Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 42
November 2, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Tests, elections, and achievement
A right to single-sex education?
Moe money for performance
No Springtime for Hitler
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 2, 2006
Any number of things can be said about next week's election and I will forbear from most of them. But one issue has surfaced that is genuinely alarming for education reformers: indications that some Democratic candidates (and office holders) are turning against standards-based reform and moving to roll back the assessment regimen that plays a crucial role in it.
A decade ago, when Bill Clinton proposed a form of national testing, I quipped that the political challenge this plan faced was that "Republicans don't like national and Democrats don't like testing." And in fact the Clinton proposal crashed and burned.
In the years since, however, standards-based reform has enjoyed bipartisan support in most states and certainly on Capitol Hill, where the mother of all standards-based measures, the No Child Left Behind act, was famously the joint product of two Democrats (Kennedy, Miller) and three Republicans (Gregg, Boehner, Bush). Most observers agree that it wouldn't otherwise have happened--and that without bipartisan backing in the future it probably cannot endure.
I don't know what a Democratic majority in the House and/or Senate during the 110th Congress means for federal education policy in general and NCLB in particular. (I can certainly foresee livelier appropriations tussles, but it's hard to think the authorizing gridlock could get any worse!)
In the states, however, trouble lies ahead if newly-elected leaders set out to tip over the tripod of standards,
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / November 2, 2006
Last week the Department of Education announced new rules that clear the way for public school districts to open single-sex schools and classrooms. Since then, a flood of criticisms from women's groups and some civil rights organizations has spewed forth.
The changes, they contend, portend the re-segregation of public schools and threaten to undermine the civil rights gains for women that so many have worked so hard to secure. Nancy Zirkin, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told Diana Jean Schemo of the New York Times, "Segregation is totally unacceptable in the context of race.... Why in the world in the context of gender would it be acceptable." (See story here.)
Siding with Zirkin are the National PTA, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and a host of others fretful that we are returning to a segregated society.
But for low-income parents who mostly create the demand for single-sex public schools and for educators who operate and support them, such schools present no challenge to civil rights. In fact, they are one of the keys to delivering what the civil rights movement promised: equal opportunity for all.
That's the opinion of William Lawson, who since 2002 has run the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity middle school (WALIPP), a single-sex charter school in Houston. Lawson wanted a school that would cater to low-income black
November 2, 2006
Schools in Garfield, New Jersey, boast the latest in high-priced amenities, including a spanking new $40 million middle school. Odd for a blue-collar city with low school taxes, unless one knows that Garfield is in a so-called Abbott school district--one of 31 poor New Jersey districts that, by court order, have received $35 billion in state aid since 1997. Today, over half of all money each year allotted by Jersey to its 616 districts goes to those 31. The money seems to have helped in some places: 79.9 percent of Garfield's fourth graders, for example, reached the proficient level in language arts in 2005. But student achievement in other cities such as Camden has stagnated, and their schools are often mired in scandal. "Lots of money has been spent, and in some places, there is very little to show," said Lucille E. Davy, the state's education commissioner. New Jersey is right to base its school funding on need, but the Abbott formula is far too crude and, because it focuses on entire districts and not individual students, often ends up benefiting affluent kids in poor districts (at the expense of needy students in richer areas). But one can't expect much more from adequacy lawsuits, such as the one that generated the Abbott system. States take heed: To do need-based funding right, fund the child. And leave the courts out of it.
November 2, 2006
"Makes no sense at all.... A truly dumb idea." A commentary on Mike Tyson's recent announcement that he wants to fight women? Nope. It's Koret Task Force member (and Stanford political science professor) Terry Moe's assessment of paying teachers based on tenure rather than merit. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Moe dismisses the idea that schools should "hire employees for life and pay them without regard for their performance." According to Moe, in a school, "like any organization, the key to effective performance lies in getting the incentives right... This is Management 101: elementary, fundamental, essential." So why don't more schools adopt these basic managerial practices? Moe says teachers unions present the biggest obstacle, although he optimistically claims that they "are surrounded by more incentive-pay brush fires than they can put out" (see here, here, here, and here). We think he's right. It's ridiculous to pay teachers of gym and physics the same wage, and to ignore teacher performance when calculating salaries and raises. The unions can't forever get away with denying the obvious.
