Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 23
June 17, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Florida: Getting it all together?
So, which is it?
Take your meds - or else
Free market education, Malaysian-style
The Condition of Education 2004
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 17, 2004
During a recent visit, I was, frankly, wowed by the comprehensiveness and courage of Florida's education reforms, and depressed by the crummy coverage they're getting in both state and national press, not least the heat they are now taking for holding their schools to high standards under NCLB and accepting the sanctions meted out to schools for not meeting adequate yearly progress. I suppose it has to do with the press's disdain for NCLB, the public's reluctance to accept that their school is not doing well, Florida's pivotal role in the upcoming election, and Governor Jeb Bush's relationship to the incumbent president. (He is, by the way, one of the half dozen smartest, savviest, gutsiest "education governors" I've met in the past quarter century.)
What one may term Florida's purposeful education reforms - those that policy makers have intentionally put in place - can best be described under six headings.
(1) Integration across levels. Florida has reorganized the structure and governance of its education system so that the phrase "K-16" means something. The same state agency runs the whole shebang, with three "chancellors" (K-12, community college, higher ed) working under a single commissioner. The postsecondary sector has been enlisted in worthy teacher-preparation initiatives, dual enrollment for high school students, and one of the country's best-engineered transfer arrangements between 2- and 4-year institutions. At the other end, Florida is embarking on an ambitious universal (but voluntary) pre-K program
June 17, 2004
Is the new D.C. voucher program half full or half empty? Depends on where one turns for information. According to the Washington Post, "the D.C. voucher program did not receive enough applicants from public schools to fill all the slots available," which meant 500 slots went unfilled - even as eligible private school students who applied were turned away. But according to USA Today, "Demand for access to the nation's first federally funded school voucher program has proved overwhelming in the nation's capital, due in large part to parental frustration with its troubled public education system." The Washington Times adds that the Washington Scholarship Fund, the private outfit that runs the new voucher program, didn't work hard enough to fill the available slots "and should have been able to recruit more voucher applicants." All somewhat confusing. It's clear, though, that upwards of a thousand needy D.C. kids are going to get a better shot at a decent education. Had Congress moved earlier in the year, there would have been more school slots, more applicants, and a better chance of a large enough "control group" for a proper evaluation. Now we must probably view this as a pilot year and expect a full-size program in 2005-6. (Meanwhile, the District continues to founder in its quest for someone to lead its public-school system.)
June 17, 2004
The Christian Science Monitor is a somewhat unlikely source for this story, but it recently ran a fascinating account of the continuing debate over medication of hyperactive children, and whether schools are driving the exploding diagnoses of ADHD. In a few cases, one recounted by the Monitor, a parent was told that unless her child - in this, as in most cases, a boy - was put on Ritalin, he would be sent packing to special ed. (The U.S. House has passed a bill outlawing such demands, but it is stalled in the Senate.) But after two years on the medication and some alarming symptoms, including social withdrawal, she took him off his meds. The school promptly reported her to child protective services as a potential abuser. This episode may be extreme, but there is no doubt that ADHD diagnoses have ballooned (13 percent of children are now diagnosed with the ailment) and pressure to medicate from teachers and school administrators is a major cause. This is disconcerting, to put it mildly. There are doubtless children who benefit from medication. And just as sure, there are lots of jumpy, distracted kids who need a firmer hand, not pills. With new studies showing some unfortunate, long-term side effects of medication, including retarded growth, is it
June 17, 2004
The Malaysian government has recently undertaken a voucher experiment aimed at leveling the education playing field between wealthy and underprivileged students. According to the New Straits Times, the plan's goal is creation of a "social market" in which "parents will be empowered by choice . . . and schools will be freed to compete on quality when they would otherwise rest easy on assured government largesse." Unlike most U.S. voucher plans, but somewhat akin to NCLB's "supplemental services" provision, Malaysia's program is designed to be used by needy parents of primary school students to send their children to "tuition classes" (similar to private after-school tutoring programs). The program is currently in a pilot phase, but supporters of this limited free market approach to education are already calling for the program's expansion to include secondary students.
