Wednesday, July 26, 2006
But look a bit more closely at what is being said.
“Right now, teachers are held accountable for the success or failure of students, yet we have no meaningful say over curriculum,” said A.J. Duffy, the president of the 48,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. “We want to give teachers an equal say to administrators when it comes to deciding what happens in the classroom, but we are not talking about giving every school the right to have its own curriculum.”
God forbid that teachers should have their own curricula!
According to the EdWeek piece:
The school board and the superintendent would retain their authority to “make decisions about instruction as a whole,” said Mr. Saenz, “but would have to leave some flexibility for involvement at the school site.”
"Some flexibility for involvement at the school site"? What the hell does this mean?
So which is it? Giving teachers an “authentic and central role” in selecting curriculum and instructional materials? Or paying lip-service to the professional judgement of teachers and the individual needs of children by going with "Open Court Lite"?
It's precisely these kinds of compromises worked out with the unions that disturb me the most. Instead of standing up and fighting for teacher autonomy, the union forces teachers to surrender their professional status in order to reach a settlement. Instead of standing up and fighting for the individual needs of children, the union bargains and decides that one-size-fits-all education is not so bad after all. Instead of demanding that Open Court be thrown out, the union wants to adjust the pace for teaching with it.
These kinds of "victories" only serve to prolong the slow death of public education by trashing the role of teachers as professionals and by sacrificing children at the alter of "efficient modes of educational delivery systems."
There is one glimmer of hope. According to the article, the compromise between the mayor and the union "has drawn sharp criticism from many teachers who are angry that union leaders made a deal without consulting UTLA’s representative body."
Then again, there's a name for this kind of activity: it's called "union busting." Get the teachers to turn against the union as the union is forced into Faustian bargains with the administration and watch what happens . . .
Monday, July 24, 2006
- Replace school staff relevant to the failure (i.e., scapegoat and fire "bad" teachers, identified as those with the lowest test scores).
- Put in place a new "scientifically-based" curriculum (e.g., Open Court).
- Decrease management authority at the school (i.e., fire or undermine the principal).
- Appoint outside experts to advise the school (i.e., when in doubt, hire a consultant).
- Extend the school year or the school day (KIPP anyone?)
- Restructure the internal organization of the school (i.e., huh?)
- Reopen as a charter school.
- Replace all or most of the staff.
- Contract with an outside entity to operate the school.
- Turn over operation of the school to the state.
- Institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school.
Fordham Foundation's Michael Petrilli calls sanctions under Year 4 and Year 5 a loophole. Petrilli charges that districts are free to choose "any other major restructuring" and have opted for milder remedies that won't turn schools around. Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy agrees that most schools in California and Michigan are not doing radical things. According to Jennings, districts are "offering professional development, rethinking the curriculum, bringing coaches in, and trying to improve the school without wiping the slate clean," he said. Jennings also said that in Michigan, many schools improved their test scores by using a mix of strategies -- a good lesson for other states, he said.
Here's what's amazing to me: districts are allowed to make these choices. And, as Petrilli bemoans and as Jennings celebrates, the districts are not choosing to turn their schools over to the Huns.
I spoke to Jennings and confirmed this story. I asked him if this power given to local education associations was an oversight on the part of ED. According to some of his sources, the conversation regarding Year 4 and Year 5 sanctions was very intentional, i.e., it was consciously decided that local districts should have the final say over what happened to their schools if they hit Years 4 and 5 without AYP.
Upon reflection, this appears to me to be the second major compromise that was made while the law was being written. The other, of course, was over the use of vouchers after Year 2 without AYP: the Dems balked, and the Reps. gave in.
And upon even further reflection, this degree of local control would explain why so few suburban school administrators are up in arms over NCLB. If, at the end of the day, all they need to do is "restructure the internal organization of the school" in Year 4 and "institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school" in Year 5, what do they have to worry about?
Jennings also mentioned that Year 6 and Year 7 are starting to get more attention. He referred to the legislation proposed last week by Alexander, et al, to give $4,000 in vouchers to poor kids. He speculated that this kind of thinking seems to characterize what a lot of folks are talking about, i.e., what happens when AYP does not lead to improvement?
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Mr. Blister: Just try to find a good private school for $4,000 a year. Good luck.
Joe Blow: But my good buddies at Cato Institute tell me that "Education Department figures show that the average private elementary school tuition in America is less than $2,500. The average tuition for all private schools, elementary and secondary, is $3,116, or less than half of the cost per pupil in the average public school, $6,857." So there!
Mr. Blister: Your Cato buddies are hitting the sauce again. The Education Department also has figures that show that the "largest system of private schools in the United States is operated by the Roman Catholic Church and includes 8,351 schools in 1993-94, serving 2,516,000 students."
Joe Blow: You got a problem with Catholic schools?
Mr. Blister: Not at all. But I do got a problem with public funds being given to religious institutions. There's that Constitution thing. First amendment. You've heard of it? The Education Department revealed that "(m)ost parochial school principals reported that their schools most important education goal was religious development."
Joe Blow: But if these private religious schools do a better job than the public schools, maybe it's time we edited that there Constitution.
Mr. Blister: Well, that same pesky Education Department just released a study that showed that students attending public schools generally did as well as or better than comparable students in private schools.
Joe Blow: Is that so?
