National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment Governing Board

As everyone surely knows, the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment Governing Board have just released the NAEP math results for spring 2000. (By NAEP standards, it's regarded as speedy to get results out just 15 months after the testing is concluded!) There is a huge trove of data here and, like the blind men's elephant, you can perceive it in many ways. If you'd like to show good news, note that 4th and 8th grade scores are rising and that several states are narrowing the black-white gap. If you'd like to show bad news, point out that 12th grade scores are down and that, for the nation as a whole, the majority-minority gaps are wider, even as black and Hispanic youngsters make gains. Many states can find something to celebrate-40 of them took part this time-but few can find unadulterated good news in these data and some (such as California) have to spin hard to find any. Private schools continue to outscore public but non-Catholic private schools showed a downturn in grades 4 and 12, while improving in 8th grade. (If you dig into the NAEP website-see below-you will also find data on several subsets of private schools that have never been separately reported before. These didn't make it into the hard copy report.) In sum, you will surely want to see for yourself. The main report, numbered NCES 2001-517, can be ordered from...

National Center on Educational Outcomes

Written by Sandra Thompson and Director Martha L. Thurlow of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, which says it's dedicated to developing policies that include disabled students in accountability systems, this report provides a snapshot of where the 50 states stand with respect to special education and the standards movement. Based on an annual survey of state directors of special ed, it includes sections on: participation and performance; accommodations; alternate assessments; reporting; and emerging issues. Within the context of the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the report concludes that "the benefits of inclusive assessment and accountability systems are beginning to outweigh the challenges." A few results are particularly salient: 1) despite standards foes' glum predictions, more states listed positive consequences from inclusive accountability systems than negative; 2) disabled children's test participation rates are up in more than half of the states; and 3) two-thirds of the states reported stable or increased performance on state tests by disabled students. NCEO's research should be fodder for the upcoming congressional debate over IDEA reauthorization, and will also be of interest to anyone roaming the special ed maze. Copies of the report, which includes detailed appendices of state data, may be ordered for $15.00 from NCEO's Publications Office, 350 Elliot Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; phone 612-624-8561; fax 612-624-0879. Free copies are available at http://education.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/2001StateReport.html.

National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics has just issued an important analysis of black-white differences in various economic and educational outcomes. The main finding is not surprising: the higher the prior academic achievement of blacks, the narrower the gaps between blacks and whites in young adulthood-and sometimes the gaps close entirely. For example, "for young adults with similar levels of prior educational achievement [defined as parity on earlier tests of math and/or reading], black-white gaps in unemployment rates were at least one-half smaller than for young adults as a whole. Among men with similar levels of prior educational achievement, black-white gaps in annual earnings were at least two-fifths smaller than for men as a whole. Black women with levels of prior educational achievement similar to white women earned as much as, or more than, their white counterparts." Similar gap-narrowings are visible in college attendance and completion rates. As for the achievement gaps themselves, in math the black-white gap narrows in elementary school, widens in junior high and doesn't change during high school. The reading pattern is more erratic. The authors do not say what causes what. They do not make predictions or policy recommendations. They acknowledge that other factors besides education are at work. They merely report, with exhaustive documentation, that similar levels of black-white educational achievement are associated with more similar attainments by black and white Americans during young adulthood. You may already have supposed this to be so-but here's 44 pages of evidence....

National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation presents this study on Urban Systemic Initiatives, a math and science reform program, as proof of the program's success in boosting math and science test scores in urban districts. Enrollment among minorities in higher-level math and science classes is up in the 22 selected districts, more students are taking the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, and student performance on state standardized tests shows significant gains. But before applauding this seemingly successful reform movement, it is worth noting that an earlier report reviewed here-Beating the Odds: A City-By-City Analysis of Student Performance and Achievement Gaps on State Assessments by the Council of Great City Schools-found strikingly similar gains in 55 major urban districts, most of which did not participate in an Urban Systemic Initiative. While Urban Systemic Initiatives may have influenced results in the 22 participating districts, without any control group of districts for comparison, it is impossible to know whether this reform works. To view this report on the web, go to http://www.systemic.com/usi/booklet.htm For hard copies, send requests to Systemic Research Incorporated at 150 Kerry Pl., 2nd Floor, Norwood, MA 02062.

