‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

When black kids learn, it’s not a ‘miracle’

Tweeting as “Citizen Stewart,” Chris Stewart, an African-American who’s served on the Minneapolis school board, praised an Alabama school.

George Hall Elementary. 99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient. You’re not ready for this discussion until you believe in our kids.

The tweet brought out the brought out the doubters, he writes on Storify. They called it a “miracle” — a dubious one.

. . . educators often suffer from an amazing belief gap. That is the gap between what they think our children are capable of, and what our children are actually capable of. For them, the only way our kids can do well is with supernatural intervention.

“White anti-reformers . . . wanted to shut down any talk about teachers not having adequate belief in children of color,” Stewart writes. “They wanted to redirect conversation to the deficits of poor families.”

Finally, some blacks joined the tweet debate.

A turnaround school in Mobile, George Hall Elementary is one of the highest performing elementary schools in all of Alabama, reported Education Trust in 2013.

Sometimes, A is for alike

The Teacher's Pet
LA Johnson/NPR

Teachers overestimate the abilities of students who resemble them in personality, according to a newly published paper. They downgrade students who are different.

Teacher bias could hold students back, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

This study looked at a group of 93 teachers and 294 students in eighth grade in Germany. Everyone took a short test to establish basic features of their personalities: extraversion, agreeableness and the like.

They gave the students reading and math tests too, sharing the test items with the teachers. Then they asked the teachers two questions: How good is this student compared to an average eighth grader? How well will this student do on this test?

Teachers’ judgment was linked to their personality match on the first question. However, they were more accurate in estimating the results of a specific test.

“A recent study from Israel showed that teachers gave girls lower grades on math tests when they knew their gender,” writes Kamenetz.

If teachers give students who are similar to them better grades, or even just maintain higher expectations of those students, what does that do for the students who don’t look or act like their teachers?

It’s important to balance teachers’ “holistic” evaluations with assessments that aren’t graded by a student’s own teacher, says Tobias Rausch, one of the researchers. He also thinks teachers should be trained to notice their biases.

Can gifted ed survive the Common Core?

Can gifted education survive the Common Core? ask the folks at Fordham.

While some say the new standards will challenge high achievers, others fear they’ll be used as an excuse to “do away with already-dwindling opportunities” for talented students.

In Common Core and America’s High-Achieving Students, Jonathan Plucker discusses how Core-implementing schools can serve gifted students and make differentiation “real.”

National University could make college affordable

Thanks to advances in information technology, we can “create a 21st Century National University that will help millions of students get a high-quality, low-cost college education — without hiring any professors, building any buildings or costing the taxpayers a dime.” So writes Kevin Carey, who directs education policy at New America, in his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

national university was George Washington’s wish, Carey writes on CNN. He even left money for it in his will. Now it’s doable.

Anyone with an Internet connection can log on to Coursera, edX, saylor.org, and many other websites offering high-quality online courses, created by many of the world’s greatest universities and taught by tenured professors, for free.

Tens of millions of students have already signed up for these courses over the last four years. Yet enrollment in traditional colleges hasn’t flagged, and prices have continued to rise. The reason is clear. The free college providers can’t (or won’t) give online students the one thing they need more than anything else: a college degree. Elite universities like Harvard and Stanford don’t want to dilute their exclusive brands. Nonelite universities don’t want to give away something they’re currently selling for a lot of money.

The U.S. Department of Education could create a nonprofit with the authority to approve courses and grant degrees, he proposes. “Any higher education provider, public or private sector, could submit a course for approval,” paying a fee to cover the cost of evaluation.

While many of the courses will be free, students will bear small costs for taking exams through secure online channels or in-person testing facilities. (Textbooks will be free and open-source). Students will also pay a modest fee of a few hundred dollars for the degree itself, enough to defray the operating costs of National U.

National University wouldn’t have football or fraternities, but many people would give that up for a low-cost credential.

Carey is speaking on his ideas about the future of learning this afternoon (Wednesday). Go here for the livestream.

