Anyone who knows a teenager understands how hard it is to get into a good college these days. We’ve all heard of some bright eighteen-year-old with a stellar GPA, sky-high SAT scores, fives on a half-dozen AP courses, and a service record like Mother Theresa’s who still couldn’t manage to get into her university of choice. (Colleges mail acceptance letters this week.) What gives?
It’s particularly mysterious since national and international exams keep telling us that American high schoolers aren’t, by and large, making any significant achievement gains. Yet when it comes time to apply to college, the crème-de-la-crème appear to be rising further to the top. As proof, see this chart below. It shows, for the nation’s fifty most selective institutions,* the SAT scores that put one at the 25th percentile of the freshman class (in other words, toward the lower range of what it takes to get into these schools).
One possible explanation for this phenomenon is simple supply and demand. The demographic bulge known as the Baby Boom Echo has made its way through our high schools and into college in recent years. The supply of seats at elite colleges hasn’t increased (much to these schools’ discredit), yet demand for those seats—from well-prepared students—has gone up significantly. And that’s because there are simply more students to begin with (about a million more students per class than when I graduated high school in 1991).
A useful new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation underscores the painful divide between parents and education reformers on the crucial topic of what to do about bad schools.
Schools play many roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those.
Photo by hundrednorth
In a nutshell, if the neighborhood school is crummy, parents want it fixed. So do community leaders. Ed reformers are far more apt to want to close it and give families alternatives such as charter schools.
As Andy Smarick has perceptively written, schools play multiple roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those. Hence, shuttering a school affects more than the convenience of keeping one’s own kids in a familiar (and generally close-at-hand) facility, maybe even with that nice Ms. Greensleeves who teaches fourth grade there. As Jean Johnson writes on behalf of Public Agenda, based on a recent series of focus groups (as well as much other research), “Most parents see local public schools as important community institutions and viscerally reject the idea that closing schools—even those that are persistently low-performing—is a good way to improve accountability in education.”
On the reform side, however, Johnson writes, “In many communities, school leaders are closing or drastically reorganizing low-performing
- The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”
Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.
- If you follow the common-assessments consortia, make sure to read this post by Catherine Gewertz about PARCC’s and SB’s plans to maintain financial sustainability when federal dollars run out. This is just one of the
Category: Charters & Choice / Curriculum & Instruction / Governance / Standards, Testing, & Accountability
If I could go back in time and begin my stint at an SEA all over again, I’d dedicate more energy to educator-preparation policy for three reasons.
First, obviously, educator effectiveness is hugely important to student learning, and we could accomplish a much by ensuring that those entering the profession are fully prepared for the tough work awaiting them.
The second reason is that SEAs have far greater power over this issue than most people—including lots of incoming state chiefs—understand.
(The third reason comes later…)
Under nearly every state constitution, the state government is given responsibility for public schooling. Lots of this power is then devolved, via statute, to districts.
But most state-level authority is vested in the state department of education. Though legislatures pass lots of laws related to schooling, they generally know where their expertise ends; and regardless of the issue or level of government, when legislators recognize the water’s edge of their understanding, they defer to executive branch (administrative) agencies.
What this translates to is SEAs’ (and/or state boards of educations’) having huge leeway when it comes to teacher preparation and credentialing.
State law may say that each teacher must have “appropriate certification for the position held,” but determining what a person needs to do in order to earn and maintain certification is in the hands of these departments and boards.
For the uninitiated—actually, for the initiated, as well—this field can feel like a tangle of professional associations and acronyms. There’s InTASC ,
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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