Saturday, May 01, 2004
Writing About the Writers
Former Los Angeles Times writer and current Hechinger Institute director Richard Colvin discusses education reporting in an excellent essay in the Carnegie Reporter.
Read the whole thing but here is Eduwonk's sneak peek at the punchline:
“There’s a lot that could be done to improve education journalism. But what it all adds up to is writing about education has to become a true specialty, much as covering science, business, sports, the arts or technology are all considered to be specialties, requiring deep knowledge of the domain.”
In case American Indians didn't face enough challenges already, here come Rod Paige and Gale Norton...
But don't worry, they're planning a conference! Meetings never fail to spur action in Washington!
Eduwonk does not condone drinking and driving, yet the saga of the superintendent of schools in Alexandria, Virginia, seems to be driven more by other agendas -- namely angst about other decisions she has made and people trying to score points about zero tolerance policies -- than real concern about her DUI arrest.
To recap, here are Eduwonk's CliffsNotes to the controversy: Superintendent makes a bold decision to reassign a top-flight principal from a popular small school to a very challenging and struggling one...parents at the principal's current school freak out...superintendent meets with parents for several hours one evening...afterwards she understandably wants a drink and repairs to local restaurant with a school board member...on the way home she gets pulled over and arrested for DUI with a .12 blood alcohol level.
All in all not pretty. But worthy of five articles plus a column in The Washington Post and subsequent coverage elsewhere?
The circumstances leading up to this incident, as well as much of the ensuing controversy, are a prime example of what happens when equity meets NIMBY. Middle class parents are all for improving schools for poor kids -- unless it means changing schools that are serving their children well. This superintendent is being attacked not simply for what was admittedly a serious mistake; she's also being punished for unpopular staffing decisions.
On top of that, opponents of zero-tolerance policies for students argue that it's unfair to subject students to strict consequences for drinking but also give this superintendent another chance. Sure, there are serious consequences for students who get caught drinking. (Although Eduwonk is not much of a fan of zero-tolerance anyway.) But the superintendent is 21, the students are not, and she's already facing the legal consequences of her actions. Moreover, by all accounts this was an isolated incident and, let's be honest, a mistake many adults privately admit to at times having made themselves. Not an excuse but context.
Describing the uproar one school board member bluntly told The Post, "people with an ax to grind are the people we're hearing from" and another described the controversy as media driven. That seems to about sum it up. In the end the board hung tough and voted 7-1 to keep the superintendent. Good decision. She didn't set a great example for students but her critics were setting pretty bad one too.
Afterthought: It's working! Isn't reallocating highly effective personnel to the most challenging (and usually highest poverty) schools exactly the sort of change No Child Left Behind is intended to cause?
Bonus Afterthought: Instead of just fueling controversy, wouldn't it make a great story if journalists set out to describe just how brutally difficult it is to make staffing changes to improve low-performing schools....
Update! Patrick Welsh (an Alexandria teacher and Washington Post contributor) takes a different view on transferring principals from effective schools to struggling ones.
Tweed Redux? And...more blowback on Columbine tendentiousness
The Education Gadfly has a guest editorial by the New York Sun's Andrew Wolf about the upcoming election for Community District Education Councils --basically little school boards -- in New York City that is sharply critical of the Bloomberg-Klein approach.
Nat Hentoff recently noted that Wolf is must reading about the New York education scene. That's true, and we'd add Joe Williams of the Daily News to that list too.
Gadfly also castigates Margaret McKenna for using the Columbine anniversary to score points against the No Child law saying that, "to use a massacre like Columbine as an excuse to score debating points about testing is despicable". Eduwonk does not disagree.
Update! Number 2 Pencil points out that some Bloomberg-Klein critics may not have their act together either.
Two good reads from the Houston Chronicle. On the op-ed page Glenn W. Smith challenges the Texas Legislature to do right by kids there instead of setting ridiculously low standards that hamstring poor and minority youngsters. Meanwhile, the editorial board pleads for better quality teaching and less rote memorization but does not indict standards and testing. It's a subtle but vital point. Good quality tests and accountability in and of themselves do not lead to reductive teaching, it's how schools and teachers approach them that matters.
The New Dem Daily writes up Eduwonk today along with The New Republic's Ryan Lizza on Campaign Journal. Lizza, a terrifically gifted political writer, is must reading if you're interested in presidential politics. Lizza also highlights a new regular column by Kenneth Baer that promises to be well worth following.
The National College Athletic Association Board of Directors just enacted new policies to hold schools accountable for academic progress of student athletes. It's not quite the landmark shift the NCAA claims, but a step in the right direction from the current flawed graduation rate reporting.
Update! Sally Jenkins is not impressed.
