Flypaper

New York state's test scores in math were released yesterday, and not surprisingly they were up, up, up. That's not surprising because test scores on state tests almost always go up. That's usually because, over time, teachers and students get used to the test format and better learn how to prepare for the assessments. But that doesn't mean the kiddos are actually learning more math. And sure enough, the gains were widespread. Students in New York City did better, but so did students in each of the other big cities, and the state as a whole.

I told the Times as much, and (another surprise!) that has Joel's folks unhappy with me. They are particularly displeased with my comments about the achievement gap which, I'll admit, came through rather garbled in the article. So let me try this again.

NYC officials are making much of the fact that the "achievement gaps" between white and black and white and Hispanic students are closing. Here's how the Times reported it:

There was also evidence that the gap among students of different races was narrowing in a city

...
Alex Klein

Checker has an op-ed up at The National Review's "The Corner" blog, in which he compares and contrasts the auto industry's bankruptcies with the education system's.

To be sure, schools are smaller than giant corporations, but they're at least as burdened by employee contracts, long-term obligations, community roots, political entanglements, all manner of vendors and suppliers, and "shareholders" in the form of children and parents that depend on them. And because they are public agencies rather than private firms, there is nothing quite like "Chapter 11" through which they can be stripped of their debts and obligations, reorganized, and given a fresh start.

This fresh start, or "reconstitution," can take the form of school closures, and that's just what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is looking to do with thousands of "dreadful schools," as Checker terms them. More from Checker:

As Education Secretary, Duncan runs no schools and has no direct authority over closing or reconstituting even the worst of them. He can, however, manipulate three levers:

  • Billions in discretionary spending under the federal "stimulus" package, far more than any of his predecessors had. With that cash, he can try, in effect, to bribe states
  • ...

    It appears that Illinois is about to raise its charter cap. Secretary Duncan must be smiling. He has made clear that states wanting to compete for discretionary stimulus funds must show they are serious about reform, by, among other things, lifting charter caps.

    We'll never know whether IL would have done this anyway or if the threat was determinative. Either way, this is good news for kids and a small victory for ED. Let's hope other states follow suit and adopt meaningful reforms in advance of the Race to the Top and What Works competitions.

    Mike and I don't disagree all that often, but I'm MUCH more encouraged about NYC's math gains than he is.

    More students are passing the test. Average scores are increasing. The gap between the city's scores and the state's are closing. The racial achievement gap is narrowing. Similarly positive results were seen in ELA.

    Rather than concluding that kids are learning more, Mike says this is just evidence that kids and teachers have gotten accustomed to the tests. First, that seems like hyper-skepticism--an exaggerated effort to explain away positive results.

    Second, that analysis strikes me as a bit unfair to those running school systems. So we have to discount all improvements in test scores? How can a city or state demonstrate that things are getting better then?

    NYC just reported significant gains on the measures they're held accountable for: state reading and math scores. Maybe I'm naive, but that seems like more reason for encouragement than cynicism....

    NYT's Dillon writes about Secretary Duncan's turnaround plans. This article makes it sound like Duncan is in favor of 10s.

    The Education Gadfly

    Common Core is out with a new report that excerpts national curricula, standards, and assessments from nine nations that consistently outrank the United States on international comparison tests. Join Common Core on Tuesday, June 2, 4:00-5:30 pm in Washington DC as Diane Ravitch, Martin West, Sheila Byrd and Eduardo Andere discuss Why We're Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don't. For more information, read the full Common Core event invitation or e-mail [email protected].

    It's well known that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be questioned about her ruling in Ricci vs. DeStafano whereby she upheld New Haven, Connecticut's decision to invalidate the results of a firefighter promotion test because no African-Americans qualified for advancement. (That case is now under Supreme Court review, and most analysts expect it to be overturned.) As the Washington Post reported:

    The promotion results produced a heated debate in the city, and government lawyers warned the independent civil service board that if it certified the test results, minority firefighters might have a good case for claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal guidelines presume discrimination when a test has such a disparate impact on minorities.

    In a short statement dismissing the case, Sotomayor in effect agreed with the government lawyers that the city had reason to worry about such a discrimination suit if they used the test as intended.

    With that in mind, consider this article from Boston from a few weeks ago, "Ex-teachers sue over licensing exam: Say test is biased against minorities." (Thanks...

    To universal preschool, that is. In yesterday's New York Post, he writes:

    Most parents are delighted to share their childcare expenses with taxpayers. Yet there's shockingly little evidence that this costly dash to universalize the preschool experience will do much good for American education, particularly the kids who most need help preparing for kindergarten. It's more like a new middle-class entitlement -- and an expansion of the public-school empire.

    If you want to hear more, chime in, or push back, sign up to attend Thursday's event, here at Fordham, about Checker's new book, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut. You'll even get a free copy of the book!...

    Amy Fagan

    This LA Times piece tells the story of American Indian Public Charter (and its two sibling schools) in the "hardscrabble flats of Oakland;" schools that are--according to the story's provocative title--"spitting in the eye of mainstream education." At the "small, no frills independent public schools," it explains, students, nearly all of them poor, wear uniforms and are subject to order and discipline similar to that of a military school. Liberal orthodoxy is openly mocked and underperforming teachers are fired, the article says.

    On a scale of one to 1,000 on California's "Academic Performance Index," which is used as a measuring tool for schools, American Indian Public Charter School scores 967, according to the piece, when the statewide average is below 750 and about 650 for schools with mostly low-income students.

    The story goes into a lot more detail, so check it out. And if you'd like to dig even deeper to find out more about this school, check out David Whitman's book "Sweating the Small Stuff." Whitman dedicated nearly 30 pages to American Indian Public Charter as one of 6 highly-effective "paternalistic" schools he examined. It's definitely an interesting read!...

    During his speech Friday at the National Press Club,????Secretary Duncan again talked passionately about the opportunity for reform and improvement. Content-wise, it was largely his standard speech--the assurances from the ARRA with some additions here and there. Importantly, he again????put the spotlight on the nation's worst schools, talking about the need to address the lowest performing one percent each year.

    He said there should be no more tinkering; we need a "dramatic overhaul." He accurately pointed out that these schools have in many cases been failing for years, even decades, and that the students deserve better. ????This was good stuff. ????Kudos to the secretary.

    Unfortunately, he also made the following claim, which is misleading at best:

    ???????I want to ask the country to think very differently about those schools at the bottom...We know what works...What we have????lacked is the political will to do the right thing.???????

    The truth is that we do not know how to turn around the nation's worst schools. Good, smart people have been trying for decades, and our success rate is extraordinarily small. He went on to say that there are too few states, districts, and nonprofits trying to turn around these...

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