Mr. Blister: Yup.
Joe Blow: Well I'll be . . .
Mr. Blister: Kinda makes you wonder about why people would back something that is so wildly at odds with the facts. $4,000 would allow a poor family to send their kids to a religious school, where their children would be given a Christian education focused on religious development at tax-payer expense, including tax-payers who happen to be Jewish, Muslim, atheists, etc. There's no reason at all to suspect that the education these kids got at these religious schools would be any better than what they were getting before at a public school. Of course, we'd never know that because private schools are not accountable under NCLB. So the $4,000 invested in these kids would be more like a prayer and less like a public policy designed to close the achievement gap. But, given that these kids would be attending religious schools, I suppose praying for achievement is appropriate.
(from the NY Times story, 7/19/06)
This is classic Bush administration quadruple speak. Let me try to translate it:
"I will continue to push for re-directing public funds towards private schools despite the fact that the report from my own office fundamentally contradicts the wisdom of this policy."
Preach it, Maggie!
Saturday, July 15, 2006
The report, according to ED, is of "modest utility." Unlike every other piece of propaganda that flows out of Spellings' office, this one came without a news conference and without any commentary by Maggie. But here's the kicker: ED itself commissioned the report.
According to the Times story, "The report cautions, for example, against concluding that children do better because of the type of school as opposed to unknown factors." Using precisely this logic, might it not also be possible -- and logical -- to caution against concluding that children do worse (on standardized tests, for example) not because of the type of school but to other "unknown factors" like inadequate healthcare and nutrition, over-crowded classrooms, and teachers who are overwhelmed by the task of single-handedly closing the achievement gap?
The Times story also notes that the report qualifies its findings by saying that "the scores on which its findings are based reflect only a snapshot of student performance at a point in time and say nothing about individual student progress in different settings." Of course, standardized tests under NCLB reflect only a snapshot of student performance at a point in time and say nothing about individual student progress in different settings. How convenient that the argument that is used to condemn NCLB can also be used to support it.
My favorite part of this story: "Joseph McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of private elementary and secondary schools, said the statistical analysis had little to do with parents’ choices on educating their children."
Here's his quote of the day:
"In the real world, private school kids outperform public school kids," Mr. McTighe said. "That’s the real world, and the way things actually are."
How comforting that radical ideologues can cling to their feeble notions despite evidence that shows them for what they are.
July 15, 2006
Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
WASHINGTON, July 14 — The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better.
The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools on eighth-grade math.
The study, carrying the imprimatur of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department, was contracted to the Educational Testing Service and delivered to the department last year.
It went through a lengthy peer review and includes an extended section of caveats about its limitations and calling such a comparison of public and private schools “of modest utility.”
Its release, on a summer Friday, was made with without a news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the union for millions of teachers, said the findings showed that public schools were “doing an outstanding job” and that if the results had been favorable to private schools, “there would have been press conferences and glowing statements about private schools.”
“The administration has been giving public schools a beating since the beginning” to advance his political agenda, Mr. Weaver said, of promoting charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools.
A spokesman for the Education Department, Chad Colby, offered no praise for public schools and said he did not expect the findings to influence policy. Mr. Colby emphasized the caveat, “An overall comparison of the two types of schools is of modest utility.”
“We’re not just for public schools or private schools,’’ he said. “We’re for good schools.”
The report mirrors and expands on similar findings this year by Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Illinois who examined just math scores. The new study looked at reading scores, too.
The study, along with one of charter schools, was commissioned by the former head of the national Center for Education Statistics, Robert Lerner, an appointee of President Bush, at a time preliminary data suggested that charter schools, which are given public money but are run by private groups, fared no better at educating children than traditional public schools.
Proponents of charter schools had said the data did not take into account the predominance of children in their schools who had already had problems in neighborhood schools.
The two new studies put test scores in context by studying the children’s backgrounds and taking into account factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ educational backgrounds to make the comparisons more meaningful. The extended study of charter schools has not been released.
Findings favorable to private schools would likely have given a lift to administration efforts to offer children in ailing public schools the option of attending private schools.
An Education Department official who insisted on anonymity because of the climate surrounding the report, said researchers were "extra cautious" in reviewing it and were aware of its “political sensitivity.”
The official said the warning against drawing unsupported conclusions was expanded somewhat as the report went through in the review.
The report cautions, for example, against concluding that children do better because of the type of school as opposed to unknown factors. It also warns of great variations of performance among private schools, making a blanket comparison of public and private schools “of modest utility.” And the scores on which its findings are based reflect only a snapshot of student performance at a point in time and say nothing about individual student progress in different settings.
Arnold Goldstein of the National Center for Education Statistics said that the review was meticulous, but that it was not unusual for the center.
Mr. Goldstein said there was no political pressure to alter the findings.
Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading.
The report separated private schools by type and found that among private school students, those in Lutheran schools performed best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst.
In eighth-grade reading, children in conservative Christian schools scored no better than comparable children in public schools.
In eighth-grade math, children in Lutheran schools scored significantly better than children in public schools, but those in conservative Christian schools fared worse.
Joseph McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of private elementary and secondary schools, said the statistical analysis had little to do with parents’ choices on educating their children.
"In the real world, private school kids outperform public school kids," Mr. McTighe said. "That’s the real world, and the way things actually are."
