Chat
Dec. 20, 2006

The Power of Influence

Guests: Kati Haycock, executive director of The Education Trust, Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Patrick Miller (Moderator):
    Welcome to today's chat on the power of influence, and the most influential people, organizations, research studies, and information sources in education policy over the past 10 years.

Released last week, the study, Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping Education Policy, asked leading education-policy experts first to identify and then to rate highly influential agents, or influentials, across those different categories.

We are joined by Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and the study's primary author. We are also pleased to be joined by Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Kati Haycock, executive director of the Education Trust. Both Finn and Haycock are reprisented in many ways on the list as individuals, as part of influential organizations, and as providers of influential research and information sources.

We've got some great questions, so let's get started.


Question from Joseph Buckley Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Liaison Worcester Public Schools Worcester MA:
    When looking at studies of educational solutions I find that they are produced and infused into education from outside the teaching staff. Is it not time we began to gather influence from the classroom teacher and develop programs that solve real classroom student difficulties real solutions need vested professionals.

Kati Haycock:
    Far too much of current education research is focused on questions important to researchers, but not to educators on the frontlines of American education.While I'm not certain that all solutions need to come from current classroom teachers, I agree that--as a country--we need to be much more agressive in mining the insights and expertise of unusually effective teachers, as well as unusually effective schools. In our own work, learning from teachers and administrators in high performing high-poverty schools and classrooms is central to almost everything we do.


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    I think of Editorial Projects in the Education Research Center as a branch of Education Week. It seems on the surface to be a violation of journalistic ethics to have the FORDHAM fOUNDATION help fund a journalistic enterprise of Ed Week. What am I not understanding?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    That’s a good question, and one that I think other folks may have.

The EPE Research Center and Education Week are actually both divisions of the same parent non-profit organization – Editorial Projects in Education. (Incidentally, EPE also publishes Teacher Magazine.) The Influence study was conducted by the Research Center, so there is no violation of journalistic ethics because the Research Center is not a journalistic operation.

In case you’re curious how the project came about:

As the Fordham Foundation was coming approaching its tenth anniversary, it was interested in taking stock of the education policy field over this period. In particular, they wanted to get a general sense of the issues that have loomed large in policy circles during the past 10 years and, quite understandably, the foundation’s role in particular. They approached the EPE Research Center to see if we were interested in conducting a study of influence in the field. It seemed like a good match. So they commissioned the project and gave us free reign to design and execute the study with those very broad parameters in mind.

What we have in the end is a broadly-cast investigation of the studies, people, organizations, and information sources that have influenced the course of education and education policy in recent years. The study gave the Fordham Foundation what they were looking for (or at we’d like to think so). But, importantly, anyone who follows education policy can pick up the report and take a look at the results, focus on the people and organizations of interest to them. And they can draw their own conclusions.


Question from Dr. Cedrick Gray, Principal, Craigmont Middle, Memphis, TN:
    How can a new leader shift a strong influence from a past leader?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Takes time, for sure, often a culture shift, sometimes the replacement of other people still imbued with the old culture. Key is having and communicating a vision; charting a steady (sometimes stubborn) course; using benchmarks of progress; building a team; and not being afraid to say "things need to be done differently here".


Question from Charles Leone, Ass't Principal. Munsey Park Elementary School:
    There is extensive experimental research on the statistically positive achievement made by students when teachers/schools accommodate for students' individual learning-style strengths and preferences. What is your opinion of addrssing students' individual learning styles as an effective strategy to improve student achievement?

Kati Haycock:
    Yours is a very important question, and one I struggle with in my work with teachers and principals all around the country. On the one hand, you are clearly right: research does suggest the importance of using multiple strategies to meet the needs of students who learn in different ways. On the other, the rather dumbed-down version of that research that has been fed to far too many of our teachers, has resulted in overly-simplistic--indeed harmful--instructional approaches, especially in high-minority schools. I can't tell you how often our staff finds English and Math teachers (even at the middle and high school) giving more coloring or collage assignments than writing or math assignments, in the misguided belief that black children or poor children will learn the content better that way. At a recent meeting of the Institute for Education Sciences Board, I asked them to take a look at ways to get high quality versions of this and other important research out into the field (and go after the dumbed down stuff), but I can't say I'm optimistic about fast action.


