Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 19
May 15, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Reading First: Not dead yet
Hammer time in California
Let him curse; he's black
Bill Ayers is a terrorist
This week, Mike and Rick chat about why we shouldn't expect black kids to misbehave or all kids to attend college, and note that Marion Barry makes a good point about school choice. Jeff Kuhner is upset about goings-on Down Under, and Education News of the Weird is 20/20.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / May 15, 2008
The interim evaluation of Reading First has all sorts of people upset for all manner of reasons. It found that, on average, the federal program's impact on student achievement was not statistically detectable; moreover, at least half of the third graders in the sample were performing below grade-level after up to three years of funding into the program, as measured by Stanford 10 norms. However, the study also found that in some "late award" sites (i.e., those that received their Reading First grants later in the federal funding process), first- and second-graders' comprehension scores had improved significantly and educators at those same sites had spent significantly more instructional time teaching the five essential elements of reading.
Not exactly a hearty endorsement of Reading First. But neither is it the downright disparagement some have claimed. The study certainly offers no compelling reason to kill the program, as some on Capitol Hill appear eager to do. Like most complex evaluations--especially of large-scale federal programs--the findings are complicated and mixed. So allow me to highlight a few evaluation-related concerns and one "non-concern" that reinforce what my Dad (who was also my softball coach) often said to his team of 8-year-olds when we trailed in the late innings: "It ain't over til the fat lady sings."
First, this study suffers from a potential contamination factor. That is, it does not appear to document, much less measure,
May 15, 2008
It is generally agreed that academically able American high school graduates should attend college, regardless of their financial circumstances. That's a time-honored education goal in this country and a worthy one.
Recently, however, the terms have shifted such that now one is obliged, in polite ed-reform company, to agree that we should nudge most if not all high school graduates toward college, even if they haven't really mastered the academic material that is required of college freshmen. A high school diploma has somehow morphed into a university acceptance letter. An article in eSchool News, for example, reported, "Students are taught to believe that earning a high school diploma means they are prepared to enter college...."
Would that such teachings were true. And perhaps one day they will be. But not today. Last week, The Gadfly noted that thousands of high school graduates in Massachusetts, which is lauded for possessing some of the nation's toughest graduation requirements, must enroll in remedial classes at college because they can't do basic, college-level work. Many of them understandably drop out. Clearly, earning a high school diploma in the Bay State, which entails passing the well-regarded MCAS exam, does not correlate to college readiness (former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education and current Fordham Trustee David Driscoll says as much, below), nor do diplomas in the 49 other states and however many territories designate one prepared for a university education.
So, shall states make receipt of
May 15, 2008
Arnold Schwarzenegger revels in his role as an unconventional politician. How many other Hummer-driving, global warming-fighting Republican governors can you name? Yet his big promises, like those of so many elected officials, can evaporate when the heat rises. Observe how his "Year of Education" was scrapped as California realized it was in a fiscal crisis. But in implementing No Child Left Behind, Schwarzenegger appears to be countering convention yet again. Schools in most states are learning that NCLB's bark is much worse than its bite, so to speak--that the law's stated consequences are far tougher than the actual discipline it metes out and the change that it compels. But according to the AP, California's Gubernator is taking aggressive action to intervene in failing districts. Almost 100 Golden State districts are now subject to "corrective action" because of their low performance--more than twice the number in any other state--and California appears serious about tackling at least the worst of these. As the Wall Street Journal points out about NCLB, "the more-radical restructuring remedies put forth by the law have rarely been adopted...." But at the very time that NCLB is coming in for well deserved criticism for its toothlessness and Schwarzenegger is coming in for criticism for spinelessness, something might be happening in California that goes against both images.
"No Country for Strong Men," by Daniel Weintraub, Education Next, Summer 2008
May 15, 2008
The Economist aimed its reporting lens last week on charter schools in New York City and Chicago. In the Big Apple, demand for charter schools has overwhelmed supply, especially in Harlem: at the Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, 3,600 applied for 600 available spots. The city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, has announced a plan which, according to The Economist, "would ‘charterise' the entire New York City system." In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley's Renaissance 2010 program promises to bring 100 new schools to the city's bleakest areas. "At the core of Ren 10," The Economist reports, "is the desire to welcome ‘education entrepreneurs'... Ren 10 lets them start schools and run them mostly as they choose." Chicago sets academic standards that new schools must meet, but it removes from the schools' governance much of the bureaucratic hassles that bedeck regular, district facilities--i.e., the city pushes autonomy with accountability. Both articles illustrate the deep craving that families in low-income neighborhoods have for such schools; unfortunately, both cities are struggling against legislators who want to regulate charter schools and cap their numbers. These policymakers ought to heed the demands of their constituents, not the demands of politics.
