Flypaper

Liam Julian

The Weekly Standard looks at the Obama-Ayers connection.

The California Charter Schools Association published an important study yesterday that's making news today . Its findings from Los Angeles are consistent with previous charter research : L.A. charter schools tend to outperform similar, nearby public schools; "mature" charter schools outperform start-ups; and charters are particularly effective for African-American students.

What was refreshingly different was the local district's reaction. Consider this from the Los Angeles Times :

Ramon C. Cortines, L.A. Unified's newly appointed senior deputy superintendent, said the report pointed to how traditional schools could learn from charters--a strikingly different attitude from that typically expressed by district officials.

"I think that what it says is that they have some best practices, and those should be replicated in the district in all schools," he said. "I would say the same about islands of excellence in the Unified district.... We need to each learn from each other."

He said the district Monday held the first in a series of meetings that will bring together principals from charters and traditional schools to discuss how they can learn from one another.

I'm not going to presume that these meetings are going to lead to much, but they are a step in the right direction. Hooray, Ray!...

Liam Julian

Mike is too gentle with this broader, bolder initiative. First, a chicken and egg problem arises. Improving education is generally touted as the seminal route by which the nation can decrease social and economic inequality--but the bolder, broader folks think that decreasing social and economic inequality is crucial if America is to improve k-12 education. Puzzling. And then there's all this:

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policy makers to act on that evidence--in tandem with a school-improvement agenda-is a major reason why the association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.

Note the part I've bolded. What does it mean? Are readers to believe that the "association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong" because policy makers haven't confronted every type of inequality at the same time, in tandem with school-improvement agendas? While we're at it, perhaps the authors can go even broader by adding some foreign affairs components and connecting the whole, overarching scheme to a plan to provide housing for every family and daisies for all schoolchildren?

You get the point. The recommendations--"Pay more attention to the time students spend out of school," "Increase investment in health services," etc.--are each, in and of themselves, incredibly large and complicated and expensive policy projects. To loop them all together in a mish mash; to insert...

Apparently tired of being called defeatist defenders of the status quo, the Economic Policy Institute (home of Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein) just released a policy statement calling for a "broader, BOLDER approach" to education. It's a smart and savvy strategy: they go out of their way to say that school improvement matters, but they also want a focus on other social issues:

Education policy in this nation has typically been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on learning. Schools can--and have--ameliorated some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement. Improving our schools, therefore, continues to be a vitally important strategy for promoting upward mobility and for working toward equal opportunity and overall educational excellence.

Evidence demonstrates, however, that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite the impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policy makers to act on that evidence--in tandem with a school-improvement agenda--is a major reason why the association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.

This reasonable argument attracted the support of many ...

Liam Julian

Washington, D.C.'s Thurgood Marshall Academy charter school is featured in today's Wall Street Journal.

Liam Julian

Kevin Carey expounds upon the reasons that research doesn't always or even often make it to policymakers and into their policies. His suggested remedies are fine, especially the appeal for better writing. And yet, conspicuously absent from his piece is that research--at least education research--is rarely conclusive, and sometimes mere weeks pass between the publication of two different studies of the same topic that unearth about that one topic two utterly different and opposed findings.

Rarely addressed is the mutability of education research; certainly, reports can be tweaked in one way or another to reveal the data the authors desire. Furthermore, how many of such reports end with the limp, depressing words, "More research on this topic is needed"? (The practical reader??wonders: "Well, why??didn't you do it, then?") Policymakers generally have ideas about education that they've formed from their own experiences, listening to their constituents, or considering political ramifications. They use studies not to form their opinions but to bolster those they already harbor--and maybe, in rare instances, to??develop an area in which their opinions are not yet fully formed. Who can blame them, though? Were they to predicate every decision on the conclusions of the extant research, they'd have no clarity on anything. In education, as in most policy topics, policymakers' instincts and first principles matter--and few are the research studies that will change them.

I'm all for building schools dedicated to the arts, especially for students hailing from low-income neighborhoods. I'm just not sure it's worth $230 million while kids in other districts learn in classroom trailers.

Oddly enough, on the same day that the Economic Policy Institute and friends release this manifesto recommending that we "pay more attention to the time students spend out of school" (see Mike's post for more), IES releases a report evaluating two after-school programs. One of these programs was an adaptation of Success for All's existing school-day reading program which was modified for an after-school setting (called Adventure Island). The primary research question addressed in the random assignment study was "Does the enhanced after-school instruction improve math or reading proficiency over what students would achieve in regular after-school programs, as measured by test scores?"

Success for All's after school program provided students with 20 percent more hours of reading instruction over the school year, compared with students in the regular after-school program--yet students in the "enhanced" program did not experience statistically significant impacts on their performance on the SAT 10 reading tests, nor on other measures such as student engagement, behavior, or homework completion. Although there were a couple implementation blips (e.g., pacing), the report finds that overall Adventure Island was implemented as intended.

All in all, not terribly good news for this after-school offspring, whose in-school parent was found by the What Works Clearinghouse to have "potentially positive effects on alphabetics and general reading achievement." One wonders what happened in the after-school translation....

I'm not one to beat up on teachers unions just for the sake of it, but this little news story out of Australia illustrates precisely how the interests of unions and students do not always intersect. Apparently the State School Teachers Union decided that one of the best ways to obtain their 20 percent raise was to "move to withhold report cards," essentially forcing parents to contact teachers directly for information about the child's academic progress. Union officials, however, maintain that "parents and students will not unfairly suffer because of the action" since teachers hold report card meetings with parents anyway. Now, that's some justification and especially little solace when we are told that this strategy is "just one of a broad range of tactics" to catalyze pay negotiations. Hate to see what the next tactic brings--withholding instruction altogether, or lunch time perhaps?

Liam Julian

Oh, brother.

"Students [would] have a chance to recover," Martin said. "Getting a bad grade or having a bad day does not mean you are a failure. This is about hope."

Of course. What isn't about hope these days? Reality is supplanted by wishes as teachers dream about what their students might have scored on the test they didn't complete, what grade their pupils, in a better world, could have garnered on the homework assignment they neglected to turn in.

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