Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 5, Number 29
August 25, 2005
Opinion + Analysis
Making education bricks without straw
Harold Stevenson, in memoriam
Robin Hood in reverse
Secretary Spellings: Aging Well
Science class is for science
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 25, 2005
U.S. charter schools are being deprived of essential funding in nearly every community and state where they are found. A deadly combination of powerful enemies, political compromise, and wishful thinking has placed the fledgling charter-school experiment in grave jeopardy: expected to work educational miracles without the needed resources.
The fiscal gap between charter and district schools is as wide as $3,500 per student in Missouri and South Carolina. In Atlanta, Greenville, and San Diego, it exceeds 40 percent.
These data and many more are contained in Charter School Funding: Inequity's Next Frontier, an important and alarming new study released this week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in conjunction with the Progress Analytics Institute and Public Impact. Supported by the Gates and Walton foundations, and based on information from 2002-2003 in 17 states and 27 cities, it is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the public dollars that do and do not flow into public charter schools and how these compare with district-school budgets in the same places.
The bottom line should command the urgent attention of policymakers. Charter fans will likely grow angry (and perhaps litigious) based on what they read in this report, and they would be justified. The current arrangements bear the hallmark of a misguided or rigged policy process; the finance ground rules appear designed to produce failure, not success, on the part of charter schools across America.
Nice as it would be to develop a simple, national
Diane Ravitch / August 25, 2005
Harold Stevenson, one of the most eminent education researchers of our generation, died in July at the age of 80. A professor of psychology at the University of Michigan for thirty years, Stevenson was best known for his book (co-authored by James Stigler), The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education, published in 1992. He was honored by the American Psychological Society for his ground-breaking work as a developmental psychologist and his contributions to cross-national research.
While serving in the Navy during World War II, Stevenson became fluent in Japanese, a skill that served him well in his later studies of Japanese schools. In 1973, Stevenson was among the first American researchers to visit the People's Republic of China. His comparative studies of American, Chinese, and Japanese educational systems were written with an eye to public policy. He carefully documented the differences among these systems and cultures that appeared to influence student achievement. His writings appeared in prestigious academic and scientific journals, and he was widely quoted for his insights into the sources of achievement.
Stevenson pinpointed differences in classroom activities, parent attitudes and behavior, and cultural values that were amenable to change. Among these were, for example, his finding that parents in Asian societies value effort and thus expect their children to work hard in school, while American parents tend to value their children's innate abilities and thus excuse their mediocre
August 25, 2005
A riddle: Who has been talking a good game for forty years about equalizing resources for poor kids while creating obscure rules that do the exact opposite? Answer: Uncle Sam. Title I, the mother of all federal education programs, requires that high-poverty schools receive roughly comparable resources before adding funds from Washington. That's only fair - these dollars are meant to be extra, to compensate for the difficulties faced by poor children, to "supplement, not supplant" state and local education revenues, not to let local districts out of their funding responsibilities. But as Marguerite Roza and Paul Hill point out in their Washington Post op-ed (and their excellent study, "Strengthening Title I to Help High-Poverty Schools"), there's a glaring loophole: districts don't have to account for the vast differences in payroll between schools. Since virtually all districts budget for schools as if everyone was paid an average salary, rather than actuals, and since most urban districts face a talent drain from poor schools to more affluent ones (since teachers have seniority "bumping rights" built into union contracts - and no financial incentive to stay at tougher schools), this is no small oversight. In Houston, for example, high-poverty schools get $472 less in state and local funds than the district average. There's an easy solution: close the loophole. Listen for the howls of protest from the teachers unions, which to date have been more concerned with protecting the bumping rights
August 25, 2005
Good grief! Americans' famed ambivalence, not to say schizophrenia, deepens with respect to school reforms. The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll released Tuesday, which measures the nation's attitudes toward public schools, shows that while most Americans endorse the goals associated with the No Child Left Behind Act, few embrace its methods. For example, respondents overwhelmingly support closing the achievement gaps between white and minority students without compromising high standards, yet nearly 8 in 10 respondents would not send their child to another school if their local school was designated as needing improvement - a right ostensibly conferred by NCLB. Why? According to the poll, most reject the idea that student test scores in English and math alone produce a fair picture of how well a school is performing. Meanwhile, 75 percent of respondents say the achievement gap is due to factors other than the quality of schooling received, yet 58 percent believe it's the public schools' responsibility to close that gap.
"Americans grow skeptical as school reform takes toll," by Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, August 24
August 25, 2005
The summer heat causes some to wilt, but it seems to have stiffened the spine of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. After giving in to a host of Florida "flexibilities" in the spring (see here), this month she wisely rejected the Sunshine State's brash request to let 380 low-performing schools off the NCLB accountability hook. Florida officials had labeled these schools "provisional AYP" - figure that one out, Mom and Dad - and petitioned for relief on their behalf because they received A's and B's under the state's own accountability scheme. Yet as Education Trust and others have shown, many of these schools are failing their poor and minority students. On the other hand, surely some are doing right by all their kids, making quick gains after starting out far behind - progress for which the Florida system (though not NCLB) rightfully gives credit. There is good news on that front: Spellings appears increasingly willing to consider such a value-added approach. She recently told columnist David Broder: "I think we were right to start with performance standards, but now that they are in place, we are working our way into more sophisticated approaches." Sounds good - but let's "work our way" to these new approaches in a hurry, before remaining support for NCLB evaporates.
