Friday, August 20, 2004
Boltin' On Responsibility
As part of a $143 million settlement in a price-fixing dispute between several large music companies and 43 state governments, the record companies were required to donate $76 million in CDs to school districts and libraries. But Rolling Stone reports in its August 5th issue that rather than give top-shelf stuff, many of the labels are dumping.
For instance, according to Rolling Stone, one librarian was happy to get some Johnny Cash and Herbie Hancock but perplexed about what to do with sixty copies of Jessica Simpson's "Irresistible" (which is actually quite resistible). Likewise, the Puget Sound Education Service District got 25,600 CDs but they included 609 copies of Michael Bolton's "Timeless: The Classics" as well as 1,355 copies of Whitney Houston singing the "Star-Spangled Banner."
Nice bit of corporate responsibility. Besides, 600 Michael Bolton CD's? Seems sure to drive drop-out rates absolutely through the roof...
Bonus Paranoia Afterthought! But wait! Isn't raising dropout rates to create cheap labor what corporate types are all about anyway? Uh Oh! The Bolton gambit is devilishly clever...
First ones are in here. None are particuarly illuminating. And, not one mentions the crux of the issue; the results the New York Times trumpeted were not significant when race was considered and in several other instances, too. That minor clarification is surely coming any day though…
Possible silver lining: They're all straight from talking points letters so perhaps average people don't care about this anyway...
Is statistics a multiple intelligence?
John Merrow takes an interesting look at St. Louis for The News Hour. Transcript and video here.
If you're following the AFT-NYT charter school flap this Gadfly op-ed by Chester Finn is a must-read for background on the story. Finn also seems to be a member of the (ever-growing) don't mistake ineptness for nefarioiusness school of thought! Gadfly also highlights a case of poor charter authorizing and makes an important pitch for quality. Also, DC Educationblog apparently didn't get the memo that charters are bad, because he's touting a new charter initiative in Washington...(he has a bunch about the new DC sup't too).
Hippies, enjoy an NYT Flashback here.
NCES has a new data tool for comparing school district spending. Quick! Analyze before they bury the data!
Chronicle of Higher Education's Glenn writes up an interesting new study about institutional factors affecting college graduation rates. Well worth reading.
Paul Hill writes that it's time to expand our idea of what a school is and expand ways of funding them. Mathew Yglesias says sweeten the pot of federal education aid...and link it to something that states really give a damn about!
If this account is accurate, it is really awful and deserves more attention. It seems ready-made for some shout show on cable or a more serious treatment.
Charles Conrad, who was the executive director of OCRE (Organizations Concerned About Rural Education) passed away August, 14. This Wash. Post obit has some highlights, WWII service including Iwo Jima, active in politics in North Dakota, and running OCRE. It doesn't, however, mention one other very important thing: He was a class act.
NYT Flashback..It's a Trip!
By the way, Tuesday was not the first time The New York Times bought hook, line, and sinker into an education study and trumpeted it on the front page only to discover big problems. For instance, in 2002 a breathless headline and story announced a major new study on high stakes testing. That study was later discredited when the data was reanalyzed using proper statistical methods. This subsequent NYT story tried to clear up the problem.
The two episodes have something in common. In both cases the body of research evidence is mixed. Nonetheless, in both The Times chose to present one-side as definitive and apparently did not evaluate the studies in question.
2002 high-stakes testing lede:
Rigorous testing that decides whether students graduate, teachers win bonuses and schools are shuttered, an approach already in place in more than half the nation, does little to improve achievement and may actually worsen academic performance and dropout rates, according to the largest study ever on the issue.
Tuesday's charter school story lede:
The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.
The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.
Oh yeah, one other commonality: The high stakes testing "study" was commissioned by the NEA...
USA Today editorial board weighs in on No Child Left Behind fixes. They essentially call for separating the sheep from the goats in terms of who wants to fix it and who wants to completely undermine it. Worth reading, here's a taste:
Little wonder the law's critics gathered this month in Washington to find ways to fix the flaws they see. But instead of producing alternative ways to achieve the same goals, they came up with ways to water down the law. Their ideas range from de-emphasizing testing to scaling back education aims they consider too ambitious.
The critics are partly right. The law's one-size-fits-all approach causes real problems, even for its avid supporters. For instance, the law lumps into the same group truly failing schools with effective ones that fall short in one area, such as special education.
Such circumstances need fixing — but with a scalpel, not a meat cleaver. The law has achieved far too much to junk.
There is a response, too. More money. One quibble, USA Today seems too ready to accept the notion that testing must come with sharp edges. How about an editorial calling on the Bush Administration to really provide funding and assistance to states to develop top-flight assessment systems rather than low-balling it as they are now and creating predictable problems?
In its current issue Chief Information Officer magazine honors 100 agile companies around the country. Two school districts are among the honorees, Fairfax County in Virginia and Ventura Unified School District in California. Via Boardbuzz (who seem a little defensive...).
