Unassociated

New Frontiers for a New Century: A National Overview is the title of the latest issue of Thinking K-16, published quarterly by the Education Trust. Authors Kati Haycock, Craig Jerald and Sandra Huang argue that we need to consider bold solutions to reduce the achievement gap that has plagued American education for decades. To assist educators and policymakers in doing this, Ed Trust has since 1996 biennially published Education Watch, a book of national and state data on student achievement and opportunity. This issue of Thinking K-16 is a guide to the online version of Education Watch, which surveys a decade's worth of data. By highlighting dramatically different NAEP scores earned by students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds in various states, the authors aim to dispel the pervasive myth that "student achievement has much more to do with a child's background than with the quality of instruction he or she receives." One staggering finding is that, on the 1998 NAEP 8th grade writing test, black students' average scale scores ranged from 121 points in Arkansas to 146 points in Texas--a difference equivalent to approximately 2.5 years of instruction! There are similarly shocking results for other ethnic groups and subjects. States that...

Why do conscientious school board members act like cranky five-year-olds, and what can we do to make school boards more effective? Jay Mathews has some ideas in "The Freedom of Choice," by Jay Mathews, Washingtonpost.com, July 10, 2001

This report by the Southern Regional Education Board looks at one of our education system's biggest challenges: convincing new teachers to stay on. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a quarter of beginning teachers leave the classroom during the first five years. "Reduce Your Losses" asks why many young teachers want to change careers soon after entering the classroom. One reason is poor training in pre-service programs. Another is lack of help and advice from veteran teachers. Yet another is the tradition of shoving new teachers into some of the toughest classrooms in subjects for which they're unprepared. The report notes that the overwhelming majority of teachers who leave the profession do not give low pay as the main reason. The states represented by the Southern Regional Education Board have launched a range of initiatives to retain new teachers, including mentoring support, assessments of beginning teachers, and regulations prescribing where a teacher can be placed (for example, not placing a teacher trained in English into a math classroom for the year). The Southern Regional Education Board sells copies of the report for $.50 and can be reached at (404) 875-9211. For a free copy go to http://www.sreb.org/main/HigherEd/ReduceLosses.asp...

Since 1994, high schools in Los Angeles have been able to name as many valedictorians as they like rather than singling out one top student. To avoid making any good students feel bad, some schools had 30, 40, and even 90 valedictorians this year. See "We're All Number One!" by Jill Stewart, New Times Los Angeles, July 5, 2001

The National Education Association (N.E.A.) would rather die than let parents choose their children's schools-but this week it voted to let them decide whether or not their kids will take tests! What's the difference? It seems the country's largest teacher union is willing to empower parents so long as the empowering coincides with the self-interest of teachers, in this case by crippling state and national testing programs that can be used for student (and perhaps teacher) accountability.

Self-interest is the key. It's the one constant in nearly every action of the N.E.A. and most of the actions of its rival/partner, the American Federation of Teachers (A.F.T.) Adult self-interest, to be accurate. Teacher self-interest, to be yet more precise. The educational well being of children may be invoked. But it's usually a decoy, a bit of spin meant to garb the adult self-interest in something less naked.

Self-interest isn't a bad thing. It's the essence of capitalism. It's the core of most countries' foreign policies. (It's also what makes packs of wolves bring down caribou and thieves snatch purses from old ladies.) What's hypocritical is self-interest that pretends to be something else. And patterns of self-interest that lead organizations to profess...

As Congress wraps up the ESEA reauthorization process, standards-based reform has taken center stage. Soon, the debate over "adequate yearly progress" and other exciting details will end, and a timeless question will re-emerge: motivated by these new incentives, how should schools transform themselves in order to increase student achievement? According to Uncommon Wisdom, a report by Mass Insight, the answer lies not in the halls of Congress, but in the schools and districts that are already making large gains. Aiming to identify specific "best practices," the report profiles nine Massachusetts schools (and one district) that outperform their demographic peers on state tests. The snapshots result in suggestions ranging from improved teacher collaboration to increased classroom time to enhanced use of student-level test data. However, school culture transcends all. In each of the high-achieving schools, the report observed a "common focus - a laser-like focus on higher standards for students - and a readiness to take on even the most intractable barriers to change." Mass Insight has only released the executive summary of the forthcoming report, slated for publication this fall. View the summary online at http://www.massinsight.com/meri/Building%20Blocks/e_bb_press.htm or request a hard copy by calling 617-722-4160....

In this working paper on the misalignment between consumer demands and the pedagogy of teacher professionals, J.E. Stone (a professor of educational psychology and the founder of the Education Consumers ClearingHouse) takes a close look at teacher training in Texas, starting with Learner-Centered Schools for Texas, A Vision of Texas Educators, the document that guides teacher training in the Lone Star State. This document emphasizes pedagogy that "implies teaching fitted to the learner's unique characteristics" rather than methods that achieve learning outcomes. Stone argues that the focus on learner-centered instruction is based on ideology rather than evidence, and that it interferes with students' acquisition of the knowledge and skills prescribed by the curriculum. He offers value-added assessment as an alternate way of measuring whether teachers use instructional methods that boost student achievement. Value-added assessment measures teacher effectiveness while taking into account student differences, and has been adopted by several districts in Texas as well as the state of Tennessee. While Stone tends to lump all learner-centered teaching into a general category of ineffective teaching practice, he does a good job of demonstrating how Texas teacher certification tests and training programs undermine the public's expectation: high student achievement as measured by...

The discipline problems that many of today's teachers-even elementary school teachers-have to deal with may shock delicate readers. What's wrong with kids today? See "Schools Awash in Bad Behavior," by Linda Perlstein, Washington Post, July 11, 2001

A year after the University of California system made changes in its admissions policy designed to increase campus diversity, Hispanic admissions soared 18%. But many of these newly admitted students may have benefited from a loophole in the admissions policy that has created an unintended reward for speakers of second languages, reports Daniel Golden in a June 26 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The U.C. system began this year to assign increased weight to the SAT II achievement tests and less to SAT I scores. Students are now required to take SAT II exams in writing, math, and a third subject of their choice, which can include foreign languages. Golden reports that many applicants from immigrant homes who are native speakers of other languages are improving their prospects for admission by acing a language test meant for students whose first tongue is English. At Jefferson High, for instance, a predominantly Hispanic, low-achieving school in Los Angeles, students averaged 715 out of 800 on the Spanish exam but 390 on the verbal SAT and 402 on the math SAT.

There are other winners besides Hispanic students. Golden found that Asian-Americans whose first language isn't English scored 761 last year on...

The Educational Research Service's new study of high-performing districts expands on an appraisal of high-performing schools that it published three years ago. This one highlights four districts: Brazosport Independent School District (in Clute, Texas); Twin Falls School District (in Idaho); Ysleta Independent School District (in El Paso); and Barbour County School District (in Philippi, West Virginia). All four districts serve a significant number of low-income children, yet showed significant gains in student achievement over the past five years. The study found an unsurprising correlation between strong leadership, a culture of high expectations, clearly articulated goals and standards, and a combination of empowerment and accountability among school staff and student achievement. A key factor contributing to district success, however, was item-level analysis of assessment results so as to identify specific weaknesses in students' knowledge and skills. This helped schools to focus classroom and individual instruction on improving these areas. Extensive efforts to provide immediate and appropriate corrective instruction contributed to the impressive score gains that these four districts made. To order a copy of the report, surf to http://www.ers.org/CATALOG/description.phtml?II=WS-0420&UID=2001070509040164.12.103.182 or contact the Educational Research Service at 1-800-791-9308....

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