Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 33
August 31, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Double dose of standards
Hot for teacher
PE's not all that phat
Best practices for the prep set
A higher education
This week, Mike and Rick squawk about the SAT, why men need affirmative action, and parents who live through their progeny. We've got an interview with Citizen Virginia, who offers our non-profit some non-prophet advice about national standards, and News of the Weird threatens to muddle the very character of our schools. Eduwonk?says?listening to this 20-minute podcast is ''like watching a ferret being tortured.'' We say Andrew Rotherham should?stop torturing ferrets.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 31, 2006
Standards-based reform is one of the two driving engines of education improvement in the United States and has been at least since 1989. (The other engine, of course, is school choice in its infinite variety.) Though many states commenced this process on their own, federal encouragement--beginning with the Improving America's Schools and Goals 2000 Acts, both passed in 1994, then NCLB in 2001--has caused them all to do so.
Over the past decade, 49 states and the District of Columbia have created, replaced, substantially revised, or augmented their English and math standards. NCLB, of course, raised the stakes inasmuch as states, districts, and schools are now judged by how well they are educating their students in relation to those standards. (Science will soon be tested, though it won't count.) Moreover, billions of dollars in federal aid now hinge on whether states hold their schools and districts to account for student learning as defined in those standards and measured on assessments that are supposed to be aligned with those standards.
Given all that, one would assume that, overall, state standards must be pretty robust. One would also be completely wrong.
Enter Fordham's latest report The State of State Standards 2006, which evaluates each state's English, math, science, U.S. history, and world history standards. (The individual subject evaluations were done, and reported, earlier. This report brings them all together with interpretation.) But for a handful of laudable
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / August 31, 2006
A.A. Milne had it right: The greatest joy of childhood is the freedom to do nothing. But one can't do nothing forever, as Christopher Robin reminded Pooh in the last of Milne's classic children's stories.
"I'm not going to do nothing no more," Christopher Robin said.
"Never again?" asked Pooh.
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
"They" are the adults, whose world Christopher Robin is about to enter, presumably as a student. But some adults believe--at least in the realm of homework--that nothing is exactly what children should be doing.
That's Alfie Kohn's solution. Author of The Homework Myth and prosecutor of all that smacks of excellence or rigor in the American classroom, he claims that the evidence that homework boosts academic achievement is "dubious." Worse, he thinks homework damages kids' emotional development by working them into the ground after the school bell rings.
Hear hear, Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, authors of The Case against Homework and militant moms on the path to reclaim childhood for children everywhere, would say. Armed mainly with circumstantial evidence and anecdotes, Bennett (a defense attorney) and Kalish push the no-homework argument to the extreme. Not only is it ineffective in improving academic performance, they say, but it's literally killing our children and destroying the time they have to spend with their families.
Just as some educators like to blame the No Child Left Behind Act for
August 31, 2006
Rocker Eddie Van Halen had a famously tough time concentrating in class and now, thanks to a provocative study by Thomas Dee of Stanford, we know why. Eddie Van Halen's teacher was a woman. Dee's report, which appears in the fall issue of Education Next, compared a survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders conducted in 1988 with test score data and found that students learn more from teachers of their same sex. More bad news for boys, since the proportion of teachers who are male is at an all-time low (at around 20 percent). And gender not only influences academic achievement; it influences attitudes, too. Dee found that male students were more likely to be considered disruptive in classes with female teachers, and female students were less apt to look forward to classes, or ask questions in classes, taught by men. Of course, everyone from Dee himself to the NEA's Reg Weaver (who apparently thinks teachers' "culture" matters, but gender doesn't) has cautioned against making hasty generalizations or drawing presumptive policy implications from these findings about same-sex education. But it wouldn't be hasty to accelerate the adoption of alternate routes to the profession, which famously bring more men into teaching than ed schools do. Troops-to-Teachers: Bring ‘em on.
"Study: Teacher's gender affects learning," by Ben Feller, Associated Press, August 28, 2006
August 31, 2006
Roy Romer has led a full and worthy life. As he details in the Los Angeles Times, he "sold tractors, owned a flight school, owned and operated a ski resort, climbed the Matterhorn, served as governor of Colorado for three terms, and chaired the Democratic National Committee." And after all that, on the cusp of retirement in 2000, at the age of 71, Romer went back to school and became superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, a job he did not need but courageously undertook. Now, with his time at the head of L.A.'s schools all but finished, Romer took a moment to reflect on the experience he called "the most difficult and rewarding job" he's ever had. Romer's wisdom? Change doesn't occur overnight, and education rarely responds to silver bullets--it takes day-to-day perseverance to reform struggling schools. He worries that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan (which just passed in the California legislature and will be signed by the Gubernator unless he changes his mind) to take over the city's schools will only widen their problems. (Gadfly agrees.) While we would have liked to have seen this champion for children show more willingness to battle his bureaucracy and embrace charter schools, his steadfastness around sound pedagogy will be missed. Mr. Mayor: Please don't throw that baby out with the bathwater.
