Saturday, December 31, 2005
Governing Magazine's Buntin takes a look at what Indy Mayor Bart Peterson is up to in Indianapolis with public charter schools. Background on Peterson's initiative here.
More Gifted Debate...And Now With More Hassel!
Public Impact's Emily and Bryan Hassel send along the following about the ongoing gifted debate. Like Eduwonk they're skeptical that any sort of stick-based value-add accountability system will work for higher performing schools but they offer a carrot-based idea:
Eduwonk's recent posts about "gifted" students raise some important issues. In any school, some students are ready to go beyond the state's standards. It's tempting, but wrong, to envision these students as all being white and affluent, with whiny, SUV-driving parents. In fact, an estimated 20-30% of gifted kids come from blue-collar / low-skill families, and even more poor and minority children are ready to learn beyond grade level. Under current accountability systems, though, schools have little incentive to help them achieve at higher levels. We think this is a big problem. It's a travesty to check off poor and minority students as "successful" when they could achieve much more, especially in a world where economic changes are demanding higher levels of capacity. Advanced opportunity at school is more important, not less, for children who won’t get it at home.
But how could an accountability system create the right incentives? The key, as Eduwonk suggests with skepticism, is measuring students' growth over time. In today's NCLB debates, the idea of measuring growth is usually trotted out as way to make it easier for schools to make AYP even if they're not getting kids up to grade level. Like Eduwonk, we think this idea stinks. But what about using growth measures to challenge schools to do even better with kids who are ready to go beyond?
Here's a rough sketch of how it might work. For kids below grade level, leave accountability the way it is -- schools should get every child up to standard, period. For kids who meet or exceed grade level targets, also measure their growth over the next year. Calculate the percentage of them who achieve a year's worth of growth. Disaggregate to distinguish how well schools do with kids who are especially advanced, say the top 10%. Label schools as making "Extraordinary Yearly Progress" (EYP) only if they achieve a very high percentage on these measures, like 98%.
At a minimum, report EYP results along with AYP. Make it a point of pride for schools to say they're not just hitting the minimum, but shooting past it. In EYP, give parents of kids ready to go beyond a much more meaningful indicator of a school's value than AYP. Better yet, reward schools financially with a cash bonus for each above-grade level low-income child who exceeds the progress target, but only if the school makes AYP as well.
Of course this is just a rough sketch, lots of details would need to be worked out and most states have a long way to go to be able to measure like this. But the big concept is solid: grade level is not good enough, so let's go ahead and raise the bar. Otherwise, all we've got is the soft bigotry of higher-but-still-too-low expectations.
While we are all debating changing the existing system, these guys and these guys are talking about new ways of thinking about schools, education, and learning.
We Are As Dumb As We Look! But Why?
Reader ML sends along this Washington Post article about the new literacy data and asks whether perhaps "spiraling tuition costs and classes taught by graduate assistants are catching up to us?" There is an interesting paradox here. More people going to college but discouraging findings about adult literacy.
Let the wild speculation begin! ML's idea is plausible but Eduwonk thinks instead that it might have something to do with course-taking patterns as higher education has increasingly become somewhat vocational. It's now basically possible to get through even a lot of pretty competitive schools without doing a lot writing or reading of non-technical things if your major is anything involving business, science, engineering, etc...Often just one gut class in the humanities, a survey where centuries are compressed into weeks, is all a student gets. So, to the extent that students are not getting this in high schools they're just not getting it really anywhere.
Other possible explanations?
Update: EdWahoo's speculation here.
Over at The Washington Monthly Paul Glastris responds to Eduwonk's criticism of his praise of yesterday's Washington Post op-ed about gifted students. Paul asks:
As a matter of pure politics, how can you expect to retain public support for a school reform regime that short-changes high-achieving students, whose parents, whether rich or poor, are likely to be more politically engaged and influential than the parents of low-performing students?
