Flypaper

Liam Julian

Standards and accountability hawks (Fordham??swirls among them) have never adequately explained how top-down accountability systems avoid situations such as this. After an exhaustive investigation of Tucson's schools, the Arizona Daily Star reports:

In the 2006-07 school year alone, nine in 10 students were moved to the next grade level, but data show that nearly a third of them failed basic courses in English, math, science or social studies. At least 94,000 students failed essential classes during the past six years.

Our 2007 Fordham Fellows, almost all of whom had spent time teaching, often noted that those in Washington, D.C., and state capitals who write ed policy prescriptions are sometimes blithely ambivalent about their tonics' function at the classroom level. Tucson's problem is of that indicative.

One is forced, after reducing his stock of problems, to see that without an overhaul of the teaching ranks, standards and accountability reforms simply cannot work. Policymakers can write laws and set achievement targets, but for the middle-school educator whose chief incentive is to stay out of trouble, a class, one-third of which cannot read, poses a major problem. This teacher is unconcerned about, say, the state standards but is merely looking for a convenient way to pass a group of??trouble students on to another class. Grade inflation and social promotion??are suitable for his purposes.

Most teachers are not pernicious, and many are simply placed in tough situations. But if these employees are not completely devoted to the tenets of...

I was especially disappointed Saturday morning when my two-year-old daughter's "sports class" was canceled because I had just read in The American (the piece doesn't seem to be online yet)* that kids who play sports fare better in life along a number of dimensions--they stay in school longer, they earn higher wages, and they are "15 percent more likely to be registered to vote, 14 percent more likely to watch the news, and 8 percent more likely to feel comfortable speaking in public."

I'm sure many athletes could attest to what they've gained from sports, which require commitment, leadership, responsibility, etc. But is it really sports that make the difference, or is it merely that the kids who gravitate toward athletics are already more likely to be successful? Interestingly, these authors report, the civic engagement results above came after researchers had controlled for "age, educational attainment, and income," and the researchers who have controlled for intelligence still find gaps in wages and educational attainment.

Why is this? The article speculates that in sports, kids experience "the positive feedback between effort and results," which "can then lead to snowballing commitments to excellence." Unfortunately, the authors then wander onto thinner ice and suggest that perhaps these market-like lessons learned in Little League are why the U.S. has less of a welfare state than Europe, where kids spend less time playing sports. But if we stay in education, I wonder if they're on...

The Education Gadfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

     

  • Phil Handy, former chairman, Florida State Board of Education;
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  • Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona state superintendent;
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  • Virginia Walden Ford, executive director, D.C. Parents for School Choice;
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  • Townsend McNitt, Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Education;
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  • Frank Riggs, former member of Congress and president, Charter Schools Development Corporation;
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  • Jane Swift, former governor of Massachusetts;
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  • Bill Hansen, former deputy secretary of education and senior managing director, Chartwell Education Group;
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  • Hannah Skandera, former California undersecretary of education;
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  • Gene Hickok, former U.S. undersecretary of education and senior policy director, Dutko Worldwide;
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  • Williamson Evers, Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.
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Their shepherd is former McCain staffer David Crane, now with Quadripoint Strategies. Now you know, too.

 

Photo by Flickr user soggydan....

Liam Julian

One wonders: To laugh or to cry?

Break down test-score data by the ethnicity of Asian students?

Liam Julian

From The Tallahassee Democrat: "According to the Florida Department of Education, more students statewide are writing at or above grade level." (The results are here.)

It's great that Florida continues to concentrate on improving its students' writing skills, but can FCAT writing scores really be an accurate depiction of Sunshine State youngsters' sentence-crafting abilities, especially when the data are??compared one year to the next? The larger question: Is it possible to??accurately assess??writing in a statewide,??high-stakes test?

John Merrow, writing in today's Wall Street Journal, explains that "public education lives in an upside-down universe where student outcomes are not allowed to be connected to teaching." That's certainly the case in New York, where the state legislature recently passed a bill making it illegal for school districts to consider the performance of teachers' students when making tenure decisions. Merrow concludes:

Denying any connection between teaching and learning is a dangerous course for teacher unions to chart. It contradicts what experience teaches us. And it flies in the face of common sense. If unions are telling us that there's no connection between teaching and learning, why should we then support teachers, or public education?

Thankfully, the Empire State appears to be far outside the mainstream on this issue. Our recent Rick Hess/Coby Loup study of teachers union contracts found that most of the fifty largest districts in the country either had the explicit right to consider student performance in tenure decisions (that's the case for eight of them) or faced no specific restrictions against that course of action, either in their contracts or in state law and regulation. Here's hoping that when Randi Weingarten becomes AFT president, she doesn't try to export this ridiculous piece of policy to the rest of the country....

Liam Julian

Kevin Carey mercifully closes our debate, not by addressing ideas but by instead calling my specific impugning of unions "vague" and concluding that I suffer from an incurable anti-union ailment. (Alas, my doctor prescribed Zithromax, but it hasn't worked.)

Liam then tries again to engage in some kind of vague larger argument about unions. Which is pointless, it's obvious where we stand: Liam dislikes organized labor and wishes it would go away; I don't. People can draw their own conclusions about what that says about our respective takes on education policy. The problem with the kind of generalized labor-bashing on display in this post and on Flypaper overall is that it destroys the writers' credibility when it comes to a range of important education policy issues that involve teachers unions. The next time Liam has something to say about merit pay, tenure, or some other issue where he disagrees with a national or local union, people will just assume his opposition stems from his obvious larger anti-union bias. Frankly, I wouldn't blame them.

This preachy stuff isn't really much fun, is it? Nor does it address the issues. When having a debate about ideas, it's useful to insert ideas into the debate. Is it not possible that my unfavorable stance toward teachers' unions is motivated not by blind hatred but by what unions do? By what are their goals? That's a debate Carey must not want to have. (And he doesn't like my Wal-Mart joke, either!)...

Liam Julian

Two articles about charter schools in this week's Economist are online here (Chicago) and here (New York).

Liam Julian

Mike just passed along to me the June Atlantic (not yet available online), in which one finds an article titled "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower." It is a poignant piece, written by an adjunct professor whose night classes contain all those that society deems ready for college--who must go to college--but are in reality far from it. The author (the anonymous "Professor X") writes, "They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college."

And so, it becomes the adjunct professor's responsibility to clean up for society's destructive romanticism. Does he lower standards or hand out multiple Fs? The professor in question takes the latter route, but he doesn't sleep well because of it. His students, many of whom cannot construct a coherent sentence, are confused by the poor grades they receive. Haven't they done everything right, haven't they fulfilled society's expectations and returned to school to better themselves? It may not occur to many of them that society's expectations are unrealistic, its hopes based on fiction, and that they have been set up for failure.

It's a piece well worth reading, because the human cost of the "all kids to college" push is seldom discussed.

Photo by Flickr user partsnpieces....

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