Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 32
September 2, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Faith without works
By Andrew J. Rotherham
Jumping the gun on voucher pronouncements
The Times gives charters a chance!
Linking teacher training and student achievement
Everybody's above average
Mid-course corrections for NCLB
Fraser Forum: Better Schools for Every Child
By Eric Osberg
No Child Left Behind and Rural Education
Andrew J. Rotherham / September 2, 2004
Editor's note: As Democrats gathered in Boston to nominate John Kerry, Gadfly critiqued the Democratic education platform (see Napping 'til November). Since turnabout is fair play, this week we've invited a Democrat - Progressive Policy Institute education director Andy Rotherham, of Eduwonk fame - to do the same to the GOP.
So the Republicans did decide to pay attention to education during their convention in New York. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was one of the only cabinet secretaries to address the delegates. And, if history is any guide, this president usually turns to education when he's in political trouble. The President will likely sound some important educational themes, and probably propose some worthwhile new ideas. But, in the case of this president, there is even a greater than average dissonance between rhetoric, promises, and actual accomplishments. In fact, the Bush Administration's inability to execute and implement education policy has made it a liability for school improvement efforts rather than an asset to it.
In 2001, it looked like a safe bet that education accomplishments would be, if not a wind at the president's back, certainly not a headwind. Following the passage of No Child Left Behind, he was deservedly basking in praise for forging bipartisan compromise on important education legislation and seemed poised to genuinely move the education debate forward. In fact, many Democrats were privately saying that while there would be plenty of disagreements and reasons to
September 2, 2004
Even in a world awash in spin, we have to scratch our heads at the wildly conflicting storylines developing about the D.C. voucher program. In the Washington Times, vouchers are celebrated as a tremendous success, with demand far exceeding supply, especially in the middle and high school grades. But the Washington Post reports that almost one of every five voucher recipients eventually decided not to use the voucher - a sign that demand may not be as high as thought. Ourselves, we think that it's probably too early to draw any conclusions about a program that was rushed into existence in the spring and still has not fully developed its capacity to recruit potential voucher recipients. It's probably important to keep in mind that most students with the new vouchers have actually been in school less than a week at this point, so waiting a year or two before issuing dire pronouncements (or taking victory laps) might be in order. But it's an election year, when reason and temperance both hunker down for long, long naps, so Gadfly is not holding his breath.
"Private schools take new students," by Matthew Cella, Washington Times, September 1, 2004
"Many D.C. vouchers go unused," by Sewall Chan, Washington Post, September 1, 2004
September 2, 2004
The Los Angeles Times, anyway. After the recent charter school dustup, we're happy to recommend a column on charters that strikes a good balance and gets the facts - even those that are painful for charter school proponents - right. Howard Blume, writing on the recent closure of 60 charter schools operated by the California Charter Academy (read more here), notes "a subtle turn away from choice and toward accountability" in the way the Golden State oversees charter schools there. This turn is actually supported by Caprice Young, head of the state's charter school association, which pushed for the CCA crackdown. (The California Charter Academy was pretty clearly a slipshod operation.) Blume's piece is far more nuanced than the New York Times' reporting and hatchet-job editorializing on charters, which takes charters as an undifferentiated lump; he notes that charters "are difficult to pigeonhole in any meaningful way." And he acknowledges the difficulty of balancing "freedom, public support, and oversight." A thoughtful piece; you should check it out.
"Sixty charter schools fall, with a little state shove," by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2004 (registration required)
September 2, 2004
The Louisiana Board of Regents recently completed a yearlong pilot study that has the potential to shake up the way the state rates its teacher training programs. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, the study, which looked at the connection between student performance on both the Louisiana Education Assessment Program (LEAP) and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the preparation programs of their teachers, found that while "students with experienced teachers scored 10 or 15 points higher on the English portion of the LEAP than those taught by new teachers from two universities . . . students taught by new teachers from a third university scored five points higher than the veteran teacher on the math part of LEAP." Officials with the state Board of Regents suggest that "pinpointing teacher preparation methods in that third school could pave the way for similar success stories elsewhere" and are looking at the possibility of using the program to rate the state's 19 public and private teacher training programs. It's early days still and there are no details about how the evaluation might proceed, but critics are already braying in opposition. Jayne Fleener, dean of the Louisiana State University college of education called the idea "very controversial" and suggested that the plan could lead schools to discourage their students from teaching in low-performing districts.
"La. may be first to draw link," by Will Sentell, Baton Rouge
September 2, 2004
"Eighty-three percent of Michigan elementary and middle schools that failed federal achievement standards for at least four years . . . gave themselves As on self-evaluations worth a third of their overall grades" on a statewide assessment system designed to give parents more information about schools, reports the Detroit News. The schools giving themselves high marks include one elementary school that gave itself an A for high-quality facilities despite being closed last year because the school was sinking into the ground. In fact, all but two of Detroit's 212 schools gave themselves As, a remarkable achievement for a fairly troubled urban system. The self-evaluation gives points for all sorts of inputs and process criteria, such as having programs in place to communicate with parents, regardless of whether any communication is actually taking place. Not to belabor the obvious, but this report is a case study of why self-evaluation of school performance is simply insufficient.
