Friday, June 04, 2004
Charter Schooling in Arizona
A new 21st Century Schools Project study looks at charter schooling in Arizona. It's the latest in an ongoing series of state and local evaluations of charter schooling including California and Minnesota.
The punchline? Charter schooling in AZ is not nearly as problem free as proponents claim nor as fundamentally flawed or low-quality as opponents argue. The report, written by Bryan Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell, includes recommendations for improving accountability in Arizona as well as expanding charter schooling there.
It's OK to criticize No Child Left Behind, it does have some problems (something hardly anyone denies), but critics should at least have their facts straight. In an article in The Nation Deborah Meier argues that NCLB sets impossible goals because it requires all students to score in the top 25th percentile. It doesn't. She also writes that NCLB "literally dictates the books we are allowed to use on a national basis." Again, no. Just like the claim on the Washington Post op-ed page last summer that NCLB requires all students to achieve at the 40th percentile or the oft-repeated claim that NCLB requires all students to be above average on norm referenced tests (a statistical impossibility) these incorrect assertions serve only to confuse the debate about the law. Although NCLB is complicated, it would be nice to see publications establish a higher threshold for accuracy about discussing it than now exists (and lower than would likely be tolerated on most policy issues, something everyone who cares about education should be bothered by).
Meier also bemoans the unfairness of property taxes to fund education -- and she's exactly right. But, it’s going to take quantitative data not open-ended pleas for more funding to remedy this problem. And guess what? NCLB provides that data, which is another reason liberals should like it...and why some like these and these do.
Huh? Afterthought: Meier also writes that, graduation rates "have been disguised for years by the very folks who support NCLB". Umm...states and school districts have obscured graduation rates and many of them seem less than enthusiastic about NCLB...while NCLB supporters seem pretty serious about getting accurate data.
AM News (Brief PM Edition...)
It was getting a little rough at the National Spelling Bee but a winner has emerged.
A new NEA front group is now defending Florida's accountability system in order to castigate NCLB...here is quick example of why FL's system isn't that good (even if this support were genuine...)
Ryan Sager of the New York Post writes that the demand from minorities for better schools is causing political headaches for the NEA. At least read the lede, one of the funnier ones in a while...
A new study on the predictive effects of the SAT is causing some buzz. (More non-economist friendly policy brief available here)
And, President Bush has nominated John Hager, the former Lt. Governor of Virginia, to be the next assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services. Good enough, but he's got ties to former Virginia Governor Gilmore which means keep him away from the treasury...
Bella Rosenberg of The American Federation of Teachers has written a brief and mostly useful analysis (pdf) of what "proficient" means under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Rosenberg notes that at the end of the day what constitutes "proficient" is a judgment call and she highlights the differences among various state definitions, which translate into differences in what constitutes "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for schools under state accountability systems. Remember though, NCLB only applies to schools, it does not require tests to be used in any decision about individual students.
Yet if one does not like between state variations there are two remedies. One is simply not to have federally mandated output-based accountability and the other is to have some sort of national measure. Rosenberg, though clearly dissatisfied by NCLB's accountability provisions seems not to be calling for either option leaving state-by-state variation as an unfortunate fact of life in a federal system. Still, she does a good job explaining it and this report will be a great resource for reporters and state-policymakers as they seek to understand and explain this issue. Her call for more transparency is also well-worth heeding.
Less helpfully, she argues that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a low-stakes test given to samples of students in different states and designed to serve as an external "audit" for state standards, shows the folly of NCLB's accountability system and goals because NAEP's standards for proficiency are so rigorous. But under NCLB this is not an issue because there are no consequences associated with the NAEP proficiency levels (which are very controversial to begin with). Rosenberg writes that because NAEP's levels represent a "check" they are the levels 4th, 8th, and 12-graders are expected to achieve by 2014. This is not in the law, which defers to state definitions of proficiency based on tests chosen by each state. And, most policymakers will be more interested in trends in state achievement on the NAEP than in proficiency levels. A larger, and complicated, debate about NAEP and NCLB may occur down the road -- in no small part because NCLB opponents persist in using state variability to attack the law -- but that debate is not here now so this discussion only confuses the issue.
Another gem from Jay Mathews of The Washington Post. In this week's edition of his column (which, inexcusably, is published only online) two public school superintendents (Mike Riley from WA and Bill Cala from NY) face off in a debate over testing.
You should read the whole thing yourself -- it's that good. It inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) showcases the stridency of the anti-testing camp although, in fairness, Riley is a moderate and doesn't illustrate the excesses of the pro-testing argument.
A couple of quick notes. As in most educational debates this one features an appeal to Dewey. And, as in most education debates, it's based on a misreading of Dewey. Cala argues that:
"Politicians and big business have driven the agenda for public schools, not because educators haven't wanted to do so themselves, but because educators have become subservient to the authority and the omnipresence of the political system. Educators since Dewey have proposed a better, constructivist agenda -- to deaf ears."
