Archives for January 2007

Paying students for performance

Coshocton, Ohio schools are offering performance pay to students.

The third- through sixth-graders in the study receive $15 for every score of “proficient” on a state exam and $20 for better results — so they can collect $100 if they have high scores in all five subjects. The money comes as gift certificates redeemable at a local pizza parlor and Wal-Mart.

Coshocton manufacturer Robert Simpson paid for the project with a $100,000 grant from his family foundation, and says the foundation is ready to take the rewards districtwide if the data and the community support it.

The small district is in the third and final year of a study conducted by a Case Western economics professor, Eric Bettinger.

For the experiment, entire grades from the city’s four elementary schools were randomly chosen to either receive the rewards or not.

Although Bettinger is not releasing his study results early, the district has climbed out of the state’s “academic emergency” ranking since the rewards began. It is now two notches higher, at “effective” status.

Via Education Reform Newswire.

Using foundation money, a number of Texas districts pay students for passing AP exams. (Usually their teachers get bonuses too.) It’s boosted the number of low-income and minority students taking and passing AP exams.

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is delighting visitors over at The Median Sib’s place. I liked Mr. Lawrence’s post on literary works you can’t stand. He can’t bear Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Commenters nominated Catcher in the Rye, Kafka, Moby Dick, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Hemingway, Wuthering Heights, Proust, Ethan Frome, Billy Budd and even Charles Dickens. I love Dickens. The writer I can’t stand is Henry James. All his characters need to get a job. Read Mr. Lawrence’s comments for more on the dirty bits in Moby Dick. I must have skipped that chapter. I’m planning on going back and reading it.

Nancy Drew outpoints Macbeth

Due to a oddly configured “readability” formula, the popular Accelerated Reader program gives more points to a student for reading a Nancy Drew mystery than reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” If kids really want enough points to earn a pizza party, they’ll read a long, point-rich Tom Clancy novel.

Accelerated Reader provides software that quizzes students on their comprehension of books they’ve chosen for themselves from the school library, explains the Washington Post. There are quizzes for 100,000 books. Students get points based on the difficulty of the book. But the “readability” formula produces odd results, partly because length is equated with difficulty.

Under the formula, the complicated and violent “Macbeth” earns a reader four points, and the Nancy Drew mystery “The Picture of Guilt” is worth five points. Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” is worth 20 points; Tom Clancy’s voluminous “Executive Orders,” 78 points.

I’ve heard very good things from teachers about Accelerated Reader, though it doesn’t work if the school doesn’t supply enough books for students to choose from.

But to (Brad) German and other parents, the levels and points give kids a disincentive to read the classics. He said he is stumped by why the highest-scoring Shakespeare play, “Hamlet,” is given half the value of the lowest-scoring Tom Clancy novel.

That seems like a fixable problem. Give fewer points for length and more for complex language.

The Post includes an odd paragraph.

There have been several studies of Accelerated Reader by independent researchers over the years, with mixed results. Some studies show organized reading programs have positive effects on reading scores. But some researchers say the testing and rewards associated with Accelerated Reader help perpetuate the “high stakes” testing atmosphere fueling education today.

This seems to say that AR helps students read better. That’s good. The “mixed” result is that it encourages them to value doing well on tests. That doesn’t seem so bad to me. I also question whether earning enough points to get a class pizza party is “high stakes,” even to a kid.

Many schools now make time for a daily period for students to read independently. Or to stare blankly at a page. Accelerated Reader gives them an incentive to read and checks their comprehension. Not many students are choosing “Macbeth” over Nancy Drew — nor would they with more points for Shakespeare — but they’re reading.

InstaMom’s BooksforKids recommends books that children will enjoy reading.

Pay for popularity

Denver schools that enroll charter or out-of-district students will get bonuses, reports the Denver Post. Denver’s district-run public schools have lost more than 8,000 students in the past six years. Popular schools will receive an extra $1,395 for each “new” student on top of regular funding. That’s about a 20 percent increase over normal per-student funding. Denver charter schools get 92 to 95 percent of the district’s regular funding.

While district enrollment leveled off this year, instead of declining as predicted, charter school enrollment fell.

Small is successful

New York City’s new small high schools are graduating more students and sending them to college, concludes a WestEd report funded by the small-friendly Gates Foundation. WestEd looked at 14 small schools created to replace low-performing high schools. All graduated their first class in 2006. While the citywide graduation rate is 58 percent, the new schools graduated 79 percent of the class and sent 69 percent of graduates on to college. More than “80 percent of the schools’ graduates did not meet New York State standards in English and Math when they entered ninth grade,” the report emphasizes.

