Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 5
February 2, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The sorry state of state science standards
Are we serious about our STEM challenges or not?
The test score hypothesis
The skills that tests measure matter. But how much?
Jack Jennings and a half-century of school reform
Federal programs then, now and forever.
The State of Charter School Authorizing 2011
Are authorizers losing their nerve?
2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook
Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice
Small schools get the final word.
Watch out, Howard Stern
Mike and Rick channel the shock jock king as they discuss the implications of Fordham’s science standards report (which made an appearance on the Stern show) and the latest NCLB waiver craziness. Amber looks at the recent MDRC study and Chris learns never to call a teacher cute.
The State of State Science Standards 2012
January 31, 2012
American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed.
Since Sputnik shot into orbit in 1957, Americans have considered science and science education to be vital to our national security and economic competitiveness. That imperative has continued in the half century since the Soviet satellite launch. Indeed, a 2011 survey reports that 74 percent of Americans think STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is “very important,” while only two percent say it’s “not too important.”
Yet this strong conviction has not translated into strong science achievement. The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress found barely one-third of U.S. fourth graders “proficient” in science, slipping to 30 percent in eighth grade, and a woeful 21 percent in twelfth. International comparisons are even more disheartening. The most recent PISA assessment, for example, showed American fifteen-year-olds ranking a mediocre twenty-third out of sixty-five countries.
Meanwhile, U.S. companies continue to send jobs overseas in no small part because they cannot find enough Americans with the requisite STEM skills and knowledge.
Add it up and you should be alarmed, very alarmed. Seems the United States does a great job of talking the talk about getting science education right but we’re a long way from walking the walk.
Why? How can it be that Americans have voiced so much concern about science education for such a long time yet made so little progress in delivering it? There are multiple explanations, starting with the blunt fact that few states and communities have taken concrete action to build world-class science programs into their K-12 schools. Without such programs in place to
Michael J. Petrilli / January 31, 2012
The entire school reform movement is predicated on a
hypothesis: Boosting student achievement, as measured by standardized tests,
will enable greater prosperity, both for individuals and for the country as a
whole. More specifically, improving students’ skills and knowledge in reading,
math, and science will help poor children climb out of poverty, and will assist
all children to prepare for the rigors of college and the workplace. By
building the “human capital” of the American workforce, rising achievement will
also spur economic growth, which will lift all boats.
Call this the Test Score Hypothesis.
Is stronger academic performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic outcomes for nations?
It explains reformers’ enthusiasm for test-based accountability; for “college- and career-ready standards”; for teacher evaluations based, in significant part, on student outcomes; for “data-based instruction”; and for much of the rest of the modern-day reform agenda. After all, if reading, math, and science knowledge and skills are so directly linked to the life chances of individual kids, and of the livelihood of the country as a whole, why not get the education system focused like a laser on them?
But is this hypothesis correct? Is stronger academic performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic outcomes for nations?
In a word: yes. As Kevin Carey noted recently, the big Chetty et al study didn’t just demonstrate the importance of teacher effectiveness. It also offered strong support for the Test Score Hypothesis.
If you believe standardized tests are worthless or highly flawed or deeply inadequate or even troublingly limited in
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / February 2, 2012
Federal legislation rarely gets the desired result in education. Photo by Justin Baeder.
Jack Jennings started working on federal education policy in December 1967, about eighteen months before I did. He's never stopped—and few have wielded greater influence. For the past seventeen years (a history that roughly parallels Fordham's), he's led a small but influential Washington-based ed-policy think tank called the Center on Education Policy (CEP). He's now retiring from that role and, as he exits, the Center has brought out two publications. One is a nicely crafted (and very flattering) profile of CEP itself, as well as Jack and his work there, written by veteran ed-writer Anne Lewis. The other is Jack's own ten-page reflection on recent education reforms, what has and hasn't worked, and what, in his view, the future ought to hold, particularly at the federal level.
It's vintage Jennings, perceptive about both what has happened and why and how it has (and hasn’t) worked, then incurably and relentlessly over-ambitious—in a classic, big-government, big-spending, liberal sort of way—about what federal policy should do tomorrow.
As to the past, and oversimplifying some points that he makes more subtly,
Adam Emerson / February 2, 2012
In its fourth annual report, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers offers a snapshot of the nation’s charter sponsors, capturing their size, their shape, and how many schools they open and shutter. For example, the majority of the nation’s authorizers are local education agencies (52 percent), and an even greater percentage are small (86 percent authorized fewer than six schools). More interestingly, charter-closure rates are on the decline. Just 6.2 percent of the nation’s charter schools up for renewal were shuttered (or non-renewed) in 2010-11, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6 percent in 2008-09. Unfortunately, NACSA doesn’t link these stats to performance data, meaning that we can’t know if this trend indicates increased quality of charters, leniency of authorizers, or political pressures to keep them open. Digging further, NACSA reports that nonprofit authorizers (like Fordham) represent the smallest percentage of those that oversee charter schools but employ the most of NACSA’s own dozen “essential practices.” They’ve also closed more schools, on average, than other types of authorizers (including districts, institutions of higher ed, and independent chartering boards). Likewise, authorizers with a larger portfolio of schools were more likely to implement NACSA’s guidelines. Back in the fall, Andy Rotherham argued that we need to embrace risk-taking and consider that establishing a vibrant charter sector means occasionally allowing the creation of schools that turn out to falter. NACSA’s rather different view is not that the charter approval process should avoid all risk but, rather, that authorizers at least ask the right questions before okaying a school’s launch. Rotherham is
Lisa Gibes / February 2, 2012
Through the din of cheering, back-patting, and high-fiving from school-choice advocates over their legislative successes in 2011, it’s been hard to hear about states’ recent improvements to teacher policy. This fifth edition of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s report on state teacher-quality policies lends a megaphone to this cause. (And at more than 8,000 pages—150 pages or more per state—it’s quite the hefty and detailed megaphone.) It finds that twenty-eight jurisdictions have improved (on NCTQ’s criteria) over the past two years. Indiana clocked the greatest gains, followed by Minnesota and Michigan. Of the states that improved, twenty-four now consider student achievement as part of teacher evals (up from fifteen in 2009). Thirteen states can now dismiss teachers because of classroom ineffectiveness and twelve states weigh teacher effectiveness—not just seniority—in rewarding tenure. In 2009, the highest grade issued was a middling C (to Florida). This report sees NCTQ’s first B-level grades ever issued: Top-ranking Florida earned a straight B, while Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee each garnered B-minuses. Mostly good news, but there is yet more to be done. Even now, just thirteen states allow teachers to be dismissed because of classroom ineffectiveness. And only twelve weigh teacher effectiveness when conferring tenure. There’s much more data to parse in each of the states’ individual reports—and the yearbook’s practical policy recommendations should be read by all.
2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2012.)
Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice
Layla Bonnot / February 2, 2012
After years spent rebutting skepticism and criticism, proponents of the small-schools movement have reason to rejoice (at least in the Big Apple). This MDRC policy brief—an update of its larger 2010 report on small high schools of choice (SSCs) in New York City—finds continued evidence that attending an SSC boosts one’s odds of graduating. Some background: Between 2002 and 2008, New York City replaced twenty-three large, failing district schools (graduation rates under 45 percent) with 216 new smaller schools—including 123 academically non-selective “small schools of choice.” These are brand-new schools with hand-picked staff, close student/faculty relationships, and strong community partnerships. Starting them entailed a stringent application process (which needed specifically to address how the schools would serve disadvantaged youth) before opening. The brief adds to the original report with an additional year of data (tracking over 21,000 Gotham students) and finds that the average four-year graduation rate was 8.6 percentage points higher for students enrolled at oversubscribed SSCs than for students in traditional public schools who had applied—but not gotten into—their small high school of choice. What’s more, these findings hold true across all achievement, income, and racial subgroups. While this brief (and its precursor) offer great fodder for aficionados of small-schools of choice, it is important to remember: In New York City, at least, SSCs are not just mini-versions of traditional public high schools, but instead new models of schooling. How much of these schools’ success is due to size and how much to design is still unclear. Expect some insights from MDRC on this front over the next couple