Unassociated

A random confluence of events can sometimes be clarifying. That happened to me one day last week. What got clarified was why U.S. kids aren't learning enough.

The morning brought fresh evidence that they're not: the 2000 NAEP math results. As you have read elsewhere (and can read below), while NAEP showed some gains (in grades 4 and 8, not 12), overall scores remain lamentable. The number of "proficient" youngsters is way too low while the proportion "below basic" is far too large. Although black and Hispanic students gained, for the country as a whole the majority-minority gaps actually widened. Once again, it's starkly clear that, if we're serious about leaving no child behind, urgent and profound changes must be made, above all by focusing schools more tightly on fundamental skills and knowledge in key subjects.

The same evening, I gained an insight into why that's not happening. The event was a VIP preview screening of a new documentary that PBS will air in early September. Entitled "The First Year," and produced by up-and-coming young filmmaker Davis Guggenheim with funding from the Getty Foundation, this 80 minute show-which is already beginning to elicit adulatory reviews-profiles five young teachers during their...

Teach for America teachers perform as well or better than other teachers employed by the Houston Independent School District, according to an independent study by CREDO, a research group based at Stanford's Hoover Institution. An editorial in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution argues that Georgia should also open its doors to prospective teachers like these. Read "Houston: A Teaching Success Story" in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 2, 2001 at http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/epaper/editions/thursday/opinion.html . The CREDO study can be downloaded at http://credo.stanford.edu/working_papers.htm.

The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University

When surveyed, an overwhelming majority of U.S. parents say that exposing their child to diversity is important. As a large influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants (as well as other changes) make the United States increasingly diverse, one might expect that our schools would mirror this greater diversity. A new study by Gary Orfield and Nora Gordon from the Harvard Civil Rights Project, however, finds that schools across the country are resegregating at accelerating rates. The authors argue that these trends are cause for concern because segregated schools can offer vastly unequal educational opportunities; in particular, segregated minority schools are overwhelmingly likely to have to contend with the educational impacts of concentrated poverty. The authors name several causes for resegregation, including the reversal in policy over desegregation by the Supreme Court and lower courts over the past decade and the failure to develop a policy that addresses the realities of metropolitan communities. This study offers hard data on changing ethnic populations in schools in different regions of the United States, a legal and social history of segregation and desegregation, and policy recommendations for federal, state and city governments. To download or view a...

Public/Private Ventures

The recent focus on improving student achievement has brought renewed attention to the what schools are doing. However, this report suggests that policymakers should not be so quick to rush out when the dismissal bell rings. After-school, weekend, and summer programs can also play an important role in the academic and social development of youth. This new report by Public/Private Ventures discusses the hurdles faced by school-based after-school programs. Though the authors claim to have examined 60 after-school programs in 17 cities across the country, the report's findings are a bit slim. Nevertheless, Challenges and Opportunities in After-School Programs examines important considerations involving physical space, student participation, and transportation. Obstacles it identifies include the increased wear and tear on school buildings, the inability of programs to reach the most at-risk children, and the shortage of after-school transportation to take participants home. The report alludes to the positive academic impact of after-school programs, but it offers few suggestions in this area. Steering clear of program content, it tackles more pragmatic questions of implementation. In the end it concludes, "policymakers and funders...must balance optimism about the programs' potential with some degree of caution," for programs "face very real challenges...

National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation presents this study on Urban Systemic Initiatives, a math and science reform program, as proof of the program's success in boosting math and science test scores in urban districts. Enrollment among minorities in higher-level math and science classes is up in the 22 selected districts, more students are taking the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, and student performance on state standardized tests shows significant gains. But before applauding this seemingly successful reform movement, it is worth noting that an earlier report reviewed here-Beating the Odds: A City-By-City Analysis of Student Performance and Achievement Gaps on State Assessments by the Council of Great City Schools-found strikingly similar gains in 55 major urban districts, most of which did not participate in an Urban Systemic Initiative. While Urban Systemic Initiatives may have influenced results in the 22 participating districts, without any control group of districts for comparison, it is impossible to know whether this reform works. To view this report on the web, go to http://www.systemic.com/usi/booklet.htm For hard copies, send requests to Systemic Research Incorporated at 150 Kerry Pl., 2nd Floor, Norwood, MA 02062....

