Friday, December 17, 2004
Where You Stand...Where You Sit...
This article raises a legitimate point, but couldn't it have just as easily taken the opposite tact and been titled "Minority and Special Needs Students More Likely To Be Overlooked In Diverse Schools"?
It's a conundrum, sure, but made clearer if one decides that the unit of analysis is kids or schools.* Like welfare reform, there is a dual client issue (the schools serve the kids) but either we're going to get at subgroups of students or not. Congress made its decision; the law wasn't called "No School Left Behind" for a reason -- namely the glaring achievement gaps between different groups of students.
This article is about PA so consider, for example, 5th grade reading scores there. In 2003, 67 percent of white students proficient, 28 percent of African-American students, and 30 percent of Hispanic students. Unless you ignore or exclude a lot of kids from your accountability system, a lot of schools in a state with numbers like that will be identified as "needing improvement." After all, those kids do go to school somewhere.
Incidentally, the subgroup size issue that the article hinges on is basically a state decision, they get to decide on the size which in turn leads to the number of targets for schools.
*An obvious political risk for a political party (no names, but it is one of the two major parties) that chooses schools/adults instead of kids...
Forgot to mention this Samuel Freedman NYT column from earlier in the week, worth reading. A look at some ideas on where to spend NYC's potential education windfall. A good idea for another column might be where it's going to come from, big tax increases seem unlikely so what services will be cut to fund this?
An alphabet soup of education organizations have put together a handy guide (pdf) on the responsibilities of schools to ensure that the rights of gay and lesbian students are respected and protected.
This Week in Education has links to some stories about the complexity of integrating NCLB's transfer provisions with state and local provisions governing high school athletics. It's a real issue.
Finally, D.C. Education Blog reports on some violence at a recent pom pom competition...
If you didn't get the talking points and marching orders (charter schools are bad...) then this issue brief (pdf) from NACSA might interest you. It discusses school districts that are pursuing chartering.
Two new charter school studies hit the mean streets yesterday. Harvard's Caroline Hoxby is re-releasing her national study (pdf) that compared charters to similar schools (with a little more analysis). Meanwhile, the Department of Education's research operation is releasing their analysis of the NAEP data that garnered so much attention earlier this year.
Senator Bob Dole famously characterized his colleague Phil Gramm as being like a cockroach that just keeps squirming no matter how hard one steps on it. The same can be said of the ongoing charter flap, the latest iteration of which offers little that's new, and which goes on and on despite the fact that even if everyone agreed that one study was superior to another, the answer would still be inconclusive anyway (for a sensible discussion on all this see this short essay by Ron Zimmer and Brian Gill).
Here, in no particular order, are a few things to consider:
*The punchline from the report, differences less pronounced than most of the press coverage indicates:
"…when comparing the performance of charter and other public school students, it is important to compare students who share a common characteristic. For example, in mathematics, fourth-grade charter school students as a whole did not perform as well as their public school counterparts. However, the mathematics performance of White, Black, and Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools was not measurably different from the performance of fourth-graders with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in other public schools.
In reading, there was no measurable difference in performance between charter school students in the fourth grade and their public school counterparts as a whole. This was true, even though, on average, charter schools have higher proportions of students from groups that typically perform lower on NAEP than other public schools have. In reading, as in mathematics, the performance of fourth-grade students with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in charter schools and other public schools was not measurably different.
There are also instances where the performance of students with shared characteristics differed. For example, among students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, fourth-graders in charter schools did not score as high in reading or mathematics, on average, as fourth-graders in other public schools."
The best story Eduwonk's seen is from the LA Times' Duke Hefland and Nick Anderson and see also this UPI article. This Las Vegas Review editorial cuts to the chase in terms of the preemptive war being launched against charters (see final line). The NYT story is basically an exercise in track covering but includes an interesting nugget on the racial issue. Apparently to point out that race exerts leverage on school performance and is thus an important variable to consider is not to accept the findings of substantial social science research but instead to promote the "soft bigotry of low-expectations"?
The report includes a lot of other information and was able to tease out some other interesting nuggets. Worth reading.
*The release event was apparently (and not surprisingly, considering the line-up) a circus. Here are two takes from Eduwonk correspondents:
"The NAGB almost seemed to wish they hadn't done the study. It says SO little about actual performance differences, but it gives the press a million different sound bites about the "significantly worse" performance of charters (even though certain reporters had an embarrassingly poor understanding of the meaning of statistical significance). The final word was from [NAGB head] Winnick and he said something along the lines of "Now you see why we struggled with doing this study at all." It was really that glib."