Each of the 14 schools examined had successfully created a “college-going” culture through academic programs that emphasize the new “3 Rs” – rigor, relevance and relationships. For example, the schools provide increased access to advanced courses, better preparation for Regents exams, and extra support to help struggling students catch up; connect curricula to students’ personal experiences, contemporary issues and career opportunities; and encourage strong relationships between teachers, students and their families to give students more individualized attention and to enable their families to support them.

Can this small school success be replicated on a larger scale? WestEd has some ideas, including better coordination with K-8 schools.

Update: Philadelphia schools are improving, concludes a Center for Education Reform report, which credits the dynamic leadership of Paul Vallas, who allowed a variety of education providers to take over failing schools and compete for students.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Connections is the theme of this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, which is hosted by PalmTree Pundit.

Not cool

Alternaparents think they’re cool people raising cool kids — not at all like their boring parents — but Globe and Mail columnist Leah MacLaren suggests they grow up. And shut up about their kids.

. . . all this talk of the importance of punk rock and downing tequila shots between play dates is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to do what self-absorbed parents have always done: Inundate everyone around them with stories about how special and cute their kids are. . . .

Even more tedious than the cute-kid stories (which most of us have come to accept and tolerate) is the alternaparent stance of, “I’m a Dad now — isn’t that ironic?” No. It’s not. I know you partied hard in your 20s. I know you made art your priority. I know you vowed to never sell out by owning a car or a house or any of that bourgeois crap. I can see how surprised you are by your own ability to do a 180 on this position and become the guy in the park with the baby jogger. But guess what? No one else is surprised. You are a mammal. Your job on this planet is to procreate. And no amount of rave-going or ecstasy-dropping was ever going to change that.

Changing a diaper with a Jagermeister hangover is still just changing a diaper.

Words of wisdom, says Rosenblog.

It all reminds me of the Mr. Mom era when every time a man changed a diaper, he wrote a book about it.

Stereotype training

At Arizona State, students who want to be RAs must play a role-playing game that’s supposed to sensitize them to “the effects of racism, classism and homophobia.” Ryan Visconti, a student given the role of a gay Hispanic, objected.

… Visconti said the students who designed the roleplay overlooked their own stereotypes, such as the notion that white men don’t have to work for wealth because society gives them a free ride. Or the idea that Christian churches are filled with bigots, and people who support traditional family values such as heterosexual marriage are hateful and narrow-minded.

Participants visited “life stations” representing housing, banking, church, jail, transportation and employment.

At each stop, Visconti said he was given scripted responses based on his gay Hispanic identity. He was told he could be a landscaper and live in a ghetto apartment or be unemployed and homeless. Meanwhile, students assigned white identities were encouraged to be business executives.

At Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein wonders what would happen if a Hispanic student picked the Hispanic card and was told landscaper is his proper station in life. Would it be actionable discrimination?

New Orleans can’t find teachers

New Orleans needs teachers. The new post-Katrina charters are attracting young idealists, but the state-run system is having trouble, reports MSNBC.

The school system in New Orleans was in desperate condition even before Hurricane Katrina struck 17 months ago, with crumbling buildings, low test scores and high dropout rates.

After the storm, some of the worst of the worst public schools were put under state control, and those are the ones finding it particularly hard to attract teachers. The 19 schools in the state-run Recovery School District have 8,580 students and about 540 teachers, or about 50 fewer than they need. About 300 students who want to enroll have been put on a waiting list until another school opens.

Half of those hired to teach have failed a test of basic skills, notes The Ed Wonks. A third are uncertified.

NCLBlog points out a recruitment ad that says certified teachers will be directed to charter schools, uncertified teachers to state-run schools. Apparently, the charters are seen as better places to teach and can afford to be picky about who they hire.

Whole language in sheep’s clothing

In a Fordham report, Whole-Language High Jinks, reading expert Louisa Moats warns that ineffective whole-language reading programs with names like “balanced literacy” are trying to grab funding intended for programs that have been proven far more effective. New York City, Denver and Salt Lake City have been misled by programs that are whole language in disguise, Moats writes. Warning signs include:

* Use of memorization and contextual guessing, instead of direct, systematic teaching for word recognition and actual comprehension;
* Rejection of explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction;
* Application of the whole-language principles for English language learners.

She suggests asking some questions about reading programs that claim to be scientifically based:

* Have valid screening measures in place to identify children at risk and provide them with early/extra instruction in word recognition, comprehension, and writing skills?
* Interweave multiple language components (such as speech sounds, word structure, word meaning, and sentence structure) together in the same lesson?
* Support reading comprehension by focusing on a deep understanding of topics and themes rather than developing a set of shortcut strategies?

About 40 percent of children are “at risk of reading failure,” Moats estimates. Taught well, they’ll learn to read. Taught poorly, they may never catch up.