Flypaper

Gadfly wasn't pleased with the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, as the paper saw only bad news in the Philadelphia School District's decision to take back six of the 38 schools that have been managed by private operators since 2002. Well, Sunday's Washington Post didn't find any silver linings either, calling it a "severe setback" and closing with a quote admonishing the supposed "quick fix" mentality behind this reform plan.

We can agree to disagree. But at least the Post did here what it does well--sniff out the politics at play. It reports (and perhaps editorializes) that since 2002, "What has changed in Philadelphia, as elsewhere across the country, appears to be the political atmosphere. Pennsylvania's governor is now a Democrat, Edward G. Rendell. And the privatization wave now seems a little pass??."

I hope that seeking out quality school managers--and yes, it's possible those could even exist outside a district bureaucracy--never becomes "pass??." But one fears this could get worse in Philly before it gets better, so I'll be watching to see if recently-hired schools CEO Arlene Ackerman, a sensible reformer, will withstand or join this anti-privatization wave....

The conversion of seven Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., to charter schools is off to a rough start, as the Washington Post reports today that the city's budget failed to provide funding for these schools, and they won't get their first payments in July.

Robert Crane, of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, is quoted saying "I told [D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C.] Gray's people repeatedly that the kids were going to show up in the public schools one way or the other," and Public Charter School Board chair Tom Nida gets right to the point, that "this couldn't have been to anyone's surprise."

No, anyone reading the Post , or better yet, Flypaper and Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools ? would have seen this conversion coming from a mile away. Fortunately, the schools plan to open using loans and philanthropy. I just hope the District catches up soon....

At first glance, this New York Times article on Brooklyn's Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice looks to be another feel-good story about the small schools initiative. It mentions the usual statistics--93 percent of seniors graduated, most are going to college, etc--but then the article takes a moment to focus on the dedicated teachers who make it all possible. As in many high-performing charter schools, this specific small school has a young principal (Elana Karopkin, 32). For four years she's led the school and produced what on the surface appear to be positive results. But, Ms. Karopkin is leaving her school to become an assistant superintendent at Achievement First. Here's what she has to say about the move:

Ms. Karopkin said it would be unfair to say she was burned out, but admitted she was nothing less than "exhausted," both physically and emotionally. "You are taking a bunch of hyper, type A perfectionist people and giving them a herculean task," she said. "People have to work much too hard to do what we are doing. People cannot work at this level all their lives and nobody is prepared to do something at a level of mediocrity."

I'm...

Liam Julian

Checker takes to the Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages to communicate to Ohioans this message: Wake up.

As a fellow insect-themed edu-blog, we feel a certain kinship with our friends at BoardBuzz, produced by the National School Boards Association. But the Buzzers went bust with their analysis of our recent high-achieving students study. Let's tackle their misstatements, one by one:

Contrary to the thinking that high achieving students have been left behind, the report actually found that high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percent on NAEP) have been making similar gains on NAEP over the past 20 years. BoardBuzz hardly thinks that's being left behind. On the other hand, low achieving students (those scoring in the bottom 10 percent) have been making 4 times as many gains on NAEP since NCLB was enacted compare to before.

Ah, watch those apples-to-organges comparisons, NSBA. Yes, if you go back to the early 1990s, the progress of low and high achievers looks roughly the same, at least in some subject-grade combinations. But upon closer inspection the story is very different. Basically the 90s were quite good for high achievers (particularly in states without accountability systems); the post-2000 years have been quite good for low achievers (perhaps due to NCLB). The...

The newest issue of The Economist has a piece on international comparisons that offers a couple interesting lessons. The first is to be wary of them. In a recent analysis of Finland's PISA scores, which routinely top those of all other comers, Jarkko Hautam??ki and his colleagues at Helsinki University found

only one big policy element that could easily be replicated elsewhere: early and energetic intervention for struggling pupils. Many of the other ingredients for success that they identify--orthography, geography and history--have nothing to do with how schools are run, or what happens in classrooms.

In Finnish, exceptionally, each letter makes a single logical sound and there are no irregular words. That makes learning to read easy. An economy until recently dependent on peasant farming in harsh latitudes has shaped a stoic national character and an appetite for self-improvement. Centuries of foreign rule (first Swedes, then Russians) further entrenched education as the centrepiece of national identity. So hard work and good behaviour are the norm; teaching tempts the best graduates (nearly nine out of ten would-be teachers are turned down).

So American education wonks are missing the point when they say, for instance, that we should emulate...

Does anyone out there believe that the dramatic test-score increases coming out of the Empire State are legitimate? Sol Stern, for one, highly-knowledgeable on all educational goings on in New York, is with the naysayers. He points out in a piece on the City Journal website that

almost none of the dramatic improvements in the state tests show up in the most recent tests administered by the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the "nation's report card." NAEP scores in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math in New York State remained flat from 2005 to 2007.

Many critics have jumped on this embarassing comparison already. But Stern also illuminates this dubious idea of "rigorous peer review," which state schools chief Richard Mills has used to try to deflect the inevitable charges of test-rigging:

One of the slides in his PowerPoint presentation was titled ENSURING THESE RESULTS ARE ACCURATE and claimed that "New York's testing system passed rigorous peer review by [the] U.S. Dep't of Education." But this "rigorous peer review," which all 50 states now undergo under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is less impressive than it sounds. I was

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Gadfly Studios

Video footage from the panel discussion of Fordham's recent report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind, is now online for your viewing pleasure:

High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

5:30 - Tom Loveless, Brookings Institution

19:05 - Steve Farkas, Farkas Duffett Research Group

33:25 - Josh Wyner, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

41:15 - Ross Wiener, Education Trust

48:30 - Question & Answer

Download:

Tom Loveless's slideshow

Steve Farkas's slideshow

Speaker bios...

A new AP poll out today spends some time asking respondents about the state of public schools. The approximately 1,700 adults gave their opinions about how well schools prepare kids for college, how safe schools are, etc. etc. The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog has an interesting take on the relationship between education and economic productivity (which lends itself to exploring how Americans view their kids schools vs. everyone else's), but other results deserve some attention.

According to the poll, both the general population and parents think students should spend more time studying math (38% and 40%, respectively) and English (21% and 21%, respectively). The next most popular subject? History and government, says the general population (10% apiece), and "other" (10%) say the parents. Sure it makes sense that they'd want more time devoted to math and English, the bread and butter of our standardized testing system, but yikes. These results don't exactly give much hope to the push to keep the liberal arts in the curriculum. And one has to wonder what exactly these "other" subjects are, considering the survey lists choices in just about every major subject.

Another disturbing result:...

Performance-based pay (PBP) programs for teachers have been??growing, especially since the advent of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program a couple years ago. ProComp out of Denver is probably the best known PBP and rather unique since it's being funded by a $25-million mill levy approved by taxpayers. Like many of these plans, ProComp is extremely complicated, which is part of the reason that management and union reached an impasse in contract negotiations over how to change and improve it for the next iteration.

ProComp is a voluntary program--indeed, this was one of the major reasons it was passed--and less than half of Denver teachers have now joined the plan. That??means roughly??$87 million in ProComp dollars will be left over at the end of the 2008-09 school year. Not surprising,??DPS says it could find a place for those extra greenbacks, perhaps by directing it??to younger teachers leaving the system at high rates. But Henry Roman, involved in the program from the get-go, says not so fast:??"At this stage, I feel more information is needed before people make final recommendations." Indeed.??Before that money is redirected anywhere,??stakeholders need to stop and ask themselves why so few teachers have signed on...

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