Board's Eye View

Excuse the pun, but here we go again.? News out of New York is that Gotham's public schools will ?mandate sex education? (how not to have sex, why not to have it, or to have it safely, whatever).? The city's schools don't have a history curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum, but? by golly, they shall have Sex Education 101, 2, 3, etc. (I exaggerate, but not by much).

In fact, the most telling line in Fernando Santos' and Anna Phillips' front page New York Times story this morning is buried inside the paper, a third of the way through:

It is also unusual because the city does not often tell schools what to teach.

What is it about sex?? For some reason schools chancellor Dennis Walcott feels ?a responsibility? to impose sex education, as he tells the Times. So, why doesn't he feel the same responsibility about literature, mathematics, geography, art, music, science?

From the Times we learn that ?high schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years.?? But wait, the next sentence reads, ?In the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them.?

You can't make this stuff up.

Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is an important subject that is rarely treated properly; i.e. as a symptom, not a disease.? Symptom of what?? Most of the subtext of the Times story assumes that teen pregnancy is caused by a deficit of knowledge about sex -- you...

About three-quarters of the way through Alan Schwarz's story in today's New York Times, "Atlanta School Year Begins Amid a Testing Scandal,? a parent of a first grader is quoted as saying, ?But I love the principal.? Was she named?? No. Was her previous school named?? No. Are the cheaters still there?? No?.?

Finally, I thought. Schwarz had written (paragraph three) that ?nearly 200 teachers and principals admitted to tampering with standardized tests to raise students' scores? and I had immediately wondered, What happened to them?? Fired?? Does Atlanta have a rubber room large enough to hold all the suspects? Did they find replacements?? Major administrative headache, I would think. So, I was relieved to see a parent ask similar questions and expected that would lead to the answers to my questions. Unfortunately, not.

Since inquiring minds might want to know, I checked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, according to a July 28 report, found out that all the implicated educators, including 38 principals, are being put on administrative leave -- though it is? unclear when exactly that would go into effect.? In the same story the district says that 41 of the 179 implicated have already quit or retired. Sounds like an administrative nightmare to me. Says the AJC:

Superintendent Erroll Davis, who has been adamant that none of the employees will work in front of the district's children again, plans to start termination proceedings as quickly as he can.

So, where are they today,...

The more I read RiShawn Biddle ? he of Dropout Nation -- the more I like him (even though I don't know anything about him). ?He wrote a wonderful short essay last week on Bruce Baker of Rutgers, whom he called the ?poor man's Diane Ravitch? (and who, he says, "has devoted so much of his career attempting to prove that spending more money on education? leads to better results.?) ?But today he's taking on a favorite subject of mine, the ?the myth of differences between urban and rural schools.?

Having grown up in rural America (Oregon), lived and worked in urban America (Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.) for several decades, and having now settled down in upstate ?high needs rural? New York (this, according to the official New York State Education Department's designation), I have a strong opinion on the subject of rural and urban educational needs.? And that opinion is, Right on RiShawn!

[T]he idea that the nation's education crisis is only limited to the nation's big cities is false, as are arguments that schools serving suburban students are somehow immune from the same problems of abysmal curricula, laggard instruction and cultures of mediocrity in which only some kids are considered capable of learning. The fact that one out of every four fourth-graders in a suburban school ? and that young male fourth-graders (including half of all those on free- or-reduced lunch plans and one-fifth of those who are not) ? are performing

...

If there is a silver lining to the cheating scandals, it is the increased scrutiny being paid to the testing industry, including the education systems that administer the tests.

In New York, for instance, as Philissa Cramer of Gotham Schools reports, ?mounting anxiety? over recent events has prompted new State Education Commissioner John King to convene a task force to review the state's testing procedures.? (See also Sharon Otterman in the Times.)

Cramer describes it as ?a fast-moving process to tighten test security before it risks following Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey into cheating scandals.?? It better be fast. The Empire State has been just a hare's breath in front a testing scandal for years, up to now, able to bury the problem in the weeds of bureaucratic inefficiencies.? (See my post of yesterday.)

In 2007 the New York Post reported that,

In 2000, for example, numerous teachers told The Post that educators had dumbed down that year's Regents history and geography exams to a laughable extent. Other reports have exposed grading scams - dubious practices, like "scrubbing," in which teachers find ways to get extra points to kids just below a pass/fail threshold. Other times, so many kids failed that results were simply scrapped, as with the math Regents a few years ago.

In January of this year, a Post headline put it bluntly:? ?Teachers Cheat: Inflating Regents Scores to Pass Kids.?

The Wall Street Journal did its...

Michael Winerip is on a roll. After a good piece of reporting on the Atlanta cheating scandal a couple of weeks ago, he has turned in a solid story about the testing mess rolling into Pennsylvania. ?As Winerip notes, the Pennsylvania scandal came to light on July 8, when The Notebook, a small Philadelphia-based education newspaper, reported that some 60 schools in the state, including 22 in the City of Brotherly Love had unusually high test erasure marks, a sign of test tampering.? Winerip says it is 89 schools, with 28 in Philly, but the eye-popping story here is that the Pennsylvania Department of Education had actually commissioned the study which was the basis of the July 8 story. It received the report in July of 2009, ?and, it would appear, ?sat on it until The Notebook was tipped off about it.? That's the scandal here.

And Winerip suggests that PDE's initial response to the latest news ?is not encouraging:

State officials have directed school districts and charter schools with suspicious results to investigate themselves.

This, of course, is another startling reminder of the inability of the system to police itself.? As Winerip points out, it took years of dogged reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the state took the charges seriously.

