Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 15
April 13, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
MIA on SES
By Nina Shokraii Rees
By Martin A. Davis, Jr.
Down and out
You've got to know to grow
Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job
By Eric Osberg
You call that a protest?
On this week's show, Mike and Rick debate whether Nancy Grasmick should run Baltimore's failing schools, why Robert Gordon wants to fire new teachers, and whether street protests teach students democracy in action. Plus, an interview with the author of this week's editorial, Nina Shokraii Rees.
Nina Shokraii Rees / April 13, 2006
Imagine a world in which hundreds of thousands of low-income families experience educational freedom for the first time. Parents choose from a vibrant marketplace of educational providers: public schools, for-profit companies, faith-based groups, local charities, and even collections of innovative teachers.
In this world, the school choice movement-advocacy organizations, parent associations, market-based think tanks-would play a prominent role. Whenever the system threatened to take away the families' newfound freedoms or block access to critical services, these groups would hold parent rallies, write letters to newspapers, push the press to report the scandal, and otherwise make the needs of the children visible.
Of course, such a world already exists. It's the universe of supplemental educational services (SES). Except in this world, the school choice movement is missing in action. Why is that?
A key provision in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), SES is triggered when schools receiving Federal Title I funds fail to make adequate yearly progress for three consecutive years. At that point, districts must offer low-income students in these schools free after-school tutoring through any of the more than 700 nationwide providers that the state approves (whether public, private, or for-profit). In theory, parents simply choose the one that best meets their children's needs, and the per pupil share of Title I funds ($1,500 on average) follows the students to the tutor of choice.
This program is the first federal attempt to attach dollars to students and
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / April 13, 2006
From Los Angeles to D.C., and from Phoenix to Chicago, students are taking to the streets in numbers not seen since the 1960s, in this case to voice their opinions about immigration. Such public demonstrations are central to democracy, but are they central to education?
Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland-a tony suburb of D.C. with a Latino population just under 12 percent-say yes. The district decided that high school students could count their time demonstrating on the Mall in Washington this past Monday toward the 60 hours of community service that Maryland demands of all students to graduate high school. The policy requires that students participating in marches do so outside of school hours. And because this week's large protests fell during Montgomery County's Spring Break, no class time was missed.
But on the other coast, in tiny Tulare County, California, where the Latino population tops 50 percent, the district has different ideas. Students who left Dinuba High School to join protests in nearby Farmersville found themselves rewarded not with service hours, but unexcused absences. Los Angeles Unified also worked hard to prevent its students from protesting off-campus by placing schools under literal lockdown. Some students climbed fences in order to take to the streets, and the district has alerted their parents that disciplinary action will be taken.
It's reasonable to believe that the students of Tulare County will take more from their experiences than will Montgomery County's youngsters. After all,
April 13, 2006
Time’s latest cover story (published in conjunction with a two-day series on the Oprah Winfrey Show) sheds light on what may be America’s toughest education problem—the fact that 30 percent of American high school students don’t graduate. What drives the mass exodus? It isn’t overly-demanding curricula; 88 percent of dropouts report having passing grades upon leaving high school. In fact, American schools aren’t academically demanding enough. Dropouts frequently report boredom as a reason for leaving school prematurely. Adding to the problem has been some educators’ willingness to cover up its severity. Paul Peterson writes, “Most school districts report as dropouts only those who entered the year as seniors but did not remain in school until the end of that year.” The Time article profiled one city, Shelbyville, Indiana, which had long reported a 98 percent graduation rate because it counted as a grad any dropout who promised “to take the GED test later….” The agreement made by the nation’s governors this summer to report dropout rates uniformly should help, but only to cast light on the problem. Now we have to find some solutions.
“Dropout Nation,” by Nathan Thornburgh, Time, April 17, 2006 (subscription required)
“How Educators Hide the Sorry Truth,” by Paul E. Peterson, Hoover Digest, Winter 2006 (originally printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 3, 2005)
April 13, 2006
Eleven schools in Baltimore managed to dodge the accountability bullet one more time this week. The city successfully beat back Maryland Superintendent Nancy Grasmick’s plans to take over its worst-performing schools after Martin O’Malley—Baltimore’s mayor—led a successful charge in the state legislature to postpone the action for one more year. O’Malley claimed that the eleven schools were making progress (if small), and that Baltimore can, should, and will fix its own schools. Gadfly hopes Charm City’s schools can accomplish in one year what they’ve failed to do over the past five, but we doubt it will. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings took Grasmick’s side in the debate, noting that “to sit idly by with the kind of data and results and chronic failure that has been demonstrated is education malpractice. Accountability is meaningless if there is no end of the line.” Could this telling episode (and this excellent statement in support of school choice) hasten the end of the kinder, gentler U.S. Department of Education? Let’s hope so.
