What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

Gentrification stops at schoolhouse door

Gentrification “usually stops at the schoolhouse door,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones on Grist. When middle-class people move into low-income neighborhoods, few send their children to struggling local schools.

Some gentrifiers have no children. Those who do usually send them to private schools or use public schools “choice” programs “to attend wealthier, whiter schools outside of the neighborhood.”

Protesters charge gentrification has led to school closures in Chicago.

Protesters charge gentrification has led to school closures in Chicago. Photo: John Booz for Catalyst

Schools in gentrifying Chicago neighborhoods did not improve, concludes a 2013 study by Micere Keels, a University of Chicago professor. Urban educators hope upper-income families will “come into these neighborhoods and invest in the neighborhood schools and revitalize both the neighborhoods and schools,” she said. Instead, advantaged families opted out, often choosing public schools with admissions criteria.

In gentrifying neighborhoods, local schools may lose enrollment and funding, which leads to layoffs and program cuts. That happened in three gentrified Chicago neighborhoods, according to a 2005 report by Catalyst Chicago.

“Districts funnel inordinate resources into Cadillac programs, such as magnets and other choice schools, in order to entice middle-class parents,” writes Hannah-Jones. “But school districts have finite resources, so to provide elite opportunities at some schools, other schools — those that have the greatest need — get less.”

Charter enrollment is up 14%

Nearly 3 million children attend charter schools in 2014-15, reports the National Alliance for Public Charter  Schools.  That’s up 14 percent from the previous year.

More than 500 new charters opened, bringing the total to about 6,700 schools nationwide. More than 200 closed due to low enrollment, financial concerns and poor academic performance.

Who backs testing? Liberal reformers

Now that school testing is unpopular, its enemies see it as “conservative,” writes Rick Hess. But, liberal reformers are the most enthusiastic advocates of testing, which they see as the way to close the “achievement gap.”

“Conservative enthusiasm for testing has been tempered by an appreciation for school choice,” Hess writes. Liberals are all in.

In 2009, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top pushed states to sign on to the yet-to-be-developed Common Core tests and to promise they’d start judging teachers based on test scores. Since that time, the administration’s dubious practice of granting states “waivers” from No Child Left Behind if they agree to pay fealty to administration priorities when it comes to things such as teacher testing has continued to herd states down this path. The teacher-evaluation systems, in particular, require a spate of new tests for the three-quarters of teachers not captured by those NCLB reading and math tests.

Well-intentioned liberal reform groups such as the Education Trust, Center for American Progress, and Democrats for Education Reform have led the gap-closing charge, Hess concludes.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

No exit, no voice

Common Core State Standards, created behind closed doors, has denied the public a voice in their schools and challenged their loyalty, writes Bill Evers in Education Next. There’s no escape from the Core: Private schools and even home-schooling parents have to teach to the standards if they want students to do well on the Core-aligned SATs. One of Common Core’s chief architects, David Coleman, now heads the College Board, which produces the SAT tests.
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In Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, he discusses how individuals react when services deteriorate. They may “exit” — leave or find a new provider — or use their “voice” to participate in politics.  But the exit option is constrained by their loyalty to institutions.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville “found Americans intensely loyal to their local schools,” writes Evers. “Americans saw schools as extensions of their families and neighborhoods.”

Today, Americans remain loyal to their local schools, but resist “an unresponsive bureaucracy carrying out edicts from distant capitals,” writes Evers.

When people see no exit, they turn to political action, he writes. Hence the blowback against Common Core and its tests.

The education of Jeb Bush

In Testing Time, The New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis looks at Jeb Bush’s approach to education reform as governor of Florida.

In 1995, Bush joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, “which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers,” writes MacGillis. He became a fan of school choice.

Bush worked with Willard Fair of the Urban League’s Miami branch to push a state law authorizing charter schools. It passed with bipartisan support in 1996.

Bush and Fair founded Florida’s first charter school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami.

Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

When he made a second run for governor, in 1998, he chose Florida’s education commissioner as his running mate and pushed the A+ Plan to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. He won easily.

