Patrick Welsh, a veteran Alexandria, Virginia high school English teacher who often writes for the Outlook section of the Washington Post, describes what a new superintendent faces in Alexandria: "constant negotiations with and back-biting from a crowd of self-appointed community experts who think they know best how to run a school system." No superintendent can survive the minefield of aggressive, well-educated parents together with a divided school board that has strong opinions on everything, Welsh writes, which means that the district will likely face a never-ending stream of superintendents who come in lauded and depart vilified.

"They'll love the new superintendent-until the discord begins," by Patrick Welsh, Washington Post, June 17, 2001

While public discussion of the education bill has focused on such hot-button issues as vouchers, much of the real drama in Washington-"what everybody was E-mailing and voice-mailing everybody else about"-is the "adequate yearly progress" or A.Y.P. formula, writes Nicholas Lemann in a narrative account of the progress of Bush's ambitious education plan through the Congressional gantlet. (Lemann's piece appears in this week's New Yorker.)

As if Lemann were a fly on our wall, a group of us inside-the-beltway types got together the other day to parse some of the perplexing dilemmas that will face Senate and House conferees when they turn to the A.Y.P., testing, and accountability sections of the pending E.S.E.A. bills. The deeper we went, the more alarmed we became at just how knotty some of these issues are. This section of the legislation simply doesn't lend itself to "splitting the difference" or melding rival versions. To have any realistic hope of ending up with something in this area that can actually be implemented without causing untold mischief, the conference committee must, in essence, start afresh. Here are some unsolicited precepts to guide that difficult process.

First, the gold standard for analyzing student achievement is value-added analysis that employs annual test scores for individual students, with results aggregated for schools, districts, states and other relevant institutional units-and whatever demographic groupings need their academic progress tracked.

Second, we must understand the key distinction between value-added and achievement-level analysis, also sometimes known as "standards-based" analysis. In the latter case, states...

Diallo Dphrepaulezz's new report for the Pacific Research Institute tells the story of San Francisco's Edison Charter Academy, which made sizable gains in test scores after being taken over by Edison Schools, but which was nonetheless notified by the San Francisco Board of Education in March 2001 that its charter was about to be revoked. In one school year, the Academy's test scores rose faster than those at every school in the district but two. African American students' scores rose 25% over the previous year, and Latino students' scores rose 15%. Why would a school like this lose its charter? Many charges were leveled at the school by opponents, including allegations that the school had a very high teacher turnover rate, and that it had encouraged low-income and African American students to leave. Dphrepaulezz debunks each claim, then goes on to describe a "grassroots movement mounted by parents in an attempt to save their charter school" which was outgunned by a bureaucracy that seemed to fear looking bad by comparison and so went to great lengths to destroy the school. Copies of the briefing may be obtained by calling (415) 989-0833 or by surfing to www.pacificresearch.org and clicking on Publications.

As a footnote, on Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that as a result of an intricate backroom deal, the Board of Education has decided not to renew the Edison Charter Academy's contract, but it will not officially revoke the charter, which would have precluded Edison Schools from asking...

If you read the Washington Post, you may already have seen reporter Jay Mathews' article about the Saxon math program, which helps children learn but which the powers that be in most school districts refuse to adopt. Also worth your while are two recent pieces that the prolific Mathews wrote for the Post's web site, one analyzing complaints by teachers about test-driven instruction, the other proposing that districts allow schools to be exempted from testing programs if parents in the school reject the test. (The latter poses a neat dilemma for those who favor both test-based accountability and parent empowerment!)

"Not on the same page" (on Saxon math) by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 19, 2001

"From teachers to drill sergeants," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 19, 2001

"Parental influence on annual tests," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 12, 2001

Much ink has been spilled over the alarming estimate that our schools will need upwards of 2 million new teachers by 2010. Some U.S. schools are already experiencing a teacher shortage. Many districts have responded by ratcheting up their recruitment efforts, including developing programs that encourage paraprofessionals, retired military personnel, and career-switchers to enter the classroom, as well as seeking teachers overseas. While some of these recruitment programs are successful, few have undergone evaluation. The DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, however, is now four years into a six-year evaluation of its Pathways to Teaching Careers Program, which aims to identify and prepare high-quality nontraditional candidates for careers in public education. It has largely achieved these goals at each of its 42 sites, according to researchers Beatriz Chu Clewell of the Urban Institute and Ana Maria Villegas of Montclair State University. (This report does not, however, supply hard evidence.) To assist others in replicating this kind of program, Clewell and Villegas have compiled a "handbook." They stress the importance of building "ongoing partnerships between teacher education institutions and school districts," rather than vilifying teacher colleges and plotting their demise. The handbook includes chapters on creating such bonds, as well as recruiting and selecting program participants, designing curricula for would-be teachers, providing support services, and budgeting and administration. It also supplies practical tips that may useful for teachers and administrators seeking ways to bolster their ranks with new teachers. But it's no slam dunk. We find that "valuing diversity" tops Pathways' list of...

