Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 1
January 3, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Reading First's Christmas massacre
By Shepard Barbash
Broccoli for your brain
It's not about the kids
Staving off Spicolis
This week, Mike and Rick talk Iowa, special education, and the wisdom of children. We've got an interview with Sunil Iyengar of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Education News of the Weird is growing up so fast.
Shepard Barbash / January 3, 2008
Reading First, funded at $1 billion per year, is among the most promising federal efforts to help the poor. Title I, funded at $12 billion per year, is not nearly so effective. That President Bush has just signed into law a 2008 budget that gives the latter an 8.6 percent increase in funding and the former a 64 percent decrease confirms the wisdom of Lincoln, who observed, "In republican democracies, public sentiment is everything. With it nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed." Notwithstanding Reading First's success increasing early literacy rates among the poor, public sentiment for the program remains weaker than that of its enemies, who have proved more influential in Congress and more determined than Reading First's stewards in the administration.
Launched in 2002 as part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Reading First helps states help their districts improve reading instruction for poor students in low-performing elementary schools. Evaluations by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Congress's Government Accountability Office, the Center on Education Policy, and several states (e.g., Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Washington) have corroborated the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) findings that the program is popular among educators and is improving student achievement. Indeed OMB singles out Reading First as the only component of NCLB with enough evidence to be judged "effective."
Unlike Title I, an entrenched entitlement that gives districts too much freedom to spend taxpayers' money, Reading First is controversial
January 3, 2008
Marc Lampkin--who runs the Bill Gates and Eli Broad-funded $60 million "ED in '08" initiative to make education a top-tier issue in the presidential campaign--doesn't believe that his purpose is to make education a top-tier issue in the presidential campaign.
An article last month in Education Week quotes Lampkin: "Making this [education] a top issue was not the end in itself. Ultimately, it's not about where you stand in the polls. It's about whether the candidates, and the next president, are adopting the right policies."
Really? ED in '08's website states, "Our goal is to ensure that the nation engages in a rigorous debate and to make education a top priority in the 2008 presidential election."
But don't blame Lampkin. As a paid political consultant, his job is to spin, and to contain expectations. And he's surely smart enough to see the writing on the wall: Education is not, nor will it be, a top priority in 2008, despite any organization's efforts.
The country, it seems, is right now uninterested in hearing candidates speak deeply about the subject. Evidence abounds. For example, of those Iowans surveyed in a November New York Times/CBS News poll, only 4 percent of Democrats and 3 percent of Republicans called education their most important issue when deciding for whom to vote for president (in New Hampshire, 5 percent of Democrats and 3 percent of Republicans named ed their top priority). Voters today are far
January 3, 2008
We hear often about the decline of reading and what a nasty harbinger it is. But seldom do we hear the case made as convincingly as Caleb Crain puts it in the December 24th New Yorker. That's because Crain is not content, as are many defenders of the written word (Fordham included), to base his arguments on maintaining a shared literary culture and noting how much we all can learn from, say, old man Lear. Indeed, one could argue that Americans have long shared a culture, not of literature, but of TV shows and politics and sports (replace Lear with Barry Bonds). Crain, though, dispenses with philosophy and structures his essay around science--how reading (and other activities that distract from it, such as watching TV and surfing the web) affect the human brain. His article shows that more-literate people--and, one deduces, more-literate societies--have an altogether different way of interacting in the world. Literate folks are more likely to think abstractly, to eschew stereotype and embrace analysis, and to correct their own inconsistencies. Furthermore, the process of reading (scanning words and deriving their meaning), unlike watching TV, does not itself require much brain activity. That sounds like a bad thing, but it actually allows one to both receive information and consider that information simultaneously. Reading becomes, therefore, a sort of solitary conversation--an internal dialogue with others, that helps us better evaluate the outside world and ourselves. The dwindling number of
January 3, 2008
Washington, D.C., parents could not have been pleased after reading about the haphazard way that curriculum decisions are made in their city. Two recent Washington Post articles paint a story of administrative incompetence and misplaced power. The first details how a former public-school principal received $3 million, authorized on a single day, to start a professional development organization for teachers--one that trained educators in a method of reading instruction that clashed with that one already in use in D.C. public schools. The second shows how Senator Mary Landrieu, who represents constituents in Louisiana, earmarked $2 million to implement in the District a reading program whose founder had held for her a $30,000 fundraiser. Both are pieces of substantial reporting and well worth reading. They raise questions. Why are curriculum decisions in Washington, one of the nation's worst school districts, being made by a U.S. senator from the bayou? Why are literacy programs that clash with those already used in D.C.'s schools (programs that have had dubious records of success in other cities) being approved and given $3 million of taxpayer money? Michelle Rhee, the District's new schools chancellor, may have more clean-up work to do than even she envisioned.
