It’s not public if you can’t go

well-to-do Baton Rouge neighborhood wants to secede from the city school district, reports Margaret Newkirk on Bloomberg News. “Local control” would mean more money per student and fewer problem kids.

It’s a myth that public schools are public, writes Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias. It’s not public if you can’t go.

The way the word is used a school is “public” if it is owned by a government entity and thus part of the public sector. But a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there. Here in the District of Columbia anyone who wants to wander into a public park is free to do so (that’s what makes it public) but to send your kid to a good “public” elementary school in Ward 3 you have to live there. And thanks to exclusionary zoning, in practice if you want to live in Ward 3 you have to be rich.

. . . if you proposed randomly assigning students to schools to produce integrated instructional environments, you’d have an epic battle on your hands.

In D.C. at least, charter schools—unlike “public” schools—have to admit (or not admit) students on an equal basis regardless of which neighborhood they live in.

That points to a weird ideological divide, writes Jonathan Chait in New York.

Neighborhood schools are open to children who live close by and restricted to everybody else. Charter schools are open to all children in the city, and their slots are allocated by lottery.

. . . . Moderate liberals and conservatives want to expand and empower the public schools that admit everybody by random lottery. The lefties want to preserve geographic-based restrictions.

A major reason for this is obviously that charter schools are more aggressive about creating accountability standards to promote good teachers and coach up or replace bad ones.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch, who’s become an opponent of charter schools, “doesn’t favor all public schools — she likes the ones that exclude kids from outside neighborhood boundaries, because they’re also the ones where it’s hardest to fire teachers,” writes Chait. “She opposes the ones that can’t exclude children whose parents lack the wealth to buy property in-boundary.”

Nation’s report card: Scores inch up

Reading and math scores inched up for fourth and eighth graders, according to the 2013 “nation’s report card” released today.  However, despite some progress by Latinos, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) showed no narrowing of racial and ethnic achievement gaps, notes the Christian Science Monitor. 

Tennessee and the District of Columbia showed the most progress.

Tennessee and D.C. students made gains between 2011 and 2013 in both subjects and both grades. Fourth-graders in both Tennessee and D.C. scored 7 points better in 2013 on math than they did two years earlier, and eighth-graders in both scored 6 points better.

“All eight states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement in at least one of the Reading and/or Mathematics assessments from 2009 to 2013—and none of the eight states had a decline in scores,” noted Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.

Performance remains low,  observed Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform (CER). “After decades of mediocrity, we celebrate today the fact that only 34 percent of our nation’s 8th graders can read at grade level and only 34 percent are proficient in math.

Dropout Nation also sees lots of room for improvement.

You can check out sample questions.  (Adjust for advanced, proficient or basic questions.)

In fourth-grade math, advanced students are expected to understand equations.

Lisa sold 15 cups of lemonade on Saturday and twice as many on Sunday. Which expression represents the total number of cups of lemonade she sold on both days?

 A. 15 + 15
 B. 2 * 15
 C. 15 + (2 * 15)
 D. 2 * (15 + 15

I was an advanced math student in fourth grade. Our group worked from the sixth-grade book. We didn’t get to equations till . . . eighth grade?

Here’s a proficient-level question for eighth graders. We learned this in seventh grade.

Image of a rectangle labeled 6 feet on the left side and 8 feet on the bottom side.A teacher drew this rectangle on a playground. Sam walked around the rectangle on the lines shown. How far did Sam walk?

 A. 14 feet
 B. 20 feet
 C. 28 feet
 D. 48 feet

Here are sample questions for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading.

Charters adopt common applications

Applying to charter schools is getting easier in some cities, reports Education Week. Charter schools are adopting universal enrollment systems and common applications, so parents can apply to multiple charter schools at the same time.

• Denver launched a centralized enrollment system called SchoolChoice in 2010 for all district-run and charter schools in the 85,000-student system.

• In New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District, in partnership with the Orleans Parish School Board, debuted a universal enrollment system called OneApp for charter and district-run schools in February 2012 and is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system serving the city’s 44,000 students.

• The Newark and District of Columbia school systems are making plans to implement universal enrollment systems for their district-run and charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Before OneApp, New Orleans parents had to deal with multiple applications, deadlines and lotteries. Now they apply once for both district-run and charter schools, ranking their choices in order of preference. Each student gets one “best offer.”

High school grad rate tops 78%

The on-time high school graduation rate hit 78.2 percent in 2010, the highest in a generation and up 2.7 points in a year.

“If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told AP.

While 93.5 percent of Asian-American students and 83 percent of whites complete high school in four years, that drops to 71.4 percent for Hispanics and 66.1 percent for blacks.

State graduation rates ranged from 57.8 percent in Nevada to 91.4 percent in Vermont.

