Archives for April 2011

‘Snowplow parents’ bully schools

Pushy “snowplow parents” are afflicting schools, writes Ole Jorgenson, head of a  private school, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Gen Xers orchestrate every move of their preschoolers, from perfect play dates and obsessively healthy diets, to instructional flashcards and hypoallergenic socks.

Once school starts, Gen X parents may become upset to discover other students doing more advanced work than their own, demanding a meeting with the principal about why the teacher is “letting their child fall behind.” Of course the parents have done their research, identified the problem, and it’s clearly the school’s fault that their child is “underperforming” — in kindergarten.

“Helicopter parents” hovered. “Snowplow parents” knock  “all potential obstacles out of their children’s paths to pack their young résumés with successes,” Jorgenson writes. And that may mean bulldozing the teacher or the principal.

In the mid-1980s, when he was a young teacher, most parents would cooperate with the school in dealing with a child’s problem behavior. There was a home-school partnership. Now 75 percent of parents resist.

Jorgenson is head of Almaden Country School, a respected private school in San Jose that charges $15,710 tuition at the middle-school level. It has a “whole child” philosophy, but also brags about high test scores. I wonder if affluent private-school parents are pushier than affluent public-school parents.

Catholic schools struggle to survive

For every charter school that opens in Harlem, two Catholic schools have closed, write Patrick J. McCloskey and Sol Stern in City Journal. That means fewer good schools for inner-city students.

St. Aloysius School, a pre-K through eighth-grade school in central Harlem, was built for working-class Catholic immigrants but now serves low- and moderate-income black children, few of whom are Catholic.

A reading class at St. Aloysius taught by Lauren Carfora, part of the school's back-to-basics curriculum

St. Aloysius students outperform Harlem’s public school students by a large margin.

The school expects to spend $9,000 per student next year, “less than half of what Gotham’s traditional public schools spend and lower, too, than the $13,000 or so that charter schools get in taxpayer funds.”

But St. Aloysius has trouble filling its seats, though the school expects to take in students from Catholic schools that are closing. Tuition tops out at $2,600 per student and needy families pay less, but neighborhood charters are free. The school is leaving the archdiocese to make it easier to raise donations to keep the doors open.

Why do St. Aloysius students do so well?

Recognizing that inner-city children need extra time on task, the school offers after-school tutoring for the early grades, and it extends the school day for students in grades six through eight until 5 pm. Middle school students must attend a four-week summer session followed by a two-week summer camp.

. . . Another reason for St. Aloysius’s success, school officials say, is that it educates boys and girls separately beginning in the sixth grade, with the boys’ classes held in a few rooms at another Catholic school a few blocks away. This requires hiring three or four extra teachers and thus adds to costs, but the educators believe that it helps maintain discipline and a focus on academics during the risky preteen years and the transition to high school.

St. Aloysius “exemplifies the old-fashioned notion that school is a place where children learn about our civilization’s shared knowledge and values and where teachers remain the undisputed authorities in the classroom, imparting that knowledge and those values through a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum,” they write.

In a third-grade reading class, teacher Lauren Carfora spends 45 minutes on decoding skills and phonetic exercises and another 45 minutes discussing “a literary text to build comprehension and content knowledge.”

She guided the students through the narrative structure of the assigned story, the relationship of the characters, and the author’s use of literary technique, simultaneously expanding the students’ vocabulary and background knowledge.

Here’s the kicker: “Barely a moment of distraction occurred during those 90 minutes of teacher-centered instruction. The classroom calm allowed Carfora to cover a great amount of substantive material efficiently.”

Evaluating teacher evaluations

Brookings’ new report, Passing Muster: Evaluating Teacher Evaluation Systems, looks at how districts evaluate teacher excellence. The report explores “how a state or the federal government could achieve a uniform standard for dispensing funds to school districts for the recognition of exceptional teachers without imposing a uniform evaluation system on those districts.”

Smart people, confusing study, writes Jay Mathews.


Foreign-born students vie for civics honors

Top civics students will compete in the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution National Finals in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Randallston High’s team will represent Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun. Eleven of 13 team members were born in Nigeria, Liberia, Grenada and Egypt.

“Most of them have this great interest because it was starkly different from what they experienced. They have the appreciation for the Constitution and U.S. Bill of Rights that you wish the natural-born citizens would,” said Richard Weitkamp, whose entire Advanced Placement U.S. Government class at the Baltimore County school is taking part in the competition.

Students portray experts testifying on selected constitutional issues in a simulated congressional hearing. They must answer questions from a panel of judges that includes Supreme Court justices, historians, attorneys and political scientists.

