High Achievers

It’s testing season in New York, which can mean only one thing: It’s open season on Pearson, the corporation everyone loves to hate. But this time, when they crossed a serious line, far too many state leaders and reformers are holding their fire. 

To date, most of the anti-Pearson ire has been focused on a calculation error that led 5,000 New York City students to be incorrectly told that they didn’t qualify for the city’s Gifted and Talented program. Sloppy, no doubt, but not corrupt. (The error has since been corrected, and all qualified students are now eligible.)


In New York State, students whose schools purchased and used Pearson's instructional materials had an enormous advantage over those whose didn't
Photo by comedy_nose

But there is a far more serious transgression that has gotten very little attention, and it’s one that threatens the validity of the English Language Arts (ELA) scores for thousands of New York students and raises serious questions about the overlap between Pearson's curriculum and assessment divisions.

Last week, the New York Post and Daily News reported that the Pearson-developed New York State ELA sixth- and eighth-grade assessments included passages that were also in a Pearson-created, “Common Core–aligned” ELA curriculum. This meant that students in schools that purchased and used instructional materials from Pearson had an enormous advantage over those who didn’t.

Predictably, reform...

Wisdom from the land of ten thousand slushy lakes

Mike and MinnCAN’s Daniel Sellers talk Pearson, Common Core dustups, and the President’s pre-K proposal. Amber highlights funding disparities between district and charter schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Education’s Fiscal Cliff, Real or Perceived? by Larry Maloney, Meagan Batdorff, Jay May, and Michelle Terrell (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, April 2013)

Clearing the air

Dara and Daniela fume over the RNC’s Common Core action, consider the implications of Alabama’s move to the ACT, and clear the air over Florida’s teacher-evaluation mess. Amber probes Caroline Hoxby’s plan to close the college-admissions information gap facing high-achieving, low-income youngsters.

Amber's Research Minute

Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner (Stanford, CA: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 2013).

Despite sterling academic records and substantial financial-aid opportunities, high-achievers from poor families rarely even apply to America’s elite colleges and universities. In a previous study, researchers Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery attributed this to an information deficit: These kids (the researchers excluded kids who attend “feeder” schools) tend to reside in small towns located far from selective colleges and attend high schools with overworked, ill-prepared counselors and student bodies less attuned to selective college admissions. This follow-up study, conducted by Hoxby and Sarah Turner, examines one potential solution: thoughtful, tailored information about selective college admissions that is delivered to students’ doorsteps. In 2009, Hoxby and Turner established the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) program, which randomly mailed college informational packets to thousands of high-ability seniors (12,000 of them in 2011–12). The main finding: Sending students informational materials—especially materials that offered clear financial-aid information—caused these youngsters to apply to and matriculate at colleges of greater selectivity at greater rates. Even more noteworthy, the packets cost just six bucks a pop to produce and mail. The upshot: Instead of languishing in (or dropping out of) a college beneath their abilities, they’ll seek out a campus suited to their gifts. If, as the authors suggest, ECO (or a kindred program) is scaled to reach all of the nation’s high-flying, low-income kids, it could seriously shrink the college-opportunity gap; here’s hoping.

SOURCE: Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, “Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee...

This is Jurassic Park

Mike and Dara go beyond the Triassic in this week’s podcast, discussing a pre-K tax on tobacco, the new NGSS, and Texas’s two-step on graduation standards. Amber gets competitive with a discussion of school choice in Milwaukee.

Amber's Research Minute

Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee schools,” by Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, Education Finance and Policy 8 (1): 43-73

GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as test-prep programs. And (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) there still aren’t enough suitable options for gifted children.

Researchers from Yale, MIT, USC, and Stanford, with a little pocket change (i.e., a $10 million grant) from the National Science Foundation, are experimentally placing...

The World is Phat

Mike and Kathleen bust some podcast moves, taking on Thomas Friedman over “innovation education,” revamped teacher-evaluation systems whose results look suspiciously last season, and the Atlanta test-fraud scandal. Amber is the mayor of mayoral control.

Amber's Research Minute

Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, March 2013).

The characteristics and number of students who take an exam—especially a voluntary one such as the AP exams—are surely important. This week’s blog How do Ohio’s AP scores stack up? showed that Indiana’s AP scores were noticeably below their Midwestern peers, including the Buckeye State. Ohio’s AP scores were, on average, quite competitive with its peer states and well above Indiana’s.

One plausible theory for Indiana’s dismal AP scores is that a greater proportion of its high school students take the AP exams. This may indicate that more lower-achieving students—students who are less likely to score well on AP exams—may be taking AP exams in Indiana compared to other Midwestern states.

To probe whether this theory holds water, I calculate the percentage of junior and seniors who take the AP exams for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The charts below show the percentage of juniors and seniors who took at least one AP exam in spring 2012. The table at the end of the post reports the number of public and nonpublic school students in each class as well as the number of test-takers.

Indiana and Illinois lead, Ohio lags – Percentage of juniors and seniors taking at least one AP exam, public and nonpublic students, selected states, 2011-12

Sources: Illinois State Board of Education; Indiana Department of Education; Michigan Department of Education, public and nonpublic enrollment;  Ohio Department of Education;...

In Ohio, there were 368 charter schools open during the 2011-12 school year. Of these charter schools, there were 26 e-schools, 87 drop-out recovery schools, and 35 special education charter schools. And, there was one charter school dedicated to serving gifted students.

Menlo Park Academy, located in Southwest Cleveland, is the Buckeye State’s lone public charter school for the gifted. The school has consistently earned strong academic marks from the state, rated “Excellent” (A) for the past three school years. Menlo Park enrolls over 300 K-8 students, who come from forty plus school districts. The student body is nearly entirely White and Asian (over 90 percent).

Yesterday, at the invitation of school director Mrs. Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Checker Finn presented findings from Fordham’s 2011 study Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? and fielded questions about gifted education from a group of Menlo Park parents and educators. In the High Flyers report, Fordham found that nearly half of America’s top-shelf students “lose altitude”—failing to remain at or above the ninetieth percentile in test scores—from third to eighth grade.

From left to right: Assistant School Director Jim Kennedy, Board Member Michael Love, School Director Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Fordham President Checker Finn

Can opening more schools such as Menlo Park provide an antidote to the declining opportunities that Ohio’s gifted students have to reach their full potential? It very well could. But, of course, it will require...

The All-Girl Edition

Dara and Kathleen put on their thinking caps to discuss Common Core implementation, ability grouping, and pre-K absenteeism. Amber joins in for some March Madness dishing—and some tough love for eighth-grade Algebra.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? by Tom Loveless (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)

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