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A couple of reports last week reanimated the debate about what to do with Catholic schools, which have been hemorrhaging students for the last couple of decades. The new challenge—“one of their most complex… yet,” writes Sean Cavanagh in Education Week—is charter schools. One, by former RAND economist Richard Buddin, was published by the Cato Institute; the other, by Abraham Lackman, a scholar-in-residence at the Albany Law School, in Albany, New York, is not out yet, but was summarized by Cavanagh in the Ed Week story. Writes Cavanagh,

Many charter schools tout attributes similar to those offered by the church's schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.

And Buddin, whose report is more broadly aimed at measuring the impact of charters on all private schools, says,

[C]harter schools are pulling large numbers of students from the private education market and present a potentially dev­astating impact on the private education market, as well as a serious increase in the financial burden on taxpayers.

As both Adam Emerson and Kathleen Porter-Magee have already pointed out, Catholic schools were in decline long before charters came on the scene. Between 1960, when Catholics educated one out of every eight American school-age children (5.2 million) and 1990, when charter schools first came on the scene, 30 percent of the 13,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. closed (with enrollment plummeting to 2.5 million). In fact, since the pace...

Michael Harrington could easily have been describing McDowell County, West Virginia when he wrote in The Other America that “everything that turns the landscape into an idyll for an urban traveler conspires to hold the people down. They suffer terribly at the hands of beauty.” Home to breathtaking views of the Appalachians, this sparsely spread community near the Kentucky and Virginia borders contains some of the worst public schools in the nation and is plagued by drug abuse and chronic unemployment. According to the Register-Herald of Berkley, West Virginia, “72 percent of students live in a household without gainful employment and 46 percent of McDowell County students do not live with their biological parents.” The poverty rate for students is 49 percentand McDowell has the highest instance on prescription drug overdoses in the nation.

Think Harlem Children's Zone for an entire rural county.

Attempting to change the social and educational dynamics behind these statistics, organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, Alliance for Excellent Education, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Verizon, and the United Mine Works have begun an ambitious five-year plan to write “a new chapter” for this community: Reconnect McDowell. What makes this reform initiative so unique is the full-spectrum approach these organizations are taking to change the education, economic, and social realities facing McDowell’s impoverished students and residents—think Harlem Children’s Zone for an entire rural county.

Just as in Harlem, school reform will be a major aspect of the process. Currently, just 26...

Bob Vanourek

It’s been called “one of the most brazen cheating scandals in the nation.”

The Crescendo charter-school network in southern California combined strict academics with arts and music, and its schools’ past test scores were impressive—but, apparently, tainted. According to a recent Los Angeles Times report that cited two separate investigations, principals of the Los Angeles-area schools—following orders from the founder and CEO—gave copies of upcoming state tests to teachers to study, and perhaps also to students to practice and prep using actual questions from the test itself.

Taking a test
Cheating scandals won't stop until we learn something from them. 
Photo by Casey Serin

The investigations blamed John Allen, Crescendo’s founder and CEO. According to the L.A. Times, “Allen’s biggest fixation was test scores.” Sources noted that he was driven by a desire to be “better, better, better, best.” At one point, he reportedly told the staff at one school, “You better score a 900 this year” (out of 1,000 points possible on California’s Academic Performance Index). Apparently, there were threats to principals and teachers if they didn’t “get with the program.”

As word leaked and an investigation began, Crescendo’s teachers were allegedly told to deny having seen the test: A cover-up was added...

Results from the umpty-fourth Phi Delta Kappan (PDK)/Gallup survey of Americans regarding public education released today, and they include some important revelations.

  • Support for the Common Core academic standards is strong and opposition weak (50 percent believe the standards will improve the quality of education; 8 percent hold they will decrease it).
  • The public divides right down the middle (a 52-48 split) over including students’ academic results in teacher evaluations.
  • For the first time, support for charter schools declined a bit since the previous survey (70 percent in favor in 2011, 66 percent this year), and it’s more partisan than before, with Republicans in favor at the 80 percent level, Democrats at 54.
  • At the same time, support for vouchers is rising, with 44 percent now positive even though the PDK/Gallup folks relentlessly phrase their voucher question in the most off-putting way possible: Do you “favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?”
  • Almost two thirds say they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to improve urban public schools. And a plurality (for the first time) says that “lack of financial support” is the biggest problem facing public schools. Yet when it comes to Uncle Sam solving that problem, a whopping majority (60 percent) says that balancing the federal budget is more urgent than improving the education system.
  • But not for illegal immigrants! Almost three in five Americans oppose providing them with public education.
  • ...

While this weekend had plenty of noteworthy education news, today I would like to note the passing of a friend of mine, Staley Keith, who made me understand something about schools and racism. He died just after the Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a troubling study on race and school suspensions and would have nodded knowingly had he seen it. Writes Gary Orfield, head of the Civil Rights Project, which published the study,

The findings in this study are deeply disturbing. Students who are barely maintaining a connection with their school often are pushed out, as if suspension were a treatment. The statistics on the use of suspension for African American and special education students are cause for great concern. We already know that African American males are disproportionately placed into categories of special education that are associated with extremely poor outcomes. We now see that these same students face incredibly high rates of suspension. Every dropout costs society hundreds of thousands of dollars over the student’s lifetime in lost income, and removing a large number of students from school undermines a community’s future. In a society that is incarcerating a large number of African American young men, with terrible consequences for their families and communities, these results are simply unacceptable. We can and must do better for young people whose future is at stake.

