Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 30
August 10, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
It's time to empower low-income parents
Gimme, gimme, gimme
Pass or fail?
School of knock-knocks
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 10, 2006
Muzzling Alfie Kohn is noble work for education reformers, and it's a pity that a misguided Massachusetts judge doesn't get it. Five long years ago, the Bay State's Department of Education threatened to withdraw its funding from an education conference if Kohn were allowed to address it on the topic of standardized testing, which he hates. In the event, Kohn was paid his nontrivial honorarium but not permitted to speak. The ACLU filed suit on "freedom of speech" grounds, and Superior Court Judge Hiller Zobel found the other day that indeed Kohn's civil rights had been violated.
The question this poses is whether a government agency that is implementing a particular policy is obliged to pay for critics of that policy to decry it. A decision not to subsidize them is not the same as silencing the critics, who have ample outlets and forums and can easily get paid by the Ford Foundation, FairTest, or the NEA.
Is NIH obliged to pay for vendors of herbal remedies to address cancer conferences? Is the Department of the Interior obliged to pay for advocates of strip-mining Yellowstone to speak at conservation conferences? Is the Marine Corps obliged to pay for pacifists to talk at seminars on weaponry?
A wag of the finger to Judge Zobel. Hurrah for the Massachusetts Department of Education.
"A victory for education," by Adrian Walker, Boston Globe, August 7, 2006
Teaching science, not theology, is the proper work
Howard Fuller / August 10, 2006
When President Bush addressed the NAACP recently, his praise for charter schools and other forms of education choice was met with a mixed chorus of boos and applause.
That mixed reaction is indicative of an increasingly pitched debate in the black community, between those who want to save the traditional public school system and those who stress giving low income and working class black families other options. I have no doubt that the people who booed the president have as much concern as I do about the tragic and unacceptable non-education of thousands of our children. But I stand with those who are making an urgent priority of educating children from low income and working class families--those whom the current system has so often failed.
Our poorest children are being denied a quality education in so many places in this country. While their futures are being snuffed out, too many of us who are able to access quality options for our own children are questioning the idea of empowering poor families by making these very same options available to them.
There's no question that parents who gain the power to choose take advantage of those opportunities. According to the latest federal data, 57 percent of students in public charter schools are minority, compared to 39 percent in the general public-ed population. In big urban centers the numbers are much higher: 99 percent of charter-school students in the District of Columbia are
August 10, 2006
They may not vacation in St. Barts, but teachers in Southeastern Virginia's booming Norfolk/Hampton Roads region are hardly at the bottom of the salary chain. Besides receiving across-the-board raises this year of between 4 percent (Norfolk) and 8 percent (Portsmouth), the Virginian-Pilot finds that their salaries have outstripped inflation and risen faster than those of other area professionals. Moreover, teachers have the vast majority of their health insurance paid for, a generous pension plan, and work an average of 45 fewer days per year than other professionals. Not enough! screams the union. "A teacher molds a [sic] life of a child," says a Virginia NEA representative. "I don't know of any other profession in which that happens." How about ministers, nurses, and the heads of groups such as Boys' and Girls' Clubs to start? All are paid less than teachers, on average, without the time off. So how much is enough? The union says it best. "I don't think there would ever be a point where we'd say we have enough." 'Nuf said.
"Higher earning? Teachers fare better than many other professionals," by Amy Jeter and Deirdre Fernandes, Virginian-Pilot, August 7, 2006
August 10, 2006
Winding down his tenure as governor, Florida's Jeb Bush received, courtesy of the Miami Herald, a lengthy and mostly fair assessment of his education policies' successes and failures. Bush's "crusade to reinvent Florida's public education system," writes Matthew Pinzur, "was built around numbers." And by that measure, things are generally looking up. In 1999, just over half of Sunshine State fourth-graders were reading at the proficient level on the FCAT exam; today, 66 percent do. Importantly, these gains are matched by similar progress among Florida fourth-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Tenth-graders, however, haven't fared as well--the number reading at the proficient level on state tests is down one percentage point, from 33 to 32, since Bush was elected. But the outgoing governor argues that, as thousands of newly proficient fourth-grade readers make their way through the middle and secondary school ranks, achievement levels will rise there, too. Let's give credit where credit is due: Despite recent setbacks at the hands of the state's Supreme Court and legislature, the educational foundations that Bush built have a good chance of benefiting Floridians for years to come.
"Jeb's last semester," by Matthew I. Pinzur, Miami Herald, August 6, 2006
August 10, 2006
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Sarah Carr is asking all the right questions about charter schools. How much autonomy should they be allowed, and, if they're not performing up to standards, are authorizers willing (and should they be willing) to close them down? Consider the Truth Institute for Leadership and Service, a Milwaukee charter school with "abysmal" test scores but strong relationships with contented parents. When the city's school board moved to close it, one parent complained that "now the relationship is being broken by someone who is not even in the family." Or, as Kati Haycock of the Education Trust put it, "There's a war for the soul of the charter movement under way." Perhaps so, but it's asymmetric. Sure, on one side there are plenty of lousy schools that want to stay open, and more than a few charter authorizers unwilling to shut them down. But, on the other side, virtually every leader in the charter movement believes that schools should get results or vanish. School Board member Ken Johnson says it best: "If we are talking about a school that's not achieving, we are talking about children who are not achieving. We don't get a chance to do this right the second time."
