Friday, March 17, 2006
Making It Up As You Go Along
In Washington they give the students beer while they're taking the state's standardized tests! OK, that's not quite true...but I'd be allowed to say it on the exam anyway!
More evidence that Republicans on the Hill really are running scared: They could only find 27 of them to vote against a Specter - Harkin amendment today in the Senate adding $7 billion into the budget for education, training, labor, and health.
Too much sex, apparently. So the state board of education is now requiring parental opt-in for sex ed classes. Not sure it's a good idea to keep young Kansans ignorant about this stuff though, the place is starting to get a little crowded...Actually, less to the new policy than meets the eye but as good a culture war skirmish as any.
The protest against John Stossel seems to have gone nowhere. So now it's letter writin' time! He's done for now! Meanwhile, Joe Williams notes that despite the anti-Stossel assault, Disney's stock is rising. You can play along yourself here. And, this still seems to Eduwonk be the best PR Stossel has enjoyed in a while.
So, here's a suggestion for the forces arrayed against Stossel: Have a public debate. There is nothing like a little sunshine and public airing of issues to make or break a case. Get an impartial, but knowledgeable, moderator like Hechinger's Richard Colvin and have UFT chief Randi Weingarten and Stossel debate the issue at hand, whether Stossel's recent 20/20 piece on schools was biased. It would pack Washington's National Press Club.
If we can't get them together live, Eduwonk will happily give them each 1000 words of eduspace here to make their cases and another 500 words to rebut each other. So far the UFT is hitting Stossel for being biased and he's hitting them for being angry at him. Let's instead debate the content of the show and let the public decide.
At Inside Higher Ed Ed Sector's Carey writes that the attention to competitive college admissions at this time of year obscures the reality of higher education today:
Only 11 percent of college-bound seniors enroll at institutions that reject a majority of their applicants. For most students, the hard part of college isn’t getting in — it’s getting out.
The numbers are stark: Only 37 percent of college students graduate in four years, less than two-thirds finish in six...
...the media should look beyond their own lives and aspirations when they shape the public perception of higher education and the admissions process.
US News education ace Ben Wildavsky, who not only writes for the magazine but plays a key role in projects like the college rankings and their book on how to become a teacher, is leaving the magazine early next month to head to the Kauffman Foundation to be a senior fellow in research and policy. He's a catch, implications for US News and for Kauffman.
If You're Going To San Francisco...
...be sure to wear a...flack jacket. The contract situation is deteriorating and word on the edustreet is that some serious eduunrest could be in the offing...Perhaps the corybantic guestblogging Joe Williams will have more 411...
Update: He does.
NPR's "On Point" hosts a discussion/debate about school vouchers. MJS's Alan Borsuk, voucher researcher John Witte, voucher proponent Howard Fuller and opponent Stan Johnson. It's a well done and informative discussion without the hysterics, worth checking out.
There is a lot of debate going on in New York City about what "parents" want. Joe Williams rounds it up at Chalkboard for you.
Two thoughts (plus a bonus thought). First, it's important to disentangle professional parents groups, which, not to put too fine of a point on it, are often shills for the teachers' unions from average parents.* See, for instance, here and here. Second, the "parent groups" in New York City have now decided they oppose public charter schools there. This is probably tied into larger disagreements that these groups have with Bloomberg-Klein. But, considering the popularity of existing charter schools in New York City and the waiting lists, it is sort of ludicrous to say that "parents" oppose them. (Disc. I'm on the board of NYSCA).
*What's also unfortunate here for Eduwonk's money is that UFT head Randi Weingarten's charter initiative is pretty forward looking though very controversial within the AFT. This will just complicate that.
Over at This Week
Russo's right that the politics of this issue are too frequently ignored. There are lots of people in the think tank world all hot and bothered about this. Yet despite thoughtful arguments for and against the idea none of them can explain --beyond generalities-- how this issue actually goes anywhere on the Hill considering the political realities up there, and regardless of what happens in November. It's one of those classic "where the rubber meets the sky" think tanky moments.
But it's not fair to castigate Gordon for having a tin ear just because this week's news about testing screw-ups coincides with his piece. One doesn't get an Ed Week commentary published in real time. Nor should he be castigated for raising the issue. It's an important one, worthy of debate on the merits, and at some point perhaps the politics will change particularly as NCLB becomes more ingrained and the debate turns more toward what NCLB 2.0 and 3.0 ought to look like.