"Vouchering for education," New Straits Times, June 14, 2004"Tuition vouchers plan pays off," by Sheridan Mahavera, Hamzah Jamaludin and Roy Goh, New Straits Times, June 13, 2004
June 17, 2004
This week, the SEED school (Schools for Educational Evolution and Development) in Washington, D.C. - America's only urban charter boarding school (click here for more) - is celebrating the success stories of its first graduating class. Demographically, the school is typical for inner-city Washington: 90 percent of the students are poor, 98 percent are black, two percent Hispanic, and 88 percent from single- or no-parent households. The success of its students, however, is decidedly atypical. Not only are all its graduating students going on to four-year colleges (including such heavy-hitters as Princeton, Duke, and Georgetown), the school has also been able to achieve exceptional results in non-academic areas. For example, only 5 percent of SEED students were in fights last year, compared with 35.7 percent of DCPS students. Similarly, just 12 percent of SEED students reported trying drugs, compared with almost half of their public school counterparts. That doesn't silence the critics, though. Upon hearing of SEED's success, senior NEA policy analyst Susan Nogan complained that "considering how difficult it's been to get increased funding for the public schools, and taking into account that there is a limited pot of public money, as well as a limit seemingly to philanthropy . . . I would prefer to see an alternative found within the public school, instead of a small model like this which only helps a few." There's a certain kind of person - and organization
June 17, 2004
June 10, 2004
Achieve has again set off a chorus of wailing with its latest publication, this time on the defects of graduation exams in six states. This new study finds that the tests aren't all that difficult - the subject matter is mostly 9th and 10th grade stuff, and the cut scores are low. (Or as the report puts it, the math tests "cover material students in most other countries study in the 7th or 8th grade.") And while many states - Ohio and Maryland among them - have made strides in strengthening their tests, they have quite a distance yet to travel before these tests are a serious measure of appropriate 12th grade skills, the sort recommended by the American Diploma Project and expected by the real world of college and the job market. Considering that students have multiple opportunities to pass these tests, we're not sure they're quite as "high-stakes" as everyone likes to pretend. Still, Achieve has done an estimable job of laying out the facts in business-like fashion. Check it out here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 17, 2004
National Center for Education StatisticsJune 2004
The National Center for Education Statistics publishes several annual compilations that belong on the shelves of all card-carrying education policy wonks. The most interesting of them is the Condition of Education report, which changes every year because the NCES team selects different indicators and analyzes and interprets them rather than settling for "just-the-facts." This 325-pager is the latest such, and the first under the expert leadership of NCES Commissioner Robert Lerner. It's worth your time (at least if you're a policy wonk) because some of the special analyses are uncommonly illuminating and because Lerner avoids the traps that some of his predecessors slipped into, such as "spinning" the data a bit too hard on behalf of the administration they served. (A couple of Clinton-era COE's were egregious in this regard). You'll find all sorts of fascinating stuff here, such as :
- Seventy-one percent of all U.S. college students received financial aid in 2000, up from 54 percent in 1990, but the growth in grant aid didn't offset the rise in tuitions. Which helps account for the fact that 45 percent of college students took out Stafford loans in 2000 (up from 30 percent a decade earlier).
- "Schools in the Southeast were more likely to have pre-kindergarten
Eric Osberg / June 17, 2004
Robin Jacobowitz, Institute for Education and Social Policy, New York University, Jonathan S. Gyurko, Office of New Schools Development, New York City Department of EducationMarch 2004
This report provides a useful counter to those who claim that charter schools steal money from traditional public schools. The New York City data show that charters receive less money per pupil than district schools. The overall disparity is not huge: $8,400 for charter school students compared to $9,000 for district students. But the gap ranges from $500 per student (for regular middle and high school students) to as much as $7,600 per student (for elementary special education students). And that's without counting capital dollars and facilities. This analysis is thorough and straightforward. Perhaps it will help thwart proposed legislation in Albany which would "reduce funding to charter schools on the assumption that charter school resources . . . is [sic] inflated." Given that Public Impact's recent study of charter funding in Dayton, Ohio found the same pattern-charters receive less per-pupil than district schools-we suspect this is a national trend. Perhaps some day the facts will overwhelm the anti-charter rhetoric. This report is available online.