Flypaper

"No Child Left Behind Lacks Bite."

This is not exactly news to Flypaper readers, but it's great that the Wall Street Journal is spreading the word:

Critics of the federal No Child Left Behind law, including Democratic presidential candidates vowing to overhaul or end it, have often accused it of being too harsh. It punishes weak schools instead of supporting them, as Sen. Barack Obama puts it. But when it comes to the worst-performing schools, the 2001 law hasn't shown much bite. The more-radical restructuring remedies put forth by the law have rarely been adopted by these schools, many of which aren't doing much to address their problems, according to a federal study last year.

To solve a problem first you have to diagnose it correctly. And calling NCLB "too harsh" is surely not the right diagnosis.

Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal reviews Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation, and Marion Barry defends vouchers for D.C.

While Americans feel no particular love for the U.S. Department of Education (see this graphic from Sunday's New York Times Magazine), I have found that, in education circles at least, particular scorn is heaped??upon state departments of education and their civil service employees. Colonized (in Paul Hill's term) from federal programs above, and distant from the real action of schools and districts below, they are the consummate middle-men (and women) of America's education system. Conventional wisdom says they are capable of little more than pushing paper: performing audits, writing regulations, and filing reports.

What sweet relief it is, then, to read Shepard Barbash's Education Next piece about the implementation of the Reading First program, and the heroic role played by state departments of education.

The most enduring achievement of Reading First may be that it has nurtured a group of state leaders who have developed deep expertise in the science of reading instruction and have been able to get steadily better at helping the districts teach more children how to read. In states where Reading First is working, districts look not to their long-standing networks of consultants and colleges for expertise, but to their state administrators. This is a bureaucratic revolution.

Imagine that: state bureaucrats turned instructional leaders. Regardless of what you read about the program's effectiveness (and if you must read something about that, read this or this), its implementation marks a milestone in the annals of federal-state relations. It's a prescriptive, top-down,...

Megan McArdle reflects thoughtfully on teachers unions today at Atlantic.com. I found this bit especially interesting:

Unions also give teachers power to resist changes that make their jobs less fun. I think the teachers genuinely believe that these changes are bad; but I also think that they strenuously resist learning anything to the contrary. There is really good evidence for the benefits of direct instruction in teaching disadvantaged children. But direct instruction moves the teacher into being more of a technician and less of a creative professional. Ian Ayers talks about this in Supercrunchers, giving the example of bank loan officers, which used to be a skilled, prestigious jobs, and are now almost a clerical role. Doctors and teachers are resisting an attempt to do similar things to their jobs through, respectively, evidence based medicine and direct instruction.

I started my career teaching British, American, and world literature to high school kids. So I'm not thrilled to see the steady decline in the number of books read by middle and high school students. We're told that last year, on average, 2nd graders read roughly 46.2 books compared to 4.5 books for 12th graders. That has me depressed. But before I cry in my beer (read: Starbucks Chai Latte Nonfat Extra Hot), I decided to download the study.

Yes, as a former program evaluator (another post-teaching vocation), I actually like to review the methodology of studies as opposed to relying upon the "bottom line" message often reported in the news media. As alluded in the Toledo news report, the study's data are collected from a database at Renaissance Learning, a company that markets Accelerated Reader (AR)--a popular reading program in schools. Turns out, though, that the number of books students read is calculated by the number of quizzes that any particular student completes (each AR book title has an accompanying quiz). A caveat explaining such is included in the introduction to the report, which reads:

Please note: Renaissance Learning recognizes, of course, that not all book reading that happens in or outside of the classroom is captured through the Accelerated Reader software. However, it is reasonable to assume that for users of Accelerated Reader much book reading is captured in this way. AR quizzes number

...

As lickety-split Liam just mentioned, the latest Education Next just got posted online and includes a short piece of mine examining the editorial board positions of the nation's largest-circulation newspapers on two key policy issues: No Child Left Behind and charter schools. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a bigger chart of the results.) The latter fared much better than the former:

The charter school advantage is clear: 19 papers are somewhat or strongly supportive, versus only 3 that are somewhat opposed. (One is neutral and 2 did not write any editorials about the subject.) Meanwhile, the papers are split on NCLB, with 15 somewhat or strongly supportive, 9 somewhat or strongly opposed, and 1 neutral.

Still, at a time when national audiences erupt with applause when presidential candidates bash NCLB, it's worth noting that a majority of newspapers are remaining steadfast in defending the law. And who knew that charter schools enjoyed such strong support from local papers? Here's hoping they don't all go out of business....

Liam Julian

The newest issue of Education Next is now on newsstands--or on the internet, at least.

Check out Mike's piece, which is a unique look at how the editorial boards of major newspapers present charter schools and No Child Left Behind.

Rick Hess and Paul Peterson's annual look at state proficiency standards is out in the latest issue of Education Next, and the news resembles what Fordham's Proficiency Illusion report found last fall: a "walk to the middle." Standards are slipping, particularly in eighth grade.

Their analysis considers the percentage of students passing state tests and compares that to the percentage of a state's students passing the National Assessment of Educational Progress. From the press release:

Only three states--South Carolina, Massachusetts and Missouri--established world-class standards in math and reading for their students, earning each an "A". Every other state set a lower proficiency standard--some far short of the NAEP standard. Georgia, for instance, declared 88 percent of 8th graders proficient in reading, even though just 26 percent scored at or above the proficiency level on the NAEP. Georgia joined Oklahoma and Tennessee at the bottom of the class, each earning an "F" for their state standards.

You know where this is going... is it so wrong to dream about national standards?...

Liam Julian

We know that the best schools "sweat the small stuff"; they do not overlook untucked shirts, they do not permit poor posture, they do not deign to??hold different students??to different standards of discipline.

Instead of following that model, schools in Anne Arundel County are taking the opposite approach--i.e., "training staff in how to work with people of different backgrounds...."??Consider these??alarming sentences:

Teachers and administrators may misinterpret the body language and occasional confrontational behavior that some African-Americans learn in their neighborhoods and use at school as a way of standing up for themselves, veteran educators say. They will often back down if they're made to feel safe.

Ella White Campbell reinforced such sentiments by telling the Baltimore Sun, "Being rude means one thing to you and another thing to me."

Of course, being rude generally means one thing to employers, which is that he who is rude is not hired. Anne Arundel County wants to lower its rates of suspension of black pupils--rates that, according to the NAACP, indicate "discriminatory treatment." The true discrimination, the soft-bigotry of low-expectations bit, is Anne Arundel's new position of pretending that black children should be held to different standards of discipline than should non-black children.

Liam Julian

So reports Ron Matus in the St. Petersburg Times.

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