Question from Bob Frangione, Educator:
    Other than large monetary donations, what has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation done to further education?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Money talks, no doubt about it, and Gates has become the "fat boy in the canoe" (as someone years ago described the Ford Foundation's role in philanthropy). But just as important, Gates has been pro-active, setting agendas (high school reform above all); it's been imaginative; it's been focused; it's learned from experience (while I haven't loved every single one of their initiatives I've been impressed by how they've made mid-course corrections on the basis of their experience); and it's recruited lots of partners (Fordham among them), including some that are pretty able.


Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
    It appears the study only takes *positive* influences into account. What about negative ones? For example, couldn't a case be made that local school boards are the major negative influence on the pace and quality of school reform?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    The process of going about identifying the most prominent people and organizations in any field is an enterprise that (one could very well imagine) might elicit some strong views and opinions. So, throughout the study, we were very careful to take an objective and neutral approach that central question – What is influence?

Our expert respondents were allowed to decide what “influence” meant to them. That would include the consideration of whether “influential” means – good, bad, ugly, or just important in a more general sense.

I’m not going to weigh in on the role of school boards in particular. But I will say that Influence is very much in the eye of the beholder.

If you took a handful of people and asked them to share their own thoughts about the people or organizations that made the Influence short list, you would probably get a handful of different opinions.

To take one example, a number of the finalists on the Influential People list were singled out, at least in part, for their connection to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (people like President Bush, Senator Kennedy, Representative Miller, Secretary Spellings, among others). Some people love NCLB. Some people think it’s the worst thing to happen to public education in our lifetime. I wouldn’t assume that everyone who nominated President Bush (the runner-up) viewed his influence in the same way.


Question from Stephen Metcalf, Superintendent, Orange-Windsor Supervisory Union (Vermont):
    I would like your reaction to the following. It used to be that education research was fractious and yielded all sorts of conflicting results. I believe what has been most influential in the last decade has been that the Big Names in education policy and research (Glickman, Marzano, Fullan, Reeves, DuFour, etc., etc.) are all saying the same things about what works. And it parallels the message from the corporate world (Collins, Peters, Senge). As Glickman quoted Joyce Carol Oates over a decade ago, "We can't pretend to not know what is known." Many school leaders, confronted with the consistent drumbeat from the research and theorists, have responded and are engaging in appropriate systems changes, rousing their organizations from decades of slumber and bad habits.

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    You're describing one corner of education policy research and one cadre of "big names", not the whole of it. Within the corner you describe, yes, there's considerable convergence and that's a good thing. I just wish I were as confident as you seem to be that "many" school leaders are responding vigorously and constructively. Far too many school leaders in my experience are inattentive to research, even when it converges, if it doesn't conform to their own established beliefs and practices.


Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student , Penn:
    Dr. Dwyer of Penn has written and lectured widely on the power of influnence. How do these influential leaders build trust in our faculty, our students and our school leaders in regards to working together for the betterment of all students

Kati Haycock:
    Unfortunately, I'm not famiiliar with Dr. Dwyer's research. I can tell you, however, that I spend most of my time outside of Washington, with the very people you mention, the folks in the trenches of American education. My role there is a simple one: to help educators step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities, think about the larger context in which they are working, and learn from the schools and districts that are ahead of the rest of us about how to effectively educate ALL of our students. Obviously, I get invited mostly because the superintendent or some other leader trusts that I can be helpful. But I have to win the trust of those in the room by respecting the insights they bring to these issues, even as I challenge them to do still more. In the end, though, high achievement is a product of group effort, both from adults in a school and from students themselves. Good schools know how to mobilize that energy; more schools need to understand how they do it.


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    Did the panelists, as active and informed members of the policy community, have choices they thought should have been on the list?

Kati Haycock:
    Miles: Not surprised that you should ask the most interesting question so far.

Frankly, I hadn't thought about your question so far. In fact, I think I was only dimly aware that such a "list" was being made.

Like all such lists, this has its limits, and the main limit, I suspect, is about visibility.

From my perspective, the most important question is who influences the influencers. And for me, at least, the answer is clear: I draw virtually all of my inspiration and my insights from the teachers and administrators in the schools that serve poor kids unusually well. But I also benefit greatly from the insights of people, current and past, like Al Shanker, Mike Smith, Ron Edmunds, Ramon Cortines, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Tom Paysant, and many, many others.

Sorry, can't do any better on your main question.