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) is becoming a steadily more useful source of interesting and worthwhile education data, much of it contained in the now-annual publication named Education at a Glance. Though thick (400 pages) and (if you get a hard copy) pricey ($49), you can get country-by-country education comparisons here that aren't available anywhere else. The recently released 2001 edition contains some especially tantalizing facts, including these:

  • Though older Americans (ages 55-64) are better educated than their contemporaries in other lands, when you look at the 25-34 population you find that the U.S. has been outstripped in educational attainment by five countries if judged by high school completions and by two (Japan, Canada) if gauged by college completions.
  • In at least 6 countries (including the U.S.), more than 30% of funding for higher education comes from private sources.
  • More and more countries are also turning to the private sector for school management. This is most definitely not a uniquely American phenomenon. Across the OECD, an average of 13.5% of children are enrolled in privately operated schools. In most of those cases (not including the U.S., of course) the majority of those privately operated schools are government-financed.

There's lots more. You will very likely want to see for yourself. You can get the graphs and tables on-line at http://www.oecd.org/media/publish/pb01-23a.pdf. If you'd like the whole report, the ISBN is 9264186689. You can probably obtain it most easily via OECD's on-line bookshop at http://electrade.gfi.fr/cgi-bin/OECDBookShop.storefront/...

Not all charter school news is good, in part because not all the schools are good. Recent state proficiency test scores for many Ohio charters, for example, were pretty disheartening. Everyone knows that Texas has a handful of inadequate charter schools. So are a few in the nation's capital. The time has surely come for charter fans and devotees to get harder-nosed about school quality, effectiveness and value added. It's no longer sufficient to suggest that any charter school is inherently better than no charter school. That stance is unhelpful to the long-term vitality of the charter movement. More importantly, it's unhelpful to kids who need good schools. We must insist that charter schools deliver solid results for children and cost-effectiveness for taxpayers.

But there's a lot of good charter news, too, and some illuminating recent studies. The Goldwater Institute's sophisticated examination of Arizona charters found mostly solid results. So did the Texas Public Policy Foundation's study of Lone Star State schools, especially the "at risk" charters serving the neediest kids.

This month, the U.S. Department of Education issued two long-in-the-making charter studies, both spin offs of the Congressionally mandated National Study of Charter Schools. These are important both because of their national database and because of the savvy and impartiality of the authors.

RPP International produced "Challenge and Opportunity: The Impact of Charter Schools on School Districts." And the University of Washington's Paul Hill and colleagues at the Center on Reinventing Public Education wrote "A Study of Charter School...

The American Association of School Administrators named Gerry House superintendent of the year in 1999. House was hailed by her peers as a visionary, in part for insisting that all 165 schools in her Memphis school district implement a comprehensive reform model. She also won one of the coveted McGraw education prizes for this work. On Monday, however, House's successor, Superintendent Johnnie Watson, announced that he was abandoning all 18 of the reform models that were put into place in the district's schools in the 1990s.

According to an internal study conducted by the district (not, unfortunately, available on the district's website), only three of the 18 whole-school designs raised student achievement in Memphis: Core Knowledge, Voices of Love and Freedom, and Widening Horizons through Literacy. Teachers complained to district researchers that the models were not appropriate for students who needed more time on the basics, and also took too much time and required too much paperwork. Some in the district noted that the House initiative's downfall may have been the fact that she required every school to adopt a reform model. This may have been rash, particularly in the days before those models were fully tested. On the other hand, one may doubt the wisdom of a district trying to solve a problem caused by a one-size-fits-all policy (making every school embrace a comprehensive reform model) by imposing another one-size-fits-all policy (dumping all the models). One also wants to know how much of this newest policy results from "model...

Raymond Domanico has written a 26-page report comparing the academic performance of New York City's Catholic elementary schools with the city's public schools. (This study is under the auspices of New York University's Program on Education and Civil Society.) The Catholic schools, which have an enrollment equal to about 14 percent of the public school system, are on average half the size of public schools but have larger average class sizes. Domanico concludes that taking race and family income into account, students attending the Catholic schools reach higher levels of achievement than their public school peers-a gap that is much more pronounced at grade 8 than at grade 4-and that Catholic schools are more successful in breaking links between race or family income and student achievement. In fact, Domanico notes that, on some indicators, the performance of poor and minority youngsters in Catholic schools equals or exceeds that of public school students who are less poor and more white or Asian. He believes that school size is part of the explanation. To obtain a copy of the report, contact the Program on Education and Civil Society, New York University, 269 Mercer St., Room 207, New York, NY 10003; tel: 212-998-7503 or download a copy from the Heartland Institute's "PolicyBot" in three separate parts by surfing to http://www.heartland.org/PDF/21653e.pdf, http://www.heartland.org/PDF/21654s.pdf, and http://www.heartland.org/PDF/21654t.pdf....

The May/June 2001 edition of Catalyst for Cleveland Schools is out and it focuses on the effectiveness of mayors in reforming education, with a close look at four cities - Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, and Detroit. In Cleveland, Mayor Michael R. White has distinguished himself by having a lot of power but rarely showing it, more often allowing school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett to lead. Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, on the other hand, makes a point of being in control (as was manifest in his recent dismissal of school chief Paul Vallas). In Boston, Thomas Menino asked to be held responsible for the schools: "If I fail to bring about these specific reforms by the year 2001," he said a few years ago, "then judge me harshly." Of these four cities, in fact, only Detroit has a mayor who has displayed scant interest in becoming involved in education. There, Dennis Archer has ceded much of his power to school superintendent Kenneth Burnley. Other topics covered in this issue of Catalyst include initiatives to help Cleveland's worst-performing schools; the effects of restructuring a school on student behavior; and the debate over Maryland's attempt to sanction (and in some case outsource the management of) poorly performing public schools. Copies can be obtained on the web at http://www.catalyst-cleveland.org or by calling (216) 623-6320.