Unassociated

by Craig Jerald, the Education Trust (published by the Business Roundtable)

On the campaign trail, Governor George W. Bush touted the "Texas education miracle"--in which the Lone Star State's poor and minority children made huge gains in test scores--as evidence that academic standards and accountability could generate significant improvement in student achievement.  Now that Mr.  Bush is in the White House, supporters and critics alike have taken a closer look at the Texas record. 

Published last month by The Business Roundtable, this latest report describes what's known about the effects over the past decade of Texas efforts to raise academic standards, measure student performance, and increase accountability via consequences for results.  Author Craig D. Jerald, senior policy analyst at The Education Trust, explains that, among the 50 states, Texas has made one of the most concerted and long-running attempts to raise student achievement.  The Texas strategy is successful, Jerald argues, because it is balanced, blending an unusually strong measure of both optimism--setting high standards for all students--and pragmatism, i.e. setting reachable goals that are raised incrementally.  Critics often claim that Texas's tough policies have led to higher dropout rates, a narrowed curriculum, and inordinate focus on "low-level" skills measured by the state assessment exam.  Jerald finds little evidence to support these claims.  Rather, he says, high school graduation rates have actually gone up, there has been no discernable negative impact on the curriculum, and Texas students have proven their ability to master higher-order skills by boosting their scores on...

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recently released the results of the 4th grade reading assessment conducted in 2000. (By NAEP standards, alas, this is speedy: data available just a year after the test was given!) The news is not good: average scores were essentially flat across the 1990's. That would be okay if they were flat at a high level but they're flat at a woefully low level. Almost 2 fourth graders in 5 are "below basic" and only one in three is "proficient" (or better). When the data are disaggregated, the results become even more alarming: among black and Hispanic youngsters, roughly three-fifths don't reach "basic" and fewer than one in six is proficient. (This is also true for low-income children.) Though black youngsters fared slightly better in 2000 than in earlier years, the gains are meager compared to the gap that remains. The Nation's Report Card: Fourth-Grade Reading 2000, April 2001. The publication number is NCES 2001-499. Copies can be obtained by phoning (877) 433-7827, ordered on-line at www.ed.gov/pubs/edpubs.html or downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.

Can a new breed of superintendents--drawn from outside the ranks of traditional educators--transform urban school systems? asks the cover story of the June 2001 issue of the American School Board Journal.  While such "outsiders" are the exception, it is surely no coincidence that the nation's three largest urban districts--New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago--are today run by noneducators.  The six-page article profiles the leaders of these three school systems as well as San Diego, highlights the challenges they all face (e.g. whether to delegate responsibility for improving instruction, managing relations with mayors, etc.), and analyzes the likelihood that each leader will succeed. Not yet available online (http://www.asbj.com/).

For a sharp analysis of the efforts of former U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin's efforts to revitalize the San Diego school district, see "A Noneducator Pulls Off the Impossible: Urban School Reform," by Larry Cuban and Mike Usdan, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2001.

White House aides have grown testy about the education bill, unwilling to acknowledge that the compromises Congress has forced upon it have sorely weakened George W. Bush's fine reform plan. Presumably because they assented to those compromises, they feel obliged to insist that the plan remains largely intact.

Would that it were so. After thirty-six years of dashed hopes and wasted billions, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) sorely needs a complete overhaul. President Bush's proposal went at least 80 percent of the way. True, it was a tad light on school choice, but it envisioned a sizable voucher demonstration program and would give "exit vouchers" to low-income children stuck in awful public schools.

The Bush plan also mandated testing every child in grades 3-8, with serious consequences attached for schools - and states - that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" in narrowing the rich-poor achievement gap. Also promising in the original plan were the consolidation of innumerable tiny programs and freedom for interested states to decide how and where to spend their federal dollars.

Then the status quo struck back. The public school establishment fought every significant reform. Incredibly, many state education leaders eschewed new flexibility for themselves. They begged not to have to change their current tests. Nobody wanted sanctions for failing schools to kick in quickly. The voucher bits were dead on arrival. The left fretted about testing while the right didn't like federal testing. Consolidation was anathema to beneficiaries of today's categorical programs. And nearly...

The Council of the Great City Schools deserves plaudits for its ever-greater willingness to speak candidly about educational achievement (as well as its vigorous efforts to boost that achievement). Recently, the Council released a quartet of reports on how America's urban schools fare on four widely used and keenly watched external benchmarks: The SAT I test, the ACT tests, Advanced Placement exams, and the Stanford Achievement Test. Although no district-level data are provided (except for some ACT results), there's a wealth of information here about how America's urban schools and students are faring on these indicators and a lot of very interesting analysis, some leading to familiar results, some to less obvious conclusions. (Forthcoming on May 22 is yet another report from the Council on how urban districts are doing on state achievement tests.) For copies or additional information, contact the Council at (202) 393-2427 or surf to the press release, readable at http://www.cgcs.org/services/media/4_27_01.htm

The redoubtable Paul Barton, formerly of the Educational Testing Service,  prepared this March 2001 report for the National Education Goals Panel. Based on NAEP data, it seeks to track and explain state-level performance trends. He's done some interesting "quartile analysis" as well as taken a close look at minority/white achievement gaps. Three sentences from his executive summary are worth repeating: "States are generally making more progress in mathematics achievement than in reading....Good readers are getting better at the same time weak readers are losing ground....States have not generally reduced the achievement gap between top and bottom quartiles or between white and minority students." There's lots of useful state specific data, too, in which you'll find nuggets of important information. (For example, between 1992 and 1996, just two states - Georgia and Massachusetts - narrowed the white-minority gap in 4th grade math.) If you'd like your own copy, contact the Goals Panel at (202) 724-0015, surf to www.negp.gov or e-mail negp@ed.gov.

The Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) made quite a splash in the U.S. when its 1995 results came out, mostly because it showed American kids sorely under-performing their counterparts in many other lands in math and science, especially in the upper grades. The 8th grade portion of TIMSS was given again in 1999 to countries, states and even school districts that opted to participate (in the regular study or a related "benchmarking" study), and the results were recently released. Besides national data for the U.S. (not very different from 1995), we have new data for 13 states and 14 districts (or consortia of districts) that can now be compared directly with other countries. The small district of Naperville, Illinois made quite a splash when its kids did as well - in both math and science - as high-scoring Asian lands. But there's more here. Several urban districts that were brave enough to participate, for example, yielded results comparable to those of middle-eastern lands. Data on home resources and instructional emphases are sometimes illuminating, sometimes puzzling. (For example, Jersey City surpasses Naperville in its emphasis on "reasoning and problem solving in math class" yet its results match those of Cyprus.) If you would like to dig in for yourself, surf to http://www.timss.org/timss1999b/publications.html

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