Better high schools for low achievers

“New York City’s lowest-achieving students are, on average, attending higher quality high schools than in years past, and graduating in higher numbers, concludes  High School Choice in New York City, a new report by the Research Alliance for NYC Schools. But it’s not clear whether the city’s policy of universal high school choice is responsible.

A stupid way to pick ‘gifted’ students

Our system for identifying “gifted” students isn’t very smart, writes Andrew Rotherham in The Illusion of the ‘Gifted’ Child in Time.

New Yorkers were outraged to learn that “behemoth education company Pearson had bungled the scoring of standardized tests used for admissions to gifted education programs,” he writes. “Scoring errors would have denied admission to 2,700 students who qualified.”

But the incident also highlighted the arbitrary nature of how we decide which students are so superior academically that they are essentially funneled into an elite group of schools with a specialized, advanced curriculum.

New York City uses a test to determine who’s gifted. Some programs require a score at the 90th percentile; others require the 97th percentile.

. . . does anyone seriously think that a student at the 96th percentile (or the 89th for that matter) might not benefit from gifted education programs, as well? Of course not. It’s the scarcity of seats, rather than any rigorous definition of merit that is driving these distinctions.

Affluent, educated parents hire tutors and test prep services to help their kids qualify as gifted.

Rotherham offers three proposals:

1. Increase the options. In New York City and elsewhere, gifted programs often function as a school-choice strategy for making public schools more attractive. But demand clearly overwhelms supply. . .  .

2. Level the playing field. Providing extra support for students from diverse backgrounds is essential. . . .

3. Just make our schools better. Efforts to improve the quality of curriculum and instruction are good for everyone. So is expanding access to pre-K education. It’s no secret that too many American students aren’t challenged in school. While programs for truly exceptional students have a place, all kids would benefit from more enriching and rigorous educational experiences and more would be seen as “gifted” with a better educational experience at their back.

Numbers 1 and 3 seem like no-brainers. But expanding the definition of  ”gifted” has limits.  Many non-genius kids would do well in enriched, challenging classes. But once the reasonably smart kids are in with the exceptionally smart kids, what do you do with the average, slow and very slow students? What happens to unmotivated, poorly behaved students?

“Gifted” hadn’t been invented when I was in high school, but we had five tracks in English, three in most other subjects. I loved Level 1.

Study: Vouchers raise college-going for blacks

Black students who used vouchers to attend New York City private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college compared to similar students who lost the voucher lottery, write Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings fellow, and Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, in Education Next. But vouchers had little effect on Hispanics’ college-going rates.

In the 1990s, philanthropists created the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF), which offered three-year vouchers worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children entering first through fifth grade. With the average Catholic school tuition at $1,728, parents had to pay some of their children’s school costs.

After three years, black students who won the voucher lottery had significantly higher test scores than the control group. The long-term study finds a large effect on college enrollment, but only for blacks.

The vouchers’ impact on college enrollment was larger than the effects of small class sizes in Tennessee, for much less cost. It was much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher, Chingos and Peterson write.

They’re not sure why vouchers improved academic outcomes for blacks, but did little for Hispanics.

. . .  it appears that the African American students in the study had fewer educational opportunities in the absence of a voucher. . . . There is also some evidence that the public schools attended by Hispanic students were superior to those attended by African American students.

In addition, many Hispanic families chose private school for religious reasons, while most black families “had secular education objectives in mind.”

Unprepared in the Big Apple

New York City high schools are flooding community colleges with unprepared students. Eighty percent need remedial reading, writing or math — especially math — when they enroll, up from 71 percent a few years ago. “Faculty members have been transformed into de facto high school teachers,” complains the Village Voice.

The city’s community colleges are trying intensive math catch-up courses to improve abysmal success rates for remedial math students.

What does it take to read a book on a train?

Well, it takes a train, a reader, and a book… and then maybe some quiet and other conditions.

When I saw the GothamSchools link “Liza Featherstone: Everyone’s reading on the subways, but that culture is under threat,” I thought Featherstone’s piece (on AM New York) would be about the noise on subways. It wasn’t, so that will be the subject here. This may be somewhat New Yorkish in focus, but I imagine some of it applies to other places.

I used to treasure my reading time on subway rides (even if I was falling asleep, as I often am at the end of a hectic day). Now, I can only count on the morning rides for reading.

Almost every day, when I ride home from school, a bunch of youngsters get on with a boombox, announce “What time is it? Showtime!,” turn on the throbbing music, and start break dancing–doing flips, standing on their heads, wiggling their legs in the air, etc. They’re careful not to swing their feet into anyone’s forehead–so long as everyone is on guard and doesn’t lurch forward all of a sudden.