Question from Jane Medina, Teacher, Cambridge Elementary:
    How and why was qualitative research weakened if not eliminated from being considered "scientific" by the education community? Who gave whom authority to do so?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    I'm not sure whom you're referring to here as "the education community". If you go to an AERA conference or read their journals (or, for that matter, the Kappan or the "commentary" pages of Ed Week), you'll find gobs of "qualitative" research. And some of it is valuable. But most has little or nothing to tell us about student achievement which is, and has been for at least a decade and a half now, the primary coin of the education realm. More and more people want EVIDENCE of what fosters (and retards) such achievement, not impressions, hopes or ideologies.


Question from Barb Vines, Professor, Chicago City Colleges:
    Because principals are held responsible for student progress, many students who cannot progress are encouraged to transfer to other schools or not accepted when transferring.Have you explored the consequences of No Child Left Behind policies with the child who is behind?

Kati Haycock:
    I'm not totally certain that I understand your question, but let me take a stab at it.

If you're asking whether I think the transfer provisions of NCLB are working--either for the children who do transfer or for those who don't--I think the answer is mostly "no." But not, by and large, because of large scale harm to students who remain behind, since so few students are taking advantage of the transfer provisions in the first place.

If, on the other hand, you're asking whether we spend time as an organization with students--especially students enrolled in low-performing schools--the answer is yes. Those experiences haunt us every day. And all of our work is about raising their plight to public view and pressing for quick action to confront and change those circumstances.


Question from :
    Many times, policy is a "knee jerk" reaction to extreem situations that often results in legislation that is pilled on the numerous mandates we have to implement on a daily basis...how can a campus, district, or a state education agency be proactive when it comes to adhering to policy vs. powerless victims of policy?

Dr. Johnson, Alief Elsik HS, Houston TX

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Perceptive comment! Of course the higher up the "foodchain" you go the more power one has to influence policy. For exampe, the Texas Education Agency has TONS of power. And individual high school in Houston has less. But you could band together with other high schools and acquire more. Or you could secede from the "system" and become a free-standing charter school with greater control over its own destiny.


Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
    For Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Why do you think it is that so many states, schools, school staffs have given up on teaching remedial/developmental reading to the secondary students who need it? Sometimes over 50% of the high school graduates who go on to college must take remedial reading at the university before they can be successful at the college level? With nearly one-half of the students in public schools being secondary students, how can the school staffs give up on so many thousands of youngsters who need remedial reading/math by not providing them with what they need?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Nobody should give up on anybody, but the main focus should be on doing it right the first time so that remediation isn't needed later. If kids enter middle school reading fluently (and being functional in math), they're on track to college. Then they need to be helped to stay on that track. If they start fifth or sixth grade without those skills, it's apt to be catch-up forever--a hugely expensive and frustrating and challenging thing to do for all concerned, not least the kids.


Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
    For Kati Haycock:

What changes must educators and policymakers make to rectify the achievement gap between African American and white students (particularly the secondary students)?

Kati Haycock:
    That's a very big question for an email exchange. But let me do two things. First, refer you to a longer piece I did in the current (or just past) Ed Leadership that elaborates on some of these themes, and also encourage you to visit our website,edtrust.org, where you can learn more (see, in particular, "Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground." Second, let me summarize quickly some of the lessons we have learned from the schools that are unusually successful in getting African American students to high levels of achievement:

1. They focus on things they can do (mostly instruction), rather than things they can't (changing the community). 2. They don't leave anything about teaching and learning to chance (that is, they are very clear about what students need to learn and when, they provide teachers with a lot of help, they monitor student learning every few weeks, they act immediately when they are not.) 3. They set goals high--even when they start with high dropout rates, they focus not just on getting students through with a diploma, but on college and careers. 4. They put all kids, not just some, in a demanding curriculum. 5. They are absolutely obsessive about instructional time. 6. Principals are hugely important, but not the only leaders in the school. 7. They know how much good teachers matter and ACT on that knowledge to match their best teachers with the students who most need them. 8. They are obsessive about data. 9. They are nice places to work. 10. And they are different places for students, too. Instead of giving students opportunities to fail, they are absolutely focused on student success. What students say is key: "At my old school, it was functional to act stupid," they say. "At this school, nobody lets me get away with that. Not my teachers. Not the students. 11. They never back down.


