Study: Waivers leave behind at-risk students

“At-risk students could fall through the cracks” as federal waivers let states ignore No Child Left Behind’s accountability rules, according to an analysis by the Campaign for High School Equity.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and a group of California districts have received Education Department waivers.

. . . students who are at the highest risk of dropping out – those from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students – are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before (Arne) Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups.

Duncan rules the waives

The Obama administration “waiver gambit” lets states — and now eight CORE districts in California –  “ignore poor and minority kids,” writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The CORE districts’ waiver application doesn’t show how they’ll improve education, he writes, citing the review panel’s criticisms.

Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State — threatened by the feds with losing the waivers –  ”are unlikely to implement their proposed reforms,” Biddle writes.

It has also been clear that the administration’s decision to allow states to focus on the worst five percent of schools (along with another 10 percent or more of schools with wide achievement gaps) — and ignore those districts serving up mediocre instruction and curricula — will lead to widening achievement gaps.

The administration could have “worked within the imperfect yet successful accountability framework No Child put in place 11 years ago,” writes Biddle, “if Barack Obama used his bully pulpit and political capital.”

Instead, the CORE, Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State waivers show the administration’s “shoddy and irresponsible” policymaking.

“Education insiders’ ripped the CORE waivers as bad policy, according to Whiteboard Advisers’s survey, reports Politics K-12.

  • “Is there nothing they won’t permit? Why CORE but not Burlington, Vermont? Why push for common standards but permit so much local control in how you collect and use data and what you measure?”
  • “The waiver was not well put together, the process for approval wasn’t transparent, it doesn’t maintain accountability. In other words it does none of the things the Secretary of Education keeps piously saying that the waivers all do.”
  • “Terrible. At this point, the Department is just making things up as they go along. It’s impossible to discern a coherent strategy. [Race to the Top] for states, for districts; waivers for states, for districts. They are leaving federal education policy a complete shambles.

And the ultimate nightmare: “Just imagine what a Republican president will do with this authority and what Arne Duncan as a school leader would have said.”

Massachusetts ties college $ to results

Massachusetts will link 50 percent of community college funding to improvements in graduation rates, workforce development and minority and low-income student success. That’s one of the most ambitious performance-funding programs in the nation.

Different goals for different folks

Achievement should be defined broadly, argues Ted Kolderie, who works on redesign of K-12 education, with the Center for Policy Studies, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Bob Wedl, formerly Minnesota commissioner of education, asks: “If proficiency meant being able to speak two languages, which students in Minnesota would be ‘high-achieving’?”?

He asks, too: Why don’t we define the “gap” as being below-proficient and close that gap first?

And: Do all students need to be equally good in all subjects? Standards for aircraft differ based on what a plane is going to do. Why not for students? Proficiency might be enough in math for a student heading into the arts. It would surely be too low for one aspiring to an engineering career.

Education reformers — “middle-class folks with advanced degrees and aptitudes that are verbal, conceptual and abstract” — have decided that achievement is “doing well what they do well,” Kolderie writes.  Instead of pushing everyone to do well in school and go to college, we should “recognize that all young people can learn better and need to learn better, but that different students will do well at different things.”

Defining achievement down may sound reasonable, but it’s not, responds RiShawn Biddle. To start with, academic achievement is connected to success in non-academic endeavors.

. . . it is hard to engage in critical thinking without having a strong knowledge base that only comes from being literate, numerate, fluent in science, and knowledgeable about history and philosophy. This is especially important because critical thinking involves dealing with abstractions, the ideas at the very heart of civilization and society; even seemingly basic concepts such as the Golden Rule, as well as discourses mundane and critical, are formed from the complex interplay between ideas, facts, and morals. A child with a working understanding of, say, algebra, will also be able to understand why the Laffer Curve matters in discussions about tax cuts.

Low-income, minority parents have “learned the hard way about the consequences of not having the high-level reading and math skills needed for the high-paying blue- and white-collar jobs,” he writes. They know their children won’t have a future in the job market if they’re not “literate, numerate, and knowledgeable about the world around them.”

High-quality schools serving disadvantaged students, such as KIPP charters, have shown that “poor and minority children can succeed if they are provided comprehensive college-preparatory curricula, high-quality instruction, help in the form of intensive reading and math remediation, and the nurturing cultures of genius in which they are more than just future athletes and musicians,” Biddle concludes.

Remember “natural rhythm?”

Relevant schmelevant

Britain’s new “children’s laureate” wants to encourage reading by giving minority students books about people like themselves. “I still remember feeling I was totally invisible in the world of literature,” said Malorie Blackman. “I understand you need to learn about Henry VIII, but when I was young I wanted to learn about something that felt more relevant.”

Relevant, schmelevant, responds Howard Jacobson in The Independent. As a working-class, northern, Jewish boy, he didn’t consider his own visibility when he read books.

“Where are the Jews?” It’s possible that one of the reasons we refrained from asking that question was that when a Jew did pop up in literature we wished he hadn’t. Thanks, Fagin, but no thanks. . . . We didn’t read to self-identify. . . . We read for precisely the opposite reason – in order imaginatively to enjoy the company of others, in order to understand what those who were not ourselves were like, in order to feel the world expand around us, in order to go places we didn’t routinely go to in our neighbourhoods or in our heads, in order to meet the challenge of difference . . . Reading felt like a journey out of self, not into it. And if occasionally we thought we saw something specific to us in Hamlet, or Heathcliff, that was interesting but not obligatory.

. . . Madame Bovary c’est moi, Flaubert declared, invoking the writer’s creed. The reader’s creed is similar. Jane Eyre c’est moi, I felt when I read Charlotte Brontë’s great novel at school, and she was no less moi because she was a girl. . . .  I was not invisible when I read Jane Eyre a) because the best writers make general what’s particular, and b) because I, who had not been taught to go looking for myself missing, honoured the writer/reader compact and found me in characters who weren’t me.