Interesting article from the AP about problems foreign students seeking to attend American colleges and universities are having with visas.
It's an issue, but don't be fooled into thinking that educational issues are the primary cause of all the concern. Universities are probably most worried because these students most often pay the full tuition cost providing a tidy fiscal boon.
Link thanks to Educationnews.org
Update: More isolationism...
...all the data is a boon for litigation in the states aimed at making state school finance systems more equitable. Daniel C. Vock explains why in the new Catalyst Chicago.
The punchline, as Michael Rebell a school finance attorney explains in the article, is:
"...these reforms require students to take standardized tests and hold teachers and schools accountable for how well students perform. Through these requirements, states define what the standards are for an adequate education and provide data to show whether or not those standards are being met. If students do not, the data eases the way for plaintiffs to prove to a judge that the state isn't meeting its obligation..."
Slate's Mickey Kaus suggests a new motto for Eduwonk, "...reading those mushy, brain-numbing education stories so you don't have to!"
It's sure got a certain ring! But we're going to stick with Education News and Analysis from the Progressive Policy Institute's 21st Century Schools Project at least for now...
The North Carolina State Education Board wants to stop testing out-of-state teachers to see if they know the subject they teach. The stated rationale: to address teacher shortages so NC can meet No Child Left Behind's "highly-qualified teacher" requirements. Of course, the point of the NCLB requirements is to make sure teachers understand the subjects they teach! Here is a tip-off that the proposed plan is a bad idea: Both current Governor Mike Easley and former Governor Jim Hunt oppose it.
A more promising approach might be to think about reducing some certification coursework barriers -- North Carolina's are among the most burdensome.
The USA Today editorial board and Angelo Ancheta of the Harvard Civil Rights Project debate the legacy of Brown. The editors say it’s time to address the minority achievement gap while Ancheta highlights the failure to follow through on desegregation as a cause of educational problems. Really both are right and the Civil Rights Project has done excellent work documenting the extent of segregation and re-segregation in schools. Problem is, the political time has passed for many of their preferred remedies. Complaining about Dowell and other decisions does not do a lot of good now. For the most part, the ideas put forward by the editorial board have more immediate saliency for kids in low-performing schools.
Everything you always wanted to know about high school transcripts…from the U.S. Department of Education. Actually, a lot of good data here, more than 20,000 transcripts from 277 schools. Inferences galore! Make yours now while they last!
Next week is National Charter School Week. The Charter School Leadership Council has some ideas for teachers.
Update! They’ve figured out a pretty perverse way to celebrate charter school week in Massachusetts…
The New York Times writes up its much-anticipated profile of City Councilwoman and education reformer Eva Moskowitz. A lot of chatter about this in advance and more today…it’s an important article with plenty of reading to be done between the lines.
The American Federation of Teacher's American Educator magazine is usually well worth reading. The current issue is exceptional. A package on college prep and the job market by James E. Rosenbaum is a must read as is Matthew Davis' E.D. Hirsch cum Neil Young deconstruction of "Ohio".
The Center for American Progress says federal direct loans are a better deal for taxpayers...they're right!
Derby Week NYT Special: Reverting to Form
After a couple of interesting columns about other issues, New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip returns to No Child Left Behind bashing profiling an elementary school in Florida. Not only does he apparently not understand the NCLB law, much less federalism, his most recent column misleads readers about the school he is profiling.
Under NCLB different states have different accountability plans, different standards, and different rules. Winerip makes easy sport of the differences between states. But what is his solution? A national accountability system applying to all the states? A single national test or national standards? Or maybe we just shouldn't worry about those pesky subgroups and disaggregated accountability for at-risk kids? He doesn't say.
But in this column he does say that Lake Alfred Elementary School in Florida is not making "adequate yearly progress" because poor and learning disabled students are not meeting achievement goals. Based on this he bemoans the unfairness of labeling a school as needing improvement just because of low achievement by subgroups. Ignore for a moment that parents of disabled and poor students probably do see this as an issue (especially because Florida's standards for what constitutes adequate yearly progress are pretty low -- schools need to have about one-third of students at grade level to make adequate yearly progress or "AYP" in 2003).
What's more important is what Winerip does not mention. For instance, black students at Lake Alfred are also far behind. Less than one in three black students is proficient in reading and fewer than one in four in math. Oh, and there is also a 27 percent gap in proficiency between white and black students in both reading and math. That's a problem! They didn't make AYP either.
In addition, only white students at the school made AYP in writing which the state chose to include in its NCLB accountability system. And, in any event, white kids at the school aren't doing all that great either, only 56 percent are proficient in reading and 50 percent in math.
