Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 40
November 4, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Yearning for choice
Election wrap re-wrap
Looking forward on NCLB
More charter news
The future of high school reform
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 4, 2004
On October 16, the New York Daily News reported that "Parents of students in failing city schools filed a class action lawsuit against the Education Department yesterday, arguing the city plans to illegally deny transfers." The suit "seeks to stop the city from denying transfers under the federal No Child Left Behind law." Said one mother (of five-year-old twins) who is party to the class action, "My kids deserve an education and they aren't getting one where they are."
She's not alone. On September 12, the Daily News published excerpts from letters and emails with which parents reportedly "bombarded" school chancellor Joel Klein in late summer, begging for their children to be given exit visas from bad schools: "The conditions that my son has to face every day are deplorable," wrote a Harlem mother. "I am very concerned for my son. I think he wasted a whole year at this school," said a Bedford-Stuyvesant mom (in a handwritten seven page letter). "My son have not [sic] had a science teacher since November." "In the schoolyard there is no control and according to my son it is the same in the lunchroom. His class barely gets through a lesson because of the lawlessness allowed."
It's well known that New York lacks sufficient space in good schools for everyone who has the NCLB-conferred right to exit bad schools: some 234,000 youngsters in elementary/middle schools alone, more than a quarter of the Big Apple's total
November 4, 2004
Last week, we highlighted three races with education implications (click here). Here's what happened. In Florida, former state superintendent and university president Betty Castor was narrowly defeated by former Cabinet Secretary Mel Martinez. (So was current South Carolina state superintendent Inez Tenenbaum.) In Washington state, moderately pro-reform superintendent Terry Bergeson held onto her job in a race that turned on the state's graduation exam. But R-55, that state's referendum on whether to allow a few charter schools to launch, went down in flames, 58 to 42 percent. That's the third time voters have rejected charter schools in Washington, and the third win for the state teachers' union, which put hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteers into this fight. No doubt about it, this disappointment will embolden charter opponents nationwide. Perhaps it will also have a catalytic effect on charter supporters!
"Charter schools, education tax defeated," by Jake Ellison and Gregory Roberts, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 3, 2004
"Bergeson gets a vote of confidence," by Heather Woodward, The Olympian, November 3, 2004
November 4, 2004
With the President re-elected and the Senate and the House still firmly in Republican hands, it seems unlikely that No Child Left Behind will be subjected to substantial revision through legislation, as many opponents and critics (and some friends and admirers) had hoped. So send in the lawyers! Observers now expect a flood of legal challenges to NCLB, organized and funded by teachers' unions and cheered on by interest groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures. California's Coachella Valley Unified school district may be the first to sue, on grounds that English language learners are being held to unreasonable expectations. Expect similar suits from states alleging that NCLB is an under-funded mandate. So, after an election in which education was basically a non-issue, stay tuned for heavy action on the education front in the coming months.
"Educators predict lawsuits challenging No Child Left Behind," by Andrea Almond, Associated Press, November 3, 2004
"Education law due to draw lawsuits," by Andrea Almond, Associated Press, October 31, 2004
November 4, 2004
Despite an upbeat Education Week story highlighting the support of big-city mayors - including D.C.'s Anthony Williams - for charter schools as a way of transforming urban education, the charter movement continues to hit road blocks in the form of moratoria, caps, budget restrictions, and referendum defeats (see "Education wrap re-wrap" above.) This week, the Buffalo board of education approved a one-year moratorium on district-sponsored charters and established a task force to study the fiscal impact of such schools upon the district. Further east, the Albany Common Council is going to ask the state legislature to approve a temporary moratorium on charter schools in that city. Council member Shawn Morris, who supports the moratorium, argues that Albany has "a disproportionate share of charter schools compared to other cities in the state, without any form of evaluation of their impact on the community." And, as an article in the Miami Herald this week notes, the four-fold increase in charter schools in Miami-Dade County in the last three years has the district's chief school auditor warning "about the district's increased financial exposure." As we noted last week (read it here), this is more proof that "the message from the system is, yes, let's have charters, so long as they don't represent real competition to us or threaten our chokehold on education."