Question from Renee Moore, NBCT, English Instructor, Mississippi Delta Community College:
    According to the report, teachers are represented as influential only through the two major teacher unions. What do you think would be the impact on educational policy if practicing educators, particularly those with proven success records, had more direct role in shaping it?

Kati Haycock:
    I'd love to see more ways of getting teacher voices into the policy-making process. Obviously, the unions do some of that. So, too, do the subject matter organizations. But, at least in my experience, they sometimes have a very different perspective than that held by unusually successful teachers. If you're interested in strategizing about this, let me--or our senior staff member on teaching issues, Heather Peske--know.


Question from Lucy Gettman, Reading Recovery Council of North America:
    Using your crystal ball, how might the November election impact the list? If EPE replicates this study in 2 years, who might rise or fall, be added or deleted?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    My crystal ball is cloudy and all such lists are, to some extent, popularity/visibility contests. One is tempted to predict that, at the federal level at least, a re-do of the study would lead to more Democrats and fewer Republicans. However, if you look at the current list, you'll find mighty few Republicans there today. (I spot two.) As I said, it's partly a popularity contest, and most education "insiders" who "vote" on such matters tend to favor Democrats even when they're out of office!


Question from darryl brown, educational assistant, NYC Department of Education:
    Why is it that Mr Gates is considered influential-isn't the money he makes available what is making the impact? Or is he dictating what is done with it and by doing so influences education based on his own agenda, whatever that maybe?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    There were a couple findings from the study that I think were both obvious (at least in hindsight) and surprising. One of those was Bill Gates’ first-place finish as the most influential person in education policy during the last 10 years. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranked third in the influential organizations category. My sense is that a lot of people make a strong connection between Bill Gates and the foundation.

On the one hand, it’s not surprising that Gates would come out on top. He’s the richest person in the world, the foundation is the world’s most well-endowed philanthropy, and Gates has invested over a billion dollars in education reform to date. So just in terms of the sheer size of the investments he is able to make in education, one would expect Gates and the foundation to be viewed as highly influential.

On the other hand, just think back ten years. What kind of profile did Gates have in education circles? Not a very prominent one, at least nothing compared to the present. So the speed of Gates’ and the Foundation’s rise is particularly striking. In addition, I think the foundation’s domestic work in education is also characterized by a high level of focus. With billions and billions of dollars to spend, a foundation might very well decide to cover all their bases. Instead, the Gates Foundation has invested very (very) heavily in a relatively small number of areas – with high school reform at the top of the list.

So I think we can chalk up Gates’ ranking to a combination of the extraordinary resources at his disposal and a strategy approach to investing in a few high-leverage areas.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should also mention that EPE and the Research Center have received funding from the foundation for other projects. Most notably, the Gates Foundation supports our annual Diplomas Counts report.)




Question from Marsha Pincus, Teacher, Masterman High School, School District of Philadelphia:
    What role do you see teachers and teacher educators playing in shaping education policy? As this generation of teacher retires, who will 1) replace them and 2) influence the way in which the next generation of teachers is prepared and educated to teach?

Kati Haycock:
    On the policy front, teachers and teacher educators mostly play a role through their associations. In the case of teachers, that's mostly through either the unions or, to a lesser extent, the subject matter associations. In the case of teacher educators, of course, that is mostly through AACTE. The unions, of course, have a lot of influence. The others are less influential in general, but often play a strong role around particular provisions. Unfortunately, we still don't have good vehicles to engage individuals through other than the associations.

As for your question about who will replace teacher retirees, that's still an open question. Obviously, the lion's share of new teachers are still coming through traditional programs, shaped largely by state certification requirements, the faculty in those programs, and NCATE. But an increasing share are coming through alternative routes, including many more career switchers than ever before. Given changes in the economy more generally, with young people engaged in multiple careers over their working lives, I am guessing that the ratio will continue to shift toward the career switchers. But state policymakers, if they were so inclined, could tip it any way they wanted to. The question is whether anybody really cares enough to reshape the preparation of teachers to match the challenges this generation of teachers will face. So far, the answer is...no.


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    I was asked to review the report and was unable to find a thorough explanation for the methods of the rankings. What were the methods? And do the panelists think that the Fordham Foundation might have had an unspecified conflict of interest in the development of the report?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    You need to ask this one of Chris Swanson, not me. He developed the methodology and conducted the survey. Incidentally, though Fordham paid for it we had absolutely nothing to do with the questions it asked or who was asked. I see no conflict of interest.


