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

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


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...

Don't miss this important new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality regarding the preparation of competent elementary-school math teachers. Titled No Common Denominator, it finds, after reviewing a national sample of ed-school-based undergraduate teacher prep programs, that fewer than 15 percent of them require enough of the right kinds of courses. It names names, too! It also makes a boatload of recommendations, nearly all of them contrary to current practice and some of them??also contrary to??conventional teacher-quality-reform wisdom. All this was unveiled earlier today (at a well-attended event on the roof??of the Hotel Hay-Adams, looking down??upon the White House itself). If you'd been there you'd have enjoyed a fine presentation by top NCTQ policy analyst Julie Greenberg. Second best is to read what she wrote--there are PDFs for the press release, executive summary, and full report (and a version with full appendices)....

From: U.S. Department of Education []

Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 5:06 PM

To: U.S. Department of Education

Subject: FYI - Reading First Letter from Secretary Spellings

FYI - You may be interested in the following letter sent from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Michael Enzi, Congressman David Obey, Congressman George Miller, Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon and Congressman Jerry Lewis.

June 25, 2008

Dear [NAME]:

Reading is the skill on which all other learning depends.?? And so it is with disappointment I note recent Appropriations Subcommittee actions to eliminate critical funding for the groundbreaking Reading First program.

The program's origins trace back to a historic and bipartisan Congressional vote to create the National Reading Panel.?? The panel examined more than 20 years of scientific research to determine the most effective methods of reading instruction.

Reading First applies these findings to the classroom and to training teachers in the use of scientifically based reading research to improve the literacy skills of more than 1.6 million students.?? State-reported performance data released this month indicates impressive gains in reading comprehension,

Liam Julian

Christina, remember that the NEA headquarters is merely a??block away from the Russian embassy, the two being separated by just the University Club, the American Chemical Society, and M Street, if I'm not mistaken. I've long suspected an underground passageway connecting their outfits, and your perceptive juxtaposition has??only strengthened my suspicions.

Photo by Flickr user freedomtoast. (See the picture over at Flickr for a translation of the poster.)

Liam Julian

...that William F. Buckley, Jr., spoke no English until he was seven years old? Spanish was his first language, French his second. We read volumes about the need to offer pre-K in large part to ensure that a pupil begins Kindergarten??in possession of words the number of which does not substantially trail that of those at the beck and call of most of his classmates. I wonder, though, if a child whose vocabulary is paltry at age five is really in such bad shape, or if his skimpy vocabulary merely bespeaks other disadvantages that pre-K can't help. Surely Amber knows the answers, and I hope she'll tell them to me. And before anyone gets all huffy about this: No, I don't think Buckley's magical story should be the foundation on which we build early education houses. It merely made me think, is all, which happens infrequently enough to be worthy of documentation.