Core math adds coherence, rigor, focus

Common Core’s new math standards “have the potential to improve average student achievement” by adding focus, rigor and coherence, predict  William H. Schmidt and Nathan A. Burroughs in the new American Educator.

Common Core State Standards in math resemble the high-quality standards of high-achieving nations, they conclude.

Furthermore, states with standards similar to CCSS-M had the highest eighth-grade mathematics score on the 2009 NAEP. “The more similar the standards were to the CCSS-M, the higher student achievement.”

CREDO: Boston charters are a model

Boston charter students gain 13 additional months of learning in math and 12 extra months in reading compared to similar students in nearby district-run schools, concludes the latest CREDO study to find significant gains for urban charter students.

Eighty-three percent of Boston charter schools did significantly better than comparison schools; no Boston charter did worse. ”The Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap,” said Margaret Raymond, who directs CREDO at Stanford University.

Statewide, the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains an extra one and a half months of learning per year in reading and two and a half in math.

Mike Goldstein, who founded the high-scoring MATCH charter in Boston, wants more on why the city’s charters outperform Boston’s semi-independent “pilot” schools, which draw students with similar demographics. What are Boston’s charters doing right?

Some 45,000 Massachusetts students are on charter school waiting lists because the state caps the number of charters in Boston and other low-performing districts.

 

CRPE: Small classes have high costs

The benefits of small classes — more individual attention, less teacher stress — may not outweigh the costs in dollars and teacher quality, concludes The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes, a state-by-state analysis by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education. Call sizes in 2011-12 were slightly smaller than in 1999-2000, countering “the common and mistaken belief — spurred on by knee-jerk sensationalism and politicking — that class sizes are ‘skyrocketing’,” writes Education Gadfly.

The authors demonstrate that increasing the nation’s average class size by just two students could free up $15.7 billion—enough to raise average teacher salary by $5,000 per teacher, provide a laptop for every student, or lengthen the school day in the poorest quintile of schools.

Limiting K-3 class size to 14 to 17 students in high-poverty elementary schools showed lasting benefits, especially for blacks, in the Tennessee STAR study. (Some argue all the benefits accrued in kindergarten and first grade.)

Inspired by STAR, California paid all elementary schools $1 billion-plus a year to lower class sizes to 20 in K-3.  Suburban schools were able to hire competent teachers for the new classes. Urban schools with hard-to-teach kids filled classrooms with less-qualified candidates, a follow-up study found. The study found no evidence smaller classes improved student achievement. Because of the very high costs, schools spent less on other needs, including maintenance, teacher training, libraries and technology. Music, art, sports and special ed lost space on campuses. (I’ve seen schools cover their playing fields with portable classrooms.)

“Very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have significant long-term effects on student achievement . . . in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds,” write Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst and Matthew Chingos. But is it the best use of education dollars?  ”One careful analysis of several educational interventions found CSR to be the least cost effective of those studied.”

Study: KIPP produces big gains

KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report  by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.

In 13 schools, students in the control group had applied to KIPP, but lost the charter lottery. If there was no lottery, the study used “matched” students of similar achievement and demographics in nearby schools.

For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.

KIPP students resembles other students in their neighborhoods, but with lower reading and math achievement than their elementary school classmates, the study found. Ninety-six percent are black or Hispanic and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, KIPP entrants are less likely to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency.  (Since many more KIPP students are black, it makes sense that fewer speak English as a second language.)

Critics charge KIPP “counsels out” low achievers to inflate scores, notes Education Week. To account for attrition, the study included all students who started KIPP, even if they left for another school.

For example, a student could leave KIPP for another school in 6th grade, but their performance at the new school is counted towards the academic achievement of KIPP students overall regardless. The report also found that KIPP schools have similar attrition rates as traditional district schools (37 percent over three years for both sets of students).

KIPP students spend much more time in school than traditional public school students: nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in KIPP, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days. In addition, KIPP students spend an extra 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night.

However, a longer school day didn’t raise test scores, possibly because the extra time was spent on non-academic activities, researchers found. KIPP schools that spent more time on core academic subjects and enforced a comprehensive discipline policy had the strongest results.

In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.

While KIPP students are more satisfied with their school, the study did not find an increase in “attitudes associated with success,” such as persistence and self-control. Students were more likely to admit to losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time. Researchers weren’t sure if they were more ornery or more honest about it. Students may have raised their standards about acceptable behavior, said Mathematica researcher Brian Gill.

In comparing higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools, researchers found “class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, adds Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

The latest CREDO study of charter school effectiveness found New York City charter students gain an extra five months in math — seven months in Harlem — and one month in reading, compared to similar students in traditional public schools. Charters enroll many more blacks. One in three Harlem kindergartners attends a charter school.

How good (or bad) are virtual schools?

K12 Inc.‘s virtual schools aren’t performing well, concludes a National Education Policy Center (NEPC) analysis by Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel. Only 28 percent of the for-profit company’s schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2010-11, compared to 52 percent of schools nationwide. K12 students were less likely to score at the “proficient” level on state tests. The on-time graduation rate for K12 high school students was 49 percent, compared to 79 percent at schools in the same states.

NEPC uses  “badly flawed measures of school performance,” counters Matthew Chingos of Brookings on Education Next.

. . . the measures of “performance” it employs are based primarily on outcomes such as test scores that may reveal more about student background than about the quality of the school, and on inappropriate comparisons between virtual schools and all schools in the same state. What parents and policymakers need to know about a school is how much its students learn relative to what they would have learned at the school they would otherwise have attended.

