Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 16
May 7, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
International lessons about national standards
By William H. Schmidt
Education foxes and hens
Raising the Barr
All smoke and no fire
NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress
Does Mike have swine flu?
This week, Mike and Rick discuss Texas accountability developments, replicating the Harlem Children's Zone in Boston, and the teacher debacle out in L.A. Then Amber tells us about a new study on whether school choice affects house prices and Rate that Reform channels the Supreme Court.
William H. Schmidt / May 7, 2009
The 1997 release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results was a wake-up call for the United States--and for Germany. But what's notable about this particular event was not that both countries were outperformed by some 20 other nations or that the disappointing results spurred prolific and apocalyptic pontification on the dire implications and consequences on both sides of the Atlantic. What's notable is how Berlin and Washington responded in drastically different ways.
Germany serves as a particularly informative example because of the structural similarities it shares with the U.S.; not only do neither country's central governments have constitutional authority over education, but control of the sector is located, for the most part, at the state level. In addition, they boast similar state-level organizational leadership models (Germany has a conference of state education ministers, Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder or KMK, which is somewhat akin to America's Council of Chief State School Officers or CCSSO).
But there the differences end. Today, Germany boasts a set of national standards and tests that grew out of the 1997 TIMSS results while the U.S. still struggles with a patchwork of standards and assessments that vary widely across states. The No Child Left Behind Act only served to exacerbate this incongruity by embracing standards-based reform while rejecting national standards; the law, in fact, pushes the system in the opposite direction by requiring states to get virtually all of their students to
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 7, 2009
I'm reminded again and again of America's need for independent education-achievement testing-and-audit bureaus to track and report student performance and school achievement and to sort out the claims and counterclaims regarding when these indicators have risen and when not--and perhaps also to explain why.
The National Assessment Governing Board and National Center for Education Statistics perform some of this function for the country as a whole, though they don't blow whistles when someone makes dubious claims or suggests impossible causal relations--even (perhaps especially) when that someone is the former Education Secretary who appointed all of NAGB's current members.
Writing in the Washington Post on Monday, Margaret Spellings, relentlessly defending the No Child Left Behind Act over the implementation of which she long presided, tried to attribute NAEP gains since 1999 to the impact of NCLB. She neglected to remind readers that NCLB was proposed in January 2001, signed into law in January 2002, and that the first school year on which it could conceivably have had any influence would be 2002-03. The most recent (long-term) NAEP results come from spring 2008, meaning that five years is the longest period for which any student gains could even be associated with NCLB, much less attributed to that statute. (Because this was no random experiment, any gains or declines could equally have been caused by global warming, Taliban infiltration, or whatever.) Unfortunately, the long-term-trend NAEP wasn't administered in 2003 (or 2002, for that matter),
May 7, 2009
Steve Barr has an "'Oh shucks, you know me--I can't control my mouth' persona," explains President of the California State Board of Education Ted Mitchell. It comes in handy as the Founder and Chairman of Green Dot, a charter school organization based in the Sunshine State. "He's a public curmudgeon and a private negotiator," continues Mitchell. This week's New Yorker profile of Barr is full of the gory details--from his own school experiences to Green Dot's hostile takeover of Locke High School, one of the worst in Los Angeles. His tactics range from tricky to aggressive as he kicks gangs out of schools, forms a parents' union to stand up to the teachers' one, and goes door-to-door recruiting students to fill his classrooms. Now, Green Dot hopes to found a national movement in cahoots with the American Federation of Teachers. The plan is to break up and remake thousands of failing schools across the nation, using Barr's number one ingredient of success, namely school reconstitution, and, maybe, availing itself of the union partnership to ease opposition. Green Dot certainly has shaken up L.A. Can it do the same to districts across the land?
