U.S. math scores are falling

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-17-am2+2=??? Don’t ask an American 15-year-old. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in math compared to 35 industrialized nations, according to the latest PISA results.

U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.

PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.

Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.

PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.

The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-39-amHong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.

The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”

PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.

Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.

Ripley summarizes what matters:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

All equity all the time: Something’s missing 

Image result for lopsided appleEducation’s center “is two standard deviations to the left of the American public,” argues Rick Hess in Education Next. Most people in education don’t engage with conservatives or even see them.

“Equity” is “the organizing principle of K-12 school improvement,” he writes. Other virtues, such as “liberty, personal responsibility, and community,” which can conflict with equity, are ignored.

“The fierce conflict between the reform’ camp and the union-establishment” is really “between two wings of the Democratic Party,” he writes.

The “reformers” have mostly been passionate, Great Society liberals who believe in closing “achievement gaps” and pursuing “equity” via charter schooling, teacher evaluation, the Common Core, and test-based accountability. And their opponents have been the Democratic Party’s more traditional, New Deal wing. Other than occasional guest appearances by the likes of centrist Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Lamar Alexander, this has mostly been an intramural fight.

The key to making sense of this is that when Republicans have gotten into the ring — by overhauling collective bargaining (in Wisconsin) or passing universal Education Savings Accounts (in Nevada) — it’s generally been met with unified opposition from reform and union Dems.

Those on the left “frame every policy and debate in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender,” writes Hess. They see “talk of colorblindness or religious freedom” as “an excuse for implicit bias and oppression.”

Those on the right “experience calls for diversity and inclusion as efforts to police speech, suppress religious freedom, and condemn dissent,” he warns.

Underestimating the other guys — or not even knowing they’re out there — can have bad consequences.

Baltimore County nixes ‘gifted, talented’

The “gifted and talented” label is on the way out in Baltimore County, reports Liz Bowie for the Baltimore Sun. The district eliminated accelerated classes for the brightest elementary students last year.

Replacing “gifted and talented” with “advanced academics” isn’t popular with parents of high achievers, writes Bowie. They fear their gifted children’s needs will be ignored.

Teachers say it’s challenging to meet the needs of high, average and low achievers in a single classroom.

One fifth of Baltimore County students have been chosen as gifted in third and fifth grades “based on achievement and other, more subjective criteria, including personality, creativity, curiosity and ability to concentrate,” she writes. (Most districts designate a much smaller percentage of students as gifted.)

In the elementary grades, teachers now teach different levels of students in the same classroom. They break students into groups by ability, and then work their way around the classroom, instructing each of the groups according to its level. Educators say the small-group model allows them to move students in and out of groups more easily.

Advanced students are placed in separate classes for fourth- and fifth-grade math and in middle and high school.

“Baltimore County school officials say too many children, particularly minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were relegated to lower-level classwork” under the old system, wrote Bowie earlier this year.

Johnathan Miles, a second grader, reads a book in Jessica Owens' class at Lyons Mill Elementary School. Baltimore County no longer has separate classes for gifted and talented students.

Johnathan Miles, a second grader, reads a book in Jessica Owens’ class at Lyons Mill Elementary School. Photo: Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun

“If you got the golden ticket, you would ride the train from third grade to 12th grade. If you didn’t, then chances are you weren’t going to step onto it later in your academic career,” said Wade Kerns, the school system’s coordinator of advanced academics.

However, the new policy hasn’t qualified more disadvantaged students for advanced academic work, writes Bowie.

In the 2012-2013 school year, before the program change, 21.15 percent of black children in the sixth grade were labeled gifted. Last school year, that declined to 19.69 percent. The percentage of Latino gifted students increased slightly.

For economically disadvantaged children, the percentage of sixth-graders labeled gifted declined from 19.41 percent to 18.73 percent.

Jeanne Paynter, a former head of gifted-and-talented education in the Maryland State Department of Education, told Bowie teachers may not recognize children with high aptitude or know how to differentiate instruction for very bright students.

She also said high-achieving black and Latino students often attend struggling schools with inexperienced teachers focused on raising low achievers’ test scores. “Generally what happens is the advanced group is going to wait and wait and wait until the teacher gets to them,” she said. “Every child should have the right to be instructed and grow and learn.”

