Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 24
June 15, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Condition of education 2006
Lose a mile, give an inch
Fat American thighs
This week, Mike and Rick chat about how to walk, chew gum, and teach science at the same time; the D.C. teachers' union's sea change; and the language of love. Paul Peterson (not the butterfly collector) grants us an interview, and Education News of the Weird is a distant hum. All in under 20 minutes-it's a celebration!
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 15, 2006
The National Center for Education Statistics doesn't always do right by its annual "Condition of Education" report (COE), which has sometimes been humdrum and sometimes dizzy from pro-administration spin. But this year Education Statistics commissioner Mark Schneider and his team have produced an uncommonly interesting and, at almost 400 pages, sizable report. It differs from the group's facts-only "Digest of Education Statistics" in that COE points to trends, patterns, and notable changes, thus making it informative, not just informational.
Yes, its value is diminished by the nation's archaic ed statistics apparatus. Even the latest numbers, for example, are nearly always a year or two old (the finance data are typically 3 years old). Moreover, important data is simply unavailable (e.g., the cost and value of teacher benefits); the dropout and graduation definitions remain murky; and Congressional constraints on what can be asked of kids and parents means some information cannot be gathered.
Still, there's much here of value, both for K-12 and higher education, beginning with an excellent (if depressing) summary of comparative international data on academic achievement, which generally show U.S. students reading about as well as their counterparts in other countries but faltering by age 15 in both math and science. (In 4th grade, young Americans do OK across the board.)
These items in the 2006 COE caught my eye:
--Despite much recent ferment about early childhood education, participation in pre-K programs seems to
June 15, 2006
In last Sunday's New York Times, Jeffrey Rosen, a well-known legal scholar, wrote a longish article related to the Supreme Court's decision to hear two cases that challenge racially influenced admissions policies in public schools.
Rosen didn't pick sides in the upcoming battles. Rather, he explained why the growing nuance of racial issues, especially for conservatives, has begun sowing political divisions where once only unity existed.
Let's examine Rosen's point from the perspective not of conservatives or liberals, but of education reformers. In the education community's debate over racial issues, there also exists much nuance and substantial division. Especially since the advent of No Child Left Behind and its goal of closing racial achievement gaps, those divisions have grown starker and exposed some seeming contradictions.
For example: How can one support racial classifications in NCLB, but eschew them as, say, part of K-12 public school admissions?
For an answer, we must start with NCLB, which derives its name from the idea that all children are capable of faring well academically. To that end, the law demands that schools, districts, and states disaggregate their student test data, breaking them down by subgroups. Racial subgroups are a key part of the system.
NCLB's system of disaggregation makes good sense. A chasm exists between the academic performance of America's racial groups, and closing that gap is essential for the social harmony and economic competitiveness of the nation. Thus, it seems
June 15, 2006
Give them credit for progress-even if it's painfully incremental. In a decidedly uncharacteristic move, the Washington D.C. Teachers' Union approved a new contract that will introduce bonus incentives for teachers and give principals more autonomy at a handful of pilot schools. The union's president, George Parker, says that the changes are necessary if the city's public schools are to remain competitive with D.C. charters, whose attendance has jumped by 70 percent over the past five years, giving them approximately 25 percent market share of the public school population. D.C. Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said, "You can't move a reform agenda unless you have a genuine relationship with the union." What he couldn't say is that such a relationship is much more likely when the union is feeling the heat. Parker is more honest: "The landscape has changed. Our parents are voting with their feet. As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent." Eureka! But Mr. Parker, we're doubtful that allowing reform at less than dozen schools is likely to stem the tide. Still, you get an "A" for attitude.
June 15, 2006
Education Week recently reported that, though the 2005 Science NAEP exam showed more low-achieving 4th grade students scoring at the "basic" level, results are stagnant or worse in all grades at the "proficient" and "advanced" levels. What does that mean? Simply this: the highest-achieving students aren't gaining any ground in science, and in some grades their performance is falling. Members of Congress are understandably alarmed. Education has "two purposes," says Rep. Dana Rohrabacker (R-Calif.). "One is to... educate the American people in a general sense, and the other is" to stimulate "high achievers.... These are not necessarily the same goals." But Norman R. Augustine-the former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin who has done much work with math and science education-sees the two goals as compatible, since improving overall achievement and helping students at the top are both necessary for strong economic development. The "cream of the cream [sic]... are going to create the jobs for the rest of us," he said. Still, it's official: the NCLB-era focus on closing achievement gaps is starting to lose ground to competitiveness-related concerns with boosting our best and brightest (see here). Coming soon: No Cream of the Cream Left Behind!
"NAEP Scores Show Few Budding Scientists," Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, June 7, 2006 (subscription required)
June 15, 2006
Chile's country-wide education protests are now over. The fallout from the three-week crucible that saw nearly 800,000 students take to Chile's streets (sometimes violently), however, will not be soon forgotten. The walkouts began innocently enough, with students asking the government to provide free bus passes and to waive university entrance exam fees. But protests grew angrier as high school students insisted that the government centralize school management and pour profits from the country's copper trade into education. The financial inequity between wealthy private schools and public schools has only worsened over the past decade, and those disparities provided ample fodder to keep the youthful anger stoked. Though non-student groups (unions, anti-government groups, etc.) certainly pushed up the level of violence, the students' voices ring loud and clear-they want better schooling and a better life. We wonder how many American students are as passionate about their own educations.
