Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 22
June 5, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
In praise of (and sympathy for) teachers
Seattle's common sense
Teachers want autonomy, too
Onward and upward
This week, Mike and Rick talk about Louisiana's standardized tests, Seattle's about face on race, and teacher dissent in Denver. Jeff Kuhner makes a big announcement, and Education News of the Weird takes the road less traveled.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 5, 2008
June has come, the school year is ending, and it's time for a word in appreciation of teachers. Observing a focus group the other evening that pulled together a dozen AP teachers from a strong suburban school system, I was struck anew by their intelligence, their selflessness, their energy, their patience, the depth of their commitment to their work and their genuine concern for the wellbeing and advancement of their youthful charges. Bravo for them and the many thousands of others like them without whom our schools could not function and would not produce even today's mixed results.
They came across as fairly satisfied, too. I didn't detect much self-pitying. Indeed, individual teachers, speaking for themselves, seldom spend a lot of time bemoaning their fate. They go about their work, reposing in tolerable comfort in a bed they made for themselves and taking well-deserved pride in their successes. Indeed, surveys by the National Opinion Research center indicate that teachers are relatively happy with their work, up there with painters and authors-and not far below clergy and firefighters. (See here.)
Their "leaders," however, and innumerable policy wonks, think tankers, interest groups, and assorted experts and politicians who claim to be looking after teachers' interests--these folks spend a lot of time lamenting the raw deal they want you to think American society is giving its schoolteachers. Their complaints generally center on tight-fisted legislators, mindless administrators, mean-spirited federal programs, incompetent, uncooperative parents, and
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 5, 2008
If, like most Americans, you haven't the faintest idea what ESRA is, don't feel bad. The Education Sciences Reform Act is a classic inside-the-beltway statute best known by the smallish number of people and institutions directly affected by it.
But it's also home to the Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) so it's not unimportant to American education.
On May 22, I wrote a few paragraphs on ESRA's reauthorization status and said then that the country might benefit if this process took a goodly while and included plenty of participants.
Now I'm sure of it.
For since that writing, the IES policy board (National Board for Education Sciences, or NBES) met again and "marked up" ESRA into the form that it (and, one must assume, IES director Russ Whitehurst) would like to see embraced by Congress during the reauthorization cycle.
Unfortunately, they made a hash of it.
This is a pity, not just because some of my favorite people are members of NBES but also because the changes they want made pose a threat to the future integrity of U.S. education data and to NAEP.
No, that wasn't the goal. Everyone pledges allegiance to integrity. But as with the checks and balances built into the U.S. Constitution, sometimes the machinery of government must be carefully calibrated so that nobody has too much power, too much opportunity to mess things
June 5, 2008
Rachel Allemand, assistant superintendent of Louisiana's St. Charles Parish, said, "What we've done is each day, to assign a student an effort score." Thusly she explained a new parish policy, encouraged by the state, that permits any eighth grader who fails Louisiana's LEAP exam, enrolls in remedial summer school, and then does even worse on his subsequent testing attempt to be promoted to ninth grade nonetheless. Previously, the New Orleans Times Picayune reports, "students whose scores dropped... were not allowed to go to the ninth grade." That rule sought to ensure that pupils took summer school seriously. But this year, Allemand said, the state education board "realized that wasn't fair." Louisiana's state board possesses a unique definition of fairness. To expect pupils to be prepared for ninth grade before they enter it; to give them multiple chances to demonstrate such preparedness; and to hold them in middle school only if they demonstrate that, after remediation, their level of preparedness has decreased--well, that seems more than fair. Nevertheless, the state board's aversion to high standards has condemned St. Charles Parish eighth graders to be treated like babies and given credit for effort, not results. The real world, of course, works differently.
