Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 32
August 23, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Turning around turnarounds
By Coby Loup
Highly questionable reasoning
A is for amnesia
What Works Clearinghouse
This week, Mike and Rick talk about black kids, gifted kids, and the NYPD. We've got an interview with Ren? Islas, and Education News of the Weird is a cultural revolution.
August 23, 2007
The idea is simple: Allow low-performing schools to extend learning time by using money previously allotted to students for out-of-school tutoring.
It's also simply wrong. A more blatant attack on the small amount of choice NCLB gives to parents and their children would be difficult to conceive.
If Congress acts on this plan put forward by Education Trust, be prepared for the return of the 13-egg omelet. As former Education Secretary William Bennett used to say, you don't make a lousy 12-egg omelet any better by adding another egg. Similarly, you don't make lousy schools better by adding another grade level, or more time after school, or more instructional days during the summer.
Not only is the mindless addition of "extended learning time" not likely to help--more on that later--stealing money from the free tutoring program is likely to hurt the very kids Ed Trust cares about.
What's all this about free tutoring, anyway? Let's recap: Free tutoring (supplemental educational services) is part of the No Child Left Behind act, which not only identifies bad schools but also provides better educational options for the parents of students trapped in them.
Most schools that enroll large portions of low-income and minority students receive extra federal money called Title I funds. If a Title I school doesn't make adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state tests for three consecutive years, then its students can take their share of Title I
Coby Loup / August 23, 2007
One of the indisputable successes of NCLB is that it shines a bright light on the dimmest schools in the country. A decade ago, underperforming schools were free to languish in relative obscurity. Today, some 1,200 of them bear the scarlet letter of a chronically failing school.
Less successful, however, have been NCLB's provisions for turning these failing schools around. Under the law, schools that do not make "adequate yearly progress" for five straight years must 1) convert to a charter school, 2) replace staff, 3) hire an external manager, 4) submit to a state take-over, or 5) undertake "any other major restructuring of the school's governance that produces fundamental reform." Most schools choose the fifth option--NCLB's flagship loophole--and grope in the dark with little success.
Part of the problem is that the literature on successful turnaround models is quite limited, the phenomenon of sanctions for failing schools being but a few years old. But, as a recent paper points out, documented turnaround efforts from other sectors offer a number of valuable lessons for educators.
Public Impact scoured 59 documents, mostly business-journal style case studies, and highlighted some of the turnaround strategies that best served struggling organizations. They found, for instance, that "successful turnaround leaders use speedy, focused results as a major lever to change the organization's culture." Getting these early victories requires "a rapid process of trial and error in which unsuccessful tactics are dropped and new
August 23, 2007
True or false: NCLB considers teachers going through alternate routes to certification (like those employed by Teach For America) to be "highly qualified." False, charges a new lawsuit filed by "a coalition of parents, students, community groups, and legal advocates" (with some encouragement, we're sure, from the education school establishment). It alleges that a five-year-old Department of Education regulation creates a loophole for alternate route programs that "defies the will of Congress" and "harms children." Really? The law itself is ambiguous on the question, at once allowing for alternate routes, while simultaneously banning any waivers of certification on an "emergency, temporary, or provisional basis." The problem is that alternate routes, by their very nature, don't confer certification on teachers until they complete a one or two year program--meaning they have to "waive" certification on a provisional basis. So what did Congress intend? Who knows, which is why the executive branch has regulatory authority to clarify such matters. This is far from an arcane issue, of course; if the Department were to lose this lawsuit, say goodbye to TFA, whose 5,000 corps members would be banned from teaching in the very high-need Title I schools they are trained to serve. (Could that really have been Congress's intent?) True or false: This lawsuit is really about preserving the education schools' monopoly.
"U.S. sued over teacher credentials," by Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 22,
August 23, 2007
What can we learn from the recent pronouncements by Jack O'Connell, California's state superintendent of public instruction, that race, not poverty, is the cause of the most distressing achievement gaps in his state and the nation? The most important lesson is that it's becoming acceptable for educators to say in public what they've long been saying to each other--that certain racial groups, regardless of their socioeconomic situation, are lagging behind others. Of course, now that NCLB is shining a bright light on those gaps, citizens want a solution, and the pundits will provide a bevy of ideas. Columnist Bill Maxwell, for example, writing in the St. Petersburg Times, chastises Florida lawmakers (black Democrats, especially) for trying to use vouchers to help black students. The solution, Maxwell believes, is that black communities need to take more responsibility for their children and their schools. But people have been saying that for decades, and little has changed. How about this: To improve education, focus not on communities, parents, socioeconomics, or culture. Focus on schools--on setting high standards, hiring good teachers, creating classrooms with an achievement focus, etc., for all kids. Can we at least give it a try?
