Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 44
November 13, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Not a g'day
Doing hard stuff in the Big Easy
Learning and e-learning
Measures of success
It's a dance off
This week, Mike and Rick contemplate the future of the Washington Consensus, graduation rates, and the much debated ed sec pick. Amber then knocks the new Ed Sector 21st Century Skills report down to size and Rate that Reform talks high school serial killers
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 13, 2008
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation summoned 130 or so education heavies (many of them grantees) to Seattle this week to attend the foundation's gala unveiling of its long-awaited education strategy, the culmination of an intense rethinking process spearheaded by new education director Vicki Phillips. Bill and Melinda took part themselves--and graciously treated attendees to a well-fed evening at their fabulous home.
There's much to like in the new plan, beginning with the foundation's confession that version 1.0, focused on creation of small high schools, didn't turn out very well, save for several networks of high-performance charters such as KIPP, Yes-Prep, and Achievement First.
Version 2.0 continues the Gates emphasis on successful high-school completion and college-readiness for disadvantaged young people and adds a parallel thrust toward college completion. It features laudable--and measurable--targets for both. It includes welcome attention to developing national standards and tests, markedly strengthening education data (stay tuned for Fordham's own contribution on that front next week), enhancing research into "what works," accelerating the development and use of education technology, and strengthening teachers across multiple fronts. Incorporated therein is piloting of performance-related pay and tenure systems.
Two cheers are surely deserved. It's too early to know, however, whether a third is warranted. For what was emphasized in Seattle, and in the materials released so far, is mostly an educator's (and student's) version of education reform, not a parent's, taxpayer's, or policymaker's version. Indeed, the word "parent" scarcely
November 13, 2008
It seems the Outback isn't the only barren locale down under. Test scores, too, have found the Australian environment arid. Faced with an achievement gap of their own--between indigenous and non indigenous students (i.e., aborigines and later immigrants)--the Aussies sought to bring their lagging performers up to par. This went reasonably well. Between 2000 and 2006, Australia managed to narrow that gap substantially according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But something else happened during those same six years: an overall decline in scores. In 2000, 17.6 percent of Aussie students performed at the top level on the PISA literacy test. By 2006, that had dropped to 8.6 percent. TIMSS results are even more troubling. Whereas Singapore has 44 percent of its students in the top performance level, Australia clocked in at 7 percent. Critics, including the estimable Jennifer Buckingham at Sydney's well-regarded Centre for Independent Studies, now worry that this recent drive for an adequate education may have sacrificed an excellent education in the process. So how do we help the students that need it most and encourage high-achievers to soar too? A timely and important question, particularly as Australia re-engineers its approach to primary-secondary schooling.
"Brightest and Best Miss Out," Jennifer Buckingham, The Australian, November 6, 2008
November 13, 2008
Bravo, New Orleans. Having given charter schools room to grow, local and state education officials are now hammering out the details of an oversight system--and not a moment too soon. Since roughly 60 percent of students in New Orleans attend charters, ensuring that these are quality learning venues is an essential next step. According to Ken Campbell, director of the state's charter-school office, the new evaluation tools will include clearer expectations for student progress and will use both quantitative and qualitative evaluations to examine school culture and climate as well as test scores. The key, however, will be making it easier to chuck out the bad apples. And the city's 47 charters are due to come up for renewal in the next couple years. No details as of yet, but state superintendent Paul Pastorek foresees a harsher metric. "We now have a lot of demand for opening charter schools in New Orleans," he explains, "so I think we can apply more scrutiny and afford to be tougher on grading the quality of schools." Kudos to that sentiment. We'll have to wait and see if he's right.