Two weeks ago, the American Federation of Teachers, on its Web log, predicted that the report would be released on a Friday, suggesting that the Bush administration saw it as "bad news to be buried at the bottom of the news cycle."
The deputy director for administration and policy at the Institute of Education Sciences, Sue Betka, said the report was not released so it would go unnoticed. Ms. Betka said her office typically gave senior officials two weeks’ notice before releasing reports. "The report was ready two weeks ago Friday,’’ she said, “and so today was the first day, according to longstanding practice, that it could come out."
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Key features to the reform plan:
- large-scale private donations to the district, which now relies on soft money to maintain the progress that's been made
- "bad" inner-city teachers moved out of the inner-city and re-assigned to the suburbs, where they were "absorbed"
- inner-city schools rely on just-in-time peer coaching and mentoring; each building is assigned an "expert" teacher to provide continuous professional development
When a list of the worst elementary schools in Tennessee came out in 2000, Chattanooga was stunned to find that nine of its schools were in the bottom 20. These schools were plagued with problems: high teacher turnover, student behavior problems, terrible reading scores, poor teachers (many with tenure), and inefficient leadership.
Embarrassed, the community decided it had to act. Two local foundations pledged $7.5 million--after the superintendent promised to do whatever was necessary to turn these schools around.
What they did, and whether it's worked or not, is the subject of this Newshour story.
Edison schools see drop in scores
State put for-profit firm in charge of 3 city elementaries
By Liz Bowie
July 13, 2006
Three Baltimore elementary schools taken over by the state six years ago have seen a significant drop in test scores this year, and at least one might not meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.
Scores at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor elementaries dropped at least 10 percentage points in most grades, and scores for fifth- and sixth-graders at Montebello Elementary also fell sharply.
The three schools are run by Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit company chosen in 2000 by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the state school board.
The poor report card for the three schools comes just a few months after the state attempted to put 11 more city schools in the hands of outside operators. It raises questions about whether a state takeover is the best way to improve failing schools.
State and company officials say that since Edison began running the schools - then considered some of the worst in the city - student performance has improved. The culture of the schools is much better, they say, and parents are pleased with the education their children are getting.
"School improvement is a long process," said John Chubb, chief education officer for Edison. "We started working in the schools six years ago when there were no worse schools in Baltimore. We have improved the schools."
But test results under Edison have been inconsistent, and virtually everyone is troubled by this year's drop.
"Certainly the results are not anything we are happy about," said James Foran, a state education official who manages the contract with Edison. He said state administrators will be meeting with Edison officials to get their analysis of what has happened in the past year.
The Maryland School Assessment given in March 2006 and released last month shows often poor results since 2005.
At Montebello, fewer than half the fifth-graders passed their math test, compared with 71 percent last year, and only 54 percent passed reading. But third- and fourth-graders did far better, and Montebello is not considered in danger of being labeled a school that needs improvement.
Below city average
But scores at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor fell below the citywide averages in nearly all grades in both math and reading. The two schools also ranked in the bottom 25 of the city's 114 elementary schools, according to an analysis by The Sun of the Maryland State Assessments.
In some cases, the drop in scores was quite marked: 62.7 percent of third-graders at Gilmor passed the math test in 2005, but only 41 percent passed this year. And the school's sixth-grade math scores dropped from 53.2 percent passing to 30 percent passing. State officials say Gilmor's scores are poor enough that it might not meet federal standards and will continue to be classified as a school that needs improvement.
At Furman L. Templeton, scores dropped in third, fourth and sixth grades in both reading and math.
In each grade, for both reading and math, the scores of the three schools averaged together were about 20 percentage points below the statewide averages.
The decline in achievement has implications beyond the schools and their children.
Under the contract, Edison stands to gain up to $1.85 million as a bonus to its $21 million contract if the schools meet certain benchmarks, including achievement as measured by test scores. With scores declining this year, Edison could lose part of the bonus.
This year's test scores could also make it harder for Edison to negotiate another contract with the state before the current one expires next June. Foran said that if the state decides not to renew a contract with Edison, several options are possible. The schools could become charter schools, be given back to the city or transferred to another entity to operate.
Brian D. Morris, who chairs the city school board, said the city would "absolutely" be interested in getting the schools back. "I think we have a good model for elementary education," he said, pointing out that elementary schools in the city have improved in the past five years.
Taking the Edison schools back could help the school system financially, city officials say.
Edison charges the city about $9,000 per student. The city school system spends about $12,000 per student, but that includes administrative costs that individual schools don't have, city officials say. They say the average city-run elementary school gets far less than $9,000 per student. Charter schools in the city will get about $6,000 per student next year.
In a report released last year, the Abell Foundation analyzed the state's contract with Edison and was critical of the $5.6 million in "retained revenue" or overhead the company keeps for running the three schools.
"The question is, are other schools getting similar results without paying out $5 million to a third party?" Robert C. Embry Jr., the foundation president, asked this week.
In 2000, Grasmick and the state board of education used a state law to take control of Furman L. Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementaries, all of which had been on the state's list of failing schools for years.
Gilmor and Templeton, both on Baltimore's west side, were considered some of the worst-performing schools in the city and state. The students in the schools were also poor economically. About 85 percent of Gilmor's students and 90 percent of Templeton's students qualify for federally subsidized meals.
