Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Quick" Says Rankings Promote Dysfunction

Kevin Carey over at the Quick and the Ed takes a look at the Florida article I looked at yesterday from a slightly different yet probably no less bothered position. He takes the tact that schools should be ranked according to what they teach--more of a value-added approach. And while I agree with Carey that a system of college rankings based heavily on inputs rather than outputs is problematic and dysfunctional, it's an awful big task to usurp the venerable U.S. News rankings. I'm no higher education expert, but the handful of higher courses I've had suggested to me that rankings are here to stay. There is a lot of money and prestige in it for someone who comes up with a CNET style ranking system for higher education institutions and primary and secondary schools complete with video rankings, archives, and upgradable and editable user reviews. Anyone out there up for working on a project like that give me a holla'.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Diamonds in Florida Edition: Charters? Disadvantaged Kids? Elite Universities?

In Florida news, wish I was there, a new study (pdf) from the Department of Education rings the "charter schools are not a panacea" bell. Read about it here at the Miami Herald. Traditional arguments abound in the Herald piece over similar student performance between two school types--charter and traditional. The interesting trend here is that Florida charter schools look more and more like traditional public schools. Take ethnicity. Ten year data show that percentages of minority students overall have fallen and more closely resemble the traditional public school population. There's not much bad news in this report in fact, unless of course you vehemently oppose charters because you believe they suck funding from traditional public schools. But there is always a counter argument looming that says that per pupil expenditures are markedly lower at charters than traditional publics in no small part due to lack of facilities funds.

In other Florida news, The NYTimes did a piece this morning on public higher education institutions working to up the excellence ante. The story by TAMAR LEWIN features both an Alma Matter and an institution I attended some years ago. An issue running rampant, and thankfully so, is the class divide at the nation's highest ranked (and some middle ranked) colleges and universities. One of the better if not longer reads out there on the subject is William Bowen's Equity And Excellence In American Higher Education. What we're up against, and what the Times implicitly suggests is a class divide at America's top universities. This class divide will continue to grow without efforts like North Carolina's, Virginia's, and now apparently Florida's. Incredulous "apparently" for effect.

Here's the thing. There are not that many diamond-in-the-rough kids out there. These schools need as many of the diamonds as they can get to meet the ideal student body they so desperately wish to have to address a host of concerns induced by social, economic, and political reasons not to mention U.S. News. Unless these schools lower their standards, admit kids from disadvantaged backgrounds that did well in school, but not as well as the folks who flood the academic halls of the so many top Universities, we're going to continue to see low participation in programs like Access UVA and the Carolina Covenant.

I'm all for admitting students who did well by their circumstances, but I wonder if these students belong at the most elite colleges straight from high school. The elite institutions must understand that if they do admit the students who are more like "cubic zirconium in the rough" than "diamonds," the elites will need to pour an increasing amount of resources into these kids to get them up to speed to excel at college level work. So far I'm not terribly impressed at what these schools are doing.

Some elite institutions have taken a step in the right direction, but racial diversity does not equal economic diversity, if for the simple fact that deck of cards staked against the most disadvantaged kids is real and affects how well they do in grades K-12.

It's interesting how the definition of an elite university is changing to reflect an almost charitable egalitarianism--facade may it be. University Systems like California are great at handling placement within a system. Virginia's higher education system for example arguably competes against itself in many ways. In other words in Virginia, unlike California, there is no true hierarchy of schools and a lot of overlap in institutional mission exists, no matter what SCHEV projects. I wonder if there is something to do with a state's higher ed systems' coherency that might predict if a school (flagship in the cases of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina) feels compelled to extend this brand of charitable egalitarianism. I wonder.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Influence: Surveying the Ed Landscape

The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, with support from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, published a survey of influence in the educational landscape. Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping Education Policy (pdf), a report by Christopher B. Swanson and Janelle Barlage, ranks educational studies, organizations, people, and information sources.

The report is about as good a short course on Who's Who in educational policy as you will find. It's certainly not comprehensive, but love it or hate it, like coaches polls, the list approximates influence surprisingly well. "Influence" makes a great intro read for an education policy program or intro to educational policy course. I need to spend more time with the survey results myself.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What's Good for Maryland Males is Good for Others Too

Last week the Baltimore Sun published an article on Baltimore youth--black and male. Liz Bowie writes that a task force of 45 educators, business leaders, and union officials that had met for two years discussed their proposal for Maryland's black male youth. Their proposal is worth reading about and included ideas and strategies (proposed policies) that should be considered for all students struggling academically, not just boys--a study and emphasis like this risks understating other at-risk groups like low income minority girls.

