The August 2001 issue of the American School Board Journal includes a pair of articles on home schooling. Though the articles are skeptical in tone, and predictably focus on issues that local school boards may need to address, such as whether home schoolers should be allowed to participate in advanced classes or extracurricular activities at a nearby public school, they nonetheless include much useful information about the home schooling movement. Remarkably, though, neither article even mentions the stunning success of home-schooled kids in national competitions such as spelling and geography bees. "Learning without School" by Lawrence Hardy and "Accountability for Home Schoolers," by Rebecca Talluto, American School Board Journal, August 2001. http://www.asbj.com/

It being summer, the press is full of stories about the vast number of kids attending summer school, which many districts require for students who would otherwise be held back a grade. But how effective are remedial summer programs? A meta-analysis of 99 studies found that about 85% of summer programs produced measurable results; that reading skills of participating students improve three months beyond those of the control group; that mandatory and voluntary programs are about equally effective; and that summer school is more helpful to middle-class students than to the disadvantaged. For more, see "Summer Seen as Critical to Improving Schools," by Martin Kasindorf and Debbie Howlett, USA Today, July 17, 2001. http://www.usatoday.com/news/acovtue.htm

As if the official passing score of 55 on the state's Regents exams were not low enough, the Buffalo News reported this week that students needed to answer just 33 percent of the questions correctly to achieve that score on the Regents exam in biology, and 45 percent of the questions in math. The news that the grading curves for the state's assessments were even more generous than they had seemed was greeted with cries of outrage from teachers, administrators, politicians, and even students. "Wow, what a scam!" said one teacher. The explanation offered by an assistant state superintendent was that the "scaled scoring" system used by the state to translate 33 percent to 55 percent is not an after-the-fact adjustment but an elaborate system that takes into account the difficulty of test questions to translate raw scores into scale scores.

Should a state be ashamed of setting a passing score this low? Not necessarily, so long as the assessment is good and the "cut score" isn't going to remain low forever. Developing a tough test but setting the initial passing bar low can be a shrewd reform strategy, provided the bar is then continually raised. A state that has high expectations for students spelled out in rigorous academic standards--and solid tests aligned with these standards--has taken important steps toward standards-based reform. Yet--regrettably but realistically--many of today's students are not prepared to meet high standards. This leaves states with three tough options: 1) flunk lots of students, 2) offer easy...

Ontario has a new tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools. In the first year, parents are eligible for a refund of $460, but this amount will quintuple over five years. The plan was included in a budget bill passed in late June by the provincial legislature. Six other Canadian provinces already provide money directly to private schools. "Suck It and See: Ontario Tries School Vouchers," The Economist, June 30, 2001 http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=S%26%2880%25Q%217%2B%0A ($2.95 charge for the article)

Edited by Margaret Maden

In 1996, the National Commission on Education in the United Kingdom published Success Against the Odds, a description of how 11 schools in disadvantaged areas were producing high student achievement. RoutledgeFalmer is now publishing Success Against the Odds: Five Years On, which revisits these schools to determine whether those schools remain successful. Most have done even better but there is "significant variation in the amount and kind of success." The Selly Park Technology School for Girls in Birmingham, located in a primarily Muslim community, had the second highest rise in GCSE scores in England between 1997 and 2000. By contrast, the Even Fair Furlong Primary suffered from discipline problems during the five-year period and only last summer showed significant gains in student achievement, doubling its aggregate scores in English and Math. Though no one blueprint emerges as a guarantee for success, the authors did find several common factors in schools that did well. The head teachers (principals) of each school possessed a wide spectrum of leadership styles but all had at least ten years' experience. The most important factor was the school staff's commitment and quality. This primarily meant a carefully selected teaching force, but several schools also utilized support staff and parental volunteers imaginatively. (Not surprisingly, the No Excuses project of the Heritage Foundation, which examined 21 high-performing schools in low-income areas in the United States, also found that principal leadership and a high-quality teaching staff lead to successful schools.) Success Against the Odds: Five...