Edison has been credited with turning around Montebello since then, but the results for the other two schools have been inconsistent.
After two years under Edison control, only 1.8 percent of third-graders at Templeton could pass the state's math test, up from zero the year before.
Scores rise, fall
Maryland changed its system of testing the next year and scores at the three schools rose, as they did generally across the state. By 2004, achievement had improved in all three schools, but since then scores have been stagnant or dropped - even as scores at many city elementaries have been rising.
In the meantime, several other schools that had been on the state's list of failing schools have, in the hands of city educators, improved as much as or more than the three Edison schools.
The city closed several others.
And city school officials can cite several examples of schools with high levels of poverty that have made significant turnarounds with good principals and staff.
At George Washington Elementary, a small school in Pigtown where about 89 percent of students qualify as poor, only about 20 percent of students passed the state test four years ago. This year the school is one of the highest-performing elementaries in the city, with 80 percent passing rates in many subjects and grades.
A comparison of Edison's performance with other city schools was what led state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden to oppose the state takeover last spring of 11 middle and high schools. He pushed for the legislation that put a one-year moratorium on Grasmick's takeover attempts.
McFadden said he believes that with the amount of money Edison gets from the city school budget, the city school system could do a better job at the three schools.
William Reinhard, a spokesman for Grasmick, said this year's proposals to take over city schools were designed to turn the schools over to charter organizations, nonprofits and universities, not just for-profit companies such as Edison.
"What we are trying to do is force change and improve education in Baltimore City," he said.
Chubb, of Edison, said the company will be analyzing the test results to understand better what has happened and make adjustments as needed.
He said that among other issues, the company would look at individual teachers in the classrooms and how well trained they are. He said the company might need to change assignments, improve training or replace teachers.
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun |
Educational researcher Jerry Bracey wrote this great piece, which appeared in the July/August edition of Stanford Magazine.
The Life magazine cover he mentions is above.
Here's an excerpt from the essay.
Criticism of schools, always present, intensified in the tense Cold War era, when CIA chief Allen Dulles fed the Pentagon statistics indicating that the Soviet Union was producing twice as many engineers, scientists and mathematicians as the United States. Then, in October 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. Everyone blamed the U.S. lag on the current condition of schools even though those working in rocketry had long since departed them. (Cremin quipped that Sputnik proved only that the Russians’ World War II German scientists had gotten ahead of our World War II German scientists.)
In red letters against a black background, Life magazine’s cover of March 24, 1958, shouted “Crisis in Education.” A stern-looking Alexei Kutzkov in Moscow and an easy-smiling Stephen Lapekas in Chicago, both high school juniors, stared out at the reader. Pictures showed Kutzkov conducting complicated experiments in physics and chemistry and reading aloud from Sister Carrie in his English class. Lapekas was seen walking home with his girlfriend, dancing in rehearsal for a musical and retreating from a geometry problem on the blackboard. “Stephen amused his classmates with wisecracks about his ineptitude,” read the text.
One leaves the Life article convinced that without massive and immediate school reform, the Russians will bury us. (Lapekas became a Navy pilot, then a commercial pilot for TWA; I am told Kutzkov works for the Russian equivalent of the FAA. The article so devastated Lapekas that he will not talk about it even today.)
The schools never recovered from Sputnik, getting pummeled by report after report. Current reform efforts were launched in 1983 by A Nation At Risk, from the National Commission on Excellence in Education. A treasury of selected, spun and distorted statistics, it was often called “the paper Sputnik.”
These reports produced a syndrome we might call “The Neurotic Need to Believe the Worst.” Americans uncritically accept gloomy statistics about their public schools. For example, claims that in 2004 China produced 600,000 engineers, India 350,000 and the United States a mere 70,000 flowed without resistance from a 2005 Fortune article into a National Academies report, the New York Times and popular culture. The real figures emerged from a Duke University study in late 2005: China, 341,000; India 112,000; United States 131,000—more per capita than either of the others. Yet spring 2006 found the bogus numbers in the New Yorker and in speeches by Sen. John Warner, Education secretary Margaret Spellings and Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Bad statistics are hard to kill.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
From the interview:
(Privatization is) not only about profiteering through charters and contracting out services, though that's part of it. It's not about eradicating every vestige of public schooling, though it may reduce the public system to a shell of what it's been. But I think it has a lot to do with eliminating the expectation of quality public education as a civil right.
It no longer is a right that there should be good quality public education for everybody. It becomes a matter of, "Well, there are some good schools out there, just like there are some good restaurants out there." If you have the initiative and take the responsibility, then you will find them and you will take advantage of them. And if not, then not. It’s up to you. It becomes a matter of individual responsibility.
Craig has taught in the Oakland Public Schools for 15 years. He is currently on leave from teaching history at Mandela High School. He remains very active in his union, the Oakland Education Association.
This past week, NCLB -- a baroque and inordinately complex law -- has transformed into something more closely akin to Rubik's Cube. After this week's dust-up, I challenge anyone to put all the colors together again, i.e., make sense of this law. Feel up to the challenge? OK, without Googling, answer this question: what's the difference between states that were granted "Approval Pending, No Withholding, Level 2," "Approval Pending, No Withholding, Level 1," "Approval Pending, Withholding Funds," and "Approval Expected"? If you were able to answer this, then please also tell me who's on first, where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, and the difference between mud.
