‘Proficiency’ means little in some states

States define “proficiency” very differently, write Paul Peterson and Peter Kaplan in Education Next.

Massachusetts, Tennessee and Missouri have the highest expectations, while Alabama and Georgia expect the least of their students. Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Illinois and Virginia also set a low bar.

Standards still declined in rigor in 26 states and D.C. between 2009 and 2011, while 24 states increased rigor, the study found.

The study grades the states for setting high standards, not on whether students meet those standards.

Having been graded an F in every previous report, (Tennessee) made the astounding jump to a straight A in 2011. . .  state tests were made much more challenging and the percentage of students identified as proficient dropped from 90 percent or more to around 50 percent, a candid admission of the challenges the Tennessee schools faced.

West Virginia, New York, Nebraska, and Delaware also strengthened proficiency standards, while New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Georgia lowered the bar.

Uneven at the Start, a new Education Trust report, looks at academic performance to predict how different states will meet the challenge of Common Core standards.

New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts show strong performance and improvement for all students — and for disadvantaged students, reports Ed Trust.  Performance is weak in West Virginia and Oregon. Ohio and Wisconsin do well for students overall, but poorly for “or or more of their undeserved groups.”

Education Trust also has updated its EdWatch reports, which analyze  college and career readiness and high school and college graduation rates for all groups of students in each state.  The state academic performance and improvement tool shows how each state compares with the national average and with other states.

Preschool for all — or for the poor?

President Obama wants to spend $75 billion over 10 years on Preschool for All, partnering with states to provide “high-quality” preschool to 4-year-olds from families under 200 percent of the poverty level.

“The path to college begins in preschool,” writes Lisa Hansel on the Core Knowledge Blog. Closing achievement gaps in elementary or middle school is very, very difficult, she writes, citing Chrys Dougherty in ACT’s College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning.

“Large numbers of disadvantaged students enter kindergarten behind in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge,” writes Dougherty.

One study found that kindergarteners’ general knowledge of the world was a better predictor of those students’ eighth-grade reading ability than were early reading skills. This is consistent with research showing that reading comprehension, particularly in the upper grades, depends heavily on students’ vocabulary and background knowledge….

What makes a program high quality? It’s not cheap. Successful preschool programs in Boston and New Jersey hire well-educated teachers and pay them well, reports the Christian Science Monitor.  In addition:

They are full-day programs open to all students of a certain age group, regardless of family income.
They offer curricula linked to system-wide educational standards.
School districts monitor preschool teacher and student improvement on an ongoing basis.

In Boston, preschoolers made significantly greater gains in vocabulary, math and “executive function,” which includes working memory and paying attention to a task. The gains could be seen in third-grade test scores.

New Jersey offers high-quality pre-K in 31 low-income districts. The gains “are still visible in language, math, and science scores in fourth and fifth grades,” reports the Monitor.

“Everyone should applaud programs that are generating big gains for children who desperately need to be ready for school,” said Grover Whitehurst, director of Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. However, we don’t know what factors lead to success, he says. The federal government should not require preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, for example.

High-quality preschool costs $8,000 a year per child, estimates the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers. The group suppors universal preschool rather than targeting help to disadvantaged students.  

In essence, taxpayers would fund pre-K through 12th grade for all students. (And the most effective programs work better if kids have two years of preschool.) Children who aren’t learning vocabulary, general knowledge or self-control at home can benefit from preschool. Most kids don’t need it.

To understand vets, educators try boot camp

To understand student veterans, run a mile in their boots. New Jersey community college officials and high school teachers, counselors and principals volunteered for a week of Marine training.

New Jersey union fights blended learning

New Jersey’s biggest teachers’ union is suing to shut down charter schools that use “blended learning,” a mix of online and group learning, according to the Hechinger Report.

Merit Prep opened this fall in Newark with 80 sixth-grade students, “mostly black, poor and below grade level,” and plans to add one grade level each year. Students spend part of the day working on laptops. They’re able to move forward at their own pace.

The online curriculum feeds each student’s answers into a data center operated by Touchstone Education, the non-profit school management group that runs Merit Prep. The data center then spits out reports that (math teacher Ben) Conant can use to monitor his students’ progress, figure out what one-on-one coaching each student needs and adjust what he will teach when he pulls a few kids aside into glass-enclosed seminar rooms for small-group instruction.

However, the New Jersey Education Association has gone to court to shut down Merit Prep and another charter school that uses blending learning, reports Hechinger. “The union’s lawsuit argues that charter schools can’t emphasize online instruction until the New Jersey state legislature evaluates and approves it.”

“Should we be experimenting with students during their academic experience?” asks Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. “They only get one trip through the public schools.”

After all, non-blended learning is a proven success in Newark. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

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.

CREDO: New Jersey charters do well

Children in New Jersey charter schools gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to students in traditional public schools,” according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

Using a “virtual control record” methodology, CREDO compared students in third through eighth grade with similar students in traditional public schools from 2007 to 2011. It found 30 percent of New Jersey charters outperformed regular public schools in reading, while 11 percent of charter did worse. In math, 40 percent of charters did significantly better than traditional schools, while 13 percent fared worse.