"Harlem parents are voting for charter schools with their feet," The Economist, May 8, 2008
"Red ties and boys' pride," The Economist, May 8, 2008
May 15, 2008
The NAACP believes that Anne Arundel County, Maryland, is suspending too many black students. Thus, according to the Baltimore Sun, the district has begun "training staff in how to work with people of different backgrounds," which means educating educators about the "occasional confrontational behavior that some African-Americans learn in their neighborhoods and use at school." Carlesa Finney, the county's director of equity assurance (yes, it's a job), noted that assistant principals, psychologists, and other administrators undergo two days of such training. And, whaddya know, fewer black students are now being sent to principals' offices (the black-student suspension rate hasn't changed, though). Ignoring poor behavior is not the same as correcting it. The best schools are generally those that take a "no excuses" attitude to discipline, that reject as nonsense the idea that black students, for example, should be held to different standards of conduct. Anne Arundel has turned this successful strategy on its head and is embracing the opposite, and wrong, approach to maintaining order in its classrooms.
"Schools Address Black Students' Suspensions," by Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, May 11, 2008
Coby Loup / May 15, 2008
Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer, Tim R. Sass
Another study of charter schools, another call for cautious optimism. This RAND analysis examines three components of charter schooling in Chicago. First, it looks at whether Windy City charters "cream" the best and brightest from the potential pool of pupils and whether they exacerbate or ameliorate racial stratification in the district overall. The research team found no statistically significant evidence of either creaming or worsened stratification. Next, it appraises student achievement in grades three through eight, finding that, overall, charters had no significant effect on math scores and a slightly negative impact on reading scores. Broken down by race, charters had a positive impact on the math achievement of black students but negative impacts on Asian, Hispanic, and white students in both math and reading. The authors claim, however, that the effects are all quite small, and that "on average, charters are doing about as well as district-operated CPS schools in raising student achievement." Finally, analysts looked for the impact of charter high schools on graduation, college entry, and ACT scores. They started with a group of middle school charter pupils, then compared those who went on to traditional high schools to those who attended 7-12, 6-12, or k-12 charter schools. They found that students at the charter high schools could expect a half-point jump on their ACT score, a 7 percent increase in their chances of graduating,
The Effect of Special-Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida's McKay Scholarship Program
May 15, 2008
Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters
Center for Civic Innovation, The Manhattan Institute
Since the statewide introduction of Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities in 2000, it has exploded in popularity. It currently serves nearly 18,500 students in over 800 Florida private schools, making McKay the country's largest voucher program. McKay vouchers are available to any Florida student who has been enrolled in public school for at least one year and currently has an IEP. Greene and Winters sought to examine whether the "exposure" to private schools willing to accept McKay vouchers would create positive effects for the eligible students who remained in the public school setting--i.e., whether McKay would foster constructive competition. Using longitudinal data from the Florida Department of Education, the researchers evaluated the impact on McKay-eligible students who remained in public schools of living near McKay private schools. (The longitudinal data allowed the researchers to control for student-level characteristics, such as eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches and type of disability.) Overall, they found that McKay-induced competition significantly raised the test scores of students still in the public school system. Although the report leaves much unanswered (for example: What effects do the vouchers have on the performance of the students who use them?), it does show how a targeted voucher program can have a positive impact on public education. Read it here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 15, 2008
U.S. Department of Education
Anybody needing a good collection of basic facts about America's continuing need for stronger, more productive schools and higher achieving kids will find this federal publication useful and readable. It competently summarizes the case for continuing the education-reform struggle, citing NAEP results, international data, graduation rates, and more. It toots the government's horn (on NCLB especially) a bit louder than is warranted, however, and says next to nothing about the considerable progress the U.S. has made on the school-choice front since 1983. It's also nearly silent on the political, organizational, and jurisdictional barriers to bolder reforms and highly selective in its choice of experts and studies, seemingly preferring those in favor with the Office of the Secretary to those on the outs. Still and all, not a bad primer or reminder for those in need of such. Find it here.