"How Chile's growth skipped its schools," by Jen Ross, Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 2006
"Will Chile's President Flunk the Test?," by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2006 (subscription required)
"Chile students clash with police," BBC News, June 6, 2006
"Schools out," The Economist, June 1, 2006 (subscription required)
June 15, 2006
A new front has opened in the cell phone wars. In a ring tone realm once ruled by Fur Elise and the latest jam from 50 Cent (aka Fiddy), a new craze has taken center stage-"Teen Buzz," the almost-silent cell phone alert. Almost-silent because youngsters can hear it while older folks (who typically lose their ability to discern higher-pitched sounds) cannot. The original sound was developed by a Welsh security company which sold it, not as a ring tone, but as a way for British shopkeepers to keep loitering youths away from their stores. The tone is emitted at high volumes from the storefronts, allowing adults to buy groceries in peace while young hooligans and their dirt bikes are quickly disbursed. (Reports make no mention of Moms and Dads who shop with baby Johnny in tow.) Now the onetime weapon has been usurped by the youthful masses. Kids are using the high pitch to receive text message alerts in class, and their teachers are none-the-wiser. Losing the tech-savvy battle to China and India? Not if these youngsters have anything to say about it.
"Students Find Ring Tone Adults Can't Heart," Associated Press, June 12, 2006
Key Issues in Studying Charter Schools and Achievement: A Review and Suggestions for National Guidelines
Michael J. Petrilli / June 15, 2006
The Charter School Achievement Consensus Panel; Julian Betts and Paul T. Hill, Principal Drafters
Center on Reinventing Public Education
For charter supporters, August 17, 2004, is a day that will live in infamy. That day, the New York Times unleashed its AFT-spun appraisal, based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that charter schools were "lagging behind" traditional public schools. (See here.) All hell broke lose. Full page ads denouncing the article were taken. Rival studies were rushed to print. It was a fight to the death. Reason, facts, and rigorous analysis, it seemed, couldn't make much difference. And that was a big problem. So professor Paul Hill and the leaders of several foundations set out to create a space where research would triumph over rhetoric. The result is the National Charter School Research Project (of which Fordham is a minor funder), housed at his Center, and this white paper is one of its first major contributions. It can best be described as a peace offering, the conditions of a possible truce in the charter research wars. It focuses (probably too narrowly) on how to best answer one key question: "whether students in charter schools are learning more or less than they would have learned in conventional public schools." The paper walks the reader through seven major types of studies (such as experimental and "fixed effects") and considers their strengths and weaknesses in addressing
June 15, 2006
Heather G. Peske and Kati Haycock
The Education Trust
Education Trust collaborated with teams in three Midwest states (Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin), and in the largest school districts in each of those states (Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee), to examine the distribution of high-quality teachers across schools. The teams will put out full reports later this summer, so this small report just highlights selected findings, which are depressingly familiar: students in predominantly poor and minority schools are less likely to have a high-quality teacher in their classrooms. Sometimes these teachers are novices (teaching less than three years) or relatively inexperienced (less than five years experience), and sometimes they have no background in the subjects they teach. In Wisconsin, for example, 25 percent of teachers in the highest-minority schools were novices, while the state's lowest-minority schools had 10 percent novice teachers. Low-performing schools in the Badger State "had approximately twice the percentage of novice teachers as high-performing schools." Why is this so? Partly because federal law contains a loophole that "allows districts to ignore disparities in teacher qualifications across different schools," and because teachers in urban schools are given no salary bonus for serving in more difficult environments. What's more, teachers with seniority oftentimes have first dibs on open jobs in cushier schools. Veteran teachers, therefore, abandon tough urban schools, leaving them mostly to rookie teachers. The goal of educational equity is thwarted. Is there any hope? Next month, every state
Why American Students Do Not Learn to Read Very Well: The Unintended Consequences of Title II and Teacher Testing
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / June 15, 2006
Third Education Group Review
Vol. 2, No. 2, 2006
At the end of the day, our children's ability to read depends upon whether ed school instructors know how to teach the science of reading. A growing body of evidence suggests they are failing (see here.) So how, then, do their graduates continue to receive licenses to teach elementary school or to serve as reading instructors? This new paper by Sandra Stotsky provides a simple but disturbing answer-the licensing exams prospective teachers must pass don't test their knowledge of research-based reading. Stotsky analyzed exams offered by Educational Testing Service (both national and state exams), National Evaluation Systems, and the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, to see how much of their tests covered instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary building. Parents whose children are struggling to read will find little solace in Stotsky's results. She reviewed eleven tests used for certifying elementary teachers and found that most failed to cover the basics of scientific-based reading instruction. Three of the four PRAXIS II exams reviewed, required by 46 states, only dedicate between 1 and 7 percent of their content to this critical material (though the fourth PRAXIS fared substantially better). "These aspects of reading instruction receive such minimal attention," Stotsky writes, "that test-takers could fail every question...and still pass the test no matter where the passing score is set." The record's no better for tests administered to