After the shell-game shuffle, here's what The NCLB Cube looks like now:
- Nebraska and Maine were told their state accountability systems were not approved by the feds
- states rated "Approval Pending, Withholding Funds" were Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, Texas
- states rated "Approval Pending, No Withholding, Level 2" were Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming
- states rated "Approval Pending, No Withholding, Level 1" were Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia
- states rated "Approval Expected" were Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts
- states rated "Full Approval with Recommendations" were Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah
- Throughout Spellings' tenure as ED Secretary, she -- unlike her predecessor -- has been working to create the sense that she is willing to be flexible and work with the states in meeting the law's requirements.
- Yet one year prior to re-authorization, the feds suddenly (Doug Christiansen, Nebraska's Commissioner of Education, said he was "blindsided" by the news) pull the rug out from under state accountability systems, granting full approval to only 4 states: Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia.
- Despite its lawsuit against the feds, Connecticut expects to have its system approved.
- Despite its lawsuit against the feds, Arizona expects to have its system approved with some recommendations.
- Despite telling the feds and NCLB to take a hike, Utah expects to have its system approved with some recommendations.
What the hell is going on? What's the play here from Spellings, et al? It appears to be Ye Olde Sucker Punche: Spellings assumes the role of Monty Hall and say to the states, "Let's make a deal!" But as the deal-making dies down and as the initial hue and cry starts to fade, she throws a round-house right out of nowhere. Strategy: completely confuse everyone. Create 50+ versions of the law. Dangle the "growth model" carrot, but only grant it to two states. Appear flexible, yet approve only four states' plans.
Intended result: have everyone cry "uncle" so that the reauthorization debate will be an exercise in futility as lawmakers, already completely unconcerned with education as a national priority, are forced to wade through this complex behemoth. If lawmakers didn't read the original legislation in 2001, what makes anyone think they will even attempt to read not only the revisions to the existing law but the 10 million proposed changes from every think tank and policy shop on the planet?
End result: NCLB goes through cosmetic changes and is reauthorized pretty much as is.
The only way to change this likely outcome is to make education a national priority. To do this, the folks in Washington will have to see with their own eyes that parents, teachers, students, and citizens want something else. We can't rely on kangaroo court commissions like the Commission on No Child Left Behind, chaired by Tommy Thompson and Roy Barnes, with their fait accompli agendas. Nor can we rely on the NEA or the AFT to lead this charge. It must be grassroots. It must be organized nationally but acted upon locally. And it must be led by parents.
I genuinely believe that we can create mass interest in substantive educational reform if we tap into parents' self-interest first, i.e., "Your son's school, the one you like so much, is under attack and you need to do something about it before it's too late." We can then tie in the ethical message that goes beyond their immediate self-interest, i.e., "Your son's school is not the only one being assaulted. The attack on public schools is part of the Bush agenda behind NCLB," etc.
As the test scores start to come out in the next couple of months, I expect the drum beats to start getting very loud. If they don't, then we need to make sure we find some drum beaters out there to make some noise.
Monday, July 10, 2006
In a related story, the feds told Nebraska that its system of assessment did not pass muster and had to be radically overhauled . . . or else. Nebraska's method of assessment has been praised by many scholars for being more nuanced and robust because it does not rely on a single standardized test to determine what children know and can do. However, this method is under attack.
Here's the story on Arizona:
State schools chief Tom Horne made good on a threat Thursday to sue the federal government over how the standardized test scores of students learning English are counted in Arizona.
Until now, Horne said, state and federal education officials agreed to count the scores of English-language learners starting after the students' third year in the state, allowing them time to become proficient enough in English to pass an academic test.
But federal education officials want to count those scores after only one year.
"No Child Left Behind requires all states to include all students, including students with limited-English proficiency, in their accountability system," Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said in a written statement. "Arizona is not doing this, and the department has repeatedly told state officials they are violating the law."
Horne said Arizona is following an oral agreement made three years ago.
"They made an agreement, and like anybody else, they should keep their agreements," Horne said.
Horne said his lawsuit challenging the federal government's position would be filed in U.S. District Court by the end of the day Thursday.
If the federal court does not rule in the state's favor, it could mean an additional 100 Arizona schools will be labeled as failures. That, in turn, could be costly for some districts if they end up enacting expensive corrective plans.
— Megan E. Moravcik
Sunday, July 09, 2006
For any organization, public or private, the key to effective performance lies in getting the incentives right, and thus in motivating employees to pursue the organization’s objectives as productively as possible. This is Management 101. Yet traditionally, public education has failed to follow this simple principle. And for that it has paid a heavy price, not just in lackluster performance, but in reforms that disappoint. Huge amounts of money have been pumped into the schools, with spending up more than 75 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars per student since 1980. Yet the recipients have had little incentive to spend it efficiently, and they haven’t put it to productive use. Similar problems apply to virtually all other mainstream reforms. The push for smaller classes, for example, is extraordinarily expensive, has only modest effects on student learning—and does nothing to change anyone’s incentives. A mediocre teacher in a smaller class is still a mediocre teacher.
This seems eminently practical. Who could question such a statement?
