Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 23
June 13, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
Disappointing science standards
States can do better than the NGSS
A time for humility in federal education policy
An explicit stance of federal humility is precisely what’s called for at this time—for the causes of reform and realism both
We hate to say "I told you so"
The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better
State NAEP gains are all over the map—but we still don’t know why
Assessing the Educational Data Movement
Viewing education through the prism of Big Data
Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students
Education Trust discovers high achievers
In the final evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute grants the standards a C grade. The NGSS grade is superior to grades we granted to the science standards of sixteen states and the PISA framework in the State of State Science Standards 2012 but inferior to those of twelve states and the District of Columbia, as well as the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks.
This week’s Fordham-conferred grade of C on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be worn as a badge of honor by some misguided souls in the science-education world, but it will be a disappointment to many. We know and regret that. Having carefully reviewed the standards, however, using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—the considered judgment of our expert review team is that NGSS is not the cure the country needs for its abysmal performance in science.
Yes, they’re better than the standards that many states are currently using—indeed, at least a little better than half the states and clearly superior to sixteen of them. On the other hand, five states (plus D.C.) earned grades of A or A- from our reviewers. So did the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks. Another seven states earned B’s. Check out the map and table below.
Yes, students and teachers in a bunch of states would be somewhat better off if their curriculum, instruction, and assessments were geared to NGSS rather than their abysmal present standards. But they’d be far better off if they Xeroxed (and faithfully implemented) South Carolina’s excellent science standards or if they constructed new ones around the
Michael J. Petrilli / June 10, 2013
To every thing there is a season.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven
- Ecclesiastes 3:1
For more than four years now, we at the Fordham Institute have been arguing for a federal education policy of “Reform Realism”—one that is reform-oriented but also realistic about what Washington can effectively achieve. It’s a compromise position of sorts, putting us between the “Army of the Potomac” (lefty reformers who have never glimpsed a problem that Uncle Sam can’t solve) and the Local Controllers (Tea Party types who want zero federal role in education, thank you ma’am). We further fleshed out our vision two years ago with our ESEA Briefing Book and list of 10 recommendations to imbue that key federal law with Reform Realism.
Halfway through 2013, we find ourselves examining another set of ESEA bills, with another series of ESEA mark-ups in front of us. And after highlighting the ridiculous prescriptiveness of the Senate Democrats’s proposal, I find myself under attack from my friends on the left for abandoning Reform Realism and joining the Local Controllers. Have I drunk the Kool-Aid—er, tea?
Granted, it’s harder for me
The Education Gadfly / June 13, 2013
According to the Times, ability grouping is back, after being unfairly stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by misguided ideologues. We hope it’s true, because such grouping enables teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students appropriately—and can be used to match learning styles as well as achievement levels. (Free speech endures at Fordham, however, and not everyone concurs.)
Following school-board squabbles and the subsequent implementation of a new but compromised governance structure (by which the county executive appoints the district CEO and three school-board members), the Prince George’s County public schools have a new board chairman: NEA Director of Teacher Quality Segun Eubanks. We know and respect Eubanks and wish him the best of luck—but can’t help but smirk. What a classic case of the union sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.
To help close its $304 million budget deficit (brought on in large part by skyrocketing pension costs), the school district of Philadelphia announced that it has pink-slipped 3,783 employees: 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides—a move that Superintendent Hite called “nothing less than catastrophic.” We hate to say, “I told you so”…
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / June 13, 2013
In this study on the potential impact of No Child Left Behind on student achievement and education inequality, analysts John Chubb and Connie Clark bite off a big topic that’s perhaps more than they can chew. First they demonstrate that the nationwide gains on the NAEP exams (in math and reading in grades four and eight) in the NCLB era (2003–11) were over twice as large as those during the pre-NCLB era (1992–2000). (By omitting 2000–03, they avoid NCLB’s transition years—which also happened to be a time of explosive progress in achievement.) Black, Hispanic, and low-income students made particularly large gains. Then Chubb and Clark turn to state-by-state differences and note that progress varied widely—ranging from almost fifty-point gains (in Maryland and D.C.) to nearly no growth or a loss (Iowa and West Virginia). Controlling for socioeconomic status and starting test scores, the analysts find a gap of forty-five scale points between the largest and smallest gainers—showcasing an oft-ignored state-to-state achievement gap, according to Chubb and Clark. From there, they take a qualitative look at ESEA waivers from states that have made lots and little progress on NAEP during the NCLB era. They conclude that being serious about reform—such as implementing tough accountability systems and benchmarking assessments against other measures of college readiness—is what makes the difference. (In fact, the authors posit that the historically high achievers have built these smart reforms into their waiver applications while the low achievers
Laura Zaccagnino / June 13, 2013
When it comes to using data for education policy and reform, two factions emerge: modern Luddites who fear the mechanization of schooling and tech-savvy number crunchers who tend to believe that data will solve all of education’s woes. This book by IT pro Philip Piety deftly weaves between the factions and offers a valuable read for teachers, administrators, and policymakers looking to work productively with educational data without becoming overwhelmed. Piety divides it into three sections. The first lays out the history of the educational-data “movement” and the current debate surrounding value-added measures and testing. The second discusses best practices in and applications of administrative infrastructures—which include data systems about teaching methods and students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program created a powerful research tool and a nexus of information crucial to federal, state, and local policy goals. The third examines how data can be helpful to the “technical core”—that is, students, teachers, materials, and classrooms. Even more helpful, the author showcases how Teach For America and KIPP use metrics innovatively to, among other things, improve instruction.
SOURCE: Philip J. Piety, Assessing the Educational Data Movement (New York, NY: Teachers College, Colombia University, 2013).
In the midst of a blooming field of research on how to serve high-achieving minority and lower-income youngsters, this report from Education Trust plants a welcome bud. Noting that the sturdiest predictor of college success is the richness of a student’s course of study in high school, and concerned about how few minority and low-income students opt to take challenging Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the authors set out to understand the extent of these inequities—and what can be done to reverse the trend. After determining that 71 percent of all U.S. high schools in 2009–10 had at least one student take an AP examination, providing 91 percent of all students with some AP access, they outlined the extent of the gap: 6 percent of African American students take AP courses, compared with 11.9 percent of white students and 25.1 percent of Asians; similarly, 5.5 percent of low-income students take AP courses, versus 15.6 percent of all other students. The authors go on to recommend a number of actions that district and high school educators can take, from simply expanding awareness among underrepresented student groups to creating a network of supports for students taking advanced courses. But while most of these proposals seem reasonable, the recommendation that schools ensure that their barriers to AP enrollment are not too “rigid” stuck out like a sore green thumb. While there are plenty of qualified and underrepresented students