Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 41
October 25, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Conservatives love national testing
Simpler than it seems
The sun shines on charters
Tear down this wall?
The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies
Michael J. Petrilli / October 25, 2007
A decade ago, when President Bill Clinton's "voluntary national test" proposal was crashing on the rocky shores of a Republican-controlled Congress, Fordham's Checker Finn quipped that national testing was doomed because "conservatives hate national and liberals hate testing."
That may have been true then, but it doesn't appear true now. Consider the results of a recent national survey by Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Among other things, it asked a representative sample of 2,000 Americans, "Under No Child Left Behind, should there be a single national standard and a single national test for all students in the United States? Or do you think that there should be different standards and tests in different states?"
It wasn't even close; national testing won by a landslide. A whopping 73 percent of respondents wanted a single test. What's even more surprising, though, is that Republicans were likelier to support this idea than Democrats--77 percent to 69 percent. As for ideology, those self-identifying as "extremely conservative" were by far the most enthusiastic about national testing: An incredible 88 percent of these adults voiced their support, versus 64 percent of liberals.
National testing has become a conservative position. Yet the conventional wisdom in Washington is that national testing is a "third rail"--too hot for any politician to touch, especially because of conservative and Republican resistance. A staffer for liberal icon Sen. Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of
October 25, 2007
A fortnight ago in the Wall Street Journal, the outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute, Chris Demuth, wrote, "It is a great advantage, when working on practical problems, not to be constantly doubling back to first principles."
Public schools work on the practical problem of educating students but also, unfortunately, find themselves doubling back to first principles all too often.
Here we are again, with the case of Portland Maine's King Middle School, which as it now stands will allow its female students, some of them no older than eleven, to acquire from the school's health center a form of oral birth-control of their choosing. (It has provided condoms since 2000.)
The question dominating headlines: Is providing a complimentary array of birth control products to pre-teens a sound idea? The question of first principles that underlies the debate: What should be the primary function of our public schools?
Conservatives will tell you if you ask them--and perhaps if you don't--that public schools should teach a well-rounded core curriculum that prepares students for college and work, and that they should also impart certain values to their youthful charges. Among these are respect for authority, hard work, self discipline, the worthiness of setting goals, and a healthy patriotism.
Many liberal-minded folks will tell you similar things. Up to a point, one can find rough agreement across the spectrum concerning the mission of public schools: skills, knowledge, and values. If we stopped there,
October 25, 2007
At the end of every school year, many parents compare notes about teachers and then start lobbying to get their children into the best instructors' classrooms during the next year. Principals hate it, but a new report by the private consulting firm McKinsey & Co. indicates yet again that parents have the right idea. Great teachers make a difference. Analysts reviewed data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and deduced that the "secret" to successful students is smart teachers. Less "duh"-inducing is McKinsey's discovery that getting smart people into the classroom (as countries such as South Korea and Finland routinely do) depends less on paying them fat salaries and more on making the profession competitive to enter and respected. Unfortunately, as our recent alternative certification report makes clear, the United States has done the opposite--in America, it's laughably easy to become a k-12 instructor. And while other countries invest substantial resources in solid teacher professional development that works, the U.S. doesn't. The Blob has tried everything else to improve education (more money, smaller classes, etc.). It would be nice if we could try the obvious.
"How to be top," The Economist, October 18, 2007
October 25, 2007
The Florida Board of Education last week granted the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission the new power to authorize charter schools in almost every district in the state. Bravo. Authorizing in Florida had, until now, been the domain exclusively of local school boards. But after the Excellence Commission's creation last year, those school boards had to apply to keep their exclusive authorizing powers. And only three were judged worthy of doing so. The Florida Board of Education explained the change by noting that most districts were unfair to charter school applicants. St. Lucie County's application process, for example, did not respect charter school autonomy--it mandated school dates and how charters would handle student discipline, testing, and grading. Such autonomy-sapping behavior is inexcusable, and giving the Excellence Commission new powers is a fine way to remove local politics from the chartering process. But we've learned that closing bad charter schools is a lot easier said than done, and that it makes sense for authorizers to rigorously evaluate each charter school application. One hopes that the commission's name reflects exactly what it will demand from all applicants.