Competency-based programs give credit for skills learned through work, independent study or other means, writes Matt Krupnick on the Hechinger Report.

That means those students can earn degrees more quickly and at a lower cost — even lower now that the U.S. Department of Education has begun a pilot program under which students at 40 institutions will be able to use federal financial aid to pay for it, which was not previously allowed.

But what about quality?

Competency-based programs “could very easily devolve into diploma mills,” said Amy Laitinen, a former White House and Department of Education advisor who is now deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation and an advocate of the concept. “It could go south very quickly.”

Sweet Briar College will close due to financial problems. A residential liberal arts college for women, Sweet Briar charged $47,000 a year, including tuition and room and board. Even with financial aid, the average was $25,000 a year. Not enough young women wanted a single-sex education at that price.

A college shake-out is coming: Sweet Briar won’t be the last private college to fold.

Support raises remedial students’ grad rates

ASAPASAP students at Bronx Community College

With intensive advising, tutoring and financial assistance, poorly prepared low-income community college students nearly doubled their graduation rate, concludes a study on Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

The City University of New York program cost $16,300 more per student. However, the cost per graduate was lower after three years, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. ASAP participants also were more likely to transfer and earned more credits than the control group.

Forty percent of the students in the study graduated within three years, compared with 22 percent in the control group. Nationwide, only about 15 percent of community-college students who start out in remedial education earn a degree or certificate within three years, the report notes.

While 60 percent of community college students are part-timers, ASAP requires full-time enrollment. Most participants are young, living at home with parents, single and childless.

ASAP provides three years of financial aid, including a tuition waiver, free textbooks and a free bus pass.

They are required to meet frequently with advisers whose initial caseloads (60 to 80 students per adviser) are much smaller than the typical caseload of 600 to 1,500 students at CUNY’s two-year institutions. The program also includes mandatory tutoring, career advising, and seminars on topics like study skills and goal setting. Students can register for courses early, which helps them get into classes they need to graduate on time, and they can enroll in blocked or linked classes with other ASAP students in their first year.

Priority registration is a huge benefit, writes Michael Feldstein. But CUNY plans to expand ASAP from 1 percent of incoming students to 19 percent. It will be harder for ASAP students to get into classes at convenient times. And what about the students who also need those classes but can’t afford to enroll full-time?

Several Ohio community colleges also are trying ASAP.

A look back at the future of education

The History of the Future of Education - Medium - via ChalkbeatNY

Dissecting a frog: When virtual isn’t enough

Dissecting a frog is a middle-school rite of passage, reports Will Huntsberry on NPR.

Students get their first look inside a frog in Rob Glotfelty's life sciences lab at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore. Will Huntsberry/NPR

Baltimore seventh graders get their first look inside a frog.
Will Huntsberry/NPR

At Baltimore’s Patterson Park Public Charter School, Rob Glotfelty’s life sciences lab contains a stack of “dead frogs, vacuum-sealed and piled five high,” writes Huntsberry. “Once those seals are broken, these leopard frogs emit a pungent odor.” And they’re slimy.

In 1987, a 15-year-old California refused to dissect a frog in her biology class and took her case to court. California and nine other states require that students be given an alternative to dissecting a real animal.

Glotfelty uses computers to help his seventh-grade students understand anatomical theory. But they look forward to dissection, he says. It’s the real deal.

“There’s something visceral and important about the real thing,” says David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “What does this particular organ feel like? How stiff is it? Is it compressible?”

Glotfelty’s students have cut open an earthworm, and later a chicken wing. Frogs are a step up. The teacher reminds the class what they’re studying. Not frogs. Humans.

Frog dissection diagram

Frog dissection diagram

Taylor Smith says she doesn’t like science. She thought cutting into an animal would make her throw up.

Instead, she uses tiny scissors to cut through the frog’s collarbone. Taylor and her lab partners lay the organs on a sheet of paper. “I’m not a chicken anymore,” she says. “I like this.”