"System sought to monitor charter schools," by Sarah Carr, New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 9, 2008
November 13, 2008
Economic meltdown notwithstanding, sometimes good ideas do leap from the marketplace. Exhibit A? Virtual schools, which are popping up nationwide like hybrids in San Fran. Typically founded under existing charter laws, these online learning arrangements have grown quickly and quietly to fill holes in the education market. Services are catered to students who are gifted, have special needs, live in rural areas, or are simply dissatisfied with local offerings. And the response has been positive. The largest provider in this school space, K12 Inc.*, now has 29 schools in 21 states serving 40,800 students. Chief exec Ron Packard says they're not stopping there. "I won't sleep until we're in all 50 states," quoth he. And he's not alone. DeVry, Kaplan, and Connections Academy, to name a few, are also making headway in the field. Edison is entering, too. But not everyone is gaga for virtual learning. Teachers unions have criticized the web-based schools for "no or extremely limited direct personal interaction." And let's admit that there are some sleazy operators running mediocre e-schools in too many places. Some dirty bathwater ought to be discarded--but please not the baby. These schools take "personal" to a whole new level with individualized learning and curricula--and cost less than their location-based brethren to boot. It's no wonder this field is getting more competitive.
*Disclaimer: Checker Finn is on their education advisory committee.
"Virtual school chalks up gains," by Veronica Dagher, The Wall Street
November 13, 2008
Diana Anaya came to America to get an education, and she's not doing so well--at least according to the new No Child Left Behind regulations, which base graduation rates on four-year diploma earners. By that metric, Ayana, who should have graduated last year, is lagging. A closer look, however, reveals an honor roll student who takes care of her younger sister and works nights to pay rent and put food on the table. And she's not alone. Many Latino youths take longer than the standard four years to graduate as they balance school with family demands and job pressures. That the new regs ignore their challenges seems unfair. Accountability is a good thing, but so is a drizzle of flexibility on top.
"Graduating ASAP, if Not on State Timeline," by Theresa Vargas, Washington Post, November 11, 2008
November 13, 2008
Timothy Speth, Steffen Saifer, and Gregory Forehand
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
This report evaluates the compliance of schools in five northwest states (Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska) with the parental involvement provisions of NCLB. Under one such rule, improvement plans for schools "in need of improvement" must draw on parents in three ways: notify them of the school's improvement status, provide opportunities for them to collaborate and communicate on the plan, and incorporate "effective" parental involvement activities within the plan. Such activities include involving parents in decision making, educating teachers and administrators on the value of parents' contributions, coordinating parent involvement, and identifying resources for that involvement. This study examined sundry school improvement plans against these statutory obligations and found-no big surprise-that the majority fell short. Also unsurprising was that while 75 percent of elementary schools reported parental involvement in improvement plan development, that number dropped to 68 percent for middle schools and to 57 percent for high schools. (It's long been known that parents are less apt to "involve" themselves with schools as their children get older.) We could lament these schools' noncompliance, but the problem here may be simply that NCLB's attempt to legislate parental involvement was wishful and naïve. The study isn't perfect, either; it only evaluated improvement plans (i.e. what the school said it would do) and not their implementation. You can find it here.
November 13, 2008
There is no doubt that students need such skills as critical thinking and applied reasoning to thrive in an increasingly information- and technology-driven world. (Of course, people also needed those skills in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.) But assessing such competencies is costly and time consuming, and therefore they are rarely measured, says this report. This we knew. Myriad critics of No Child Left Behind's testing requirements have called for better and more comprehensive assessments. Such instruments exist but are expensive. For example, the College Work and Readiness Assessment, which covers critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving, costs about $40 a pop. Compare that to $7 per head for Massachusetts's multiple choice and open-ended test, and 60 cents per student for North Carolina's multiple choice, machine-scored test. The more comprehensive and nuanced tests can't be graded by machine; this adds scorer training and subjectivity to the mix. Ultimately, Silva concludes that despite these setbacks, "new forms for assessment, as well as other yet-to-be-developed measures, will be critical for making assessment effective for educational purposes...and for accountability purposes." That might be true, but we're still left wondering how exactly she envisions that coming about. The report can be found here.