Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 5, Number 1
January 6, 2005
Opinion + Analysis
1965 & 2005
Literature left behind
High school reform on deck
Private schooling for the poor booms in India
2005 battle lines drawn in states
A diversity of perversity
Quality Counts 2005
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 6, 2005
Why it seems like only yesterday. . . . Oops, sorry, this is not to be a sappy reminiscence by an aging fogey. (Well, aging, maybe.) But in greeting 2005, I want to explain some momentous changes these past four decades, for American education and for me.
Yes, two milestones were passed in 1965. Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ancestor of NCLB) - and I applied to the Harvard MAT program. A senior in college, I was swept up in volunteer social service programs of every sort, roused by the era's angry books about poverty and bad urban schools (Harrington's The Other America, Schrag's Village School Downtown, even Kozol's Death at an Early Age), stimulated by a guest lecture that Pat Moynihan gave in Ed Banfield's course on urban problems, and inspired by LBJ's insistence that the path out of poverty led through education and the suggestion that well-intended government programs such as Title I, Headstart, Upward Bound, Job Corps, Teacher Corps and Community Action were sure ways to place millions of needy families upon that path.
So to the distress of my parents I eschewed the family career - a fine Ohio law firm founded by my grandfather - and presented myself to Dean Ted Sizer and the other denizens of Appian Way as a candidate to become a bona fide educator.
I was, of course, a card-carrying, line-toeing, mid-'60s liberal. After all, I lived in Cambridge, Mass.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 6, 2005
Two decades after being diagnosed as "a nation at risk," academic standards for U.S. primary and secondary schools are more important than ever-and the quality of those standards matters enormously.
In 1983, as nearly every American knows, the National Commission on Excellence in Education declared that "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." Test scores were falling, schools were asking less of students, international rankings were slipping, colleges and employers were complaining, and too many high school graduates were semi-literate. America was gripped by an education crisis centering on weak academic achievement in its K-12 schools. Though that weakness had myriad causes, it quickly occurred to policymakers, business leaders and astute educators that the surest cure would begin by spelling out the skills and knowledge that children ought to learn in school, i.e. setting standards against which progress could be tracked, performance be judged, and curricula (and textbooks, teacher training, etc.) be aligned. Indeed, the vast education renewal movement that gathered speed in the mid 1980's quickly came to be known as "standards-based reform."
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush and the governors agreed on ambitious new national academic goals, including the demand that "By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography."
January 6, 2005
As Checker Finn noted last month, "the NEXT BIG THING in education reform is a serious focus on high school." (Click here for more.) Among the bipartisan chorus calling for high school reform are a few who ascribe America's staggering college drop-out problem to inadequacies in the high schools. According to Richard Colvin, "nearly six in 10 high school graduates in 2005 will start college in the fall, but half of them-and more than two-thirds of the African American and Latino students who enroll-will fail to earn either an associate's or bachelor's degree." That's not surprising, given the vast numbers of high school graduates needing remediation once they enter college. Colvin reports that the Cal State University system required an astonishing 58 percent of its first-year students this year to take remedial courses in reading, math, or both. Virginia Governor Mark Warner, this year's chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), has made strengthening high schools the top priority of that group. In February, NGA plans to hold an education summit that will include the release of a "top 10 list" of what David Broder calls "relatively easy and inexpensive steps that states can take to begin the process of improving high schools." And, of course, the Bush administration has signaled that its second term education goal is to extend standards-based reform and accountability through high school. But, as Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, Inc. notes, merely testing
January 6, 2005
We've heard plenty about the outsourcing of American jobs to "Asian Tiger" economies and about the swell of graduate students from other countries (India especially) coming to the U.S. to take high-tech and research positions. While politicians have proposed all sorts of bogus fixes to this supposed problem, few want to look at one awkward cause: the high value that many residents of these countries place on rigorous education for their children - even if they must pay for it themselves. The Financial Times reports that in India, attendance at unregulated, unrecognized private schools is booming among the poor. (Private schooling has long boomed among the prosperous.) These schools, populated by the sons and daughters of rickshaw drivers and laborers, are popular because of committed teachers (India's state-run schools suffer from chronic teacher absenteeism) and because they instruct in English, seen as the passport to economic mobility. The schools are forced to bribe state inspectors to stay in business since they can't possibly comply with India's absurd school laws, which regulate everything from the size of playgrounds to the space between students' desks. Yet parents are willing to spend the equivalent of hundreds of dollars a year in tuition for private schooling in a country where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. British researcher James Tooley has also written extensively on this topic (read more here) and will publish a book on international private schooling
January 6, 2005
It's a new year and new fights loom in state legislatures. In Utah, buoyed by a study suggesting that it might save $1.2 billion in K-12 costs by allowing students to enroll in private schools, proponents plan to push a tuition tax credit plan. But they've got the state's biggest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, against them, as well as the teacher unions. A similar fight is brewing in South Carolina, where Governor Mark Sanford wants a $3,000 tax credit passed this year. In Massachusetts, a state judge has allowed a case brought by three townships against the state Department of Education to continue to a hearing, and named a Marlborough charter school as a co-defendant. The case turns on whether the Advanced Math and Science Academy was improperly issued a charter (read more here). Bay State charter advocates fear that an adverse ruling could result in hostile new charter regulations. Meanwhile, Massachusetts charter schools and Governor Mitt Romney plan to reignite the debate on lifting that state's restrictive enrollment cap this year.