"Students get new chance on LEAP" by Sandra Barbier, New Orleans Times Picayune, May 31, 2008
June 5, 2008
Good news out of Seattle: It seems to have foresworn the social engineering of diversity in its public schools. In the 1970s, Seattle was leading the voluntary desegregation efforts of big cities. In 1978, the Seattle Times reports, the city "became the first large urban district in the nation to undertake a desegregation plan without a court order to do so." Fast forward 30 years (after the highest court in the land ordered Seattle to halt its last remnants of voluntary desegregation) and the school district's mindset has changed. Today, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson says she values diversity but values high-quality schools more. That idea is echoed, more bluntly, by the chairman of the city's school board: "It's not my job to desegregate the city. We serve the kids that come to our doors." That makes sense. Housing patterns are what they are. Busing was tried and failed. And time and again, parents of all races and socioeconomic levels have expressed their preference for quality close-to-home education for their children. That Seattle seems to have accepted these facts, moved on from waging wars over diversity, and started zeroing in on the educational problems of its k-12 system, is surely promising. Let's hope that, as in 1978, Seattle's ideas catch on.
"The resegregation of Seattle's schools," by Linda Shaw, Seattle Times, June 1, 2008
"Integration is no longer Seattle school district's top priority," by Linda
June 5, 2008
Freedom's scent wafts through the thin air of the Mile High City. Montclair Elementary School is the third public school in Denver to petition the district for autonomy on budgeting, hiring, and scheduling decisions. Teachers at Montclair voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan in April and the Denver Public Schools approved it in May. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, however, has dallied and not yet officially bestowed upon Montclair's autonomy decision its beneficent blessings. Therefore, on the last day of classes, a 25-person gang of Montclair teachers and parents arrived at union headquarters and demanded some answers. "We don't want to go through the summer without any agreement from them," said third-grade teacher Kyle Kimmal. But the group received no answers from its encounter with a stonewalling union staffer, who said the proposal would not be considered until the latest round of contract talks are concluded. Gadfly doesn't condone teachers playing hooky (even on the final day of school), particularly to hash out squabbles with their own union. But he can't help but smile when educators are willing to stand up to their union bosses in the name of student interests. Too bad the union bosses prefer stone walls.
"Teachers take autonomy case to union's doorstep," by Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News, Saturday 31, 2008
June 5, 2008
Where are you, George Orwell, just when we need you? The Miami Herald reports that last month, "the United Teachers of Dade charged three of its members with anti-unionism and suspended them from their representative positions." The specifics of the charges ("maliciously publishing false reports and working in the interest of an inimical organization") remain unclear, as does the question of who, exactly, brought them. Clear as day, though, is that two of those accused for consorting with inimical agents in parking garages have previously run against UTD's current president, Karen Aronowitz, for leadership positions. One of them, Ronald Beasley, said of his former opponent's faction, "They've been telling us that we're anti-union. But the truth is, their actions have been anti-union." Another defendant, Shawn Beightol, said that his allies have "been fighting to improve the lives of the educators" while the Aronowitzists "are working on behalf of the district." Things are getting ugly. Beware--there are many unregistered ice picks floating around south Florida.
"Dade teachers bicker among themselves," by Kathleen McGrory, Miami Herald, June 3, 2008
Coby Loup / June 5, 2008
KIPP (a.k.a., the Knowledge is Power Program) hasn't lost any luster since last year's report card was released. On state exams in 2006-2007, 67 percent of KIPP fifth-grade classes outperformed their local districts in reading, and 63 percent exceeded district averages in math. One hundred percent of KIPP eighth-grade classes beat district averages on both math and reading exams. More than 90 percent of students in these classes are black or Hispanic, and more than 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch. To get a better sense of how much students are actually learning from year to year, KIPP also administers national norm-referenced exams to all its students. The results here were no less stellar. The average KIPPster who attended from fifth through eighth grade picked up 28 points on his reading exam and 42 points on his math exam by the time he left for high school. What else is there to say? You can read this year's report card online here.
June 5, 2008
Michael Planty, William Hussar, Thomas Snyder, Stephen Provasnik
National Center for Education Statistics
The National Center for Education Statistics released one of its major annual reports, "The Condition of Education 2008," last Thursday. It puts a cornucopia of key education indicators in one handy place. One of its most interesting tidbits: private school enrollment has dropped from 11 to 9 percent between 1989 and 2005. Within that category, Catholic schools took the biggest hit--the percentage of private-school students enrolled in them decreased from 55 to 44 percent. (To understand why, see our recent Catholic schools report.) Meanwhile, Conservative Christian and nonsectarian private schools both saw a 5 percent increase in their enrollments. All 100 indicators are located online here. For a more condensed version, check out the highlights.