Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 31
August 14, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Sweating the small stuff
Relax with stats
Blowing hot air in the Windy City
Summertime, and the learning's easy
Risky un-risky business
2008 ACT National and State Scores
This week, Mike and Rick discuss polls, polls, and paternalism. Amber talks re-enrollment rates, and Education News of the Weird is less than discreet.
Tomorrow, the Fordham Institute releases David Whitman's powerful new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. It tells the story of six remarkable inner-city secondary schools that have eliminated the achievement gap--or at least come close. They are living proof that poor, minority kids can learn as much as middle class white kids--and that great schools can make an enormous difference in their lives, thus giving the lie to defeatists, determinists, and apologists who insist that this isn't really possible in today's America. They are, in fact, a stunning rebuke to the likes of Richard Rothstein and Charles Murray.
But they are also proof that it isn't easy.
By the time youngsters reach high school in the United States, the achievement gap is immense. The average black twelfth grader has the reading and writing skills of a typical white eighth grader. Graduation rates are low and college-going rates lower. At the schools profiled by the Whitman volume, however, poor minority students surpass not only the average white student but even those in high-performing suburban schools.
How do they accomplish this remarkable feat? Some of it is familiar. In each of these schools, for example, Whitman found inspiring principals, high academic standards, and long days and years. But that's not the whole of it, nor the compelling--and controversial--part of this absorbing tale. For he also found in these schools
August 14, 2008
Summer's days wane, and you tire of beach reading. Not of reading on the beach, certainly, but of the candy-colored-covered offerings that comprise the genre. No more tales of Upper East Side ne'er-do-wells! You lust for data, for statistics, for meaningful numbers. And you shall have them.
The second annual survey of U.S. adults' opinions about education--conducted under the auspices of Education Next and Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG)--is now out, and it seems that the public's generally despondent mood has dripped like four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline into the realm of public schooling.
Note to presidential candidates: No Child Left Behind is growing more unpopular. In 2007, 57 percent of respondents supported reauthorization of that law with no more than minor changes; in 2008, only half do. Forty-two percent of public-school educators, who are charged with implementing No Child Left Behind, don't want it to be renewed in any guise.
And overall, opinions of local public schools have declined during the past year. The percentage of African Americans who bestow on such schools an A or B dropped 7 points (from 27 percent to 20 percent) and the percentage who bestow on them a D or F increased 11 points (from 20 percent to 31 percent). Only 40 percent of all respondents give their local schools an A or B. In contrast, 64 percent thought their local police force worthy of an A or B grade, and 70 percent believe
August 14, 2008
The Gadfly is required reading for California's appellate court judges. Or so we assume, because the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal last week took our advice and overturned its horrendous March decision--a decision that provoked a chorus of criticism, to which Gadfly added his full-throated voice--to proscribe home-schooling in the Golden State. The judges admitted they had erred (oops), and California's parents may now resume legally teaching their children at dining room tables from Calexico to Smith River. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the development. "This is a victory for California's students, parents, and education community," he said. "This decision confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children." For so many reasons, we couldn't agree more.
"Parents may home-school children without teaching credential, California court says," by Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2008
August 14, 2008
Illinois State Senator James Meeks believes that the most efficacious way to eliminate funding disparities between Chicago's schools is to keep poor, black youngsters out of class. He wants such students in the city to boycott the first days of the 2008-2009 school year. The Reverend Meeks, a politician who leads a church on Chicago's South Side, has received support for his plan from the Reverend Al Sharpton, a wannabe politician who leads all sorts of noxious causes and whose association with this one makes laughable his recent "commitment" to improve the academic achievement of minority and low-income pupils. (Want a good argument for separation of church and state? Sharpton.) If shrinking the achievement gap is the ultimate goal of Meeks, as he says, then urging black kids to stay out of school is about the dumbest thing he could do, akin to trying to quell a fire by sloshing the flames with gasoline. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was on the money when he said, "It's counterproductive to urge kids not to attend school. If a child misses a day of school, that child will miss an opportunity to learn. I think children should take advantage of every possible day they can to go to school."
"Meeks solicits support for school boycott plan," by Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, August 12, 2008
"A school boycott, or not?," by Robert Mitchum and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune, August 12,
August 14, 2008
Summer is a glorious time, especially for students, who generally receive in June, July, and August a reprieve from schoolwork. For some high school pupils, though, the hotter months are a time to play academic catch-up. In New York City, for example, 7,500 seniors are wrapping up their summer classes; many of them have already passed New York State's high school exit exams and are simply making up missed coursework requirements. Jose David Bedoya, 17, routinely skipped class this past year to, according to the New York Times, "work as superintendent at an apartment building to help support his mother." This week, he'll finish his class requirements, sit for his exit exams, and "then wait anxiously to find out whether he will graduate." But while the Big Apple's summer school appears to maintain academic rigor, those in other locales do not. In Prince William County, Virginia, (suburban Washington, D.C.), high school students who have failed classes can earn their credits by taking, during the summer, a computer course that can be completed in days. Too bad. Pupils deserve second chances, but they don't deserve, or benefit from, free rides.
