Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 10
March 9, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
No vendor left behind
My momma told me, you'd better shop around
Counterinsurgency in California
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 9, 2006
For most Americans, the transition from high school to college today is as chancy and vexing as crossing a bridge over a river where builders on one bank have ignored what those on the other are doing. Only the fortunate will be able to make it across.
The sprawling, chaotic empire of K-12 education has created one set of institutions, norms, practices, and requirements. The unruly kingdom of higher education has created its own entirely separate set. Though they coexist in the same states and communities and are financed (at least in part, directly, or indirectly) by the same taxpayers and answer to the same elected officials. One might view this as a classic instance of American entrepreneurialism and diversity. If there’s no one stable span, after all, determined people will get across the river in myriad ways (though some will drown midstream). One can equally see the present confused arrangement, however, as a horrendous waste of public and private dollars, not to mention time and human capital. In the event, it isn’t working well enough to yield what America needs to prosper in today’s shrinking world. And with other public-sector expenses soaring, it is crazy to persist with practices so costly and inefficient.
The central challenge is to harmonize what high schools expect of their graduates with what universities expect of their entrants. In a rational world, those would be identical: a body of knowledge,
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / March 9, 2006
A Seussian circus descended on Sacramento last week, but center ring wasn't the state's infamously rancorous capitol building. It was the convention center, where more than 3,000 charter school leaders and supporters arrived for four days of panels, meet-and-greets, and keynote addresses-including one by The Terminator, who dropped by on Wednesday morning.
"Oh, the places you'll go" was the theme. And there was evidence aplenty that charter schools are going places. The meeting rooms that surround the more than 130,000 square feet of exhibition space were overflowing with valuable discussions of charter financing, multiple authorizers, reviving New Orleans education, and high-performing high schools-to name only a few of the topics on tap.
But the mammoth exhibit hall said as much, if not more, about the charter movement than the sessions. After several hours spent walking and talking with those displaying their wares, this observer thought a conference sub-theme was in order-"No Vendor Left Behind."
This much is clear-charter schools may be hurting for money, but lots of people still think there's a buck to be made selling products to them. How else does one explain five architect and facilities design firms, sixteen financial service groups, five insurance groups, seventeen management and consultant groups, and nearly thirty professional development/teacher training groups showing up? (And if charters need more dollars to afford these necessities, the eleven fundraising groups on hand would be happy to assist.)
These services are valuable, and
March 9, 2006
The tough-talking judge who decided a school funding case four years ago by ruling that North Carolina law requires high-quality public education, now says he's tired of waiting for consistently lagging high schools to improve. Judge Howard Manning, Jr., sent a letter to state education officials warning that high schools with less than 55 percent of its students passing state tests for five years or more shouldn't (and won't) be permitted to re-open in fall 2006 "unless principals are replaced." Manning wrote, "Superintendents and principals have run out of room, and run out of time.... The major problem with these schools lies within the category of school leadership, not money." (Emphasis added.) According to the Charlotte Observer, this is the first time a judge has demanded a change of leadership in schools and threatened dire consequences (school closings) if no progress is made. The judge's letter caused a predictable uproar among administrators and parents in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, whose interim superintendent vowed, "We are not shutting down those schools." Say what you may about the perils of judicial activism, but at a time when most states dance around NCLB's requirements to "restructure" persistently failing schools, it's heartening to see a public official take bold action. Secretary of Education Manning, anyone?
"CMS: Judge's threat goes too far," by Ann Doss Helms and Peter Smolowitz, Charlotte Observer, March 8, 2006
"Judge issues schools directive," by Todd Silberman,
March 9, 2006
Low-income African-American families are fleeing Minneapolis public schools en masse, reports Katherine Kersten on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal. They’re following the advice of Louis King, a black leader and former Minneapolis school board member who tells parents frustrated by grossly underperforming schools, “The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else.” Many are “shopping” at charter schools, as evidenced by the more than 300 percent increase in Minneapolis’s charter enrollment over the past five years. The Minneapolis school district is certainly feeling the effects. Just under half of the city’s school-age children attend district public schools. “You’ll have to make big changes to get us back,” King tells the school board. Unfortunately, the chances of that are, well, a bit Smokey.
