Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 18
May 10, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Table of treats
A new hope
Going once, going twice...
KIPP: 2006 Report Card
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 10, 2007
With so many topics vying for attention, no one entrée will do for this meal. Instead, herewith, a series of what the fancy chefs call "small plates."
The "Reading First" ruckus has resurfaced an old problem: misplaced Congressional faith in "peer review." If it actually worked the way that chairman George Miller and a bunch of his colleagues say it should (i.e., an objective bunch of incredibly well credentialed know-nothings make decisions devoid of human judgment), then (a) no program funded by the federal government would ever change, whether it was highly effective or a waste of billions and (b) the executive branch could be radically downsized and much of its work replaced by formula-driven or pork-barrel programs. In reading, for example, we'd revert to the model of the all-but-useless Reading Excellence Act for dispensing federal dollars.
What these Capitol Hill denizens seem not to understand is that, without close oversight and energetic intervention, peer review of federal grant programs invites log-rolling and rewards status-quoism. Each hand washes the other; no risks get taken; nothing novel gets tried. The only folks "qualified" to participate earned that credential by working in and with the present system and sharing its beliefs; the only panels "representative" of a field are a hologram of the ways things are done today in that field; and the surest outcome of such panels' deliberations is to spread the money across the field's established interests. In primary
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / May 10, 2007
In a battle of celebrity versus substance, substance almost always loses. Such was the case this past week in D.C. and Virginia, where the Queen set hearts a-flutter. Wherever she went, people clamored for tickets to see her, fretted about protocol should they actually meet her, and gleefully endured traffic snarls and cool weather to greet her.
The principal reason for her visit, however, isn't generating the same buzz. Four hundred years ago this weekend, the Jamestown settlement was founded. It was the site of our first representative government, the cradle of tobacco (a noxious weed today, but a cash cow back then and the reason the slave trade exploded), and possibly the entry point of earthworms (slimy, but a big, big deal). Yet many, it seems, could care less.
To be sure, scholars and the well-read are debating recent discoveries. (The fort was unearthed just 13 years ago, while Werowocomoco--home of Chief Powhatan--was found in 2003.)
Why, we should ask, does celebrity trump substance? Why fall all over the charming Queen when we can crawl (personally or virtually) all over the first permanent English settlement in the New World? In large measure, because
May 10, 2007
Many of us had high hopes that New Orleans's school makeover would offer a silver lining to the Katrina tragedy. But when schools opened last autumn, many didn't have enough classroom space, books, or even food for their students. Some were also rife with fights and gangs. Things have since improved, but New Orleans's Recovery District still faces monumental hurdles. And who better to address them than Paul Vallas? Philadelphia's outgoing superintendent will take the reins of New Orleans schools starting July 1, where he'll operate just 22 district schools and oversee (as of now) 17 charter schools. That's a light load compared with Philly's hundreds of thousands of students. Vallas isn't fooled by the numbers, however. He knows his work in the Big Easy won't be easy. Yet he's excited: "For me," he says, "the opportunity to come down here and build a school district from the ground up is too good an opportunity to turn down." Optimists at heart, we're hoping for the best.
"His challenge: Rebuild New Orleans' schools," by Greg Toppo, USA Today, May 7, 2007
"Vallas takes reins at N.O. schools," by Steve Ritea, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 5, 2007
"Welcome, Mr. Vallas," New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 6, 2007
May 10, 2007
Cyber charters in the Hoosier State have been lost in a broken legislative server. Seems that senate Republicans had put together a budget to allow two virtual charter schools to open with $21 million in public funds. But the deal collapsed at the witching hour when Democrats struck out the bucks for virtual learning establishments. Rhonda Eby, head of one of the spurned schools, said "things just fell apart over the weekend, and we really don't know what happened." The "what" may be a mystery, but the "who" certainly isn't. Besides the Dems, the Indiana State Teachers Association led a campaign to deny public funds to the cybers. The defeated educators aren't easily deterred, however. They're seeking private dollars to open this fall and serve the 2,200 students already signed up. And Eby plans to be back in two years for the next budget battle. "We'll come back fighting," she said. Let's hope the legislature's a bit more user-friendly then.
May 10, 2007
Charter schools are hot in urban districts, but parents in the hinterlands are warming to them, too. Take Sterling, Colorado, population 12,589, where a group of parents has spent two years trying to open one. But the school board thrice rejected their petitions to launch Sterling Charter Academy, saying the parents' applications were too vague about operational details. That's what they say. The real hang-up seems to be the district's financial woes. Sterling has lost 400 students over the past four years, and the district has been forced to consolidate its schools. Losing still more money and pupils to a charter school isn't something they favor. School board president Carol Brom defends the rejections this way: "I'd love to have an Applebee's or a Chili's... but they won't come to Sterling because we don't have an adequate population base." Presumably she means that the demand for a charter school isn't high enough to justify its expense. But a group of parents has been willing to apply three times over two years to open such a school in Sterling. If that's not demand, what is? For whose benefit are public schools run, anyway?
"Charters vs. small communities," by Berny Morson, Rocky Mountain News, May 7, 2007
May 10, 2007
Elizabeth Logan is 41 years old, makes $69,000 annually, and has been teaching elementary school for 20 of those years. But none of those facts was enough to stop her from (allegedly) stealing a third-grader's winter coat and attempting to sell it on eBay. Logan was busted when the girl's mother, thinking the coat forever lost, began searching the auction site for a replacement and stumbled upon the errant garment. The police got involved, and Logan was arrested. But the first-grade teacher denies stealing the coat. She told investigators that she merely discovered it in the lost and found and decided to auction it on eBay. Then, in an ironic "dog ate my homework" twist, Logan claimed her pet canine tore the coat to pieces. Meanwhile, she continues to enjoy a 99.9 percent seller rating on eBay. Gadfly says caveat emptor, and shame on Logan for stealing clothes from 8-year-olds!
"Teacher Accused of Stealing Coat from 3rd-Grader," by Holly Danks and Melissa Navas, The Oregonian, May 3, 2007
Coby Loup / May 10, 2007
In case you need more reasons to clamber upon the KIPP bandwagon, this report should do the trick. Every year KIPP (aka, the "Knowledge is Power Program") presents demographic profiles and student achievement results for each of its schools that have been around long enough to release reliable data (this year 44 of 52 schools). The 2006 results are quite commendable. At the state level, 59 percent of KIPP fifth-graders outperformed their local districts in reading, and 74 percent did so in math. (Keep in mind: KIPP starts in the fifth grade, typically with students several grade levels behind.) In eighth grade, 100 percent of KIPP students outperformed their district counterparts in both subjects. KIPP also administers nationally norm-referenced exams (usually the Stanford Achievement Test) to measure student growth over time. Because most KIPP schools are still quite young, long-term longitudinal data are available for just 27 of them, but students in those institutions have on average gained 24 percentile points in reading and 39 percentile points in math over three years. If you look carefully, though, you'll also see the rare KIPP school that fails to live up to its billing. Data for KIPP Sankofa Charter School, in Buffalo, New York, for instance, show that its students have made limited gains and have in some cases lost ground. (KIPP recently revoked Sankofa's affiliation with the program; see here.) Fortunately, such bad apples are rare