Liam Julian

About our new report, a concerned reader writes:

I couldn't help noticing that the cover of your report on the progress of high achieving students shows a student conducting a science experiment WITHOUT wearing safety glasses. This would be considered unacceptable by any responsible science teacher, and I was surprised to see it on your cover. Your report is otherwise excellent, but as a science teacher and scientist, my safety radar is always on.

It would be a fair point if the pupil in question were not a high-achieving student, which he most certainly is. High-achieving students are not those who slosh acidic amalgams, who pour with reckless motions, who generally irritate when they titrate. Those actions are the province of the low-achiever. Thankfully, as we show in our new report, students at the bottom of their science classes (those constantly huddled around the eyewash fountain) are making significant progress. One day, they, too, may shed their safety glasses.

Update: An acquaintance, who is employed at the National Institutes of Health, writes that perhaps our high-achiever is, in fact, merely "calibrating his glassware with deionized water."??Or maybe he's??mixing up a fresh batch of Tropical Punch Kool-Aid? Or brewing his own Belgian-style ale? The goggles-not-required possibilities really are endless....

That's how Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings just described* the decision by the House Appropriations Committee to defund the Reading First program. And she's right.

* Here at the Excellence in Education summit in Orlando.

Liam Julian

This week's Gadfly, just out, contains a sharp essay from Checker and Mike that asks, "Can we be equal and excellent too?" Natascha and Amber dissect the evaluation of Washington, D.C.'s voucher program, and we give a wag of the finger to performance-based assessments: "Will Rhode Island really hold back a student who flubs a flute recital?"

I got distracted yesterday by the release of our high-achieving students study, but Tuesday's news out of California is still worth celebrating. A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Education acted reasonably when determining that the Golden State's teacher internship program passes muster as an "alternate route to certification," and, as a result, that teachers engaged in that program can be considered "highly qualified" under the law. (See this Education Next article for background.)

The controversy stems from a poorly worded passage in No Child Left Behind that, on the one hand, explicitly states that teachers in alternate route programs can be considered "highly qualified," while, on the other hand, explicitly states that teachers must have "full state certification" before stepping foot in a classroom. What Congressional drafters didn't seem to understand was that most alt route programs give their candidates a "provisional" license so they can start teaching right away. So what did Congress intend?

I was involved in this scuffle back in my days in the Administration, and we were quite happy to interpret the confusing language in a way favorable to alternate routes. After all, we believed (and I still believe) that there's very little evidence that teacher certification matters in terms of boosting student achievement, so why put a stake through the heart of alternative route programs? (Had we ruled that the law mandated "full certification" with no exceptions for alt cert, we also would have put a stake...

Liam Julian

If I were an anonymous blogger and had to pick a clever moniker with which to sign my pithiest posts, I might actually opt for something similar to that decided upon by this person, who goes by "Dr. Homeslice." I'm edgy and educated, it bespeaks.

It's safe to assume, though, that Dr. Homeslice??does not possess a PhD in economics. The veiled vituperator takes me to task for suggesting that teachers' unions in fact hold down educators' wages and make it difficult to attract talented people to the profession. They do this in several ways, such as demanding smaller class sizes (i.e., more teachers) and across-the-board salary raises, which means that every teacher--the good, the bad, the ugly--no matter which subject he teaches--physics, English, dodgeball--receives the same, measly bump. Why not have fewer teachers, make sure they're good teachers, and pay them a lot more? This seems to me an elementary point, and I'm always puzzled that clever, savvy people (doctors, even!)??have such a taxing time accepting it.

Liam Julian

Speaking of Florida, former Governor Jeb Bush is convening at Disney World today his Excellence in Action education summit. (Aside: For more on past summits of a different sort, read this fine piece from the Weekly Standard.) Ron Matus at the St. Pete Times evaluates how Florida's education reforms are perceived throughout the country.

Liam Julian

Florida school districts have been recently complaining about state budget cuts in education. Financial management of this sort doesn't really bolster their case, though.

Over a year ago, when Secretary Spellings invited all states to apply for a new pilot program to use growth models in their accountability systems, she included ??several requirements, one of which was "A growth model proposal must... ensure that all students are proficient by 2014." This week's Education Week commentary on growth models spells out some of the repercussions of that fateful requirement. In it, Michael Weiss clarifies the difference between status models, value-added models, and projection models (the latter used by most states participating in pilot).

I'll pause now for the vocabulary portion of our lesson...

Status model: holds that schools must bring, say, a low-performing 3rd grader up to proficiency by the end of the year for the school to receive credit for her performance, regardless of initial achievement (i.e, the NCLB model).

Projection model: holds that schools receive credit if ??learning gains are sufficiently large enough that a student appears to be on track to become proficient by say, 6th grade, regardless of initial achievement.

Value-added model: measures schools' relative effectiveness by accounting for students' initial achievement levels using multiple years of ??test score data.

All three of these models are problematic. Folks don't like the status model since it doesn't take initial achievement into consideration. Essentially the same problem exists for projection models with the added challenge of having to estimate growth. Regarding the latter, Weiss cites the Florida example. That state assumed a linear trend for...