Comparing graduation rates to any year before 1992 is impossible, writes RiShawn Biddle. The data collection method changed significantly. Some states and districts are reporting very dodgy data. Connecticut reported a 98 percent graduation rate for the class of 2010, which NCES refused to accept. The District of Columbia claimed “only one percent of students officially drop out over a four-year period.”  The key word is “officially.”

On-time high school grad rate is 72%

Only 72 percent of students in the class of 2011 earned a diploma in four years, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent with Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent and Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas at 86 percent.

The District of Columbia’s four-year graduation rate was 59 percent, the lowest in the country, notes Dropout Nation. Only 60 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students graduated on time. In Nevada, the black on-time graduation rate was 43 percent, the worst in the nation. Montana and Texas are “the only states in which four out of every five black freshmen in their respective Classes of 20111 graduated on time.” Minnesota had the largest racial achievement gap with a 49 percent on-time graduation rate for blacks and 84 percent of whites

Nationwide, 79 percent of Asian-American students and 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites finished high school in four years.

If a student needs five years to earn a high school diploma — and really earns it — that’s OK by me. I worry that “portfolio review” and “credit recovery” scams will pump up graduation rates.

Rhee’s record

The case against Michelle Rhee is full of holes, writes Paul Peterson of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance in the Washington Times. Ed Next has his full analysis.

Rhee was more effective than her predecessors, he writes, contradicting a recent study (pdf) by Alan Ginsburg, a former director of Policy and Program Studies in the U.S. Department of Education.  And, contrary to a National Research Council (NRC)  committee’s preliminary analysis, which downplays progress, there’s reason to believe Rhee’s reforms made a difference.  

Like Ginsburg and the NRC committee, Peterson looks at NAEP data, since it’s a low-stakes test with no incentive to cheat. He excludes the scores of charter schools beyond Rhee’s control, which caused a blip in the data in 2007, inflating pre-Rhee progress. He finds progress accelerated after Rhee took over as chancellor.

 Once the data are corrected and adjusted for national trends, it becomes evident that during the Rhee years, fourth-grade students gained at a pace twice that seen under her predecessors in both reading and math. The gains in math by eighth-grade students were nearly as much, although no eighth-grade reading gains are detected.

Gains are not enormous in any one year, but over time, they add up. In 2000, the gap between the District and the nation in fourth-grade math was 34 points. Had students gained as much every year between 2000 and 2009 as they did during the Rhee era, that gap would have been just 7 points in 2009. Three more years of Rhee-like progress and the gap would have been closed. In eighth-grade math, the gap in 2000 was 38 points. Had Rhee-like progress been made over the next nine years, the gap in 2009 would have been just 14 points, with near closure in 2012. In fourth-grade reading, the gap was 30 points in 2003; if Rhee-like gains had taken place over the next six years, the gap in 2009 would have been cut in half.

The NRC committee claims that District gains “were similar” to those in 10 “other urban districts” for which comparable data is available.

In fact, D.C. students gained 6 points between 2007 and 2009 in both math and reading, while the average gain for the other 10 cities was just 1 point in reading and 2 points in math. In eighth-grade math, D.C. gains were 7 points, as compared to an average of three points for 10 other cities. Only in eighth-grade reading did the District lag behind, dropping a point while elsewhere, students gained 2 points.

The committee also admits that student and teacher attendance improved significantly during Rhee’s tenure, but questions the significance of the change.

Rhee said she wanted to change the culture, Peterson notes.  When students show up to learn and teachers show up to teach, that’s considered a very good sign. But Rhee’s enemies don’t want to give her credit for anything.

A question of vouchers

Vouchers are the topic at National Journal Online’s Education Experts. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has introduced a bill with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to restore funding for the District of Columbia’s voucher program.

D.C. dollars

The District of Columbia spends $15,000 per student but gives only a $7,500 voucher to private schools that take low-income students, reported John Stossel in an education special. Not true, say Stossel in a correction. D.C. spends $28,000 per student, four times the average $6,620 voucher.

The $15,000 number, which comes from the the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Census, excludes major K-12 spending, Cato’s Andrew Coulson told Stossel. “DC has split up its education spending into seven different budgets, all of which go to k-12 public education, but only one of which is called “the DC Public School budget.”

The real figure? $26,000 for each student signed up at a DC public school. $28,000 for each student who actually attended. Some might say that’s an unfair number because it includes special education students that the private schools supposedly won’t take. But even if you drop the costs of special education students, DC still spends $23,000 per kid.

. . . Oh, and the $7,500 for voucher schools? Turns out that the average voucher school only charges $6,620 (many are Catholic schools.) So they cost a quarter of what public schools do, but still they do better!

Coulson invites skeptics to look at the spreadsheet.