Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 45
November 30, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
"Just Do It" won't do it
By Martin A. Davis, Jr.
Rocky Mountain low
The loopy world of NCLB
The flightless agenda
What Iraqi mountain?
This week, Mike and Rick blast the?Times Magazine?for its naivet?, puzzle over the effect of crack dealers on math scores, and bemoan the error of testing companies' ways. We have an interview with education columnist Linda Seebach, who puts Gadfly in his place, and Education News of the Weird is probably in the Axis of Evil. Mike and Rick are?not?embroiled in civil war
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / November 30, 2006
The No Child Left Behind Act has 7 more years to meet its incredibly ambitious goal of educating 100 percent of U.S. school children to no less than "proficient" in reading and math. The odds are good we won't hit that target, at least not in an honest way. Even as too many states lower the bar for proficiency and artificially inflate the number of students hitting the mark, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress lay bare a stark reality: among the poor, less than 20 percent of students (and often far less) are reaching that goal in either subject.
It's not that we don't know how to bring such children to proficient, at least one school at a time. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough took a close look at a handful of schools (run by KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools) that are, in fact, educating large percentages of their poor students to proficient and beyond (see here). So why aren't more schools having the same success?
According to Tough, it's all a matter of determination, resolve and, perhaps, money. "We could," he writes, "...decide to create a different system, one that educates most...poor and minority students to high levels of achievement. It is not yet entirely clear what that system might look like...but what is clear is that it is within reach." In other words, we need to "just do it."
Tough has seen what
November 30, 2006
Linda Seebach takes Gadfly to task in her recent Rocky Mountain News column for dumb demographic data and for leaving key questions unanswered. She's right that our generalizations about Middle America--made in last issue's "Heartland blues"--don't hold up very well in Colorado. Its economy is booming, not struggling, and unlike its neighbors to the East it's benefiting from an influx of highly educated workers. So how to explain its status as one of 13 states (most in the nation's mid-section) where poor and minority students haven't made any progress on NAEP over the past decade or so? Seebach doesn't tackle that one, so we will. Perhaps the state's newly arrived Hispanic students are masking gains made by Colorado's long-time Hispanic residents. Or--more likely--its mix of standards-based reform and choice-based reform is not high-enough octane to yield results for its neediest children. Either way, those are among the education issues deserving attention on the state's editorial pages.
"Education ‘report' reveals a tale of two Colorados," by Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News, November 25, 2006
November 30, 2006
As far as legislative loopholes go, few are more preposterous than NCLB's provision that districts, rather than submit to serious reform prescriptions for their chronically failing schools, may undertake "any other major restructuring of the school's governance that produces fundamental reform." But while this invitation to tread the path of least resistance usually results in token gestures, some schools have actually rejected the district waffling and taken the law's intent to heart. Baltimore's Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School, where parents rejected previously used restructuring methods, is one. Like charter schools, it now gives teachers more freedom in the classroom. It also created a nine-member governing board to provide oversight and feedback (with the help of an Ed School, no less!). In Randolph, Massachusetts, Randolph Middle School has overhauled its operations, too. It abolished remedial classes, for example, and pushed students onto either the regular or advanced track. And while it's still too early to tell if such reforms will produce higher test scores, schools that take seriously the restructuring mandate deserve praise. That loophole, however, still deserves scorn.
"The challenge is being met at Morrell Park," by Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun, November 23, 2006
"A school's comeback formula: Expel cynicism, stress reform," by Peter Schworm, Boston Globe, November 26, 2006
November 30, 2006
Common sense says principals should be able to hire the teachers they want and need. But in the realm of public education, where common sense is scant, school leaders, entangled in webs of collective bargaining and union-created staffing rules, are often forced to hire teachers that other schools reject. California is the first state to do something about it. This fall, under the leadership of Democrat Jack Scott, it passed SB1655 (despite predictable union opposition), which mandates that principals at low-performing schools cannot be forced to accept teacher transfers they don't want and gives them more leeway to hire the best teachers. The bill cleared the state Senate 33-1, and the legislature's lower house 59-12. Evidence collected by The New Teacher Project (see here) proved instrumental in this overwhelming, bipartisan victory. If such a thing can happen in Sacramento, perhaps it can happen anywhere. Every other industry knows that success is a product of finding, hiring, and retaining the best human capital available. It's time that public education embraced such common sense notions, too.