Team members are top students who’ve taken gifted and AP classes together for years. Six come from Nigeria. Nearly all are female.

Christiana Ilufoye, a 17-year-old whose parents left Nigeria when she was 9 so that she and her siblings could get a better education, wants to become a lawyer, so she was eager to study the Constitution.

. . . Oluchukwu Agu, who came from Nigeria to Randallstown in 10th grade, is still trying to adjust. “The values and the culture are so different. In Nigeria, education comes first. … No one here is going to take a D home,” he said.

“We have some bonds because we all have a purpose here,” Ilufoye said of the competition. “We all know why we take this seriously.”

It’s inspiring and depressing at the same time.

Lots of praise, not much money

Community colleges get lots of praise, but not much money.

Also on Community College Spotlight: With 60 percent of new community college students requiring remedial classes, completion starts in high school.

Study: Observers can spot best teachers

Cincinnati teachers who receive high ratings from trained observers also have high value-added scores, concludes a study by Harvard, Stanford and Brown researchers reported in Education Next.

The 10-year-old Teacher Evaluation System (TES) includes three observations by a an experienced teacher from outside the school and one by a school administrator. Evaluators and administrators must complete an intensive training course and accurately score videotaped teaching examples.

Teachers’ scores on the classroom observation components of Cincinnati’s evaluation system reliably predict the achievement gains made by their students in both math and reading. These findings support the idea that teacher evaluation systems need not be based on test scores alone in order to provide useful information about which teachers are most effective in raising student achievement.

TES evaluate all first-year teachers and fourth-year teachers up for tenure. After that, teachers are evaluated every fifth year. Teachers may volunteer for TES to earn the high scores needed to qualify as a lead teacher or TES evaluator.

Teacher Beat looks at the push to devise teacher evaluation systems.

33% of KIPP grads earn 4-year degree

Thirty-three percent of KIPP graduates earned a bachelor’s degree 10 years after graduating from one of the charter network’s first middle schools in Houston or the Bronx, according to a KIPP report. Another 5 percent earned an associate degree and 19 percent are working toward a degree.

That’s far short of KIPP’s goal, a 75 percent four-year college graduation rate. But these low-income black and Hispanic KIPPsters are slightly more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than the average young American; the national rate is 30.6 percent. Only 8.3 percent of students from low-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s.

Some 95 percent of KIPP’s middle-school graduates completed high school compared to a national average of 83 percent. Only 70 percent of low-income students complete high school. Eighty-nine percent of KIPPsters enroll in college, compared to 62 percent of all U.S. students and 41 percent of low-income students.

KIPP graduates have more motivated parents than typical low-income students, Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science in education at Teachers College, Columbia told Ed Week.

However, that extra motivation didn’t translate into higher achievement before enrolling in a KIPP middle school. When students start, typically in fifth grade, they’re achieving at similar levels to students in nearby schools, but doing worse than the district average, according to Mathematica’s research.

In 2004, KIPP began to open elementary schools to keep students from falling behind and high schools to keep middle-school graduates on the college track. KIPP To College was started to provide academic, financial and personal counseling to alumni.

Superman renounces U.S. citizenship

Superman is renouncing his U.S. citizenship in order to act globally without being seen as a U.S. agent,  reports Comics Alliance.

Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of “truth, justice, and the American way,” from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume.

Iran blames the U.S. for Superman’s non-violent appearance in Tehran to support anti-government protesters. Under pressure from the president’s national security adviser to toe the U.S. policy line, Superman decides to declare himself a global citizen. The world is “too connected” for him to limit himself to a national identity, the Man of Steel decides.

All this raises a question: Is Superman a U.S. citizen? He was born on another planet and sent here as an undocumented baby.  When and how did he naturalize? And why is Donald Trump ignoring this important issue?

‘Stuck schools’ stay stuck

Most high-performing schools are leaving low-income and minority students behind, concludes Stuck Schools Revisited: Beneath the Averages, a new Education Trust report that analyzes data from Maryland and Indiana.

In Maryland, the achievement gap in reading narrowed from 2005 to 2009, but African-American and Latino students often lag behind.

“In Indiana, gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers have remained both wide and stagnant,” Ed Trust reports. 

California private schools regain students

As California public schools raise class sizes and shorten the school year, more middle-class parents are turning to private schools, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The recession cut California’s private-school enrollment from 10 percent of school-age children to 8 percent in the last decade. Now several San Jose area private schools say inquiries and applications are up 25 percent to 40 percent. A Christian school that closed several years ago is reopening to meet the demand.