Also, all that said, Gordon's piece is really well done and worth your time to read.
Update: Russo backpedals.
Ms. Frizzle Sizzles
Very interesting post by Ms. Frizzle responding to some FAQ's. Worth reading it all.
It’s a grim reality, but educators must face this fact, says Southington school Superintendent Harvey Polansky: It’s harder to get into the University of Connecticut’s undergraduate teacher preparation program than it is law school.
So says this article (thx to reader DP).
Perhaps, but that would make U-Conn's program pretty exceptional. US News ranks its law school 49th in the nation and it has an acceptance rate of 20 percent. Meanwhile, while data isn't available on the undergraduate education program, the graduate program at U-Conn has a master's level acceptance rate of 86 percent and a Ph.D. acceptance rate of 31 percent.
Part one here.
Most everyone in the political and policy world was fixated on all the "what does it mean" questions about Sunday's NYT Mag story on Mark Warner. But there was also some chattering about the Outlook spread on No Child Left Behind in the Wash. Post. It was well done including reactions from DC-area principals, an NCLB primer by Jay Mathews, and a map of DC-area schools (pdf) not making "adequate yearly progress" or AYP.
But despite the primer, readers might have been left wondering about these adequate yearly progress targets. That's understandable, it's confusing, and they're not the result of a single calculation. Instead, it's a multi-step process with opportunities to increase or decrease the level of difficulty at each one. It goes something like this:
First, the state chooses a test to use. This can be a pre-existing test used elsewhere, a custom-designed one based on the state's standards, or a combination of the two. Obviously, the degree of difficulty is a big issue here.
Second, the state decides what the cut score on the test will be for a student to be "proficient" as well as "basic", "advanced", and any other delineations of performance the state wants to have. In other words, how many questions does a student need to answer correctly? For No Child Left Behind the most important category is proficient because that is what the law's "adequate yearly progress" ratings are based on. There are several methods for determining cut scores. What's most important to remember about them is that they all rely on professional judgment. There is no revealed source of truth about what a fifth-grader or a high school student needs to know and be able to do. At the risk of oversimplifying too much, the three most common methods are based on using expert judgment from a panel of experts to come up with cut scores, comparing and contrasting how various groups of test takers do on the test, and scaling the questions from easy to hard and determining various delineations for performance along the scale. Again, plenty of chances to increase or reduce the level of difficulty in this process.
But, while newspapers commonly report the percentage of students passing a test, they rarely report on what the cut scores are and when and how they are set. The composition of the professionals involved also matters a lot. Is it just K-12 teachers, or outside experts for instance representatives of higher education, too? Lack of attention to this process is unfortunate because there is plenty of opportunity for mischief and a state with a difficult test and a high cut score, say 40 out of 50, is going to have different results than a state with an easier test or a low cut scores. But, cut scores of half to 2/3 of the questions correct in order to be "proficient" are not at all uncommon. All this is public information or can be obtained through a FOIA. And it's all extremely relevant to all this.
Finally, the state uses the test and the cut scores for its own accountability system and now for No Child Left Behind. What NCLB basically requires is for state to set escalating targets for how many students at a school must be proficient on the state test in order for that school to make adequate yearly progress under the federal law. This is where there is a lot of confusion. Over time the No Child Left Behind doesn't make the tests harder, in other words it doesn't require states to change the cut scores, rather it raises the percentage of students at a school who must pass the test. It's worth noting that this percentage of students who must pass for a school to make AYP is still often relatively low, you can see state plans and targets here. And, in addition to looking at how many students overall pass the test, No Child also holds schools accountable for how well minority and low-income students do as well. It's this latter requirement that is causing a lot of the angst about NCLB as schools that were previously considered to be excellent schools don't make AYP because poor youngsters or low-income youngsters are lagging far behind. Good AYP primer here (pdf).
So, while the Post package on Sunday was excellent and nice attention to the issue, a chart clearly showing readers cut scores on these tests, the percentage of students at a school who need to pass the test in order for the school to make adequate yearly progress, and perhaps some professional evaluation of the state standards (divergent groups like the Fordham Foundation and the AFT periodically produce these and groups like Achieve also study standards and tests) as well as any other relevant context might have helped give readers a fuller picture of what's happening and why.