"1-year moratorium on charter schools OK'd," by Peter Simon, Buffalo News, October 28, 2004
November 4, 2004
In this month's American School Board Journal, Kathleen Vail articulates the need for a dramatic transformation of the American high school. "Fifty years ago," she explains, "the American high school was doing fine." Today, it's on life support, as evidenced by high dropout rates among poor and minority youths, the number of college students (58 percent) who need to take remedial courses in college, and the dwindling faith that employers have in the value of a high school diploma. This issue is being raised in many circles - see our review of a recent ACT report below and the American Diploma Project for more - but, as we see in so many education reform domains, defining the problem is a lot easier than forging a consensus on its solutions. The usual suspects will no doubt call for more money in exchange for little accountability. Reform-minded organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will continue to tie grants to the creation of smaller learning communities and charter high schools. There is mounting demand for reform models that seek to overhaul high schools by transforming their curriculum and instruction. And President Bush has signaled a desire to extend NCLB's accountability and testing provisions through high school. While there is no agreement on the best way forward, clearly there is gathering urgency for bigger and more rapid changes. As San Diego's chief of secondary reform notes, "we can't put Band-Aids
Eric Osberg / November 4, 2004
The Education Trust
This short report presents achievement data from 24 states in order to track progress toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, as NCLB expects states to achieve by 2014. The title sums it up: scores are moving in the right direction, but not quickly enough. Since 2002, math scores have risen in 23 of the 24 states with three years of data. In reading, 15 of 23 improved. And the achievement gaps, both for minorities and for poor students, narrowed in most states. Florida showed the greatest gains in both math and reading, while California, Delaware, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also demonstrated noteworthy improvements in both subjects. The report covers only the elementary years (typically fourth grade scores), so it only tells part of the story. Future EdTrust studies will report on middle and high school scores. And like many others, this report presents only one aspect of the data: the percentage of "proficient" and "advanced" students. Doing so ignores overall averages, which could be slipping even while the percentage of students classified as proficient is increasing - if, for example, teachers focus on helping students closest to proficiency clear that hurdle while the scores falter at the bottom (or top) of the class. This potential problem will become increasingly important over time, because in order to continue making AYP, even the worst students will eventually need to make it over
November 4, 2004
A new report from ACT finds that 78 percent of students taking its college entry test were not prepared for college-level classes in English, biology, or algebra and that students who took courses above and beyond those required for high school graduation are more likely to succeed in postsecondary education. This adds volume to the chorus of voices (e.g. American Diploma Project) calling for tougher requirements at the high school level - requirements that will actually prepare kids for success in college and the workforce. For the past 20 years, echoing the recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, ACT has urged that a general core curriculum (four years of unspecified English, three years of unspecified math and science) would adequately prepare students for college level coursework. These new data, however, have forced the testing service to change its tune and call for schools to include advanced mathematics (above Algebra II) and advanced sciences (i.e. chemistry and physics) in their core requirements, and to recommend that students take more advanced courses prior to graduation. To read the complete report and recommendations, click here.
The Road to Nowhere: The Illusion and Broken Promises of Special Education in the Baltimore City and Other Public School Systems
November 4, 2004
Kalman R. Hettleman, The Abell Foundation
This report provides a sweeping critique of problems with special education in Baltimore's public schools. Hettleman gives a ground-up account of these problems, describing both underlying causes and administrative glitches. The instruction and funding provided for special ed students are often insufficient to help students make adequate progress, Hettleman writes, and schools conceal this failure by exaggerating student achievement and practicing social promotion. The report gives a good overall sense of how such practices occur on the administrative level and how damaging they are. Hettleman does an admirable job of analyzing recent federal court rulings on special education and explaining how NCLB is violated by Baltimore's failure to implement research-driven instructional practices. He also makes clear that Baltimore's problems are mirrored across much of the nation. Overall, the analysis is well-researched and the author's prose passionate and convincing. Check it out here.