When “relevance” entered the education debate, Jacobson knew knew the outcome, he writes. It has “demeaned those it pretended to help by assuming limits to their curiosity, denied those it offered to empower, cutting off their access to ‘irrelevant’ intellectual pleasure and enlightenment.” It “narrowed the definition of learning to the chance precincts of an individual’s class or upbringing.”

Once education “assumed an equality of eagerness for knowledge, and an equality of right to acquire it,” Jacobson concludes. That’s no longer “relevant.”

As a child I loved reading historical fiction and history, adventure, fantasy . . . Like Jacobson, I didn’t read to find myself. People like me were boring. I wanted to get out of the box of self and see the world.

When Ta-Nehisi Coates talks to black students, he tells them education is “a ticket out into a world so grand and stunning that it defies their imagination.”

Core standards: It’s not about the benjamins

Democratic state senators in Pennsylvania have come out against Common Core State Standards “without adequate state financial resources,” reports Ed Week.

It’s not about the benjamins, responds Marc Tucker on Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. Some high-achieving countries spend substantially less per student than the U.S. ”Top performers . . . redesign their school finance systems” to provide more resources for hard-to-educate students.

When Florida first proposed to raise its standards years ago, some people objected on the grounds that high standards would hurt the poor and minorities, who would not be able to meet them.  The standards were raised and the students whose scores improved the most were poor and minority students.  When Massachusetts set out to raise their standards, the liberals objected that the poor and minority students would be hurt, because they would not be able to meet the standards.  And–you guessed it–when the standards were raised anyway, the students who made the greatest gains were the poor and minority students.

Years ago, he asked parents in a focus group about standards.  An African-American single mother living on welfare said her middle-school son was getting A’s for coloring in a coloring book. “The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s,” she said. “When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store.  I want my child to have the same opportunities they have.  I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”

It will be very hard for schools with low-income and minority students to meet the new standards, Tucker concedes. Spending more won’t be enough.

We already spend more money on average than every industrialized country except Luxembourg and Norway.  We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams.  Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.

Rejecting high standards isn’t an option, Tucker argues. Employers will enforce the standards when they decide who to hire. Selective colleges will enforce the standards when they decide who to admit.

Training ’21st-century workers’ isn’t fast or easy

President Obama wants community colleges to train 2 million “21st-century workers” for skilled technical jobs in the next three years — but most community college students don’t have the math and reading skills these jobs require.

California’s high-minority community colleges have low transfer rates. Graduates of low-performing high schools who enroll in community college have little chance of completing a bachelor’s degree.

Cash incentives boost AP pass rate

More students take Advanced Placement classes and pass the exam when teachers and students are offered cash incentives, reports the New York Times.

At South High Community School, a mostly low-income school in Worcester, Massachusetts, eight times as many students take Joe Nystrom’s AP Statistics classes. The pass rate has climbed from 50 percent to 70 percent.

South High students said Mr. Nystrom and his colleagues had transformed the culture of a tough urban school, making it cool for boys with low-slung jeans who idolize rappers like Lil Wayne to take the hardest classes.

They were helped by the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit network that provided laboratory equipment and special training for teachers and organized afternoon tutoring and Saturday sessions. It also paid $100 each to students who scored a 3 or above on the A.P. exam — and to their teachers, who can also earn additional rewards. Because 43 of his students passed the exam this year, far above his target, Mr. Nystrom will add a $7,300 check to his $72,000 salary.

Kristopher Santana, son of a customer service rep, earned a perfect 5 on the AP Statistics exam after atttending 18 hours of Saturday classes organized by the initiative, and Nystrom’s twice-weekly, after-school tutoring sessions. The $100 was “a great extra,” he says.

This year, 308 schools in six states are participating in the program.

 Brian Leonard, who teaches AP calculus and statistics at Lake Hamilton High School in Arkansas, earned a$12,500 bonus for 65 students who passed exams. Three years ago, the high school had only nine AP math students, all the children of educated professionals.  Now students from a range of backgrounds are taking AP math — and passing the exam.

‘Stuck schools’ stay stuck

Most high-performing schools are leaving low-income and minority students behind, concludes Stuck Schools Revisited: Beneath the Averages, a new Education Trust report that analyzes data from Maryland and Indiana.

In Maryland, the achievement gap in reading narrowed from 2005 to 2009, but African-American and Latino students often lag behind.

“In Indiana, gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers have remained both wide and stagnant,” Ed Trust reports. 

Advanced mis-Placement

“What the hell am I doing in AP?” asked Veronica, a  Haitian immigrant who’d earned a D in the regular 11th-grade English class.

To boost the number of minority students in AP, Boston’s English High assigned unwilling and unprepared students to AP classes based on their “potential,” not their demonstrated abilities, writes Junia Yearwood, a retired English teacher, in the Boston Globe.

Veronica and many of her classmates asked for transfers to easier classes. They were denied.

Consequently, I was forced to continue teaching my 12th grade AP students material they should have learned long before: the eight parts of speech, basic sentence structure, and the correct conjugation of regular and irregular verbs. When Maureen’s essay on an AP sample test included ’’have tooken’’ for ’’have taken,’’ and when Grace interrupted my explanation of a periodic sentence with the question, ’’What is a clause?’’ and when all the other students admitted they were just as puzzled as Grace, my crash course in English grammar became necessary and urgent.

“Underperforming” English High could boast that its AP enrollment was second only to the city’s exam schools.  But many of her AP English students ended up in remedial reading and writing classes in college.