"ED Rejects Florida's bold move to waive NCLB sanctions," by Katherine Shek, Education Daily, August 17, 2005 (subscription required)
"The Divide In Education," by
August 25, 2005
Readers are surely aware that, while vacationing at the ranch, President Bush uttered a few unfortunate words about the teaching of so-called intelligent design: "Both sides ought to be properly taught...so people can understand what the debate is about...Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought...You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes." In the "he-should-know-better department," Senate Majority Leader and heart surgeon Bill Frist said much the same a week later at a Rotary Club meeting in Nashville. Meanwhile, in Kansas, the state board of education approved draft science standards that criticize Darwin's theory (see previous coverage here). What's going on? Pundits explain that evolution will be "the new gay marriage" in the 2006 Congressional election; egad. Gadfly, a highly evolved species himself, is prepping to defend the next likely target: Copernicus. (Newton is already in trouble, reports The Onion.) After all, the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun is only a theory - no one has actually traveled to the sun to make sure the notion doesn't have any holes. Regarding the likely wedge issue of 2008, early money is on attacking Leonardo da Vinci - after all, he was a scientist and gay! If you don't find any of this particularly amusing, do not fear: Fordham's review of state science standards, complete with an analysis of their treatment of
Eric Osberg / August 25, 2005
Ericca Maas, Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
July 2005Indiana???s New and (Somewhat) Improved K-12 School Finance System
Dr. Susan L. Aud, Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation
Given the source, one might expect arguments in favor of school choice in Minnesota and Indiana in these two reports, both part of a series from the Friedman Foundation on "School Choice Issues in the State." In that respect, the Minneapolis study does not disappoint; it examines the projected impact that a proposed voucher plan - Education Access Grants, introduced in the legislature in February - would have on the budgets of both Minneapolis public schools and the state. (The bottom line: both the public schools and the state would benefit financially.) But these reports will prove most useful to readers seeking concise, clear explanations of each state's school finance systems. The Indiana study, for example, looks at the Hoosier State's K-12 funding formulas, which, though simplified in recent years, remain complicated. Further, the Indiana report compares that state's formulas and procedures with those in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio and uncovers some choice factoids. For example, schools in Indiana are typically allocated $12,600 per year for each severely disabled student, versus $29,000 in Ohio and $10,300 in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Minnesota pays ten times more to schools to educate English Language Learners ($700 per student) than does Michigan ($70 per student). Given the billions
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 25, 2005
The Business Roundtable
Yes, you've seen myriad manifestos, statements, studies, and reports about the country's need to do more to sustain its leadership in science and technology, but please suppress that yawn. This one is different. This time, fifteen leading business groups have sounded the alarm, and have done so with oomph, facts, and plenty of anxiety showing. This new report notes, for example, that China is graduating four times as many engineers as the United States; that fewer than 6 percent of today's college-bound high school seniors plan to pursue such a degree; that even South Korea is graduating as many engineers as we are. Though the report praises NCLB (whose science-testing requirement kicks in next year), it contends that school reform is "necessary but insufficient" and that urgent attention is also needed to other vital changes, including an overhaul of the preparation and compensation of science/math teachers, expedited security clearances for those aspiring to careers in science and technology, a boost in federal spending for basic research, and more. In effect, this report says that, if America's future safety and prosperity are going to hinge on our prowess in science, engineering, and technology (rather than our proficiency with plows and assembly lines), we must urgently ready ourselves to succeed in that world, mindful that the rest of the planet isn't just installing call centers and low-wage garment factories; it's also investing in the human capital and research
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / August 25, 2005
Educational Policy Institute
Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools are famous for using cheers and chants to reinforce instruction among middle-school-age students. This report by the Educational Policy Institute, an education research group engaged by KIPP to perform the study, gives the 48 KIPP schools nationwide something else to cheer about. EPI analyzed school-level Stanford Achievement Test scores for 27 fifth-grade cohorts at 24 KIPP schools over roughly one year and found substantially greater academic gains than what is normally expected. KIPP students - who are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, with 78 percent receiving free and reduced-price lunch - showed a mean gain of 10.1 "normal curve equivalents" in reading, 10.9 in language, and 17.4 in mathematics from the fall of 2003 to the spring of 2004. A smaller group of students who took the exam in fall 2003 and a follow-up exam in fall 2004 realized mean gains of 7.5 in reading, 9.1 in language, and 11.6 in mathematics. While KIPP hasn't "found 'the answer' to the educational woes of urban schools," say the report's authors, they are "doing something right." The report would be even stronger if EPI had access to individual student scores - a point the authors concede - and several areas require further investigation. For example, do students continue to realize significant gains in later grades? Still, the results are encouraging. The authors express it well. "The findings ... illustrate that students who are