Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 28
July 21, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
NAEP Geography: Our schools??? secret success
Poor and minority students are learning more. Is it worth it?
NAEP Geography: But what about the whole country?
On that front, the glass is two-thirds empty
The myth of the "good" school
Charters have a place, even in high-performing districts
D.C.'s done it!
Student Teaching: The Make or Break of Teacher Prep
Ed schools drop the ball again
Why America Needs School Choice
The whole argument in brief
Roadmap for Next Generation State Accountability Systems
Standards and assessments, meet the third leg in your stool: accountability
B is for bona fides
Education Sector?s Bill Tucker joins Mike in discussions on D.C.?s IMPACT system, charter schools in affluent communities, and a little something we like to call ?Education Reform Idol.? Daniela goes Dutch and Chris reminds us that, when it comes to grades, colleges make it rain As.
Michael J. Petrilli / July 21, 2011
Here’s a new problem facing American education policy: Something we’re doing seems to be working.
You wouldn’t know it from the “we’re all going to hell in a hand basket” rhetoric surrounding today’s education debates, but the last fifteen years have seen tremendous progress for poor, minority, and low-achieving students—the very children who have been the focus of two decades of reform. Curiously, both sides of the education battle want to sweep this news under the carpet.
First the facts: In both the “basic skills” of reading and math, and in the social-studies subjects of history, civics, and now geography, African American, Latino, and low-income fourth and eighth graders have posted huge gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since the early 1990s. For instance, between 1990 and 2009, black fourth graders made 35 points of progress on the mathematics NAEP exam; black eighth graders gained 24 points. The corresponding numbers for Latino children were 28 and 21 points, respectively. In reading, black fourth graders gained 13 points between 1992 and 2009; black eighth graders gained 9 points. In the just-released geography exam, black fourth-grade students gained 27 points between 1994 and 2010; Latino fourth graders gained 21 points. Similar progress was seen in history and civics.
To put this in perspective, 10 points is roughly equivalent to
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 21, 2011
Mike isn’t wrong when he notes with satisfaction that, on some indicators and at some grade levels, poor and minority students in the U.S. are doing better today than they were a decade or so back. Only a churl would say that’s not an accomplishment worthy of notice—and some pride.
But the big, glum headline over American K-12 education today is essentially the same as when we were declared a “nation at risk” twenty-eight long years ago: Our kids on average are woefully lacking in essential skills and knowledge across every subject in the curriculum.
Almost all the major trend lines are flat—at least until you decompose them by ethnicity. Sure, it’s great that minority students have made gains, but what does that do for our international competitiveness if the average score is unchanged or declining? Especially in a time when many competitor nations are moving up on some of those same metrics? And what’s the long-term payoff from early-grade gains if scores and outcomes in high school are flat or declining? Some say the early gains are like the pig in the python’s throat and it’ll just take time for them to reach the tail. But we’ve had enough experience by now with early-grade gains and high school sags to throw major doubt on that hypothesis. We simply haven’t found—at least on
Michael J. Petrilli / July 21, 2011
Matthew Stewart, a stay-at-home dad in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, is leading a battle against the “boutique” charter schools now being planned for his community. “I’m in favor of a quality education for everyone,” Stewart told Winnie Hu of the New York Times. But “in suburban areas like Millburn, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the local school district is not doing its job. So what’s the rationale for a charter school?” Easy: Different parents define “quality education” differently. One person’s “good school” is another person’s “bad fit.” Stewart may love his child’s public school, which might do a dandy job providing a straight-down-the-middle education to its (mostly affluent) charges. But the parents developing a nearby charter school want something more—specifically, a Mandarin-immersion experience for their kids. For this, Mr. Stewart labels them “selfish.” Why? Because “public education is basically a social contract—we all pool our money.” “With these charter schools,” he explains, “people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’” This, of course, implies that the “selfless” thing to do is to send one’s children to a school that’s a bad fit, or to write a check for private education. But when choice isn’t an option, energized public school parents turn to advocacy to mold their one-size-fits-all neighborhood school to their liking. Environmentally minded parents push for eco-friendly cafeterias and outdoor education. Numeracy hawks rally around Singapore math. Warm and fuzzy types press for drama classes and self-expression. And on and on it goes. Beleaguered
July 21, 2011
D.C.’s much-discussed teacher-evaluation system, IMPACT, is making itself felt. On Friday, 206 District teachers (about 5 percent of the instructional staff) were fired due to poor performance. Among them, sixty-five were deemed “ineffective” (cause for immediate dismissal) and another 141 were rated “minimally effective” for the second year in a row. While firing any well-meaning, hard-working person can sound heartless, Gadfly sees several reasons to celebrate. D.C.’s terminations over the past two years mark a major milestone: the first time that teachers have been systematically, objectively assessed—and then held to account for their performance. Not even Montgomery County or Cincinnati (both of which are praised for their teacher-eval systems) can boast the rigors or consequences of IMPACT. What’s more, IMPACT has survived the Fenty-Gray mayoral shift (and the exit of its architect, Michelle Rhee). It looks like the evaluation system is here to stay. And the icing on this double-decker cake: While the Washington Teachers Union is still none-too-pleased with the evaluation system, D.C. teachers we’ve spoken with believe that IMPACT has actually improved their teaching. (The $25,000 bonus for which top teachers are eligible—there were 663—might have helped generate positive feelings, too.) IMPACT’s not perfect but this work-in-progress is years ahead of yesterday’s status quo.