Question from Karen Echols, Parent Adovocate, ITOP Council, San Francisco:
    Who do you think influenced Bill Gates? What of those quiet influences who sit in research and write letters to government or ask provocative questions that transverse down the pike to someone who is in a position to eventually effect change? Aren't the most influencial amoung us sometimes those who are the least well known? Don't we all have a signifcant influence daily as we meet one another in casual encounters? Is't it true that the smallest of us can often have the greatest impact?

Kati Haycock:
    I have no idea what actually caused Bill Gates to focus his energy where he has. But as I understant the story he sent teams of people around the world looking for the most intractable problems...which led to the focus on disease eradication...and the American high school.

As for influence, you are exactly right, though. Lists like this at best identify one kind of leader, but they miss individuals who exert huge influence in their particular domains--a classroom, a school, a neighborhood. And we need leadership of all sorts: the problems we face as a nation are too tough to see them as just certain people's responsibility. As we like to say at the Education Trust, "there is no small role in big change."


Question from Jane Sharka, LRC Director, Naperville Central High School, Naperville, IL:
    In the 21st century we face some challenges with poor information literacy and critical thinking skills. Do you foresee any impact of the school library community in being allowed to address these shortages within the educational community? Or do you think the Technology personnel will be given this task?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Honestly, I can't offer much on this one other than to note that the "school library community" hasn't been very visible or audible in education policy circles of late, at least not those circles that I observe.


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    One of the interesting messages from the list is that influence is centered in administrative\policy issues (small schools,equity, vouchers, charters, accountability) and is not directly interested in classroom teaching and learning. Does the panel see the same message?

Kati Haycock:
    Wow. That's certainly not the message I took from it. Our own work is really mostly about improving teaching...which, from our perspective, is the heart of the matter. Certainly, some of that is about the structures that surround teachers and some of that is about signalling systems. But the quality of teachers and teaching is what it's all about.


Question from Cecilia Villabona, Mathematics Assistant Principal, High School for Law and Public Service in Manhattan:
    I wonder if the reason why Bill gates comes among the top most influential people in education in the last ten years had to do with the role that he has played with computers and the Internet, and my question is "Has the use of computers as an educational aid been proved to be more effective by real research supported data, or are electronic environments as educational as we make them be by putting them in the hands of experience responsible educators?" Take for example television, which can be the number one time-waster in the life of a child(or an adult for that matter) and at the same time if used creatively, one great tool to enhance learning when used well. But people left to their own resources seem to choose the less valuable uses of TV. With using computers and the Internet, people tend to fall into the same trap.

Christopher B. Swanson:
    Following up on an earlier question, I think the reason Bill Gates was named most influential was his work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, in particular, the strong positions he has taken on high school reform.

It’s hard to read minds, but it’s possible that some folks may have also viewed Gates as influencing education in part through his role in the personal-computing revolution, as founder of Microsoft.

I think we all view technology as holding great potential to improve the quality of education. Education Week has a long-running annual report series called Technology Counts that has examined a wide variety of education-technology issues over the years.

The big question, which your question hits on, is how do we get the best bang-for-the-buck when it comes to technology. Is having a computer in the classroom enough? Probably not, especially if no one knows how to integrated it with instruction, if it’s not connected to the internet, if it doesn’t have the right software, if it’s broken all the time. You get the idea. The important thing is not just having a computer (or other technology), it’s what we do with it.

Computing technology, like many other resources, is just that – a resource. And we can make the most of technology when it’s in the hands of educators who have been trained in its use and have the support needed to really bring technology into their everyday instruction.


Question from Mitch Haycock teacher Milwaukee PUblic Schools:
    I think many of the organizations you have mentioned have a lot of power and influence. However, I woule like to know, is do any of these power brokers really have America and our future in their best interest, or, are they following a prescribed agenda dictated by their political, and financial interests?

Kati Haycock:
    Are we related?

Not sure otherwise why this question is directed toward me, rather than Chris. Chris probably ought to answer.

But I can tell you, with respect to the Education Trust, that we have no political or financial interests beyond advancing the educational needs of low-income children and children of color. We are non-partisan, and work with both republicans and democrats. We accept no federal money. And no funder--ever--has dictated any policy position we take.