As Mike pointed out the other day, the report, called “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF

Mitt Romney stirred a sleepy August news cycle into action on Saturday with his introduction of Congressman Paul Ryan as running mate. The choice awakened the blogosphere, recharged the mainstream media, and enlivened policy wonks across the political continuum. By allying with an unapologetic champion of smaller government—and deep budget cuts for practically everything that Washington has undertaken—Romney has rewritten the narrative for the rest of this election cycle. As Rick Hess notes, “selecting Ryan signals that the Romney campaign, by choice or by necessity, is going to wind up talking ideology.” It also means that education could yet play a more central role in this election than previously assumed. Consider Obama’s initial response, listing numerous education programs (including Head Start and college aid) that would be cut under the Ryan (now Romney-Ryan) budget. Hess further explains: “Education is where Obama can most cleanly argue that he’s for smart ‘investments’ and not just more borrowing and spending”—and where he can highlight bipartisan support for Race to the Top and his stance on charter schooling. The economy is still the diva of this election cycle. But education—which has been a sixth-tier understudy to date—now has a greater chance of seeing some stage time during the fall campaign.

SOURCE: “Ryan’s VP Nod: What’s It Mean for Education?,” by Rick Hess, Rick Hess Straight Up!, August 13, 2012.

You may also be interested in..."Paul Ryan and the education lobby's suicide march to fiscal oblivian," by Michael J. Petrilli...

Last week the Civil Rights Project reported that black students—especially those with disabilities—are suspended at much higher rates than their peers. But does this mean, as Arne Duncan has intimated, that these youngsters are victims of discrimination? The study found that black students were 3.4 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Jarring indeed. But consider this: Black adults are 5.8 times more likely to be in prison than whites. Yes, you can make a case that our justice system is also racist. But even if that’s so, nobody would argue that eliminating racism and discrimination would remove the disparity entirely. We understand that all manner of social pathologies—poverty, single parenthood, addiction, etc.—disproportionately impact the black community. Turning that situation around is the focus of many school reformers and other social entrepreneurs. In the meantime, however, we are not wrong to expect that those pathologies will lead to higher levels of crime. So it is with school discipline. Considering what many poor, black children are up against, is it really hard to believe that they might be 3.4 times more likely to commit infractions that carry a penalty of suspension from school? As the Civil Rights Project report itself admits, the data do not “provide clear answers” to the question: “Are blacks and others misbehaving more or experiencing discrimination?” That’s an important caveat that Secretary Duncan would be wise to remember.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Flypaper blog.

SOURCE:“Opportunities Suspended: The...

Much research contributes to the education-policy debate by adding insights on a particular topic. This latest from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center, on the other hand, is interesting for what it doesn’t say: notably, that compulsory school attendance (CSA) has any bearing on graduation rates. Authors compared states with a CSA age of eighteen to those with a CSA age of sixteen or seventeen. Overall, the latter group boasts a graduation rate 1 to 2 percentage points higher than the former—findings that hold when controlling for demographic factors as well. What’s more this slight advantage tracks over time as well: Between 1994-95 and 2008-09, states with a CSA age of sixteen or seventeen moved their graduation rates by 3 percentage points. Their counterparts with a CSA age of eighteen saw no improvement in grad rate. (Remember, these are correlated data: They don’t factor in exit-exam difficulty, graduation requirements, etc.) Further, from a policy perspective, the authors find that few states are able to ensure compliance with mandated changes to CSAs. Which makes one wonder: If compulsory school attendance doesn’t move the needle on graduation rates (and, in fact, is associated with states with lower rates of high school completion) and it isn’t feasibly enforced, why have policymakers—President Obama included—made it such a focal issue?

SOURCE: Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield, Compulsory School Attendance: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, August 2012)....

Almost anyone in the field of education can tell you improving the quality of life for children is a multi-faceted endeavor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is testament to that fact. It explores four dimensions of child well-being at the national and state level: economic, education, health, and family and community. This year’s data book methodology expands last year’s, and divides it into the four dimensions to allow a closer look at education and family and community factors.

In the aftermath of “the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” the authors provide some interesting discoveries about our nation’s children. Overall national trends suggest that despite the impact of difficult economic times on children in the United States, things are slowly improving. Both child health and education have seen overall improvement. For child health, the number of children without health insurance has decreased by 20%. In education, areas such as 4th and 8th grade proficiency and on-time high school graduation have improved in recent years at the national level. 

Expectedly, economic well-being decreased for children after the recession, but initiatives like Race to the Top’s (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge and local programs that support children are attempting to curb the damage in my opinion. Specifically, Ohio’s $70 million RTTT initiative focuses primarily on kindergarten readiness and high quality, accountable programming. The Data Book ranked Ohio 18 of 50 states in its education factors; an encouraging point for our recent wave of policy changes. However,...