Saturday, April 29, 2006

Common and Less so in the Commonwealth

Governor Tim Kaine makes some edunouncements equaling wide eyes. He seems hungry. Hopefully he can make a significant dent by way of hard work, sound advice, and a little ingenuity. On tap include things like his Universal Preschool proposal, artfully scaled back a bit to begin at the beginning with a council, the "Start Strong Council" (conjures images of babies with muscles), to investigate options for moving forward to improve early learning opportunities in the Commonwealth.

Other items include a second tier recognition for schools that exceed accreditation standards, modified graduation requirements for high school students on voc-ed tracks, graduation rate improvements for chronically low performers, and continuing Virginia's push to reduce NCLB demands it deems superfluous or duplicative of its own and elder 1998 SOLs.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Joel Klein, a Cell Phone Ban, and Angry Parents

Elissa Gootman reports that the cell phone ban in New York City appears official. She takes the tact that parents are in an uproar about this issue. At first blush "City Schools Cut Parents' Lifeline" appears immaterial, but these parents like it or not have a point.

Joel Klein comments, "We all understand the concerns that parents are talking about, but I think they have to see it from our point of view ... There is always an enforcement issue, but the enforcement issue doesn't mean the policy is wrong. And obviously through the work we're doing now, I think that will improve enforcement." What exactly is the policy issue? Safety, cheating, drug related activity?

It's no surprise that parents who depend on the tick tick tick of their kids' mobile phones are distraught by a policy that forbids students to carry phones into the school, ergo, carring phones on the way to school and any place they go after school before arriving at home is out.

There's a solution here. Think back to preschool. Items that distracted kids were stowed in a cubby. I propose a similar idea. A cell phone check is in order, not unlike a coat check, or umbrella check. Kids will securely drop their cell phones off at the door of the schools (before the metal detectors) and pick them up on the way out. There are plenty of ways to make this work--think barcodes. If Klein is so committed to improving the safety of these kids he will have to come up with a compromise. Face it. Phones mean safety in today's world.

Sour on Excess and Irony

Irony is dead. The New York Times offends and entreats by flipping postmodern-postmortem voyerism the bird upside down in the cockpit of a Cold-War era F-14 Tomcat.

If ever there were a teachable moment folks, this is it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Count in Chinese

The BBC marries monetary policy, political clout, and elementary students counting in Mandarin. It's an idea not always laid out so plainly in journalism--that schools incubate ideas of our future. This future happens to be one where China and the U.S. trade fairly and often. This idea resembles a friendship where courtesy for culture and a willingness to share line-leader in the global economy. I'd wager that since the demographics of The Potomac school don't in any way match the country's as a whole, the school's parent's politics and values don't align either. There's an interesting study in there someplace: the party ID of parents whose children take classes in Chinese, or Arabic, or Farsi. As the number of students taking classes in these languages increases (2000 numbers still have them very low as counted in 19 states (pdf)) the motivations for the new languages will be studied. In addition to the Center for Applied Linguistics list of benefits due to early language acquisition, we might do well to explore other motivations like an ambition to shape a vision of the future.

Friday, April 14, 2006

NYC - Price to Pay

A recent NY Times article describes a mouthful of reform with principals at the center. Joel Klein, in an effort to inject more beef into New York City's accountability model, has a plan for grading schools and using those grades to reward or punish school principals. The scoring will be consistent with America's most popular grading scale--our A through F addiction.

School grades will be determined mostly by standardized tests raising nagging albeit legitimate concerns over test efficacy and legitimacy when it comes to measuring progress. Rounding out the formula will be niceties like ratios applied to reward or chasten individual schools for year-to-year performance gains or loses; elementary attendance and safety; and high school Regents, graduation rates, and college entrance exams. In addition to the grades, schools will receive "quality reviews," based on factors like principals' leadership skills, parent involvement, and data management to track student progress. I wonder what people will remember? A big fat D or the details of a "quality review"?

Identifying principals of poorly performing schools is most of stated purpose here, but surely there is more planned and fallout effects are inevitable. For instance, the plan is haplessly being touted to give parents critical information about their schools--a measure that will provide no relief, only knowledge of what could otherwise be if parents could pick up their roots and move. Without any choice program built into this plan the rankings seem like ammunition for the weary. Perhaps, and cruelly, Klein will harness this anger to build the case for more choice in the NYC school system. Perhaps not.