That's because the mix among these variables matters a lot. Difficulty of the test, what the cut scores are, and what the state's adequate yearly progress targets are all bear on the final percentage of schools making or not making AYP.
Gotta be fast on the draw around here. Reader Emily Cherniack of the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Education Programs was the first to email the correct answer to this morning's contest: Ravitch was Kosar's dissertation advisor. She wins a book (second prize, two books!).
Ed Trust turns in an interesting new report (pdf) about student achievement patterns. Overall punchline: Encouraging signs in elementary schools, still slow times at the nation's high schools in terms of the gaps. The report is basically a repackaging of 2003-2005 achievement data but it's useful one-stop shopping for this information and a handy dashboard.
RAND takes a look at California's public charter schools. Most critics and the Kool-Aid drinking proponents will be unhappy with the sober and evenhanded report (pdf):
Our results from California show that charter schools generally perform on par with traditional public schools, but they have not closed the achievement gaps for minorities and have not had the expected competitive effects on traditional public schools. On a more positive note, they have achieved comparable test score results with fewer public resources than have traditional schools and have emphasized non-core subjects. The evidence shows that charter schools have not created “white enclaves” or “skimmed” high-quality students from traditional public schools—in fact, charter schools have proven to be more popular among black and lower-achieving students and may have actually created “black enclaves.”
Ed Sector's Carey takes a look at what's happened with No Child Left Behind's mostly overlooked emphasis on better targeting federal education dollars to low-income kids in a new Chart You Can Trust. Eduwonk flashback here and here.
Kevin Kosar, author of this book about national standards, turns in an op-ed on their resurgence as an issue. In The Chronicle of Higher Education Diane Ravitch discusses the evolution of national standards setting.
There is a connection here, non-issue specific, first reader to email it in wins a free copy of Collective Bargaining In Education: Negotiating Change In Today's Schools.
While remarking on how nice it is to see edublogs engage with one another This Week's Russo takes a minute to whine that "real blogs have comments." Boo hoo. We've discussed this before but it's worth airing.
First, contra Russo's assertion, isn't the fact that three edublogs can have an ongoing debate evidence that you don't need a comments feature to foster discussion rather than evidence you do?
Second, with a few exceptions, I don't really see much value in comments. Sorry, I know it's not bloggy PC to say that, but they tend to be (a) pretty scarce* in the eduworld and overall (b) a lot of "me tooing" (c) often factually challenged on all sides the issues and (d) name calling and howling at the moon.** And, for all that, they're a lot of work to maintain, particularly on higher traffic blogs and if you carry an organizational brand (the quid pro quo for organizational tech support) so you have to monitor them.***
Finally, this whole standard that Russo and a few others**** seek to establish is unserious and undemocratic. It's unserious because having comments makes something a "blog" in the first place? Tell that to Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, etc...It's undemocratic because what makes blogs interesting as a medium is their diversity. My blog is no more or less bloggy than some random person blogging about their personal life or an organizational mouthpiece blog and we all ought to resist this "bloggier than thou" temptation to start drawing lines. It's human nature, but still our better bloggy angels should prevail. Frankly, this whole thing strikes me as typical and marginal whining about process over substance anyway.
*Let's be serious, not infrequently Russo pastes emails and posts from other blogs into his comments so I don't see some flourishing orgy of public expression being extinguished here.
**By the way, I reserve the right to change my mind about all this as time goes on but I don't see the great value lost right now.
***I don't have the time to censor the likes of Mr. Sun.
****I seem to have an adorable little edustalker named One-L following me around the edusphere whining and harrumphing about this very issue. See, for instance, here and here. It's kinda cute and flattering and all that but at the same time a little creepy, too. Just in case, do they have edurestraining orders? It does make me wonder how on earth NCLB will ever get "fixed" if this is how One-L spends her, apparently scarce, time...And, by her temporal logic, the AFL-CIO's fun blog, isn't a blog after all either...hmmm...Coming Next: "One L" says Eduwonk isn't a real blogger 'cause Eduwonk isn't his real name. Dang! That one won't work either...