Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 47
December 11, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
School for $6 a month
The last word
Republic of Scarsdale?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 11, 2008
It's not that I didn't believe James Tooley's books and articles asserting that an astonishing number of poor children in developing countries are being decently (and sometimes superbly) educated by a little-noticed army of low-budget private schools that receive no government support and, indeed, are paid for by those kids' own parents.
But it hadn't really sunk into my consciousness, perhaps because others scoffed at these claims. Big "foreign aid" and education funders generally ignored this entire education sector, journalists and analysts paid it scant heed and governments, perhaps embarrassed by their own failure to do right by these youngsters, acted as if it weren't really happening.
Now, however, I've seen examples of this phenomenon with my own eyes in the slums of Hyderabad, India, where Tooley (a British education scholar on leave from the University of Newcastle) is both learning even more about it and trying to strengthen it via the "Aristotle" project he leads with backing from a New Zealand-born, Singapore-based, tycoon.
I confess: I was impressed--and slightly sheepish, too, considering I've lived and traveled in India and other "third world" countries over many years and worked in the education field forever. Yet, until now I had allowed my gaze to pass over signs of the presence of hundreds of these schools without really noticing them, much less seeking to understand how they work.
In America my efforts to widen education options and promote school
Like a comet, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study comes around every four years to offer insights about America's progress (or lack thereof) in these two critical domains. And, as others have noticed too, these exams serve not just as tests of children's skills and nation's self-images but also as Rorschach Tests of policy pundits' views. Hate No Child Left Behind? You can find data in TIMSS that "prove" this law is maligning the nation's schools. Love NCLB? No problem. Plenty of evidence supports your point of view, too. Think we're falling behind in the global competitiveness arena? There's something for you in there. How about we're doing OK in preparing for the world economy? Got it.
Weary from reading the bushel of cherry-picked translations, we were perked up by a simple and straightforward statement from Brookings Institution scholar (and TIMSS advisor) Tom Loveless. Referring to TIMSS, NAEP, etc., he told the Associated Press, "Now all of our major tests are telling us the same things." That's right--and significant--because replicated findings on multiple assessments are the ones that should hold the most sway. So what do we know, not just from TIMSS but also from NAEP?
Math performance is up since the mid-1990s. Progress was particularly strong around the turn of the century, but has continued (at a slower pace) through the NCLB years. Achievement gaps are narrowing, as the lowest-performing students make big
December 11, 2008
As the Bush Administration rounds the bend, officials from the President on down are working overtime to cement their "legacy." Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told Education Week that she wants to be remembered as a "practical implementer of the law." (The law being the No Child Left Behind act which, according to Spellings, "rightfully put before us the issues of the achievement gap.") But Gene Hickok, the deputy secretary of education under Rod Paige, disagrees with that rosy assessment, explaining that she only became "practical" once she moved from her White House perch to 400 Maryland Avenue. In his own Education Week commentary, Hickok writes that Paige "frequently sought to respond to [state] requests for relief, but was rebuffed at every turn by Spellings' White House domestic-policy staff." Even worse, Hickok argues, by making extra-legal changes to NCLB via regulation, Spellings has created a precedent that the Obama administration can use to defang the law's accountability provisions. Time will tell whether Hickok's scenario comes true, but Spellings surely won't roll over and take the blame. "I plan to continue to be a warrior in this battle," she told Ed Week, and that much you can bank on.
"Spellings' Worldview: There's No Going Back on K-12 Accountability," by Alyson Klein, Education Week, December 10, 2008
"Secretary Spellings' unintended legacy," by Eugene Hickok, Education Week, December 10, 2008
December 11, 2008
Good news for the harried education researcher: the Department of Education has released new regulations on the notoriously punctilious Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law, which was enacted in 1974 to protect student data, came under fire after the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech; the incident, a panel concluded, was largely due to confusion over privacy laws that prevented the records of the gunman, who was a mentally-ill VT student, from being shared with authorities and the student's parents. While many of the changes are understandably geared towards higher education, there are a few relevant ones for the K-12 arena. Most notably, the new regulations permit state educational agencies to create and implement K-16 accountability systems that will facilitate the transfer of student records as well as the use of "de-indentified" aggregated data by researchers. And since many of these records are now stored electronically, the regulations also provide additional guidance on how these technological advancements affect privacy rules. Many of these issues were brought up in our chapter on FERPA in A Byte at the Apple. As chapter author Chrys Dougherty explains, "While working to protect students' privacy rights, policymakers must keep in mind the value of appropriately used data to answer important questions about student progress, teacher quality, and school effectiveness--to help students and schools get better." Sounds like these new regs are on the right track.