So, rather than the storyline of an unfairly maligned school caught up the unfair rules of an ill-conceived law, instead we have a school where about only half the kids are proficient in reading and math overall, few can write at grade level, and special education and black students are doing very poorly. Though the school does appear to slowly be making progress, a lot of children are being shortchanged right now. NCLB was designed precisely to ferret out these inequities which are easily obscured by overall averages.
Though Eduwonk has never visited this school, we are not pulling this data out of thin air. Go to schoolresults.org and see for yourself -- facts are stubborn things.
By the way, that this particular school had earned, according to Winerip, a "B" or "C" on Florida's previous accountability system is powerful evidence of why NCLB's emphasis on disaggregated accountability is so important. It is not, however, evidence that Winerip's pseudo-states' rights argument makes any sense. If he is going to defend states for doing the right thing without NCLB -- and some were -- he ought to at least find one where more than about half the students are reading and doing math at grade level.
Not too long ago wouldn't Timesmen have been outraged by inequities like these visited on the most vulnerable in our society? Today, apparently, they are outraged by efforts to remedy them.
Afterthought: Winerip is right when he implies that there are some accountability shenanigans going on in Texas. So how about writing on those! Quips about moving Florida schools to Texas may sound very erudite in Manhattan but sure don't help kids in Florida!
Bonus Afterthought: Before you buy into the notion that special education students can't read at grade level, read this.
Newsweek reports on child development experts who think the ever-proliferating list of childhood personality and other dysfunctions may have gone too far, and that it makes more sense simply to call some kids who are a little different just that. The proposed terminology--quirky--strikes Eduwonk as a little, well, quirky. But the underlying notion--focusing on getting kids the interventions they need to succeed, rather than diagnostic terminology--sounds awfully familiar.
Education Week writes up an effort to create charter teacher preparation programs in Ohio. This would allow more pluralism in the supply of teacher preparation programs and hopefully improve accountability for results.
It's a great idea and featured in this forthcoming book.
A predictable Arizona Republic op-ed by Goldwater Institute's Darcy Olson opposes full-day kindergarten by arguing that "data show the majority of children at the onset of kindergarten have the skills that are the foundation for school achievement." Never mind that the same Education Department data show massive preparation gaps for disadvantaged and minority kindergarteners. And it's these kids who stand to benefit the most from full-day kindergarten.
Afterthought: Olson calls Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano's all-day kindergarten proposal "a problem in search of a solution." Leave aside evidence that suggests all-day kindergarten is a promising response to the very real problem of preparation gaps. Given the Goldwater Institute's penchant for proposing vouchers as a response to every educational ill, this strikes Eduwonk as the pot calling the kettle black.
Critics say yes, but a new study by the Manhattan Institute's prolific Jay Greene and Marcus Winters argues they don't. Greene and Winters analyzed graduation rate data from 18 states that adopted exit exams in the 1980's and 1990's and found no evidence graduation rates were lower in years when exams were in place.
Washington Post readers respond to the absurd suggestion that NCLB might lead to school violence.
Debate over school finance in Texas continues. Meanwhile, a special education advocacy group strongly suggests that the Bush Administration is suppressing bad news about Medicaid reimbursement in Texas. Hmmm….wouldn’t be so plausible if not part of a pattern…
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Mark Warner and some Virginia Republicans willing to defy party orthodoxy on taxes, the state is getting its fiscal house in order and undoing the wreckage left by former Governor Gilmore.
More trouble for Minnesota Education Commissioner Yecke.
If you’re scoring at home, here is a helpful pro-con tip sheet from The Pioneer Press:
THE YECKE DEBATE
Pro: Strong leadership skills, instituted new education standards
Con: Polarizing rhetoric, draft socials studies standards showed conservative bent
You can’t find that sort of analysis just anywhere!
National Journal's Brian Friel reports on the National Education Association's new spin-off group, "America Learns." Modeled after issue advocacy groups like the Sierra Club and NRA, the group will "enlarge the public policy debate about public education and zero in on No Child Left Behind," according to its new director. Eduwonk wonders which of those two issues will be the priority?
So let's recap. Faced with a strongly anti-labor administration (that particularly loathes the NEA) and a Labor Department and IRS investigation of its finances and political activities, the NEA is….launching an organization to attack a law aimed at ensuring that poor and minority kids get a decent education. America might learn...but apparently not the NEA.
Another thoughtful discussion on charter schools, this time from Buffalo.
According to the New York Times, a new study shows promising results improving brain function for dyslexic readers. But, the treatment group got intensive and systematic phonics. Interesting finding…will it have any effect on the minds of the strident anti-phonics crowd?
Update! Education Week is on the case too!
Lloyd Bond has some pretty sensible thoughts on "teaching to the test" in the most recent Carnegie Perspectives.