"Educators spar over goal of charter schools," by Sarah Carr, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, August 2, 2006
August 10, 2006
Let's say you're training to teach in a tough inner-city school. Where do you go for advice to help you succeed? Veteran Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews, who for years has written about high-quality high-poverty schools, turned to top-notch teachers such as Jason Kamras, Rafe Esquith, Mike Feinberg, and Dave Levin, who showed themselves to be a wellspring of practical ideas: Teachers should make themselves readily available to students before and after class, reward students tangibly for good work, and streamline homework grading to save time for teacher-student-parent interaction. Our favorite, from KIPP and from Kamras: teachers should make unannounced visits to students' homes to update parents on their progress. But here's the real question: why do teacher candidates have to read the Washington Post Magazine to find these common sense ideas, instead of encountering them in ed school? One professor's reaction to these ideas illustrates why. "No one wants someone just showing up at their home unannounced," he told Mathews. "Teachers must treat parents with respect." And, Mr. Ed School Professor, how exactly do you know that families don't want their child's teacher coming to their home to talk about their precious? Maybe the AERA should do a study. In the meantime, future teachers of America: we recommend skipping ed school and just reading Mathews.
"Learning from the Masters," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post Magazine, August 6, 2006
No Child Left Behind Act: Education Actions Needed to Improve Local Implementation and State Evaluation of Supplemental Educational Services
Michael J. Petrilli / August 10, 2006
United States Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) enjoys a reputation for fairness and integrity and its new report on No Child Left Behind's free-tutoring provision is of that ilk. GAO analysts find plenty of fault with all the major players: the U.S. Department of Education, which could do more to disseminate promising tutoring practices; the states, which have been negligent in their monitoring and evaluation duties; the districts, which often act as if they want to keep free tutoring a state secret; and, yes, the tutoring providers, who could do more to communicate with teachers and parents. (Of course, the one player not targeted was the GAO's boss, Congress itself, which could be faulted for the program's clumsy legislative language and blurry lines of responsibility.) Still, silver linings exist: free tutoring is gaining traction. Enrollment almost quadrupled from 116,626 students in 2002-2003 to 430,044 in 2004-2005. Yet that growth is uneven. While 16 percent of districts maxed out their tutoring money, on average districts spent just 5 percent of their Title I funds for this purpose (the law provides for spending up to 20 percent). Faulty parental notification is surely part of the problem. More than half of all districts informed parents about supplemental services (and, one must surmise, their school transfer options, too) after the start of the school year. Another good development: accountability is improving. Nearly three-fourths of states have plans in place to
No Child Left Behind Act: States Face Challenges Measuring Academic Growth That Education's Initiatives May Help Address
Eric Osberg / August 10, 2006
United States Government Accountability Office
This short GAO report summarizes and explains "growth models," which are methods for evaluating the change in performance of students or schools over time and are often referred to as "academic value added." The report's growth model definition is broad (some methods included here don't necessarily gauge whether particular students are improving but rather evaluate whether a school has higher-achieving third-graders this year than last), so it's not surprising that 26 states were found to be using some sort of growth model at the time of publication and 22 more were developing such. And NCLB is making use of growth models, too. For example, schools that miss proficiency targets but still reduce their numbers of "not proficient" students by at least 10 percent are sheltered under NCLB's safe harbor provision--a growth model according to the GAO's definition. And California uses its Academic Performance Index, another growth model, as the "additional indicator" its schools must meet in order to make adequate yearly progress. Still, North Carolina and Tennessee are the only two states whose robust growth models met all criteria for approval under a Department of Education pilot program--thus, those states' growth models can be used to calculate adequate yearly progress. But growth models are good for more than NCLB reporting. In North Carolina, for example, the state uses its to determine teacher bonuses. This is a fairly useful report which includes a timeline of when
August 10, 2006
U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics
This NCES "issue brief" examines the qualifications of those who taught secondary school history during 1999-2000. While earlier studies looked at the percentages of teachers "in-field" (those with a postsecondary major and state certification in the subject they were teaching) and "out-of-field" (those without), the extent to which out-of-field teachers have other training or skills related to their subject has gone mostly unexamined. This paper sifts through the data and presents some interesting findings. For example, only 45 percent of secondary school history students were taught by a teacher with a college major or minor in history. Of the 55 percent of students whose teachers lacked such degrees, 73 percent were taught by an instructor who had a major or minor in another social science. Eighty-six percent of secondary school history students had history teachers with state social studies certification (of course that figure is ten points lower in schools serving poor kids). Six percent of students had teachers with no certification at all. Overall, some 9 percent of secondary-level history students are taught by instructors with neither a certification in social studies nor a major or minor in history; that number climbs to 13 percent for high poverty schools. This short paper provides many more fascinating tidbits; for example, did you know that almost 12 percent of secondary school history teachers majored in phys ed? (If you've ever met a