National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics has just issued an important analysis of black-white differences in various economic and educational outcomes. The main finding is not surprising: the higher the prior academic achievement of blacks, the narrower the gaps between blacks and whites in young adulthood-and sometimes the gaps close entirely. For example, "for young adults with similar levels of prior educational achievement [defined as parity on earlier tests of math and/or reading], black-white gaps in unemployment rates were at least one-half smaller than for young adults as a whole. Among men with similar levels of prior educational achievement, black-white gaps in annual earnings were at least two-fifths smaller than for men as a whole. Black women with levels of prior educational achievement similar to white women earned as much as, or more than, their white counterparts." Similar gap-narrowings are visible in college attendance and completion rates. As for the achievement gaps themselves, in math the black-white gap narrows in elementary school, widens in junior high and doesn't change during high school. The reading pattern is more erratic. The authors do not say what causes what. They do not make predictions or policy recommendations. They...

Education historian Maris A. Vinovskis is the author of this thorough, fact-filled and perceptive 270-page volume subtitled "Improving the R & D Centers, Regional Educational Laboratories, and the 'New' OERI." Much of the material in its five chapters has appeared elsewhere, but it's extremely valuable to have this all in one place. The first chapter is a close look at the work of the OERI-funded and university-based "centers." The second takes a critical (but not hostile) look at the infamous "labs." The third examines the crummy, lobbyist-whipped job of "oversight" of the labs and centers by Congress. The fourth recounts and appraises the structural reforms of OERI during the 1990's. And the fifth (and timeliest) recaps Vinovskis's thoughts on how this all might be done better in the future. He never strays too far from his material, so this is no polemic. There are times when one might wish he drew stronger conclusions. But this is a careful, balanced, nuanced work, likely to hold considerable interest for aficionados of education research in general and the federal efforts therein in particular. The ISBN is 0-472-11210-4. The publisher is The University of Michigan Press, most easily found on the web at ...

Harold J. Noah (emeritus professor at Teachers College, Columbia) and Max A. Eckstein (emeritus professor at Queens College, CUNY) have written this disturbing book about education fraud and chicanery. They spotlight student cheating, credentials fraud and misconduct by professionals. The first of those topics regularly makes it into the news, but they also offer alarming and less familiar examples under the second and third headings. Most of their evidence of credentials fraud involves diploma mills, but they also illustrate forgeries and falsifications. Professional misconduct includes helping students cheat, plagiarizing other scholars' work, fabricating research findings, and suchlike. Noah and Eckstein do a better job of spotlighting these problems than of explaining their origins and devising solutions. Progressive educators both, they track the rising incidence of fraud to the intensifying of "competitive pressures," notably mounting emphasis on test scores, which boosts the incentive to cheat, etc. But that's not all. They even finger the local property tax as a source of this problem! As expected, they urge a lessening of competitive pressure by reducing the importance of test-driven accountability. They tread very lightly on other possible solutions, such as more rigorous enforcement of standards, better proctoring of tests, more careful checking...

The arguments that teachers make against merit pay are nothing new, according to Steven Malanga. When merit pay was introduced into American industry in the 1980s, many grumbled that the contributions of individual workers couldn't be measured. But while developing performance-pay systems that work takes time, many believe that the introduction of merit pay was crucial to the boost in productivity that American firms began to experience in the late 1980s. In an article in the latest City Journal, Steven Malanga examines how merit pay has been used in the private sector and how teachers in Cincinnati, Iowa, and Denver are experimenting with it today. Read "Why Merit Pay Will Improve Teaching," by Steven Malanga, City Journal, Summer 2001. Not available online; for more information about the magazine, see http://www.city-journal.org

Inasmuch as last week's column was about chickens (Chicken Littles, to be precise) it's fitting that this one is about canards-the loud-quacking kind-that need to be put out of their misery and cooked fast.

Roaming the education reform field, I've encountered many ridiculous statements hurled at those who seek major changes in the K-12 delivery system. My purpose here is to respond to a half dozen of the most absurd.

First canard: "You'd let anyone into the classroom to teach, without having them meet any external standards."

The truth: This canard is generally voiced by people who assume that the way to get better teachers for U.S. schools is to regulate entry ever more stringently via state certification and a requirement that everyone complete a state-approved and nationally-accredited training program. But why is this the only option? Private schools are free to hire whomever they like, as are many charter schools, and they seem to be doing fine. Why can't that freedom be extended to regular public schools as well? Each school should be able to select and deploy its own teaching team-and be held accountable for their classroom results. The state's role-here come the external standards-should be to ensure...

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