Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 25
July 1, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Pell Grants for Kids
By Lamar Alexander
The accountability firestorm
By Jim Fedako
The battle over Colorado vouchers
The Massachusetts mess
What does it take to be "persistently dangerous"?
Choice in the UK?
Data deluge in Ohio
Lamar Alexander / July 1, 2004
For the past 50 years, the United States has actively supported the expansion and improvement of higher education through a generous funding system that encourages autonomy, choice, and competition. Our institutions of higher education have helped produce the research that has been responsible for creating half our new jobs since World War II. They have sculpted an educated leadership and citizenry that have made our democracy work and made it possible to defend our freedoms.
It is past time to take the formula that has worked so well to help create the best colleges in the world and use it to help create the best schools for our children. That is why I am proposing a different way of spending some new federal dollars for schools: create a "Pell Grant for Kids," a $500 scholarship that follows middle- and low-income children to the school or other academic program of their parents' choice.
Parents could use these Pell Grants to help their schools pay for more math teachers and or for new art programs - or parents could purchase English or music lessons or other services that schools don't provide.
The model for Pell Grants for Kids would be today's Pell Grants for college students, federal dollars that - with student loans - follow 60 percent of America's college students to the institutions of their choice.
Pell Grants for Kids would provide more federal dollars for schools with fewer strings and
Jim Fedako / July 1, 2004
This summer is bound to get hot due to the escalating controversy surrounding No Child Left Behind. Once this year's state test results designate a number of schools and districts as needing improvement, election year political pressure will blow across always-warm embers and spark August fires. Cries for change will be loud and only the most committed pro-accountability politicians and bureaucrats will withstand the heat. Autumn's backdraft of opposing ideologies will not be contained until the last vote is counted, and, at least in Florida, counted again and again.
As a local school board member, I sit right in the center of the accountability firestorm. I hear the charge that the district is just "teaching to the test." I hear the complaints that the tests do not elicit true knowledge and understanding. And, I hear the claim that state tests are part of the anti-public school agenda. It is this line of thought that I want to address.
One point missing from the accountability debate is that, at least in Ohio, state-mandated tests are not crafted by anti-public school activists out for blood. Nor are they crafted by faceless bureaucrats and testing companies. The tests at the heart of the accountability controversy are the product of Ohio's local public school educators.
I serve on an Ohio Department of Education content advisory committee for a state proficiency test in writing and am the only non-professional-educator on the committee. The other members are
July 1, 2004
Last year, the Colorado Education Association - the statewide teacher union - filed suit alleging that the newly adopted statewide voucher program violated eight provisions of Colorado's constitution. Last December, Denver judge Joseph E. Meyer struck down the program on the grounds that it violated Colorado's constitutional guarantee of "local control" over instruction. In January, Justice Meyer heard the same case on appeal and, not surprisingly, upheld his original decision. (See http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=125#1566 and http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=129#1616 for more.) This week, in a 4-3 ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Judge Meyer's decision, arguing that the voucher program "violates the local control requirements of our state Constitution because it directs the school districts to turn over a portion of their locally raised funds to nonpublic schools, over whose instruction the districts have no control." In a dissenting opinion, however, Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis makes the logical distinction between control over school funding and control over instruction. "Because the school district loses no control whatsoever over the education provided in its public schools, but merely loses some revenue that it would otherwise have," Kourlis argues, "I do not view the program as unconstitutional." We're sure this fight is not over yet. Stay tuned.
"Voucher program quashed," by Nancy Mitchell and John Sanko, Rocky Mountain News, June 29, 2004
"Colo. Court rules against school vouchers," by Jon Sarche, Associated Press, June 28, 2004
July 1, 2004
The Massachusetts charter scene reminds us of Dorothy's observation in the Wizard of Oz: people come and go so quickly around here! This week, Governor Mitt Romney vetoed a one-year moratorium on new charter schools passed by the state General Assembly. The bill was spurred by claims that charters were diverting funding from regular district schools. (A recent Fordham publication puts this specious claim to rest as it pertains to charters in Dayton; we suspect that the same is true in Massachusetts.) The legislature is expected to overturn the veto, which passed with a veto-proof majority. Meanwhile, a superior court judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the city of North Adams that challenged the legality of a state board of education vote approving an arts and science charter school. The suit claimed that the board chair, James Peyser, exerted undue influence on the approval process, a claim the judge called "conjecture, speculation, and surmise." (Peyser is associated with the New Schools Venture Fund, which provides start-up costs and expertise to charters.) In Washington, Education Secretary Rod Paige chimed in with a warning that a recent $7.1 million federal grant to the Bay State to encourage charter school growth may be revoked if Romney's veto is overturned.
July 1, 2004
Last September, 44 states and the District of Columbia reported that they had no schools they considered "persistently dangerous," a classification required under NCLB - this despite NCES data released in October 2003 showing that 7 percent of schools in the nation - or roughly 6,000 - accounted for half of the almost 1.5 million violent incidents in schools that occurred in 1999-2000 (see http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=121#1524). Yet according to states' own definitions of what it means to be persistently dangerous, only 54 schools in the nation - the vast majority in Philadelphia - were so labeled. Now we discover that, according to statistics from the National School Safety and Security Services, the school year that just ended was one of the deadliest in more than a decade. According to preliminary data on school violence, there were 48 school-related violent deaths last year, more than the last two school years combined. And, interestingly, despite Philadelphia's higher-than-average number of persistently dangerous schools, just two of these occurred in the City of Brotherly Love. Further, of the 274 nonfatal school-related shootings and other violent incidents this year, just five were in Philadelphia schools. Clearly, as our own Checker Finn noted last October, "leaving it to states to devise their own definitions of dangerous schools and their own methods of tabulating such data is a formula for uneven underreporting."