Indeed, you've heard policy-makers of all stripes, conservative and liberal, say something like what Moe argues: huge amounts of money have been invested in school, more than has ever been invested -- literally mountains and mountains of cash -- and we have nothing to show.
But we actually have LOTS to show.
- more students than ever before are attending public schools, hitting new record enrollment levels in the mid-1990s
- more students than ever before are graduating from schools
- more students than ever before are taking advanced classes (in 1982, 11 percent of high school graduates completed courses like trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus. By 1998, 27 percent had completed that type of advanced coursework. Over the same period, the percentage taking advanced science courses rose from 31 percent to 60 percent.)
- schools are performing more services for students than ever before
(Public schools) not only provide before-school programs, breakfasts, lunches, after-school care, afternoon snacks and sometimes dinners (as well as summertime meals). They also instruct children about sex and, in many places, teach them to drive. They face growing pressure to take tots as early as age 3 in pre-kindergarten programs. They share responsibility for keeping children off drugs, making sure they don't carry weapons, instilling ethical behavior, curbing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, battling alcohol abuse, preventing student suicides, discouraging cigarette smoking, tackling child obesity, heading off gang fights, providing a refuge for homeless children, ensuring that students are vaccinated, boarding some pupils, tending to toddlers of teenage mothers and otherwise acting in loco parentis in ways not anticipated a generation ago.
There's little doubt that what is happening in a large number of schools, especially inner-city schools, is horrible. But we have to ask this simple question: what should schools be responsible for doing? Or, to use the current parlance, what are schools accountable for? If you say that schools are accountable for acting as surrogate parents, taking kids off the street for 9 months out of the year, giving them lots of busywork, and pumping them full of facts in order to prepare for state standardized tests, I'd argue that schools are doing pretty well. But if you say that schools are accountable for preparing the future citizens of America, for creating doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and scientists, for inculcating a sense of civic duty and a desire to be ethical and honest, and to compensate for the economic disparities that exist between the wealthiest and poorest Americans, I'd say the vast majority of schools -- even the "good" ones -- are not doing their jobs at all.
So what would it take for schools to be able to perform their duties, to fulfill the aspirations of our country and our planet and ensure that all will be well when our children are handed the reins and take over?
Listen to Noel Epstein again: "It's time to put an end to all the headlines about achievement problems in our schools -- a far easier chore than most people imagine. All we need to do is two things: First, stop calling those establishments simply schools, when they're really hybrid institutions that are raising many of our children, not just educating them. Then ensure that those who deliver family-like services there are devoted exclusively to those tasks, so that the educators can focus fully on academics."
Even with the things that we can show are working, dumping boatloads of cash into schools is not going to significantly affect what happens in them because we are doing nothing to change what is happening outside them.
So how can schools be accountable? Let them be accountable for what they're supposed to be accountable for.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Most KIPP supporters argue that KIPP caused the achievement. But I have some problems with this argument.
1) The extent to which any school -- or any single intervention, for that matter -- can "cause" higher achievement is debatable. If you could isolate and control for all other variables, you might be able to test this theory. But you can't, so you can't. At best, there might be a positive correlation between KIPP and higher achievement. But what, exactly, are the factors that are correlated with higher achievement? Better teachers? Enriched curriculum? Longer school day? Better prepared, more academically motivated students? Higher degree of parental involvement? For KIPP, all of these factors are at play.
Indeed, it's certainly possible that one major correlation is parental involvement. In fact, you could easily find strong evidence that parental involvement is much higher at KIPP than at other schools. It is, after all, a requirement for admission to a KIPP school.
As proof, here is the pledge that parents/guardians must sign before their children can be admitted to KIPP Tech Valley, a KIPP school in Albany, NY:
- We will make sure our child arrives every day by 7:30 A.M. (Monday – Friday), or boards a bus at the scheduled time.
- We will make arrangements for our child to remain at KIPP until 5:00 P.M. (Monday – Thursday) and 3:00 P.M. on Friday
- We will make arrangements for our child to come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:00 A.M. and remain until 1:05 P.M.
- We will ensure that our child attends KIPP summer school.
- We will always help our child in the best way we know how, and we will do whatever it takes for him/her to learn. This also means that we will check our child’s homework every night, let him call the teacher if there is a problem with homework, and try to read with him/her every night.
- We will always make ourselves available to support our child’s education at KIPP TECH VALLEY. This also means that if our child is going to miss school, we will notify the teacher as soon as possible, and we will read carefully all the papers that the school sends home to us.
- We will allow our children to go on KIPP field trips.
- We will make sure our child follows the KIPP dress code.
- We understand that our child must follow the KIPP rules in order to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom. We, not the school, are responsible for the behavior and actions of our child.
- We will always protect the safety, interests and rights of all individuals in the classroom.
- Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause my child to lose various KIPP privileges.
So it's possible that KIPP is merely a way to get parents more involved and -- once they are more involved -- students' academic achievement is positively affected. I'm not saying this is "the" reason that "causes" higher achievement. But I would argue that it has a very strong influence. So, my question is, "How many schools can replicate this degree of parental involvement?" Indeed, how many schools can demand it as a prerequisite for enrollment in the same way that KIPP does?