"Schools chief seeks end to learning gap," by Mitchell Landsberg and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2007
"Vouchers can't help if black parents won't," by Bill Maxwell, St. Petersburg Times, August 16, 2007
August 23, 2007
The debate about "mainstreaming"--whether students are best served in "regular" settings instead of segregated, specialized ones--is typically reserved for discussions of special education (see below). But this week's Time magazine considers mainstreaming (and its opposite) in the context of America's most gifted children. In the middle of the debate is the year-old Davidson Academy, a privately endowed public school in Reno catering to high-IQ kids (generally over 160). It teaches forty-five 11- to 16-year-old prodigies, who moved to Nevada from all over the country and even overseas to be educated with other kids who are just as smart as they are. Their previous school experiences were frustrating, socially isolating, and of course boring. Now at Davidson, these students can form social networks, and they push each other to excel. But is running off to Reno really the only solution for highly gifted students? The article's author, John Cloud, isn't so sure. "The best way to treat [highly gifted students] is to let them grow up in their own communities--by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace." Perhaps he's right, but that would require a sea change in the attitude of the public education system, which views grade-skipping skeptically. Of course, it once viewed the mainstreaming of special education kids skeptically, too.
"Are We Failing Our Geniuses?" by John Cloud, Time, August 16, 2007
August 23, 2007
Schools are under increasing pressure to boost the test scores of their special education students. And according to the Wall Street Journal (which is running a series about mainstreaming), many schools have responded to that pressure not by working harder, but by exploiting loopholes. NCLB allows states to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled students, which for Mardys Leeper, a teacher at West Philadelphia High School, meant allowing them to "copy paragraphs she wrote onto a word processor rather than composing their own." But parents of special education students are unhappy that their sons and daughters are simply being passed from grade-to-grade without learning anything, and they're fighting back. Many have refused to accept grades and diplomas that are, they say, largely worthless. Some have even sued to prolong their children's education: New York City now pays $400,000 a year to educate Alba Somoza, a 23-year-old with cerebral palsy, after his parents filed a complaint. Sadly, though, such tales of social promotion and worthless diplomas aren't relegated to special education students (see here). Nonetheless, these parents are fighting worthy battles which may yield benefits for all students.
"When Special Education Goes Too Easy on Students," by John Hechinger and Daniel Golden, Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2007
August 23, 2007
Someone call Jay Greene--officials are now naming schools after nonexistent historical figures! Our fourth president officially has a middle initial in Ogden, Utah, though it would be news to him. Seems someone submitted the name "James A. Madison" to the school board as a possible moniker for the district's new elementary school. How he or she came up with the wayward A is anyone's guess; perhaps it just felt right. After all, lots of big-name presidents have had middle initials: FDR, Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, Richard M. Nixon, William Jefferson Clinton. Even Harry S. Truman had a middle initial (though the "S" wasn't short for anything. Apparently, he just liked the way it sounded.). Surely, the well-intentioned folks of Ogden may have reasoned, the man who wrote the Bill of Rights and helped draft the Declaration of Religious Freedom was important enough to carry a middle name. A local history teacher caught the error after School Board President Don Belnap missed it, despite majoring in history in college. "It's not that critical of an issue," he said. "We'll just take the A out." That happens this week, when the board votes to officially rescind Madison's ill-gotten middle initial.
"School asks, ‘Who is James A. Madison?', United Press International, August 18, 2007
August 23, 2007
Center on Education Policy
It would be quite odd, to say the least, if states and districts were surveyed about whether or not they believed their students were making academic progress, and the responses were compiled and turned into a report. The reaction would be thus: "Who cares what the states and districts think. Why don't we just look at the actual data." This, alas, is the reaction one has to CEP's latest report about NCLB's "highly-qualified" teacher requirements. "More than half (56%) of responding states and two-thirds (66%) of districts reported that the NCLB teacher requirements have improved student achievement minimally or not at all," the report tells us. We also learn that the "NCLB highly qualified teacher requirements have not had a major impact on teacher effectiveness in the view of state and district officials." These are fine tidbits, but really--what purpose do they serve? And quite frankly, duh. Very few people who are actually familiar with the ill-conceived "highly qualified" mandate would ever presuppose that the designation carries any real meaning, much less any value to the classroom. It's often useful to know what those implementing NCLB think about it, but in this particular case it simply isn't. Find the report here.
August 23, 2007
U.S. Department of Education
In the land of education innovation, it helps to know what works. And the What Works Clearinghouse's summer smorgasbord of studies reveals promising practices and programs--those having "positive" or "potentially positive" effects--in areas including dropout prevention, elementary school math, and early childhood education. Some of the winners include Kaplan SpellRead (a literacy program for readers who've fallen behind) and Peer Tutoring and Response Groups (collaborative learning to aid English Language Learners). Other initiatives have proven less effective, such as the Quantum Opportunity Program (a dropout prevention program for high schoolers). Researchers also note which specific parts of a given program are successful and which are not. For example, a literacy program might aid students' comprehension but show no effect on their fluency. Still, contrary to earlier WWC studies, many of the projects actually received positive ratings. (Perhaps now people will stop calling it the "Nothing Works Clearinghouse.") It's worth checking out here.