The Charter Friends National Network (CFNN) has issued a revised (May 2001) edition of this useful publication, prepared by Elizabeth Giovannetti, Eileen Ahearn and Cheryl Lange. This 30-page paper seeks "to provide charter school developers and operators a concise and understandable explanation of current special education laws and requirements." CFNN also aims to anticipate Congress's upcoming review of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the principal federal special ed program. CFNN director Jon Schroeder urges charter school "leaders and advocates" to begin examining needed changes in IDEA. This is important, as current special ed law is out of whack with the theory and practice of charter schools. IDEA assumes, in effect, that the school district is the responsible party in the delivery of education to children with disabilities, yet many charter schools have no relationship (or sometimes a frosty one) with their local school systems. IDEA also assumes that a disabled child will have his/her educational needs met in essentially the same way no matter where he/she goes to school. Yet the essence of charter schools is the distinctive differences they develop from one another with respect to educational philosophy, structure and delivery. Today, from the charters' perspective, special ed is the most rigidly restrictive area of federal (and state) policy, the area where waivers and variances are hardest to obtain. It is also the case that many charter schools aren't adequately prepared or knowledgeable about their obligations to disabled children. This handbook clearly sets forth what they must...

The Detroit Public Schools are short more than 1000 certified teachers, but the district has 440 such teachers performing administrative tasks as department heads, curriculum leaders or staff coordinators, and often not teaching, reports Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki in the Detroit Free Press. While these teachers-who cost the district about $90,000 per year-have contracts that require them to teach up to three classes (depending on the number of teachers they supervise), a survey conducted by the Detroit Federation of Teachers found that 60 percent taught no classes and 36 percent taught one or two. According to a spokesperson from the state's largest teacher union, the Michigan Education Association, most department heads in other Michigan districts teach more than they do in Detroit; many, in fact, teach full time. Last year, Detroit superintendent Kenneth Burnley ordered 400 administrators back into the classroom, but observers say little has changed. If the existing teacher corps were more effectively deployed in Detroit and other urban districts that are said to have the same problem, we might not have acute teacher hiring and class size crises in these districts year after year.

"Schools' use of teachers questioned," by Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Detroit Free Press, July 9, 2001

New Frontiers for a New Century: A National Overview is the title of the latest issue of Thinking K-16, published quarterly by the Education Trust. Authors Kati Haycock, Craig Jerald and Sandra Huang argue that we need to consider bold solutions to reduce the achievement gap that has plagued American education for decades. To assist educators and policymakers in doing this, Ed Trust has since 1996 biennially published Education Watch, a book of national and state data on student achievement and opportunity. This issue of Thinking K-16 is a guide to the online version of Education Watch, which surveys a decade's worth of data. By highlighting dramatically different NAEP scores earned by students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds in various states, the authors aim to dispel the pervasive myth that "student achievement has much more to do with a child's background than with the quality of instruction he or she receives." One staggering finding is that, on the 1998 NAEP 8th grade writing test, black students' average scale scores ranged from 121 points in Arkansas to 146 points in Texas--a difference equivalent to approximately 2.5 years of instruction! There are similarly shocking results for other ethnic groups and subjects. States that get superb test results (relative, at least, to their counterparts) are designated "frontier states." Ed Trust concludes from their success that state and local education policy is a strong determinant of classroom achievement. If minority students everywhere scored as high as in the frontier states, Ed Trust argues, the national...

Why do conscientious school board members act like cranky five-year-olds, and what can we do to make school boards more effective? Jay Mathews has some ideas in "The Freedom of Choice," by Jay Mathews, Washingtonpost.com, July 10, 2001

This report by the Southern Regional Education Board looks at one of our education system's biggest challenges: convincing new teachers to stay on. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a quarter of beginning teachers leave the classroom during the first five years. "Reduce Your Losses" asks why many young teachers want to change careers soon after entering the classroom. One reason is poor training in pre-service programs. Another is lack of help and advice from veteran teachers. Yet another is the tradition of shoving new teachers into some of the toughest classrooms in subjects for which they're unprepared. The report notes that the overwhelming majority of teachers who leave the profession do not give low pay as the main reason. The states represented by the Southern Regional Education Board have launched a range of initiatives to retain new teachers, including mentoring support, assessments of beginning teachers, and regulations prescribing where a teacher can be placed (for example, not placing a teacher trained in English into a math classroom for the year). The Southern Regional Education Board sells copies of the report for $.50 and can be reached at (404) 875-9211. For a free copy go to http://www.sreb.org/main/HigherEd/ReduceLosses.asp