July 1, 2004
Tories in Britain have caused a ruckus with a school choice plan that would give ??5,500 to more than 100,000 parents to spend at independent schools that control their own budget and enrollments. "I want to give every parent the kind of choice that only money can buy," said Michael Howard, leader of the opposition Conservative party. The proposal also includes new, more stringent requirements for school improvement, NCLB-style. The British teachers' union denounced the proposal as costly, complicated, and likely to spark widespread litigation, proving that there is nothing new under the sun, even on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Parent choice tops Tory package," BBC News, June 28, 2004
"Teachers slam Tory education policy," by Polly Curtis, The Guardian Review, June 29, 2004
July 1, 2004
A few weeks ago, we reported on strong gains among charter schools sponsored by Central Michigan University, with data drawn from Standard & Poor's school evaluation services website (see http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=150#1837.) Now, we're pleased to note that S&P will bring the service to our home state of Ohio. By late fall, dozens of statistics will be available on each of the Buckeye State's 614 school districts, and eventually each school will have a "return on resources" analysis, showing how well students are doing compared to what districts spend. We've grumped in the past about some of the shortcomings of the S&P schools unit (see http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=41#606), but they've addressed many of our concerns by making school-level data available, a feature of the planned Ohio website. Kentucky is next for this service; we say, let's have more of it."School ratings: click and compare," by Michael D. Clark and Karen Gutierrez, Cincinnati Inquirer, June 27, 2004
Kathleen Porter-Magee / July 1, 2004
Alliance for Excellent Education June 2004
The Alliance for Excellent Education is the source of this 80-page report that advocates the use of "comprehensive teacher induction" as a way to attract and retain high quality teachers. According to the authors, "there is growing consensus that the single most important factor in determining student performance is the quality of the teacher" and "if the national goal of providing equitable education . . . is to be met, it is critical that efforts be concentrated on developing and retaining high quality teachers." As a means to that end, the report promotes "comprehensive teacher induction," which includes "high quality mentoring, common planning time, ongoing professional development, [and access to] an external network of teachers," but is emphatically not, among other things, "a crash course in teaching, an orientation session, or a stand-alone mentor program." Unfortunately, as the authors admit, "the benefits of comprehensive induction have been hard to evaluate, leaving few studies and little evidence on the true value of induction," and thus they rely on the work of one researcher, Anthony Villar, to argue the merits of taking this approach nationwide. While Villar's findings are certainly enough to justify further study and experimentation with different models of induction, we have to wonder why the report's authors don't forthrightly take on the failings of traditional certification. After all, if the present system has such shortcomings, why not rework it from the ground up -
Eric Osberg / July 1, 2004
Richard Kazis, Joel Vargas, and Nancy Hoffman, editors, Harvard Educational Press2004
"Double the numbers" is the phrase this book coins to express the editors' goal: that schools, systems, and policies be changed to increase the number of poor and minority students who attend and complete college. This is no trivial problem (only 25 percent of high school students earn a B.A., and for minorities the figures are much lower), and this book deserves credit for avoiding the usual prescriptions of affirmative action, economic and racial. (A Matter of Degrees, reviewed below, also addresses the graduation rate crisis.) Instead, this book gets to the root of the issue-increasing the college-readiness of our high school students and improving their experiences when they arrive at college. The book contains 26 distinct essays from a range of authors on an eclectic mix of reforms. Not all of their ideas are in agreement, but this variety makes it an interesting read. You will already be familiar with many of the ideas-the America Diploma Project, California's Bridge Project, pleas for better curricula, more forms of choice, and better coordination between high schools and colleges. Still, many of these chapters feel fresh, and there are a handful of gems: an overview of existing "performance funding" strategies; an explanation of the "student engagement" index used by some states to assess their colleges (as a compromise between the challenge of measuring outputs in higher education and the irrelevance of simply measuring
Brandy Bones / July 1, 2004
Kevin Carey, The Education TrustMay 2004
Over the last four decades college graduation rates have remained remarkably stable despite steady increases in the number of high school seniors pursuing postsecondary education. On its face, this would appear to be a good thing - as more kids are entering college (4 out of 5 students who graduate high school in four years enroll in some kind of postsecondary education), more are earning a college degree. According to a study by the Education Trust, however, the completion rates of yesterday are no longer acceptable today. (For more on the graduation rate crisis, see our review of Double the Numbers above.) As the earnings gap between college grads and high school grads widens, "the consequences of not graduating have not stayed the same" and with global market competition, "low graduation rates are something our economy can no longer afford." The study, which used data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education's Graduation Rate Survey (GRS), observes significant gaps between the college graduation rates of low- and high-income students and between white and minority students. To wit, only 54 percent of low income students graduate in six years compared with 77 percent of high income students. Further, less than half of all minority students graduate while 67 percent of white students earn a postsecondary degree. Interestingly, the study also showed marked differences in graduation rates between schools with very similar