Ethan Allen Institute

A new report by John McClaughry of Vermont's Ethan Allen Institute takes aim at Act 60, the controversial 1997 state education finance law passed after the Vermont Supreme Court ordered equalization of school spending. McLaughry contends that Act 60 is unsustainable and urges Vermonters to embrace an altogether different remedy: granting families the right to pick their children's schools. He notes that the Green Mountain State has a long history of parental choice. Since 1869, towns that do not have their own public high school have been able to use state money to send children to private schools. McClaughry suggests that Vermont respond to the Court's mandate-and the troubles that have followed from Act 60-by providing "tuition certificates" with which parents could choose from a range of public schools. Meanwhile, aid for home schooling would also be made available and Student Tuition Organizations, financed through a 90% tax credit, would provide scholarships to private schools for interested parents. Changing the education system in these ways, the author says, would not require higher property taxes. The report can be ordered from the Ethan Allen Institute by phoning (802) 695-1448. It can also be viewed by surfing to http://www.ethanallen.org/index3.html and clicking on "School Children First."-

Disability Rights Advocates

An outfit named Disability Rights Advocates has issued this report on how to handle learning-disabled youngsters in high-stakes testing programs. Mostly it's an anti-testing screed that tells states what they must do under federal law to "accommodate" such youngsters and how not to penalize or disadvantage them. Oregon is cited as a case study-and gets much praise. Indeed, the report of a "blue ribbon panel" that examined Oregon's testing program from the perspective of L.D. children occupies more than half of this 46-page report. You may not want to bother. If you do, contact Disability Rights Advocates, 449 15th Street, Suite 303, Oakland, CA 94612. You can phone (510) 451-8644, fax (510) 451-8716, e-mail general@dralegal.org or surf to www.dralegal.org.


Accountability: Turning Around Low-Performing Schools is published by Achieve, the group launched by governors and CEO's to promote standards-based education reform. This short policy brief offers recommendations for improving really bad schools. It explains how to identify those schools and how to go about assisting and/or reconstituting them. Another short new report, Standards and Accountability: Strategies for Sustaining Momentum, summarizes the proceedings of a two-day forum that Achieve organized to take stock of the standards movement and develop strategies for moving forward. Both papers can most easily be obtained by surfing to http://www.achieve.org/achieve/achievestart.nsf#policy_briefs or phoning Achieve at 202-624-1460.

Last week, New Leaders for New Schools introduced its first corps of urban principals, highly-qualified individuals without standard principal credentials who have been given special training and served apprenticeships under master principals before taking the reins of their own schools. Solving the principal shortage will require districts to embrace innovative strategies like this. To learn more about this program-a "Teach for America" for principals-see "How to Fix the Coming Principal Shortage," by Andrew Goldstein, Time.com, July 30, 2001 at http://www.time.com/time/education/article/0,8599,168379,00.html .

Senator Edward M. Kennedy shocked and disappointed many fellow Democrats with his willingness to compromise with the Bush administration on ESEA. Refusing to take a back seat to "new" Democrats in negotiations with the administration, Kennedy eventually accepted a version of the "Straight A's" program which would allow some states a measure of flexibility in how they spend their federal dollars. Some say this move was pure politics, some say pride, some say an attempt to salvage moderation in the education bill. Decide for yourself after reading "Teddy Bear," by Michael Crowley, The New Republic, August 13, 2001 at http://www.thenewrepublic.com/081301/crowley081301.html .

Almost everyone agrees that schools of education need an overhaul and Martin Kozloff, a reform-minded professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, explains how this should happen in a manifesto posted on EducationNews.org. He calls on state governments to mandate changes in the way ed schools train teachers, to provide a model of a research-based curriculum, and to hold ed schools accountable. Read more in "A Direct and Focused Approach," EducationNews.org, July 2001, at http://www.educationnews.org/a_direct_and_focused_approach_ne.htm

The movement to link teacher pay to performance in the classroom has taken several giant steps forward this year-in Iowa, Arizona, and Toledo, just to name a few places-but it took two steps back last week. In California, hundreds of teachers rejected $600 bonuses awarded to employees at schools that have demonstrated significant improvement in test scores as part of the state's new accountability system, donating their rewards to charity instead. In Cincinnati, where a much-praised and -studied union contract negotiated last year called for teachers' pay to be linked to their performance, the union president who backed the plan has been ousted and the new leadership is calling for the district to overhaul the system.

What's notable about both setbacks is that the arguments made by teachers (and those who represent them) reveal just how far educators are from accepting practices that are commonplace in nearly every line of work.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, some California teachers call the performance bonuses "bribes" and "blood money" that pit colleagues against each other. Faculty at one school object that the bonuses suggest that "teachers have somehow been holding out on their students in order to get test-score related compensation." Another teacher insists, "Every teacher I know works hard to help students succeed. If we've been more successful at Lowell, or had more motivated students, does that make our efforts more worthwhile?" These complaints boil down to the idea that teachers are all equally saintly in their...

A random confluence of events can sometimes be clarifying. That happened to me one day last week. What got clarified was why U.S. kids aren't learning enough.

The morning brought fresh evidence that they're not: the 2000 NAEP math results. As you have read elsewhere (and can read below), while NAEP showed some gains (in grades 4 and 8, not 12), overall scores remain lamentable. The number of "proficient" youngsters is way too low while the proportion "below basic" is far too large. Although black and Hispanic students gained, for the country as a whole the majority-minority gaps actually widened. Once again, it's starkly clear that, if we're serious about leaving no child behind, urgent and profound changes must be made, above all by focusing schools more tightly on fundamental skills and knowledge in key subjects.

The same evening, I gained an insight into why that's not happening. The event was a VIP preview screening of a new documentary that PBS will air in early September. Entitled "The First Year," and produced by up-and-coming young filmmaker Davis Guggenheim with funding from the Getty Foundation, this 80 minute show-which is already beginning to elicit adulatory reviews-profiles five young teachers during their first classroom year in inner city Los Angeles schools.

The quintet is appealing, earnest, ardent, compassionate, sometimes heroic and generally noble. The well-wrought, skillfully edited film does a fine job of picturing many of the challenges that face a young teacher during his/her novice year on the job.

Plenty of...

Teach for America teachers perform as well or better than other teachers employed by the Houston Independent School District, according to an independent study by CREDO, a research group based at Stanford's Hoover Institution. An editorial in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution argues that Georgia should also open its doors to prospective teachers like these. Read "Houston: A Teaching Success Story" in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 2, 2001 at http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/epaper/editions/thursday/opinion.html . The CREDO study can be downloaded at http://credo.stanford.edu/working_papers.htm.

The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University

When surveyed, an overwhelming majority of U.S. parents say that exposing their child to diversity is important. As a large influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants (as well as other changes) make the United States increasingly diverse, one might expect that our schools would mirror this greater diversity. A new study by Gary Orfield and Nora Gordon from the Harvard Civil Rights Project, however, finds that schools across the country are resegregating at accelerating rates. The authors argue that these trends are cause for concern because segregated schools can offer vastly unequal educational opportunities; in particular, segregated minority schools are overwhelmingly likely to have to contend with the educational impacts of concentrated poverty. The authors name several causes for resegregation, including the reversal in policy over desegregation by the Supreme Court and lower courts over the past decade and the failure to develop a policy that addresses the realities of metropolitan communities. This study offers hard data on changing ethnic populations in schools in different regions of the United States, a legal and social history of segregation and desegregation, and policy recommendations for federal, state and city governments. To download or view a copy of this report, go to http://www.law.harvard.edu/civilrights/. For a free hard copy, call the Harvard Civil Rights Project at (617) 496-6367