Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 12
March 25, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Honors grades for the Common Core
By , ,
Health-caring for our teachers
Congress sues four citizens!
The lost case of Georgie Porgie
The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2009
Bigger bolder fatter
This week, Andy and Mike take on the draft K-12 Common Core standards, lament the school-based fight against childhood obesity, and wonder how many FOIA requests is too many. Then Amber tells us about the new Brown Center report's findings on school turnarounds and Rate that Reform, guest-featuring Research Assistant Janie, wants to send adolescent boys to Siberia.
We’re one step closer. “Common” standards for U.S. schools are knocking at the door. They won’t likely make it all the way in but even a partial entry is looking like it might do some good.
Two weeks ago, the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers released drafts of new “Common Core” academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and math for grades K-12. Already the object of much interest--and plenty of controversy--these are standards that, once revised and finalized, will be candidates for adoption by individual states in place of those they’re now using.
We’ll admit to seeing considerable merit in national standards done right. Done wrong, they would do more harm than good. So the proper question to ask at this juncture isn’t whether you’re for or against national standards in theory. It’s whether what’s been placed before us is worth taking seriously.
Until April 2, the public has an opportunity to comment on this draft (you can do so here). Earlier this week, the Fordham Institute released detailed comments, prepared by experts in these subjects whose judgment we trust. Our intent is neither to praise nor to bury the “Common Core” draft. It’s to give constructive feedback during a comment period that is intended to yield later improvements. And yes, we’ll return--we’re Gadflies, after all--to evaluate the final product upon release to see whether it sets the world-class standards we need. We’ll
March 25, 2010
If you’ve been wondering how the just-passed health care reform bill will affect your own coverage, consider the coverage of our nation’s teachers. Many enjoy the incredibly cushy Cadillac kind, courtesy of indefatigable unions and generous school boards. Those plans will be subject to an “excise tax” that policymakers hope will “bend the cost curve” (and help pay for the reform plan). Unfortunately, the reconciliation version of the bill pushes the enactment of that tax off until 2018, keeping our education system’s unsustainable benefits structure in place for another eight years. That’s a shame, because an immediate tax might have encouraged unions to push for less generous healthcare in return for higher salaries--a package that’s likely to be much more attractive to the hot-shot young teachers our system needs to recruit.
“Health-Care Reform: Implications for Teachers,” by Stephen Sawchuk, Teacher Beat, a blog of Education Week, March 23, 2010
March 25, 2010
What do two mediocre charter schools on opposite coasts have in common? They’re both slated to close come June on account of low enrollment, financial concerns, and subpar test scores. Justice Charter High, a Los Angeles Green Dot campus, and New Covenant School in Albany have been on thin ice in recent years, but they’ve both made great gains in and out of the classroom. In an area plagued by violence, Justice High provided a safe alternative but test scores were only so-so. New Covenant School missed its reading proficiency target for 2009-10 of 75 percent by seven points--still twenty points higher than the 48 percent proficiency of 2008-09. Closing a school is never an easy a decision, and when the school is trying with all its might to turn itself around, the decision is even harder. But at the end of the day, an A for effort is not enough; these schools need to get an A for results too, and we applaud these authorizers for being realistic about a school’s ability to turn itself around.
“Green Dot to close Justice Charter High School,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2010
“Despite Gains, Charter School Is Told to Close,” by Trip Gabriel, New York Times, March 18, 2010
March 25, 2010
Enough is enough. At least that’s what the tiny school district of the “no-stoplight” town of Congress, AZ is saying to four women who have bombarded it with over 100 public records requests in eight years. The purpose of this paperwork? “I’m just an average citizen wanting to make sure that the money we’re paying is being used appropriately,” explains alleged FOIA-abuser Jean Warren. (That must explain her request for the serial numbers on both old and new school air conditioners.) Of course, this might not be such a big deal for a large school district, accustomed as they are to garden-variety paper-trail bureaucracy. But for this one-school school district (total enrollment 112), appeasing the requesters would require hiring a full-time clerk to process the load. The district has spent thousands already placating the pesky quartet. What’s the alternative? Sue them, which is what it’s doing. While we’re sympathetic to the distress this teensy district is facing, they clearly don’t have a leg to stand on. FOIA leaves little room for interpretation. But it’s situations like these that remind us that some pieces of legislation beg for flexibility.
“Tiny school district sues citizens who seek info,” by Pauline Arrillaga, The Associated Press, March 18, 2010
March 25, 2010
While cash-strapped sport teams and PTAs across the country have lamented recent financial losses from bake sale bans for the sake of our children’s waistlines, no one has argued against the efficacy of improving student diets. Until now. A new study reports that school-aged interventions aimed at curbing childhood obesity may be too little, too late. In fact, healthy (or not-so-healthy) habits are established as early as in the womb—in other words, six years before most children enter the public-schooling system. But the good news is that early interventions—such has encouraging mothers to lose weight before pregnancy or ensuring that babies get enough sleep—can reset a child’s obesity trajectory. Those things, obviously, aren’t the job of schools. We can’t argue with fewer French fries and more vegetables in our nation’s cafeterias, but let’s not forget that schools cannot and should not try to fix all of our students’ woes.
“Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All,” by Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times, March 22, 2010
Daniela Fairchild / March 25, 2010
National Center for Education Statistics
If you get a distinct tinge of d??j?? vu reading the 2009 NAEP reading report card, you're not alone. Results of this most-recent version of the test look a whole lot like those we saw in 2007.??Compared to two years ago, fourth grade reading scores are identical (221) and eighth grade reading scores improved by just one (though statistically-significant) point (from 263 to 264). What's more, very few of the subgroups tested saw any significant score improvements: Neither the fourth??nor eighth grade results show a statistically significant change in the black-white, Hispanic-white, or female-male achievement gaps from 2007 to 2009. In fact, since 1992, only the black-white achievement gap in grade 4 and the female-male achievement gap in grade 8 have narrowed.??Only one state, Kentucky, increased scores for both fourth and eighth??grade between 2007 and 2009; thirty-eight states saw no significant changes in either grade. A few other highlights include: Private schools and Catholic schools scored on average fifteen points higher than public schools in grade 4; Massachusetts is once again the top scorer for both fourth??grade and eighth??grade, with New Jersey a close second; and Washington, D.C. is last on the list, but at least can boast a five-point jump for fourth-graders. See the results??here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 25, 2010
Brookings Institution, Brown Center on Education Policy
Although it didn't appear until one-third of the way into 2010, the Brown Center's 2009 report is as informative and deserving of attention as its predecessors. Part I offers a very sophisticated look at NAEP scores--two kinds of NAEP scores, actually--and explains why the "main NAEP" shows math performance rising faster than other important indicators. But it also attests to real gains over time, at least in math, and to real narrowing of the gap between low- and high-achieving students. (The latter discussion updates a study that Loveless recently completed for Fordham.) Part II is, frankly, depressing but also revealing. Using California school-achievement data over a number of years, it reveals, in effect, that bad schools stay that way. They don't turn around. (A forthcoming Fordham study will show something very similar in multiple states.) Part III explores a variety of differences between "conversion" charter schools and start-up schools (again using California data) and tentatively suggests that--sorry, Secretary Duncan--converting a low-performing district school into a charter is no sure-fire way of producing better results. Very different issues but very much worth your while. Find it here.
State Test Score Trends Through 2007-2008, Part 5: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?
Janie Scull / April 7, 2010
Naomi and Victor Chudowsky
Center on Education Policy
This new report from CEP brings good news and bad. The good: According to state assessments, there is no consistent gender gap between boys and girls in math in elementary, middle, or high school. The bad: Boys continue to lag behind girls in reading at all three levels. The report analyzes state-level 2007-08 test data in all 50 states for grades 4, 8, and high school (grade 10 or 11, depending on the year tested) and then compares those scores to 2002. In 2007-08, roughly even amounts of boys and girls scored proficient in math, and no state had a gap larger than ten percentage points. In reading, on the other hand, boys clock in behind girls at every grade level and in every state with measurable data (forty-five of the fifty qualified), with some gaps as large as or larger than ten points. Good news for the Buckeye State – Ohio’s largest gap was six percent, in 10th grade reading.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us much, because the proficiency bar is so low in some, nay many, states that the higher-achieving group is already mostly above the bar. Thus, any improvements by the lower-achieving group will “close” the gap. Furthermore, gap comparisons don’t tell how well students are actually learning. A better metric is to look at average scores, which the report does briefly. It finds that gaps have actually increased
Beyond Demographic Destiny: An Analysis of Massachusetts' Minority and White Student Achievement Gaps
Jamie Davies O'Leary / March 25, 2010
Richard Cross, Theodor Rebarber, Kathleen Madigan, Bruce Bean
This second Pioneer Institute report on student achievement gaps in Massachusetts (here's the first) analyzes gaps for black, Hispanic, and white students in several districts. It identifies those communities that are gap-reducing and those that are gap-widening. The authors compare reading and math scores of minority students at the district level to white students statewide, and those of white students at the district level to their white peers statewide. (They reason that if the district is low-performing, non-minority students also probably get a "deficient education" so it doesn't make sense to use them as a control.) Then they control for each town's average family income and educational attainment--the non-school factors that often bear the blame for poor students' low achievement--to predict the achievement gap in that district. (They call these "predicted gaps.") In lay language, they found a non-trivial number of districts with gaps smaller than predicted--i.e., performing better than districts with similar demographic challenges. The conclusion is, as the title indicates, demography isn't destiny. Hopefully cool methodological maneuvering like this can point us to more districts making headway in the achievement gap battle. Read it here.