Colleges hire 75% more administrators

Massachusetts colleges and universities hired 75 percent more administrators in the last 25 years, three times the rate of enrollment growth. Officials say they need to provide more student services and cope with more federal regulations.

All 11 million community college students and 1,200 community college presidents should demand equitable funding for community colleges, which serve the neediest students, writes a professor. If protest doesn’t work, litigate.

Testing fights are nothing new

Testing controversies didn’t start with No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top, writes William J. Reese, an education history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the New York Times. “Members of the Boston School Committee fired the first shots in the testing wars in the summer of 1845.”

Many Bostonians smugly assumed that their well-funded public schools were the nation’s best.

. . . Citizens were in for a shock. For the first time, examiners gave the highest grammar school classes a common written test, conceived by a few political activists who wanted precise measurements of school achievement. The examiners tested 530 pupils — the cream of the crop below high school. Most flunked. Critics immediately accused the examiners of injecting politics into the schools and demeaning both teachers and pupils.

In 1837, education reformer Horace Mann, the “father of the common school,” became secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education, which was “part of the Whig Party’s effort to centralize authority and make schools modern and accountable,”  writes Reese. “After a fact-finding trip abroad, Mann claimed in 1844 in a nationally publicized report that Prussia’s schools were more child-friendly and superior to America’s.” (Prussia was the Finland of the mid-19th century!)

Mann’s friend Samuel Gridley Howe, was elected to the School Committee. As a member of the examining committee, he insisted on written rather than oral tests.

His committee arrived at Boston’s grammar schools with preprinted questions, which angered the masters and terrified students. Pupils had one hour to write down their answers on each subject to questions drawn from assigned textbooks.

Only 30 percent passed. It turned out that students had “memorized material they often did not understand,” Reese writes.

 The examiners believed that the teacher made the school, a guiding assumption in the emerging ethos of testing. Tests, they said, would identify the many teachers who emphasized rote instruction, not understanding. They named the worst ones and called for their removal.

. . . Anticipating an angry reaction from parents, Mann told Howe to deflect criticism from the examiners by blaming the masters for low scores. While the School Committee fired a few head teachers, parents nevertheless accused Howe of deliberately embarrassing the pupils and bounced him out of office in the next election.

Testing continued. Examiners caught one master leaking questions to students. They criticized a school for black students for low expectations and performance. They worried about how to evaluate school quality.

 “Comparison of schools cannot be just,” the chairman of the examining committee wrote in 1850, “while the subjects of instruction are so differently situated as to fire-side influence, and subjected to the draw-backs inseparable from place of birth, of age, of residence, and many other adverse circumstances.”

The history is “eerily familiar,” writes Reese, author of Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History.

Massachusetts may lift charter cap

Massachusetts may eliminate a cap on charter schools in 29 low-performing school districts, including Boston, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Two Democratic legislators introduced the bill.

(State Sen. Barry) Finegold, the bill’s sponsor and the son of public-school teachers, said his motivation sprung from conversations with parents in Lawrence, part of his district northwest of Boston, where the struggling school district was taken over by the state in 2011. The state has since brought in charter operators to run two low-performing schools, and parents told him, “we’d be out of here” had that not happened, Mr. Finegold said. “One thing I don’t think people realize—charter schools are keeping a lot of the middle class in cities,” he said.

More than 31,000 Massachusetts students attend charter schools, an increase of 20 percent in the past four years.

Massachusetts ranks its schools from Level One, the highest, to Level Five based on academic achievement, graduation and dropout rates. This year, 59% of charter schools in the state were Level One, compared with 31% of non-charter schools.

A recent CREDO study found Massachusetts charters produce learning gains statewide — very large learning gains for Boston students.

CREDO: Boston charters are a model

Boston charter students gain 13 additional months of learning in math and 12 extra months in reading compared to similar students in nearby district-run schools, concludes the latest CREDO study to find significant gains for urban charter students.

Eighty-three percent of Boston charter schools did significantly better than comparison schools; no Boston charter did worse. “The Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap,” said Margaret Raymond, who directs CREDO at Stanford University.

Statewide, the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains an extra one and a half months of learning per year in reading and two and a half in math.

Mike Goldstein, who founded the high-scoring MATCH charter in Boston, wants more on why the city’s charters outperform Boston’s semi-independent “pilot” schools, which draw students with similar demographics. What are Boston’s charters doing right?

Some 45,000 Massachusetts students are on charter school waiting lists because the state caps the number of charters in Boston and other low-performing districts.

 

A (anatomical) boy in the girl’s restroom

A boy who identifies as a girl has the right to use the girls’ restroom and play on girls’ sports teams, the Massachusetts Department of Education has told schools. Transgender girls have the right to use boys’ restrooms and play on boys’ teams.

The guidance said some students may feel uncomfortable sharing those facilities with a transgender student but this ‘‘discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.’’