"Report fuels debate on school choices," by Ronnie Lynn, Salt Lake Tribune, December 23, 2004 (archived)
"Out-of-state donors big players in tuition credit debate," by Paul Rolly, Salt Lake Tribune, December 25, 2004
"School choice," by Claudia Smith Brinson, The State, January 3, 2005
"Case against charter school allowed to continue," by Kristen Bradley, MetroWest Daily News, January 4, 2005
January 6, 2005
College and university campuses across the country claim to be bastions of diversity, where students of every sort come together to learn, socialize and solve the great issues of the day. In truth, however, this diversity is rarely more than skin deep, emphasis on the "skin." Columnist John Leo argues that Newsweek's "'hottest' diversity campus" - Wesleyan - has virtually no intellectual diversity to speak of. Instead, Leo notes, "the students tend to have opinions from every corner of MoveOn.org" and "visiting speakers who challenge any aspect of the campus orthodoxy are as rare as woolly mammoths." Instead, the "diversity" that is celebrated on campus includes a left-liberal politically correct orthodoxy and is celebrated through the "naked dorm, the transgender dorm, the queer prom, the pornography-for-credit course, the obscene sidewalk chalking, the campus club named crudely for a woman's private part, or the appearance on campus of a traveling anti-Semitic road show, loosely described as a pro-Palestinian conference." And, of course, while all-female dorms are encouraged, the newest politically correct fight aims to force fraternities to accept women as members or "pay a stiff financial price." Leo notes that this crusade is particularly odd at Wesleyan since many of the frats there "are receptive to gays and set rooms aside for female residents." Leo's daughter, a liberal Democrat and 2004 graduate of the school, rightly questions what this narrow-mindedness is going to do to Democrats of her generation. In particular,
January 6, 2005
January 5, 2005
Education Week unveiled their 2005 edition of Quality Counts yesterday. Their annual state-by-state review of educational quality this year features "financing better schools," offering a tally of school spending hot topics like "equity and adequacy" in spending, allocation of funds per-pupil, achievement-based teacher pay incentives, and how states find the money to pay for their education costs (local taxes, lottery, etc.). Tucked neatly behind these pages, as always, are complete state-by-state report cards on more state education topics, including standards and accountability--coincidentally the very same day Fordham released its reviews of state math and English academic standards (see http://www.edexcellence.net/template/page.cfm?id=276). At first glance, it appears very simple to compare Ed Week's grades to our own, however the Ed Week study has some major differences. The standards (which were, in truth, graded by the AFT in a yet-to-be released report) only comprise a portion (40%) of the grade for each state and look more widely at four core subject areas (math, English, social studies/history, and science). Fordham grades are based entirely on the clarity, specificity, and content of the academic standards in math and English - the only two subjects currently influenced by NCLB - so please, compare with care. Stay tuned to this spot for more on the comparisons between Quality Counts and The State of State Standards: Math and English. To read the rest of Quality Counts, click here.
Eric Osberg / January 6, 2005
This short report from Achieve follows up on last year's American Diploma Project, which exposed shortcomings in high school graduation standards in relation to what's needed to succeed in college or the workplace. In diagnosing why this gap exists, Achieve now points (in part) to weak coursework expectations in most states. Though every student should receive four years each of grade-level English and math, few states meet either standard. (Notable exceptions include Arkansas, Indiana, and Texas.) Achieve also offers a variety of suggestions to states, including "model" curricula; better guidance on course content (as California has done via checklists of requirements for university admission); and incentives for students to take weightier course-loads. And in case anyone should doubt the value of a rigorous curriculum, it cites some interesting data: black students entering college with at least Algebra II under their belts increase their chances of completing college from 45 to 75 percent, and Latino students' odds rise from 61 to 79 percent. Achieve also notes that San Jose now requires all students to take the curriculum required to attend the U.C. system - and has seen its black students' test scores rise dramatically with no increase in dropout rates. True, states aren't the only actors - parents, for example, might also press their kids to take tougher courses - but if we expect all students to succeed in life then surely we
January 6, 2005
November 16, 2004
This Public Agenda study, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, reports on children's "out-of-school time" activities and what the consumers of these activities (parents included) expect them to accomplish. Not surprisingly, many believe that quality organized activities - no matter if sports-, academic-, or hobby-centered - will help kids stay out of trouble. However, fewer than half of low-income parents report adequate access to high-quality options, vs. two-thirds of upper-income families. More surprising, poor families are also likelier to look for programs that focus on academics rather than sports or hobbies (45 percent vs. 35 percent upper-income). The study explores a wide range of topics from both parents' and kids' perspectives and, on top of income and race disparities in after-school programs, reveals a scary disconnect between what parents think their kids are doing in their free time and what the girls and boys are actually up to. To read on, click here.