"A $2.9 Million Payout, With a Few Shortcuts," by Joe Stephens, Washington Post, December 20, 2007
"A Reading Program's Powerful Patron," by James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post, December 20, 2007
January 3, 2008
No serious person thinks students who require special education should not get it. It's undeniable, however, that public schools have a history of shunting into special education classes many students who suffer from no learning disability but who may simply lag academically for one reason or another, or who have trouble behaving. That's why a move away from special education as an out for schools or an entitlement for parents (who often love its special services), and a move toward early intervention in the educations of at-risk students, is a promising sign. In the counties of suburban Washington, D.C., special education enrollments are dropping: since 1999, the special education enrollment in Charles County, Maryland, public schools has fallen to 8 percent from 12 percent, and in Frederick County, Maryland, it dropped to 11 percent from 17 percent. At least part of this change is a response to a 2004 rewrite of the federal special education law, which allowed districts more flexibility in using funding for early intervention techniques. (Some do this incredibly well.) John J. Lody, the diagnostic services supervisor in Loudoun County, Virginia, said he doesn't like to test for special education before trying such intervention tactics. "We try to make smart referrals," he said. Parents are upset by this approach, but when push comes to shove, it's the right thing to do.
"Waiting Too Late to Test?," by Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, December 31,
January 3, 2008
Some of the best food to be found in England has its origins in Delhi and Puducherry. Now, it seems, some of the best education to be found in Japan has its home in India, too. The New York Times reports that Japanese parents are experiencing a "craze for Indian education," and that the demand is being seen in a surge of applications for Japan's few Indian international schools. The Global Indian International School, for example, is building a second campus to accommodate the flood of applicants. Over the last several years, the Land of the Rising Sun has grown increasingly insecure about its future economic and educational clout--and fears were only exacerbated last month when the OECD reported that in math, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to tenth place. The country's scores in science fell, too. According to Professor Yoshinori Murai, who teaches at Tokyo's Sophia University, as Japan's educational prominence wanes "its attitudes toward Asia are changing. It has started seeing India and China as nations with something to offer." Thus the demand for spots at schools such as Little Angels Academy in Mitaka, where most of the teachers and textbooks are South Asian, and the curriculum is rigorous (5-year-olds learn to multiply and write one-page essays). Gadfly wonders: If the Japanese are scared about falling behind in international competitiveness in math and science, where, exactly, does that leave Americans?
January 3, 2008
Can Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa catch a break? Not only does he have to battle with hardnosed politicians in Sacramento, intransigent school board members, tough union types, and angry parents--now he's catching flak from the kids! That's right, according to the Los Angeles Times, the city's public school students are the latest aggrieved group to demand a seat at the school-reform negotiating table. High school junior Ana Exiga wants more counselors and college advisors, fewer military recruiters on campus, and more classes about African-American and Latino history. "We want to see more kids going to college," she said. None of these complaints is original, and some are a little off-base. We know it may be unpopular to say so, and we know kids may know a lot about a lot of things (Barry Bonds?), but they don't know much about the best ways to fix their schools. Villaraigosa is quite aware that more of L.A.'s students need to go to college; the hard part is figuring out how to make that happen. Extra classes about Martin Luther King, Jr. and José de San Martin are worthless if youngsters don't show up to them or can't read. L.A. doesn't need another uninformed bunch clogging the education debate. Start a "Student Advisory Group" that meets at Pizza Hut twice a semester, and forget about it.
"Left out, students want a voice in reform," by Duke Helfand and Howard Blume, Los
January 3, 2008
Boys will be boys. But not if Ana Homayoun has anything to say about it. Homayoun is one of a burgeoning number of tutors who have realized that many of boys' school difficulties stem from lack of organization. Donna Goldberg, an organization tutor in Manhattan, began her work 17 years ago after she learned her son, then in seventh grade, wasn't turning in his homework: "He opened his backpack, which was really a black hole, and said ‘Here it is.'" Boys are being outpaced by girls in high school and college, and educators have posited a variety of different culprits (lack of male role models, requiring students to sit in their seats all day, etc.) for the disparity. But there appears to be widespread agreement that boys' difficulty with organization is at least one part of the problem. "The guys just don't seem to develop the skills that involve organization as early," said psychologist Judith Kleinfeld, founder of the Boys Project. Homayoun concurs. Referring to the organizational method she teaches, she said, "Girls pick up on this much faster." As with much else, it seems.
"Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success," by Alan Finder, New York Times, January 1, 2008
Satisfied, Optimistic, Yet Concerned: Parent Voices on the Third Year of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program
Coby Loup / January 3, 2008
Thomas Stewart, Patrick J. Wolf, Stephen Q. Cornman, Kenann McKenzie-Thompson
Georgetown University Public Policy Institute
This is the third annual report about what parents participating in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) think about it. The findings are in some ways similar to those of previous years. For instance, most parents don't look to measurable educational outcomes, such as standardized test scores and grades, to gauge their children's progress. Still, parent attitudes have perceptibly shifted from immediate concerns for student safety and "intermediate outcomes" such as "increased enthusiasm," to "end outcomes" such as "educational growth" and "desire to attend college." Their attitudes toward the schools themselves have similarly evolved. Whereas in their first year parents cited safety, class size, and location as the three most important factors in selecting a school, in their second and third years they were more likely to consider curriculum, academic rigor, and even religious orientation when evaluating and choosing schools. Because their schools are safe and intimate, parents can now focus on higher-level aspects of education. The report also identifies aspects of the program that parents think could be improved. For instance, some parents expressed a desire for greater oversight of the schools participating in the program, as they thought "a small number of schools misrepresented various aspects of their programs." As in last year's report, parents also worried about the lack of capacity for high school students--only 22 percent of OSP's participating schools