Janie Scull / July 21, 2011
The latest in a series of reports on U.S. teacher-prep programs, this study from the National Council on Teacher Quality dives into the murky waters of the “student-teaching” experience. This is widely held to be the single most formative aspect of a preparation program, and often a teacher candidate’s first real foray into the classroom. NCTQ examined the protocols of 134 undergraduate institutions to determine which adhere to student-teaching best practices—and which barely adhere to any practices at all. NCTQ analyzed the length of the student-teaching experience (it should last at least ten weeks, they say); the selection of the cooperating teacher (they should be chosen by the prep program, not the school or district); and the qualifications of cooperating teachers (they should have at least three years of experience, as well as demonstrated classroom effectiveness and mentoring ability). The findings? While all programs articulate basic student-teaching protocols, most fail to ensure the quality of the experience. For example, only 38 percent require that the cooperating teacher possess the qualities of a good mentor, while just 28 percent require that they be effective instructors as designated by schools’ principals. Institutions also neglect to provide guidance and feedback to student-teachers throughout their assignment, reducing the experience to merely a rite of passage—an expensive one at that. And the places that do maintain these requirements on paper rarely enforce them in practice. Ultimately, only 7 percent of institutions boast model programs. The analysis is worth a detailed read—both for its overall
July 21, 2011
Private-school choice may not be the panacea that John Chubb and Terry Moe once claimed but that’s no reason to write it off as a means of improving America’s flailing K-12 system, explains Jay Greene in this new broadside. As Greene asserts, “miracles shouldn’t be the standard by which educational programs are judged.” This “panacea canard” is the first of eight common arguments against school choice that he refutes in this fifty-one page mini-book. He covers some arguments widely voiced in anti-choice circles (the research doesn’t show positive effects, choice leads to segregation, etc.) and other, less prominent rhetoric (choice distracts from other reform initiatives like quality standards; choice undermines civic values). Those who follow Greene’s blog won’t find tons here that’s new, but it does provide an all-in-one treatise for the private-choice proponent. Be aware, though, that Greene ignores a few pertinent arguments. For example, in a time of fiscal belt-tightening, what’s the rationale for voucher (and similar) programs that offer public dollars to parents already enrolling their children in private schools?
July 21, 2011
With most states signed onto the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative, a major challenge ahead is aligning their accountability systems with these new standards (and assessments). Toward that end, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has developed this roadmap for “next-generation” accountability systems. (This is version one.) It details eight elements, none of which will likely startle you. For example, we’ll need clear performance objectives aligned to the standards, meaningful differentiation of performance between districts and schools, and timely and transparent reporting of actionable student data. Also flagged here are helpful resources (from groups like Achieve and the U.S. Department of Labor) and state exemplars (FL, KY, IN, and TN) for those looking to revamp their accountability systems. Not a bad start. Thanks, chiefs.
Council of Chief State School Officers Task Force on Next Generation Accountability Systems, “Roadmap for Next-Generation State Accountability Systems,” (Washington, D.C.: Council of Chief State School Officers, June 17, 2011).