Small school students show gains

New York City’s small public high schools are producing gains for disadvantaged students, according to a new MDRC study, Sustained Progress.

Students who win the admissions lottery to these schools are significantly more likely to earn a high school diploma (70.4 percent) than applicants who lost the lottery (60.9 percent) than lottery losers. Small schools  increased the graduation rates of special-education students by 13.8 percentage points and of English Language Learners by 4.9 percentage points, MDRC suggests, though the sample size is small.

Teaching English Learners

The new American Educator features articles on teaching English Learners to master new standards.

American Educator, Summer 2013 cover

CREDO: Charters do better in reading

Charter students show greater learning gains in reading and similar gains in math compared to students in traditional public schools, concludes the National Charter School Study 2013 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The neediest students show the strongest gains: Low-income students, blacks and English Learners “gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math” if they attended charter schools rather than traditional public schools, the study found.

More charter schools are high performers and some underperforming charters have closed, concludes CREDO, which analyzed data from 26 states and New York City.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students,” says Dr. Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO.

Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students, the study found.

Charters do the best for the worst students, according to an MIT analysis reported by the Boston Globe.

Lower-income students who performed poorly on tests while attending traditional public schools did much better after enrolling in charter schools. Moreover, their improvement was greater than fellow charter students who had previously tested well in traditional public schools.

In other words, those most in need of educational improvement tended to benefit the most from charter schools.

A string of recent studies have found urban charter schools produce learning gains, while suburban and rural charters have mixed results.

Poor English skills cost adults $3,000 a year

The 16.5 million Spanish-speaking adults who aren’t proficient in English forego $37.7 billion a year in earnings, estimates the Lexington Institute. That’s about $3,000 a year in earnings per worker.

Up to 59 percent of California’s English Learners — students who don’t test proficient in English — have been enrolled in U.S. schools for six years or more, according to Californians Together. California is now focusing on “long-term English Learners.”

Union’s charter school faces closure

To prove a union contract is no barrier to school success, the United Federation of Teachers opened its own UFT Charter School in Brooklyn in 2005, notes Gotham Schools. After seven years of turmoil, the union-run K-9 school may be closed for low performance.

Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Two years ago, the school received a three-year extension on its charter instead of five years because of performance concerns.

Test scores have plummeted since then, the school has cycled through multiple principals, and enrollment is down to just 70 percent of capacity.

The UFT Charter School performs worse than other schools in the district, despite enrolling fewer special education students and far fewer English Learners, reports Gotham Schools.

The UFT picked “teacher leaders” to run the elementary and middle schools. Turnover has been high.

“We are continuing to see progress and innovation at many teacher-led schools,” American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten told Gotham Schools in an e-mail. She praised Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a union partner with a “thin contract” that gives teachers some, but not all, their usual rights.

When English Learners don’t learn

By middle and high school, 59 percent of California’ s English Language Learners aren’t making progress, a study by Californians Together found. Now, if the governor signs the bill, California will be the first state to report data on “long-term” ELLS, reports Ed Week.

A long-term English-learner is defined as a student who’s attended U.S. schools for more than six years, but tests poorly in English Language Arts and in English proficiency and hasn’t moved up a level on the state’s English proficiency exam for two years or more.

These non-learners typically speak English as well (or poorly) as they speak Spanish, but don’t read or write well in either language.  They’ve lived down to low expectations.

In Tracy, where 55 percent of secondary students are long-term ELLs, teachers have created a supplementary class to teach writing, “academic” English, critical reading and study skills, reports Ed Week.

Children from non-English-speaking families who test as proficient in English by second or third grade are high performers who do very well in school.  Those who  leave ELL status by the end of elementary school have a good shot at success.  But the kids who haven’t made it by sixth grade face long odds of completing high school. California has lots and lots of these kids — and I’d bet other states do too.

Faster exit from English Learner status

Any “English Learner” who scores proficient in English and earns a B average should be out of the program, argues Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, in an Orange County Register commentary. Norby, who’s taught immigrants as a high school and night school ESL teacher, has introduced a bill to do that. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has a bill to change the home language survey, which can place a child in the English Learner program if any adult speaks a language other than English ever.

The California English Language Development Test is difficult to pass, especially for those barely able to read, and there is no statewide standard as to what is a passing grade. School funding is based partly on ELL percentages, so there is a financial incentive to keep kids in the program. Annual testing is costly, time-consuming and takes students away from valuable class time.

