Friday, July 28, 2006

Getting Kids Connected for Learning's Sake

Dorothy Rich wrote a week ago to the day in the SacBee about the mysterious nature of teaching and learning. The piece borders on touchy-feely, but her ideas about the nature of learning make a lot of sense. The piece is not an assault on standards, but maybe a bomb in the bunker for standardized education.

The whole educational enterprise--Rich wisely describes--hinges on connectedness. Children need to feel connected to what they learn and have a sense of why they learn. It's why educators spend so much time developing and working within a student-centered curriculum. "Connectedness is a protective factor in children's lives. Schools and homes have to find ways of helping everyone feel important, essential and connected." Connectedness is a protective factor in all of our lives, not just children's lives. The mystery of it all may be each other.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Huge Hats in Qatar

Another story from Ed Week (I've resisted renaming them Ed Weak for their miserly access to nonsubscribers). The story, a prelude to a RAND publication that will drop in the fall, focuses on the reformation of one third of Qatar's schools. Qatar has traditionally offered a "rigid, highly centralized mode of education in schools run by the Ministry of Education." This fall, thirteen "independent" schools operating on the principals of school autonomy, accountability, variety, and parental choice, will open adding to the existing 30 independent schools that have opened since 2004. These Qatari schools are characterized by things like renewable contracts approved by a new government body called the Supreme Education Council (sounds kitschy, but we have a Court named Supreme as the head of a branch of government--I'll resist a joke), themed schoolwide curricula, student-centered curricula, and principal/operators.

Wait. What's a principal operator? Apparently new guidelines limit existing and future independent schools to a single, educationally experienced, Qatari operator, who must also serve as principal. Sort of like a CEO, CFO, and president all wrapped into one. The operator must set up a nonprofit educational institution as opposed to a limited liability corporation, as had previously been practiced in Qatari independent schools.

If I were studying this reform effort I would focus on the operator/principal dynamic and how it might impact the effectiveness of the school. We hear a lot about how American principals wear too many hats. If my reading of Ed Week's story is accurate, the principal in a Qatari independent school is now the equivalent of the LEA (local education authority). I imagine that person will need a big head to hold that huge hat.

(almost certainly not like this one, but who knows)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Follow that Money

Ed Week got into it last week and the NYTimes gets into it this week, but I think one of the most interesting developments to come from all the brew-ha-ha over state NCLB noncompliance is where the money will go. The withheld 10 percent or 25 percent of the state's FY 2006 Title I, Part A administrative funds, a fate befallen 10 states, will be funneled to LEA's in the states. This provided that the states threatened with an immediate loss of funding fail to submit additional data as per ED's requirements within 20 business days of official written notification.

OK, but say 7 or 8 states' Title I, Part A admin funds are indeed docked. Then what? How does that money flow to the localities? Is it doled out evenly? Does it go to localities with high percentages of schools not meeting AYP? There has to be guidance on this somewhere, right?

And, is it just me or does docking administrative funding get ED into a reductio ad absurdum? After all Title I, Part A monies were designed to "develop, implement, and evaluate instructional programs that ensure students identified to receive services in Title I Targeted Assistance schools and all children in Title I school wide Program Schools have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach at a minimum proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards." ED is taking away monies designed to serve at-risk children in penalty of a law/system designed in large part to better serve at-risk children.

I'm always looking for how NCLB characterizes the contemporary federalism in this country. Circumventing the state by sending federal money to the locality seems like another example of the spoiled grandchild effect. The grandchild acts up (localities shoulder the bulk of proof NCLB requires, standardized testing, but fail to make AYP). The grandparent doesn't like the way the parent has handled the grandchild and blames the parent for the grandchild's failures, (the state has provided poor guidance, inappropriate tests, and unqualified teachers). The grandparent goes around the parent and rewards the grandchild for being a grandchild of a irresponsible parent (federal ED gives money directly to schools, says "you do better work than the state, we trust you").

The stage seems set for some pyrotechnics.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Staffing Hard Science Charters with Limited Resources

In reading a PPI report issued last month, Raising Our Game: A National Competition Strategy, I began thinking about technology and the "hard sciences." Particularly, PPI's recommendation for a federal pot of money to help birth a national network of 250 science and technology (hard science) charter schools.

It got me thinking about what a network of hard science charter schools would contribute to American, and human future well being. Sure the charter schools would be rich in budding science talent, at the very least budding with parents who believe their kids have what it takes to major in hard sciences in college, but how would these schools promulgate science and technology in general? This much seems clear: for the hard science charter schools to contribute broadly, they would require talented and knowledgeable teachers. I wonder about existing technology and sciences charter schools. Do these hard science charters currently employ serious teaching talent?

