Unassociated

In a commentary published by the Hoover Institution which appeared in assorted magazines this week, Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby explains how she overcame her skepticism about standardized testing when she realized how cost-effective it is as a tool to foster desirable education change. For the same money a typical district spends annually on student testing, she estimates, it could reduce class size by two-thousandths of a student, raise teacher salaries by one quarter of one percent, or offer two hours of after school activities per year. Testing, she concludes, is no cure-all but it's more powerful than other uses of the same money.

"Conversion of a Standardized Test Skeptic," by Caroline Hoxby, Hoover Institution, May 31, 2000

Bill Sanders's system of value-added analysis, which sorts through mountains of student achievement data to identify the effect that teachers and schools are having on student performance, is one of the important analytic breakthroughs of the past decade in education. But it's complicated and a lot of people don't yet understand it. For a wonderfully simple explanation, see a recent piece in the Rocky Mountain News by Linda Seebach.

"New Tools Measure School Performance," by Linda Seebach, Rocky...

I'd immediately drop my membership in Phi Delta Kappa, an educators' honor society of sorts, except then I'd lose my subscription to its eponymous monthly magazine, and that would mean losing touch with the conventional wisdom that I sometimes need to orient myself. With rare exceptions, you can count on this for education geo-positioning: you want to be pointed approximately 180?? from where the Kappan is headed. This is especially true of Anne Lewis's monthly "commentary" from Washington and Gerald Bracey's absurd "research" column. These are entirely predictable and utterly tendentious (though at least Ms. Lewis doesn't have the gall to also name an annual "report" after herself!) So are the editor's letter and the appalling monthly report from Canada by a left-wing teachers' union activist. But even after ignoring the regular chaff, one must contend with the articles. Occasionally there's something worth reading. (As former Senator Russell Long remarked, even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.) In May, for example, we find a decent piece by Michael Kirst and colleagues on some unintended consequences of California's sweeping class-size reduction program. But then we also find a dismaying essay by the eminent (and usually sensible) education telejournalist,...

Here's another worthy product of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, setting forth the issues that the Badger State would have to grapple with if it wanted to institute some form of performance- or merit-based compensation system for its public school teachers. This analysis focuses specifically on school-wide performance pay systems, i.e. those tied to gains made by an entire school (with rewards meted out to the whole staff of that school) rather than the children in individual classrooms and their individual teachers. (Wisconsin's current testing system wouldn't lend itself to that kind of system anyway.) Nor does it address differential compensation for teachers in scarce specialties or hard-to-staff schools. But it's a thoughtful, thorough look at the issues associated with school-wide performance pay and worthy of attention by those interested in this reform. Contact the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. at P.O. Box 487, Thiensville, WI 53092. Phone (262) 241-0514. Fax (262) 241-0774. E-mail [email protected]. Or surf to http://www.wpri.org.

The Los Angeles Times last month published a parent's sordid tale of gaming the magnet school system in LA Unified School District to help get her child into her school of choice.  In the article, Gale Holland described how a system designed to help minority kids escape from overcrowded, substandard schools has morphed into a form of education poker.  Students are admitted to magnet schools under a complex set of rules that take into account their race, the racial balance of the school to which a student is applying, and many other factors, including how often you've been rejected by a magnet school in the past.  This has led many to apply to schools where they expect to be turned down as a way of accumulating priority points that can be used the next time around. Parents play a particularly fiendish variation of the game to get their kids into magnet schools for gifted children, the author writes.  She concludes, "The real problem is that the magnet system is too small."  Parents, we know, will go to great lengths to find good schools for their children; the only limiting factor seems to be the availability of options.  The great irony...

As the big education bill limps through Congress, much debate centers on how to determine whether states are making real achievement gains, how to track those gains (or losses), and how best to compare states with each other - and with the country. In the New York Times of June 6, columnist Richard Rothstein contends that Congress should forget about state-specific tests and instead rely exclusively on mandatory state participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which, he says, is a better test that yields better data based on sampling just 2500 or so kids per state while dampening "teach to the test" temptations. As you may recall, the original Bush proposal - and the pending Senate bill - use NAEP as an external "audit" of a state's results on its own test; the House bill would let states use NAEP or some other instrument of their own choosing, but again only for audit purposes. All versions assume, indeed require, that each state will also give its own test, at least in reading and math, to every child in grades 3-8.

I'm a long time NAEP partisan, indeed one of the (many) parents of state-level NAEP, and I...

