Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”

Georgia balks at Common Core exam costs

It may be money, not politics, that undermines Common Core standards in Georgia, writes Maureen Downey in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Georgia now spends $25 million to test students in five subject areas. If it uses the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, the state would spend as much as $52.5 million to test only English and math. Yet without common tests there’ll be no way to know if Georgia students are keeping up with performance in other states.

How much will Common Core cost?

States that take a “business as usual” approach will spend an extra $8.3 billion to implement Common Core Standards, concludes a new Fordham study. However, “bare bones” implementation would cost $927 million less than current spending. A “balanced approach” would cut added costs to $1.2 billion.

Going to online learning materials and teacher training would provide most of the savings, notes Ed Week.

A Pioneer Institute study estimates states would spend $16 billion over seven years to move to Common Core Standards.

“Enemies and critics of the common core want you to believe the worst: that besides being hard, it will be very pricey and likely ineffective,” Chester E, Finn Jr., Fordham’s president, wrote in a foreward to the new report. “But this report says otherwise. Implementation can be modestly priced and likely more effective if states are astute enough to (a) implement differently, (b) deploy resources that they’re already spending, and (c) take advantage of this rare opportunity to revamp their education delivery systems, too.”

Fordham’s estimate doesn’t include the cost of computers and servers needed for online assessments, counters Theodor Rebarber, author of the Pioneer Institute study.


Smart phones, smarter students

As smart phones become common, smart instructors are helping students use their phones as study aids while they’re on the go.

Standardizing textbooks won’t save money and will undercut instructors’ autonomy, complain community college instructors in Texas.


Four-day school week raises achievement

When rural schools move to a four-day week, test scores go up, along with student and teacher attendance, reports a study by Georgia State and Montana State researchers. And schools save money on transportation and utility bills, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

The study looked at fourth-grade scores in Colorado, where more than a third of districts — typically small, poor and rural — have moved to a longer day and a shorter week.

Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.

The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.)

A four-day week creates child-care problems for parents, the researchers warned. It could give unsupervised children more time to get into trouble. Or it could make it easier for teens to hold part-time jobs, possibly decreasing the dropout rate.

Of course, what’s true in rural areas with long bus rides to school may not apply to urban and suburban schools.

An iPad for every student?

Don’t expect to see the all-iPad classroom any time soon — at least not in cash-strapped California, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Apple has partnered with three big K-12 textbook publishers to provide digital textbooks that require the iPad.

 What puts educators off is not just the $499 sticker price — $475 if purchased in batches of 10 — for the basic iPad (add $35 for a case) It’s also the requirement that schools buy the textbook software as vouchers for individual students, who will download the electronic textbooks onto their own iTunes accounts.

Every year, the school district will have to buy more $14.99 textbooks that it will never own.

“Everybody’s going to go to open-source textbooks” — which are free predicts Ann Dunkin, technology director for the Palo Alto Unified School District. “We’ve already bought textbooks. We’ll use them until they fall apart.”

Of course, the iBook can do things a standard textbook can’t do, such as show things in three dimensions and link to videos — or to social media sites.  Most teachers at Palo Alto’s Gunn High don’t let students use their iPads, issued as a pilot project, reports the Mercury News. Too many students were checking out their Facebook page in class.

Despite the cachet of Apple, “districts shouldn’t get crazed by technology. They should figure out what they want, then work backward,” said Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, a Mountain View think tank promoting “disruptive innovation” in education. “The iPad is getting a huge amount of attention, a lot of districts are spending money on it, but they haven’t thought out why.”

Archbishop Mitty High School, a Catholic school in San Jose, is renting iPads for all students and teachers next year after a two-year experiment.

Tim Wesmiller created an online textbook “as a dynamic mashup of content from the Library of Commerce, YouTube and Google maps” for his religious studies class.

Valerie Wuerz, 17, peers into her iPad, where an app called 7 Billion breaks down the global impact of overpopulation in text, slides, video and forums where students can share ideas and develop projects. She calls the iPad “a great resource, because textbooks are expensive and heavy to lug around.”

Down the hall, science teacher Kate Slevin’s class focuses on the subject of momentum.

“OK, guys,” she says. “Open your iPads.” They use a note-taking, audio-recording app called Notability that lets users write notes with their fingers over text on the screen. They can import a syllabus or a book chapter, create bullet outlines, and record the lecture in case they miss something.

Mitty is adding the cost of iPad rental to tuition bills, figuring that parents will save money in the long run by having to buy fewer expensive textbooks.

If there’s no market …

In 1964, Sears advertised a TV console for $750, writes Mark Perry on Carpe Diem.  For an equivalent amount, about $5,500, a consumer today could buy “8  brand-new appliances (refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, range, washer, dryer, microwave and blender) and buy 9 state-of-the-art electronic items (laptop, GPS, camera, home theater, plasma HDTV, iPod Touch, Blu-ray player, 300-CD changer and a Tivo recorder).” In short, things are a lot cheaper.  

This illustrates The Desperate Need for Market Forces in Education, writes Matthew Ladner, guesting on Jay  Greene’s blog.

We live, in short, in an age wonders, except of course for areas of the economy heavily managed and financed by the government,” Ladner writes. “In those areas, instead of radically improving products provided at continually lower costs, we tend to see expanded costs for no, little or ambiguous improvements.

From another Perry post, Ladner supplies a chart showing the fall in prices in food, cars, clothing and furniture from 1948 to 2010 as a share of household expenditures.  Then he adds a Cato chart showing inflation-adjusted K-12 spending and achievement since 1970 .




















Since education is a service, not a thing, it would be fairer to compare it with the cost of other services, though it’s hard to get at the quality issue. We spend a lot more on health care, but we get much more effective medicines and treatments. If anyone has useful data, let me know.

Paying for dropouts

Community college dropouts cost federal, state and local taxpayers nearly $4 billion over a five-year period, concludes a new study. The study looked at first-year, full-time, credential-seeking students, who are much more likely to graduate. Add in part-timers and it gets much worse.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Postsecondary education is the path out of poverty, but many stumble along the way.

The worst way to balance school budgets

Cutting the school year is the worst way to balance the budget – and it’s California’s preferred strategy, writes economist Eric Hanushek.

States cut writing exams to save money

Illinois won’t test high school juniors’ writing skills, reports the Chicago Tribune. The change will save about $2.4 million. The writing assessments for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year.

Oregon lawmakers last month suspended the writing test for fourth- and seventh-graders, but retained the high school assessment. “Proficient” writing will be a high school graduation requirement by 2013.

In a cost-cutting effort last fall, Missouri education officials eliminated for at least two years the detailed, written response questions that had been hand-graded in science and math. Writing prompts in language arts also were suspended. Students still write some short answers as part of state testing.

It will be a shame if schools spend less time on writing because it’s not going to be on the test, leaving students unprepared to communicate clearly in college or on the job.