Again, it does not have to short-change them, good schools can do both especially in the early grades but we do not yet have enough such schools. Nonetheless, Paul's asking the right question though Eduwonk thinks the answer is greater choice and customization within the public system and improving the supply side of the equation. No Child Left Behind - NCLB - essentially mandates that states establish a minimal level of proficiency and get all kids over that bar. Over time state standards may become more rigorous but for now they're a floor that we should want students to go way beyond. But mandating how schools go beyond it in national or even state policy is a minefield and politically very difficult.
The crude way is just a higher bar but that just means a reprise of this debate but about a different standard. The more sophisticated way is to measure the value schools add for all students, even advanced ones. But leave aside all the technical challenges of value-added assessment -- which few of its enthusiastic boosters bother to engage with -- it's not a political panacea either. For starters, just as affluent parents refuse to accept that there are big achievement gaps in some of their kids schools they likewise won't accept that these schools are not adding as much value to their children's education as they could. In fact, because value-added is more complicated than the current system it seems it will be a harder sell to affluent parents if it somehow indicates anything besides rosy news. After all, they paid good money to live in those neighborhoods with those "great" schools. And, the risk that value-added could lead to lower expectations for poor and minority kids is very real.
It's worth remembering that at its core NCLB is really the federal Title I program which was, and is, designed to be compensatory not to be a program for the affluent and the gifted. That's not to say gifted students should be neglected, just that looking to Title I or NCLB is missing the point of the policy. And although there has been language about "substantial and continuous improvement" in the law that is intended to ensure that proficiency is not the ceiling it hasn't done much good. That's because the inability to do this in practice speaks to one of the most serious and infrequently publicly discussed issues in education -- the lack of ability within the system today (pdf) to do these things now. Don't forget, as a legal/policy matter states could do a lot of this now, there is nothing in NCLB preventing it. And again, that's not a measurement problem but a pipeline one. And it is one where gifted advocates and advocates for disadvantaged students should make common cause to head off the false choice between helping one group of students or another.
Paul also pushes back on Matt Yglesias' notion that the moral thing to do is to focus on the most struggling students. Paul says:
If I were an innercity teacher and I had to decide which students to give extra time to, I can easily see myself deciding to focus on the smarter, more motivated ones, on the grounds that they want the help more and the investment in them would have a higher chance of paying off in terms of increased life chances. Others might make a different moral calculus, but it's not clear why mine would be wrong.
Perhaps, but the entire point of NCLB is to end this practice. For starters, it turns out that teachers are not always great judges of who are the smarter and more motivated students and teacher and student expectations often diverge. Moreover, NCLB isn't saying that every student needs to be a mathematician or scientist, only that schools must teach them to read and do math at grade level. That's really not unreasonable for the overwhelming majority of students, is it?
But in the end, this seems to be where marrying choice and options for parents with public accountability makes a lot of sense. Mandate a floor for all schools but give parents greater choices among public options so they can seek out schools that are doing a lot more. And, as Glastris has noted, giving parents more choices in public education is one way to create a genuine opportunity expanding ownership society rather than the caricature President Bush has championed.
More from LA where Green Dot Public Schools founder and activist Steve Barr is turning things upside down.
“I think the Left, which I'm a member of, has to pull our heads out of our asses and come up with some solutions, and stop defending failed systems. Especially un-democratic, centralized bureaucracies that are not effective,” says Barr in an interview with L.A. Alternative. “We have no answers for the education issue. Our answer is to give more money to a failed centralized system?”
Here is an eduprediction: One way or another, things are going to change at Jefferson, Barr has let the genie out of the bottle and it's not going back in. And that is his endgame anyway, improving things. Those parents want fresh ground now that they know it's out there.
Barr has this old fashioned notion that the public schools are supposed to be a way up the economic ladder a few rungs -- for the kids not the adults.
Gifted Students, Dopy Argument...And, Not "Gifted"? Then No Scientific Leadership For You!
