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The American Association of School Administrators named Gerry House superintendent of the year in 1999. House was hailed by her peers as a visionary, in part for insisting that all 165 schools in her Memphis school district implement a comprehensive reform model. She also won one of the coveted McGraw education prizes for this work. On Monday, however, House's successor, Superintendent Johnnie Watson, announced that he was abandoning all 18 of the reform models that were put into place in the district's schools in the 1990s.

According to an internal study conducted by the district (not, unfortunately, available on the district's website), only three of the 18 whole-school designs raised student achievement in Memphis: Core Knowledge, Voices of Love and Freedom, and Widening Horizons through Literacy. Teachers complained to district researchers that the models were not appropriate for students who needed more time on the basics, and also took too much time and required too much paperwork. Some in the district noted that the House initiative's downfall may have been the fact that she required every school to adopt a reform model. This may have been rash, particularly in the days before those models were fully tested. On the other...

Raymond Domanico has written a 26-page report comparing the academic performance of New York City's Catholic elementary schools with the city's public schools. (This study is under the auspices of New York University's Program on Education and Civil Society.) The Catholic schools, which have an enrollment equal to about 14 percent of the public school system, are on average half the size of public schools but have larger average class sizes. Domanico concludes that taking race and family income into account, students attending the Catholic schools reach higher levels of achievement than their public school peers-a gap that is much more pronounced at grade 8 than at grade 4-and that Catholic schools are more successful in breaking links between race or family income and student achievement. In fact, Domanico notes that, on some indicators, the performance of poor and minority youngsters in Catholic schools equals or exceeds that of public school students who are less poor and more white or Asian. He believes that school size is part of the explanation. To obtain a copy of the report, contact the Program on Education and Civil Society, New York University, 269 Mercer St., Room 207, New York, NY 10003; tel: 212-998-7503...

The May/June 2001 edition of Catalyst for Cleveland Schools is out and it focuses on the effectiveness of mayors in reforming education, with a close look at four cities - Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, and Detroit. In Cleveland, Mayor Michael R. White has distinguished himself by having a lot of power but rarely showing it, more often allowing school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett to lead. Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, on the other hand, makes a point of being in control (as was manifest in his recent dismissal of school chief Paul Vallas). In Boston, Thomas Menino asked to be held responsible for the schools: "If I fail to bring about these specific reforms by the year 2001," he said a few years ago, "then judge me harshly." Of these four cities, in fact, only Detroit has a mayor who has displayed scant interest in becoming involved in education. There, Dennis Archer has ceded much of his power to school superintendent Kenneth Burnley. Other topics covered in this issue of Catalyst include initiatives to help Cleveland's worst-performing schools; the effects of restructuring a school on student behavior; and the debate over Maryland's attempt to sanction (and in some case outsource the management of)...

The May issue of Catalyst, Voices of Chicago's School Reform, contains four articles that examine the district's attempt to use Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate programs to boost student achievement in the Windy City's high schools. http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/05-01/0501toc.htm

This provocative book by John Abbott and Terry Ryan argues that our education problem isn't something that can be solved by altering schools but, rather, must be tackled by entire communities. They don't, in fact, believe that today's schools are the right focus for tomorrow's education. They seek "dynamic learning" as a "way of life," something that becomes the community's preoccupation an integral part of its culture, assuming many institutional and interpersonal forms. This is not the usual romanticism about "deschooling society," however. It's a fairly tough-minded analysis (informed by research into cognitive psychology and human development) of central assumptions about education and how these might be rebuilt from scratch. You will find it farsighted. You may or may not find it actionable. 212 pages. The ISBN is 0871205130. It's published in the U.S. by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1703 N. Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311. The phone is (800) 933-2723 or (703) 578-9600. The fax is (703) 575-5400 and the website is www.ascd.org.

