat

I am going to do my best to take the next three weeks off from This Week In Education. I like to think of it as my own private staff retreat.

Not that you asked, but during much of that time I will be road tripping to and from seeing family in Boston, Mass. in my grandmother's 1955 Buick convertible, which looks something like (but not quite as good as) the picture below.

While I'm away, feel free to check out some of the new site features and functions to the right:

-- Favorite (Most Controversial) Posts From The Past

-- Easy New Ways of Staying In Touch (Bloglines, RSS/XML Feed Availability)

Take care of the education world while I'm away.


TIF Slush Fund Siphons Money from Chicago School Coffers

School finance die-hards will want to check out Ben Jarovsky's column on school finance in Chicago, in which he basically seems to be claiming that the Board of Education is getting rooked out of big tax revenues by the Mayor.

Please, Sir, We Want Some More: (PDF) The schools are afraid to ask Daley for money that should have been theirs to begin with.
(Chicago Reader)

Perhaps it isn't surprising that's certainly something you don't hear much around here. Arne Duncan and Michael Scott and the press all focus almost exclusively on the state school finance system, which is much more reliant on local property taxes than state revenues:

Does money transform schools?: Illinois debates its big rich-poor spending gap (Christian Science Monitor)

Dimmed prospects for school funding reform Summer Web Issue (Catalyst Chicago)


Do The Right Thing -- Vote for Casey

Former Cato Institute education wonk Casey Lartigue wins a prize for (a) being only the second blogger to note the "best-looking" hullabaloo in his blog (Jimmy Kilpatrick at Education News was the first), (b) calling for some diversity on the list, and (c) -- this is the best part -- calling on his readers to nominate him.

In case you're curious, here's Casey, who looks like a friendly, well-groomed guy.

For brute looks, thought, it doesn't seem fair to put him up against Pedro (below).


So far, Nina Rees and Tim Knowles are the only awardees to acknowledge their newfound fame and notoriety -- both of them quite graciously and without any apparent offense-taking. No word from Senator Kennedy, Senor Schnur, or Wendy Kopp yet, but I'm sure the gift baskets are on their way.


Hot For Education (Update)

You are all cowards for refusing to post your nominees publicly -- but I'm fine with that. Just keep those anonymous nominations pouring in.

From the number of hits and emails I'm getting, the secret is out that nearly everyone in education has a crush or two.

Anonymous nominations so far today include NYC Councilwoman extraordinaire Eva Moscovitz, Wallace Foundation studmuffin Richard Laine, Gates foundation guru Tom Vander Ark, the Heritage Foundation's Krista Kafer, and research and policy god Rick Hess, who, I am told, "chicks dig."

Also, several late-afternoon calls for ex-Harvard professor Pedro Noguera (pictured), and more than a couple of mentions for Gretchen Sims and John Luzcek at the Joyce Foundation. There must be something in that foundation water.

A few folks have also mentioned Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan, which I sorta get, but I think that the NCLB triumverate -- Xavier Botana and Beth Swanson and Erica Harris -- are probably the best looking people on Clark Street. (Though I did always like talking to Joi Mecks when she was in the press office and I still like hearing her voice when I'm on hold.)

Other nominations: "Everyone in TFA."

Taking it all with the appropriate grace and grain of salt, uber-hunk Tim Knowles reports that the portrait that started it all is actually not of him, it's his evil twin.

Evil twin or the real McCoy,
fellow blogger Joanne Jacobs probably put it best:
"Tim Knowles would motivate me to, um, support school reform."

Chicago Compares Tutors But Seems to Slow Rollout of Tutoring in Year 3

Earlier this week, the Chicago became one of the first cities in the country to publish a comparative review of tutoring providers and their impact (or lack thereof) on student achievement.

However, the immediate question remains whether more, or less, tutoring will be provided in Chicago this fall, the third year of tutoring -- with the district no longer allowed to provide its low-cost (but large-group) tutoring and little evidence of the enrollment effort that was the hallmark of the program last year.

Initially, local coverage suggested that the tutoring was working: Tutoring study shows promise in key group (Tribune), Tutoring boosts reading scores (Sun Times). Indeed, students who received tutoring made more progress last year than the year before, and slighly more progress than other eligible students who didn't participate and much more progress than they had the year before.

