Tests and finances

GadflyIn a futile effort to counter the influence of test-preparation companies, New York City’s education department changed part of the test it administers to four-year-olds to determine whether or not they are gifted and talented. For parents who cannot afford to send their child to one of the city’s myriad private schools, a coveted and scarce seat in a public school gifted program is the best start they could give to their children. While many lament the unjust advantage that students with access to test-prep programs obtain, the true tragedy is the dearth of suitable options for all of the gifted children. For more, listen to this week’s Gadfly Show.

Eliciting a keen sense of deja vu, this year's AP Report to the Nation—College Board's tracking of AP course-taking patterns and exam pass rates—offers the same three takeaways as last year's report: Participation rates in the AP are fast on the rise (up 2 percentage points since last year and 14 since last decade). So are AP exam passing rates: up 1.5 percentage points since 2011 and 7 points since 2002. Still, minority involvement flounders, with less than a third of "qualified" Latinos and African American (as decided by PSAT scores) enrolling in an AP course. Expect further unpacking of what these numbers may mean for Common Core implementation, college-remediation courses, and more next week.

The congressionally mandated Equity and Excellence Commission issued a call for both equity and excellence in American public schools (back to the future?). On Tuesday, the group presented its “blueprint” for achieving such an end: early-childhood education should be expanded, all kids should have a high-quality teacher, and school funding should be made more equal. Patent office: Fear not, no one from this commission will be knocking on your door.

In yet another insightful Brown Center Chalkboard post, Russ Whitehurst peeled back the Obama Administration’s misleading rhetoric on “universal pre-K” to reveal a surprisingly tasty fruit. The president’s actual plan will target lower-income families, approach quality in a data- and assessment-driven way, and link program funding to a “rigorous curriculum.” Still, Whitehurst points out several areas that need improvement or elaboration: The plan is silent on the role of parental choice, for example, and—impractically—states that pre-K teachers must be paid “comparably to K–12 staff.”

Storm clouds of teacher dissatisfaction have been brewing since 2009, according to the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. The latest edition, released today, sounds a thunderclap of frustration: Only 39 percent of teachers are "extremely satisfied" with their jobs—down 5 percentage points from last year alone. Principals report feeling worn down, too, with three out of four reporting that their jobs have become "too complex." Whether due to budget cuts (as Van Roekel has surmised), new accountability provisions and other reforms (Randi called that one), or something else, reformers should prepare for a brewing tempest—lest all we built be knocked back down.

Colorado lawmaker (and uber-reformer) Mike Johnston has proposed a new funding system for his state—which hasn’t changed its school-finance arrangements in two decades—that owes much to Rhode Island’s three-step model. Among other things, it would replace the October 1st student count with an average over four days throughout the year, provide state matching funds for smaller districts that pass local tax levies, and offer additional funding for special- and gifted-education programs. And, recognizing the state’s recent unfunded education reforms, the bill includes $600 per student for districts to spend at will.

Last week, Reuters alleged that some stand-alone charter schools build obstacles into their application processes in order to deter unfit students. Certain practices strike Gadfly as particularly insidious, such as making applications available for only a few hours a year and unlawfully requiring that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates. Charter officials are right to promise a crack-down. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for allowing schools to specialize; we’d welcome laws that would explicitly enable charters to be selective so schools wouldn’t go about their business in such slippery ways.

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