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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
  • ...

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...

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...

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...

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)...

The May issue of Catalyst, Voices of Chicago's School Reform, contains four articles that examine the district's attempt to use Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate programs to boost student achievement in the Windy City's high schools. http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/05-01/0501toc.htm

This provocative book by John Abbott and Terry Ryan argues that our education problem isn't something that can be solved by altering schools but, rather, must be tackled by entire communities. They don't, in fact, believe that today's schools are the right focus for tomorrow's education. They seek "dynamic learning" as a "way of life," something that becomes the community's preoccupation an integral part of its culture, assuming many institutional and interpersonal forms. This is not the usual romanticism about "deschooling society," however. It's a fairly tough-minded analysis (informed by research into cognitive psychology and human development) of central assumptions about education and how these might be rebuilt from scratch. You will find it farsighted. You may or may not find it actionable. 212 pages. The ISBN is 0871205130. It's published in the U.S. by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1703 N. Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311. The phone is (800) 933-2723 or (703) 578-9600. The fax is (703) 575-5400 and the website is www.ascd.org.

With annual testing at the heart of President Bush's education plan now nearing the end of its Congressional journey, testing has never been a hotter issue in national politics.  It is also generating plenty of heat at the state and local levels as more test-and-standards-based accountability systems kick in.  Business leaders have been among the strongest advocates for higher standards and greater accountability for results, but lately some members of the business community seem cowed by vocal parents and teachers opposed to any test with real consequences. To aid standards supporters and reformers inside and beyond that business community, the Business Roundtable (BRT) has published a guide that is chock full of practical advice and illuminating opinion research.  Included are results from two studies by BRT and Public Agenda that found overwhelming support among all demographic groups for standards-based reform.  BRT advises standards advocates not to back down in the face of opposition.  This does not mean ignoring critics but, rather, engaging and working with them to fine-tune standards and generate support for the "novel" message that "virtually all children can learn at much higher levels than have been expected of previous generations."  Once those lines of communication are open,...

This 105-page study, prepared by Robert J. Marzano of the McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) regional lab under contract to the U.S. Department of Education, is an important, albeit rather technical, synthesis of 40 years of research on the characteristics of effective schools and effective teaching. Marzano writes that early studies were pessimistic about the impact schools could have. The 1966 Coleman Report and a 1972 study by Christopher Jencks and colleagues concluded that achievement is primarily a function of student background, but later studies found that schools could make a significant difference in student achievement, particularly schools with strong leadership, high expectations for students, an orderly atmosphere, an emphasis on basic skills, and effective monitoring of student achievement. Daringly, Marzano estimates that the percentage of variance in student achievement accounted for by different variables can be quantified as follows: 80.00% student background, 6.66% school variables, and 13.34% teacher variables. Marzano claims that his model finds that "[E]xceptional performance in terms of school-level factors overcomes the average performance of teachers, but not the ineffective performance of teachers" and that "[E]xceptional performance on the part of teachers not only compensates for average performance at the school level, but even...

Inspired by the negative character of most commentary on high-stakes testing in the press and the education literature, University of North Carolina psychometrician Greg Cizek has compiled a list of 10 good things that have been brought about by increased reliance on testing in our nation's schools. While he notes that today's tests do have their shortcomings, Cizek's 11-page essay is a welcome reminder of the positive consequences that follow from these tests, including professional development that is increasingly linked to the curriculum and to effective instructional practices, decision-making based on actual information about student performance, and greater equity in expectations, curriculum and instruction for all students,

"Unintended consequences of high-stakes testing," by Gregory Cizek, posted at www.EducationNews.org on June 12, 2001.

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