Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 19
May 11, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Highly qualified data
By Phyllis McClure
Ed reform born again?
By Martin A. Davis, Jr.
NCLB: Extreme makeover edition?
Big improvements in the Big Easy
Policy wonks: Get thee to the couch!
L'tat aux folles
Student Achievement and Passport to Teaching Certification in Elementary Education
By Eric Osberg
Mulching while schools burn
This week, Mike's mad that leaders of chronically failing schools are doing yard work while their buildings burn, Rick can't understand why David Brooks wants fat kids to gorge on marshmallows, and neither is sure whether Jackie Robinson swung both ways. We've got an interview with ABCTE President Dave Saba, and News of the Weird is TRU. Liam's mom says, ''It's the best?Education Gadfly Show?yet!''?
Phyllis McClure / May 11, 2006
NCLB requires all states, at the end of the current school year, to prove that their teachers in charge of academic classes are "highly qualified." In an era of accountability, it's a reasonable request. After all, we ask students to be proficient in their subjects. Shouldn't we ask the same of their teachers
States have had four years to prepare for this deadline-are they ready?
They say yes. During the 2003-2004 school year, the latest for which data are available, 31 of 47 states reporting to the Department of Education claimed that at least 90 percent of their elementary and secondary classes were taught by highly qualified teachers. As it turns out, however, the numbers most states reported were bogus.
To be sure, the law required states to make major changes. No longer would teacher certification be enough; all teachers would also have to demonstrate their subject matter competence. For new teachers, this meant passing a test or possessing a major in their subject. For veteran teachers, it meant wading through a portfolio assessment system (known as HOUSSE) to show their stuff. Setting up the systems to track all of this was no small challenge for the states.
But that's no excuse for what federal officials learned while making onsite visits to see how they were faring. Their findings, revealed in 40 written compliance reports, are stunning. Teachers were classified as highly qualified based on criteria that did not match federal requirements. Some long-time
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / May 11, 2006
Whenever the Southern Baptists make the news, I often remember the question about the falling tree in the forest. If there's no one around to listen, does it make any noise?
It's easy to ignore the rantings of Bruce Shortt of Texas and Roger Moran of Missouri, who plan to bring before the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro this June a resolution calling for the faithful to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. After all, a similar resolution was floated at the 2004 convention and never got out of committee.
But the education world should pay attention to what happens in North Carolina next month. Shortt and Moran are back, and this time their proposal is likely to draw more attention.
They're not only asking, as they did in 2004, for all church members to withdraw from "godless" public schools. Now, according to the Associated Press, the two are also calling on the Southern Baptist Church to develop a system of independent parochial schools to be used by "orphans, [and] children of single parents and the disadvantaged."
The change is deliberate, and it's meant to broaden support for Shortt and Moran's anti-public schools position. It's working for people such as Ed Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, who opposed the 2004 resolution, but is on record supporting the development of Christian-run "public" school systems. In a February 2006 story in Ethics
May 11, 2006
Are the worst schools in America about to get an overhaul? Don't count on it. Using numbers released from the Education Department (and posted on the Fordham website here), the Associated Press's Ben Feller reports that 1,750 schools across the country now face "restructuring" under the No Child Left Behind Act. That's up 44 percent from last year. While the law requires a "major" retooling of these schools, most jurisdictions are using a loophole that allows them to implement weak-tea reforms, such as adopting a new curriculum or hiring a "coach." That's like mowing the lawn when your house is on fire. The administration's reaction to this chicanery is blasé. Assistant Secretary of Education Henry Johnson says about districts' approaches to restructuring, "I don't know that we have a preferred way." These are schools that have been failing for at least six years in a row. If Johnson's looking for a "preferred way," we're sure there are plenty of students and parents with some ideas.
"Rising numbers of schools face penalties," by Ben Feller, Associated Press, May 9, 2006
May 11, 2006
Here’s another silver lining of the Katrina tragedy: struggling New Orleans students who were once relegated to special education because they hadn’t learned to read or do math are finally getting the help they need. Scores of New Orleans schools, particularly new charter schools, are implementing full inclusion for these students—the practice of integrating special education children into regular classrooms. O. Perry Walker High School student Kevia Martin, for example, was previously sequestered in remedial classes. Now, she is thriving in a traditional classroom where she receives some extra guidance during math. “Historically, special education has been perceived as a holding place, and as long as [students] were quiet and appeared engaged I don't know if there were any inquiries in terms of how they were engaged,” said Martin’s principal. “We speak in terms of what’s best for the children, but a lot of times we focus on our comfort level as adults.” While some fear that curricula will be watered-down to ease the transition for newly integrated youngsters, overall this kind of inclusion makes sense. Students with severe disabilities may require separate attention, but most children simply need to be challenged and supported.