Ruth Mitchell has a must-read op-ed in today’s Washington Post on teaching, learning, and standards. It’s overly anecdotal in places (despite plenty of data to support her point) but overall a compelling argument for standards and the tough love of No Child Left Behind for struggling schools.
Jay Mathews writes on teaching about the Brown v. Board anniversary and the 1954 Bolling v. Sharpe case which desegregated public schools in Washington, D.C. His piece is historical, but as Mitchell shows, in many ways we’re still a nation with dual school systems.
Key Mitchell grafs:
The public is largely unaware of the problem. Those who follow education, write editorials and commentaries and make policy were themselves successful students who were in the highest tracks at their high schools, and their children are also successful students enjoying the best and most experienced teachers, because they're in the AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. Legislators and policymakers tend to come from a social class in which people not only have benefited from good teachers but also have fond memories of a particular teacher or teachers who turned them on to the pleasures of poetry or the intricacies of DNA.
Students in the schools we visit are not turned on. Black, brown, speaking broken or accented English, with cultural values clashing with those of the white middle class, they are seen as needing elementary instruction in secondary school; as capable only of drawing and coloring; as in need of discipline rather than encouragement. They are asked to make acrostics in middle school social studies; to write eight sentences in high school English class; and to fill out endless worksheets in math class.
Teachers say they have to teach the students where they are, which means at sixth-grade level in high school if they can't read well. Their attitude may be compassionate, but it is misguided.
Well said. Except it’s not obvious the public is unaware of the problem. The continuing support for No Child Left Behind despite the mobilization and P.R. campaign against it is one indicator. Majority support for vouchers among African-Americans is an ominous sign too.
Crew is back....in Miami.
Ticking Away the Moments that Make Up the Dull Day
Denis Doyle tells the Los Angeles Times that social promotion is yesterday’s fight. Today it’s about rethinking how we use time and group children he says. He’s right. But local efforts to do this tend to make a lot of parents berserk.
Afterthought: It seems that almost every issue is yesterday’s fight, it’s a convenient lede and good rhetorical opener. But if it’s true, then why all the disagreement today?
Bonus afterthought: How do those formidable Fins organize time in their schools? Aha! The New York Times sheds some light in yet another pro-Fin story.
Is it just us or have a spate of news stories lauded how wonderful the schools in Finland are? It’s almost like the Finnish government sponsored a junket there for education reporters or is waging some sort of P.R. campaign….
Paisley, Oregon, is embracing charter schooling to cope with state budget cuts as well as declining enrollment. Might not be what some charter supporters have in mind, but it’s a great strategy to stave off consolidation and is working so far.
We knew the stakes were high in the coming election but had no idea just what was at stake. Writing on National Review Online William Dennis says that Senator Kerry's college aid plan is not only bad policy but "harmful to a free society"!!!
The Kerry camp can probably rest easy on this one. If the freshest criticism of Kerry's plan to link some college aid to national service is a tired rehash of the old arguments against national service, then they're in pretty good shape on this issue.
PS--Dennis isn't completely wrong. We still don't know enough about the interaction between college aid and institutional behavior, and it may well exert a negative influence. But, while researchers and analysts sort that out it's OK to advance policies expanding access to higher education.
Hmmm....There are plenty of criticisms of how President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige have handled No Child Left Behind and other issues too. Yet an Education Writers Association awards banquet may not have been the best forum to raise them...it does sort of reinforce the notion that a lot of the NCLB coverage has been really slanted...
Great piece in Slate.
PPI’s Marc Magee and former PPI fellow Kathleen Porter tied the knot this weekend telling the New York Times that their policy differences help keep things fresh.
The D.C. City Council did not buy Mayor Williams’ plan to take control of the beleaguered District of Columbia Public Schools so he’s modifying it.
Meanwhile, the ambitious goals for the new D.C. voucher program seem to be getting less ambitious all the time...stay tuned...
Researchers at the Northwest Evaluation Association say be careful it’s about growth and value-added instead, but the Chicago Sun Times has data indicating yes, at least in the Windy City.
We know one thing, it’s a boon for researchers!
The new Education Life package features articles on virtual schools, B-schools, and the online hook-up culture for college students.
Jonathan Zimmerman writes in the LA Times that one legacy of Brown is sanitized textbooks and incomplete, milquetoast history. Pretty provocative stuff in the midst of the Brown anniversary, but it’s hard to argue with Zimmerman’s main point.
And it’s probably OK to acknowledge an unintended side effect of Brown now, fifty years later, right? After all, hardly anyone thinks now that Brown was a bad idea. No one now in government would have written something like,
"I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position for which I have been excoriated by liberal colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed."
Of course not, no one! Surely not the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in a memo to Justice Jackson, for whom who he clerked during Brown…
Want more of a Zimmerman fix? Check out Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools.