Parents back teachers, reforms

Parents believe teachers are doing a good job, but they also strongly support teacher-quality reforms, according to a new Joyce Foundation survey on parents’ attitudes on the quality of education.

While those surveyed said teachers  should be supported and paid more, they also wanted to use multiple measures, including student achievement growth, in teacher evaluation, compensation, and lay-off decisions. Parents also want “to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom and provide financial rewards to help teachers succeed.”

While only half of the parents say they’re familiar with Common Core standards, they overwhelmingly believe the new standards will improve education, the survey found.

Minority and low-income parents are more likely to see serious problems in their schools—from low expectations to bullying to out-of-date technology and textbooks—than those who are affluent or white,”  Ed Week notes.

Accountability shock is wearing off

Math scores rose dramatically in the “consequential accountability” era, but the accountability shock is wearing off, writes Mark Schneider, a former National Center for Education Statistics commissioner  now at American Institutes for Research. Texas, an early accountability adopter, saw an early rise in math scores and now a plateau, he writes. Progress is leveling off nationwide as well.

A graph of NAEP fourth-grade math scores show a “remarkable” growth in performance in Texas and the U.S.

Using the very rough rule of thumb that a 10-point change in NAEP scores equals about one year of learning, in 2011 our fourth graders are about two years ahead of where they were in 1992.

Texas improved first. The national average caught up when No Child Left Behind forced accountability on all states, Schneider writes.

Compared to the nation as a whole, Texas has more disadvantaged students. The state’s Hispanic, black and low-income students outperform the national average for similar students.

Reading scores did not improve in Texas or elsewhere in the accountability era, perhaps because reading “is far more dependent on what happens early in children’s lives,” Schneider writes.

What could provide the next shock? Schneider suggests the Common Core and the better measurement of teacher performance as possibilities.

France's 'grandes écoles' are blanche

France’s elite universities, the grandes écoles, admit only the very best students, as measured by very difficult tests. Graduates end up running the country. Very few come from low-income, non-white or immigrant families. Now the French government wants to open elite schools to diverse students, reports the New York Times. But the grandes écoles fear that means lowering standards.

France is prodding schools like Sciences Po in Paris to set a goal of increasing the percentage of scholarship students to 30 percent.

The daughter of protective North African parents in the tough northeastern suburb of Bondy, Ms. Yazidi is enrolled in a trial program aimed at helping smart children of the poor overcome the huge cultural disadvantages that have often spelled failure in the crucial school entrance exams.

France sees itself as a color-blind meritocracy. But only affluent parents can afford the typical route to an elite university, “an extra two years of intensive study in expensive preparatory schools after high school.” Even then, half of prep school graduates don’t score well enough to enter the grandes écoles and end up at a lower-ranked university.

There is a serious question about how to measure diversity in a country where every citizen is presumed equal and there are no official statistics based on race, religion or ethnicity. A goal cannot be called a “quota,” which has an odor of the United States and affirmative action. Instead, there is the presumption here that poorer citizens will be more diverse, containing a much larger percentage of Muslims, blacks and second-generation immigrants.

The government may reduce the current exam’s reliance on familiarity with French history and culture to help students from immigrant backgrounds. In addition, the government will expand programs to “reach out to smart children, give them higher goals and help them get into preparatory schools” with scholarships.  It’s not yet clear whether these programs will produce students capable of passing the entrance exams.

Oakland charters succeed

Oakland charter schools are outperforming similar district-run schools at all grade levels, with high-poverty students and with all minority students, concludes a report by the California Charter Schools Association.  Gains are increasing over time.

Seventeen percent of Oakland students attend charter schools. Sixty-nine percent of charters outperformed the neighboring district schools with similar demographics on the 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) growth index.

. . .  charter schools significantly outperformed district public schools in middle (836 to 624) and high schools (688 to 528) and slightly outperformed district schools at the elementary school level (725 to 705). Of the top ten highest-performing public schools in Oakland, all secondary schools were charter schools.

Charters were most effective with low-income and black students.

Oakland’s charter schools serve a significantly higher percentage of Latino students, a higher percentage of high-poverty students, roughly an equal percentage of African-American students and a lower percentage of Asian-American and white students.