Question from Renee Moore, Instructor of English, Mississippi Delta CC:
    I didn't see any schools of education on the influential list. In the aftermath of Dr. Levine's recent comments on the state of teacher education in US, should we be concerned?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Darn right! Not only are most of them mediocre (per Levine), they also lack influence. (I suppose that's better than being simultaneously mediocre and influential.) However, in most places they continue to enjoy a near-monopoly on the preparation of public-school educators. That's what, in my view, we should be most concerned about. If there was ever a place for trust-busting in education, it's here!


Question from Barb Vines, Professor, Chicago City Colleges:
    Though Bill Gates and the foundation have been considered the most influential in contributions in education, many teachers are observing that too much staff development is required for the monetary award. What are your thoughts on this?

Kati Haycock:
    I'm guessing (but not sure) here that you are talking about the Gates funding awards to Chicago area high schools.

I actually don't know enough about the details of that initiative to know whether "too much" professional development is required. I do know from long experience, though, that if the professional development is high quality, teachers almost never think they get "too much." Rather, the normal complaint is either "too little" or "lousy and irrelevant."


Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
    Why are you so high on Charter Schools?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    I'm "high" on GOOD charter schools, of which Arkansas has far too few. They provide good options for needy kids; they are a "tonic" for the entire K-12 enterprise; and they provide healthy competition for the district-based system. I'm definitely low on mediocre charters.


Question from Patrick Miller:
    Did the panelists, as active and informed members of the policy community, have choices they thought should have been on the list?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    I think I will decline from naming names. But I will say that my own list would probably have looked quite a bit like the finalists named in the report.

Incidentally, an appendix of the full Influence report includes a complete list of all the vote-getters from the survey. So, anyone who is so inclined can give it the good ol’ “Washington read” and see if they made the list.

And to plug a bit shamelessly, the report is available online at www.edweek.org/rc.


Question from Barry Golden, Wisconsin DPI:
    What will be the greatest long term outcome of the most important contributions? Will we be better off in the global economy for example?



Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Regrettably, your question is phrased too generally and vaguely for me to grasp what you're really asking. Want to try re-stating it?


Question from Linda Godwin, G/T Program Coordinator, Escambia County Schools:
    How has No Child Left Behind policies influenced the education of our gifted and talented students? It seems that some of our intellectually and creatively gifted students have been left behind. Is this perception accurate?

Kati Haycock:
    There are a lot of people who believe that NCLB has resulted in an overwhelming focus on children at the bottom--at the expense of students at the top. In truth, however, there's not much evidence that this has happened. Available data, in other words, don't suggest that our highest achieving students are losing ground since the passage of NCLB.

That said, if you asked me a different question: are we doing enough to elevate the achievement of our gifted students, I would say no--just like I would say no about our middle achieving students, as well. Truth is that our future as a country depends upon maximizing the learning of all of our children. And we're not doing a good job with any. Even our top 5% lags behind the rest of the developed world.


Question from Patrick Miller:
    Using your crystal ball, how might the November election impact the list? If EPE replicates this study in 2 years, who might rise or fall, be added or deleted?

Kati Haycock:
    My crystal ball is a little cloudy right now.

Instinct tells me that the November elections won't have as much effect on any future rankings as will the quality of work (and the tenacity) of the people and organizations involved. In other words, a list compiled two years from now could either look very much the same--or very different. But not, I think, mostly because the Dems now control both Houses.


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    Did the panelists, as active and informed members of the policy community, have choices they thought should have been on the list?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    That's a question for Chris, not me. He designed and conducted the survey. All we did was help pay for it. (And I was one of the many people surveyed.)


Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
    I was asked to review the report and was unable to find a thorough explanation for the methods of the rankings. What were the methods? And do the panelists think that the Fordham Foundation might have had an unspecified conflict of interest in the development of the report?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    The methodology of the study can be found in the full report, available online at www.edweek.org/rc. An Executive Summary is also posted, although it does not go into much detail.

But to summarize, we conducted a two-stage survey of experts in the education policy field. In the first round, we asked open-ended questions about the studies, organizations, people, and information sources they viewed as being most influential. Based on those results, we tallied the “votes” and came up with a short list of the top 10 or so leading nominees in each category. We then fielded a follow-survey that asked the experts to rate each short-list nominee on a 5-point scale.

The expert surveys were the basis of the rankings. In the Influential Studies category, we also based rankings on the number of hits or citations the studies received in the news media and in academic journals.

