Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 37
October 4, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
What’s next on the school-reform agenda
A peek into the future
Gotham’s exam-school problem
Simplistic? Yes. Discriminatory? No.
Georgia readies for a referendum on local control
Back to the future
Won’t Back Down wobbles, Chicago’s fiscal prospects fall
The SAT Report on College and Career Readiness: 2012
More and less
Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools
Innovation’s next frontier: Getting to scale
State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition
Enter Common Core. Exit exit exams?
The Fall Classic
Mike and Dara analyze the NAACP’s definition of discrimination and grapple with the unpleasant reality that Ohio’s online schools mostly suck. Amber looks at what it takes to exit high school these days.
Michael J. Petrilli / October 4, 2012
Last week, the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network brought together its member organizations for its annual confab, this year in Minneapolis. State-based school-reform-advocacy groups gathered with five national policy partners (Fordham included) to talk shop about our work to improve America’s schools.
Among the discussions about policy, strategy, tactics, and lessons learned (especially from Chicago), the most fascinating—and perhaps significant—conversation was about the school-reform agenda itself. What’s currently consuming the education-reform movement? What’s next up on the to-do list? And what potentially game-changing item is on the horizon? Allow me to report.
What's on the horizon for education reform ?
Photo by Thelonius58.
The first point (and perhaps an obvious one) is that reformers nationwide are deep in implementation mode. Thanks to huge state-level policy victories on common standards, teacher evaluations, school choice, and more (some of it inspired by the federal Race to the Top program), much focus has shifted to getting stuff done at the local level. That’s led some to call for a breather when it comes to new legislative activity. Like a snake that’s just swallowed a deer, most reformers (and the education system itself) simply can’t take anything else on right now.
But that’s not the case everywhere. In
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / October 4, 2012
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a federal civil-rights complaint against the New York City Department of Education last week on grounds that the special test used for admission to eight of the city's selective public high schools is discriminatory—because it results in too few African American and Hispanic youngsters gaining entry into those schools.
The Specialized High Schools Admission Test (SHSAT) is a two-hour multiple-choice exam. Under a forty-year-old state law, the scores that students earn on it—and only those scores—determine who gets into, and rejected by, these eight schools, including the three old and famous ones: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech.
The SHSAT is also a very big deal in New York City, as some 28,000 (mostly) eighth and ninth graders take it every year, competing for about 6,000 spaces in the schools themselves. Because attending any of these schools is a pretty certain path to graduation and admission into a decent (or even stellar) university, all at public expense, the competition is fierce. There are cram schools and tutors. And one's test score determines everything.
That's rare in the world of selective-admission public high schools, as Jessica Hockett and I learned in our recent examination of some 165 such schools around the country. Nearly all the others consider multiple elements of their applicants' readiness to do well in the generally high-powered academic environments that such schools offer. Along with test results, they weigh middle
Adam Emerson / October 4, 2012
Next month, Georgia voters will head to the polls to decide whether their state can establish an independent commission to authorize and oversee some of its charter schools. Such a panel once existed in the Peach State and authorized sixteen schools before the state Supreme Court voted 4-3 last year to dissolve it on grounds that it was “palpably unconstitutional.” The original commission had authorized charters over the objections of local school boards, which brought the suit against the state and which remain the most fervent opponents of the current referendum. (Districts, of course, would compete with the schools operating under the commission’s direction.)
Unfortunately, the press and interest groups are largely on the school boards’ side, bemoaning the potential loss of “local control” and the prospect that the state would authorize schools unanswerable to local communities. According to a pre-election poll, however, at least half of Georgia’s voters appear to feel differently. Not surprising, considering that twenty years of charter schooling have highlighted the dysfunction of Georgia-style “local control” and the extent to which school boards and superintendents will go to preserve their near-monopolies. Ten other states have independent panels of this sort to authorize charter schools, precisely so that promising charter providers don’t have to depend on the whims of recalcitrant school boards. Georgia should rejoin them.
The Education Gadfly / October 4, 2012
Parent-trigger paean Won't Back Down opened with a whimper last weekend, grossing a measly $2.6 million despite the hoopla surrounding it. Whether the movie is thought-provoking or snooze-inducing, it will be about as transformative as the parent trigger itself has been if no one sees it.
Jay Mathews was correct to point out on Sunday that education reformers regularly contradict themselves by backing prescriptive teacher evaluation for district public schools while advocating for greater autonomy for charter schools.