Some of these dancers have remarkable agility. You (or I) can’t help admiring their aerobic precision on crowded and rickety trains.

But what happens to reading on the train, if it’s always “showtime”? I feel like bursting into a train car, yelling, “What time is it? Book time!” and then just opening a book. That would never fly, though; the next noisy act would put an end to my gesture.

Some say that this is part of New York culture: that if no one were allowed to perform on trains, the city would lose much of its character and soul. There’s something to that. To be a New Yorker, according to many, is to stay unfazed while crazy stuff happens around you–and even enjoy it.

But reading is also part of New York culture, and even the staunchest New Yorkers can’t read well when there’s too much brouhaha. (When there’s break dancing, I see few readers. Most people look up or away.)

What does this have to do with education? you might ask. Well,the problem is not that we live in a noisy world (we do–but there’s no changing that). The real problem lies in the uncertainty about how to stand up to it. Many of us–including myself–let the noise have the upper hand, at least in certain contexts.

In the next piece (which I am scheduling for tomorrow) I will take a look at the uncertainty.

(Update: tomorrow’s post will be about something else. I had a few false starts with the uncertainty piece–too large a topic.)

 

Not the language of scientists

Today, the New York times quoted an expert — a psychologist. Either that, or they reached for some random person halfway across the country to offer a viewpoint they really liked. But it seems like they wanted to have comments by a scientist. Here’s what the psychologist had to say about the fact that New York City admits more boys than girls to its top elite schools (which admission is apparently only by exam):

“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

When a scientist says that something is “suspect”, what they are supposed to mean is that it might not be true.

“I discovered cold fusion,” I might say.

“That seems suspect,” the scientist might reply.

But Dr. Hyde (that was cheap — eds.) is not using the language of scientists. She’s saying that it’s morally suspect, and opining about what is good and bad for society. Which is fine, I suppose — people can opine about these issues, and people in one of my fields (Philosophy) make it part of their job. But if Dr. Hyde isn’t speaking as a scientist, then we’re really back to “some random person in Wisconsin thinks admitting students to a school based solely on an examination is a bad idea because they apparently think the tests don’t identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

In which case, why do I care?

The question of whether schools should be allowed to use a single examination for admissions is an interesting one. I don’t think that the answer is obvious, and I encourage a lively debate in the comments. But I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that these examinations yield male majorities in the students body doesn’t make them any more suspect as tools for identifying mathematical ability than nearly every college admission system in the country is made suspect as an indicator of academic excellence by the fact that they seem to admit more females. Different admissions systems measure different things — and as one of my former professors was fond of saying, “[evaluations] don’t measure what they want to measure, they measure what they measure.”

In any case, the question is certainly not going to be settled by the random musings of some person in Wisconsin who thinks that the tests are “suspect”.

(Of course, it’s not going to be settled by the random musings of an attorney-philosopher, either. But I’m neither trying to settle it nor being quoted for my expertise in the New York Times.)

Will this boy graduate high school?

subwayThe other day, on the subway in NYC, I saw this ad. It turns out there has been some commotion over it. (Approved and defended by Mayor Bloomberg, it is part of New York City’s recent campaign to raise awareness about teen pregnancy.)  I would like to add my own two or three objections to the mix.

First, this is an example of the “precision fallacy” in statistics. (That’s the best term I could find; there may be better.) Specifically, the ad confuses the individual’s probabilities with those of the group. It may be that “kids of teen moms are twice as likely not to graduate than [sic] kids whose moms were over age 22,” but this probability doesn’t hold for individuals.

Second, adults put words in this child’s mouth (and banal words at that). A baby or toddler would not say anything remotely close to this, unless someone had prepped him to do so.

That brings up a larger problem: from a young age, children are trained to describe themselves in statistical terms, at school and elsewhere. They learn to say, “My growth in such-and-such a skill is 30 percent,” or “I was one of the sixty percent who had the right answer.” In measure, in the right context, this may be fine–but when it’s the dominant lingo and mode of thought, it crowds out substance and meaning. (I wrote a satirical piece about this tendency.)

Beyond that, I did not bear this child as a teen, nor did 99.999999 percent of NYC subway riders, in all likelihood. (For all we know, this kid’s mom might have a chauffeur.) The “you” is not a real you, nor the “I” a real I. Yet here’s a tear-streaked face bringing sadness to a passenger’s day–and to what end?

What good does it do even for the target audience, teens who might get pregnant or father a child? If I were a teen looking at the picture, I’d want to wipe the little boy’s cheeks. I’d want to take out a book and read to him. Yet I wouldn’t be able to do so. I might dream of being a parent one day–and, if I were foolhardy enough, I’d want that day to come soon.