Special ed students do about the same in charters as in traditional public schools, the study found.  English Language Learners in charter schools — a small group — have similar gains in reading and significantly better results in math.

Compared to neighboring schools, New Jersey charter schools enroll nearly twice as many blacks, half as many whites and Asians and somewhat fewer Latinos. The poverty numbers are almost identical.

Urban charters did very well, suburban charters did somewhat better and rural charters did worse. Newark’s charter students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.

Newark’s school district is trying to improve, pushed by its high-performing charter schools, writes Andy Smarick. But if the reforms don’t work, “chartering can replace the district,” he argues.

 

NYC denies tenure to 45% of eligible teachers

After three years in the classroom, New York City teachers are considered for tenure. Five years ago, 97 percent got it. This year, only 55 percent of eligible teachers earned tenure.

Only 3 percent of probationary teachers were fired. Forty-two percent were kept on probation for another year. “Of those whose probations were extended last year, fewer than half won tenure this year, a third were given yet another year to prove themselves, and 16 percent were denied tenure or resigned,” reports the New York Times.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has vowed to end “tenure as we know it,” notes the Times. He’s not the only one. Some 18 states have weakened teacher tenure rights and/or made tenure harder to get.

Idaho last year did away with tenure entirely by passing a law giving newly hired teachers no expectation of a contract renewal from one year to the next. In Florida, all newly hired teachers now must earn an annual contract, with renewals based upon their performance.

Last month in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation overhauling the nation’s oldest tenure law and making it easier for teachers to be fired for poor performance.

Tenure was virtually automatic in most state until a few years ago, said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Tenure was looked at as much more of a sacred cow,” she told the Times. “Once states started to move on it, then the dominoes started to fall in other states.”

Money for nothing

New Jersey courts ordered the state to spend a “huge amount of money” on failing urban school districts, writes Myron Magnet in a City Journal article on power-hungry judges. The “Abbott” money hasn’t equalized results.

The 31 Abbott districts received more money than the rich districts, because inner-city kids have greater needs. The court funded all-day kindergarten, half-day preschools for three- and four-year-olds and transition programs to work or college, plus money to build or update school buildings.

What are New Jersey taxpayers accomplishing with the $22,000 to $27,000 they spend per pupil each year in the big inner-city districts? On test scores and graduation rates in Newark, the needle has scarcely flickered.

As the E3 education-reform group’s report Money for Nothing notes, high schools in the state’s biggest city can’t produce substantial numbers of juniors and seniors who can pass tests of eighth-grade knowledge and skills, and the report quotes testimony to the same effect before the state legislature about Camden’s schools.

Urban high schools hire security guards — 20 for one Trenton school — rather than creating a school culture that encourages students to want to learn, Magnet writes.

(Inner-city students)  need teachers rewarded for merit, not longevity, and a curriculum that stresses skills, knowledge, and striving, not grievance and unearned self-esteem. They need a school culture that expands their sense of opportunity and possibility strongly enough to counteract the culture of militant ignorance and failure that surrounds them in the narrow world they know.

Without that, money doesn’t make much difference.

 

Be ‘nice’ — or else

At Back to School Night, the principal talked for 20 minutes about draconian new anti-bullying rules, writes Laura on 11D.

If a student is caught picking on another student, because of some perceived physical, sexual, ethnic, or neurological difference, the bully will have a permanent mark on his record. Schools are legally required to monitor this behavior, which can happen outside of school grounds or even on the Internet. 

Jonah attended school presentations on the topic. His school is particularly sensitive about bullying, because the Rutgers boy who killed himself after being mocked for being gay, had attended Jonah’s middle school.

At Ian’s school, the principal of his special needs school was also alarmed. She viewed this law, which was clearly designed to help kids with neurological differences, as a potential landmine for our kids. Kids with neurological differences have no social filter and think nothing of going up to people to inform that they are overweight. Could their innocent social blunders be construed as acts of bullying?

Laura wonders if the law will be effective.

Won’t smart, mean kids inflict pain in very subtle ways that wouldn’t be picked up by this law? The silent treatment is a very effective method of bullying.

The principals at both schools saw the law as a “bureaucratic nightmare,” Laura writes.

I don’t think anti-bullying campaigns should stress the motivation for bullying. It doesn’t matter if the victim is singled out because he’s different or because he’s convenient.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will speak today at the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit in Washington, D.C., which will run through tomorrow. 

Anti-bullying law stresses NJ schools

A new anti-bullying law requires New Jersey schools to police campuses and online communications to protect students, reports the New York Times. But superintendents and school boards complain they’re being asked to do more with the same resources.

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights “demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes,” reports the Times.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

School officials also worry about lawsuits.

Most bullying complaints involve Internet comments that lead to campus confrontations, says Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High. “It’s gossip, innuendo, rumors — and people getting mad about it.”

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan worries that students and their parents “will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.”

The law was motivated by the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose gay sexual encounter was secretly filmed and aired online by his college roommate.