Liam Julian

Florida has joined Achieve's American Diploma Project Network. The press release notes that Florida Governor Charlie Crist made the decision after chit-chatting with Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty.

"Per pupil spending down "

* Until you realize the article's about charter schools.

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham board member Diane Ravitch.

When No Child Left Behind was first passed, I supported it. It seemed to me a good idea to test kids in reading and math from grades 3 through 8; after all, if you don't have basic skills, you are severely limited in your ability to learn anything else. I could not, at first sight, see why anyone would object to establishing baseline goals for basic skills.

As the full consequences of the law have unfolded, I have begun to have second thoughts. I must say that my views changed very considerably after a daylong session in November 2006 at a conference that Rick Hess and Checker Finn organized at AEI called "Is the NCLB Toolkit Working?" The dozen or so papers presented that day all gave the same answer: No. If I recall correctly, less than 5 percent of eligible children were taking advantage of choice options; less than 20 percent of eligibles were utilizing after-school tutoring. The after-school tutoring seemed to be a swamp of incompetent providers and badly-administered programs, as best I could tell. I must say that the day was mind-changing for me.

I put those findings together with the increasing evidence that states were inflating their test scores to prove that they were well on their way to 100 percent proficiency (a phenomenon a Fordham Institute report called "The Proficiency Illusion"), and I began to recognize that NCLB...

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine ran a provocative piece by Jay Mathews about an excellent elementary school in Northern Virginia that has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind for going on three years. What made the article interesting is that it didn't go for NCLB's jugular. Mathews writes:

While following [school principal] Hughey-Guy around the school one recent afternoon and talking to her teachers, I gave them every opportunity to blame the ravages of poverty, to blame the bureaucratic insistence on giving tests in English to children who have not had time to learn the language and, particularly, to blame the law. They declined to check any of those boxes. Whom did they blame? Themselves.

And, as Mathews explains, the next version of NCLB--expected to include an accountability system that looks at student progress over time, rather than just a snapshot, as the current one does--will surely find Barcroft to be A-OK. But experience to date indicates that the Barcrofts of the world are few and far between. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program), only a handful of schools in the state were let off the hook by the new system. Most of the schools "in need of improvement" under NCLB would remain so under NCLB version 2.0 because they aren't making nearly the dramatic progress necessary to catch their kids up to where they need to...

Liam Julian

Schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices, reports the Washington Post. Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to have the right idea: allow private contractors to supply lunches. One assumes that, for what schools currently spend, probably they could get more healthful and more varied food than is currently on offer.

Promise Academy in Harlem spends more per student, per day (in 2005, $5.87 at Promise covered costs for a pupil's breakfast, lunch, and snacks) than most public schools--but not that much more. And it is able to staff its kitchen with a Johnson and Wales University culinary school grad who churns out meals like whole wheat penne with fresh vegetables.

Thanks to scrupulous research, we now know that when kids eat healthful foods they grow healthier. Isn't it time schools exercised a little creativity and moved away from the chicken nuggets?

Just last week, Liam expressed skepticism about a scrupulous research study that found that serving kids healthier food and drink led to fewer of them getting fat:

Isn't it odd that a school embraces healthy food alternatives only after a two-year research study? It reminds one of the humorous dig at think tanks: that they study reality to see if it conforms to theory. In Philadelphia's schools, it seems, common sense has truly been vindicated. It is, in fact, correct that replacing soda and potato chips with healthful alternatives will make students healthier!

Chuckle all you want, Liam, but schools have limited resources and, as you say yourself, "schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices." (So reports the Washington Post--on its front page, no less.) Why not admit that this well-designed research study could actually perform a worthwhile public service by stemming the rush from tofu to tater tots? In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique....

Liam Julian

Mike wants me to eat humble pie. I'd like??to, but his arguments haven't convinced me. He writes:

In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique.

He is, of course, conflating two fields: the education field, in which "few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value," and the nutrition science??field, in which studies often give us worthwhile conclusions (when their conclusions are??tempered??by common sense, of course). The two-year Philadelphia??food study has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be??healthier. Of course they will!??

Mike presumes that schools require studies like Philadelphia's before they'll spend more money on better cafeteria-food options. Sadly, he's probably right. My point is, and has always been, that such studies are in reality??unnecessary and simply convolute that which should be clear as day: don't feed students garbage.

We don't study whether exposing kids to less mold makes them healthier--we know it does, which is why schools invest money in keeping up their facilities and are??attacked when they allow classrooms to deteriorate. School district leaders and Mike Petrilli may require longitudinal data to tell them that, for example,??exercise is important, healthful food makes healthy people, and the less anthrax one ingests the better.??But they shouldn't....

Liam Julian

I had??never heard of it.??But I predict a pandemic as soon as it makes the New York Times style section.

But what if the second version of the problem makes about as much sense as the first? If the mere sight of it causes a fluttering heart and sweaty palms? What if there is confusion between the 9 and 6 on the one hand, and the addition and multiplication symbols on the other? Or 23 is read as 32? Or the numbers and symbols are identifiable, but how to begin the problem is a complete mystery?

Update: Wikipedia tells me that perhaps 5 percent of the population may be dyscalculic.

Liam Julian

While education is ignored in the U.S. presidential race, it's big-time politics in the U.K., where Schools Secretary Ed Balls (and, by extension, Prime Minister Gordon Brown) is taking it on the chin, not only from conservatives (see here) and fellow cabinet members (see here), but now from MPs??in his own party.

Balls's rough handling of private and faith schools could, it seems, do significant damage to Labor's prospects in the May 1 elections.