"Metro schools pad rankings," by Christine MacDonald, and Brad Heath, Detroit News, August 30, 2004
September 2, 2004
This month's Phi Delta Kappan has an article penned by American Enterprise Institute education policy studies director Fredrick Hess and Gadfly's own Checker Finn that looks at the implementation of NCLB's choice provisions with an eye toward whether they are being "conscientiously and constructively implemented or appear likely to work as intended." Hess and Finn outline six lessons we've learned over the past two years of implementation of the choice provisions and make several recommendations for mid-course corrections that could increase their chances of success. To wit, they recommend: (1) expanding the "supply of adequate schools into which eligible students can transfer" either by increasing district options, "widening the availability of charter schooling, or putting greater emphasis on nondistrict options"; (2) reversing "the order in which supplemental services and public school choice must be provided" because it makes more sense "to help children improve their performance within a school prior to offering them the chance to leave that school"; and (3) taking steps to "prod districts to notify parents of their options early, often, and in plain, user-friendly terms." Watch this space for more from their upcoming book on this topic, Leaving No Child Behind? Options for Kids in Failing Schools, due out on September 14.
"Inflating life rafts of NCLB," Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn, Jr., Phi Delta Kappan, September 2004 (Articles from the September 2004 edition
Eric Osberg / September 2, 2004
The Fraser InstituteAugust 2004
The latest issue of the Fraser Forum, published by Canada's free market Fraser Institute, offers five short articles on education. They focus on Canada (none more so than Testing Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic: A Modest Next Step for Aboriginal Education), but several are relevant to the U.S. In particular, John H. Bishop's High School Diploma Exams: Explaining High Achievement Levels in Students of Some Commonwealth Countries, compares scores on the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA) among a dozen countries, the States included. Perhaps not surprisingly, American students come in eleventh on this list (the others being Austria, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, and five commonwealth countries). But Bishop argues that one of the usual villains - America's diverse population - is not to blame. Rather, he points to the existence of "curriculum-based external exit exams (CBEES)" in the more successful countries as evidence that accountability leads to results, while its absence tends to breed complacency. (The author also notes that studies of TIMSS data have substantiated these results.) Even more importantly, those countries with CBEES showed markedly smaller achievement gaps, as measured by two methods: comparing scores between native and first-generation immigrant students, and comparing scores between children of mothers with and without college degrees. In Why BC's Children Need For-profit Schools, Peter Cowley offers a brief but useful argument on the merits of allowing for-profit schools to serve our children. In short, Adam Smith's logic should
September 2, 2004
The most recent edition of Education Next is out, with two great articles by Lowell Monke and Frederick Hess throwing cold water on some of the more grandiose claims about technology as a learning tool. Hess notes that for all the money spent on technology in America's schools, computers, PDAs, and other advances have not fundamentally reshaped teaching or learning, nor have they generally even been connected to any serious vision of school reform. "Most often," Hess writes, "PCs serve as little more than high-priced typewriters, sitting in the back of classrooms unused for most of the school day." Also check out Christopher Berry on small schools and Maureen Hallinan on the (happy) demise of the detracking movement. Check it out here.
Kathleen Porter-Magee / September 2, 2004
Education Commission of the StatesJuly 2004
This new report, released by the Education Commission of the States, draws together the data ECS has been gathering over the past 18 months of state implementation of NCLB to see how far along state implementation efforts are, to highlight best practices, to explore the challenges states are consistently facing, and to make recommendations for how state and federal policymakers can work to strengthen some of the law's key provisions. For those who have been watching NCLB closely over the past two years, many of the findings will be unsurprising: All 50 states had met or were partially on track to meeting half of NCLB's 40 requirements, but only five states - Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania - had met or were partially on track to meeting all 40. However, the report does include at least two worthy policy recommendations that, if adopted, could help keep NCLB on track to achieve its goals. First, the authors urge states to "ensure their High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) plans meet both the letter and the spirit of the law." (Currently, the vast majority of the HOUSSE plans include a "trap door" through which veteran teachers can escape the "highly qualified teacher" requirement.) Second, the authors argue that adequate yearly progress "must be thoroughly analyzed to ensure it measures school and district effects on student progress," taking into consideration that "AYP currently does
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 2, 2004
National Association of State Boards of Education2004
The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is the source of this whopping, 335-page examination of NCLB's implications for small and rural school districts. Its 16 chapters work through the major provisions of NCLB in dry, matter-of-fact prose, mostly summarizing statutory and regulatory provisions. It's unimaginably dull reading but, if you happen to be involved with a small/rural system that's still trying to puzzle out how NCLB works and what it expects, you can get plenty of information here. Check it out here.