However, a follow-up Tribune editorial (Has tutoring worked?) suggested that the report -- showing effects sizes compared to similar students that can be measured in days and weeks rather than months -- "doesn't provide much encouragement that taxpayers got their money's worth last year."

My take on the study is that its main value is not proving one way or the other whether tutoring works -- or whether CPS should continue to be a tutoring provider as it was and wants to be. Instead, the study shows that:
  • most of the kids getting tutoring are the ones who need it -- 75 percent of them are below average on reading and math
  • the tutoring is overhwhelmingly popular with families
  • CPS-provided tutoring is cheaper, yes, but not much better than any of the big providers
  • some of the companies that seem to be making the most difference are online or mixed onsite/online (like Progressive)
  • Platform, the company kicked out of several schools last year by CPS, doesn't seem to fare that much worse than anyone else
You can listen to my discussion about the tutoring report on Chicago Public Radio. (requires Real Audio to play)

To be sure, the report will become part of the ongoing debate over private, for profit tutoring companies. In Chicago, the immediate question is whether CPS will be as enthusiastic about enrolling kids in tutoring as it was last year, when it was still providing tutoring to almost half the kids.

So far, the district seems like it's getting a slow start, and has suffered a couple of setbacks. They weren't able to screen some providers out as they had hoped, leaving that up to the state next year, and they weren't able to get big discounts from providers for using school space, which would have reduced the cost of the tutoring and theoretically increased the number of kids who could be served.

Just a couple of weeks before school, there's no news that principals have signed up for a handful of providers as they did last year, or given parents time and information to choose which ones they want.

The combined effects of district intertia/ambivalence and the absence of the low-cost CPS program could result in fewer kids getting tutored this year than last year, which would be a shame and a bit of an embarassment.

The study itself is not yet online.Email me if you want a copy.

Booze, Chickens, and Wal-Mart (School Life)

Booze vs Drugs: Either Way, Mom's Buying.
The New York Times argues that we should be focusing on alcohol, not other drugs, while Huffington highlights the news that it's parents, not kids, who get booze for kids: Debunking the Drug War (NYT), Study: Teens Get Booze From Parents, No Need For Fake ID's... (Huffington Post). Meanwhile, the crackdown on non-daylight, friends-in-the-car types of teen driving continues: Teen driving curbs show results (Stateline.org).

Chickens, Beavers, and Paper Airplanes.
First, the NYT reports that chickens are an increasingly popular suburban pet: Scratch a Suburb, Find a Chicken. Then the NYT shows how Beaver College doubled its enrollment by changing its name to Arcadia University: To Woo Students, Colleges Choose Names That Sell). Then Neat New Stuff shows us the best paper airplane ever: Paper Airplane - the best paper airplane in the world.

Teachers Unions Tell You Where to Shop.
While CNN and everyone else point out how many billions (yes 14 billions of them) are spent on back to school supplies, teachers unions turn up the heat on Wal-Mart (which is the target of a big unionization effort) by urging parents to shop elsewhere for folders and pencils: Back to school savings guide (CNN.com),Unions asking back-to-school shoppers to boycott Wal-Mart (Chicago Sun Times). Savvy and opportunistic, yes, but I'm not sure how I feel about its appropriateness for some reason. Maybe I'm just not sure that the teachers unions have that much credibility to spare on a much larger fight right now.

Hot For Education:
The Top Five Best-Looking School Reformers in the Nation

I was reminded by seeing this dreamy illustration of the University of Chicago's hunky Tim Knowles that -- just as in the rest of the world -- there are some real hotties in school reform.

Yes, hotties in education. You know there are. You just don't want to admit it. That's why I'm here to say it for you.

And Knowles, director of the Center on Urban School Improvement, is one of them.

Not that there's anything wrong with it. It's not his fault. It's not yours. Just look at the guy. He looks like a movie star.

Physical attractiveness is an obvious, though rarely-stated dynamic that plays out just beneath the surface at even the most mundane conference, job interview, faculty meeting, or professional development session.

Add some real excitement to the mix -- a new initiative, funders in the room, TV cameras, or the intoxicating whiff of TFA -- and you might as well be in the VIP section of the hippest lounge. Or as close to it as school reform gets.