"Good objective presentations by Winnick and Peggy Carr from NCES. But then [Deputy Sec. of Ed] Gene Hickok got up and did a shamelessly partisan and vitriolic spin job on the findings that made the Gore presentation of the NAEP reading scores in 2002 look very innocuous. Hickok should have made his comments in the second hour along with Jeanne [Allen of CER] and Bella [Rosenberg of AFT] … As a result it was neither a good day for NAGB’s credibility nor a positive development for constructive discussion of the evidence about charters. I and several other charter proponents in the room were pissed."
Center for Education Reform writes up their take. Not unbiased observers, to be sure, but also worth reading. When people like NCLR's Tony Colon become this radicalized, that should be a wake-up call…
*Michael Dobbs at the Post has written on this for two days in a row. One can quibble with the story. (The chart accompanying today's story seemed either random or calculated to portray charters in a negative light, charter schools didn't start in Massachusetts but Minnesota per yesterday's, etc…)
But what Eduwonk's finds really striking is that Dobbs either has a big-time buried lede or is furthering a smear campaign. He reported yesterday that Harvard Economist Caroline Hoxby had used "misleading" and "faulty" data. (A similar mistake by the AFT was referred to as, well, a mistake.) Today's article mentions en passant that Hoxby had to correct her data. Apparently there was a mix up with proficiency standards for Washington, D.C. (federal AYP v. another standard) that produced faulty results but has been fixed in the version linked above.
But it's no secret among the cognoscenti that an anti-Hoxby whispering campaign is in full-swing, insinuating, among other things, that she won't share her data (It's on her website.), is using misleading methods (Her method, matching schools by geography and racial composition, is far from ideal but defensible, considering the data limitations in many states.), and is a hypocrite (This one has some validity, she signed that silly ad in The New York Times protesting the paper's coverage of the original AFT charter school report and dismissing "snapshot studies," while her most recent study is essentially a "snapshot" study). Of course, on the latter, if inconsistency were oil, most combatants in this debate would wear 10-gallon hats and wipe their noses with $50 bills.
Regardless, newspapers aren't supposed to be conduits for whispering campaigns. If The Post has evidence that Hoxby engaged in academic misconduct, that's a big education story. "Tenured and well-known Harvard economist caught in misconduct" would be quite a headline. But, double-standards for errors and darkly insinuating some sort of serious malfeasance strikes Eduwonk as tacky and irresponsible. Either pull the trigger and deliver the goods, or knock it off.
*Proponents of the reorganization of research responsibilities at the Department of Education should be at least moderately pleased. The reforms that Congress passed in 2002 were supposed to ensure a firewall between politics and research. This report is one indication that it's working. The first the Department's political appointees heard of this analysis was when they read about it in The New York Times several months ago. Credit Russ Whitehurst, too. He's worked hard to de-politicize that post and the operation over there and is blameless in this recent back and forth.
*Worth repeating caveat: There are too many low-performing charter schools right now (and too many low-performing urban schools in general). All this back-and-forth should not distract from that reality. The charter "movement" needs to do a better job policing itself on quality. However, there are clear inferences one can draw from state policies now about what sorts of laws are more likely to help on the quality issue and what kinds are likely to hinder. These PPI state case studies offer more information on that, and forthcoming studies on OH and TX will have additional reccomendations.
*In terms of the politics of all this, an editorial yesterday and column today in the NY Post - of all places - should be a sobering reminder for Democrats about the political risk here. Leave aside the merits of expanding educational opportunity--can Democrats really afford to alienate people like this considering the precariousness of the party's fortunes?
On the larger politics, considering the political character of the country (not just now, but historically) progressives need to ensure that stakeholders feel genuine buy-in to public sector projects. Otherwise it's too easy for them to whither on the vine, particularly when demographic shifts cause resource constraints. Charters are a promising strategy to increase customization and buy-in to public education. The current strategy of alienating minorities who are understandably frustrated with the outcomes of public schools for their kids (50 percent graduation rates, for example) is politically stupid and in the long run a major threat to support for public education.
Finally, for a ground-level look at all this, enjoy this end-of-year e-mail from the founder of the MATCH Public Charter High School in Boston. Not every charter school will be as good as MATCH, but it and schools like it show what's possible in a more open sector in education. Pay particular attention to the MATCH Corps, a very cool idea in the 'nothing is as annoying as a good example' department.
