Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 14
April 6, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
A narrow view of NCLB
The French disconnection
Going wobbly on exit exams
Education in motion
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Michael J. Petrilli / April 6, 2006
History, science, and the arts are being de-emphasized by most schools in order to make room for teaching basic reading and math skills, according to a new study. Who's to blame for this? Critics of reform point to the No Child Left Behind law.
And they're right to do so-to a point. NCLB mandates that schools boost achievement in reading and math-only reading and math-or face tough consequences. The incentive has worked, to the surprise of some, but so, too, has the law of unintended consequences.
This is not the only example of that phenomenon. NCLB puts pressure on educators to get all students to a low level of proficiency, so schools ignore kids at the top of the class. The law leaves the standards-setting to the states but ties sanctions to the results, so the states "race to the bottom" and lower their standards. And yes, the statute focuses its accountability provisions on reading and math, so schools ignore everything else. The latter problem is easily fixed (though the fix is politically unpopular). Congress should add history testing to the law's requirements, and make the history and science results count. (Science testing will be required next year, but the results won't count for accountability purposes, unless President Bush has his way.) Now that we know that schools will respond to incentives, we should be clear about our aims.
But tweaking the law's carrots and sticks is not enough, and
April 6, 2006
European nations' primary and secondary schools are rightly praised for their commitment to strong core curricula and starting children's educations early. (France, for example, has funded universal preschool for over a century.) But when it comes to educating the continent's burgeoning immigrant populations, some EU countries do a better job than others.
Two researchers at the University of Amsterdam have examined how well second-generation Turks living in Europe fare in education achievement. France leads the way, due in no small part to French children starting school early (around age 3), receiving more hours of face-to-face instruction, and having access to significant amounts of supplementary support. Moreover, students are not "selected" for a career track at a young age.
Compare this to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, where students begin school at a later age and enter career tracks relatively early in their educational lives. It is no surprise, therefore, that about twice as many second-generation Turks living in France reach middle and higher levels of education than in Germany.
So, why are students rioting in Paris while the streets of Berlin are calm? Why, last autumn, were French immigrant communities illuminated for weeks by bonfires of burning cars?
Because French students have little prospect of a pay-off for their hard work in the classroom. In the United States, a college degree usually translates into gainful employment. That's not the case in France, where students graduate into a hopelessly backwards economy.
Every graduate of a French high school who receives the ubiquitous baccalaureat
April 6, 2006
It is understandable that citizens and policymakers want taxpayer-funded universities to show proof that students are learning. But are government-mandated standardized tests-currently under serious consideration by a federal panel-the answer? The 4,000-plus institutions of higher education vary wildly in institutional structure, educational goals, and academic focus. How would students studying a range of subjects from art history to chemical engineering to animal husbandry be compared with anything but a "lowest common denominator" measure? And why would 20-year-old college students (adults, remember) make an effort on such tests? The accountability impulse is sound, but in the case of the higher education marketplace, the old doctor's oath is apropos: first do no harm.
"Colleges pushed to prove worth," by Patrick Kerkstra, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 2006
April 6, 2006
In the West Contra Costa Unified School District (near San Francisco), some 500 seniors have repeatedly failed the California High School Exit Exam and may not graduate. But if school board Trustee David Brown gets his way, those kids will receive high school diplomas anyway. Brown has floated a proposal-a board vote is scheduled for April 10-that would grant diplomas to all West Contra Costa students who have satisfied all graduation course requirements and passed the California exit exam or "an alternative assessment designed by local officials and graded subjectively." Were Brown to get his way, West Contra Costa would, of course, be in complete violation of the law. The state's education department has rightly responded by notifying the district's superintendent that should the board pass such a proposal, a court date won't be far off. Forget for a moment the specious arguments about exit exams "demoralizing" students, and concentrate instead on the example that Brown and his allies are setting for Golden State youngsters. If at first you don't succeed... break the law. We say: take the school board and send them straight to jail.