"Broward, Palm Beach boards stripped of total control over charter schools," by Rhonda J. Miller and Akilah Johnson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 18, 2007
"Districts lose sole charter control," by Cara Fitzpatrick and Rachel Simmonsen, Palm Beach Post, October 18, 2007
October 25, 2007
LBJ high school in Austin, Texas, is no longer one school. This year, it was separated into two: the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA), a former magnet program that enrolls higher-achieving students, is upstairs, and the traditional LBJ is downstairs. (After splitting, the schools now receive Gates money.) The Austin American-Statesman reports that the change indicates a shifting philosophy in the city's magnet programs, which are growing less concerned with integration than with "keeping middle- and upper-class students in public schools." One wonders, though, why such youngsters can receive the top-notch educations they desire only in a separate area. Challenging classes will remain challenging regardless of where they're positioned in a school building; doesn't putting up a physical divide--for no apparent educational reason--seem unwise? Magnet programs are a fine strategy for offering rigorous classes, increasing school diversity in a voluntary way, and luring high-achievers into public education. Might isolating such magnet programs only detract from their effectiveness?
"Separation anxiety at LBJ and magnet program?," by Laura Heinauer, Austin American-Stateman, October 25, 2007
Top 10 Charter Communities by Market Share (2nd Edition) and Charter School Achievement: What We Know (4th Edition)
Coby Loup / October 25, 2007
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
October 2007Bryan C. Hassel, Michelle Godard Terrell, Ashley Kain, Todd Ziebarth
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Charter advocates must consume and digest a lot of information to stay ahead of their opponents. Fortunately, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools makes staying informed a bit easier with its short updates on the movement's vital stats. First is a three-pager on the communities where charters have the greatest market share. New Orleans, not surprisingly, leads with 57 percent. But a slew of other places have made big gains, too. Twenty-nine communities (including the Big Easy) send at least 13 percent of their youngsters to charter schools; last year, 19 made the 13-percent list. And eight of these, including the District of Columbia, Detroit, Kansas City, and Fordham's hometown of Dayton, send more than a fifth. The other paper is an updated version of NAPCS's review of the literature on charter school achievement. Of the 39 studies that used longitudinal data to measure progress over time, 20 show that charters made greater gains overall than traditional public schools, four find that charters made smaller gains overall, and 15 fall somewhere in between. Charter supporters should cite these figures with gusto. But they shouldn't fail to notice that the record, though skewed, is still mixed. As the authors note, "Asking about the quality of ‘charter schools' as a group is a bit like
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / October 25, 2007
The Future of Children
Princeton University and the Brookings Institution
Vol. 17, No. 2, Fall 2007
This special issue of The Future of Children focuses on antipoverty policies. One paper deals exclusively with k-12 education. Penned by Richard Murnane of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, it begins by stating a problem familiar to those in the education world: "Children living in poverty, disproportionately children of color, tend to be concentrated in schools with inadequate resources and poorly skilled teachers. Many of these children are likely to leave school before earning a high school diploma. Even if they graduate, many leave school without the skills needed to earn a decent living." He follows with a series of well-worn recommendations for amending NCLB and improving these low-performing schools. Murnane suggests, for example, altering the adequate yearly progress measure in NCLB to measure student growth over time, strengthening inter- and intra-district school choice, and raising graduation requirements to prepare students better for work and college. In short, it's a good overview of the problems with NCLB, and a decent summary of some of the reform schemes in place to improve that law's performance. It's available here.
Eric Osberg / October 25, 2007
William G. Howell
AEI Future of American Education Project, Working Paper 2007-01
This short paper covers a survey of public opinions about whether students perform better in public or private schools, with the data broken down by respondents' political persuasions and their opinions about vouchers. The survey results are barely interesting: 75 percent of the public believes students in private schools fare better than those in public schools, a finding that is roughly the same among all groups. The author's real purpose, however, is to show the extent to which such opinions change when people are presented with supporting (or conflicting) information, and the extent to which that change is a function of the information source --in this case, either a "conservative" or a "liberal" think tank. Not surprisingly, these factors matter a great deal, and the intensity of their effects depends on an individual's original views. Howell concludes, "the assessed value of academic research depends upon its congruence with previously held policy preferences." This isn't terribly shocking (it's easier to dismiss unsettling information than be forced to grapple with the cognitive dissonance it creates) but it's interesting to see its implications in education. You can read it here (it's the last paper in the right-side panel).