Illinois sets lower standards for blacks, Latinos

Under a No Child Left Behind waiver, Illinois schools will set lower standards for blacks, Latinos, low-income students and other groups, reports the Chicago Tribune.

For example, while 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, the goal is 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students.

NCLB calls for 100 percent of students to pass reading and math exams this school year. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. “By 2013, almost 85 percent of Illinois schools had received failing labels, including many of the state’s premier high schools,” reports the Tribune.

Since Congress has failed to update the law, the Education Department has given most state waivers. Illinois isn’t the first to set different standards for different student groups.

The lowest 15 percent of struggling schools in Illinois will be targeted for state attention. The six-year goal is to halve the percentage of students and groups who fail reading and math exams.

 Each year, groups will have goals for improving that push them toward their 2019 target. Because groups start at different places, their final targets will be different too. For example, state data provided to the federal government shows the percent of students passing exams in 2019 would range from about 52 to 92 percent, depending on test, grade and student group.

For all students combined, the passing rate would be about 76 to 79 percent in 2019 — lower than the now-infamous 100 percent requirement.

Illinois also will use “supergroups,” lumping together black, Latino and Native American students in the same group rather than looking at their achievement separately.  The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of civil rights and education advocacy groups, said supergroups undercut accountability. “This eliminates one of the most important civil rights victories in education law, and returns us to a time where states may not be responsive to the needs of underserved students.”

Under the state’s new policy, districts won’t have to offer tutoring — or transfers — to students in repeatedly failing schools.

Each school will have different achievement goals, so it will be harder for parents to compare schools’ achievement results.

Pension debt will ‘eat everything in its path’

California’s teacher “pension debt will eat everything in its path,” writes Chad Aldeman on Education Next.

California discovered a $2.4 billion budget surplus from what it projected in January, but that money won’t be going to any new, exciting program. It won’t support the state’s transition to new academic standards. It won’t be going to expand kindergarten or offer pre-k to 4-year-olds. Governor Jerry Brown has other plans. He wants the money to go toward paying down the state’s debt, especially the $74 billion unfunded liability from the state’s teacher pension plan (CalSTRS).

In order to pay off the full debt over 30 years, Brown’s plan calls for teachers to pay more, school districts to pay much more and the state to pay more. “By 2021, nearly 40 percent of California teachers’ total compensation will go toward paying down the pension plan’s liabilities.”

Yet, due to high mobility, only one in five young teachers will receive a full pension, according to a Bellwether analysis. Half won’t qualify for a minimal pension benefit.

Illinois’ early retirement incentives didn’t lower student achievement, even though experienced retirees were replaced by less-experienced or brand-new teachers, concludes another study in Education Next. The state’s two-year program seems to have raised test scores in reading with the strongest positive effects in “schools that serve a more disadvantaged student population.”

It’s possible less-effective, less-energetic teachers were the most likely to take advantage of the early retirement offer, researchers speculated.

The state’s two-year program saved school districts $550.5 million in salaries, but the state paid all of that and more in pensions. However, a well-designed program could save money for taxpayers too, researchers concluded.

Remedial remake

High failure rates in remedial math have prompted Illinois community college teachers to develop “math literacy” courses for students in non-STEM majors.

A remedial revolution will hit Florida next fall: Most state college students will not be required to take remedial courses, regardless of their college readiness.

“Accelerated” remediation is getting more community college students to college-level math and English in California.

New teachers are smarter

The academic caliber of new teachers is rising significantly, according to a University of Washington study published in Education NextThe average SAT score of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than the average score among new teachers in 2001. New teachers in 2008 averaged higher SAT scores than college graduates entering other professions.

“It is unclear whether this improvement reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn or a more permanent shift,” write the study’s authors, Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch.

Teachers working in 2008 were slightly more likely to hold a master’s degree or higher compared to teachers in 1987.  Sixty-three percent of teachers in 2010 had graduate training compared to 45 percent 20 years earlier.

Some claim that test-based accountability policies have made teaching less attractive to top students. Not so.

. . .  the researchers compare the SAT scores of new teachers entering classrooms that typically face accountability-based test achievement pressures (grade 4–8 reading and math) and classrooms in those grades that do not involve high-stakes testing. They find that new teachers in high-stakes classrooms tend to have higher SAT scores than those in other classrooms, and that the size of this difference increased between 2001 and 2008. This suggests that more academically proficient teachers are not generally shying away from classrooms that face accountability pressures.

High-scoring math and science majors were more likely to become teachers in 2008 than in the past, but teaching still isn’t drawing enough math and science majors, the study found. Only 30 percent of math and science classes in 2008 were led by teachers who majored in math or science in college, the same as in 1993.

Most high school students with aspirations to teach don’t become teachers — or even college graduates, notes an Illinois study. The stronger students are more likely to persist. People who earn teaching credentials have “weaker academic qualifications” than other bachelor’s degree earners, “but those who actually became teachers were quite similar academically to non-teaching college graduates.”

Too many (would-be) elementary teachers

State Output

Some states produce enough elementary teachers to fill anticipated openings, but others produce twice as many as needed—or more.