"Management 101 for Our Public Schools," by Terry M. Moe, Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2006
November 2, 2006
Student Walter Petryk must have known when he donned a Hitler costume this past Tuesday morning that administrators at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences wouldn't be pleased. Probably for that precise reason, or because he had grown a mustache for the occasion, he did it anyway. Dean Paul Puglia removed Petryk from second period English: "Excuse me, führer, can I talk to you for a minute?" After convening in the hallway, Puglia asked the student, "Are you out of your mind, you idiot?" and told him, "Consider yourself my prisoner of war." Under interrogation, however, Petryk refused to remove the costume. Der Jugend's Jewish stepfather, Howard Bloom, editor of the New Paradigm book series and oft-censored author of The Lucifer Principle, defended the outfit as free expression. But fighting for free expression at school is one thing. Apparently, fighting for it (really fighting) on the New York subway is quite another--Petryk disguised himself as Charlie Chaplin during his morning commute.
"Hitler Youth H'Ween Shock," by David Andreatta and Patrick Gallahue, New York Post, November 1, 2006
Coby Loup / November 2, 2006
DC College Access Program, DC Education Compact, DC Public Schools, DC State Education Office
This study confirms that the District of Columbia's public schools (DCPS), despite multiple reform efforts (see here and here), are still failing most of their students, particularly when it comes to college preparedness. According to the report, only 9 percent of D.C. ninth-graders will complete college within five years of graduating high school (compared with 23 percent nationwide). As its title suggests, the report focuses on how to double this number for today's ninth-graders--the high school class of 2010. The authors offer a "10-Point Plan." One recommendation, for instance, calls on the city to "put systems in place to monitor student progress." The District would thereby fall in line with such cities as New York and Philadelphia, both now using data tools to determine, among other things, when and why students drop out. Another recommendation is for D.C. to expand student access to college-prep curricula such as AP and IB. The report's final recommendations mostly concern the leap from high school to college and identify the need for: better guidance counseling for both parents and students; increased access to financial aid; more college-level guidance on matters such as student loans; and improved district relationships with area colleges. All in all, it's a solid plan for beginning to address the major challenges facing those in D.C. who aspire to graduate
November 2, 2006
Center for American Progress
Students in China spend nearly 30 percent more time in school than their American peers. That's a bit shocking. But so, too, is the finding that, twenty-three years after A Nation at Risk, "the only recommendation that has not been implemented in any systematic way is the proposal for increasing learning time by extending the school day and/or year." This report examines high schools that require an extended learning day (rather than offer it as a voluntary elective), evaluates the success of these schools, and analyzes how such reforms could be accomplished on a larger scale. While more time in class is no "silver bullet" for raising student achievement, the author correctly notes, successful extended learning schools have some things in common. They supplement the added hours with a culture focused on preparation for life after high school, place high expectations upon their students, and offer a solid core curriculum. For example, University Park Campus School (UPCS) in Worcester, Massachusetts, a 7th-12th grade public high school recognized as one of the nation's best, requires all entering seventh graders to attend a month-long academy that force feeds them the institution's culture of academic achievement. Budget issues in Worcester forced the school to cut back its extended learning periods, so UPCS now uses extended learning at critical points--when students enter seventh grade, and when they're nearing graduation in eleventh and twelfth--instead of throughout a student's
November 2, 2006
Bryan Hassel, Charter School Leadership Council
The short answer to the implied question in this report's title is: not enough but much of what we know is brighter than the New York Times wants you to think. Bryan Hassel of Public Impact looked at 38 studies of charter school achievement that meet certain criteria for timeliness, analytic seriousness, and scope. His report finds that the studies are all over the map, both in their usefulness and their findings. Some have serious methodological shortcomings (especially in looking at aggregated school performance rather than disaggregated student performance). About half, including the infamous AFT study from last August are less-useful snapshots rather than appraisals of performance over time. Of the 21 that do look at data over time, 12 find charters outpacing public school achievement gains generally or for specific at-risk populations, five call it a draw, and three say charters are behind. A murky picture, though on balance encouraging, and we should take to heart Hassel's call for more and better data and analysis of charter school performance. You can find the full report at http://www.charterschoolleadershipcouncil.org/PDF/Paper.pdf.