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, standards advocates can work with teachers, parents, and others to maximize the benefits of testing for improving instructional efficacy and student achievement.  All who are involved in the battle over testing will want to read this report.  Free copies are available from The Business Roundtable at 1615 L Street, NW,...

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 ineffective performance at the school level." In addition, the author suggests that even background characteristics might be altered in a way that enhances student achievement by (1) providing parents with information, resources, and techniques to make the home environment more conducive to academic achievement; and (2) providing students with interventions...

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.

California gave its new high school exit exam for the first time this year and newspapers across the state last week made much of the "abysmal" results: less than 45 percent of the state's 9th graders passed the test.  While a committee of teachers had recommended that the state set the passing score at 70 percent, the state board of education voted to lower the bar to 60 in English and 55 in math rather than allow even more students to flunk the test.

Given the nature of the test, however, the school board fears and journalistic alarms seem unwarranted.  Unlike the standardized tests around which the rest of California's  accountability system is built, the new graduation test is aligned with the state's academic standards. (The California Senate last week passed a bill that would replace off-the-shelf tests given in other grades with tests tied to the state's standards.) The English part of the high school exit exam covers material that students are expected to learn through the end of their sophomore year and the math test covers geometry, algebra, and statistics.  Expecting most students to pass a high school exit exam at the end of their first year of high school shows little faith in the capacity of those schools to teach students much - or indeed in the academic value added by the entire high school experience. (And what is a student who passes the state exit test in 9th grade supposed to do during the rest of...

In the past several days, you may well have read assertions by U.S. Senators, explaining their vote against the Gregg amendment to include a voucher pilot program in the big elementary/secondary education bill, to the effect that there is no evidence that such programs work. (Of course they were voting against a demonstration intended to find out whether such programs work!) But they were wrong. Paul Peterson and his team at the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) have created a veritable cottage industry of voucher studies, including careful evaluations of a number of the privately funded programs that have recently proliferated. Some of those studies include information on student achievement. Others don't. Two recent ones that don't look at achievement are nonetheless illuminating on many other fronts. In January, the Harvard team published its evaluation of San Francisco's BASIC Fund Scholarship Program. In March appeared a review of the national Children's Scholarship Fund. More are in the pipeline. Based on phone surveys of parents and students, their great contribution is comparing the experiences, attitudes and satisfaction of those who used a private scholarship to move from public to private school with those who did not. Both these studies are based on one-year effects. Both are full of interesting data and valuable insights. They abjure general conclusions and sweeping generalizations. On the whole, however, it appears that families making the public-to-private move end up more satisfied with their new schools on sundry dimensions, even though those schools lack...

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Japan is overhauling its elementary-secondary education system. According to the Education Ministry, explains Craig Coley, "in place of 'overemphasizing intellectual education' schools will teach more 'zest for living.' The curriculum will stress creativity and independent thinking."

This is great news for America and bad news for Japan. Just as the U.S. shows signs of recovering from the excesses of progressivism, Japan plunges in. Perhaps its children can now look forward to an overdose of "relevance," encouragement to learn whatever they like, teachers who see their roles as "guides on the side," and nobody held responsible for meeting external academic standards.

When that day dawns, we'll no longer feel that Japan has superior schools. U.S. children will surpass their Japanese age mates on international assessments of math and science. And Japan will ooze deeper into the fever swamps of goofy education ideas.

Perhaps I exaggerate. It's difficult to imagine a land as top-down, buttoned-down, homogenized and precise as Japan ever turning its kids loose to learn whatever tickles their fancies. Not, in any case, until Japanese trains stop arriving at the precise moment and place that the timetable dictates.

Still, the Education Ministry's Rainbow Plan, aka Education Reform Plan for the 21st Century, indicates that Japan is headed in the direction we are emerging from. (You can see an English language summary at http://www.mext.go.jp/english/topics/21plan/010301.htm.)

Based on a commission's recommendations, the seven-part plan includes such gems as "foster youth into becoming open and warm-hearted Japanese" and "improve...

Senator James Jeffords may have made special ed reform even less likely when he let it be known that the White House's refusal to boost spending for this program was part of the reason for his decision to leave the GOP, writes Michelle Cottle in this week's New Republic.  She explains why real change is unlikely and why that's most unfortunate for children.

"Reform school," by Michelle Cottle, The New Republic, June 18, 2001.

Terry Moe's important new Brookings book has a title meant to recall his and John Chubb's influential 1990 work (also published by Brookings), Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. This volume should have an impact, too. Based primarily on a massive 1995 survey, it analyzes U.S. public opinion on vouchers more thoroughly and exhaustively than anyone has ever done. While opinion is not the only proper basis for policy, in a democracy it's mighty influential. Moe's findings are not easily summarized in politician-style sound-bytes, however, because on these matters the American public feels several different ways at the same time. It certainly believes in public schools and, for the most part, is satisfied with its public schools. Yet it also thinks private schools do a better job and, if money were no object, many people bent on seeking the best schools for their children would move to them. Hence they'd welcome vouchers. But they care not just about the abstract "market principle" of vouchers. They also have strong views about how a voucher program should work. Perhaps their two most important opinions are (a) that a voucher program should include church-affiliated schools but (b) all schools participating in a voucher program should be subject to "basic regulations...that hold them accountable for quality and proper management." As you can see, there's plenty here to provide grist not only for every side of this fractious debate but also for fair-minded people wondering why it's all so fractious! This sizable tome runs 450 pages....