Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 38
October 11, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The Catholic-school generation
Would Biden or Ryan, alumni both, stem Catholic schools' decline?
“No Excuses” charter schools: Heed your critics
Even charter opponents have ideas worth hearing
D.C. weighs neighborhood preferences for charters
A battle brewing over school boundaries
Millions more teachers and one hundred Common Core converts
Homeschooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement
A silent competitor
Data Backpacks: Portable Records and Learner Profiles
Electronic health records work for hospitals
The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family
ESAs, meet WSF
Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students
"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America's highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth" and America's future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.
Michael J. Petrilli / October 11, 2012
Tonight’s debate will be an historic occasion, with two Roman Catholic candidates for national office squaring off against each other for the first time. The fact that this development has gone mostly unnoticed is a sign of just how far America—and Catholics—have come since John F. Kennedy broke the religion barrier fifty-two years ago.
Catholic schools' history of producing leaders will be on display at tonight's vice presidential debate.
Photo by Marc Nozell.
But it’s not just Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan who have ascended to the heights of our political system. Six of our Supreme Court justices are Catholic (the other three are Jewish); both Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are Catholic, too.
How to explain this sudden Catholic prominence in our political and legal systems? Consider one more fact: Almost all of these officials, including Biden and Ryan, attended Catholic schools for at least part of their youth.
As scholars of education have long known, Catholic schools are national treasures—highly effective at turning out academically prepared youngsters. But they clearly excel at producing effective leaders, too.
Uncovering the reasons isn’t rocket science: As the revered sociologist James Coleman found decades ago, these institutions possess high levels of social
Kathleen Porter-Magee / October 11, 2012
When charter schools first emerged twenty years ago, they represented a revolution, ushering in a new era that put educational choice, innovation, and autonomy front and center in the effort to improve our schools. While charters have always been very diverse in characteristics and outcomes, it wasn’t long before a particular kind of gap-closing, “No Excuses” charter grabbed the lion’s share of public attention. But in this rush to crown and invest in a few “winners,” have we turned our backs on the push for innovation that was meant to be at the core of the charter experiment?
The debate over education reform has become so polarized that people are painted neatly into boxes and told that they are either "in" or they are "out."
Photo by Jan Tik.
Of course, the top charter-management organizations (CMOs) got this level of attention the old fashioned way: They earned it. The best CMOs—like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First—have done amazing work. The teachers put in long hours and do whatever it takes to give students the kinds of opportunities they’ve had.
But, while charters have made important strides, it’s become increasingly obvious that they’ve also hit a wall in their quest to put their students on the path to
Adam Emerson / October 11, 2012
One of the central tenets of the charter-school idea is that these institutions should be open to all comers, regardless of an applicant’s home address. Ending “zip-code education,” after all, is a major motivation behind the school-choice movement. It’s a big deal, then, that a District of Columbia task force is looking into allowing charter schools to offer preferential treatment to applicants from their immediate neighborhoods. To be sure, a handful of other cities have already allowed such preferences—Denver, New York, New Orleans, and Chicago. In those cases, the neighborhood preferences were either sought by the schools—so that they could serve a needy local population—or school districts, as conditions of handing over public school buildings. That approach makes us a bit squeamish, but can be justified if the goal is to ensure that disadvantaged kids in a given locale have access to a great education. What’s impossible to justify, however, are preferences (or outright boundaries) that might keep poor kids out of charter schools. That’s precisely what could happen in D.C. if charters in certain gentrifying parts of the city, like Capitol Hill’s Ward Six, are allowed to use these preferences. The charter movement shouldn’t be doctrinaire. But it shouldn’t fall back into the exclusionary traps of the old public system, either.
RELATED ARTICLE: “D.C. considers neighborhood admissions preferences for charter schools,” by Emma Brown, The Washington Post, October 3, 2012.
The Education Gadfly / October 11, 2012
There have been some truly creative (although not necessarily wise) ideas for how to boost student achievement and attendance kicking around this week, from Adderall for all to LoJacking students. Education sorely needs innovation, but let’s focus it on a more important question: How do we attract and retain great educators?