With annual testing at the heart of President Bush's education plan now nearing the end of its Congressional journey, testing has never been a hotter issue in national politics.  It is also generating plenty of heat at the state and local levels as more test-and-standards-based accountability systems kick in.  Business leaders have been among the strongest advocates for higher standards and greater accountability for results, but lately some members of the business community seem cowed by vocal parents and teachers opposed to any test with real consequences. To aid standards supporters and reformers inside and beyond that business community, the Business Roundtable (BRT) has published a guide that is chock full of practical advice and illuminating opinion research.  Included are results from two studies by BRT and Public Agenda that found overwhelming support among all demographic groups for standards-based reform.  BRT advises standards advocates not to back down in the face of opposition.  This does not mean ignoring critics but, rather, engaging and working with them to fine-tune standards and generate support for the "novel" message that "virtually all children can learn at much higher levels than have been expected of previous generations."  Once those lines of communication are open,...

This 105-page study, prepared by Robert J. Marzano of the McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) regional lab under contract to the U.S. Department of Education, is an important, albeit rather technical, synthesis of 40 years of research on the characteristics of effective schools and effective teaching. Marzano writes that early studies were pessimistic about the impact schools could have. The 1966 Coleman Report and a 1972 study by Christopher Jencks and colleagues concluded that achievement is primarily a function of student background, but later studies found that schools could make a significant difference in student achievement, particularly schools with strong leadership, high expectations for students, an orderly atmosphere, an emphasis on basic skills, and effective monitoring of student achievement. Daringly, Marzano estimates that the percentage of variance in student achievement accounted for by different variables can be quantified as follows: 80.00% student background, 6.66% school variables, and 13.34% teacher variables. Marzano claims that his model finds that "[E]xceptional performance in terms of school-level factors overcomes the average performance of teachers, but not the ineffective performance of teachers" and that "[E]xceptional performance on the part of teachers not only compensates for average performance at the school level, but even...

Inspired by the negative character of most commentary on high-stakes testing in the press and the education literature, University of North Carolina psychometrician Greg Cizek has compiled a list of 10 good things that have been brought about by increased reliance on testing in our nation's schools. While he notes that today's tests do have their shortcomings, Cizek's 11-page essay is a welcome reminder of the positive consequences that follow from these tests, including professional development that is increasingly linked to the curriculum and to effective instructional practices, decision-making based on actual information about student performance, and greater equity in expectations, curriculum and instruction for all students,

"Unintended consequences of high-stakes testing," by Gregory Cizek, posted at www.EducationNews.org on June 12, 2001.

California gave its new high school exit exam for the first time this year and newspapers across the state last week made much of the "abysmal" results: less than 45 percent of the state's 9th graders passed the test.  While a committee of teachers had recommended that the state set the passing score at 70 percent, the state board of education voted to lower the bar to 60 in English and 55 in math rather than allow even more students to flunk the test.

Given the nature of the test, however, the school board fears and journalistic alarms seem unwarranted.  Unlike the standardized tests around which the rest of California's  accountability system is built, the new graduation test is aligned with the state's academic standards. (The California Senate last week passed a bill that would replace off-the-shelf tests given in other grades with tests tied to the state's standards.) The English part of the high school exit exam covers material that students are expected to learn through the end of their sophomore year and the math test covers geometry, algebra, and statistics.  Expecting most students to pass a high school exit exam at the end of their first year of...

In the past several days, you may well have read assertions by U.S. Senators, explaining their vote against the Gregg amendment to include a voucher pilot program in the big elementary/secondary education bill, to the effect that there is no evidence that such programs work. (Of course they were voting against a demonstration intended to find out whether such programs work!) But they were wrong. Paul Peterson and his team at the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) have created a veritable cottage industry of voucher studies, including careful evaluations of a number of the privately funded programs that have recently proliferated. Some of those studies include information on student achievement. Others don't. Two recent ones that don't look at achievement are nonetheless illuminating on many other fronts. In January, the Harvard team published its evaluation of San Francisco's BASIC Fund Scholarship Program. In March appeared a review of the national Children's Scholarship Fund. More are in the pipeline. Based on phone surveys of parents and students, their great contribution is comparing the experiences, attitudes and satisfaction of those who used a private scholarship to move from public to private school with those who did not. Both these...

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