“Senate blocks city schools takeover,” by Jill Rosen, Baltimore Sun, April 12, 2006
“Should state take over city schools?,” by Andy Smarick, Baltimore Sun, April 6, 2006
“U.S. education secretary applauds state move,” by Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, March 31, 2006
April 13, 2006
Two searing articles in the current edition of American Educator, one by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and one by Daniel T. Willingham, lay to rest the notion that critical thinking is possible sans content. Hirsch argues (in an excerpt of his new book) that without adequate general knowledge, reading comprehension scores will remain flat. He demonstrates his point with a simple sentence: "Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run." Both Americans and Brits could "de-code," or read, the sentence, but only Americans would understand it. That's because we share a common knowledge about baseball that allows us to interpret "sacrifice" and "run" properly. This common, or "core," knowledge is critical for improving reading comprehension, Hirsch argues, and without a nationwide curriculum to help develop this knowledge reading scores will continue to lag. Willingham debunks the idea that "rote" knowledge is useless. The common belief, for example, that students can substitute calculators for memorizing multiplication tables causes problems in the long run. The failure to memorize this material severely hampers one's ability to function at higher mathematical levels. "The more knowledge students accumulate," Willingham says, "the smarter they become." One might even say that knowledge is power.
"Building knowledge," by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., American Educator, Spring 2006
"How knowledge helps," by Daniel T. Willingham, American Educator, Spring 2006
April 13, 2006
Students at Bonham elementary school in Abilene, Texas, faced a serious
problem last week when the school's toilets stopped working. Principal
Diane Rose acted quickly and smartly. Instead of preparing mops and
buckets, she called in the buses. Throughout the day, while the Abilene
utilities crew repaired a water main, Bonham's 600 squirming students
rode buses to "nearby schools that offered the use of their restrooms."
After all was said and done, Rose seemed to count the day a success, and
she told reporters, "It was just like a little field trip." But should
principals in schools without proper plumbing-where students can't learn
arithmetic because they're too worried about overflowing toilets and
contaminated drinking fountains-be so nonchalant? Gadfly left several
messages on Jonathan Kozol's machine; he hasn't returned our calls. But
we already picture his next book: Injustice Overflows Like an Abilene Toilet.
"School improvises when toilets go out," Associated Press, April 10, 2006
Eric Osberg / April 13, 2006
Robert Gordon, Thomas J. Kane, and Douglas O. Staiger
The Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution
This paper makes the case for improving teacher quality by basing tenure and bonus-pay on student achievement while lowering barriers for certification and, thus, entry into the profession. We've heard these ideas before, but rarely from prominent Democrats; Robert Gordon is former policy director for the Kerry/Edwards campaign and currently with the Center for American Progress. And rarely have these ideas been presented so simply and with such sturdy logic and explanations. Everyone should read the material covering the authors' second of five recommendations-"Make it harder to promote the least effective teachers to tenured positions"-in which they propose denying tenure to teachers who are ineffective during their first two years. The report suggests that administrators evaluate student achievement data, and supplement that data with subjective factors such as classroom observation, to weed-out the bottom quartile of new teachers. But wouldn't other inexperienced teachers then take their place, and wouldn't quality suffer? No, say the authors. While more new teachers would certainly be needed, the net effect on teacher quality would be overwhelmingly positive. And although it's possible for struggling new instructors to develop into good teachers, these data show that teacher performance in the first two years is a good predictor of future success or failure; the worst new teachers generally become the worst veteran teachers. Wouldn't eliminating certification requirements to expand
April 13, 2006
Nancy Martin and Samuel Halperin
American Youth Policy Forum
Every nine seconds in America, a student becomes a dropout, and only about two-thirds of all students entering 9th grade graduate four years later. Whatever It Takes asks two questions: What can be done to recover and reconnect those young people most at risk of dropping out, and what is being done to reengage out-of-school youth? The report profiles twelve community case studies and six major national programs, and it demonstrates they've gained traction in youth dropout recovery. Through a mixture of promoting community service, "real-world, career-oriented curricula," and multiple schooling options (among other approaches), some communities have achieved notable successes. At the Sinclair Fast Forward Center in Fordham's hometown of Dayton, Ohio, counselors can refer youngsters to dropout recovery charter schools or other employment programs. Baltimore, Maryland, established a network of vocational-type high schools with partnerships with the private sector. There is no one-size-fits-all model here, nor is there one, definite answer to the dropout problem. These case studies work well as a "practical resource" of how certain tailor-made programs have produced demonstrable successes on the ground. It's notable that charter schools-largely immune to the bureaucratic bulkiness of traditional public schools-are popular among nonprofit organizations, which can use charters to enroll out-of-school youth. The report also evaluates and gives good information about national programs, such as Job Corps, which enroll a large portion of the nation's out-of-school youth. Thanks
April 13, 2006
Introduction by Tavis Smiley
Third World Press
The majority of this book (currently number 26 on Amazon.com) may not be as vapid as its examination in chapter two, or "Covenant II" as the chapters are named, of how to better educate black students. But I read only Covenant II-and it's pretty awful. Not only does the chapter avoid saying anything substantial, but most of its sentiments are either wrongheaded or just plain wrong. Take, for example, this sentence from the chapter's introductory essay by Edmund W. Gordon: "As members of the black community, we must take responsibility for educating all our children-whether ours by birth or otherwise-to uplift our people as a whole." One expects the next paragraphs to expand upon this theme, perhaps by suggesting how black communities can take responsibility for educating their children. But Gordon doesn't have time for substance; he's got a lot of fluff to cover. He kicks it up a notch when his meaningless musings become overtly ridiculous. He writes, for example, about America's "caste-like system" and puts forth unreasonable thoughts about redistributing the nation's income, wealth, and resources. And of course, as an Ed school professor (at Columbia, no less), Gordon must incorporate sentences like this: "But even more problematic may be the changing and rising demands for intellective competence that are associated with urbanicity and post-modernity, at the same time that blacks are trying to close the achievement gap." Ugh.