Comparing virtual schools to all schools in the state ignores the possibility that ” families are most likely to choose the virtual option when their traditional options are unsatisfactory,” Chingos writes.

I’d guess that virtual schools attract a disproportionate number of students who are bored, restless and unsuccessful at traditional schools. These students are likely to be unsuccessful at virtual schools too since online learning requires self discipline (or close parental supervision).

States should “slow or put a moratorium on the growth of full-time virtual schools,” the NEPC report urges.

Policymakers and parents need reliable data to evaluate virtual schools’ quality, Chingos counters.  ”It is simply not possible to make these sorts of decisions with the data in the NEPC report.”

Rebirth of New Orleans schools

REBIRTH: New Orleans, a Learning Matters documentary on the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans’ schools, is looking for Kickstarter funding to pay for “sound mixing, color correction, animation, graphic design, line editing, and building a website for the film.”

In 2004, not even one-third of 8th graders in New Orleans could pass a state reading test.  In some schools, the number was lower – just 4 percent.

Since then New Orleans public schools have been transformed.  Test scores have risen steadily outpacing every other district in Louisiana.  Graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down.

. . . Today the city is 80% on its way to becoming the nation’s first all-charter school district, perhaps a future model for the nation.

Here’s more on the documentary from John Merrow.

California: Black boys expect to fail

By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a report by an Assembly select committee. By fourth grade, 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests; by eighth grade, 1 in 4 are chronically absent.

Oakland Unified is implementing many of the report’s recommendations, including “full-service schools with health centers, discipline policies that keep students in school and programs to support at-risk youth,” reports the Chronicle.

For example, the district has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which supports manhood development classes at middle and high schools and other programs for black males.

The manhood classes offer black male students positive African American male role models who encourage the young men to focus on their education and future and offer a curriculum that includes everything from how to tie a tie to an analysis of historical black figures.

So far, black male students are doing very, very badly in Oakland Unified.

CREDO: New Jersey charters do well

Children in New Jersey charter schools gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to students in traditional public schools,” according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

Using a “virtual control record” methodology, CREDO compared students in third through eighth grade with similar students in traditional public schools from 2007 to 2011. It found 30 percent of New Jersey charters outperformed regular public schools in reading, while 11 percent of charter did worse. In math, 40 percent of charters did significantly better than traditional schools, while 13 percent fared worse.

Special ed students do about the same in charters as in traditional public schools, the study found.  English Language Learners in charter schools — a small group — have similar gains in reading and significantly better results in math.

Compared to neighboring schools, New Jersey charter schools enroll nearly twice as many blacks, half as many whites and Asians and somewhat fewer Latinos. The poverty numbers are almost identical.

Urban charters did very well, suburban charters did somewhat better and rural charters did worse. Newark’s charter students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.

Newark’s school district is trying to improve, pushed by its high-performing charter schools, writes Andy Smarick. But if the reforms don’t work, “chartering can replace the district,” he argues.

 

Data, data everywhere, but what does it mean?

Many states are collecting extensive education data, but aren’t training teachers and parents in how to use the information effectively to help students learn, concludes the Data Quality Campaign.

Data should be used to improve student achievement and inform parents, not just for “shame and blame,” said Aimee Guidera, executive director of DQC.

Maine likes laptops, but do kids learn more?

Ten years after Maine started giving a tax-funded laptop to every public school student in grades 7 and 8, teachers and students are enthusiastic, but it’s not clear students are learning more, writes Ricki Morell of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting on the Hechinger Report.

FREEPORT, Maine — At Freeport Middle School, students in algebra class play “Battleship” on their laptops as they learn to plot coordinates on a graph. At Massabesic Middle School, eighth-graders surf the web on their laptops to create their own National History Day websites. And at King Middle School, students carry their laptops into the field as they chronicle the civil rights movement through eyewitness interviews.

Laptops “revolutionized the classroom,” says Raymond Grogan, principal of Freeport Middle School, who was a teacher when the program started. Teachers stop lecturing and started individualizing lessons, Grogan says.

Middle school teachers said “the laptops have helped them teach more, in less time, and with greater depth, and to
individualize their curriculum and instruction more,” according to an August 2011 report. However, the program has been implemented unevenly.

“The benefits are difficult to quantify,” says David Silvernail, the report’s author and co-director of the nonpartisan Maine Education Policy Research Institute. “So many other things are going on in schools, it’s difficult to classify what makes the difference. The laptop is a tool, just like a pencil.”

Students can use the laptops at school and at home. There have been problems with “distraction from unrestricted access to the Internet,” educators say. Breakage problems have improved over time.

The free laptop idea spread to other states and school districts, but has faded because of funding pressures and mixed results, Morrell writes.

Beginning in 2004, the nonprofit Texas Center for Educational Research compared the test scores of students at 22 Texas middle schools where students and teachers received laptops with the scores of students at 22 middle schools where they did not. The study concluded that laptops had a positive effect on some math scores but generally not on reading scores.

In Maine, statewide evidence of how laptops affect achievement is scarce. Test scores for Maine from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, show that the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in eighth-grade mathematics rose from 30 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2011, but that was part of a national trend of rising math scores and can’t be linked directly to laptop use. Between 2002 and 2011, the percentage of Maine’s eighth-graders scoring at or above proficient on the national reading test barely changed, rising from 38 to 39 percent.

 Angus King, who pushed through the laptop program as governor, is now running for U.S. Senate. His opponent charges the free laptops have been a waste of money. The state pays Apple a discounted rate of $242 per laptop per year, which adds up to $10 million this year, less than half a percent of the state’s $2 billion education budget.