Thursday, August 05, 2004
More trouble in DC: Not only are there too few spaces in well-performing schools (and simply too few DC schools that aren't low-performing) to provide transfer options for all students entitled to transfer to better performing schools under NCLB. Today, the Washington Post reports that the district doesn't have enough money to provide suplemental services tutoring for all eligible students who have requested it, either. This is particularly problematic because district officials had planned to use supplemental services to address the lack of transfer options at the middle and high school levels. Clearly, the candidates for DC superintendent have their work cut out for them.
Texas education officials have removed the Houston school district from probationary status it's been in for nearly a year since revelations surfaced that drop-out rates for the district's schools had been dramatically underreported.
Also in Texas, school finance issues the legislature couldn't resolve last session are headed to court.
And the New York Daily News weighs in on how judges handling the New York school finance adequacy case should resolve those issues.
Recent Claifornia legislation bars school districts from authorizing charter schools outside their boundaries. Although some districts clearly were abusing the practice and the state charter school association agrees stronger authorizing is needed, the new rules could jeopardize the existence of some good charter schools, too, particularly those located in districts hostile to charters. Sounds like California needs some strong new alternate authorizers. Hmmm, wonder where we've heard that idea before?
And a new NCES study says there are now 1.1 million homeschooled students in the United States.
The question of whether we spend enough on education in this country never seems to go away. And it’s been even more in the news since John Kerry promised $200 billion more for education over the next 10 years (including $50 billion to help pay for college.) Although that seems like a large figure, it would be but a fraction of the $8 trillion that will be spent on education during the next decade, even without any additional money. That’s right, the latest U.S. Department of Education figures, being used by the Bush campaign to show how fast spending has risen, show that during the 2003-04 year, American public schools spent $501 billion from all sources. (Higher ed costs another $300 billion a year)
Spending has doubled since 1990. Of course, the costs of special education, enrollment growth, inflation and school construction have eaten up a lot of that increase. It’s also interesting to note that the source of the money has shifted, with the federal and local share rising and the state share of spending falling from 43% of the total to 36% during that period. The clamor from educators over spending cuts, and complaints that the federal government isn’t kicking in enough to pay for No Child Left Behind, seem to stem from a recession-related drop in state spending. Last year, for example, the 50 states spent about the same on K-12 education as they did four years earlier. Local dollars, generated by property taxes, and, to a lesser extent, federal aid, more than made up for the losses, however. (See the recent report of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government for a state-by-state breakdown of local and state spending in recent years.)
The public seems to be of two minds about education spending. Although the public thinks more spending is necessary, it also believes that schools are wasteful of much of what they already have. The libertarian Cato Institute, not surprisingly, agrees. Their argument that the feds ought not to fund education at all, however, is off point and would be unpopular. A poll done for the Educational Testing Service by Peter Hart and the late Robert Teeter found that two-thirds of Americans also think more affluent areas should be tapped financially to help solve problems in schools serving the less fortunate—but first they want to know the money will be well-used. The poll also found that Americans resist hard choices when it comes to education spending. When you have districts in affluent areas surrounding New York City spending $20,000 or even more per pupil, with most of that coming from local property taxes that residents vote on, it’s clear some parents (and property owners) think that the more money spent on schools the better. But the fact that some districts want to spend that much shouldn’t set the bar for what constitutes a good education. Boxer Mike Tyson threw away a lot of money, too, without having much to show for it. That doesn't mean everyone needs tens of millions of dollars and big houses, fast cars and strands of jewels to get by.