Pay particular attention to the panel's recommendations that suggest schools cannot shoulder the entire moral responsibility of raising a child--a popular urban chord, but often unheard by all types of education ideologues. Suggestions like single sex classrooms; more mainstreaming of special education students; and more rigor in the curriculum, college prep, and PSAT test taking have positive effects for many types of struggling students. The gist here is that more attention to high schools is needed: there are a lot of creative and committed people out there who know that a child's last chance needn't come when he is eight years old.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Giving Art Teachers a Bad Name

A cheeky end to the week. Sometimes you wonder how this stuff surfaces in the major papers. WAPO portrays the painted posterior as newsworthy, suggesting it's yet another litmus for free speech and the limits of what teachers can and can't do. Of course this guy knew what he was doing. Check out the lame disguise. Also, the University Art department where he experimented with this technique thought it offensive. Surprise that a school division would also have problems with the paintings and the video. Hope the art thing goes well for him because after the video it's going to take a very understanding school board to reinstate him properly.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Where do we go from here?

Funny how Matthew Yglesias, another eponymous online entity, is concerned that Andrew Rotherham over at Eduwonk hasn't blogged on Paul Tough's very well written and important post-Thanksgiving NYT Magazine piece "What it Takes to Make a Student" (Times Select now required bummer). Funny because I didn't feel compelled to post on it either, even though I felt like I should say something. I read Tough's article enthralled while I was in New York and kept waiting for help--for answers--but aren't we all? I took notes even. I took notes on some research Tough quotes like Martin Seligman's positive psychology and graduate student Angela Duckworth's work on selective self discipline.

After some prodding Eduwonk's response to Tough's article is crafted and deliberate and holds the article up as tops for the year. Eduwonk writes:

"I liked with the direction the story pointed at the end. Basically we have an enormous social problem here but whether or not we solve it is hardly out of our hands. However, it requires a pretty fundamental rethinking of how we do things in an industry that has changed little in a half-century despite enormous social, demographic, and labor market changes. That, of course, is why I come to work every day."

It's hard not to second Eduwonk enthusiastically. So I won't hold back. Tough's article was a strongly written popular piece. Though Tough's article lacks in precision, it tells us where we are and provides some possibilities. Anyhow, for my readers (I know there are a couple, thank you so much by the way), I just want to share a similar sentiment. When I read Tough's piece in the NYT Magazine I couldn't put it down. But I didn't have much to say afterward either. It's like pondering a road sign, the meaning in a name, the history of the place, the people who shape the land. We can sit and look at the sign, but without following where it goes it's tough to know much.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson

The Supreme Court heard Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson on Monday, two cases that will largely determine the fate of many of the nation's racial integration programs for the foreseeable future. See Robert Barnes' WAPO story here and Linda Greenhouse's NYT story here. At question is the constitutionality of the voluntary efforts school districts make to encourage racial integration. Arguments in the particular centered on whether integration programs identify students by the color of their skin and use that color as a criterion to achieve a desirable student body.

Many expect based on Monday's testimony and exchanges that the final ruling the Court's conservative majority will take the position that using skin color to achieve balance or representativeness is unconstitutional. The Court's moderate-to-liberal minority will argue as Justice Breyer did today:

“Think, go back to Cooper v. Aaron. Go back to the case where this court with paratroopers had to use tremendous means to get those children into the school. That’s because the society was divided.”

Justice Breyer continued: “Here we have a society, black and white, who elect school board members who together have voted to have this form of integration. Why, given that change in society, which is a good one, how can the Constitution be interpreted in a way that would require us, the judges, to go in and make them take the black children out of the school?”

Something very important is at stake here; Justice Breyer gets close to it. Unfortunately so many of our schools are so heavily segregated--complacently segregated--that Monday's arguments are not germane enough for most people to care. Most, but not all.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Aloha, Brilliant

Sara Mead over at the Quick and the Ed gets downright scholarly on the whole DC mayoral takeover and governance possibilities in response to Eduwonk's post of Mike Casserly's Sunday WAPO op-ed. The exchange is smart, but Mead's closer is brilliant (scroll to the end in her update). Aloha! Got room for another researcher on that trip?

Department of Guilty Until Proven Innocent, and by then it's Too Late?

Something to noch on for the weekend. The Albequerque Tribune published a story on how New Mexico is acting to revoke licenses in advance of due process for teachers charged with forms of sexual misconduct. The article states that the NM education department's Ethics Bureau is investigating 104 cases of teacher misconduct. While I have a hard time picking a bone with revoking licenses to protect children from predators, and it's shocking that a man investigated in 1998 and charged in 2001 and 2002, and indicted on over 40 counts of sexual misconduct could still have his license, it still seems like there is room for abuse here.

Education Secretary Veronica Garcia makes some good points though and some reassurance that a teacher could get their license reinstated if found not guilty of the charges. Of course that could take awhile. I'm not sure how big of a problem teacher misconduct is nationally. Anecdotally and locally I am aware of schools that have had serious problems with a handful of teachers. It's troubling that a state has to step up its investigating power against teachers. Garcia waxes quizzically: "Either we've stepped up or people are misbehaving more."
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