December 11, 2008
It's no new news that Scarsdale, NY has long disdained tests and suffered from an inflated ego on this topic as well. Its latest ploy to distinguish itself from the pack? Drop the plebian Advanced Placement curriculum in favor of a more patrician alternative, "Advanced Topics." The actual switch happened about a year ago, but Scarsdale is only just now getting into the swing of these new classes. The district claims that they will give teachers and students greater freedom to dig deep into subject matter (string theory! larger art canvases!) without the pesky prescriptions of an AP course and upcoming exam. "If the people called [AP] a gold curriculum in the past, I refer to this version as the platinum curriculum," brags Scarsdale High principal John Klemme. But what's shiny in Scarsdale looks awfully dull to College Board Vice President Trevor Packer: "[t]o us, their courses don't look any different from high-quality A.P. courses. Simply changing the letters on the course from A.P. to A.T. looks very cosmetic." To top it off, Scarsdale is still sending its "AT" syllabi to the College Board for review under AP standards. But while Scarsdale may think itself too good for the likes of AP, let's not get carried away. The AP standard is a high one--and not to be scoffed at by the likes of a snooty New York suburb to the detriment of other districts looking for high
December 11, 2008
Ever wish you could be paid to do nothing? That's right, the Teacher Reserve Pool saga continues. It's too bad, too, since we were pleased to learn last week of the reasonable reforms concerning New York City's notorious excessed teachers. But alas, what to do with excessed principals? Why, send them to supervise the excessed teachers, of course. A half-dozen ineffective or troubled principals are now serving as room monitors in the notorious "rubber rooms"--and raking in a hefty collective $715,000 to do so. Sound nonsensical? Try this on for size: "We think this is a productive use for these folks because we have to pay them anyway," explained district spokeswoman Ann Forte. So what do all these teachers and principals do all day? Knit, read books, take naps, stare out the window--you know, all in a day's work on the city's payroll. As one teacher commented, "I wish I had that job." New York, let these ineffective administrators do their sock-darning on their own time--and their own dime.
"Principals' 715G," by Yoav Gonen, New York Post, December 8, 2008
December 11, 2008
The Education Trust
This study starts with an unassailable premise: "Teachers cannot teach what they do not know." Yet teachers are still being assigned to teach subjects they haven't mastered themselves, finds this valuable EdTrust report. Veteran teacher analyst Richard Ingersoll used the latest federal Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to determine not only that too many teachers have neither an academic major nor a state certificate in the subjects they teach, but that this problem is particularly prevalent in middle schools, math classes, and high poverty/high minority schools. To wit, while only 17.2 percent of core academic subjects (i.e. English, math, social studies, and science) are assigned to out-of-field teachers in high schools, a whopping 42 percent were so assigned in middle schools. And high-poverty schools saw twice as many out-of-fielders than low-poverty schools (27.1 versus 13.9 percent). Even more troubling is how little has been done to ameliorate this problem. While No Child Left Behind tried to make some headway with its Highly Qualified Teachers provision, Ingersoll discovered that states have been severely under-reporting their out-of-field teachers. In conclusion, the study suggests a few sensible solutions. First, colleges and universities need to continue to improve their teacher preparation programs, perhaps following in the footsteps of UTeach at University of Texas at Austin, which is now being replicated as part of the National Math and Science Initiative. Second, districts can grow excellent teachers
December 11, 2008
Robin J. Lake, Ed.,
National Charter School Research Project
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington at Bothell
Now in its fourth year, this edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality, a product of the National Charter School Research Project, addresses one fundamental question: "Should charter schools be more different than alike?" Recent debate has focused on the idea that "charter" as a category does not adequately describe the variegated models included within it. To illumine these different charter versions, the report examines how charters address five areas: academic performance, teaching and learning, college preparation, special education, and self-evaluation and implementation of reforms. Five findings follow: most of the charter achievement research to date has been sub-par, although some studies show gains versus traditional schools; charters are more likely than traditional schools to customize support for struggling students; more college-prep charters are emerging to prep students for the campus culture (much as David Whitman found in Sweating the Small Stuff); charters are a good fit for many special-needs students; and charters need to "unbundle" K-12 services--i.e. move away from "whole school" solutions to a "demand" based approach, which would better match services to needs of specific students. All of which is to say that yes, charter schools should be more different than alike. And in so doing, the charter movement can find stronger models while scrapping those that prove ineffective. You can find this report