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.

It must be kiss-and-tell season, what with Scott McClellan's recent riposte to the Bush White House , and now with former education department official's Susan Neuman's revisionist history as reported by Time :*

Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda--a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."

I know and like Susan (we overlapped at the Department and worked on some issues together), but what a ridiculous statement. Of course "there were a number of people pushing hard for market forces"--like, say, the President himself . What Neuman apparently failed to realize when she agreed to serve was that she'd been asked by a Republican Administration- -you know, the party in favor of vouchers and such. President Bush campaigned for school choice during his 2000 run--right out there in the open. But that doesn't mean that NCLB's focus on accountability was meant to soften up the country for vouchers. Nor is there any evidence anywhere that tough accountability leads...

Liam Julian

Sounds like D.C.'s charter schools are taking fire, too. If you can't beat ???em, sabotage ???em.

Liam Julian

It's unclear exactly what Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington, D.C., in Congress, so dislikes about the Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides some 2,000 low-income students in the District an opportunity to receive their educations from private providers. She told the Washington Post, "We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here." But victims require victimizers, and Holmes Norton neglects to be specific. Are "the children" victims of too much educational choice? Are they victims of their parents' desire that they receive stronger educations? From whom or what, exactly, does Holmes Norton purport to protect D.C.'s low-income kids? Ah, but she's not really protecting kids, is she. Holmes Norton is protecting a public-school system that has itself victimized countless numbers of Washington, D.C., children. She should've told the Post: "I intend to destroy any challenge to the Washington, D.C., public-school monopoly, and the desires of low-income children and their parents, my constituents, be damned."