Ignore whether this is an accurate characterization what's driving the demand for school improvement right now. Today, although Dewey would not be firmly in the standards camp, he surely would not be standing with those opposed to it either. Why? Well, in a 1989 essay Richard Rorty (who knows a thing or two about Dewey) put it as well as Eduwonk has ever seen when he wrote:
There is a standard caricature of Dewey's views that says Dewey thought that kids should learn to multiply or obey the cop on the corner only if they have democratically chosen that lesson for the day, or only if this particular learning experience happens to meet their currently felt needs. This sort of nondirective nonsense was not what Dewey had in mind. It is true, as [E.D.] Hirsch says, that Dewey 'too hastily rejected "the piling up of information".' But I doubt that it ever occurred to Dewey that a day would come when students could graduate from an American high school not knowing who came first, Plato or Shakespeare, Napoleon or Lincoln, Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King, Jr. Dewey too hastily assumed that nothing would ever stop the schools from piling on the information and that the only problem was to get them to do other things well.
Speaking of Dewey, the other thing that jumps out here is the pragmatism of Riley juxtaposed against the stridency of Cala. That's an apt illustration of a larger problem for progressives right now.
Here's Riley on testing today:
Rejecting them [tests] all together is a position hard to defend because these tests do indeed provide valuable information. Further, it is a position that will be easily savaged intellectually by standardized-test zealots, and, much worse, will disappoint even reasonable people, people we need to convince with the sophistication of our arguments.
That's about right.
Update: Matthew Yglesias says beware of Rorty because he appropriates historical figures for contemporary arguments...not a baseless caution although Rorty is on pretty firm ground here. Yglesias also offers an interesting personal account of progressive education.
In The New York Times Samuel Freedman takes a look at vocational education in NYC. He minimizes the underperformance of vocational education programs but is right that they're needed. For more, from SREB, on how to merge academics and vocational education have a look here. By the way...Eduwonk likes this Freedman fellow...draft Freedman! Also in the NYT House Banking Committee Chairman Nussle responds (not very convincingly) to the recent NYT editorial on student loans.
D.C. Mayor Tony Williams is getting desperate. The Washington Post's Richard Leiby reports that Williams tried to entice Education Secretary Rod Paige to take the D.C. superintendent's job. And, Post readers respond to Ted Shaw's op-ed about Bill Cosby's remarks.
This Philadelphia Inquirer article discusses Teach For America teachers in Philly. Look for a new Mathematica study on TFA teachers next week and plan to hear it presented and discussed on Friday, June 11, in Washington at the Capitol Hill Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue from 9-11AM. To RSVP email education AT dlcppi.org.
The Christian Science Monitor looks at parental involvement and No Child Left Behind.
The Department of Education has released the Condition of Education 2004, a compendium of data about various educational indicators. You can have a look here. And, if you just can't get enough of Secretary of Education Rod Paige and the whole wacky Bush gang at the Department of Education, you can sign up for a constant news feed about press releases, grant opportunities, and other announcements. It's actually a handy resource but could cut into the business of newsletters devoted to grant announcements...(the 21st Century Schools Project Bulletin does not do grant announcements but still enjoys a healthy circulation...of course, we compensate with sarcasm...)
Last week Eduwonk highlighted a dispute about proposed improvements to the charter school law in South Carolina. Oddly, this is not a dispute among charter proponents and opponents, that's old news...instead this dispute is among charter supporters. The issue is whether the proposed law -- expanding charter schooling in SC but holding school districts harmless for local revenue loss if students choose public charter schools instead of the traditional schools -- is worth passing . Eduwonk, the Charter School Leadership Council, and other charter school supporters say yes. The Center for Education Reform (CER) says no, they explain their position here.
CER strongly implies that charter school leader and Education/Evolving co-founder Ted Kolderie would oppose the SC plan because it runs contrary to the "intent" of charter schooling. Kolderie is an important and insightful thinker and his would be a serious objection worth heeding...except Eduwonk checked in with Kolderie and he thinks the SC plan, while not ideal, is pretty good and ought to be passed.
A SC insider and senior state official wrote Eduwonk over the weekend to say:
It has been rather traumatic to deal with criticisms of our bill from both sides. I am assuring public school supporters on one side that this bill won't be the destruction of public education -- wait a minute, we have a 51% graduation rate in our state, what is there to destroy? -- while on the other side I am assuring charter school proponents that this won't destroy the charter school movement in our nation.
And wrote back today:
The SC State Dept of Ed is circulating the CER advisory to charter schools in our state. When the defenders of the status quo use your statement to defeat legislation, you know you have left the reservation.
Bear in mind, this is not a double-funding scheme where the state pays twice but rather just a plan where local school districts don't lose local property tax dollars (about 30 percent of the per pupil expenditure in SC) if students choose charter schools. As Eduwonk said the other day, all else equal, integrated financing schemes are preferable but all else is rarely equal and the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.
For friends of charter schools there is just not a good reason to oppose this bill.
