The performance of America's top students was a hot topic on Wisconsin's WSAU radio this morning, as Mike appeared to discuss the findings of Fordham's recent High Flyers study.? A key question was why tracking based on ability is common in other countries and other aspects of American schooling, but rare in classrooms. As Mike explains,
We still do this in math. We understand that if a kid is ready for calculus, it doesn't make sense to put that kid in algebra. But we don't have the same attitude when it comes to English, or when it comes to history, or when it comes to science.? We have this idea instead that everybody should be together. You know, look at our sports: In a high school, if you are one of the best players in the school you play varsity. If you're not, you play JV. You know, we're not afraid to have tracking when it comes to sports, when it comes to music, but when it comes to academics, for some reason that's different.
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Amber Winkler, Fordham's VP for Research, recently traveled China as a Senior Fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP). She'll be passing along her observations on education in the People's Republic with periodic ?Postcards from China.?
I've now had the opportunity to sit and peek in several schools and classrooms in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an. I knew upfront that the Chinese were only going to show us what they wanted us to see--and that's proven true. In all three cities, we visited some of the best public and private schools they had to offer. Naturally, our study group is left wondering what education looks like for rural children outside the city borders and for "migrant" youngsters within city limits.? We'll keep wondering.
Still, I have a feeling that what I witnessed in these top-tier classrooms, specifically in terms of student and teacher behaviors, is rather typical of China as a whole.? These private and public institutions--a mixture of elementary, middle, and high school grades--shared some common characteristics, most of which Western educators have heard before about Chinese education. I'll expound on two.
First, Chinese teaching is dominated by direct instruction. Mostly kids sit in rows and the teacher talks--but she does so enthusiastically and often times with humor. So at no time was I bored. (In fact, we're told
Last night was fun for the kids, but today is every education wonk's favorite holiday: NAEP release day! Kevin Carey is already out with some savvy analysis; let me add some thoughts on the trends in reading.
The big news is that we finally eked out some statistically significant progress in 8th-grade reading. This goal has eluded us before, and has led commentators such as E.D. Hirsch to note that we're not doing enough to build kids' content knowledge and vocabulary. Initiatives like Reading First might have helped our youngsters to decode, goes the argument, but that's not enough to create strong readers, especially as kids get older.
That's still true, I think, but the NAEP results might indicate that those decoding skills are nothing to scoff at. The middle schoolers who took the NAEP last spring were in first grade in 2004--the heyday of Reading First implementation. It's possible that scientifically-based reading instruction got them off to a better start as readers, and that head-start has been maintained through elementary and middle school. I can't prove it (it's NAEP--no one can prove anything!) but it's a hypothesis worth exploring. Furthermore, the 8th graders who made the greatest progress since the early 2000s were the lowest-achievers--the very population Reading First was designed to help.
Trend in eighth-grade NAEP reading average scores
[pullquote]"I got to tell you, the only viable political strategy for getting broad-based support of school reform on that premise is to get those middle-class parents drunk.? -AEI's Rick Hess[/pullquote]We wrap up coverage of Monday's panel discussion, ?The Other Achievement Gap,? with a peek at some of the more entertaining debate between the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess and the Center for American Progress' Ulrich Boser.? At issue is whether America is overly focused on the Achievement Gap?and if so, whether that leads to poor policy. ?Below is a short clip, which we hope convinces you to?watch the whole discussion.
-The Education Gadfly
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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