Better teaching closes racial discipline gap

Better teaching can improve student behavior and close the racial discipline gap, suggests a new study published in School Psychology Review.  Virginia middle and high school teachers who received coaching in improving instruction referred fewer students for discipline: Blacks were no more likely to be referred than other students.

The “teacher coaching did not explicitly focus on equity or implicit bias, or draw teachers’ attention to their interactions with black students,”  reports Madeline Will in Education Week Teacher. “It was focused on skills in effectively interacting with any student.”

disciplinary referrals.png

When teachers have high expectations and facilitate “higher level thinking skills, problem solving, and metacognition,” students are more engaged and better behaved, researchers concluded.

“The findings held when accounting for risk factors including students’ achievement levels, gender, economic status, and teacher characteristics like race and experience,” writes Will.

Teachers in the control group, who received no mentoring or feedback, referred black students for discipline more than twice as much as whites.

After the two-year program ended, the teachers who’d received coaching continued to show no evidence of a racial discipline gap.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t analyze the achievement gap, but it’s a good guess that more engaged, better-behaved students also learn more.

(Ex-)boy wins state honors in girls’ track 

Tia Goward, “Ice” Wangyot and Joei Vidad competed in the 200-meter sprint in the 2016 Alaska State Track Championships in Anchorage. Photo: Bob Hallinen/Alaska Dispatch News

A (biological) boy won all-Alaska honors in girls’ track and field, reports the Daily Caller.  Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot, 18, who identifies as a girl, won fifth place in the 100-meter dash and third place in the 200-meter.

“I’m glad that this person is comfortable with who they are . . . but I don’t think it’s competitively completely 100-percent fair,” said Saskia Harrison, who just failed to qualify for the finals.

“Genetically a guy has more muscle mass than a girl, and if he’s racing against a girl, he may have an advantage, ” another runner, Peyton Young,  told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Wangyot, who moved to Alaska from Thailand two years ago, also competed in girls volleyball and girls basketball earlier this school year.

Is it fair to let someone who’s physically male compete against girls?

Career academies challenge college for all

Most 12th graders aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to NAEP, but nearly all are told it’s the only path to a decent job. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Those who fail to earn a degree — about 45 percent — will struggle to earn a living and pay back student loans.

Students including Joshua Espinosa, left, steady the head of Jacqueline Villalobo during an exercise in EMC First Responder class as emergency medical technician Gretchen Medel, background left, supervises at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

Students practice paramedic skills at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

“Vocational education is “making a comeback,” reports AP. However, the goal of new “career pathways” programs isn’t to get students from high school to the workforce. Often the aim is to motivate students “to pursue some post-secondary education — whether it’s a certificate from a two-year school or a four-year degree.”

Educators are afraid that the new career-tech will be a lesser alternative to the college track.

“I think we can identify 9th grade students who have career interests and build a rich, challenging curriculum around those interests,” Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said.

“What’s not smart is to identify 9th grade students who are academically struggling and then track them into these separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction,” he said.

That concern is the focus of Melinda Anderson’s story on career academies in The Atlantic.

Often a school within a larger school, “career academies generally feature small learning communities, integrate business and industry partnerships, and provide students with a curriculum blending traditional and technical courses,” she writes.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

For “students at highest risk of dropping out, participation in career academies improved attendance and the likelihood of graduating on time,” a 2008 MDRC study found. Several years later, male students had found higher-paying jobs.

However, high schools that serve predominantly white, middle-class students are more likely to offer career pathways that lead to college, she writes.

At Cincinnati’s Deer Park Career Academy, students in grades seven through 12 choose from career pathways that include digital design and civil engineering.

At Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Florida, where a majority of students come from lower-income, non-white families, the career academy is devoted to law enforcement careers.

Ambitious parents demand 8th-grade algebra

Educated parents want their kids to take algebra in eighth grade, so they’ll be ready for calculus in 12th grade, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington PostCommon Core is doing a lousy job of explaining why bright students should wait till high school to take algebra.

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

Private schools aren’t cutting back on eighth-grade algebra, Mathews writes.

“Ambitious parents . . . are unlikely to tolerate delaying algebra, no matter what the experts say.”

Schools are dropping eighth-grade algebra or restricting access, according to Tom Loveless of Brookings. “The portion of eighth-graders in advanced math has declined from 48 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2015.”