Addressing the credentials and subject knowledge of teachers at a hard sciences charter school would seem like a no brainier. But I'm not so sure that the existing hard sciences charter schools hire top talent. After all there is a national shortage of math and science teachers with degrees in their field, and charter schools receive less money to pay teachers on average than traditional public school teachers. Remember that research confirms that investments in teacher preparation pay off. A positive relationship exists between the amount of teacher course preparation in math and science and the level of student achievement in these subjects (Kilpatrick, et al., NRC/MSEB, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2000.)

Looking at hiring practices at schools like High Tech High (recently awarded a statewide charter contract to start 10 new schools), Washington Math, Science, and Technology Public Charter School, and the Denver School of Science and Technology would be a start. I took a cursory glance at some of the bios for HTH San Diego and many of the hard science teachers list their degrees and credentials. I would like to know teacher credentials across the board at these schools and the salaries used to attract these teachers. What attracted these science professionals to the schools?

It would seem necessary for this PPI proposed network of 250 hard science charter schools to have the ability to recruit talented teachers. The salaries people command for majoring in hard science careers generally exceed those of humanities majors. Thus the dilemma: how to get enough monies to these schools to attract the talent necessary to prepare students for roles as hard science researchers and leaders? Especially, as is most common for charter schools, without local funding streams? I realize a lot more than money attracts people to teaching, but in scaling a hard science charter model up to 250 schools these questions need to be addressed. Staffing these schools will require a lot of talented people.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum in China: Perspective and Takeaway

Above is a schema adapted from a presentation given at a Globalization and Higher Education conference I attended at Shanghai Jiao Tong University's (SJTU) Institute for Higher Education. The Institute is best known for its index of Academic Rankings of World Universities. The schema is from a presentation delivered by a boisterous and at times entertaining professor, Dr. Zhao Zhongjian from the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction, East China Normal University.

Zhao's presentation, "Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum in China," began with an overview of Chinese curriculum since 1949. The above slide caught my eye and in terms of curriculum seems to sum up where China has been and the where China intends to go. Zhao's work suggests that changes in China's curricula reflect the needs of the new economy. He offers a little history.

Zhao divides Chinese curricula post 1949 into 4 periods.
  1. Learning from the former Soviet Union (1949-1957)
  2. The Sinofication of education (1957-1966)
  3. Ten years of Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
  4. The new era of education (1970-Present; broken into 4 subgroups)
  • (1976-1984) post Cultural Revolution
  • (1985-1991) The Decision on the Reform of Educational System (1985) stated "our country is a vast but imbalanced one in its economic and cultural development levels" and so "the educational contents, methods" and "development paces and approaches" "should be in line with local conditions"
  • (1992-1999) In 1992 the 14th National Conference of the Party decided a socialist market economy should be established. Three overarching goals were published in Outline for Reform and Development of Education in China: quickly change the centralized system; make the educational system reflect the market-oriented economy and subsequent social development; and keep the system Chinese at the core.
  • (1999-present) China publishes Decision on the Deepening Educational Reform and Promoting Qualities Education which formally recognizes three levels of education in need of coordination: national, local, and school curricula.

I believe that some of the best curricula in America currently reflect where Zhao thinks China needs to go. He identifies major changes underway or in ideation in China: from elite education to mass education; from science-centered curriculum (treatment education, training) to social constructivism-centered curriculum (integrated knowledge, community of learners); and from infusion-centered teaching to discourse-centered teaching.

Zhao's language is abstract and imprecise, and probably suffers from some translation troubles, but his ideas make sense to teachers who have taught using both models of education. And I believe Zhao's ideas make some sense to those of us who learned by doing and working with others rather than just listening or memorizing facts out of books.

The takeaway for me is that China, in its aggressive pursuit of economic prosperity and advantage, is identifying with western models of education, in particular, American models. China is changing its schools to mirror the needs of a developed nation, with emphasis on decentralization. Researchers in China are monitoring U.S. reforms and debate involving school-based management, charter schools, and private management of public schools.

Not surprising there were Americans at the Globalization in Higher Education Conference who believed that China is sacrificing too much of its own education history and identity in its quest to match its education with its economy. So while some of my American colleagues want American education to reflect more ideas and methods from Chinese education, Chinese education is increasingly reflecting ideas and methods from American education. More on that in a later installment.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Public vs. Private Schools: Two Opinions

In shooting for the middle in a July 19 NYTimes editorial "Public vs. Private Schools" the author misses and aims right of fully 'informed.' The author appropriately ridicules the demagogic NEA message that public schools are "doing an outstanding job." But in the author's walkabout to be moderate he or she skips over the notion that some schools are excellent, e.g. "The public, private, charter and religious realms all contain schools that range from good to not so good to downright horrendous," and wanders into truthiness with the statement "the country should stay focused on the overarching problem: on average, American school children are performing at mediocre levels in reading...." PISA does not support this author's notion that American children perform at mediocre levels in reading.

