Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 39
October 11, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Leave no (none, zero, nada) child behind?
To our libertarian friends
Op-ed page flimflam
The onus on SCOTUS
From the Orange Bowl to the Big Apple
Major Walsh, Colonel Cerf
This week, Mike and guest host Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality talk race and teacher tests, Bob Herbert, and lotteries. New York City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf clears up some misunderstandings, and Education News of the Weird is all about doing what's right.
Passed by Congress in late 2001 and signed by President George W. Bush one year after his inauguration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is the most ambitious federal education statute ever.
After five years of experience with a statute that aims to produce "universal proficiency" (in math and reading, mainly in grades 3-8) by 2014, and with reauthorization looming, it's time to draw some conclusions about how NCLB has unfolded on the ground--and how it ought to be changed.
Much has been written about NCLB's particular testing regimen. Far less has been written about the law's remedies, whereby a Title I school that fails to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) is subject to a parade of stiffening interventions designed to change it and give new options to its students. Our new book pries into this facet of NCLB to examine these remedies and their effectiveness (you can read more about our findings here and here).
But as Congress sets about reauthorizing the law, diving into its innards to tweak this and that, it will pay insufficient heed to NCLB's main problem, which is not concerned with tests or remedies but with philosophy.
The law began with the noble yet naïve promise that every U.S. schoolchild will attain "proficiency" in reading and math by 2014. While there is no doubt that the number of "proficient" students can and should increase dramatically from today's 30-ish percent
October 11, 2007
The word "strict" is important, because McCluskey's book refuses to compromise any of its overarching libertarian values for reality's sake. Thus, the reader repeatedly finds himself in the uncomfortable position of wondering: "Does the author actually believe this?"
McCluskey writes, "In the colonial and early national eras," when government did not control the schools, "American education worked, more or less, optimally." Does the author actually believe this? For colonial-era blacks and women, American education was an unqualified disaster.
Such illogic is not unusual when libertarian writers seek to apply a strict form of their philosophy to education reform. Readers must repeatedly endure odd passages that trumpet the glory of 17th Century schools and abolition of government and suchlike.
But strict libertarianism fails in education reform not merely because of its political infeasibility, but because it prizes individual liberty so greatly that it must allow parents to make dreadful educational choices that could set up their children for failure. Thus, the strict libertarian's k-12 paradox: Allowing parents the liberty to make such decisions on their children's behalf stymies liberty (the child's rights, really) more than encourages it.
If we returned to an education system modeled on, say, the colonial one--in which government did not compel children to attend class and in
October 11, 2007
Last week, we wrote that Bob Herbert's New York Times columns are "either off-base or banal." He repaid us by referring to our new study, The Proficiency Illusion, in an off-base manner, as part of his banal October 9th piece "High-Stakes Flimflam." Herbert's title referred not to his own writing, but to the k-12 tests that have "largely failed to magically swing open the gates of successful learning." He argues that because, according to Harvard's Daniel Koretz, it's difficult to trust that high-stakes tests aren't being gamed, and because Fordham found that "proficiency" cut scores vary from stateto state, we should quit testing. "It's time to rein in the test zealots who have gotten such a stranglehold on the public schools in the U.S.," Herbert writes. Can Gadfly be quoted yawning? Too bad Herbert took the least intellectually rigorous approach to our report's findings (as others have done differently with similar criticism). Instead of considering improving the tests, or perhaps suggesting the implementation of a national assessment, our fearless columnist took the boring and uninformed road most traveled: scrap the whole thing. Oh well.
"High-Stakes Flimflam," by Bob Herbert, New York Times, October 9, 2007
"Why Bob Herbert is wrong," Thomas B. Fordham Institute, October 9, 2007
October 11, 2007
Yesterday, eight Supremes agreed to disagree, four to four, about a key special education case, allowing a lower court's ruling to stand while setting no precedent whatsoever for the country. That's a shame; U.S. schools could use some clarity about the oft-ambiguous Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. At question this time was whether districts must pay private school tuition for disabled students who have never set foot in a public school. The "plain language" of the law seems to say no--that only after a school system has failed to provide a "free, appropriate public education" must it fork over the dough for "private placement." The parent in this case--understandably wanting what was best for his child--rejected the suggestion of letting his kid suffer for a whole year before getting access to private education. He's surely got a point. Maybe the school system does, too, however, when it says, in essence, "let us try to educate your child before you opt out." In this case the parent prevailed. But the Supreme Court offered no guidance to anyone else.
"Supreme Court Upholds Tuition Ruling," by David Stout and Jennifer Medina, New York Times, October 11, 2007
October 11, 2007
Seems that lightning has struck once again in Florida. After making some of largest early-grade NAEP improvements in the nation, the Sunshine State is now attempting to beef up its accountability system for high-school students. And in a shocking display of common sense, politicians in Tallahassee are looking beyond their state's borders for good ideas. A bipartisan group of state legislators is set to make a November trip to New York to examine the end of course, high school Regents exams, which are among the country's most rigorous. This comes at a time when Florida's state test, the FCAT, is undergoing serious scrutiny: many districts are questioning whether FCAT accurately assesses their high-school students (see here), and recent scoring glitches in the elementary grades haven't boosted confidence, either. But instead of tossing the accountability baby out with the bathwater, instead of decrying testing and all it stands for, Florida policymakers seem to be showing a willingness to make mid-course corrections. We'll raise our Mojitos to that.
