Archives for May 2006

Too good to charter

Summit Preparatory High, a top-scoring charter school in Redwood City, California lacks bad students, say local school officials. The charter needs a local sponsor due to a change in state law, but Sequoia Union High School District claims the school doesn’t have enough low-performing students. From the San Mateo Times:

One of the main reasons the California Legislature passed the charter school law, Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma said, was to provide more options for struggling students. So far, he said, the data Summit has given the district shows the school is not serving this purpose.

In the school’s current sophomore and junior classes, there are no students that are in the “far below basic” category in English on the state standardized test results, Gemma said.

Furthermore, he said about 75 percent of these students are at “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in English language arts.

Summit Executive Director Diane Tavenner counters that students aren’t doing as well in math with a third of advanced algebra students in the “far below basic” category.

About half of Summit students are white and many come from affluent Menlo Park and Portola Valley families, but 35 percent are Hispanic, typically from blue-collar families. Next fall, the high school will add a senior class and reach 375 students.

All Summit students take challenging college-prep classes, with extra help for those who need it. The minimum passing grade is a “C” to ensure all graduates will be eligible for college.

Junior Arturo Calderon, 17, said his parents wanted him to go to Summit to avoid getting involved with gangs and drugs.

He failed English and history when he first started there in ninth grade. But after attending summer school, he is getting better grades and hopes to attend San Jose State University.

Sequoia, the local high school district, is losing students to a number of new charter schools of which Summit is the most successful, as well as to private schools. I’ve visited the charter and was very impressed.

High school drop-outs in college

Students who’ve left high school without a diploma or GED are enrolling in college, reports the New York Times. Non-graduates make up “2 percent of all college students, 3 percent at community colleges and 4 percent at commercial, or profit-making, colleges, according to a survey by the United States Education Department in 2003-4.”

Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., with 12,000 students, is one of the many SUNY campuses that welcome students without high school diplomas. Last fall, nearly 3 percent of the entering class lacked these credentials, double the 1.5 percent two years earlier. The admissions director, Mary Claire Bauer, said the college tried to help the students with counseling and other programs.

“We give everyone the opportunity to come to college,” Ms. Bauer said. Still, she added, “The success rates are only so-so.”

With the extra assistance, 37 percent of the group that entered in fall 2004 returned a year later, compared with 57 percent for the whole class.

California community colleges will take anybody with a pulse, but students have to pass a test or pass remedial classes to get into academic classes. Students in the 10 percent of the class of ’06 that hasn’t yet passed the graduation exam may go on to community college rather than spending another year in high school, but odds are they’ll have to take remedial reading and math classes.

Preschool debate

Should government-funded preschool be targeted to needy children or provided to all children? Education Sector hosts a debate on the subject.

Meanwhile, Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation links to a critique of a RAND study.

A Rand Corporation study that claims universal preschool will deliver $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent by California taxpayers has been thoroughly discredited by two San Jose State University economics professors who show the Rand preschool study “cherry-picked” data, based its claims on “unbelievable assumptions that bias the results,” and omitted numerous costs and other factors that significantly lower the alleged benefits of universal preschool. The review of the Rand report, published by the Reason Foundation, uses Rand’s own data and methodology and finds that California would actually lose 25 to 30 cents for every dollar spent on universal preschool when just a few of the Rand report’s most glaring mistakes are corrected. And the Reason study concludes those losses would be even greater if many of the proposed preschool program’s costs, wrongly excluded from Rand’s calculations, were included in the analysis.

Tthe SF Chronicle summarizes Proposition 82, the universal preschool initiative on California’s June 6 ballot.

Merit pay

Merit pay may be gaining traction, observes Edspresso, citing this story on Illinois teachers’ unions surprisingly ho-hum response to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to tie teacher pay to student performance.

Leaders with the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers — which together represent more than 210,000 educators — say they could support tying pay to classroom performance … if pay is not tied to test scores alone;

… if local teachers have a hand in designing the salary deal;

… and if it doesn’t shortchange teachers in schools dogged by poverty, high drop-out rates or violence.

“We’re not opposed to exploring this if it’s done in a way we believe gives our people a voice in the process,” Illinois Education Association President Ken Swanson said..