While the Fordham Foundation funded the study, it was not involved in the methodological design or execution of the study or in writing the report. The EPE Research Center had full research and editorial control over the project. So they were just as surprised to see the results as anyone else.


Question from Karen Echols, Parent Advocate, ITOP Council, San Francisco:
    Isn't INSPIRATION actually more paramount than INFLUENCE? Meaning that, with out Inspiration, there would not be engagement in the studies conducted that lead to the outcomes which fueled the influence and there-by created the change?

Kati Haycock:
    If I understand your question, I think the two are related. In other words, a part of the reason that people have influence--whether those people be neighborhood activists, teachers, principals or legislators--is because of their PASSION. That said, inspiration--or passion--without information, can be dangerous. So what you hope for at every level is leaders who are passionate about kids, passionate about making the schools that serve those kids ever better, informed about strategies that work, and relentless in applying them.


Question from Patrick Miller:
    How does the Fordham Foundation plan to use the results of this research? What can we learn from lists such as these?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    On the first point, we're using this research, as well as a ten year retrospective that we commissioned from a veteran journalist (this being approximately the tenth anniversary of the "modern" Fordham Foundation) to chart our path forward. Just as one example, we want to learn from studying the most influential studies what could we do differently that might give OUR future studies greater influence. On the second point, I think the answer is inevitably in the eye of the beholder. Many people find such rankings and listings informative in myriad ways.


Question from William Miles:
    The report seems to focus heavily on research studies. Were you surprised in any way by the final rankings of the studies? Does the list give you any clues about where education research may be heading?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    I think the questions asked of respondents, involving "studies", foreordained that the results would be reseach-heavy. But it's also important to note that "opinion books", commission reports, manifestos and suchlike didn't really make the cut. (Including any number of Fordham publications!) What this mostly tells us is that evidence has greater influence than opinion. An important thing to know!


Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
    For Christopher B. Swanson:

In your opinion in "The New Math on Graduation Rates", you say that minorities nationwide have little more than a 50-50 chance of earning a high school diploma. Those numbers are mind boggling. What can be done by secondary school staffs to rectify this?

Christopher B. Swanson:
    The chat received a number of good questions on the topic of high school graduation rates. As some folks may know, I’ve been working in that area for a few years now.

Since the name of the game today is Influence, I’m going to restrain myself from diving in to the graduation issue, hard as that may be.

But for those who are interested in the topic, we are conducting a four-year project on graduation and high school issues with support from the Gates Foundation (who, incidentally is the third-ranked influential organization – so there’s our influence connection for this reply). This past June, we released the first report from this project – Diplomas Count (online at www.edweek.org/dc06).

Be on the lookout for the next installment in this annual report series in June of 2007. I’m not at liberty to discuss the theme, but rest assured it will be a hot topic.


Question from Patrick Miller:
    Restating Barry's question from earlier: Which person, organization, information source, or research study do you see having the most inluence 50 years down the road? What about 100?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Egad, I can't even answer that question 3 years down the road, much less 50 or 100. Think back. Fifty years ago probably the most important "study" (and maybe person) in K-12 education was James B. Conant and his analysis of the American high school. Nobody then could have foreseen ANY of the items on the new "influentials" list. I just don't possess that sort of crystal ball. Would that I did.


Question from J. Terry Gates, President/CEO, The Hoenny Center for Research and Development in Teaching, St. Louis:
    The comments about the stratification of the research effort (classroom "vs" scientific, qualitative "vs" quantitative, "what-works" as a niche) sidesteps the issue of how we in education order the total research effort. In other sectors, there is basic research, engineering, and technological development. Everyone knows where a given project fits. We don't have that in education. Why not?

Kati Haycock:
    I have no idea. While I'm a big--and often frustrated--consumer of education research, I actually don't know a lot about how it is funded, structured and organized. Sorry. Perhaps one of the other panelists can do better.


Question from Patrick Miller:
    The Ed Trust appears on all four of the report's lists of influence. What do you feel has been the most influential piece of the Ed Trust's work, and if the study would be repeated 10 years from now, what would you want the ed trust to be recognized for?

Kati Haycock:
    Yes, we were flattered--and totally humbled--to be on all four lists.

As for the most important piece of our work, I'm torn. According to this survey, it is the work on how much teachers matter. That could be right. But my instincts are that the more critical work has been the work to draw attention to the schools and districts that are getting unusually strong achievement from low-income students and students of color. Why more important? Because it gives people in schools both the inspiration--and the information--they need to perservere in the face of daunting challenges.

