Who destroyed Detroit?

Who destroyed Detroit? asks Deborah Meier, calling it a “bombed-out shell of a city.”

“It was first and foremost the fault of some quite well-educated, high test-scorers in the management of the auto industry and in high places in Washington D.C.,” she concludes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Don’t blame “corporate reform,” responds Robert Pondiscio.

There is an idea at loose in overheated corners of the edusphere, which I pray you do not share, which sees a manufactured “shock doctrine” conspiracy to drive American education onto the rocks in order to seize control and make a buck.  It’s a lovely, comforting illusion, isn’t it?  We are capable, wise, and all would be well if the malefactors of great wealth were not aligned against us.  That is far easier to accept than our own shortcomings, low expectations, failed notions about schooling, and stubborn refusal to adapt.  Perhaps we were as complacent about our schools as Detroit’s auto execs were about their factories.

Test scores are “not a definitive measure of ‘intellectual prowess’,” writes Meier. Pondiscio agrees, but asks “what of it?”

Testing did not destroy schooling. It revealed the rot and complacency within too many schools, especially those serving our poorest children, like Detroit’s.

We adapt, we grow, or else we stagnate and decay. The factories that employed generations in Detroit stand empty.  One hundred years ago, they didn’t stand at all. A generation hence, maybe two, something else will stand in their place.  But not if we pretend nothing’s wrong, Deb.  Not if we choose not to run the race.

Pittsburgh was the Detroit of the late ’70s when the steel industry collapsed, writes Pondiscio.  “Today it’s a lovely and livable city, with a diversified economy built on education, technology, and finance.” Pittsburgh adapted.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Steel City blues

Pittsburgh recruited teachers who promised to stay for five years in exchange for training leading to a master’s degree.  Weeks before the start of school, the residency program was cancelled, writes Ed Sector’s Susan Headden in Steel City Blues.  Pittsburgh was laying off experienced teachers and couldn’t justify bringing in new teachers.

Money isn’t everything

Money isn’t everything. Five years ago, donors offered to pay college tuition for all graduates of public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Students can use the offer at any public college or university in the state. While 81 percent of graduates receive a scholarship, only 54 percent have earned a degree or remain on track to graduate, according to the Hechinger Report.

College-funding programs exist in 15 to 20 cities, including Denver, Pittsburgh, New Haven, Connecticut and Hammond, Indiana.

In Pittsburgh’s program, the percentage of scholarship recipients who return to their public four-year colleges after freshman year trails the state average by nearly three points, said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, which launched in 2007 with a $100 million commitment by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The picture for community college students on Pittsburgh Promise scholarships is brighter: 70.3 percent return for their second year, about 10 points above the national average. Graduation data are not yet available because the program is so new.

In Denver, half of the 199 students in the first class eligible for that city’s promise-style program came back for their fourth year of college, said Rana Tarkenton, director of student services at the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Most promise-style scholarships reward residency in a school district, city or state, rather than academic merit, though some set minimum grade-point averages or college-entrance exam scores. The effect is to encourage less-prepared students to try college.

To keep their scholarships, Kalamazoo Promise students must be enrolled full time in a two-year or four-year college and maintain a C average. The program’s graduation rates are lowest at two-year colleges, as they are in the rest of the U.S: only a third of the Class of 2006 who attended community college had graduated by the fall of 2010, program statistics show. The following year’s class didn’t do much better. Nationally, just 11.6 percent of students at public two-year colleges complete degrees within six years.

Many students aren’t prepared for the academic or social challenges of higher education, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

“It’s especially hard for students who come from poor areas and don’t have support networks,” said Jones, one of the founders of Twenty-First Century Scholars, a promise-style program founded in Indiana in the 1990s. “Just giving them the opportunity to go to college isn’t enough. They need support once they get there – mentoring, ways for students to connect.”

Students who are the first in their family to attend college have to learn how to navigate the system, said University of Michigan freshman Adwoa Bobo, a pre-med student on a Promise scholarship. While her tuition is covered, she has to pay for room, board, books and other expenses.

“The hardest adjustment for me is being able to manage my time, and being able to study effectively,” Bobo said. “In high school, I was able to pass through without studying too much. In college, you cannot get good grades without taking notes and studying every night for each class and reading your books thoroughly. You must work hard. I’ve been told that college was harder than high school, but you never know what they mean until you’re here.”

Students who live at home while attending community college or a four-year commuter school can earn a degree at a very low cost in dollars, but those who aren’t willing to invest their time and energy aren’t going to get very far.