2) As for "leap in achievement," the obvious problem with averaging anything is that the average often does not depict the typical outcome. If there is one outcome that is very far from the rest of the data, then the average will be strongly affected by this outcome. In short, some really high achievers will make the others look pretty good, even if these others are not doing so well. To my knowledge, no one has done a statistical analysis of these data to determine the variance and standard deviation. The variance and standard deviation describe how spread out the data are. If the data all lie close to the average, then the standard deviation will be small, while if the data are spread out over a large range of values, it will be large. Having outliers -- very high achievers that make the KIPP scores seem better than they really are -- will increase the standard deviation. If the standard deviation is small, then the claim about "leap in achievement" would be quite substantive. But if the standard deviation is large, then the claim about "leap in achievement" would be pretty sketchy. In fact, it would be distorted and misleading.
3) KIPP claims that it has a broad-based curriculum and does not shirk on subjects that are not tested under NCLB, e.g., social studies. According to the SRI report on Bay Area KIPP schools, "Students have 90 minutes of (English Language Arts) and math every day. They also have 90 minutes of social studies and science on alternating days." (p. 33) The report does not indicate what is actually taught in the social studies and science blocks, nor how it is taught. However, there is no evidence that KIPP students receive a "broad-based education" other than the fact that science and social studies are taught for 90 minutes every other day. Because students are not tested in these subjects, we have no way of knowing if they are learning anything. More troubling, we have no way of knowing if the instruction they receive is substantive or superficial.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Green writes, “(I)f more money produces better results in schools, we would expect to see significant improvements in test scores during this period. That didn't happen. . . the high school graduation rate hasn't budged. Increased spending did not yield more learning.” (from an essay based on Greene’s 2005 book Education Myths, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
Greene – obviously untainted by any exposure to how schools actually operate – believes that certain financial inputs lead directly to educational outputs. How quaint.
Just for fun, let’s apply Greene’s logic to The Adventure in Iraq, Part 2: Dubbya’s Revenge.
If more money produces better results in wars on terror, we would expect to see significant improvements in global security during this period. That didn't happen. . . the cause for freedom hasn't budged. Increased spending did not yield more safety.
See, it’s a bit more complicated than Greene makes out. Isolating single variables for schools – expenditure on students on a per pupil basis – fails for the same reason that isolating single variables for wars on terror fails: it fails to take into consideration the many factors that simultaneously contribute to success or failure – of schools or wars. We all grant the President room to say that despite some bumps on the road, the war in Iraq is going well and that all we need to do is keep spending $2 billion per week and everything will be hunky-dory. Yet saying that public education – despite some bumps on the road – is going well and that all we need to do is spend more money and everything will be hunky-dory is like saying these days that the moon is made of cheese and all we have to do is figure out how to put it on crackers.
Most people understand that simply dumping boatloads of cash into Iraq is not going to bring peace and stability. Sure, it will help. But lasting, substantive peace will only be achieved when other factors are attended to.
Same with schools: simply dumping boatloads of cash into public schools, especially inner-city schools with large populations of low-income children, is not going to bring improved learning outcomes. Sure, it will help. But lasting, substantive improvements will only be achieved when other factors are attended to.
But while most people accept this logic with Iraq, it seems that fewer and fewer get it with our neediest public schools.
So let’s do this: let’s take Greene’s and other conservatives’ advice about public schools and apply it to Iraq. What would that look like?
- spend less on Iraq – what evidence do we have to show that more money is helping? Let’s face it: throwing more money at counter-insurgents is not the answer.
- hold Iraqis accountable for their results – how do we know that Iraqis are doing what is best for their citizens with the money they’ve been given? The fact is, we don’t. So let’s create something called AIP – Adequate Iraqi Progress. We’ll create standardized tests that will hold the Iraqis’ feet to the fire and force them to improve their country. Let’s face it: the Iraqi citizens will do nothing to improve their country unless they are given a push.
- indiscriminate, unrelenting, random violence and terror is no excuse – Iraqis frequently cite social problems like mass killings, improvised explosive devices, bombed buildings, and ineffective police protection as excuses for their own poor progress towards freedom and democracy. They claim the existence of these challenges means democracy is doomed to fail. Some seem to think Iraqi failure is inherent in the face of a violent occupation. If the advocates of this argument were merely cautioning us to be mindful of difficulties like bombs and murder, or exhorting us to try to alleviate these problems, no one could disagree with them. But instead, they use these problems as an excuse to oppose Iraqi reforms. If Iraqis perform poorly in their path towards freedom, they argue, it's because of indiscriminate, unrelenting, random violence and terror. No national reform can ever make a difference. Nations who start out lagging under these conditions must always lag. Social problems are forever more powerful than anything a reformer like George W. Bush may do. This argument that nations are helpless in the face of indiscriminate, unrelenting, random violence and terror is not supported by hard evidence. It is a myth. The truth is that certain nations do a strikingly better job than others at overcoming challenges in the culture.
But this is precisely what Greene does. He sets up the opposition as a bunch of racist, pessimistic dolts who think that nothing can be done to help children and families who live in poverty. Of course, lots can be done. But doing it is an entirely different matter.
Certainly teacher quality, poorly-run schools, and badly-managed school districts are part of the problem. But only part. NCLB focuses exclusively on school reform. It overlooks other sources that contribute as much if not more to the achievement gap.