Q. MATCH moved a mile from Fenway Park in 2002. In 2003, the Sox went to the ALCS. In 2004, they won the World Series. Does MATCH claim full credit or partial credit?
A. Full credit.
Q. What do you think about Pedro Martinez leaving?
A. Pedro earns more in one inning than most teachers earn in one year. I think he could have "roughed it" on the $40 million over three years that the Sox were offering.
Q. How is MATCH doing this year?
A. By any measure, we are having our best year ever, in terms of raw academics, school culture, and fundraising.
Q. Tell me about the academics...
A. There are now 29 open-admissions high schools in Boston; MATCH is again #1 on MCAS proficiency of those schools. Teaching quality is terrific. Best of all, this is our first year of teaching Advanced Placement classes - all seniors must choose among AP biology, calculus, or literature, in addition to the classes they take at Boston University.
Q. How did that AP thing happen?
A. MATCH was chosen as one of two high schools in the nation by the US Department of Education for a program called the Advanced Placement Initiative. Our premise is that in a college-prep school, everyone should have to take and succeed in AP Classes - after all, the whole idea of AP is that they are college class equivalents. If you can't pass an AP class in high school, you may well flunk out in college, since a little-known fact is that most minority students who start college don't graduate from college. So we're the only public high school where AP is required for all students.
Q. Well, that sounds good, even if I don't recall ever taking AP classes, and don't know a lick of calc. And, fine, you're obsessed with college readiness. But isn't there more to high school than that?
A. There is. This year, with academic rigor finally where we want it, we've been able to tackle other areas - like new clubs for karate, drama, bass guitar, hip hop dance. Even better, our 2004 graduates are now in college, and they come back to tell the other kids that the MATCH journey is worthwhile. One (at Boston College) even works part-time as one of our weekend tutors!
Q. What's up with the people you hired who live on your third floor? Is that like MTV's Real World?
A. The MATCH Corps is a group of 45 elite recent college grads. They're essentially a group of super-charged full-time tutors, graduates from the likes of Princeton, Harvard, Notre Dame, et al, working 50 to 60 hours per week for one year with our kids. In exchange, they get an annual stipend of $7200 plus housing. In a way, it's an "in the trenches" alternative to a graduate program in education. (If the MATCH Corps *were* in fact a Graduate School of Education, then based on the college GPAs and GRE/SAT scores of these 45 teaching fellows, this program 45 people would be tied with Stanford for #1 in the nation - and significantly higher than the other 884 Graduate Schools of Education in the USA....including Harvard!)If you know any recent college grads or college seniors who'd like to apply for August 2005 - July 2006, send them to http://www.matchschool.org/. Last year 450 applied for the 45 spots.
Q. How's the cash holding up? Do you still need my help for your Annual Fund?
A. Charter school funding remains a political football. This year they cut our per-student funding but created a small facilities allowance. In any case, we can't survive on just the public funding. Regular Boston high schools usually run until 1.40pm. MATCH is humming each day from 8.30am - 5pm and often until 7pm...with enormous amounts of 1-on-1 attention such that all our kids are in a position to succeed in college.
Q. What's your goal?
A. As of December 2004, we've raised a bit over $100,000 towards our June 2005 $250,000 Annual Fund goal. Every bit helps.
Q. Is this tax-deductible?
A. Yes. And if you happen to have stock which appreciated this year, you can gift the stock and avoid the capital gains tax. [Editor's note: This is true of almost all charter schools if you'd like to support one.]
Jay Mathews takes on a college professor over AP courses. A good look at the debate about the growth and value of AP courses.
Ravitch V. Bloomberg
Today's NYT has an explosive write up of the growing Bloomberg - Ravitch feud up in New York City. Diane is a serious and respected critic and as the article shows what she says is framing much of the debate up there (although it's certainly debatable whether Klein - Bloomberg are as much at fault as she argues, particularly on the management side).
There is also a don't miss quote from Columbia TC's Levine:
Diane Ravitch is an ideologue," said Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, where Dr. Ravitch was part of the faculty for nearly 20 years but which is now also home to the architects of the city's literacy program. [And also receives a lot of money from the city for teacher professional development though the story leaves it to readers to connect those dots...]
But he acknowledged that unlike union leaders and some politicians, she was not an easy critic to dismiss. "Her credentials make her more thoughtful than many other conservatives"...
