Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 37
September 22, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
No high achiever left behind, please
It?s not chic to fuss about them, but our international competitiveness may depend on them
By , ,
Ed reform goes global
The Economist thinks we're smart
A promise of what, exactly?
Contain yourself, Uncle Sam
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
A "new normal" for ed accountability emerges
Recruitment, Retention and the Minority Teacher Shortage
It?s about where they teach not who they are
State Capacity for School Improvement: A First Look at Agency Resources
Can't hand over the reins if states can't ride the horse
Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education
Messy recommendations?like our political process
Mike and Rick raise the bar this week, discussing high achievers, Duncan?s digital promise, and the textbook-company oligarchy. (Oh, and Rick confesses he has a reform-crush on L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa). Amber tackles minority-teacher retention and Chris dives head first into an NCAA lawsuit.
In the latest edition of National Affairs, education scholar Rick Hess writes:
The No Child Left Behind Act’s signal contribution has been [a] sustained fixation on achievement gaps—a fixation that has been almost universally hailed as an unmitigated good.…Such sentiments are admirable, and helping the lowest-achieving students do better is of course a worthy and important aim. But the effort to close gaps has hardly been an unmitigated blessing.
While Hess is the latest observer of this achievement-gap obsession, he is by no means the only soldier in this camp. Many analysts worry that various government policies and programs, including NCLB, tend to “level” pupil achievement by focusing on the lowest-performing students and ignoring—or, worse, driving resources away from—our strongest students.
Fordham has previously provided some ammo for these worriers. In 2008, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless tracked NAEP results of high achievers—and found they made little progress as a group over the last decade. Until now, however, no one had examined the achievement of top-performing students over time at the individual level. This week, Fordham released a groundbreaking study that does exactly that: Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. The study asks a simple question: Do youngsters who outscore their peers on standardized achievement tests remain at the top of the pack year after year? Put differently, how many “high flyers” maintain their “altitude” over time? How many fall back toward Earth, Icarus-like, as they proceed
September 22, 2011
After the 2009 PISA results went live and catalyzed our latest “Sputnik moment” (and after the release of any international assessments results, for that matter), America found itself humbled—and even a bit sheepish. Within the month, reports emerged—and continue to roll in—that further document our middling performance and set forth lessons to learn from abroad. Finland, South Korea, and Singapore were idolized. This week, we at Fordham are picking ourselves up and dusting off our knees. Heck, we’re even cracking a faint smile. A recent piece in the Economist points to increased school choice, strong standards and accountability systems, and decentralization as pillars of systemic success. Going further, the article showcases Poland’s fourth-largest city, which has significantly moved the needle on student achievement by adopting a “no excuses” culture and accountability model. Empowering school leaders helped spur change in Ontario’s schools. Unscientific, sure—but, for now, we’ll take it. Expect more from us in coming months on how other nations are implementing these reforms (and, what, if anything, we can learn from them).
“The great schools revolution,” by Staff, Economist, September 17, 2011.
September 22, 2011
By 2015, South Korea will be entirely textbook-free, with students accessing content through tablet computers. Uruguay offers a PC to every pupil. Can you feel the fear of being left on the wrong side of education’s digital divide creeping in? So could Arne Duncan (and unlikely bedfellow Reed Hastings). Last Friday, the Secretary announced the official launch of the dormant Digital Promise nonprofit, a government-funded but privately run entity intended to “advance breakthrough technologies” in education, “while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.” (Though this Digital Promise initiative was first written into federal code through the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, it has gone unfunded, and largely forgotten, until Duncan’s recent revival.) The free-market backlash was swift, with Jay Greene warning that, at best, the feds would stifle innovators with a bureaucratic government agency, and, at worst, facilitate another Solyndra-esque debacle. Yet warnings of an education-industrial complex may be premature: Digital Promise has potential to spur needed technological breakthroughs—if it sticks to basic research and development. (While the feds have proven themselves wholly inept at guiding the market and choosing winning innovators, they are well-placed to invest in early-stage research, a vital component to tech advancements, but one
Daniela Fairchild / September 22, 2011
This inaptly named annual report from the OECD (the volume runs to some 500 pages) offers a plethora of data points for member nations looking to size themselves up against their peers. It will tell you how many students graduate from high school and from college—and the relative earnings of each group (a college degree pays off most handily in Brazil and the Eastern European countries). It will tell you how much is spent per pupil—and what the public and private investment in education is (only Chile, South Korea, and the United Kingdom see more than 20 percent of their education funding coming from the private sector). Along with all these crunched numbers, the OECD provides an interesting analysis of how schools are held to account in its member states. Generally, a combination of three mechanisms—regulatory, performance, and market accountability—is used, though the balance within this combo is shifting. Regulatory accountability has historically been the main story in most member states, but performance accountability—in the form of low-stakes national assessments (now given in thirty of the thirty-five member states at the primary level) and high-stakes national examinations (given in twenty-three of thirty-five nations at the upper secondary level)—is gaining ground. (As for market accountability, we’re told that it’s “emphasized” by countries as important but is rarely seen in practice, as the necessary conditions for its success—widespread school choice,
September 22, 2011
This report by UPenn professors Richard Ingersoll and Henry May answers a touchy question in education reform: What causes the minority-teacher shortage? To this end, the authors compile data from all six cycles of the NCES Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and its supplemental Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS) (running from 1987-88 to 2007-08)—though they focus on the 2003-04 SASS and 2004-05 TFA. They find that the minority-teacher shortage does not arise from poor recruitment: Over the past two decades, the white teaching force has increased by 41 percent while the minority teaching force increased by 96 percent. (Interestingly, both the male and female minority teaching forces mushroomed in this manner.) Rather, our dearth of minority teachers comes from low rates of retention: For four of the six SASS cycles, minority-teacher turnover rates were significantly higher than those for white teachers. And this gap has widened in recent years. And don’t blame poverty rates for the turnovers. While minority teachers are more likely to work in low-income urban schools, neither factor (poverty rate or urban status) affected their mobility. Instead, Ingersoll and May find that minority educators in schools with the worst organizational conditions (lack of classroom autonomy, ineffectual administrations, and undisciplined students) were almost twice as likely to exit the profession as those in schools with the best organizational conditions. (Though white-teacher turnover was also influenced by these conditions, the affect was much less severe.) Can’t blame them.
Patrick Murphy and Monica Ouijdani, “State Capacity for School Improvement: A First Look at Agency Resources,” (Center on Reinventing Public Education, August 2011).
Tyson Eberhardt / September 22, 2011
America’s laser focus on reading, math, and (recently) science blinds us to our current crisis of civic illiteracy. STEM-proponent Norm Augustine makes this point in the Wall Street Journal this week. And an impressive roster of luminaries—including former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former education secretary Rod Paige, and CMO founders Seth Andrew and Mike Feinberg—does the same in this volume. Edited by WSJ assistant editor and wunderkind David Feith, the book features twenty-two brief and wide-ranging essays articulating the problems with civics education, explaining what works in the K-12 classroom—even how to fight civics neglect in the ivory towers of universities. Unfortunately, the number and diversity of authors yields a bit of a cacophony of policy objectives: Don’t look here for consensus or clear conclusions. Instead, you’ll find in this volume a worthy array of thoughtful observations and recommendations. Which is a pretty good civics lesson in and of itself.
David Feith, ed. Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, (Rowman and Littlefield: New York, NY, 2011).