Liam Julian

About the short review that Coby kindly mentions: I wrote it for a lay audience, one not tuned in to every shift in k-12 minutiae, and so I didn't dive into the issues as much as perhaps I could have. I also didn't write about the positive things going on at Douglass High circa 2004 (the debate program, the choir); alas, word count restrictions made it so, and it was more important to note how the positives were undermined by the negatives. The documentary shows a staff that seems to care about??its students and is generally well-intentioned. It doesn't seem so very different, in fact, from staffs one might encounter at suburban public high schools. But whereas suburban schools may be able to get away with employing people who are kind but in many ways incapable, urban schools such as Douglass cannot. After watching Hard Times at Douglass High, one would be hard-pressed to argue against more mechanisms--results-based mechanisms--for holding teachers and administrators accountable.

Update: Here's the New York Times review....

Mayor Bloomberg will announce today that test scores are way up in New York City. But no one, it seems, thinks the gains are legitimate.

Over at National Review Online, Liam reviews the HBO documentary Hard Times at Douglass High, which chronicles the plight of a failing Baltimore high school.

A group of charter school organizations including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, issued a report this week that presents findings from a panel charged with developing a framework for judging the academic quality of charter schools. The report lays out four essential indicators of academic quality: student achievement, student progress over time, post-secondary readiness and success, and student engagement. Each indicator is accompanied by multiple measures, metrics, and benchmarks that define how each is to be operationalized. For example, student achievement measures include proficiency levels on state assessments, college entrance exam scores, and high school exit exams (as applicable). For the most part, the indicators and their corresponding data points are ones commonly used to measure quality (e.g., graduation rates, percentage of students passing high school exit exams). ??The report has, in a sense, packaged prior disparate indicators all together in one piece.

The report also appears to be a response to those who

believe that the vast diversity in charter school missions, educational models, and student populations--as well as differences in state accountability requirements and individual authorizer expectations--makes it impossible to establish common standards and measures


The story of the 18 pregnant girls who made a pact to become pregnant at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts, has been all over the news in the last several days. Everyone hearing the story has been understandably dismayed. My mother even called me to say, "Did you know they are providing in-school day care for those girls?" Sure enough, she's right. Apparently, the day care center is located in a "converted classroom" at the school. We're told that none of the pregnant teens plans to drop out and there's now a waiting list for the free daycare program. Some are now questioning whether having daycare at the school might be encouraging students to have babies. Superintendent Chris Farmer responds, "I think that is hard to believe. Clearly if we can keep them in school, it gives them a better chance in the future."

I would imagine that is true, and the limited research on the topic appears to supports this claim. (Of the few studies I found, however, none utilized rigorous methods and they were generally conducted on isolated programs.) The head of the organization running the daycare responded, "Once this...

Liam Julian

I hope the College Board catches the flack??it deserves for its decision??to (starting in 2010)??show colleges only the SAT scores that the??students who earn them choose to reveal--i.e., if Johnny takes the test 10 times, Johnny gets to show State U. only his best score.??Currently, university admissions officers see both how many times a student took the SAT and how he scored on??each attempt.

The College Board's purported reason for the rules shift: Taking the pressure off test-takers. The real reason: Making more money. Unfortunately for poor kids, they??won't be able to pay to take the SAT multiple times. Suburban kids--the ones who already shell out thousands for private prep classes, and who go to schools where guidance counselors map out every step of the test-taking plan--will. You better believe that??starting in 2010, it's going to be assumed that??middle-class??high schoolers??take the SAT??every single time its offered.????

Furthermore, the College Board is watering down the SAT's integrity.??I know, I know--the organization tells us that an individual's scores will not??significantly increase after multiple retakes. Of course, common sense tells us??that claim is??baloney and will be proven as such come 2011. But assuming that??it is??true, doesn't it??render irrelevant??the College Board's...

Chad Adelman, Education Sector's new policy associate, digs into our high-achieving students study and thinks he's found a smoking gun. In particular, he has a beef with us looking at National Assessment of Educational Progress scores since 2000, instead of 2003:

But No Child wasn't signed into law until January 2002. The first NAEP tests measuring its true impacts could not have been until 2003, represented by the dotted line.

When we make this correction, the claims in the report do not seem to stand up as well. The lower tenth of performers made gains throughout the chart, but especially from 2000 to 2003, where they gained 13 points to their high achieving peers' six. Notably, this accounts for almost all the gain claimed in the Fordham report.

Chad, you're right, though using 2003 as the starting point--more than a year after the law's enactment--isn't perfect either. Tom Loveless, author of our NAEP study, discusses this issue at length (see pages 18-20):

Another important consideration concerning time intervals should also now be apparent from examining the NAEP data. Three grade-subject combinations exhibit a consistent pattern, a straightforward story of narrowing gaps


In a long and mostly thoughtful letter to the editor of the New York Times , American Federation of Teachers President Edward McElroy takes issue with David Brooks's recent column about the dueling education policy statements ("Broader, Bolder " vs. "Sharpton Attacks "). He writes, reasonably, that

According to [Brooks], reformists "insist school reform alone can make a big difference." This verges on a Talmudic debate over the word "alone" when the real issues are what actually goes into that reform. The question of how teachers should grapple with the enormous social problems brought into the school every morning comes immediately to mind.

Further, he talks of how the reformists want to put the children first. Well, so do those who signed the E.P.I. statement, and so do teachers. What matters is whether what you try actually works for the children.

OK, we can debate whether there's any evidence that what the E.P.I. crowd wants actually "works," but I'm happy to concede that teachers (if not always their unions) want what's best for children. But he couldn't stop there. He goes on:

Blaming "ineffective teachers"

Liam Julian

Good news out of Louisiana. Bad news out of Louisiana.

On Wednesday's NewsHour, John Merrow resumed his series on Michelle Rhee's efforts to revamp the D.C. Public Schools. This installment centers around Hart Middle School, a chronically-failing institution that landed on Rhee's radar as a candidate for dramatic restructuring. Merrow interviews teachers, students, and administrators from the school, all of whom resent the threat posed by Rhee's evident willingness to mix things up. We also hear from William Lockridge, a member of the D.C. Board of Education, who says that Rhee is misguided and hasn't "taken a thorough analysis of this school district." All of which adds up to an amazingly widespread and unyielding adherence to the status quo. At a school that has missed AYP five years running, everyone wants more of the same.

Merrow tells us that after the segment was taped, Rhee dismissed all the administrators at Hart and replaced them with a private management company. So far, Rhee has emerged surprisingly unscathed from such controversial adventures; the somehow ever-popular Marion Barry got a taste of Rhee's teflon when his plan to protest the latest round of school closings fizzled. If the resentment that comes through in the NewsHour segment is any indication, though,...