Parental petitions to remove their kids from ELL are routinely rejected. Some are told that, while their child may be conversant in English, they don’t yet know “academic English.” Well, what first-grader does?

Poorly educated parents don’t know how to get their kids out of ELL status, Norby writes. In Santa Ana, where 11 percent of the K-12 students are foreign-born, 55 percent are classified as ELL. In wealthier Irvine,  19 percent of the students are born abroad – mostly from Asia and the Middle East — yet only 13 percent are ELL.

“In a globalized economy, California’s bilingual kids are an asset to our state and should not be placed in academic dumping grounds,” Norby writes.

Failure guaranteed

Failure is almost guaranteed for four- and five-year-olds who take California’s test to identify “English Learners,” I write on Pajamas Media. Only 12 percent of entering kindergartners who take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) are deemed fluent in English, even though 85 percent were born in the U.S., concludes a new study by Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. Outside of Los Angeles, the CELDT pass rate is 6 percent.

One in three California elementary students is classified as an English Learner. That’s because schools are misidentifying large numbers of children, conclude Berkeley Education Professor Lisa García Bedolla and researcher Rosaisela Rodriguez.  As a result, teaching and tutoring resources are spread thin: Some kids are taught skills they already know, while others don’t get enough help.

It all starts with the home language survey, which asks about the child’s first language, the language he or she speaks most often at home, the languages the adults speak at home, and what language the parents speak most often with their child.

If Mom mentions a language other than English — or in addition to English — the child will be given the nearly unpassable CELDT, the researchers find.

Maybe Grandma lives with the family and speaks Spanish?  A five-year-old will be given a two-hour test which requires him to talk to a stranger with no parent in the room.

Children that young can’t handle a two-hour test, the researchers say. Observers report children crying and hiding under chairs or tables. CELDT, which keeps getting longer, has added reading and writing questions for children who haven’t started kindergarten.

Schools get more money for English Learners, which provides an incentive to identify as many children as possible and keep them in the program, even when they test as proficient on CELDT.  Few children are in bilingual classes these days, but some schools hire aides who provide help in children’s native language — or what’s supposed to be their native language. Many are pulled out of class for instruction in basic English.

State policy OKs special ed ‘cheating’

Some testing modifications for special ed students and English Learners amount to cheating, writes Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, on Thoughts on Public Education. “Providing a calculator for a student on a math computation test, having an instructor read a reading test to a student or giving extended time on a test that measures results under time pressure” will not produce valid scores.

Isn’t this, too, a form of  “cheating”? Certainly it cheats students out of knowing what they can and cannot do. Also it cheats schools, taxpayers, and parents from getting a valid measure of student achievement.

California reported higher scores on the state Academic Performance Index this year. But the API now includes scores from a much easier test given to increasing numbers of students with learning disabilities, Freedman writes.

 


Not-so-great ‘Gatsby’

A shorter, simpler, “retold” version of The Great Gatsby, designed for students who aren’t fluent in English, cheats students, writes film critic Roger Ebert. “There is no purpose in “reading” The Great Gatsby unless you actually read it.”

Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby’s lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald’s style — in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look.

English Learners who aren’t ready for The Great Gatsby should read young-adult novels with a simplified vocabulary, Ebert suggests. “Why eviscerate Fitzgerald?”

He quotes Fitzgerald’s famous conclusion to the novel, which ends with the narrator imagining the “old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world.”

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Macmillan’s version, as “retold by Margaret Tarner,” eviscerates Fitzgerald’s meaning and his poetry:

Gatsby had believed in his dream. He had followed it and nearly made it come true.

Everybody has a dream. And, like Gatsby, we must all follow our dream wherever it takes us.

Some unpleasant people became part of Gatsby’s dream. But he cannot be blamed for that. Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn’t he?

Teaching Now’s readers are skeptical of dumbing down Gatsby, writes Anthony Rebora.

One reader, a high school English teacher mortified by the rewritten Gatsby, recommends Jake, Reinvented, a young-adult novel based loosely on Gatsby, which features hard-partying, social-climbing high school students in a contemporary setting. The teacher has students read the “remake” as preparation for the real Gatsby.

However, book blogger Jessica Crispin defends “young reader” adaptations of classic novels. She read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in simplified versions, then went on to the real books when she was older.

I read them for the story as a kid—murder and intrigue and violence and revolution—and then for the prose later on, when it wasn’t so off-putting.

I can see that for A Tale of Two Cities, but not for Gatsby.