"FCAT may face rival," by Ron Matus and Steve Bousquet, St. Petersburg Times, October 6, 2007
October 11, 2007
In 2005-06, a significantly higher percentage of white teacher candidates in Massachusetts passed the required Communications and Literacy Skills exam than their black and Hispanic counterparts. The state's Educational Personnel Advisory Council--a tasty morsel of bureaucratese, that--has been asked to determine whether this gap reflects bias in the test. But common sense and Charles Glenn, who writes in the Boston Globe, tell us that the scores are simply the result of the education system itself, one that exhibits similar racial disparities in student achievement. If the k-12 (and postsecondary) system does a poor job of educating poor and minority students, why does it surprise us when they perform poorly on subsequent exams? Furthermore, everybody knows that there's a link between teachers' performance on tests such as this one and the future achievement of their pupils. Lest you think, however, that the exam itself is above blame, consider this: according to Glenn, ed school dean at Boston University, the exam tests for high school-level skills. Don't you think, dear Massachusetts legislator, that teachers should be at least a little more qualified than the students they're teaching?
"High standards for teachers," by Charles Glenn, Boston Globe, October 6, 2007
Interpreting 12th-Graders' NAEP-Scaled Mathematics Performance Using High School Predictors and Postsecondary Outcomes From the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS: 88)
Michael J. Petrilli / October 11, 2007
Leslie A. Scott, Steven J. Ingels, and Jeffrey A. Owings
National Center on Education Statistics
This blockbuster report (which didn't receive the coverage it deserves) examines whether performance on NAEP could predict matriculation to, and success in, college-and thus whether a certain NAEP score indicates "college readiness." In a nutshell, analysts followed a representative group of students who graduated from middle school in 1988 and, as high-school seniors, took a math test the results of which could be equated to the NAEP's scale. (Students were followed until 2000, when they were about 26 years old.) The results are pretty interesting. Of twelfth-graders who scored below NAEP's "basic" level, about half did not participate in any postsecondary education. Only about a fifth of these students received at least a bachelor's degree; another fifth got a certificate or an associate's degree. Of those twelfth-grade students who did make the basic level, half went to a four-year school, and another quarter to a two-year school. Fifty percent of these "at basic" students walked away with at least a bachelor's degree, and another 12 percent received a certificate or associate's degree. A whopping 84 percent of students scoring at "proficient" matriculated to a four-year school and almost all of them earned at least a bachelor's degree. As for those at the "advanced" level, over ninety percent graduated with four-year degrees, mostly from highly selective or selective institutions. What does that mean in terms
October 11, 2007
Harry Anthony Patrinos and Shobhana Sosale, eds.
Countries differ in their social and economic practices, but from the United States to Venezuela to the United Kingdom one can find public-private partnerships (or PPPs) to improve education. The essays in this World Bank volume explore the mechanics of PPPs and their effects. From the U.S., Gregg Vanourek and Checker Finn conclude that charter schools encourage parent involvement and increase efficiency of per-pupil spending. In Latin America, a Colombian public-school program puts high-performing private schools in charge of public schools, most of them in poor areas. While PPPs vary greatly in their specifics, they all work to bring high-quality services to typically disenfranchised groups, and they all rely on the skills of private management. Unfortunately, they also face multiple barriers: fear of private control; church-state separation angst; and unfriendly labor organizations. Dispelling myths about private oversight is therefore key for PPP success, and this book's authors do their best. Check it out here.
K-8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap and Supporting Charter School Excellence Through Quality Authorizing
Coby Loup / October 11, 2007
Innovations in Education Series
U.S. Department of Education
September 2007Innovations in Education Series
U.S. Department of Education
These two reports examine what makes the nation's best charter schools and charter authorizers so good at what they do. The first report profiles seven high-quality charter schools, and identifies 8 common practices at which they excel. In-depth discussions of each practice and individual school profiles offer concrete examples of how schools implement such policies. The heralded Amistad Academy, for instance, requires its students to demonstrate the "REACH" values: respect, enthusiasm, achievement, citizenship, and hard work. The Integrational School in Cleveland closely monitors student reading progress against set benchmarks and sends home clear and detailed report cards. The report on charter authorizing takes the same approach, picking eight exemplars of high-quality authorizing and highlighting six common practices central to their success. These authorizers 1) build strong organizations with talented staffs; 2) recruit qualified faculty and school leaders; 3) employ rigorous criteria for evaluating charter applicants; 4) provide intensive support to new school operators; 5) provide meaningful and transparent long-term oversight; and 6) hold schools accountable for meeting performance goals. Again, detailed examinations of the practices and individual authorizers further illuminate what it takes to do authorizing right. As the charter movement wakes up to the importance of quality authorizing, the models explored here will be ever more valuable for new entrants to the field. Read the schools report