Students who get an early start on algebra earn higher scores on AP exams, his research shows. Yet that opportunity is “more open to white and Asian students in suburban schools than to disadvantaged youngsters in schools serving students of color.”

California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

Why my Catholic schools are opting in to testing

As superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, Kathleen Porter-Magee is opting in to state testing.  Results are used to “benchmark . . .  our students’ academic growth, and to ensure we are keeping expectations high,” she writes on The 74.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, students take New York state tests, but don't do test prep.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, a Partnership school, students take New York state tests, but don’t do test prep.

Union-backed organizations are trying to persuade parents to reject testing, she writes. One letter claims that “excessive standardized testing is consuming a child’s academic year” and that it “forces [teachers] to ‘teach to test’ and takes the joy out of learning”

New York state’s English and math tests take up less than one percent of the school year, writes Porter-Magee.

The test doesn’t “force” anything, she adds. “Decisions to scrap core content instruction in favor of test prep are leadership decisions, not policy decisions.”

“Independent measures” are needed to “ensure all students are being held to the same bar regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” writes Porter-Magee.

Recently, a Johns Hopkins University study found that “when evaluating a black student, white teachers expect significantly less academic success than black teachers,” and that “this is especially true for black boys.”

Moreover, “for black students, particularly black boys, having a non-black teacher in a 10th grade subject made them much less likely to pursue that subject by enrolling in similar classes. This suggests biased expectations by teachers have long-term effects on student outcomes.”

Relying only on “teacher-created tests and teacher-conferred grades” risks “systematizing the kind of unconscious bias that holds our most vulnerable children back,” she concludes. Standardized testing is “the best tool we have to expose” inequality.

St. Paul seeks equity, finds chaos


Brawls broke out at two St. Paul high schools in October. Photo: KSTP News

Some St. Paul public schools are unsafe for students and teachers, writes Katherine Kersten, a senior policy fellow at the Center for the American Experiment, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A Central High teacher was “choked and body-slammed by a student and hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury,” while another teacher was knocked down and suffered a concussion while trying to stop a fight between fifth-grade girls. There have been six high school riots or brawls this school year.

Hoping to close the racial suspension gap, the district has spent millions of dollars on “white privilege” and “cultural competency” training for teachers and “positive behavior” training, an anti-suspension behavior modification program, writes Kersten.

Aaron Benner

Student behavior is getting worse, says teacher Aaron Benner.

When that didn’t work, “they lowered behavior standards and, in many cases, essentially abandoned meaningful penalties,” she writes. Students can’t be suspended for “continual willful disobedience” any more. Often, students “chat briefly with a ‘behavior specialist’ or are simply moved to another classroom or school where they are likely to misbehave again.”

Behavior has gotten worse, wrote Aaron Benner, a veteran elementary teacher, in the Pioneer Press. “On a daily basis, I saw students cussing at their teachers, running out of class, yelling and screaming in the halls, and fighting.”

Teachers say they’re afraid, writes Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. He quotes a letter from an anonymous teacher, who says teacher are told there are no alternative placements for violent or disruptive K-8 students.

(Teachers) have no way to discipline. If a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream. If a student throws a chair at the Smart Board we remove the other students and call for help. If a student shouts obscenities, we simply use kind words to remind them to use kind words themselves. I am not kidding.

. . . The only consequence at the elementary level is taking away recess or sending the offending student to a ‘buddy classroom’ for a few minutes.

At this teacher’s high-poverty, highly diverse school, “I have many students in my class who are very respectful, work hard and care about doing well in school,” the teacher writes. “The disruptive, violent children are ruining the education of these fantastic, deserving children.”

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

On March 9, a veteran high school teacher was suspended for social media posts complaining about the discipline policy, when Black Lives Matter activists charged him with racism.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher at Como Park High, wrote that teachers “now have no backup, no functional location to send kids who won’t quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains, or cyber bullying, we’re screwed, just designing our own classroom rules.”

He did not mention race.

Black Lives Matter had threatened a “shut-down action” at the school if Olson was not fired.

The same day Olson was put on leave, another Como Park teacher was attacked by two students, suffering a concussion. “The two entered the classroom to assault another student over a marijuana transaction gone bad,” an associate principal told the Star-Tribune.  Two 16-year-olds face felony assault charges.