As urban charters grow, where’s the tip?

Urban students are choosing charters in growing numbers, according to a new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationwide, one in 20 students now attend charter schools. In post-Katrina New Orleans, 79 percent of students attend charter schools. Detroit has hit 51 percent. Washington D.C. is at 43 percent. Flint, Mich., Kansas City, Mo. and Gary, Ind. each have 30 percent or more of students in a charter school. More than 10 percent of students are enrolled in charters in Philadelphia and New York City.

But charter competition hasn’t had the effect once expected, points out Andy Smarick, a former Bush administration official who now works at Bellwether Education Partners.

Ten years ago, he recalls, proponents of the nascent charter school movement came to a consensus: If charter schools could reach 10 percent of market share in big cities, the movement would reach a tipping point and create enough pressure to spur public schools to improve in order to compete for students.

“That tipping-point pressure never materialized the way I expected,” he said. “We have not seen districts drastically improve even when charter school market share gets to 25 percent.”

In the face of fierce opposition, charter schools”are proving to be the toughest, most enduring of all education reforms,” writes Paul Peterson on Ed Next.  “Charter schools are gaining in respect, numbers, and political adherents, mainly because they are digging deep roots in local communities.”

PISA: U.S. has fewer high flyers

It’s PISA Day! Once again, U.S. students score at the international average among developed nations that take the exam.

“Our economic competitors, including Japan, Korea, and Germany,” score much higher, notes Mark Schneider on The Quick and the Ed. “What should scare us is the low percentage of students in the highest levels of performance (PISA level 5 and above).”

The U.S. has concentrated on leaving no child behind. NAEP “scores of African Americans, Hispanics, and low-income fourth and eighth graders in reading and math have leaped upward,” but  “the percentage of students who score at NAEP’s advanced level has stagnated.”

Child poverty doesn’t explain U.S. mediocrity, argues Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. The U.S. does better in reading, which is far more linked to parental education, than in math, which is more school-dependent.

The U.S. is about average for child poverty for countries in the survey, adds Marc Tucker, director of the Center on Education and the Economy.  Diversity doesn’t explain it either. Five PISA countries — some with higher scores have a higher percentage of immigrant students.

Others say that the U.S. is unique because in that it educates everyone and the countries listed among the top performers only educate their elite. In fact, the dropout rate in our high schools is around 25 percent, while some of the top performers are graduating close to 90 percent of the students who enter their high schools. It is they who are educating everyone.

Top-performing countries invest heavily in teachers’ skills, says Tucker. Some let only the best students go into teaching.

International test scores show U.S. prosperity is at risk, argues Tucker in a Washington Post debate with anti-tester Valerie Strauss.

U.S. high school students have trouble applying skills to real-world problems, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate.

One math activity asked students to compare the value of four cars, using a chart showing the mileage, engine capacity, and price of each one. American kids were especially bad at problems like this, in which they were not provided with a formula, but had to figure out how to manipulate the numbers on their own.

A reading activity asked test takers to read a short play, and then write about what the characters were doing before the curtain went up. The challenge is that the question prompts students to envision and describe a scene not actually included in the text itself. These are good questions that most of our kids should be able to tackle—we want analytical, creative children, not just kids who are good at memorization.

The “Common Core is focused on greater depth and less breadth,” so it  “probably will help our kids do better on exams like PISA,” Goldstein writes. But it will take more than that.

Korea’s higher ed obsession peaks

South Korea’s obsessive pursuit of higher education has peaked, reports The Economist. The proportion of high-school graduates going on to college soared from 40 percent in the early 1990s to almost 84 percent in 2008. Now it’s going down slightly. Still, 93 percent of parents say they want their children to go to college.

Education — including private tutoring to prepare for the “brutally competitive” university exam — accounted for nearly 12 percent of consumer spending last year.

In 1971 (the government) abolished the entrance exam for middle school, but that only heightened the competition for high-school places, so a few years later it replaced the high-school entrance exam with a lottery. The result was the insanely competitive university entrance exam. By easing competition at one stage of education, it only intensified it at the next.

In 1980 the government outlawed private out-of-school tutoring, which drove the industry underground. The ban was declared unconstitutional in 2000. Since then efforts to soothe the education fever have been more modest. Seoul imposes a 10pm curfew on cramming schools, but pupils can dodge the curfew by learning online after hours. The government will introduce test-free semesters in all middle schools by 2016 to give pupils some relief from rote learning.

Korea has created vocational Meister schools. For example, one high school trains students to program and design mobile apps.

Gove: Stop lying to kids

“Lying to children” is a crime, said Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, at the National Summit for Excellence in Education in Boston. Children are being “told they’re ready for college, a job or the military” when they’re not, he said.

He compared inflated exam grades on Britain’s graduation exams to Soviet tractor production propaganda, notes the Guardian.

“For years, ministers in previous governments looked at the way more and more people were getting GCSEs and they congratulated themselves, like Soviet economics ministers on the growth in statistics,” Gove (said) . . .

Slipping into a mock Russian accent and syntax, Gove said: “Look in Russia, thousands more get GCSEs. Surely now we are education powerhouse?”

Instead, he told the audience in Boston, “the truth is that we were lying to children” by telling them they would be able to go to university or find skilled work.

“Employers said: ‘You have a piece of paper that says it, you’re qualified in English and mathematics. But you can’t write a business letter, you can’t do basic arithmetic required to work in this store or on this shop floor.’