On the other hand, it seems to me simplistic to argue, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page did recently, that just because test scores haven’t gone up as a result of spending increases that money is not important or that all of it is being wasted. The increases in spending are not equally distributed. The needs of students are changing, as are social conditions. Also, NCLB asks schools to do something they simply haven't done before--address the needs of all kids. Even Susan B. Neuman, the former Bush Administration assistant secretary of education, agrees that requires more money. She told the International Reading Association that to say all kids should achieve but not to give them the resources to do so constitutes "a fantasy." But money is just one resource and some schools use it better than others. And, as University of Southern California professor Larry Picus points out, (Where Does the Money Go? Resource Allocation in Elementary and Secondary Schools, Corwin Press, Lawrence O Picus and James L. Wattenbarger, editors) we don’t have good ways of tracking spending into classrooms to see how it affects students and their learning. Yet, that is the key question. Is the additional spending changing how teachers interact with students around an important body of knowledge? Just having the same teachers teach the same low-level curriculum, yet earn a higher salary for it, does not change that equation. Nor does offering higher entry level salaries, if the recruitment mechanism and hiring standards are exactly the same as before. That’s why it’s welcome news that Mr. Kerry is calling for “new pay systems that reward teachers who excel at improving student achievement.”
Hear it Once, Hear it Everywhere
Have you ever had that experience of learning a new word and then, like magic, seeing that word everywhere? I was struck by that thought in relation to an idea, not a word, when reading the guest op-ed column in Sunday’s New York Times by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates, of course, is the well-known author and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. (Full disclosure: he’s also a member of the Board of Advisers of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media) Gates’ column explored what he called the “silence” of black leaders about what he said are actually widely held sentiments in the black community—the importance of good parenting, hard work, academic achievement and responsible choices. His comments took off from the powerful ideas of the rising political star and Illinois senatorial candidate Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention. Gates also referenced what he called the “huge flap” over Bill Cosby’s remarks in the spring that emphasized the importance of personal responsibility and working hard in school. (See letters on Gates' column in NYTimes of Aug. 5th.)
But it would help if educators reinforced that perspective by having the same high expectations for African American kids (and poor kids and Latino kids and immigrant kids) as their elders do. A column in the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday (Aug. 3) focused on Maryland state Delegate Tony E. Fulton, who spoke of the expectations of his father, a railroad cook, that his son would get a good education. "We're committing educational fraud in this town," Fulton said, referring to news that one of Baltimore’s high schools had graduated students who hadn’t taken required courses. "If they looked at other schools, I bet they'd find the same thing happening. Every year, I try to get a bill passed in the legislature to stop the social promotion of kids, and it never gets anywhere. It's been going on for years. We promote kids who can't read and write, and won't be able to compete in the world. Why would we do such a thing?" As Sam Freedman points out in his column in today’s (Aug. 4) New York Times, many education activists have railed against the Bloomberg Administration’s crackdown on social promotion. Freedman visited a summer academy for third graders with low test scores who are in danger of being held back, to see how the catch-up effort was proceeding. Rather than express anger, the parents Freedman spoke to expressed gratitude for the extra help and emphasized the need for their children to work hard if they’re going to get ahead. I remember hearing similar sentiments from black parents in South Los Angeles and Pasadena who sent their kids to private, after-school tutoring sessions to study SAT vocabulary. While they told their kids they had to work hard in school, the kids quickly figured out that they could get by (and get good grades) without even trying, just by showing up.
It’s not only newspapers where these ideas crop up. I’ve been reading the novels of Washington, D.C.-based crime writer George Pelecanos. The books are violent and graphic, depicting a horrible, revenge-driven, social underworld. But one point Pelecanos makes in every book is that the D.C. public schools are failing their communities. I’m now reading Walter Mosley’s newest, Little Scarlet, which takes place around the time of the Watts riots in 1965. As in many of his previous books, Mosley insists on the importance of education, even as he explores the evolving racial attitudes of Los Angeles. Mosley’s central character is Easy Rawlins, a philosopher-detective-apartment building owner who also works as a building supervisor in a Los Angeles middle school. Rawlins’ adopted son, Jesus, dropped out of school, in part, he says, because his teachers didn’t think a Mexican kid was worthy of their attention and left him to do little more than warm a seat. Rawlins has a younger daughter (also adopted) who reads aloud to him from her school books in the evenings when Rawlins is not out on the street fixing peoples' problems. In this fictional world, Rawlins is doing what a lot of parents do in the real world, trying to hold his family together by working two or three jobs. And, like flesh-and-blood parents, he’s also trying to help his kids do better than he did, by making sure they get an education.