“In newly opened charter schools, many students are thriving when they’re no longer isolated into special education classes,” by Steve Ritea, Times-Picayune, May 8, 2006
May 11, 2006
New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks policymakers are missing the boat. Rather than propose structural remedies such as opening charter schools or implementing vouchers, he says education policymakers should "enter the murky world of psychology and human nature" and talk "about core psychological traits like delayed gratification skills" when trying to spur social change. If not, he writes, our nation will never solve its most intractable problems. The column does point out that "creating stable, predictable environments for children, in which good behavior pays off," is the way to help children overcome difficult environments. True enough. But aren't KIPP schools and other great charters-products of the same structural reforms Brooks dismisses-providing exactly those environments? Policymakers can't go door-to-door and lecture families about virtue; if they want to promote positive outcomes, they must design laws that provide people incentives to act positively. Giving parents more educational choice, and holding schools accountable for their students' academic progress, does just that.
"Marshmallows and Public Policy," by David Brooks, New York Times, May 7, 2006 (subscription required)
May 11, 2006
Richard the Lionheart is best known as England's "Absent King," and for being the leader of the Third Crusade. Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood, is credited with inventing the modern American crime novel. And any number of Greek thinkers are remembered for creating the intellectual framework of Western civilization. Now, a California state Senate committee wants one other fact pointed out-they were all gay. Democratic Senator Sheila Kuehl argues that not doing so perpetuates the "enforced invisibility that so many minority groups have gone through in terms of their contributions." Balderdash. If the bill, SB 1437, passes the whole senate, books will be banned as discriminatory unless they celebrate historical figures' least-relevant characteristic-their sexual orientation. Gadfly's a tolerant insect (and a huge fan of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), but classrooms and textbooks are the wrong places to insert social or political agendas, no matter what they are.
"Politically correct history," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2006
"Committee OKs bill to add gays, lesbians to textbooks," by Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2006
May 11, 2006
Last weekend, about 400 teachers gathered for a conference in Los Angeles to learn how to incorporate rap music into their daily lessons. Teacher Erica Carducci thinks the approach is a good idea; she uses Eminem lyrics to help students understand Robert Frost's poetry. That seems odd, because rap has long shown a distaste for the English language-especially the letter "S," which is judiciously eschewed in the hip hop vernacular (e.g., "I ain't down wit' tax cutz on dividendz, aight!"). But critics who focus on spelling miscues overlook hip hop's longstanding commitment to improving the larger problems in K-12 education. What about 50 Cent, aka Fiddy, (not to be confused with Checker Finn, aka Finny) who preaches the virtue of hard work: "I'm feelin' focused man, my money on my mind, I got a mil out the deal and I'm still on the grind [emphasis added]."? Or the rap duo Kriss Kross, who despite never learning to properly dress themselves, have made their career railing against irresponsible behavior and youthful indiscretion. Their 1992 hit "I Missed the Bus" is packed with wisdom: "I missed the bus [oh] and that is somethin' I will never, ever, ever do again.... the day was a no win; I learned to never miss my bus again." In a time of poor attendance and rising dropout rates, certainly those are important words worthy of examination in school. Plus-who in L.A. cares about snowy
Eric Osberg / May 11, 2006
American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence
May 11, 2006
Recently, the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) and its counterpart, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), each studied the effectiveness of their respective certifications for teachers. Their reports reveal a striking contrast. The NBPTS results were apparently so dismal that the organization chose not to release the study, and put out only a description of their findings. As an Education Week story explains, NBPTS "found that there was basically no difference in the achievement levels of students whose teachers earned the prestigious NBPTS credential, those who tried but failed to earn it, those who never tried to get the certification, or those who earned it after the student test-score data was collected." If true, NBPTS certification is rendered largely meaningless-a conclusion NBPTS would surely like to avoid. ABCTE, on the other hand, found evidence that its own tests do identify effective teachers. Its study covered a small sample and examined only elementary school teachers (elementary education is just one of eight certifications available from ABCTE), but the results are still statistically significant. Fifty-five teachers in Tennessee took the two ABCTE elementary education certification tests. Because of William Sanders' pioneering value-added analysis work in Tennessee, and because the state keeps extensive databases matching students to teachers, researchers were able match the 55 teachers' ABCTE test scores with the academic progress of those teachers' students.
Michael J. Petrilli / May 11, 2006
The American Diploma Project has asserted as much for years, but now we have proof: high school graduates need the same skills to succeed in the workplace as they do to succeed in higher education. That's the conclusion of this short study from ACT. It starts by identifying the reading and math skills needed to attain jobs that provide a decent wage-one large enough "to support a small family." Then the researchers compared the rigor of these reading and math skills to those identified by the regular ACT exam as determining college readiness (scores of 21 on reading and 22 on math, out of 36). Guess what? They are the same. For example, for college or for work, students need to be able to calculate the perimeters and areas of basic shapes, understand the main idea of a paragraph, and identify the appropriate definition of words with multiple meanings based on context. None of this is terribly surprising; these are, after all, just basic skills that any numerate and literate person can handle. And ACT is not nearly ambitious enough. Being able to read and do math is not all that matters on campus or in the economy, yet essential knowledge of history, literature, and science is not investigated here. Still, this is another blow to those educators who believe that students not destined for college can be held to lower standards or taught only "relevant" material, regardless of