“The smell was awful, but it was worth it,” says Melissa Torres-Gutierrez.

Parents held responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ neglect

“Free-range” parents have been found “responsible” for “unsubstantiated” child neglect because they let their kids — ages 10 and 6 — walk home from a park near their Maryland home, reports the Washington Post.

Montgomery County Child Protective Services investigated Danielle and Alexander Meitiv’s parenting for two months before reaching that Orwellian verdict.

An “unsubstantiated” finding is made when Montgomery County Child Protective Services has “some information supporting a conclusion of child neglect, or when seemingly credible reports are at odds with each other, or when there is insufficient information for a more definitive conclusion,” an official told the Post. 

CPS will “keep a file open” on the family for at least five years. If the parents are caught again giving their kids a bit of independence . . . Who knows?

A new education law — or more waivers?

No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) expired in 2007, but Congress hasn’t come up with a rewrite. House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on their version, the Student Success Act, because some conservatives think it doesn’t go far enough to curb federal mandates.

“My district doesn’t like it. They just feel that we’re moderating No Child Left Behind. They hate No Child Left Behind,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

In the Senate, Republican leaders hope to work with Democrats on a bipartisan bill.

Conservatives should back the Student Success Act, argues Rick Hess.

The Student Success Act (SSA) jettisons NCLB’s invasive system of federally mandated accountability and gives states the freedom to gauge school performance and decide what to do about poor-performing schools. It also puts an end to NCLB’s remarkable requirement that, as of 2014, 100 percent (!) of the nation’s students would be “proficient” in reading and math.

The SSA repeals the “highly qualified teacher” mandate, a bureaucratic paper chase whose most significant accomplishment was lending fuel to lawsuits attacking Teach For America (litigants had some success in California’s courts by arguing that TFA teachers failed to meet the “highly qualified” standard). It eliminates or consolidates 65 programs. It includes expansive new language intended to finally stop federal officials from pushing states to adopt Common Core (or any other particular set of academic standards).

The bill also boosts funding for charter schools, though it doesn’t authorize school vouchers.

Conservatives don’t like the requirement for annual testing, but “shorn of NCLB’s pie-in-the-sky accountability mandates, once-a-year tests will no longer distort schooling and infuriate parents in the way they have in recent years,” Hess argues.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan attacked the provision letting federal dollars follow low-income students if they move from high-poverty to low-poverty schools. Urban school districts could lose millions of dollars, he said.

With NCLB in limbo, Duncan has used waivers to get states to adopt his education policies, notes the Washington Post.

If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats could regret opening the door to rule by waiver, Hess writes. He imagines President-elect Rick Perry nominating Michele Bachmann as secretary of education.

Chris Wallace: Are you worried you’ll be unable to make the legislative changes that you and the President think necessary?

SecEd Nominee Bachmann: Once upon a time, that might’ve been a concern. Happily, the Obama administration provided a path for driving educational change even when you don’t have the votes. That’s why we’ve promised that, come inauguration day, we’ll be ditching the Obama administration’s requirements for waivers from No Child Left Behind and substituting our own. They’ll be drawn from the President’s plan that we’ve been calling the Freedom Blueprint.

If states want a waiver, says Bachmann, they’ll need “to institute a moment of silence in all “turnaround” schools, adopt a statewide school voucher plan for low-income students and those in failing schools, require abstinence education, restrict collective bargaining to wages and prohibit bargaining over benefits or policy, and ask states to revise their charter laws to ensure that for-profit operators are no longer discriminated against on the basis of tax status.”

It’s not looking good for reauthorization, concludes Hess.

Alyson Klein reports on the politics. “In the end, House Republicans are going to have to decide whether they want to pass a bill that — while maybe not perfect — is clearly an improvement to NCLB from their point of view; or they can do nothing and let the President and Federal government have unchecked control over education policy for the remainder of his term,” says Vic Klatt, a former aide to Republicans on the House education committee.