"School board to vote on defying exit exam law," by Simone Sebastian, San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2006
"48, 000 students still out in the cold," by Laurel Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee, March 29, 1996
April 6, 2006
Beginning in the 2007-2008 school year, states will be required to test students in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school as part of No Child Left Behind. But as the law now stands, schools won't face consequences for poor results. President Bush wants to change that, and he has quietly come out in favor of basing adequate yearly progress on math, reading, and science scores as part of his competitiveness agenda. Congress looks to be moderately receptive to the president's proposal, though is unlikely to act until the law's reauthorization. Others citizens are more enthusiastic. Eighth-grade science teacher Inez Liftig, who supports holding schools accountable in her subject, said, "Because science is not a mandated item, it gets pushed to the end of the day." What's true for science is also true for history-policymakers should add both subjects at the same time lest the core curriculum itself become history.
"Bush wants schools to progress in science," by Ben Feller, Associated Press, March 29, 2006
April 6, 2006
Phil Rynearson of Rochester, Minnesota, is working to raise student achievement and decrease students' waist-lines-simultaneously. He's using a program developed by the Mayo Clinic's Dr. James Levine (who also created an office of the future where white-collar folks work kinetically), which forces students to stand at podiums, sit on exercise balls, or lie on mats while learning. Technology is integrated, too: Students are hooked up to iPods and computers, and to calorie-measuring leg sensors. "I don't like standing," says Mariah Matrious, "my legs get tired and I like sitting." Poor Mariah-she has yet to learn that sitting is for sickly, lethargic troglodytes. Levine says his dream is a classroom with "kids shooting hoops and spelling," like the basketball game "H-O-R-S-E." Gadfly is always down for hoop-it-up, but he prefers to bring-the-pain on the playground court, after school. As for Levine, we've got a game for him: L-O-O-N-Y.
"Fidgeting in classroom may help students" By Chris Williams, Boston Globe, March 28, 2006
Beating the Odds: A City-by-City Analysis of Student Performance and Achievement Gaps on State Assessments, Results from the 2004-2005 School Year
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / April 6, 2006
Council of the Great City Schools
This is the Sixth Edition of "Beating the Odds," an ongoing analysis of how Great City Schools (i.e., schools in the nation's 66 largest urban districts) are doing in their efforts to improve student performance and shrink achievement gaps. And there's good news to share-these traditionally troubled, urban schools are making progress. "Over 80 percent of the Great City School districts have improved math scores in grades 3-10 since 1999-2000. Over 70 percent of the large cities, moreover, have improved faster than their respective states in grades 3-8." The story is similar but less dramatic for reading results. But don't jump up and down just yet. The data have a number of flaws-eleven, at least, by the report's account. Among them: 1) assessment data cannot be compared across states, because each state test is different; 2) the report didn't test the statistical significance of state test score growth rates; and 3) the report doesn't attempt to adjust for varying degrees of difficulty that state tests display. We'll add another: the state tests might be getting easier over time. What the report does do, however, is compare rising state test scores in Great City Schools with each city's state scores to determine if GCS schools are improving faster than non-GCS schools in their respective states. It also compares the gains on test scores to NAEP, specifically the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA),
Eric Osberg / April 6, 2006
National Association of Secondary School Principals
This large guidebook for principals-which gives sundry suggestions (structural, administrative, pedagogical) for reviving struggling middle schools-has a catch-all feel. Parts will appeal to those who decry middle school as an academic graveyard; parts will appeal to those whose focus is the emotional and social development of middle school students. Therefore, principals who use this guide must be discerning. The first of its nine Cornerstone Strategies is to establish rigorous academics, and it offers detailed suggestions for using data to enhance teaching and to assess (collaboratively, not competitively) teachers. The book is filled with checklists, self-tests, Ask the Experts interviews, and recommendations. Some are sound and based on accountability systems. Other tips are more traditional, though perhaps still useful-for example: "To creatively use existing time," principals should seek "parent volunteers, older students, and so on to produce manipulatives, copies, laminates, and other class materials," and "pay expert teachers during the summer to develop ‘curriculum tubs' that include well-developed concept-based lessons in key content areas. Place the materials in plastic tubs in a central location, so they can be checked out by any teacher." Unfortunately, some of the volume's fluff advice (teachers should be "adept at acting as coaches and facilitators to promote more active involvement of students in their own learning") is apt to cause more academic problems than it can hope to remedy. This book is vast, so it offers both