Both Britain and the U.S. are “houses divided by inequality and lack of opportunity,” Gove said. Access to the best universities in schools is “rationed and restricted, increasingly, to those who live in upscale neighbourhoods, have parents who have access to connections, and are supported by stable families.”

Children without those advantages need “a great school with great teachers,” but many won’t have that chance, Gove said. They’ll never reach their full potential.

Born to an unwed mother, Gove could have been “robbed of opportnity,” if he hadn’t been adopted, he said. Instead, he was raised by parents who made sure he attended excellent schools.

In the name of equity, Gove strongly endorsed Common Core standards, high expectations for all students,  testing (“tests are liberating!”) and competition.

‘Undermatching’ can be a blessing

“Undermatching” — going to a less selective college — can be a blessing for students who’d otherwise be a small frog in a big pond, writes a community college dean.

Detroit schools offer Count Day bribes

Wednesday was Count Day for Michigan public schools. Ninety percent of state funding is linked to how many students show up on Oct. 2.

bikesHit hard by declining enrollment, Detroit Public Schools offered prizes to students who showed up, including iPad Minis, gift cards and bicycles.

Schools served a special menu: barbecue chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, seasoned green beans, cornbread muffins and peach cobbler

Bunche Academy made Count Day a no-uniform day and scheduled a dance for middle-school students and an ice cream social.

One lucky DPS student won an Xbox. Nearly one in four students received a prize of some kind.

A majority of school-age children in Detroit choose charter schools or district-run schools in the suburbs.

Tough teachers are the best

book

Tough teachers teach more, writes Joanne Lipman in the Wall Street Journal. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.

The book is a paean to Jerry Kupchynsky, a Ukrainian immigrant who taught orchestra at a New Jersey high school for 40 years.  He “called his students ‘idiots’ when they screwed up.” They loved him.

Today’s teachers “are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads,” writes Lipman. “There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.”

Mr. K’s former students were successful in a variety of fields.

 “He taught us discipline,” explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. “Self-motivation,” added a tech executive who once played the cello. “Resilience,” said a professional cellist. “He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again.”

Lipman believes in eight principles of learning.

1. A little pain is good for you.
2. Drill, baby, drill.
3. Failure is an option.
4. Strict is better than nice.
5. Creativity can be learned.
6. Grit trumps talent.
7. Praise makes you weak . . .
8. While stress makes you strong.

Plenty of today’s teachers are strict, demanding character builders, responds Nancy Flanagan, a veteran music teacher. “Tough teachers get good results . . . when their students are emotionally prepared for intensive criticism,” she writes.

Lipman is a big fan of injecting failure into the classroom. Educators, she says, need “not be as concerned about the negative effects” of picking winners and losers, and cites a study where college musicians who placed low in auditions suffered no harm to their self-esteem.

Hey, I’ve no problem with voluntary competition–winning and losing on the volleyball court or the debate floor, vying for roles in the school play or college musical ensembles. I have witnessed first-hand, however, the corrosive effects of turning the classroom into a playing field, and every lesson and assignment into a contest. I abandoned the familiar practice of seating my band students in ability-based “chairs,” with these results: more kids in the program, more students accepting the challenge of individual solos and ensembles, higher levels of performance.

Students “who have coped with failure and adversity from the outset” are motivated by “a little honest success,” writes Flanagan. “Not more stress.”

Am I a bad mom if my kids aren’t superstars?

Back-to-School Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom, complains Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

When I left the house for parent-teacher night, I was a good mom. My younger son was doing his homework, and my older son was in his room practicing the opening riff of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the guitar.

. . . Kevin’s mom was out of breath because they had to rush to school from his cello lesson and Ilse’s swim team practice. Heather came in late because her daughter, one of the top Nordic ski racers in the northeast, was at dry-land training. Jason and Brian, on the other hand, were on time–because they stay after school to help with math tutoring and soccer practice. Suddenly, my sons’ after-school activities seemed less impressive.

. . . My younger son had spent his afternoon not at dry-land training, but in the backyard, whittling a sorcerer’s staff out of a stick with one of my good kitchen knives.

The compulsion to compete for most outstanding child has been named Pressured Parents Phenomenon by Wendy Grolnick, a Clark psychology professor. Competitive parenting is contagious, says Grolnick.

Lahey includes tips to “vaccinate” yourself against PPP. I will summarize: Chill.

Fight the trophy-industrial complex

Losing is good for kids, writes Ashley Merryman in a New York Times commentary. Nonstop praise is demoralizing.

Children praised for their talents “collapse at the first experience of difficulty, according to Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor.

In other research, children were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise of their artistic talent were “twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.”

Yet the “Trophy-Industrial Complex” is now a $3 billion industry in the U.S. and Canada, she writes. Youth soccer groups spend up to 12 percent of their budget on trophies.

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

College students who’ve grown up receiving awards for “participation” think they can succeed by just showing up, says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me. That doesn’t work well in college and is even less effective in the workplace.

Parents’ job is help children cope with frustration and defeat, not pretend they’re winners when they’re not, writes Merryman. She and Po Bronson are the authors of  Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing and NurtureShock.

In other words, you have to win a little, lose a little . . .

Is it time to give football the boot?

American high schools care more about sports than academics, charges Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic.

football

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

Without football, Premont focused on academics. There were fewer fights. Eighty percent of the students passed their classes in the first sports-free semester, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.

Now out of debt, Premont brought back baseball, track, and tennis.

Competitive sports dominate childhood for higher-class families, writes Hilary Levey Friedman.