The Washington Post reports on limited opportunities for students to transfer to better performing schools under No Child Left Behind. Only three of the district's high schools -- all select admission magnet schools -- and two middle schools are eligble to accept transfers. A limited number of elementary students -- with priority to those struggling the most -- will be able to transfer. Sounds like a good case for building the supply of high performing schools
Also in the Post, Jay Mathews highlights Eileen Gail Kugler's book, Debunking the Middle-Class Myth: Why Diverse Schools Are Good For All Kids, and rebuts 7 myths about diverse schools. Although Kugler's title seems antagonistic to "middle class" schools, her key contention -- that diverse schools benefit middle class white kids as well as disadvantaged and minority students -- seems to butress the arguments Rick Kahlenberg makes in his book, All Together Now: Creating Middle Class Schools Through Public School Choice. Just because diversity might be good for kids doesn't mean it's easy: the Sacramento Bee reports on Elk Grove, CA, school district's efforts to build better relations between diverse student groups.
New state test results are released in Colorado.
And more homeschooling controversy is breaking out in Pennsylvania.
Instead of spending time at the beach, luxuriating by the pool or driving up gas prices by tooling around the nation in a giant RV, the governing boards of the St. Louis and Washington, D.C. schools are spending the summer looking for new leaders, both having lost out to Miami-Dade County in the competition to land Rudy Crew. Now that D.C. has identified four finalists, who were said by a committee member to be the cream of the superintendent crop, it made me wonder what school boards look for when wooing someone to fill the top job. Thomas E. Glass, a professor at the University of Memphis, conducted a nationwide survey of school board presidents a couple of years back that turned up an interesting, if troubling, answer to that question. School boards apparently want leaders who have good communication skills and are adept at interpersonal relations. Community relations is next on the list. Instructional leadership merits only an out-of-the medals rank of fourth, followed by management expertise. Given the size and complexity of large school districts and the fact that their purpose is to educate kids, it makes one wonder whether school boards have their priorities straight. Do they want nice guys and gals who are going to make them feel good and be able to soothe the egos of the activists who dominate school board meetings or do they want someone who's going to keep the roofs from leaking, make tough choices about money and, most important, make sure kids learn to read?
More searches will begin soon. Mike Moses has announced that he'll be departing Dallas at the end of August, toting a fat $313,000 in severance and vacation pay and nearly $200,000 in longevity pay (he stayed nearly four years) in his briefcase. Things also are looking rough for Robert Henry in Hartford, who is said to be wondering how long he can accept the school board's micromanagement there. Anthony Amato is having a rough go of it in New Orleans. The board that hired him away from Hartford in the spring of 2003 began opposing him a year later, when he began trying to attack corruption and mismanagement. And Kenneth Burnley is resisting the call of the head of the appointed board in Detroit that he step down, vowing to stick around at least until his contract ends next summer. At least Los Angeles can say that former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer isn't going anywhere. The board extended his contract to 2007 with board President Jose Huizar telling the Los Angeles Times that the action "brings stability to the district, which this district very much needs." Romer has launched a $14 billion school building program and focused relentlessly on academics. Although some complain that Romer's instructional approach is too structured and top-down, test scores have gone up significantly in the elementary and middle schools. He's brought in math and literacy coaches and held the area superintendents within the sprawling 750,000 distict accountable for academic gains.
That's a big contrast with St. Louis, which has an interim superintendent after another interim got the district's financial house in some order. In a report in June, the Council of Great City Schools (which has produced honest, probing reports on several of its member districts) concluded that the district "has no instructional focus; it lacks a plan for raising student achievement; its instructional staff is poorly organized; and its sense of direction has splintered. The district is also marked by little sense of urgency for improving achievement, no accountability for results, and very low expectations for children." If this were baseball, we'd say the new manager, whoever he or she is, will have to endure a rebuilding year. But since this situation has lasted for years and these are kids we're talking about, kids who are having the door to their future slammed in their faces, it doesn't seem right to be so glib. It's hardly any wonder that Crew turned the job down. And one wonders whether the board will be able to persuade someone with the skills--yes, instructional leadership skills--and fortitude required.