Our own Diane Ravitch has edited the third in her series of these thick but valuable volumes, this one based on a May 2000 Brookings conference devoted to academic standards in the U.S. Weighing in at 414 pages, this is indispensable for any serious follower of (or participant in) standards-based education reform. It consists of 7 main papers (one by yours truly and Fordham research director Marci Kanstoroom on "State Academic Standards") with commentaries on each. Other authors and topics include John Bishop and associates on end-of-course and minimum competency exams; Julian Betts and Bob Costrell on the interplay of incentives and equity in a standards regime; David Grissmer and Ann Flanagan on indirect evidence of state reform efforts; and Mark Reckase on the controversies triggered by the standards set by the National Assessment Governing Board. For information or copies, contact Brookings Institution Press, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; phone (202) 797-6258 or (800) 275-1447; e-mail [email protected]; or surf to www.brookings.edu.

This flagship monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is intermittently interesting, though its basic orientation is progressivist and constructivist. The May 2001 issue is better than most, particularly for those interested in teachers. In fact, the focus of the entire issue is "Who is teaching our children?" It includes 17 articles pertinent to that subject, some swell, some appalling-a typical ASCD mixed bag. They include an upsetting piece on out-of-field teaching by Richard Ingersoll, a rant about alternative certification by Barnett Barry of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and a swell piece on teacher attitudes by Public Agenda's Deborah Wadsworth. You'll also find several pages by Kathy Madigan (of the National Council on Teacher Quality) and yours truly on "removing the barriers for teacher candidates," which outlines the deregulatory strategy that we believe has greatest promise for improving teacher quality in the U.S. while also easing the quantity problem. You can find the whole table of contents on line at http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/0105/frame0105el.html, though to access many of the articles you will probably need to become an ASCD member. The ASCD can be found at 1703 N. Beauregard Street, Alexandria VA 22311, phoned at...

Richard J. Coley of the Educational Testing Service, the author of this 51-page report, concludes that, with a few exceptions, gender differences on most academic outcomes do not vary much across racial or ethnic groups. This includes gender gaps in scores on a wide range of tests (NAEP tests, undergraduate and graduate admissions tests, AP exams) as well as high school course-taking patterns, AP exam participation, educational attainment, and earning and employment. For some indicators, however, there are no gender differences at all. Since gender differences do not vary much by race or ethnicity, Coley concludes that policies to remedy educational inequalities should treat gender, and not just race and ethnicity, as a crucial factor, but he stops short of making specific recommendations for closing the gaps that concern him. Copies can be ordered for $10.50 each from Policy Information Center, Mail Stop 04-R, Educational Testing Service, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001; Tel: (609) 734-5694; Fax: (609) 734-1755. Copies can also be downloaded as a PDF file from www.ets.org/research.

If you share our concern about whether the forthcoming E.S.E.A. amendments can successfully be implemented, this report tells a cautionary tale. Published by a (left-leaning) private outfit called the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, it is subtitled "a preliminary report on state compliance with final assessment & accountability requirements under the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994." In other words, it reports on implementation of the previous round of E.S.E.A. amendments, enacted just before the 1994 election. And it's hardly encouraging. At the end of the 2000-01 school year, i.e. six and a half years after President Clinton signed this legislation, a period during which all states were required to install academic standards, aligned assessments and accountability systems based on those assessments, here is what the Citizens' Commission found: Just 11 states have in place assessment systems that meet all Title I requirements. Twenty states were granted "partial approval" by the federal Education Department and told to correct deficiencies in their systems. Three states had plans so "out of line with Title I requirements that they will need to enter into compliance agreements" with Uncle Sam. And eighteen more states had assessment systems that the Education Department hasn't yet managed...

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) sometimes does good work. And then sometimes it makes you want to throw up. This particular task force report makes one good point: states are in the education policy driver's seat. Then it argues that state policy makers aren't very good at driving. (The task force has a stunningly one-sided view of what's good and bad; for example, it trashes Massachusetts's plucky approach to standards-based education reform, apparently basing its judgment the views of a single Bay State dissenter.) Then it empathizes with state education departments, which it finds underfunded, understaffed, etc. Then it issues a huge number of utterly unmemorable recommendations for various state-level constituencies, including such gems as "get advice from more than one source," "develop processes that will ensure strong performance," and "engage all 'stakeholders.'" To think that trees were sacrificed for this banal document! To avoid sacrificing more, perhaps you should view it on-line (if you want to bother at all). Surf to www.iel.org/staterole.pdf, phone Mary Podmostko at (202) 822-8405, x 31, write her at IEL, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 310, Washington DC 20036, or e-mail [email protected]....

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