Worst of all, this ad gives the impression that the boy’s existence is a mistake and his fate sealed (or at least tipped in a direction). This is wrong. Once a child comes into the world, he or she is no mistake. Nor do we know what that child’s life will be.

Of course teen pregnancy is no light matter, no matter how it’s handled. I imagine many involved with the ad had good intentions. Still, it  fails to inform, enlighten, or persuade. And what a sad-looking kid.

Gifted and racially balanced education

School districts are looking for ways to end racial inequality in gifted education, writes Sarah Garland on the Hechinger Report.

As a second grader in 1975, she was bused from her middle-class neighborhood to inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. Her school was integrated. Her accelerated “Advance” class was mostly white and suburban; 11 percent of Advance students were black. “From second grade until my senior year in high school, my classes never had more than two black students at a time,” Garland writes.

More than two-thirds of black middle and high school students who did well on the Advance exam were denied admission by teachers and counselors who made the final determination, a 1990s lawsuit brought by black families showed. Only a third of whites were rejected.

Can gifted education be racially balanced?

Washington, D.C. public schools have reintroduced gifted education — in part to entice more middle-class whites into public schools, Garland writes. One gifted program is an affluent neighborhood. But another is at Kelly Miller, a middle school in a low-income black  neighborhood with a growing number of Hispanic immigrants.

Unlike traditional gifted programs, which usually require a test to get in, the D.C. programs are open to any student who wants to enroll. D.C. is aiming the program both at students who are book smart and those who may struggle on traditional measures of achievement but have other extraordinary talents that are harder to measure with a test.

The principal at Kelly Miller, Abdullah Zaki, explains that the idea is to expand the concept of giftedness. “If there’s a kid who is not reading at grade level but has the gift of gab and can argue you down in a heartbeat, they’re obviously interested in debate,” he says. “We can take their natural gift and talent and hone and polish it.”

Black parents haven’t rushed to enroll. Zaki now calls it an “honors” program, because parents don’t get “gifted and talented.”  Teachers are struggling to reach high achievers and low achievers in the same classroom.

Kelly Miller is also offering a more traditional version of gifted education, with a track of accelerated math and literacy courses for students who score well in those subjects.

D.C. officials will evaluate the ”schoolwide enrichment model” at the end of the year, Garland writes.

She’s the author of Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation

Here are the demographics of the class of ’17 at New York City’s super-elite Stuyvesant High, which uses an admissions test only:

—Stuyvesant offered admission to 9 black students; 24 Latino students; 177 white students; and 620 students who identify as Asian.

The other elite academic high schools also are majority Asian. Asian-American students make up 14 percent of the city’s public school enrollment.

CC remediation rate hits 80% in NYC

The remediation rate was nearly 80 percent for graduates of New York City public high schools who enrolled in community college last year.

California may shift control of adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges. 

 

Study: KIPP produces big gains

KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report  by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.

In 13 schools, students in the control group had applied to KIPP, but lost the charter lottery. If there was no lottery, the study used “matched” students of similar achievement and demographics in nearby schools.

For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.

KIPP students resembles other students in their neighborhoods, but with lower reading and math achievement than their elementary school classmates, the study found. Ninety-six percent are black or Hispanic and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, KIPP entrants are less likely to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency.  (Since many more KIPP students are black, it makes sense that fewer speak English as a second language.)

Critics charge KIPP “counsels out” low achievers to inflate scores, notes Education Week. To account for attrition, the study included all students who started KIPP, even if they left for another school.

For example, a student could leave KIPP for another school in 6th grade, but their performance at the new school is counted towards the academic achievement of KIPP students overall regardless. The report also found that KIPP schools have similar attrition rates as traditional district schools (37 percent over three years for both sets of students).

KIPP students spend much more time in school than traditional public school students: nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in KIPP, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days. In addition, KIPP students spend an extra 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night.

However, a longer school day didn’t raise test scores, possibly because the extra time was spent on non-academic activities, researchers found. KIPP schools that spent more time on core academic subjects and enforced a comprehensive discipline policy had the strongest results.

In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.

While KIPP students are more satisfied with their school, the study did not find an increase in “attitudes associated with success,” such as persistence and self-control. Students were more likely to admit to losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time. Researchers weren’t sure if they were more ornery or more honest about it. Students may have raised their standards about acceptable behavior, said Mathematica researcher Brian Gill.

In comparing higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools, researchers found “class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, adds Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

The latest CREDO study of charter school effectiveness found New York City charter students gain an extra five months in math — seven months in Harlem — and one month in reading, compared to similar students in traditional public schools. Charters enroll many more blacks. One in three Harlem kindergartners attends a charter school.