“Not opposed” is a rousing endorsement by past standards.

At the carnival

Education in Texas hosts the Carnival of Education this week.

Charter choice shifts power

Politics favor charter schools, regardless of whether evidence shows higher test scores, writes Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards, on This Week in Education. Kosar sees the start of a shift in power from the entrenched few to the dissatisfied many. Charter advocates “have tapped into deeply held American values by promoting charter schools as ‘independent’ and ‘diverse’,” he writes.

Charter school proponents have also been able to hitch the notion of choice to equality. “The rich,” they note, “already have school choice. Why not the poor too?”

The opponents of charter schools, meanwhile, have stumbled when taking values positions. They appeal to American’s sense of nostalgia by recalling the glorious tradition of government schools. Then, to the confusion of listeners, they issue pleas for more money and time to improve the schools.

Americans think they should have a choice.

Carnival time

The Common Room is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

Master’s portfolio

For her master’s degree in education, Newoldschoolteacher had to create a portfolio with a “cohesive theme” that “illustrates our journey” through the year.

I’m thinking “Frustration,” “Disappointment,” or “Seething fury.”

The portfolio is a compilation of class assignments with a peppy theme.

For example, one person did a wedding theme, with her assignments grouped under subthemes like “dating,” “proposing,” “wedding planning,” etc. Another one from a past year was about an ordinary boy transforming into a popular superhero. One girl in my class did something akin to “Riding the equity bus to the state capitol.” (Equity is a really big word these days. I don’t know what happened to “equality,” but it’s out.)

Newoldschoolteacher translates the language of ed school:

“The portfolio should be integrative, synthetic, and evaluative.
Translation: The portfolio should be big word to make me look smart, big word to confirm smartness, big word to blow their minds with the smartness.

“The portfolio is not a scrapbook, although it may resemble one, but a new creation which assimilates the diverse aspects of the candidate’s experiences during the master’s program.”

Translation: The portfolio is a scrapbook. Get over it.

Student teaching reflective papers: “What are the norms, practices, rituals, customs, values, power structures, group affiliations, and status systems that define and shape your classroom setting?

Well, let’s see. We usually start off by sacrificing a goat on the altar of Mammon, cuz he’s our favorite god. Then Raquita, who is the Queen Bee of the Nest, leads us through a little blood-letting and some chanting while Michael, affiliated with the school’s most elite acapella group, tends the burning incense. Everyone gives a tithe to me, the Dragon Mother, and after that we start the Do Now.

Sounds integrative, synthetic and evaluative to me.

Persuasion at Fenimore High

The spinster heroine of Jane Austen’s Persuasion becomes a college counselor for status-conscious high school students in an affluent, ambitious suburb in Paula Marantz Cohen’s Jane Austen in Scarsdale. Diane Ravitch recommends the book in Education Next.

How better to investigate and satirize contemporary mores than through the eyes of a high-school guidance counselor who is juggling the demands of status-hungry parents and their anxious children?

. . . Anyone who has any awareness of the pressure on high-school students to get into Ivy League colleges will enjoy this novel. I laughed out loud frequently as I read her fictional description of life in the guidance office at Fenimore High.

In Austen’s day, getting children into a good marriage was the goal of ambitious parents. Now it’s college. But the college counselor in the book does have a rejected beau — a formerly low-status guy who’s risen in the world — who shows up in town.

Graduation day

I’m in Ithaca, New York: My fiance’s daughter is graduating from Cornell with a degree in bioengineering. (And she’s looking for a job, preferably in public health, in Boston or the Bay Area or elsewhere.)

Via Truck and Barter, here’s a Gerald Bracey column pointing out that the statistics on the number of U.S., Chinese and Indian engineers are dubious, confusing technicians with four-year engineering graduates. I’ve blogged on this before, but Bracey’s right to say the fuzzy numbers keep getting quoted despite debunking in the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor. Perhaps a Washington Post column will do the trick.

Blogging will be light and comment monitoring will be even lighter till I figure out why I can’t access my comments on the laptop, which I use on the road. It’s never refused to let me open comments before.