Eduwonk agrees that many conservatives are not very thoughtful about education, but doesn't this have less to do with their "credentials" or conservativeness than with the specific ideas they push? Just attacking them en masse sure sounds like something an ideologue would say...
If you can't get enough of the TIMSS (and really, who can, especially this time of year...) here is new analysis from NCES. Worth checking out. Among other nuggets some cool demographic breakouts (affluent schools doing OK, don't hold your breath for the headline) and interesting achievement gap data, including a narrowing in math in science from the mid-1990s to 2003. Wait, wasn't a lot of that pre-NCLB and on Clinton's watch? It was! Margaret Spellings' first spin job coming up...
John Merrow looked at the debate about military recruiting in high schools for the News Hour (video here). Worth watching. When did it become such an article of faith on the Left that we're supposed to resist the military? Wait, don't answer that. Still, for a lot of kids the military provides a great option both educationally and skill-wise. And, in particular the Marines, have figured out a way to reach some kids who were otherwise falling through the cracks. And there is that small matter about protecting us and defending our way of life...That said, the provision in NCLB is just one more bureaucratic hassle for school districts already buried in paper from state and federal requirements.
The Canadians are dissin' a Republican governor over education policy. Not smart! Don't they know that this president will attack a country for less?
The LA Times disses California Secretary of Education Riordan in a profile but includes this gem: "But Riordan also could be politically tone deaf. He once greeted hunger strikers while eating a hamburger."
Here's a short primer (pdf) from SECTQ on working conditions and teaching.
Call For Nominations
In its final issue of the year the 21st Century Schools Project Bulletin issues awards for various accomplishments in education policy and politics. The highly coveted awards include: Most Amusing Spin; Least Amusing Spin; Quote of the Year; Must Read Article; Must Read Book; and Innovator(s) of the Year. You can read the 2003 edition here.
In the past we solicited ideas from friends and colleagues but this year we'd like broader input from Eduwonk readers. So please send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of this week. Thanks in advance.
More grim news from Florida, and you can take parts of the state test for teachers here.
Wash Post looks at AP classes as does this study (pdf). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Borsuk takes a look at charters in WI.
We don't need no education, OK, we do, and we'd like royalties, too!
PS--Apropos of nothing, if you grew up when skateboard culture was big, you might want to check out the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys.
Early To Rise?
Good letter to The Washington Post from Virginia State Representative Kaye Kory (D). She points out that older kids -- who need more sleep and are more likely to get in trouble after school -- are getting up the earliest and getting out of school first. Backwards? She thinks so. But she also points out the financial challenge of flipping school starts around.
Richard Colvin is smiling...If you only read one education news story today, make it this series from the Herald Trib in Florida looking at teacher quality there. The paper fought with the state to get the information about the extent of the teacher quality problem there and is now publishing it in grim stories like this:
More than half a million Florida students sat in classrooms last year in front of teachers who failed the state's basic skills tests for teachers.
Many of those students got teachers who struggled to solve high school math problems or whose English skills were so poor, they flunked reading tests designed to measure the very same skills students must master before they can graduate.
These aren't isolated instances of a few teachers whose test-taking skills don't match their expertise and training. A Herald-Tribune investigation has found that fully a third of teachers, teachers' aides and substitutes failed their certification tests at least once.
The Herald-Tribune found teachers who had failed in nearly every school in each of the state's 67 counties.
But it is the neediest of children who most often get the least-prepared teachers.
More on the equity/distribution problem in Monday's story:
Children from poor and minority neighborhoods are being shortchanged when it comes to getting top teachers, at least as measured by how their teachers perform on certification tests.
The Herald-Tribune analyzed more than 20 years of the exams, which ensure that Florida's teachers have the minimum level of knowledge needed to teach.
The analysis showed that teachers at poor schools are 44 percent more likely than those at rich schools to have failed. The gap in teacher scores is even more pronounced for high-minority schools.
Colleges of education in FL are part of the problem, too:
At the largest schools, including the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida, about one in four school of education graduates failed the test at least once.
The paper also compiled a database on the problem.
But what's most exasperating is that -- despite the throwing up of hands by the spokesperson for the Florida Education Association -- it's not as though there are not a lot of good ideas out there about how (pdf) to help address (pdf) this problem.
If Zippy Chippy were a school, his owners would be demanding growth models and value-added measurements!