"Seniors See Summer School as an Opportunity to Get Serious and Graduate," by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, August 11, 2008
"School Program Puts Focus On Graduation, Not Grades," by Ian Shapira, Washington Post, August 9, 2008
August 14, 2008
When playground mats grow hot in the afternoon sun and torch the hands and feet of the children whose heads they're meant to cushion, what is to be done? Perhaps nothing, argues Common Good President Phillip K. Howard, who offered this week in the Wall Street Journal an op-ed that pointed out that young Americans are today so coddled and protected and shielded from their own destructive impulses and nature's whimsy that they age without learning about risk. "Scrapes and bruises are how children learn their limits, and the need to take personal responsibility," he writes. Howard is not the first to make this point, nor is he one of few who believe it--that The Dangerous Book for Boys was swept off the shelves by so many so briskly makes this clear. And yet, our country, no doubt fearful of lawsuits that threaten from the shadows, marches steadily toward anesthetization--and a future of pillowed playgrounds. They're empty, of course. All the kids are inside, wearing protective headgear, eating Doritos, and playing virtual tennis videogames.
"Why Safe Kids Are Becoming Fat Kids," by Philip K. Howard, Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2008
August 14, 2008
Can Gloria Estefan save Miami's schools? In case you haven't heard, despite its subtropical location, the Miami-Dade County school district isn't doing so hot. First, its school board meetings, which resemble certain scenes from the movie Animal House, became public-television sensations. Then, its superintendent, Rudy Crew, almost lost his job. And now, with schools in South Florida about to open their doors for the 2008-2009 year, the district confronts hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts. All of which has whipped Latin music sensation Gloria Estefan into action. In what will be her first South Florida concert in four years, the five-time Grammy Award winner will perform at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and donate a portion of the ticket sales to public schools in Miami and the surrounding cities. Sounds fine. But South Florida's schoolchildren wonder: Who's Gloria Estefan?
"Gloria Estefan will sing for sing for school funding," by Steve Rothaus, Miami Herald, August 12, 2008
Stafford Palmieri / August 14, 2008
August 13, 2008
Just 22 percent of those who graduated high school in 2008 are ready for college, according to ACT, the organization that administers the college admissions test of the same name. Yet, some 94 percent of high school students plan to attend college--and many do. ACT sets college readiness benchmark scores in four subject areas: English, math, reading, and science. Students who hit each benchmark are, based on ACT research, likely to receive at least a C in first-year, college courses in the applicable subject area. According to the organization, "The percentages of ACT-tested 2008 high school graduates who met or surpassed ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks in math (43 percent), reading (53 percent), and science (28 percent) were unchanged compared to last year." (Only 22 percent reached the benchmarks in all four areas.) But the proportion who reached the goal in English (68 percent) dropped by one percentage point compared to the last two years. The average ACT composite score is down from last year, too (it was 21.2 and is now 21.1), but the number of test-takers continues to rise: this year, 1.42 million sat for the ACT, which is 9 percent increase from 2007. ACT claims it's great news that while the number of test-takers grew, the average test score remained mostly the same. But it's not great news that a mere 22 percent of all those who take the ACT--and only 3 percent
Measuring What Matters: The Effects of National Board Certification on Advancing 21st Century Teaching and Learning
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / August 14, 2008
Center for Teaching Quality
Two years ago, the Center for Teaching Quality, typically a redoubt of conventional thinking, launched its TeacherSolutions initiative, by which it invites expert teachers to weigh in on the educational research literature. The (reasonable) idea is that practitioners, via their in-the-trenches experience, have a unique perspective on policy issues--one not possessed by researcher and policymaker types. This latest TeacherSolutions paper presents the collective ruminations of ten National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) about the National Board literature. What they say, however, fails the unique or solution-oriented litmus test. After examining roughly a dozen studies on National Board certification, they decree they're based "on limited or misguided thinking about what effective teaching looks like." What follows is the tired clarion call for using multiple measures to assess student learning and evaluate teachers. A handful of recommendations, however, are pretty sensible. For instance, the teachers suggest offering NBCTs incentives to lead efforts to improve their schools and spread teaching expertise to their colleagues. They also recommend that the vault of teacher videos and student work--which are routinely submitted by candidates to the Board--be systematically analyzed (and made public) so the field has a deeper understanding of what effective teaching looks like (and doesn't look like). You can pan for the golden nuggets here.