And, yes, looks matter -- even in education. You know they do. OK, maybe they matter a little more to me than they should, but I'm not alone. There've been studies. People behave differently around and towards the highly symmetrical and genetically blessed. Parents. Teachers. Administrators. Funders. Policymakers.

Now, nobody's suggesting that looks alone can get you to the top of the heap. There's lots of additional hard work, ridiculous luck, overconfident hand-waving, and shameless brown-nosing that's required for that. Or exceptional virtue and smarts.

And there probably aren't many educators who should quit their day jobs and head for Hollywood or the runways of Milan. After all, being hot for education circles is like what Wonkette (the blogging hottie) calls being "famous for DC." It's all relative.

Without further ado, the remaining four of my top five:

Hunk Emeritus. Even in his 70's, Ted Kennedy is the epitome of the dashing education reformer. Virile, passionate, a Kennedy.

The Face That Launched TFA. For my money, Wendy Kopp's tailored look and big smile are substantial parts of her success -- along with a great idea and mad skills.

The Boy Wonder. Jon Schnur, co-founder of New Leaders, can be pretty mesmerizing with his boyish grin and piercing gaze.

A Brunette Ann Coulter? I might not agree with the USDE's Nina Rees about everything, but I'm not sure I care.

My criteria are admittedly loose (and by definition superficial). The person has got to be attractive enough that (a) it's widely commented on or alluded to, or (b) it's at least part of what you think about when you think about that person. They have to be nationally known. Oh, and Google has to cough up a picture of them so I don't have to search around too much.

Think you can do better? Have at it. Remember to include headshots along with any additional nominations.

ROLLING UPDATE: Anonymous nominations so far today include NYC Councilwoman extraordinaire Eva Moscovitz, Gates foundation guru Tom Vander Ark, the Heritage Foundation's Krista Kafer, and Rick Hess, who I am told "chicks dig." Comments, additions? Taking it all with the appropriate grace and grain of salt, Knowles reports that the above portrait is actually his evil twin. See "Hot For Education (Update)" for additional nominations.


A Lazy Look at High School NAEP Scores (Media Coverage)

Usually, mainstream magazines like Slate and The New Republic offer a sharp, interesting view of school reform during the rare instances they address it. Or at least some good writing.

And indeed, the opening lines of this week's story in Slate about high school NAEP scores promises great things:
"If you believe in test scores—and education policymakers seem to believe in little else these days—American high-school students are a pathetic bunch."
The writer, Alexandra Starr, is a former political reporter for Business Week and a former ME at the Washington Monthly. The article is part of Slate's series, "Hey, wait a minute: the conventional wisdom debunked."

But I'm not sure any wisdom, convention or otherwise, is really taken on here, or even whether the underlying argument holds water.

Titled They're Not Stupid—They're Lazy, the basic point of the article seems to be that things might be much better than they seem from recent NAEP scores, because students taking NAEP don't have any individual stake in the test results, and they're high schoolers. Starr urges us to "look at these tests like a capitalist rather than an educator." OK, fine. Incentives. Got it.

But we already knew that high school students don't have much incentive when it comes to taking the NAEP tests. That's been part of the discussion about high school NAEP results for years.

And we already know that other test score results are arguably getting better over time and in response to situations in which there are individual stakes involved -- high school exit exams, SATs.

That leaves the basic premise, about which there are also some questions.

Mainly, if things
are better now in secondary education than they were before, shouldn't kids today still outscore kids from 30 years ago? They were unmotivated to perform on the NAEP then. They're unmotivated now. They know more now, according to Starr. But the scores aren't much different.

And what about elementary school NAEP scores, which are on the rise? If motivation is all, then shouldn't they stay flat?

Now I'm no economist or behavior expert, but it seems to me that if high school kids were actually learning more in school than they had before, the NAEP scores would show at least part of that change.

Not all behavior is purely incentive-based. And a lazy NAEP-taker who knows 10 things is going to let more of that knowledge slip out than a lazy NAEP-taker who knows only 4 things.


Ten Types of (White, Female, Antsy) Teachers
Who Might Not Be As "Highly Qualfied" As Anyone Says

Let me be the last to note that, according to Mr AB at From The TFA Trenches, there are 10 Characters you can find in most PD or faculty meetings (or in most teachers lounges).