But these cheating scandals appear to be the tip of a rather large iceberg, one which suggests (if I may change metaphors) that the line between bureaucratic indolence and criminality is indeed...

Jeff Smink's New York Times essay, ?This is Your Brain on Summer,? about summer learning loss, makes me think of my childhood summers in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, where I am now vacationing. ?Our summers then (a few decades ago) began in late May, when we were let out of school to help bring in the local strawberry crop.? I can't recall if there was an age limit, but seven-years-old was not too early to begin your summer job, especially if you had older brothers and sisters to lift you aboard the flatbed trucks (or the idled yellow school buses chartered by some of the farmers). ?It helped that some of the same people who worked in the schools were there to chaperone our endeavors -- these were field trips with a purpose. Our mother was up at 4:30, making sack lunches, would wake us at 5, feed us our Cheerios or pancakes, and hot chocolate, and hustle us out the door by 5:30 to meet the truck (or bus), a half mile away. ?We worked the fields, generally, four to six hours a day, four or five days a week for four to six weeks.? We had fun ? and made some money. After the strawberries were harvested, the taller kids among us ? those who could reach five foot high ? would help bring in the string bean crop.? That took you through August. ?Back to school in September.

Smink, the vice president for policy for...

So, the suit by New York City's United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP to block 22 school closures and 15 charter school "co-locations" in Gotham came to naught. And? Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to Gotham Schools, celebrated by mouthing off on a local radio show:

Close isn't what we do. It's retaking these schools, and over a number of years changing the management, the teachers, the programs, in schools that aren't working. One of these schools, I think they had a three percent proficiency rating in English and nine percent in math. And the suit wanted to keep that school open. This is just so ridiculous.

When radio host John Gambling described the judge's decision as one ?against the UFT and the NAACP,? Bloomberg interrupted. ?No, no, I would rephrase that. A judge ruling for the kids.?

Indeed, though Bloomberg has stumbled of late (with his appointment of Cathie Black as chancellor) and is suffering from some social contract fatigue with New York's notoriously picky citizens, it is nice to see that he has not given up on his title of the Education Mayor.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

If the country's schools of education have been one of the more prominent bulls-eyes for school reformers, this new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, ?Student Teaching in the United States,? is bound to unnerve a few ed schools; 99 of them to be exact.? The NCTQ evaluated programs at 134 of the nation's 1,400 education schools and concluded that 74 percent of them did not meet basic standards of a high quality program.? As NCTQ president Kate Walsh tells Tamar Lewin of the New York Times:

Many people would say student teaching is the most important piece of teacher preparation?.? But the field is really barren in the area of standards. The basic accrediting body doesn't even have a standard for how long a student teacher needs to be in the classroom. And most of the institutions we reviewed do not do enough to screen the quality of the cooperating teacher the student will work with.

Stephen Sawchuk at Education Week also notes that the NCTQ ?contends that colleges are preparing too many elementary-level teachers?perhaps more than double the number needed nationally?thereby taxing both the higher education institution and its partner school districts' ability to provide high-quality field experiences.?

Some of the report highlights:

  • 43% of the rated schools had no criterion for the selection of mentor teachers other than some teaching experience;
  • 52% of them played no role in the selection of mentor teachers, relying on any placement offered by the
  • ...

It is encouraging news, from Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, that New York City's three-year-old pilot project testing the content rich Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum in ten low-income schools has proved so far, as the Daily News headline has it, ?a brilliant experiment in reading.?

According to Stern,

On a battery of reading tests, the kindergartners in the Core Knowledge program had achieved gains five times greater than those of students in the control group. The second-year study showed that the Core Knowledge kids made reading gains twice as great as those of students in the control group.

This is no surprise to fans of E.D. Hirsch, whose research over the last 25 years (from Cultural Literacy (1987) to The Making of Americans (2010)), has shown that teaching children a wide-ranging but comprehensive content heavy curriculum actually improves reading more than teaching reading skills does.? As Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge Foundation explains it,

Two large (and largely overlooked) problems remain at the root of the reading crisis:? a lack of a coherent elementary school curriculum, and a stubborn insistence on teaching and testing reading comprehension as a how-to ?skill.?? Comprehension is highly correlated with general knowledge?the more you know, the greater your ability to read, write, speak and listen with fluency and comprehension.? Thus an essential component of reading comprehension instruction must be a focused commitment to build broad background knowledge in a coherent manner from the earliest days of schools?precisely what

...

If there's a better bigger-you-are-harder-you-fall story of late (not counting Atlanta, of course), I don't know if it will top the account in the New York Times, at least for intrigue, of one-time Gates Foundation education director Tom Vander Ark folding up his charter school tent; suddenly, and rather dramatically, as the Times' Anna Phillips reports it.? Vander Ark had been granted charters to open two schools in Newark and one in Brooklyn, but, says Phillips,

...after spending more than $1.5 million of investors' money on consultants and lawyers,? [he] has walked away from the project, and the schools will not open as planned this fall, leaving others involved stunned and frustrated.

It is hard to tell what this means for Vander Ark, who was plucked from the obscurity of running a small school district in Washington state in 1999 to be the Gates Foundation's billion-dollar point man on education. ?According to a 2006 Education Next profile by Paul Hill, it was Vander Ark who devised the small high schools strategy that Gates pursued, handing out tens of millions of dollars to school districts all over the country ? including Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, New York ? to break up large high schools.? Vander Ark would eventually move the foundation to fund entrepreneurial endeavors, including charter and choice initiatives.

Vander Ark left Gates at the end of 2006,? a nationally-known figure in education, and started City Prep Academies in 2008. It was a for-profit CMO that,...

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