Students who “consistently and intentionally refuse to refer to a transgendered student by the name or sex” they choose should face discipline for bullying, the guidance advised.

Myths of the anti-testing backlash

Test haters have become myth makers, write Kathleen Porter-Magee and Jennifer Borgioli on Gadfly.

The idea is that teachers know best and that standardized testing—or any kind of testing, really, other than the teacher-built kind—is a distracting nuisance that saps valuable instructional time, deflects instructors from what’s most essential, and yields very little useful information about student learning.

. . . research has consistently demonstrated that, absent independent checks, many teachers hold low-income and minority students to different standards than their affluent, white peers.

. . . Standardized tests not only help us unearth these biases but also put the spotlight on achievement gaps that need to be closed, students who need extra help, schools that are struggling, and on. And by doing so, they drive critical conversations about the curriculum, pedagogy, and state and district policies that we need to catch kids up and get them back on the path to success.

Testing also is blamed for “drill-and-kill” instruction that existed long before the testing-and-accountability era, they write.

All else being equal, the students who typically fare better on state tests are those whose teachers focus not on empty test-taking tricks but rather on content-rich and intellectually engaging curriculum.

Ironically, an anti-testing position paper by the Chicago Teachers Union showed test-prepping teachers’ students scored lower on the ACT than students who were given “intellectually demanding work.”

Standardized tests don’t measure “what really matters” in education, such as critical thinking or social and emotional skills, critics complain. No test can measure everything, concede Porter-Magee and Borgioli. But many skills can be evaluated.

Anti-testers argue that setting standards and aligning assessments to them doesn’t work because it’s not what the Finns do.

Our own history suggests that it is exactly the states that have set rigorous standards connected to strong accountability regimes—most notably, Massachusetts—that have seen the greatest gains for all students, not just our most disadvantaged.

Meaningful reform will “require the effective measurement of student achievement that tests make possible,” they conclude.

Colorado: Graduates’ skills don’t match jobs

Four-year college graduates’ skills don’t match available jobs, complained employers in Fort Collins, Colorado. A local liquor company employs three people with masters’ degrees, including a beer stocker with a physics degree.

A college degree is a valuable investment, but the first four to five years after college are “tougher than they’ve ever been,” said Martin Shields, a Colorado State economics professor.

In Massachusetts, community colleges are working with employers to design job training programs in high-demand fields.

NCTQ: Teacher prep earns D+

Teacher preparation policies earned a D+ in 2012, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook. That’s up from a D in 2011.

The highest grade — B- — went to Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee. Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont made the most progress. Three states – Alaska, Montana and Wyoming – received failing grades.

Only a third of undergraduate teacher preparation programs are sufficiently selective, NCTQ finds. The majority “fail to ensure that candidates come from the top half of the college-going population.” Only 24 states require teacher preparation programs to use a basic skills test to screen applicants.

Standards are low for elementary teachers:

Teaching children to read is among an elementary teacher’s most important responsibilities, yet only 10 states appropriately assess teacher proficiency in effective reading instruction. And only 11 states adequately test new elementary teachers’ knowledge of mathematics.

Even though all but four states require some subject matter tests for elementary teacher licensing, the passing scores are extremely low. Every state (for which NCTQ has data) except Massachusetts sets the passing score for elementary teacher licensing tests below the average score for all test takers (50th percentile), and most states set passing rates at an exceedingly low level.

Only eight states– Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas – use student achievement data to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they graduate.

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.

Massachusetts beats Finland

Finland is an education “miracle story,” according to one set of international tests, but nothing special on others, reports Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters. “If Finland were a state taking the 8th grade NAEP, it would probably score in the middle of the pack,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The most striking contrast is in mathematics, where the performance of Finnish 8th graders was not statistically different from the U.S. average on the 2011 TIMSS, or Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, released last month. Finland, which last participated in TIMSS in 1999, actually trailed four U.S. states that took part as “benchmarking education systems” on TIMSS this time: Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana.

. . . “Finland’s exaggerated reputation is based on its performance on PISA, an assessment that matches up well with its way of teaching math,” said Loveless, which he described as “applying math to solve ‘real world’ problems.”

He added, “In contrast, TIMSS tries to assess how well students have learned the curriculum taught in schools.”

Finland’s score of 514 on TIMSS for 8th grade math was close to the U.S. average of 509 and well below Massachusetts’ score of 561. Finland was way, way below South Korea on TIMSS but nearly as high on PISA.

Finland beat the U.S. average on TIMSS science section, but was well under Massachusetts.

In 4th grade reading, Finland beat the U.S. average on PIRLS (Progress in International Reading, Literacy Study), but scored about as well as Florida, the only U.S. state to participate.

Finland’s seventh graders dropped from above average to below average on TIMSS math. Pasi Sahlberg of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture said this was “mostly due to a gradual shift of focus in teaching from content mastery towards problem-solving and use of mathematical knowledge.”