Much more on the AFT-NYT versus charter schools:
NY Post ed board here, Checker Finn in the NY Post here. Former Democratic Congressman Floyd Flake in the New York Times here. Let's hope Flake's op-ed is not what passes for a clarification/correction because it doesn't address the problems with the way The Times chose to present the story and the data. Lot's of stuff around the blogs also. Drezner here, Yglesias here, Jacobs here and here. New Democratic Network joins in here.
More blogging: Boardbuzz is on this too but they (a) can't bring themselves to criticize the NYT (though Eduwonk thinks they'd have no problem doing so if it were traditional public schools taking the cheap shot here...) or the AFT (b) repeat the low-grade rumor that the Bushies were sitting on the scores (as much fun as Eduwonk thinks that scandal would be, it's just not the case...remember, don't mistake ineptness for nefariousness!) and (c) turn the whole thing into a whine about AYP!
Update: IBD here, AZ Republic here, CSM here, Denver Post here, and a pissed-off Rocky Mountain News here.
Update II: Seattle Times here, key quote, U of W's Mary Beth Celio, "It was one of the most unsophisticated, low-level analyses I've ever seen."
Several moderate-income to affluent Chicago area school districts are weighing whether to reject Title I aid to avoid complying with No Child Left Behind. Two already have. One of the districts considering rejecting aid, Evanston Township High School, is headed by Allan Alson who is also active in the Minority Student Achievement Network.
One Chicago area superintendent speculated to Eduwonk that Alson was setting himself up for charges of hypocrisy and acidly noted that while quibbling over $100K in federal aid for poor kids and the accompanying requirements these districts "will spend $2 million to light their athletic fields..."
Perhaps, but Eduwonk can see the press playing the storyline either way. It could be portrayed as a pretty clear case of adults trying to make a political point at the expense of kids or as just another indication that NCLB is fatally flawed. Hopefully it won't come to that in the first place. In any event, Eduwonk can't remember where we are in the press cycle just now, is NCLB good or bad at the present time?
Still More NYT Charter Action...
The NYT editorial board tees-off on charter schools in today's paper. They specifically cite California and Michigan as demonstrating the pitfalls of charters. Nevermind that data from both states shows a lot of promise for charters (in CA, 4th-grade charter school students did about as well as other public school students according to the new NAEP data that started this whole thing and in MI results on the 2003 state test are very encouraging although there were gaps on the new NAEP--not accounting for race and poverty).
More importantly, the effort to hang all this around President Bush's neck is ridiculous. Let's not forget that President Clinton was a strong charter school supporter as are many liberals and liberal-leaning organizations. Maybe criticize Bush for not doing more to support charter schools, public school choice, and the creation of new public schools in distressed communities!
Anyway, Eduwonk very much hopes that George Bush loses in November, too! But this burn the village to save it mentality is remarkably counterproductive to what should be liberal goals.
Update: They've lost The Prospect!
All kinds of responses to the NYT's charter school story from yesterday.
Mickey Kaus weighs in here and notes that, "I can't quite believe that former AFT head Albert Shanker--who was one of the two or three smartest and most no-B.S. public figures I've ever seen in action--would tolerate this sort of deception if he were still alive. And if he got hold of a nuclear weapon ..." Ouch.
Chicago Tribune here, Newsday here. CSLC here. NYT runs Rod Paige's response here. Key graf:
"The secretary's reaction prompted surprise from Darvin Winnick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the national test for the federal government. Mr. Winnick said that while he would interpret the scores with caution, he did not see much cause for arguing with the outcomes themselves."
Interpret with caution is exactly what The Times didn't do!
In the Wall Street Journal the trio of William G. Howell, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West take issue with the AFT study too. And, the AFT may have opened a can of worms here. Howell and company use the same data to evaluate the NAEP performance of parochial school students and find them outpacing charters and traditional public schools. Uh oh.
Couple of quick thoughts. This whole thing may well blowback the other way because it's so outrageous. However, that shouldn't obviate the reality that too many charter schools are not getting the job done. The goal of charters was not to create schools that were as good as the urban status quo but rather to foster the creation of schools that were significantly better.
And, it does bear mentioning that the whole notion of turning all low-performing schools into charter schools is ludicrous in the first place. Reconstituting low-performing schools as charter schools is but one option that states and school districts can take. Obviously, unless it's accompanied by sustained support and real changes, then just giving a school a new moniker won't accomplish much. That's the issue because, frankly, if a "blind taste test" were possible in education, good charter schools and good traditional public schools would be largely indistinguishable in the first place. Charters are about creating space for good providers of public education to enter the educational sector, there is nothing magical about the charter label per se.
The other aspect of this whole story is the low-grade "scandal" about whether the Bush Administration buried this data for political reasons. Where some see scandal, Eduwonk sees characteristic Bush Administration ineptness. Had the Bushies wanted to hide the data they likely could have done that. Instead, they apparently just were not on the ball and let this potentially explosive situation lay idle too long. More great management! Yet, if it turns out down the road that the Bushies were up to something, then it will be a low day indeed for federal research and something that Congress ought to look into. (Thanks for all the 411 on this that has been sent so far, and please send more, anonymity guaranteed).