This Washington Post op-ed by gifted education advocate Susan Goodkin about gifted children and No Child Left Behind is a great example of the tunnel vision that characterizes most edu-debates. Without getting into the whole debate about the wisdom of gifted programs a couple of thoughts:
First, while NCLB's emphasis on gap closing could come at the expense of attention to gifted students it doesn't axiomatically have to. Nevertheless, the false choice that is the backbone of the op-ed notwithstanding, advocates for gifted students would be better served if they'd acknowledge (a) the enormous inequities and glaring racial achievement gaps that exist today and the necessity of addressing them and (b) that gifted programs are not blameless here. In fact, minority students are substantially underrepresented in gifted programs. In fact, according to the best, though albeit imperfect, data from the Office of Civil Rights black students are only 41 percent as likely and Hispanic students 48 percent as likely as white students to be in gifted education programs. In other words, gifted education has a stake in the NCLB debate beyond just whining about it. And, since in some communities gifted programs served as a convenient way to keep affluent and white parents from leaving the school system implicitly perpetuating some of the disparities policymakers are wrestling with today, one could even argue that gifted advocates bear something of a burden to help out here...
Second, isn't this emerging debate about gifted kids and NCLB an argument for more pluralism in public schooling and more customization? Kids are not all alike so why insist that the vast majority of public schools basically look, feel, and operate alike? Or, is the answer just to pay less attention to struggling students? Where are the gifted advocates on the debate about more choices in public education?
Finally, this statement gets at the underlying sentiment here which is why Eduwonk is not overly hopeful about a lot of attention to the two points above:
By forcing schools to focus their time and funding almost entirely on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, NCLB sacrifices the education of the gifted students who will become our future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific leaders.
Did it ever occur to Ms. Goodkin that perhaps some of the roughly half of minority kids who don't finish high school on time with a degree or maybe some of the minority students who finish high school trailing four-grade levels behind their white peers might also be candidates to become our future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific leaders if they were given a decent education and a fair chance?
Update: Over at The Washington Monthly Paul Glastris weighs-in on this story and touts value-added assessment as a solution. There are some good arguments for value-added but is this really one of them? The argument Goodkin basically makes is that the consequences for not improving the achievement of under-performing pupils are driving teachers and school officials to focus on these students at the expense of gifted students. Proponents of value-added say implementing it won't reduce the pressure on schools to improve the achievement of struggling students and close the gaps. So even with a value-added measurement system, if there continue to be real consequences for continuing to fail with disadvantaged and minority students aren't schools and teachers going to continue to focus on them as they do now to avoid the consequences? What's going to change? In other words, if you accept the argument that the consequences in the policy are driving teacher/administrator behavior in schools - for good or ill - which most people including Eduwonk accept, then the issue is the consequences.
As a matter of designing the policy, either you lessen the consequences (which are not as draconian as you'd believe from the public debate) or you deal with the problem of ensuring that schools are meeting the needs of a broader range of students. Doing so is less a measurement problem than a curricular, governance, and teaching one. And again, Goodkin's op-ed is not very reassuring about the gifted lobby's commitment on the equity side of the equation. Glastris says that progressives should be shouting from the rooftop about the gifted issue that Goodkin raises. Eduwonk has to disagree, it's an issue but progressives should be shouting about the equity problem and the unwillingness to really take steps to address achievement gaps, that's the national scandal here.
Politics 101: Of course, one solution here is to use value-added to sanction schools for not doing well with high-performing students. That's the way to use consequences to do what Glastris wants. But politically if the choice is lessening consequences for failing disadvantaged kids or increasing them for affluent suburban schools that are not adding a lot of value, or even just doing the latter, what do you think is going to happen?
Update II: Matt Yglesias joins-in here:
Insofar as we're serious about educational equality, that will to some extent involve shortchanging the best and the brightest. Insofar as we're serious about taking the most talented as far as they can go, that will involve shortchanging equity. The former strikes me as more desirable than the latter, especially for people who want to think of themselves as being on the left.
Update III: EdWahoo's hyper-talented Haspel (who is off to TFA next year) wins the best headline award. And Jacobs says this is nothing new.
Indeed there was more to this story. The story of the college student who caught a visit from DHS over a library book turns out to be a fraud.
With some help from the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights a local group in Alabama has forced some No Child Left Behind enforcement. Some related background from the local NPR station here.