The El Paso superintendent who pushed students out of school to game the state accountability system will serve more than three years in prison following fraud convictions. Jail time for juking school stats (among other misdeeds) may sound extreme but so is the damage cheating by adults does to students. Gadfly applauds the federal judge who reflected the gravity of such school-data scandals in the disgraced supe’s sentence.
Perhaps we don’t need to hire “millions and millions of teachers” after all: Jay Greene concisely explained in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal why the teacher shortage is a figment of America’s imagination. The problem, for the next month at least, is that truth just doesn’t poll as well.
More than 100 Roman Catholic dioceses around the country have adopted the Common Core standards, part of a growing embrace by private schools. It appears that the standards’ merits, not federal strong-arming, best explain their appeal after all—or maybe the conspiracy is even deeper than critics originally thought…
John Horton / October 11, 2012
An oft-overlooked sector in American K-12 education has also been its most rapidly growing: homeschooling. There are currently more than two million home-school students in the U.S., marking a growth rate of between 7 and 12 percent per annum since the 1970s. This book-cum-literature review profiles this expanding sector, tracking its prevalence, demographics, history, rationale, instructional methods, and impact—drawing data and conclusions from an impressive seventeen pages of references. Many points are unsurprising, though the breadth of data provides a uniquely robust representation of this group: Homeschoolers tend to be white (93 percent), conservative (93 percent), and squarely in the middle class (with wealthier families opting for private schools and poorer families lacking the economic flexibility needed to keep a parent out of the workforce). The vast majority are Christian (92 percent)—the rise in homeschooling parallels the rise in Christian fundamentalism in the states—though Muslims mark the fastest growing sub-set of homeschoolers over the past few years. The average home-schooled family has two to three children; the parents are about 20 percent more likely to have a college degree than non-home-school parents; and the children score higher on standardized tests than their public school peers. Homeschooling matches geographic population dispersion in all regions save the Northeast, where it is underrepresented. The number of homeschoolers currently tops the number of charter-goers in the U.S., yet little attention is
Asa Spencer / October 11, 2012
Current technological deficiencies and restrictions on data sharing limit teachers’ access to student data, leaving them inadequately prepared to build off individual students’ strengths and nurture their weaknesses. So argues this paper—the second in a useful series from Digital Learning Now!—which introduces the notion of “backpack data”: detailed, personalized digital records that follow a child between multiple districts, service providers, and even states. The ace team of John Bailey, Samuel Casey Carter, Carri Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark recommend a two-part expansion of student data: The Data Backpack would act as one common official transcript, tracking many more indicators (like prior years’ test scores, attendance, and behavior reports) than current transcripts. The Learning Profile, a customizable data tracker for more qualitative points like students’ goals and teachers’ comments, would supplement. Bold ideas but, as the authors admit, not yet actionable: Technical, legal, and definitional challenges remain (though this paper helps resolve the last issue). Before Data Backpacks and Learning Profiles can be used, policymakers must determine how the data will be stored, who the official steward of the data is, and what the actual collection and system will look like. Assurances of privacy will also need to be established. While this paper does not provide the fertilizer, hoe, or irrigation, it does plant the seed for a more robust data-education system.
SOURCE: John Bailey, Samuel Casey Carter,
Pamela Tatz / October 11, 2012
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) represent the surest way to bring vouchers into the twenty-first century (and help immunize choice programs from Blaine Amendment-based court challenges), argues author Matt Ladner in this informative Friedman Foundation paper. First piloted in Arizona (at a scale much smaller than what Ladner proposes here), ESAs give parents the option to withdraw their children from public or charter schools, deposit the majority of their allotted public dollars into a designated account, and apply that money directly to any number of other academic options—including private schools, online courses, early college options, or even a future college education. With such a funding structure, the study contends, parents will be free to choose K-12 options based on quality and cost, thereby spurring innovation, improving quality, and breaking America of its “education stagnation” and gross achievement gaps. Ladner also explains the legislative safeguards that must be in place for an ESA system to be effective (HSAs and food stamps offer helpful guidance). There is much merit for such a proposed finance system—especially as digital and blended learning models take form. But Ladner’s paper has one overt flaw: Though he trumpets increased equity as a major rationale for ESAs, these calls sound hollow until the paper’s final notes, when the author clarifies that policymakers “can and should vary aid according to individual circumstances and special needs”—that is, that