The Washington Post looks at how Title I formula changes are impacting to suburban Washington counties. All formulas are somewhat arbitrary and those on the short-end will always complain. And, often this issue is being used to call attention to overall NCLB funding issues rather than the allocation issue itself. Besides, considering Fairfax County's astronomical assessed value per-pupil (which most school districts would kill for) it's hard to gin up too much sympathy for their "plight." NCLB's focus on better targeting Title I funds to low-income students is one of its more laudable aspects.
However, there may be a problem with some of the data being used to make allocation determinations that are adversely impacting high poverty communities. Eduwonk's still looking at the numbers so this isn't ready for prime time, but in some places school districts that are experiencing an increase in low-income youngsters might be undercounted in the new allocations. Several possible causes: (A) formula problems (B) different methods for determining allocations for small school districts which may not be based on reliable data (C) problems with the census data because of possible undercounting of poor, minority, and immigrant students. B and C seem more likely culprits.
The New York Times reports that No Child Left Behind is facing obstacles in the states. True enough, put they pale compared to the obstacles it's facing from The New York Times! Amazingly, no mention in this story of George Miller, The Education Trust, the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights. Probably just an oversight!
NYT's Freedman writes up an interesting Rhode Island program. Dead white guys galore!
New data on reading teachers in elementary schools from NCES.
In the NY Sun, Kate Walsh of NCTQ says it's time to move the debate about teacher quality forward. James Grissom of the California Department of Education says it's time to reanalyze the data about bilingual education there.
Terrific Chronicle of Higher Education article ($) this week about steps that colleges and universities are taking to help incoming students who are in recovery from substance abuse.
In DE, a troubled path for "new" accountability measures. Via educationnews.org.
Does Don Stinson Read The New York Times?
He's the superintendent of schools in Decatur Township in Indiana and he wants Indy Mayor Bart Peterson to help him open some charter schools.
For years many people routinely castigated public schools based on incomplete or misleading data. Some of these are now charter school supporters. So, if turnabout is fair play then there is nothing unfair about today's big New York Times story about public charter schools.
The American Federation of Teachers fed the NYT the new National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data that included a sample of charter schools. The thrust of the article: Charter schools don't do as well as other schools, even other urban schools.
Of course, it's not that simple. For starters most of the charters are new and so this data is better considered as baseline data rather than some sort of final evaluation. In addition, charters tend to serve the most at-risk and struggling students. These can be difficult variables to operationalize, complicating comparisons with other schools even while holding some demographic factors constant.
Most importantly, though, when one controls the grade 4 data for race it turns out there is no statistically significant difference between charter schools and other public schools. But, you'll search in vain in the Times story for that context. In fact, to the contrary, a chart accompanying the story fails to offer readers any significance tests for the numbers they're looking at, inaccurately indicating that there are significant differences by race.
Is this important? Yes, since charters in this sample disproportionately serve minority students by an almost 2-1 margin compared to traditional public schools. By the way, don't take Eduwonk's word for this, it's in the AFT report (pdf) which was released today in conjunction with the Times article. See page 10-11.
Is every charter school great? Of course not. Are there too many low-performing ones? Yes. However, the solution to that problem is not to do away with charters but rather to ensure that public policies rigorously weed-out the low-performers while not hamstringing the many high performing public charter schools changing the lives of youngsters every day. For that to happen though requires a détente on all sides of this debate and Eduwonk doesn't see that happening anytime soon since most charter critics don't want good charter schools, they want no charter schools and some in the charter movement don't seem to have much use for the "public" aspects of public schooling.
Incidentally, per the Times story, how long can the AFT continue to trade on the notion that all this is more in sorrow than anger? They just don't like charter schools, they're not reluctantly concluding that they don't work, they're fervently hoping and working to ensure that's the case.
Update: CER notes that the race issue notwithstanding, charters did not uniformly under-perform other public schools. Funny, that didn't make the cut in the Times story either. Dan Okrent, call your office. But, CER also notes that the NAEP tested less than one percent of charter school students, implicitly saying it should be taken with, at least, a grain of salt. Funny, they don't say that when criticizing achievement in traditional public schools based on other NAEP samples...
More Updates: More here, here, here, and NYT Flashback here. If you're just looking for the links, click here.
Black - White Gap?
Gallup asked 2,250 adults:
In general, do you think that black children have as good a chance as white children in your community to get a good education, or don't you think they have as good a chance?
Eighty percent of whites said "as good a chance." Only 51 percent of blacks did.
Worth thinking about as achievement gap data comes in over the next month.
A big thanks to Richard Colvin and Sara Mead for their great contributions this past two weeks. Eduwonk is back so we're returning to regular (or irregular as the case may be) order.
One vacation related note: Local press coverage of No Child Left Behind in Alaska was interesting to read. The achievement gap as it impacts native students (and the narrowing of this gap by many schools in the past couple of years) was getting a lot of attention. The Eduwife's fishing exploits, however, were more attention grabbing...
Other things as Eduwonk digs through his email box and becomes an ever-stronger supporter of anti-spam legislation:
The Education Trust has a handy guide to the NCLB data that is coming out right now.
Education Commission of the States has taken a look at school improvement efforts in Baltimore. Case study here, policy brief here.
And it turns out that President Bush is a blogger...