(The plan) provided additional funding to schools with good grades and stipulated that students at schools with poor grades would receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

. . . By the end of Bush’s second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling.

Bush is a strong supporter of the Common Core, which he’s called a “clear and straightforward” path to “high, lofty standards.” That’s hurting him with conservatives, writes MacGillis.

Learners have rights too

Charter schools with strict discipline policies provide learning opportunities for motivated students, wrote Mike Petrilli in a New York Times debate on school discipline. That’s why parents are choosing charters, he argued.

Accused of abandoning troubled students — and worse — he concedes that “pushing kids out of school and giving up on them too soon” is a problem.

There are too many schools with weak cultures, weaker leaders, ineffective discipline policies, and poorly trained staff that resort to punitive actions when other approaches would work better. And this has serious consequences for the kids who are suspended or expelled. Helping schools learn how to create positive school climates and develop alternative approaches is definitely worth doing.

But — you knew there’d be a but — eliminating suspensions and expulsions is “the educational equivalent of . . .  letting windows stay broken,”  argues Petrilli. “It elevates the rights of the disruptive students” above the needs of their classmates.

In high-poverty urban schools, the serious learners are low-income black or brown kids. Their parents can’t afford to move to the suburbs or pay private-school tuition.

Strong public schools have long had tools to deal with these moral dilemmas, including detentions, suspension, expulsion, and “alternative schools” for the most troubled students. Yet some on the left, including in Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights, have been fighting to take these tools away.

“If you want traditional public schools to thrive, allow them to employ reasonable discipline policies that will create environments conducive to learning—including the responsible use of suspension, expulsion, and alternative schools,” writes Petrilli. Otherwise, competent parents will choose charter schools that are safe and orderly.

Critics say there are better ways to create safe, orderly schools, such as “restorative justice” approaches that try to mediate conflicts.

Here’s a video on a conflict-resolution program at an Oakland (California) middle school.

A new research paper from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative calls for educators to analyze discipline rates by race and ethnicity and look for alternatives to suspension. These include improving the “cultural responsiveness of instruction,” better classroom management, programs to build supportive relationships between teachers and students and high-quality instruction. “Efforts to increase academic rigor and to increase safe, predictable environments for young people” reduce conflict, the paper concludes.

That last bit seems chicken-and-eggish to me. If you create a safe, predictable environment, you’ll have a safer environment.

Choice vs. regulation in New Orleans

Will Regulation Ruin School Choice in New Orleans? asks a Reason video.

Graduation rates and test scores are rising. “We’re going to be the first mostly black city to outperform its mostly white state in the history of this country,” says Julie Lause, principal of Harriet Tubman Charter School in Algiers.

Yet Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans worries about “death by a thousand regulatory cuts.”

Let parents, teachers choose orderly schools

Parents and teachers should be able to choose safe, orderly schools designed for “the vast majority of children . . . who come to school wanting to learn,” argues Mike Petrilli in the New York Times.

Disruptive students make schools “unpleasant, unsafe and unconducive to learning,” he writes.

For eons, excellent schools have found smart ways to create order that need not require large doses of punitive sanctions. (They create) . . . a climate of respect for students and teachers alike; setting clear behavioral expectations schoolwide and enforcing them consistently; and using a set of graduated consequences for misbehavior that work to correct problems before they get out of hand.

It’s no surprise, then, that both parents and educators flock to schools with strong, positive climates and a sense of order. Once upon a time that often meant urban Catholic schools, with their school uniforms and ample supply of tough love. Increasingly it means urban charter schools, many of which are secular forms of the Catholic schools of old.

It’s much easier for schools of choice to enforce order. “They can make their discipline codes clear to incoming families (and teachers),” writes Petrilli. “Those who find the approach too strict can go elsewhere.”

Traditional public schools don’t have that consensus on how strict is strict enough, he writes. They have to compromise.

Instead of forcing charters to tolerate more disruption in the classroom, why not encourage district schools to tolerate less?

Districts can create choice schools. How many low-income urban parents would choose a do-your-own-thing school over a school with clear rules enforced consistently? Some would prefer a “community school” with social workers and counselors, while others would want an academically focused school with after-school tutors.