“Don't Protest, Just Shop Somewhere Else,” Katherine Kersten, Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2006 (subscription required)
March 9, 2006
Districts and charters disagree all the time, and the battles can often turn nasty. But a coup? Last Tuesday, district officials from Sacramento Unified (and their security guards) arrived at the campus of the city's Visual and Performing Arts Charter School (VAPAC) and placed the principal and office manager on administrative leave. The district-which can hire and fire VAPAC's staff-has been angered by the school's longstanding refusal to address district charges that its finances are in disarray and that it doesn't pay attention to student safety. VAPAC suggested arbitration; the district attempted to forcibly insert a new principal. The school has filed a restraining order (recently upheld by a superior court judge), converted its campus to a "gated" community, and hired a private security service to protect it from the district. Wow. Gadfly can't say whether Sacramento Unified's accusations are well-founded, but this much we are sure of: Military posturing makes for exciting news headlines, but it can't be good for VAPAC's students.
"Judge tells Sac City to reinstate head of charter school," by Laurel Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee, March 7, 2006
"Charter school, district head for court showdown," by Crystal Carreon and Elizabeth Hume, Sacramento Bee, March 4, 2006
March 9, 2006
Oh, Canada. Our northern neighbor's supreme court recently ruled that students may now carry swords to public schools-but only if those swords are called "kirpans" and the students are orthodox Sikhs. You see, orthodox Sikhs wear the curved blades as a religious obligation, and as the court said, "Religious tolerance is a very important value in Canadian society." (Another important value: not being sliced up by a kirpan.) The court further elaborated that letting children tote daggers on the playground posed no danger because schools could set strict rules, such as requiring that the knives remain sheathed at all times. But despite that completely reassuring and logical justification, and despite the country's cornucopian tolerance, a few Canadians weren't wholly convinced. According to The Guardian, some Montreal parents"fretted that it was not a good idea to have children carrying knives." Whoa, parents-take your religious hate elsewhere!
"At daggers drawn," by Ann McIllroy, The Guardian, March 6, 2006
Michael J. Petrilli / March 9, 2006
Daria Hall and Shana Kennedy
The Education Trust
In this short report, Ed Trust provides a useful service by pulling together state test score trends from 2003 to 2005. We learn, for example, that 22 of the 29 states for which data are available narrowed their black/white test-score gap in reading. We also learn, as the title implies, that reading scores are improving in more states’ elementary schools than in middle and high schools. (Math gains are strong across the board.) So far so good, and the gap-closing is a heartening sign that No Child Left Behind is starting to have its intended impact. But then the report goes off the rails. It provides overall trends in math and reading, grouping states by whether their scores increased, decreased, or stayed the same from 2003-2005. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Fordham did a similar analysis—that provided a comparison of trends on state reading tests with states’ performance on NAEP (the national standard)—the day the 2005 NAEP scores were released (see here). But the Ed Trust charts don’t compare state scores to gains on NAEP, so readers of its report have no way to know whether a state’s reported progress is good news (its students are learning more) or bad news (the state might be finding ways to make its own test easier). Take Michigan, for example. The percentage of elementary students reaching the proficient level on
March 9, 2006
John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio, and Karen B. Morrison
A third of public high school students-and almost half of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans-do not graduate. Most of these youngsters leave school quietly, almost unnoticed, and never return. Despite the shocking numbers (in 2003, 3.5 million youths between 16 and 25 were not enrolled in school and did not have a high school diploma), Americans have remained "silent." Perhaps because they didn't know about it, perhaps because they feel helpless to reverse the trend. But this study-based on a series of focus groups and a national survey of 467 young people who self-identified as dropouts-argues that the epidemic is curable. Almost half of the respondents said that it was uninteresting classes that pushed them to leave school. Moreover, of the 467 people surveyed, more than 60 percent had grade averages of C or better when they stopped attending school. What does this tell us? Most students don't drop out because they're incapable of doing the work and are flunking. Far from it. Most drop out because they think they're wasting their time. (I know what that's like.) This report posits that instituting challenging academic material, discipline, and standards are the easiest ways to fight off the creeping disinterest and malaise that leads to dropping out. Why should we believe that will work? Because when asked what changes would help prevent future students from leaving