Two new working papers released by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest that having high grading standards and grouping students by ability (i.e. tracking) lead to improvements in academic achievement. For more, see "Do High Grading Standards Affect Student Performance?" by David Figlio and Maurice Lucas at http://papers.nber.org/papers/W7985 and "School Choice and the Distributional Effects of Ability Tracking: Does Separation Increase Equality," by David Figlio and Marianne Page at http://papers.nber.org/papers/W8055

A long piece by Linda Perlstein in the Washington Post Magazine's Education Review issue explores how schools and teachers have lost our trust and how they might restore it. "Suspicious Minds," by Linda Perlstein, Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11086-2001Jul17.html

For the first time, the US has lost its world lead in college completion rates. The UK, New Zealand, Finland, and the Netherlands all have higher percentages of young adults with college degrees than we do. Jay Mathews considers whether we should be worried in "The New Completion Competition," Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/23/nyregion/23SCHO.html?searchpv=day01

Caroline Hoxby wondered whether adopting report cards for schools causes a state to improve academic achievement. She examined state NAEP scores to see if there was any difference between states that adopted report card systems early on and states that were latecomers to the report card bandwagon. She found small but statistically significant gains for states after they began report card systems. For more, see "Testing is about Openness and Openness Works," by Caroline M. Hoxby, Hoover Weekly Essay, July 30, 2001. Essay available soon at http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/pubaffairs/we/default.html Data available at http://post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers.html

Police commanders in New York City face weekly "Compstat" meetings in which reams of crime statistics are scrutinized and commanders are grilled about trends in their precincts. As he prepares to leave office, Mayor Rudy Giuliani is pressing other city agencies to adopt similar programs to improve productivity, and Chancellor Harold Levy has announced that the New York City public school system's 32 district superintendents will face Compstat-like meetings beginning this year. While the school district's version of the meetings will not include "intense grillings ... with public upbraidings for those who cannot explain negative trends in their districts," the data, and the superintendents' responses to it, will factor heavily into their annual evaluations, and those with troubling data will have to attend private follow-up meetings with deputy chancellors. With the help of McKinsey & Company, the school district has developed new performance indicators, and the district has created mapping systems that allow the various indicators to be integrated and compared. The new data systems should make it easier not only to identify trends but also to explain them. The meetings with superintendents will be quarterly rather than weekly because most school data does not fluctuate from week to week....

University of Exeter

A study examining the just-completed first year of a new performance-pay plan in Britain has been released by University of Exeter Professor Ted Wragg. He analyzed responses from a sample of 1000 primary and secondary head teachers (principals) who were charged with implementing government-mandated performance pay in their schools. Teachers were judged in five areas: knowledge and understanding; teaching and assessment; pupil progress; wider professional effectiveness; and professional characteristics. External auditors assessed head teachers' decisions on these applications, but rarely disputed their conclusions (though the auditors based their own analysis almost entirely on paperwork, not classroom observation). The study reports that three-quarters of head teachers surveyed felt that performance pay had little or no effect on what teachers did in the classroom. The main effect of the new pay package, said the head teachers, was to increase teachers' record keeping rather than to improve classroom practices. Head teachers also reported that evaluating teachers made an awful lot of work for them! Wragg's report is full of procedural details as well as opinions and observations-mostly negative-by primary and secondary teachers. One may fairly wonder whether this is the best way to conduct this kind of evaluation. Still,...

The National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a new (June 2001) study of public-school teacher preparation and development, based on data gathered in 2000 and meant to be compared with similar data from two years earlier. This 50 page report mostly consists of tables, though there are several interpretive pages at the beginning. I was struck by how many teachers say they participate in professional development. For example, 80 percent said they took part during the previous year in professional development related to state or district curriculum and standards, 74 percent learned about technology and 72 percent learned more about their subject areas. The time spent in these pursuits, however, mostly amounted to fewer than 8 hours in the year. According to the teachers, "in-depth study in the subject area of main teaching assignment" was most apt to improve their classroom teaching-and, not surprisingly, the more they studied the more improved they felt. (For example, among those who studied their subject area 8 hours or less, just 13 percent felt that it helped their teaching "a lot," while among those who studied more than 8 hours the figure was 37 percent.) Teachers...

Council of Chief State School Officers' Initiative to Improve Achievement in High Poverty Schools

Those interested in opportunities for coordinating special and compensatory education programs between states, districts, and schools may be interested in obtaining this new report, which details the findings of two such efforts. These brought together peer consultants from six states representing state Title I and special education staff, auditors, school districts, and parents to meet with federal Title I and special education staff. The two groups discussed ways to better serve students at risk of academic failure via special and compensatory education collaboration at the federal, state, local, and classroom levels. In summarizing the consultants' comments, the report focuses on four main issues: the state teams' vision of collaboration between special education and Title I; examples of current successful collaborations among the states; the challenges to collaboration between special education and Title I; and strategies and next steps to facilitate greater collaboration. The publication is available on the Council of Chief State School Officers website at http://publications.ccsso.org/ccsso/publication_list.cfm. Hard copies are not currently available.

Consortium for Policy Research in Education

Margaret Goertz and Mark Duffy of Penn's Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) have issued both a 7-page "policy brief" and a longer report on state accountability systems (as those stood in spring 2000). There's much pertinent information here, particularly as we reflect on the changes that states must make to comply with the pending E.S.E.A. requirements. While 48 states were testing students statewide in 2000 (Iowa and Nebraska settle for requiring districts to test their own students), only a dozen used the same assessment for the same kids in the same subjects every year. The others skip around. And while 33 states had "state-defined accountability systems" in place, these varied greatly in how they define and measure pupil proficiency. Some focus on relative growth (i.e. schools progressing from their previous achievement levels), some on absolute standards, some on reducing the number of kids in low performing groups. Only a few jurisdictions "hold schools accountable for the performance of specific groups of students, such as racial/ethnic minorities or economically-disadvantaged students." But consequences for schools and, especially, for districts are few. In sum, most states have a ways to go to prepare for...

Charter Friends National Network

As the charter school movement advances, one of its most contentious practices is the "contracting out" of school management services. In such arrangements, charter boards hand over the reins of school control to for-profit or non-profit firms. Critics argue that contracted management -- especially by profit-seeking companies -- amounts to dangerous "privatization" of public education. Others see an opportunity to raise student achievement. Charting a Clear Course, a new report written by Margaret Lin and Bryan Hassel for the Charter Friends National Network, cuts through this debate. Noting that widespread contracting already occurs, the authors explain that "the real issue is not whether contracting should take place, but how." To this end, the report outlines practical strategies for charter boards to establish sound contractual arrangements. Such contracting requires arranging the charter board's public obligations to ensure responsible school management while ensuring that contractors are free from excessive outside control. "In order to hold contractors accountable for performance, those contractors must receive proportionate autonomy and authority to execute their responsibilities as promised," the authors argue. Informed by on-the-ground lessons from charter authorizers, education management organizations, and others, Charting a Clear Course dispenses useful advice on defining...