Flypaper

Liam Julian

Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews and Checker Finn debate: "Is AP Good for Everyone?"

As the D.C. voucher program comes under attack, where is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose initial support for the program was instrumental in its birth? Apparently too busy working on a much more pressing public-private partnership issue: the management of the Senate cafeterias.

Sadly, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program seems to be on its last legs. Non-voting D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has lobbied hard to kill the program, said, "We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here."

Victims? Of a cruel plot to give students trapped in failing schools a real shot at a decent education? How can anyone swallow this?

Several New York City high school principals are receiving performance bonuses under the terms of an old program even though their schools fared poorly under the district's new grading system. The old program uses the same tests as the new one but apparently sets lower achievement benchmarks.

The UFT is upset about this:

"It's a cockeyed situation," said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. "One set of metrics can generate a bonus and yet a separate set of metrics for the same exact school can generate an F. It just shows that using one set of data as the be-all and end-all just doesn't make [sense]."

It's cockeyed, for sure, but the real problem isn't that they're using one set of data. The problem is that the district keeps casting its accountability systems in concrete rather than soft, malleable Play-Doh. High-performing organizations are flexible enough to adapt to changing external circumstances and agile enough to carry out internal adjustments on the fly.

Public school districts will never do either of these things truly well since they're largely chained to the inertia of the political process, but some government agencies have proved that they can slim down and smarten up when finally impelled to do so by the competition. Maybe someday this will happen in the schools sector....

Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews was busy this weekend. In addition to engaging in a friendly scuffle with Checker over AP and IB, he whipped up a piece detailing the latest from New Orleans's charter school sector.

Update: And this one on whether we're shuttering enough low-performing charter schools.

As you can see, we're not exactly doing cartwheels over here upon hearing what Eleanor Holmes Norton had to say about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. She's apparently concerned about "protecting the children." There was not one mention in the Washington Post article, however, about basing future funding decisions on the evidence regarding impacts of the program. Choice supporters (like ourselves) would surely like it if the rigorous external evaluation of the program pointed to significant and large positive impacts for children participating in the program, but alas, it's simply not that cut and dry.

The first year impact evaluation (released last June), in fact, measures differences occurring just 7 months after the start of the students' first year in the program. Not surprisingly, researchers found no statistically significant impacts, positive or negative, on student reading or math achievement for year one. They did, however, find that the program had substantial positive impact on parents' views of school safety (i.e., parents in the treatment group perceived their child's school to be less dangerous than parents in the control group) and on parents' overall satisfaction with their child's school. These findings echo what we have learned in other studies; that is, that parents want choices for their children and that they care about a wider variety of outcomes (e.g., school safety) than the outcomes preferred by other education stakeholders (e.g, student achievement). The executive summary of the evaluation closes with this:

The findings here are

...

With all the talk about Reading First and scientifically-based reading research of late, this unusual reading strategy caught my eye. It claims reading to fido has its advantages:

Without a scientific study, Pluchino [reading teacher] said, it is difficult to determine whether reading to Amelia has directly improved the students' reading ability. But every student in the class has moved up a reading level since last fall, she said, and they are now reading faster and with more fluency.

Yes, dog is man's best friend, but it remains to be seen whether he's a reading teacher's too--at least until someone coughs up some biscuits for an evaluation.

Liam Julian

About my earlier post, commenter Carol writes:

Liam, you had me all the way until the end when you failed to mention students culpability (as well as teachers and admins) when it comes to academic achievement.

It's a good point; older students??bear significant responsibility for their educations. But the larger idea is that simply moving people into a new "culture" doesn't necessarily change their attitudes or behaviors and won't cultivate that responsibility. Proactivity and vigilance is imperative. The best charter schools, as is always noted, succeed because they push a rigorous academic culture on their students (no matter who are those student or what color is their skin, etc.) and they brook no dissent. A forthcoming Fordham report argues that such paternalism is, in fact, necessary. I oversimplified all??that by writing that schools with "good" teachers succeed, and those with "bad" teachers fail--but reduced to its basic form, it's true.

Liam Julian

The newest Atlantic (not yet online) contains an article about Memphis's experience with shutting down its noxious projects and offering housing vouchers to their low-income inhabitants, who use the vouchers to move to other areas of the city. The concept has been applied across the country. In Memphis, though, it's had the unfortunate effect of spreading all over the metropolitan area what were once isolated concentrations of crime. And overall crime rates in the city are way up.

Motivating housing voucher programs is the idea that if high-poverty, high-minority, high-crime neighborhoods are dispersed--if the residents of those neighborhoods move to more economically and racially integrated settings--than deleterious activity will wane. It's an idea that's been extended to k-12 education, too: If poor or minority students are removed from all-minority, high-poverty neighborhoods (and their schools), they'll do better academically. But it's not that simple. Nor is it true that other forms of shuffling kids from school to school to improve classroom "diversity" does much for the educational prospects of the shuffled. Dangerous neighborhoods are dangerous for a variety of reasons, but at the core it's because they're inhabited by... criminals, who, when transplanted to better neighborhoods, are simply able to steal better merchandise. Bad schools are bad not because of who sits next to whom, but mostly because of??the... bad teachers and bad administrators??who work in them. And good schools are good largely because they're staffed by people who are good at what they do....

Liam Julian

Joseph Epstein is incisive; his writing eschews faddish notions and also goes for the jugular. He won't dance around a topic. His latest Weekly Standard piece, "The Kindergarchy," is a fine example.

In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. People who are raising, or have recently raised, or have even been around children a fair amount in recent years will, I think, immediately sense what I have in mind. Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents.

The article is well worth reading. One concludes, after digesting it and other similar pieces, that today's parents are meddling with the wrong parts of their children's lives and staying out of the parts that demand attention. Epstein notes that a 21st-Century adult is keen to arrange his progeny's activities, playdates, and daily decisions, but loath to provide any stern guidance or discipline when needed. The result: A lot of spoiled, babied, charmless young adults who don't think for themselves and feel entitled to everything.

Epstein generalizes. But then, generalizing is often useful. And who can deny that America's public schools, too,??have succumbed to the daffy thinking he skewers? I think, for example, of the misguided notion to push academically untalented students into AP classes; to push all kids into college (and no, that's not a straw man; some big-name...

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