"The Instigator," by Douglas McGray, The New Yorker, May 10, 2009
May 7, 2009
Speaking of Los Angeles, over the past fifteen years, the LA Unified School District boasts a total of 159 review cases for firing tenured teachers--159 in fifteen years. (Apparently, there were a few more, but the records have all been destroyed.) At fault is a combination of over-the-top tenure protections, labyrinthine legal procedures that can clock dismissal costs in the six-digits, and review panels that seem to give just about anyone a free pass. These teachers are mocking student suicide attempts, keeping marijuana in their desks, and sleeping with their coworkers in the metalworking shop--and are still in the classroom! Those who have been removed exist in a limbo similar to New York City's "rubber rooms," all on the taxpayer's dime. You might think that United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, would be a bit embarrassed by these revelations, disclosed in a series of Los Angeles Times investigative reports this week. Alas no; it's pushing its luck with an (illegal) strike planned for Advanced Placement test day to protest looming budget cuts and teacher layoffs. "We expect parents to understand that the loss of one day to stop the chaos that would occur with larger class sizes and the laying off of teachers is well worth it," explains UTLA president A.J. Duffy. What parents should understand is that if Mr. Duffy allowed all of the bad teachers to be fired, the district wouldn't have to be laying
May 7, 2009
Some high-school senior pranks leave lasting damage and result in criminal charges for the perpetrators. Other antics live in memoriam after the cow has been coaxed off the school roof. And some pranks are simply impressive, like the one pulled off by two students in Fruita, Colorado. Seniors Alex Almy and Jesse Poe planned a midnight run to weld a po-mo-style spray-paint-decorated Eagle hatchback (that's a car) around the Fruita Monument High School's flagpole. Yes, around. The two were punctilious in more ways than one. They covered the car with a tarp as they made their dead-of-night drive and they had two friends look out for police as they completed the deed--but they also ran the idea past their parents and were thoughtful about how the mischief would be received. "We thought a lot about if people would think we're disrespecting the flag," Poe explains. "I'd feel really bad if a veteran or someone took it that way. That's why I wrote ‘God Bless America' on the side of [the car]." Darling, aren't they? All in all, school administrators thought the prank showed "a lot of Wildcat pride," and as long as they help remove the affixed vehicle from the school's patriotic mast, they won't get in trouble. Gadfly sees a promising future for these boys in modern art.
"Fruita Monument seniors pull off quite the prank," by Richie Ann Ashcraft, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, May 1, 2009
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / May 7, 2009
Bobby Rampey, Gloria Dion, and Patricia Donahue
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences
As is typical of the Nation's Report Card, the latest results from the long-term trends (LTT) assessment are a mixed bag. Recall that LTT is not the same as the main NAEP assessment. It measures basically the same knowledge and skills as when first administered in the early 1970s, meaning we can observe changes in student performance over time, while the main NAEP assessment responds more readily to curricular fashions. (Read more about the difference here.) This iteration presents data from 2007-08, comparing them, in particular, to the 2004 administration, as well as over the longer term. Key findings include: average reading scores for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds are up in reading since 2004, but average math scores are up only for 9- and 13-year-olds. In fact, math scores for 17-year-olds have not budged in 35 years. Still, we need to keep in mind shifting demographics. The country has seen an influx of Hispanic students who generally score well below their white peers. So even though all racial subgroups have made gains over the long term, the national average remains flat. However, achievement gaps appear to be widening in recent years; white 9-year-olds improved their math achievement since 2004, while other groups stagnated. Bottom line, LTT and the main NAEP assessment agree: we continue to do better in reading than math overall.
May 7, 2009
Sean F. Reardon, Allison Atteberry, Nicole Arshan, and Michal Kurlaender
Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice at Stanford University
The authors of this study employ longitudinal student data to gauge the effect of California's exit exam (CAHSEE, taken in 10th grade) on student persistence (as measured by the percentage of students remaining in school in their original district at the end of 11th and 12th grade), graduation rates, and academic achievement. The report compares the class of 2005, which was not subject to the exit exam requirement, with the classes of 2006 and 2007, which were subject to it. The authors were able to isolate the effect of the CAHSEE because the class of 2005 actually did take the exam (in the spring of their 10th grade, 2003), thinking it would count as a graduation requirement; the CA State Board of Education changed the policy shortly thereafter. The findings: low-achieving students subject to the exit exam requirement (i.e., the classes of 06 and 07) displayed marginally lower rates of persistence and significantly lower graduation rates than those who were not (i.e., the class of 05). And those from the lowest quartile who had a graduation requirement clocked in a graduation rate 15 percentage points lower than low-achievers free from the requirement. Furthermore, these effects were disproportionately strong among minority students and female students, which the authors blame in part on a stereotype threat: "the phenomenon whereby the