Supply Demand Percent Difference
Colorado 1,169 1,099 106%
Connecticut 701 600 117
Delaware 373 122 306
Illinois 9,982 1,073 930
Kentucky 1,275 730 175
Louisiana 1,033 650 159
Maryland 1,011 723 140
Massachusetts 1,175 1,051 112
Michigan 2,903 1,227 236
Minnesota 1,179 709 166
Mississippi 751 660 114
New York 6,498 2,800 232
Pennsylvania 6,048 1,420 426
Tennessee 1,970 1,380 143

In many states, colleges are churning out too many would-be elementary teachers, reports Education Week.

New York and Michigan prepared twice as many elementary teachers as needed in 2011-12. Pennsylvania turned out four new graduates for every job opening. Illinois issued nine new elementary-teacher certificates in 2009 for every one first-time teacher hired in 2010.

By contrast, Colorado and Michigan produce just enough new elementary teachers to meet demand. (That’s assuming nobody moves from Illinois and Pennsylvania.)

Colleges should be more selective about admitting teacher candidates and train them more intensively, argues the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We could improve, enhance, and extend the quality of teacher preparation, and therefore produce better-qualified new teacher graduates, but probably fewer in number,” agrees Arthur E. Wise, former president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Prospective elementary teachers have lower academic qualifications than other college graduates, concludes a 2007 Educational Testing Service report. (Secondary teachers have higher-than-average test scores.)

“We could raise the bar and get teachers with higher aptitudes in classrooms and still have plenty of elementary teachers,” (NCTQ’s Arthur) McKee said.

States to watch in 2013

The education minded should keep an eye on Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa in 2013, advises Dropout Nation. And from last year’s states to watch list, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and Michigan will continue to be interesting.

School funding: Quietly unequal

The rich districts get richer in Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and North Carolina, according to a new Center for American Progress report, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding. In these states, schools in higher-poverty districts receive less state and local dollars than low-poverty districts, the report finds.

On the state level, there’s no relationship between education spending and results, according to a State Budget Solutions study, which analyzed state spending from 2009 to 2011. Spending more didn’t raise graduation rates or ACT scores. Spending less didn’t lower performance.

Massachusetts, which has the strongest academic performance in almost every subject area and the highest ACT scores, spend less of its state budget on education than 45 other states, SBS reported.

Illinois may dump test for would-be teachers

Only 35 percent of would-be teachers in Illinois passed a basic skills test in math, reading, language arts and writing this year. Teacher candidates must pass — they have five tries — to be admitted to a teacher preparation program. The state board of education should resist pressure to eliminate the requirement, editorializes the Chicago Tribune.

Because black and Hispanic candidates are more likely to fail, Chicago-area education college deans oppose the higher standards.

 The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law may file a civil rights lawsuit against the state because the threshold unfairly creates too high a hurdle for minority candidates who want to be teachers. The cut scores “almost certainly will have a disparate impact on minorities,” Paul Strauss, co-director of litigation for the group, tells us.

Maintaining high standards is worth a fight, the Trib argues.

“The test does not measure traits such as enthusiasm, empathy, ability to communicate effectively with children, and dedication to the teaching profession,” writes Strauss.

It’s certainly possible to have basic reading, writing and math skills and be a lousy teacher. But all the enthusiasm and empathy in the world won’t turn a semi-literate, innumerate person into a good teacher — at least not if she’s supposed to teach reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history or science.

Illinois may exempt teacher candidates who score a 22 or better — considered “college ready” — on the ACT from taking the basic skills exam. “By comparison, in 2008 researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council reported what thousands of veteran Chicago teachers had scored an average of 19.4 (out of a possible 36) on their ACT exams,” reports the  Trib.

Would-be secondary teachers — those planning to specialize in English, history, math, science, etc. — tend to score above average on college admissions tests. Would-be elementary teachers tend to score below average for college goers.

Update:  Teacher education programs will be allowed to admit students who fail some parts of the basic skills test on a provisional basis. They must pass the entire test to complete the program.

Illinois: Fix K-12 math to boost college grad rate

To raise the community college graduation rate, require more math in high school and redesign remedial math instruction in college, concludes an Illinois report.

Colleges must focus on productivity and affordability to keep open the path to the American Dream.

Illinois OKs expulsion for online threats

Students who make online threats can be suspended or expelled under a new Illinois state law, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

While examples of abusive behavior by students have multiplied across the nation and studies suggest half of all teens have been victimized by cyber-bullies, the law’s impetus came from an incident at Oswego High School six years ago, Illinois House minority leader Tom Cross said.

When an Oswego student posted an online diatribe against his teachers in 2005, vowing “I’m so angry I could kill,” leaders at School District 308 weren’t sure what they could do, SD 308 spokeswoman Kristine Liptrot said.

Since the threat was made outside school hours, away from school grounds from a private computer, they were concerned about interfering with the boy’s First Amendment rights and felt unable to suspend or expel the boy . . .

“I don’t think kids are getting any meaner,” Cross  said.  “Thirty years ago, a bully might have said something in class — now they’ll say it on the Internet.”