Read the burbs (and additional suggestions) for yourself, but the ten include Sincere Sally, Eccentric Emily, Happy Harry, Busy Brenda and others. During my brief teaching stint, I was some annoying combination of Prickly Paul, Talky terry, and Cash-Cow Charles. Which type are (were) you?

On a more serious note, there were some other interesting articles about teachers this week -- including one from the weekend highlighting that today's teachers are still predominantly white, female, and often looking elsewhere (
New York Times).

There's another about how in California teachers may not be as "highly qualified" as their district or state commission says they are (
Suit: State mislabels teacher interns Sacramento Bee). Scrutiny like that, after nearly everyone's been suspiciously easily declared HQ, might make some other states and districts nervous, I'd say.

Steroids, Pot Bellies, Unprepared Dropouts, and Being 13 (School Life)

How Private Tutoring Saved -- or Destroyed -- Public Education

Ding, ding ding ding! That's the bell sounding the start of the next round of the high-dollar battle between districts and tutoring providers over supplemental services.

This MSNBC video clip (requires media viewer and broadband) provides an interesting and slightly different business-oriented perspective on the situation, and includes some numbers I hadn't seen before: Private-public partnership. According to the segment, 2600 tutoring providers nationwide expect to get $900 million in SES revenues.

For another outside perspective, there's also a July Podcast from the School Improvement Industry newsletter that touches on the issues. Again, broadband and MP3 software required.

At its base, far away from what's working for kids, this is a proxy war between the anti-WalMart crew on the left who think that private companies and profit-making are highly suspicious and unlikely to do much good for kids, and those education-bashers on the right who wanted a private school voucher option in NCLB and think that public schools and teachers are unlikely to do any better by kids with tutoring money than they did with all the other money they got in the first place.

Not Satisfied with High School Students,
Military Guns for Peace Corps Volunteers

What may have seemed originally like an easy way to kill two birds with one stone, the legislative link between NCLB and military recruiting has turned out to be a giant albatross in terms of public perception, and definitely seems to undercut the main focus of the law.

Now the Pentagon apparently is trying -- not for the first time, I'm told -- to link its recruitment efforts to another group of young people: Peace Corps volunteers. Understandably, the Peace Corps is fighting back. Military Service Link Could "Damage The Peace Corps", "Put The Safety Of ... Volunteers At Risk"... (Huffington Post).

If only education advocates had been able to do the same with NCLB.

In the meantime, Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" has some of its own ideas about how the Pentagon could deal with its recruitment woes, centered in part around a funny (but foul-mouthed) interview with a student who refused to participate in gym classes run by the National Guard: House of Ill Recruit (The Daily Show).

It's a video segment -- maybe my first -- let me know if it doesn't work for you. Again, beware what may be offensive language and content.

Taking Ownership of Low-Peforming Schools

The cluster or handful of the most persistently and deeply troubled schools in schools many districts seem to me like struggling kids in class, and the choices about what to do to reach them -- hard work no matter what -- are many of the same choices that teachers face.

In the simplest of terms, one approach seems to be to wait for things to fall even further apart, perhaps with the end result being a school closing or some other NCLB-inspired sanction like a charter conversion or an EMO contract. The other is to focus in on the particular needs of these schools. A lot of it has to do with political will, and putting things on the line. It's not nearly as fun as across the board initiatives, or creating new schools or programs. Alas.

This seems especially true in places where the superintendent -- or the mayor -- has taken ownership of the low performers and created a more direct relationship between them and the district. Most recently, this includes Philadelphia, which just announced a NYC-like CEO's region for 11 schools (Philalphia Enquirer). Miami also has such an initiative.

Related Links:

6 low-ranked schools running out of time Stateline.com
Miller Blasts Mayor's Work on Schools New York Times


Breathing Room for Chicago Schools -- Momentarily, At Least

Yesterday's announcement that state testing results for Chicago schools have gone up -- especially in reading -- provides a nice end of summer/start of school treat for the city school system and its many helpers and shapers.

Or, as Chicagoist.com put it,
We Can Read!

Perhaps no one appreciated the good news more than the beleagured Mayor Daley, who hasn't had much to crow about of late
. It looks like there will be no special master for Chicago schools, -- for now at least.