There's still plenty of bickering left to do over who won and lost the Chicago teachers' strike, but the school system's long-term financial flexibility is squarely in the loss column after Moody's downgraded the Board of Education's credit rating. How long before teacher unions realize that securing unaffordable benefits only guarantees more cost-cutting, acrimony, and bitterness in the future?
Mitt Romney clarified one part of his budget plans in striking fashion at last night's presidential debate, promising not to cut education spending if elected. If the GOP candidate can pull off the upset next month, he may find this remark makes his spending policies far more complicated come 2013.
Congrats to value-added guru Raj Chetty for his new MacArthur “genius” award. Unfortunately, existing value-added metrics require a bit more refinement before anyone receives a Gadfly “genius” award (and the accompanying $500,000
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / October 4, 2012
Two main takeaways emerge from this latest College Board report on the most recent SAT scores: 1) Participation rates are at an all-time high; and 2) as more adolescents sit for the three-hour exam, average scores decline. First, a bit about participation rates: This past spring, roughly 1.66 million students took the SAT, about 52 percent of the Class of 2012 and 6 percent more than in 2008. Of that number, 45 percent were minority students (up from 38 percent in 2008). Twenty-eight percent reported that English was not their exclusive first language (up four percentage points from 2008). And 36 percent reported that their parents’ highest level of education was a high school diploma or less. In sum, the 2012 testing cohort was the College Board’s most diverse to date. That’s the good news. Now for the scores. (Recall that there are now three parts of the SAT: To the traditional critical reading and mathematics sections, College Board added a writing section that was first tallied in 2006. Each section is scored from 200 to 800, with a perfect score [obviously] of 2400.) The mean subject scores this time around were 496 in critical reading (down four points from 2008—and down a whopping thirty-four points from 1972), 514 in math (consistent since 2008 but down from a peak of 520 in 2005), and 488 in writing (down
Pamela Tatz / October 4, 2012
Charter schools—“exceedingly rare laboratories” for educational innovation—have much to teach the traditional district sector, explains Harvard economist cum MacArthur “genius” awardee Roland Fryer in this paper for the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. Drawing upon his recent evaluation of charter schools in New York City, Fryer offers five educational practices that explain nearly half of the achievement difference between high- and low-performing charters: 1) a focus on human capital (weekly teacher-development sessions, for example); 2) the use of data to drive (and personalize) instruction; 3) the provision of high-dosage tutoring (targeted based on data-driven analyses); 4) the extension of time on task (by lengthening the school day and year); and 5) the establishment of a high-expectations culture. Profiling Houston and Denver, Fryer then explains how this package of reforms may be brought to scale—and what the marginal cost for implementing each would be. Overall, Fryer estimates a $6 billion price tag to avail the 3 million students in the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing district schools of this reform package. Though this sticker price may be negotiable. For example, Fryer’s budget doesn’t address how technology could be exploited to lower long-term costs (think: tutoring). And, as he asserts in the paper: “While costs may vary by school, one thing is clear: High expectations are free.”
SOURCE: Roland G. Fryer, Jr. Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools
Asa Spencer / October 4, 2012
Common Core implementation portends vast, intimidating changes in the ways we manage American K-12 education. Included in these shifts are the handling of promotion and graduation requirements and assessments. This Center on Education Policy report—the organization’s eleventh annual look at high school exit exams—offers a glimpse of how states are currently tackling these issues at the secondary level. Twenty-five states administer high school exit exams, be they comprehensive (assessing multiple subjects at the end of a given grade, usually tenth) or end-of-course, which are gaining popularity. These states house nearly 70 percent of American high schoolers, and even higher percentages of disadvantaged youth. While all of them allow retakes (up to a dozen in Maryland and Oregon), the vast majority of students (70-90 percent) pass their exit exams on the first go-around. Yet most states with exit exams do not align them to career-and-college-ready standards (and only one state—Nevada—aligns its exam to content taught through the twelfth grade). This will have heavy implications for CCSS roll-out as eighteen states plan to align their exit exams to the Common Core—or replace their current assessments with those developed by PARCC and SBAC. Gadfly is wagering that very few states will actually tie high school graduation to a proficiency score on the Common Core assessments—not, at least, if “proficiency” is defined as true college readiness. The failure rates will simply