For those unaware, The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a collaborative effort among participating countries to measure preparation of15-year-olds. PISA administers tests and background questionnaires to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each participating country to assess three forms of literacy: reading, mathematical and scientific. The assessments focus on how well students apply knowledge and skills to tasks that are relevant to their future life, rather than on the memorization of subject matter knowledge.

On these PISA assessments the United States is competitive when compared to other countries. PISA reports 5 proficiency levels for its literacy tests. Only 5 other countries have more students scoring in the top level of proficiency than does the United States. The U.S. fairs reasonably well in proficiency levels 2 and 3 compared to other OECD countries as well. The U.S. ranking of 16 out of 41 ranked countires doesn't sound mediocre. It does suggest room for improvement, especially at the bottom.

The editorial is right to suggest that we must stay focused on the problem of achievement, and we should try to avoid the hapless yet necessarily political arguments over what type of school best serves students (we must have and hear and carefully consider arguments when we try to impose a type of schooling on every child). The editorial is wrong to suggest that what we do in this country is mediocre. Schooling in the U.S. is not mediocre. Our American talents are not mediocre. What is mediocre however, is how we allow too many people, too many children, to go to mediocre and in some cases, to quote the editorial, "downright horrendous" schools. Schools can help to redress inequality. We must help our schools help us.

The instinct for positivity is a place to begin.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Surprising and Less Surprising: Public Education by CEP

Some surprising and less surprising edufacts from a much needed all-in-one publication from the Center for Education Policy. One might be tempted to interpret this post as a report card on what I know and what I believe about public education as much as anything else. But my categories, crude as they may be, also reflect my interpretation of the general pulse of education policymakers (not necessarily what policymakers know, since policymakers deal with these realities all the time, but more a measure of what surprises them today, not what surprised them ten years ago or more, e.g. that between 66-70 percent of students graduate high school, or less-qualified teachers collect in high poverty districts).

Less surprising:
  • 4 of 10 public school students are children of color
  • African American and Latino students are much more likely than white students to attend high-poverty schools
  • key education policies are generally determined at the state and local level rather than the federal level
  • over 90% of funding for public education comes from state and local sources
  • huge disparities in education funding exist between high-spending
    and low-spending states and school districts
  • U.S. students perform relatively well in reading literacy compared students in other highly industrialized countries
  • too many students, especially students of color, do not finish high school (many estimates show 66% completion rate)
  • 47% of public school teachers have advanced degrees
  • high schools with high concentrations of low-income or minority students have mor "out-of-field" or less experienced teachers than high schools in low-poverty or low-minority-enrollment schools
Somewhat surprising:
  • 17% of public school students attend schools their parents chose for them
  • 2.2% of students are home-schooled
  • About 14% of public school students receive special education services
  • in 2003-04, three-fourths of these students with disabilities were educated in regular classrooms with other children for a significant part of the school day
  • about one third of students are educated in school systems with less than 600 students
  • the top 2% of largest school districts enroll one third of the nation's students
  • adjusted for inflation, per pupil funding has increased considerably over the past three decades
  • over 60% of education spending, on average, goes toward instruction
  • 38 Total number of states sued since 1989 in educational adequacy lawsuits challenging their school finance systems
  • older students don't perform as well when asked to apply what they have learned in math and science as compared to many industrialized countries
  • 58% of public school teachers have more than 10 years of experience
  • 46% of new teachers leave teaching during the first five years of their career
Very surprising:
  • about 8% of education spending goes toward administration
  • 75% Percentage of school finance lawsuits won by plaintiffs since 1989
  • U.S. students do relatively well in math and science at the lower
    grades compared with students in other countries
  • nine out of 10 teachers are white, and almost 8 out of
    10 are female
  • high rates of teachers changing schools and leaving the profession
    altogether are the main reasons for teacher shortages

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Break Down: Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling

A new report from NCES entitled Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling garnered some press already and is sure to pick up more. Caveats abound, like the lack of prior achievement measures, patterns of self selection, small sample size for private schools, and observationally collected data rather than randomly collected data. Taken together the report's findings make some noise.