The results do include some notable progress, and we should all take a moment away from handicapping the political horserace to congratulate and acknowledge the parents, teachers, administrators, and kids. Amazing work, considering the tight budgets and all the rest.

There are a couple of points to make, however, some of which I made during a radio segment this morning (Chicago schools move on reading WBEZ "Eight Forty-Eight"):

If "experience" is what you get when you're not getting what you really want, then "progress" -- the Board's rallying cry these days-- is what you get when you're still not quite good enough. And CPS still isn't.

The other foot drops later this month when the lists of schools not making adequate progress according to NCLB come out. This will not be such a good day, since the law now requires schools to have at least 47.5 percent of their kids proficient in reading and math -- just about where the average CPS composite score is now.

Strange that the math and science program, generally thought to be better-run etc. than the reading program -- didn't seem to make as much of a dent as its much larger sibling. Mike and Marty, what's up with that? I'm sure there's a good answer.

The links:

CPS gets high five for improved test scores Chicago Defender
Chicago reading scores surge Chicago Sun-Times
Reading efforts pay off Chicago Tribune

More good Chicago stuff:

Childhood obesity worst in poorest areas Chicago Journal
Suder and Skinner to welcome back students
Chicago Journal
Parents are right to protect their children from ... Defender
Spending gap grows for schools Tribune
New school gives its kids a head start Tribune


Chicago Loses Its Most Famous Teacher

What a strange sight it was Monday night to see a long segment on Chicago Tonight, the local version of the PBS NewsHour, featuring Leslie Baldacci explaining why she was leaving her job as a classroom teacher.

Not exactly the Rhenquist announcement -- or even news on the latest City Hall scandal. And, no big surprise that a white, middle-aged teacher on the verge of being national board certified was leaving the classroom because she's tired and needs to earn more money and teaching is hard.
"These are different times, and different kids," she says about the lack of respect she experienced during her two stints teaching on the city's South Side.
Why was she on TV, then? The truth is that, over the past six years or so, Baldacci has become something of a celebrity teacher, writing about her classroom experiences in various Sun-Times articles and in a book.

If you don't count Jack Ryan, the Republican millionaire whose campaign for governor imploded when it turned out he tried to get his starlet wife to go to sex clubs, Baldacci might be Chicago's most famous former teacher.

Baldacci deserves credit for changing careers and sticking it out for as long as she did. She seems to be even-handed about the pros and cons of teaching, and candid in explaining why she left the job.

Most of all, a lot of people have probably learned more about the school system from reading Baldacci than they would have otherwise.

Still, it was a strange thing to have someone on to explain what is really a rather mundane failure, and there was always a whiff of self-promotion in Baldacci's teaching (I know, I know).

There are so many other folks they could have interviewed -- award winners, effective teachers, overachievers, people still in the system. So much more on the policy side that they could have covered.

As a teacher, the classroom changed my life Sun Times

NYT on Ed Schools:
Who Needs Articles Like This?

I am mystified about what, exactly, we're supposed to learn or conclude from Sunday's NYT article, Who Needs Education Schools?

Teacher preparation is a fascinating -- if not entirely new -- issue for many education folks. So it's not hard to get us to read this stuff, and not often that the Times gives it such prominence.

And the article contains some useful statistics and an insight or two on where ed schools are and what they're facing -- especially about the deep and unresolved conflicts between teachers and testing, which underly many school reform failures:
"No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on standards and hard data, has placed national policy in direct conflict with the prevailing approach of many colleges, where the John Dewey tradition of progressive education holds sway, marked by a deep antipathy toward testing."
But there's nothing really new here -- nothing about what the new Higher Education Act does or doesn't do to improve teacher training programs, nothing beyond the surface about new efforts to revamp teacher prep.

The piece is also all over the place. A program is mentioned here. A teacher or expert is quoted there. The piece veers off into other issues -- retention, unions, mandatory curricula -- and as a result remains superficial.

Please tell me I missed something, and that it's not just cuz the author has a book out.

UPDATE: Jim Horn over at Schools Matter has a very different, but equally critical, take on the NYT piece, observing among other things that most of the experts quoted are "conservative." Take a look. It's probably a stretch to call Kati Haycock a conservative, but, hey, they're calling me one these days, too.