In order to accomplish substantive school-based reform, we need to focus on the factors that most contribute to the reasons why children and schools struggle in the first place. For example, do children struggle to read because they are not as phonemically aware as they need to be, or is something more substantive involved? If you ask the Bush administration, they will tell you – through their Reading First initiative – that the only reason that children cannot read is because they are not properly trained to decode words into phonemes. But others argue that kids might have a hard time reading if they have a toothache, have not had breakfast, or cannot see properly. But these latter ailments go undiagnosed and untreated because the “scientifically-based” recommendations of the National Reading Panel have nothing to say about them.
One basic yet powerful reform is class size reduction: make classes smaller, especially in urban school districts, and watch what happens.
Of course, making classes smaller means creating a lot more classes. More classes means more buildings. And more buildings means more teachers. More classes, buildings, and teachers means a lot more money. Quite a lot more.
We can also commit as a nation to improving the quality of teacher preparation and dedicate the funds necessary to provide on-going, high-quality professional development to people charged with shaping the future of our country, i.e., teaching our children.
This will cost a lot more money, too. Quite a lot more. Richard Rothstein, in his book Class and Schools, estimates it will cost somewhere around $156 billion.
But this is not a money issue. This is a political will issue. Love him or hate him, George W. Bush summoned the political will to invade Iraq and commit more than two billion dollars per week to its care and feeding . . . with no end in sight. On occasion, objections are raised to this new overseas adventure. But by and large, we do not say, “This costs too much.” The reason? Because it is believed to be vital to our national security. And so we spend whatever it takes to get it done.
But for the cost of a year and a half in Iraq, we can create smaller classes, we can train and support teachers, and we can take substantive steps towards closing the educational achievement gap.
And why would we do this? Because it is vital to our national security to do so. Indeed, nothing could be more vital to our national security than to ensure not only that our future will be prosperous, but that we will have a future at all.
We need to counter the current rationale for public education -- to "compete in the global marketplace" -- with a different emphasis on national security: citizens that do not understand where we came from cannot shape where we are going. Citizens that do not understand how laws are made cannot participate in their creation or their transformation. What the business community wants and needs are innovative, energetic entrepreneurs who can identify problems and come up with solutions, people who can work together, communicate effectively, write clearly, and argue persuasively. These are the kinds of people that will contribute to this country's -- and this planet's -- well-being. Without these people, our country and our world is in jeopardy.
But the kinds of students that are being created today are test-taking drones, not the kinds of people we want to be running the world in the very near future. Even affluent kids are subject to these dumbing-down forces as NCLB starts to wrap its tentacles around suburban public schools.
So the Bush administration can talk all it wants to about its educational priorities, about how much it wants to leave no child behind, and the need to stay competitive in the global marketplace by improving math and science education. But as long as the federal government contributes a paltry 10% to the education of America's children, such talk is cheap.
At the heart of the great debate about poverty between conservatives and progressives is the very simple yet very powerful disagreement that people are either (a) completely in charge of themselves or (b) they are completely controlled by forces outside of their control. I think most people, when asked to reflect, would conclude that it's a little of both. In fact, I think most politicians would even argue that it's both. And yet, when it comes to formulating public policy, these sensible people line up and start shouting ideological one-liners at each other. Because we have a conservative political machine in place, we are getting one side of the argument more than we are getting the other (when and if we do get it at all). Hurricane Katrina raised the issue again and gave Democrats a chance to tell their story about poverty, but they blew it.
I believe that there is a way to talk about educational reform that does not devolve into ideology when it comes time to discuss the root problem of education, i.e, poverty. Policies need to be formulated that recognize that -- paradoxically -- individuals are both totally responsible for themselves and totally shaped by their environments. However, it's important to point out that policies cannot be formulated that make people become more responsible for themselves. But it's also important to point out that policies HAVE been formulated that punish people -- mostly poor people -- for NOT being responsible for themselves. This, for me, is a moral and ethical dilemma, but it's also a practical dilemma: does punishing people for being "irresponsible" work? Is it effective? Does it achieve what it sets out to achieve, i.e., does punishing "irresponsible" people make them become more responsible? For me, the answer is no, it doesn't.
So if it doesn't work, then why do we do it? And what, if anything, can work? Here's my Top 10 List:
- smaller class sizes at every level
- comprehensive social services so no child has to go without food, shelter, medicine, and dental care
- adequate prenatal care and postnatal follow-up so children reach school age healthy
- free, high-quality, universal pre-K that is developmentally appropriate
- parent education for young parents
- comprehensive job training and placement for parents at a real living wage
- universal healthcare coverage for all Americans, especially the poor and "working poor"
- free, high-quality onsite child-care or free transportation to and from child-care facilities to make it possible for parents to work and raise children
- high-quality training and ongoing professional development for elementary teachers in reading instruction (not drill-and-kill phonics)
- high-quality training and ongoing professional development for all teachers in classroom-based formative assessment
Extraordinarily, Greene has no experience whatsoever as a teacher in a public school, much less a low-income public school in an inner-city neighborhood. But this does not prevent him from launching his distorted reading of other people’s research and other people’s experience and presenting it as the truth, a broadside aimed at . . . doing what? Helping poor kids? Improving public education?
If so, then who – exactly – benefits from this kind of idiocy that passes for analysis? What do we gain by beating up on poor people? Why not do everything we can to close the achievement gap, not take pot shots at low-income children and families?