Public/Private Ventures

The recent focus on improving student achievement has brought renewed attention to the what schools are doing. However, this report suggests that policymakers should not be so quick to rush out when the dismissal bell rings. After-school, weekend, and summer programs can also play an important role in the academic and social development of youth. This new report by Public/Private Ventures discusses the hurdles faced by school-based after-school programs. Though the authors claim to have examined 60 after-school programs in 17 cities across the country, the report's findings are a bit slim. Nevertheless, Challenges and Opportunities in After-School Programs examines important considerations involving physical space, student participation, and transportation. Obstacles it identifies include the increased wear and tear on school buildings, the inability of programs to reach the most at-risk children, and the shortage of after-school transportation to take participants home. The report alludes to the positive academic impact of after-school programs, but it offers few suggestions in this area. Steering clear of program content, it tackles more pragmatic questions of implementation. In the end it concludes, "policymakers and funders...must balance optimism about the programs' potential with some degree of caution," for programs "face very real challenges in finding adequate resources." If this nuts-and-bolts approach interests you, surf to www.ppv.org/content/reports/esssummary.html, or call Public/Private Ventures at 215-557-4400 to request a copy of the report....

The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University

When surveyed, an overwhelming majority of U.S. parents say that exposing their child to diversity is important. As a large influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants (as well as other changes) make the United States increasingly diverse, one might expect that our schools would mirror this greater diversity. A new study by Gary Orfield and Nora Gordon from the Harvard Civil Rights Project, however, finds that schools across the country are resegregating at accelerating rates. The authors argue that these trends are cause for concern because segregated schools can offer vastly unequal educational opportunities; in particular, segregated minority schools are overwhelmingly likely to have to contend with the educational impacts of concentrated poverty. The authors name several causes for resegregation, including the reversal in policy over desegregation by the Supreme Court and lower courts over the past decade and the failure to develop a policy that addresses the realities of metropolitan communities. This study offers hard data on changing ethnic populations in schools in different regions of the United States, a legal and social history of segregation and desegregation, and policy recommendations for federal, state and city governments. To download or view a copy of this report, go to http://www.law.harvard.edu/civilrights/. For a free hard copy, call the Harvard Civil Rights Project at (617) 496-6367

Police commanders in New York City face weekly "Compstat" meetings in which reams of crime statistics are scrutinized and commanders are grilled about trends in their precincts. As he prepares to leave office, Mayor Rudy Giuliani is pressing other city agencies to adopt similar programs to improve productivity, and Chancellor Harold Levy has announced that the New York City public school system's 32 district superintendents will face Compstat-like meetings beginning this year. While the school district's version of the meetings will not include "intense grillings ... with public upbraidings for those who cannot explain negative trends in their districts," the data, and the superintendents' responses to it, will factor heavily into their annual evaluations, and those with troubling data will have to attend private follow-up meetings with deputy chancellors. With the help of McKinsey & Company, the school district has developed new performance indicators, and the district has created mapping systems that allow the various indicators to be integrated and compared. The new data systems should make it easier not only to identify trends but also to explain them. The meetings with superintendents will be quarterly rather than weekly because most school data does not fluctuate from week to week. While Mayor Giuliani is reportedly disappointed that the meetings will not feature the same pressure-cooker atmosphere as those at Police Headquarters, the introduction of regular meetings at which performance indicators are analyzed and strategies for improvement outlined-and at which it is made clear to superintendents that keeping their jobs means...

Caroline Hoxby wondered whether adopting report cards for schools causes a state to improve academic achievement. She examined state NAEP scores to see if there was any difference between states that adopted report card systems early on and states that were latecomers to the report card bandwagon. She found small but statistically significant gains for states after they began report card systems. For more, see "Testing is about Openness and Openness Works," by Caroline M. Hoxby, Hoover Weekly Essay, July 30, 2001. Essay available soon at http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/pubaffairs/we/default.html Data available at http://post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers.html

For the first time, the US has lost its world lead in college completion rates. The UK, New Zealand, Finland, and the Netherlands all have higher percentages of young adults with college degrees than we do. Jay Mathews considers whether we should be worried in "The New Completion Competition," Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/23/nyregion/23SCHO.html?searchpv=day01

A long piece by Linda Perlstein in the Washington Post Magazine's Education Review issue explores how schools and teachers have lost our trust and how they might restore it. "Suspicious Minds," by Linda Perlstein, Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11086-2001Jul17.html