David Steiner, the wrongly maligned education professor Eduwonk (and some other bloggers) wrote and wrote and wrote about a few weeks back, discusses his work and responds to his critics in a New York Sun op-ed. Joanne Jacobs has a few thoughts on the whole issue too.
Sadly, if recent history is any guide, Steiner's probably more likely to face a phantom menace or an attack of the clones than much reasoned debate...
Is Eduwonk in the tank for the E-Rate? Several readers have written wondering why Friday's news round-up ignored unfavorable coverage of the E-Rate program like the stories here and here. Worry not, Eduwonk (a) was just busy and didn't have time and (b) does not, at least for the most part, condone graft. The problems with the E-Rate are indeed eyebrow raising but should be kept in perspective. Thus far what has come to light seems more an issue of unscrupulous vendors and carelessness or incompetence by a few school districts. As Congress looks at universal service issues the E-Rate may well need to be modified (and better focused) but should not be scapegoated.
Meanwhile, Educationweak, written by Reason's Lisa Snell, takes Eduwonk to task for calling attention to accountability shenanigans in Florida’s voucher program. Among other problems with FL's program, some participating private schools are not accredited. She argues that most Florida public schools are not accredited while most private ones are and most (84 percent she says) voucher students are in accredited schools. Talk about moving the goal posts! The law, at least according to a primary Republican sponsor, requires accreditation for participating private schools (though the state disputes that view of legislative intent). Some participating private schools are not accredited. That, not the status of other public or private schools, the merits of accreditation, or any of the rest, is the issue. You can't just follow the parts of laws you happen to like. By the way, voucher supporters would probably get a lot further if they'd make peace with the idea of at least some regulatory oversight, we are talking about public dollars after all...but at least Reason is pretty consistent on this point. Unlike some voucher proponents they don't make claims on "accountability" in the first place but are refreshingly forthright libertarians.
Sunshine State Afterthought: By the way, Eduwonk is not carrying NEA water here, even the FL voucher program's supporters are demanding some improvements.
Culture Wars Anyone? The NYT looks at sex-education and The Washington Post looks at character education. Also, NYT readers respond to Michael Winerip's flush 'em out approach to class size.
The NY Post weighs in on school finance in NY and the release of a school finance plan later this week. Big Unspoken Variable: New test scores from NYC, first that can be attributed to the Bloomberg-Klein regime also coming later this week...
A new bill may reignite the affirmative action debate in California. Link via Kaus who has more analysis.
George Archibald writes up the recent non-partisan General Accounting Office study concluding that No Child Left Behind is not an unfunded mandate in The Washington Times. That's true, it's conditional aid. Critics say that the GAO study is based on, "a strict and complicated legal definition" of what constitutes an unfunded mandate. Hmmm..."isn't strict and complicated legal definition" synonymous with "law", those pesky things we follow here? For more, see Eduwonk on NCLB funding here. Incidentally, in a letter last year to senators who tried to suspend NCLB’s accountability provisions, civil rights leaders argued that: "Federal education reform is a strategy for equal opportunity, not an 'unfunded federal mandate'."
Important Play, Important Cause: City at Peace will be performing its 2004 production "MegaHurtz" at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., on June 19 at 2pm and 8pm. The play, performed by young people from the D.C. Metro area, discusses forthrightly the challenges and issues kids face today. Tickets and info here.
Virtual Fontainebleau: Can't make the junket to Miami Beach Fontainebleau for the National Charter Schools Conference? Don't despair...next week from June 7-10 U.S. Charter Schools is hosting interactive online forums to discuss various aspects of charter schooling. It's not Miami but hey, no tipping or sunburn. You can log on and participate too, more info here.
Great Book for Picky Parents: Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel have produced a great book about choosing a school for your child. It's not a book about traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools, or any other singular option but instead a book about finding the right school that is the right fit for your child. They also have a terrific website with even more information.
Monday's AM News
This Memorial Day there is too much rain and too many interesting news stories not to post a few...
In The Washington Post Linda Perlstein writes that No Child Left Behind is squeezing out science and social studies in favor of reading. Paul Kimmelman and E.D. Hirsch explain -- in different essays -- why that's not necessary or even productive.
Don't miss Patricia Leigh Brown's NYT look at school in Las Vegas and the challenges they're facing. Stories here and here. Also don't miss Jane Gross' look at single-sex education also in the NYT.
Over at educationnews.org Jimmy Kilpatrick is outraged by this story about embezzlement in a New York school district. He's got some other interesting links today too.
And, in Los Angeles, the teachers' union is giving Roy Romer fits (and vice versa). That Romer! He's probably just hostile to organized labor like all the other teachers' union critics are right? Oh wait, he’s a former Democratic National Committee chair...hmmm...
Finally, in The Nation Todd Oppenheimer criticizes (a) the E-Rate (more on that later this week) and (b) technology in schools. Note to education technology proponents, when you've lost The Nation on a big ticket spending item like the E-Rate, that's trouble!