It should get interesting.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dave's Baby Moma (Oprah) Does Education

Maybe I can get an education policy job with Oprah followed by a novel in her book club. It's all coming together now, kind of like it did for Dave Chapplelle. It seems Oprah is set to begin a national dialogue on dropouts (or give what has constituted a national dialogue a good swift kick in the ass). She's poised to really get this thing moving on improving high schools. The Alliance is one of the best sources for all things high school reform. A Time cover story on dropouts appears on this week's news stands.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Math is not tougher to learn. The sooner we get that the better we'll be.

The Arizona Republic details the challenge one teacher faces in getting her students, college seniors, to pass the necessary-for-graduation AIMS math test. Hats off to Ms. Sylvester, and kudos for recognizing the good work of teachers by author Anne Ryman. The belmish on otherwise compelling reporting is this sentence: "More students fail the math part than they fail reading and writing because math is often tougher to learn and many students don't see the value of mastering it."

For an educational culture that has in large part laid to rest the notion that the buck stops with the child (maybe we do more of that for our little ones than high school students), saddling students with the blame for their failures in mathematics seems like a throw-back. I know some good math teachers who would vehemently disagree that math is tougher to learn. And the suggestion that students have less incentive to learn math begs the question: less incentive than what? History? Chemistry? Please. Students have incentive to learn when good teachers reveal the rare gems within a discipline. Some students will never be inspired in Chemistry, but some will see the genius behind the way hydrogen and oxygen bind. There are ways (pdf) to get math to mean something for students. Getting teachers that have solid math backgrounds is a start (pdf).

If I may be bold. More students fail the math part of AIMS than they fail reading and writing becasue high school math is tougher to teach and many students are never exposed to the value of mastering it.

If I may be bolder. More students fail the math part of AIMS than they fail reading and writing becasue fewer qualified people teach high school math than almost any other school subject. It's no wonder many students are never exposed to the value of mathematics. Nearly a third of high school math classes are taught by teachers who do not have a major or even a minor in mathematics. The problem and several solutions outlined here (pdf).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carrots in Wyoming

AP reports that Wyoming will pick up the tab of any high school juniors in the state who take the ACT. The article states two thirds of Wyoming high schoolers currently take the test. The effort here is threefold. One, to get students to attempt to qualify for a state sponsored scholarship. Two, as Illinois and Colorado already do, to measure academic progress or achievement or however you want to qualify the stuff that happens in school. Three, the effort hopes to get more juniors taking the tes--currently the number is much lower than the two thirds figure measuring all high schoolers who take the test.

The idea is laudable and carries import, mostly because one would think that if students took the test and scored well then they might pursue college. And to Wyoming's credit they have paired this program with a scholarship incentive--for community college students and four year college students. If Wyoming really wanted this program to have some teeth they would make it a requirement. Since the test will still be optional, we're talking carrots not sticks. Which is fine if that is what Wyoming thinks is best for its students, but it sounds more like a political decision than anything. It will be interesting to see how many students still don't take the test even with the cultural shift (anyone who wants to take the "free ACT" will do it on the same day) and the $30 waiver.

Numbers published by ACT show some success in the programs in Illinois and Colorado: after the first year of implementation the number of in-state, ACT-tested fall freshmen enrolled in Illinois colleges (2002) was up by 24 percent compared to the previous year. The state's average ACT composite score rose from 20.1 in 2002 to 20.2 in 2003, even though the number of students tested increased. Inside Higher ED makes a cogent point about these tests being used as assessment however. There are complications to laying a test down overtop of a curriculum not designed to match.

It's obvious that mandatory ACT seems like a simple and cost effective state solution to getting more kids to go to college. The danger lies in using the test to assess and hold schools and students accountable. Wyoming seems to have struck some balance, but they would do better, at least by ACT's numbers, to make the tests mandatory. Of course these numbers published by ACT should be verified by an outside source before we get too far down the road of flying the ACT flag on the pole of every high school in America.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Road to You Know Where

The NY Times reports on the dashed hopes and broken school lives failed charters leave behind. A mixed wake of sullied leadership, overdue bills, and most important, anxious children forced to move to new schools. This isn't a hater article, but it does stir antipathy for the haters out there. The article is a a limited look at the emotional effects of charter school closure and a reminder of a banal truth a professor had cornered me into during an exam defense. Good intentions don't always cut it. For more on school closures and policy improvements see this chapter from a Center on Reinventing Public Education report. The long and short is that authorizers have a significant role to play and that there is no substitute for a good plan.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Happy Birthday

The things you miss preparing for a comprehensive exam. By now the most famous edutwins in the blogosphere. But a belated happy birthday is due to Eduparents' new bundles of joy. Congrats! And welcome.
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