If those analyses were to be repeated in a decade what would I hope for? That the number of such schools and districts would be much, much larger. Indeed, that really is our challenge as a nation, isn't it: to make sure that schools work well for all of the children they serve.


Question from Mitch Haycock teacher Milwaukee PUblic Schools:
    I think many of the organizations you have mentioned have a lot of power and influence. However, I woule like to know, is do any of these power brokers really have America and our future in their best interest, or, are they following a prescribed agenda dictated by their political, and financial interests?



Christopher B. Swanson:
    An exciting part of a project like this is the debate that it can provoke.

Certainly we would not expect everyone who read the report to have similar opinions about who is influential or reason a given person or organization may be influential. Two different people might have nominated the same person but for very different reasons.

So we’re hoping that the study will prompt a a healthy discussion (even heated one, that’s fine too). The report is posted on the Research Center’s website (www.edweek.org/rc) so everyone can take a look for themselves and decide what they think. In addition, we also have a “Talkback” feature that allows folks to weigh-in on the results. Whether they agree, disagree, or just have a different point of view on who/what has been influential, they can voice their opinions in that online forum.


Question from Vidya Sundaram, GreatSchools:
    Why aren't the most influential players focusing on educating parents about their children's education? Many expect the system will just "work" and their kids will get to college-- even though we know they typically won't.

Kati Haycock:
    I'm a big believer in parent advocacy. Our team at the Education Trust includes a set of folks, in both our Washington and Oakland offices, who do nothing but work with parents. And, in the policy sphere, we certainly have pushed and will continue to push to make certain that parents get better and more honest information about how their own children are faring and how other children are faring.

That said, I don't think we can afford a strategy that depends solely on parent activism. Educators and policymakers have responsibilities here, as well. So we will continue to press both of them to step up to those responsibilities, and do our part in the effort to provide better supports for frontline educators.


Question from J. Terry Gates:
    The comments about the stratification of the research effort (classroom vs scientific, qualitative vs quantitative, what-works as a niche) sidesteps the issue of how we in education order the total research effort. In other sectors, there is basic research, engineering, and technological development. Everyone knows where a given project fits. We don't have that in education. Why not?

Chester E. Finn Jr.:
    Excellent question. There is, as you say, no such classification system in the ed-research world. Never has been. There is, howver, beginning to be a reasonably clear distinction between qualitative and quantitative research and between "scientifically based" research and all other kinds. This is probably a healthy start on segmenting the ed-research universe into more manageable and coherent solar systems.


Question from Mary E. Bickel, Secretary-Treasurer, The Hoenny Center for Research and Development in Teaching, St. Louis, MO:
    Please sum up the rationale for public opinion as a research source for education policy.

Christopher B. Swanson:
    When we were designing the study, we actually considered a couple different potential strategies for finding out what is “influential.” One of our top priorities was to avoid inserting our own biases into the research process. So that meant that we needed to figure out an objective way to generate a list of influential, people, places, things, etc.

That’s probably more difficult than it sounds. Where does one start coming up with an objective list?

So like other research that has tackled similar problems, we eventually decided on a research design centered around a survey of knowledgeable experts in the field. I’m not sure I would call this “public” opinion research since the respondents are really specialists in the field. But it was a survey of expert views.

Were we inclined to make the study into an annual event, would there be other ways to go about gauging opinion in the field? Probably. In particular, we might consider using polling of the broader education field, which would make the take on “influence” even more democratic. Of course, that route comes with its own challenges. For example, a more open process might involve an American Idol type of scenario where people could vote as many times as they wanted. How would we deal with that? (Or would that even be a problem?)

We’d be interested in hearing what folks think about the study and, in particular, how you think we might do it better next time (if there is a next time). The study’s Talkback feature on our website (www.edweek.org/rc) would be a good forum for that kind of feedback.


Patrick Miller (Moderator):


    Thank you for joining us for this lively discussion. And a special thanks to our guests for taking time out of their busy schedules to address your questions.

This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on edweek.org.


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The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an edweek.org editor prior to posting. A question is not displayed until the moderator poses it to the guest(s). Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name when posting your question.

Edweek.org's Live Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. Edweek.org reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We do not correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone. Please read our privacy policy and user agreement if you have questions.

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