I'm not sounding an alarm, arguably the NY Times has beat me to it anyway. I will however say that this study illustrates the things we take for granted constantly without any solid evidence, say for instance: private school students learn more and get a better education than public school students. For as long as there have been distinctions between private schools and public schools, researchers have sought an answer to the question: which schools do better by their students? This study sheds some light, but demonstrates futility in generalization in education.

The findings break down like this: Students in private schools usually score higher than those in public schools. The report then dug deeper to examine race and class effects. When the report analyzed these covariates the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading. In other words private schools aren't doing much to change or improve the achievement of students that underperforming, just like their public school peers. In fact the study suggests that in math, 4th and 8th grade, public school student perform better when race and class are accounted for.

A strange Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical Christian denominational component was tossed into this study for good measure. To the NYTimes's delight, conservative Christian schools fared most poorly. I'll leave speculation on why a trend like conservative Christianity has negatively impacted achievement on math and reading to a heated after-dinner conversation.

Anyhow, it's tough to get mad at NEA President Reg Weaver for latching onto this study some. His comment about public schools doing an "outstanding job" on the one hand makes me want to roll my eyes (talk about a gross generalization), but on the other hand it's hard to not feel warmly about a piece of good news in an industry that rarely gets much good news. To me, this study suggests the extreme difficulty in improving the chances of underprivileged students, no matter where they attend school. At least as measured by our ever popular achievement proxy, the annual NAEP.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Home Prices Reflect Our Highest Priorities

From Columbus, OH a recent study by OSU researcher Donald Haurin suggests that standardized test scores, one measure of quality in public schooling, are having an effect on home prices. Haurin found evidence that home prices increased by around 7 percent with every 20 percent increase in standardized test scores--a very large increase in scores indeed. The study also suggests less parental enthusiasm for a value-added approach to testing. Measuring test improvement from 4th grade to 9th grade had very little impact on home prices.

These findings should not surprise. It might be soft measurement to some scientists, but community effects and peer effects are serious business to parents and can mean the difference between a good choice and a terrible choice when it comes to their child's education. Information is key. Good information doesn't generally come from people who are not well connected or well informed. See Schneider et al's book Choosing schools: Consumer Choice and the Quality of American Schools for a solid discussion on this very important topic. Parents understand that high test scores mean bright kids from "good" homes with active parents who have had many advantages during their lifetime. Parents also understand that growth models in education, or a value-added approach reflect pretty good schools working with struggling students from less advantaged backgrounds. Schools posting high value-added marks may even be better for some children. But many parents with money know what they want. They want a community of high achievers.

There is a lot we value in this world. Our children are at the top of that list. It's tough as policy makers to interfere with what parents deem best for their kids, however deleterious the effects for the school system as a whole may be. These types of studies remind us that in some ways it's a jungle out there. We must pay attention.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Martial Arts at DuBois and Aero Space: Examples of Productivity in Learning?

I came across the W.E.B. DuBois Academy in some reading I've been doing. For those who don't know, the Academy is one of the best performing charter schools in Ohio. The school serves an at-risk population, meets AYP in Ohio, and has been labled a "School of Promise" by the Ohio State Department of Education for exceeding 75 percent academic proficiency among low-income and minority students--98 percent of the schools students are African-American.

The brainchild of Wilson H. Willard, III, Dubois Academy's mission is to engender a love of learning among its students, and not just any kind of learning: DuBois promotes productive learning. What is productive learning? While I'm not sure excatly what productive learnnig is, I'm pretty sure I've participated in it's antithesis--unproductive learning. To aid in reaching this end (productive learning) DuBois requires its students to enroll in martial arts physical education classes "to help them acquire the traditional martial arts values of self-control and discipline." DuBois boasts that their combined martial arts trophy wins are close to 700. That's impressive for a school that serves students in grades 1-12. But the Aero Space Kindergarten, a Chinese preschool and kindergarten in Beijing, may have them beat, see above.

Martial arts is part of the curriculum at Aero Space. The children are adroit in martial arts. The children are 2, 3, 4, and five years old. The children pictured above are four. For the self-control and discipline haters out there the children were also very carefree, outgoing, and seemingly full of whimsy. I had nearly half a classroom of five-year-old english language learners crawling all over me, asking me questions, and eager to sing to me and with me. If productivity is related to self-control and discipline the 1.3 billion Chinese might be on to something. So might DuBois.

Now someone has got to untangle the effect size of Martial arts on productivity and we'll all be singing "nobody bothers me."

Away we go, Away

I've been away for a very long time. Travel is mostly to blame. Lame internet scores a close second. Hopefully some updates will follow: a few based on my travels in China perhaps. Put your hands together and or check these guys out if you've been under a rock for 9 months.
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