"Common Sense in Teacher Hiring," by Jack Scott and Michelle Rhee, Education Week, November 15, 2006 (subscription required)
November 30, 2006
What are the odds of being able to grade 45 million standardized reading and math exams without error? If you said less than 1 percent, you're right. In just one recent example of a testing snafu, an Alabama school had a dozen students leave for greener pastures after state tests wrongly labeled it a failing institution. Such gaffes are often due to human error of the hard-to-prevent-all-of-it sort. But others seem to be more preventable. For example, McGraw-Hill hired a grader who wrote on his application that he majored in "Phylosophy/Humanity." Another grader wrote that she received a phys. ed. degree from "Methidist College." Still, such embarrassing anecdotes aside, much of the testing backlash is overstated. Inexcusable errors happen, and we should certainly feel sympathy for kids such as Shane Fulton, who "suffered anxiety and sleepless nights after a 390-point error dropped his SAT score." But while testing companies have a responsibility to correct their flaws, we needn't throw the entire testing baby out with bathwater. Evaluating students is not the problem. Poor performance by the testing companies is.
"How Test Companies Fail Your Kids," by David Glovin and David Evans, Bloomberg Markets, December 2006
November 30, 2006
People are up in arms over a book about... gay penguins? Written for children ages 4 to 8, And Tango Makes Three is an illustrated children's book about two male penguins raising a chick as their own. Some parents at Shiloh Elementary School in Illinois complain that the book may be inappropriate for their children, and they are requesting that it be placed under restrictive "quarantine." So far, school administrators haven't budged. But this isn't the first attempt to anthropomorphize the penguin and enlist the tuxedoed Antarctic residents in America's culture wars. March of the Penguins garnered rave reviews from conservative groups who said the documentary passionately affirmed "traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice, and child rearing" (see here). Whatever your views on these hot-button issues, can't we all agree that it's time to leave penguins out of them?
"Gay penguin book shakes up Ill. school," by Jim Suhr, Associated Press, November 17, 2006
Coby Loup / November 30, 2006
Goldwater Institute Policy Report #212
October 17, 2006
This report out of Arizona expresses some of the discontent that's brewing in many states over No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Kafer argues that the federal law frequently conflicts with Arizona's own accountability system, AZ Learns. Because of differences in the way the two systems measure progress (AZ Learns uses a growth model, while NCLB relies on annual snapshots), a number of schools that Arizona designates as "performing" (or better) are deemed not to have made AYP under NCLB. But opting out of the federal program would "jeopardize some $582 million in federal funding"--about 7 percent of Arizona's K-12 budget. Kafer makes two recommendations. First, the state's education department should study "whether the cost of compliance is greater than the federal funds received." Second, Congress should enact the "charter state" (or "Straight A's) provision that was promoted by conservatives in the late 1990s but dropped from the final version of NCLB. This provision "would enable states to have discretion over their federal funding in exchange for results-based accountability." The idea has appeal--states and their schools could very well benefit from increased flexibility in day-to-day operations. But the trade-off should be greater accountability for results--a national test anyone?--not more leeway to evaluate schools any which way. All and all, this report offers a good picture of how states might go about addressing their NCLB complaints (a little more thoughtfulness, a little less
November 30, 2006
Paul Hill, Ed.
Education Next Books
Probably charter schools are the most innovative education reform going today. And for that very reason, they have become targets of status-quo mongers across the land. This collection of essays by Koret Task Force members illustrates how charter schools have managed to flourish (and flourish they have--less than fifteen years after their inception, charters educate over a million students) in hostile environs. In Chapter 2, Fordham's Eric Osberg writes that charter schools often receive far less money that their district school counterparts, evaluates how some have surmounted this burden, and makes a convincing case for why charter schools deserve the same dollars as district-run institutions. Chapter 4 holds advice from Checker Finn and Paul Hill about the importance of top notch charter authorizing, and John Chubb writes in Chapter 5 about how the best management organizations have been able to expand the reach of charter schools without compromising the autonomy that gives such schools their character and uniqueness. Other authors--Caroline Hoxby, Paul Peterson, Brad Smith, and Nathan Torinus--all dispense their particular brands of expertise. This solid compilation touches on the varied facets of charter schooling. It gives a good picture of the rocky terrain in which charter schools take root and the dusty and arid environments in which they attempt to thrive. It puts forth worthwhile suggestions, based on past experiences, for how charter schools may best brave the elements and become sturdy and successful