"Adios, and good luck," by Roy Romer, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2006
August 31, 2006
Last year alone, forty-four states bet the farm--the Phat Farm?--on physical education classes. They're hiring more phys ed teachers, requiring more classroom hours, and bringing in state directors to get American youths' modern-day "Battle of the Bulge" under control. But these politicians should put their money on another cash cow, er, horse (or maybe start setting a better example themselves). First, PE does increase the amount of vigorous physical activity girls partake in but doesn't have the same effect for boys. And the news isn't all good for girls, either. Those taking more PE report spending less time doing light exercise outside class. And for both genders, more PE time doesn't result in weight loss or an improved Body Mass Index number. Part of the problem is that gym class is none too energetic. In one Texas county, just over 3.5 minutes of vigorous activity was reported per 40 minutes of class. Still, for all the hubbub over child obesity, it's hard to take these PE concerns seriously when many schools have restricted the most rigorous PE games, and still offer greasy pizza and French fries at lunch. Our solution? Get rid of those frivolous school busses and make the kiddos walk back and forth to school--uphill both ways.
"Not Your Father's PE: Obesity, Exercise, and the Role of Schools," by John Cawley, Chad Meyerhoefer, and David Newhouse, Education Next, Fall
August 31, 2006
Advocates of educational choice always wonder why, if the goal of education is lofty learning by students, people quarrel so fiercely about the means of getting there. Case in point: Jake Heichert, a high school senior from St. Paul, who designed his own lesson plans and curricula. They included sleeping through tests; doing homework in front of the television; subscribing to The Economist, Time, and Electronic Gaming Monthly; and reading books such as Guns, Germs, and Steel and the sci-fi classic Ender's Game. The result? He turned in perfect scores on both the SAT and the ACT, as well as on four AP tests. Jake's parents embrace a tight-loose model of child rearing. "The deal is, he gets good grades and we don't bother him," said his mother, Susan Heichert. So should Jake's plan of study be implemented across the United States? Just picture it: a nation of eager, self-motivated young adults balancing the rigors of intellectual discovery with NBC's Thursday night lineup. We say give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?
"How did this St. Paul 18-year-old ace the SAT and ACT?" by Tad Vezner, St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 25, 2006
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / August 31, 2006
August 29, 2006
Young Mr. Heichert may have racked up a perfect SAT score, but the national results are nothing to crow about. This week the College Board released its data on the Class of 2006 SAT test-takers, and there's plenty of interesting information. Most notable is that in the areas of critical reading (formerly known as "verbal") and math, student scores for both males and females declined big-time. The rate of decline in math was the same for boys and girls (down 2 points each from last year), but in critical reading the male slump was worse (down 8 points, while girls' scores declined 3). It was the sharpest downturn in 31 years, one that the College Board, seemingly fishing or maybe wishing, chalks up to changes in student test-taking patterns. Namely, fewer students are taking the SAT a second time. Those who do, says the College Board, usually see a 30-point increase in scores. Maybe so--or maybe that's just an attempt to collect more test-taking fees, which, since beginning the new SAT, have risen by 41 percent (from $29.50 to $41.50). Some good SAT news is found among minority-student performance. ESL students scored 5 points better than last year in critical reading and 2 points better in math. African American and Mexican American reading scores climbed 1 point each over last year. But the biggest news is the changes in the exam itself. Overall testing time
August 31, 2006
Jason C. Snipes, Glee Ivory Holton, Fred Doolittle, and Laura Sztejnberg
This report evaluates the effectiveness of Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD), a national high school improvement program first launched in Houston and now active in 12 school districts--and much touted and lauded and financed by all manner of high profile folk. The program seeks to improve high school achievement by intervening in elementary and middle schools where teachers implement specific and demanding reading and math curricula with an eye toward ensuring that students are better prepared when they reach 9th grade. But does it work? With support from the Ford Foundation, the MDRC research group looked at test scores in fifty-two elementary schools in four districts (Houston; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Newark, New Jersey), and at scores in three Houston high schools, as well as other high schools in Atlanta and Columbus. At the elementary level, Project GRAD participants didn't fare any better on state tests than students in similar local schools, but on national tests minor improvement was evident--in that GRAD students' scores declined less than those of other youngsters. The high school study yields less than dazzling results. Students at Project GRAD's flagship, Houston's Jefferson Davis High, were more likely than other students to complete a core academic curriculum on time. The positive effects were not, however, evident in other high schools. The report posits that Project GRAD may need more time to