Kalamazoo on the rise

The promise of college tuition for local high school graduates has helped Kalmazoo, Michigan attract new homeowners and employers, reports the Wall Street Journal. Philanthropists agreed to fund the Promise in 2005.

It covers 65% of tuition costs at public colleges and universities in Michigan for students who spend at least their high school years in the Kalamazoo Public School district. Students who go all the way from kindergarten through 12th grade get a free ride. Bills are paid by the program directly to the college. Roughly 1,200 students have taken advantage of the program so far.

Other towns with stagnant economies are developing their own versions of the program.

Surprise! You're supposed to teach kids

No Child Left Behind’s critics call it an “unfunded mandate,” notes Jay Greene. But what did schools think they were supposed to be doing pre-NCLB? Surely, they were trying to teach reading and math all along, he points out.

Let’s leave aside the fact that federal spending on education has increased 41% since passage of NCLB. And let’s leave aside that NCLB is not actually a mandate, since states do not have to comply with NCLB if they do not want Title I funds (which have increased 59% since 2001).

Besides neither being unfunded nor a mandate, the argument that NCLB is an unfunded mandate is especially odd because it makes one wonder what all of the funding that schools received before NCLB was for. It’s as if the unfunded mandate crowd is saying: “The $10,000 per pupil we already get just pays for warehousing. If you actually want us to educate kids, that’ll cost ya extra.”

NCLB “requires that states wishing to receive Title I funds have to establish goals for student success, select tests for measuring progress towards those goals, and report results from those tests broken out by subgroups,” Greene writes. The sanctions for failure are the equivalent of Dean Wormer’s “double secret probation.”

The skills gap

Americans’ commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom — rooted in “a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives” — made the U.S. the world’s economic superpower, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.

Starting in 1870, more Americans spent more years in school, far outpacing our European rivals.

In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.

But America’s educational progress slowed and then stagnated from 1970 to 1990. Our foreign competitors caught up and some passed us by.

The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

High school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s, at about 80 percent, writes James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Heckman blames weak families.

Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.

I.Q. matters, but Heckman points to equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability.

Brooks sees government-funded preschool as a human capital strategy. But if the problem is inadequate parenting, the solutions may not be found in schools.

Mostly good news

Don’t ignore the mostly good news on education, writes Karin Chenoweth, author of It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, on Britannica Blog. High-performing student are “making steady gains” and low performers are “improving even faster in math and early reading.”

She cites a new analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. The survey found that “fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading show gains at both the top and bottom of the achievement scale, with the bottom showing the most gains.”

In the ’90s, fourth-grade reading scores plunged for low performers; high performers stayed about the same. That trend began to change in 2000.

In 2007, the top performers scored 10 points higher in fourth-grade math over the top performers in 2000, which Loveless says is almost one grade level, and five points in eighth-grade math, which is roughly half a grade level. Not too shabby.

At the same time, the lowest performers in fourth grade gained 18 points and in eighth grade gained 13 points. Hit the hosannas.

The gaps remain large, but the trend is positive.

Good news also in fourth-grade reading: the top performers gained 3 points this decade and the bottom performers gained 16, which means they are now a bit higher than where they stood at the beginning of the 1990s. We seem to finally have figured out something about teaching struggling readers how to read.

However, low performers dropped three points in eighth-grade reading; top performers didn’t change. That suggests that students need to develop vocabulary and background knowledge in order to build strong reading comprehension.

Learning to pay attention

Paying attention is a lost art in our noisy, jumbled, hyperactive age, writes Maggie Jackson on Pajamas Media. We’ve forgotten how to single task.

It’s no surprise more children are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. But can kids learn to focus?

Inspired by skills training of monkeys, Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart at the University of Oregon have developed a five-day computer-based attention-training program for young children. After the training, six-year-olds show a pattern of activity in the anterior cingulate — a banana-shaped brain region that is ground zero for executive attention — similar to that of adults, along with a slight IQ boost and a marked gain in executive attention.

Some schools are experimenting with meditation as a way to train students to focus.

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is in full swing at The Chancellor’s New Clothes.

The Onion poll: Girls = Boys

The Onion’s crack pollsters ask Americans what they think of a new study finding that Girls=Boys in Math scores.

Judge orders Texas to do better — but how?

Texas’ schools aren’t educating middle and high school students who lack English proficiency, according to U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice. He ordered the state to change the current secondary-school program. Currently, schools offer bilingual classes through sixth grade; students who remain English Learners and new immigrants then take classes in English as a Second Language. Typically, they perform much worse than students who are fluent in English.

“The failure of secondary (limited English proficient) students under every metric clearly and convincingly demonstrates student failure, and accordingly, the failure of the (English as a Second Language) secondary program in Texas,” Justice wrote in the opinion, which reversed his 2007 ruling in the case.

Texas is supposed to come up with a better program. Some think the judge wants bilingual (or all-Spanish) classes offered in middle and high school.

New immigrants who arrive as teenagers with no English are going to struggle, no matter how they’re taught. Full immersion in English might overwhelm them; Spanish-language classes would delay their transition to English.

However, many English Learners in secondary school aren’t newcomers. In California — and I’m sure in Texas — many English Learners who’ve attended U.S. schools since kindergarten or first grade never read or write well in English. I wrote about this here and here (scroll down).

Carnival of Homeschooling

Consent of the Governed is hosting the Boy Scout edition of the Carnival Of Homeschooling.

No mandate to teach climate change

Teaching about climate change won’t be mandatory in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have required climate change be taught in schools and included in science textbooks. The governor said the state shouldn’t dictate the specifics of what’s taught.