Accountability helps — at low-rated schools

Accountability pressures improved outcomes for students who attended low-performing Texas high schools in the ’90s, concludes a new study, School Accountability, Postsecondary Attainment and Earnings.

Schools at risk of receiving a low rating increased the math scores for all students, notes Education Gadfly.

Students at these schools were later likelier to accumulate more math credits and graduate from high school. On top of that, they were more liable to attend college and earn more at age 25. In particular, students who had previously failed an eighth-grade exam ended up around 14 percent more likely to attend college and 12 percent more likely to get a degree.

Accountability policies had no impact at schools that weren’t in danger of a low rating.

At schools with a shot at a relatively high rating, “recognized,” more low-scoring students were placed in special education, “perhaps in order to take them out of the accountability pool,” reports Gadfly. Low-scoring students in these schools had “large declines in attainment and earnings,” the study found.

Texas colleges ‘stack’ energy credentials

Texas community colleges are creating ”stackable credentials” for oilfield workers. Students can earn an entry-level certificate quickly, qualify for a job and return to college for more training later as needed. Each credential “stacks” on the one before. Many associate-degree holders earn $50,000 to $70,000 right out of college in “brown” energy jobs.

Is it time to give football the boot?

American high schools care more about sports than academics, charges Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic.

football

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

Without football, Premont focused on academics. There were fewer fights. Eighty percent of the students passed their classes in the first sports-free semester, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.

Now out of debt, Premont brought back baseball, track, and tennis.

Competitive sports dominate childhood for higher-class families, writes Hilary Levey Friedman.

Tech college funding tied to earnings

Texas technical colleges, which specialize in job training, will be funded based on graduates’ earnings rather than enrollment, starting Sept. 1. The “value-added accountability funding formula” analyzes the difference between graduates’ income five years after graduating and the minimum wage.

Technical certificates, degrees pay off in Texas

Texans who earn a technical certificate or associate degree often earn more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce, concludes a new study. Some workers with certificates in health-care fields start at more than $70,000 – $30,000 more than the median for graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

More cops in schools, more kids in court

When police patrol school campuses, misbehavior is criminalized,reports the New York Times. Students who might have been sent to the principal’s office for “scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers” end up in court.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

. . . “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

In Texas, school-based police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. Students face fines, community service and, in some cases, a criminal record. Her group and the NAACP have filed a federal civil rights complaint charging one Texas district issues four times more citations to blacks than whites.

In the wake of Newtown, many districts are hiring police officers to guard schools. But once they’re on campus, cops usually end up enforcing discipline.

We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.

Texas may cut tests, graduation reqs

Texas leads the nation in test-based accountability for public schools, but now legislators may ease rigorous graduation requirements, reports the New York Times. Currently, high school students must take four years of English, math, social studies and science, unless their parents sign an opt-out form, and pass 15 end-of-course exams. A bill that’s already passed the Texas House would let students earn a diploma by passing five exams and taking only three years of math and science.

Not all students want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, argue the bill’s proponents.

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.”

Critics say low-income and minority students will be tracked into lower-level classes.

“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children.

Texas’ graduation requirements are the toughest in the nation, especially when it comes to exit exams. Since the requirements went into effect in 2007, the graduation rate has risen from 63 percent to 72 percent. More low-income students are taking at least one Advanced Placement exam.

Lowering expectations means a “return to mediocrity” in Texas, argues Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

The bill establishes a “foundation diploma” with 13 required courses and cuts exit exams in “almost all the tougher courses,” Finn writes. Standards will vary widely: Without state end-of-course exams, schools and districts will be apt to “put rigorous-sounding labels on easy courses.”

. . .  since district superintendents will be tempted to offer only the courses that the state mandates, lots of young Texans—most of them likely poor or minority—will be left with no access to classes that would do the most to propel them to success in higher education and beyond.

Texans are debating whether every high school student needs to pass “advanced algebra” to earn a diploma, Finn writes.

. . . the nationwide “college for everybody” push has gone too far, particularly if what’s meant is a classic four-year liberal-arts degree. But in today’s economy, even young people headed for industry need plenty of serious math. It’s irresponsible not to give all of them such career options—and irresponsible also to suppose that sixteen-year-olds are in the best position to make lifetime decisions that they may later regret.

I understand the risks of letting students choose an easier path to a diploma. But I think many students need a choice between real college prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a bachelor’s degree) and real career prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a vocational certificate or associate degree).

Teacher’s got a gun

Arming educators is a reality in some places and under serious consideration in others, reports Education Week.

 In Utah, school employees have been able to carry concealed weapons onto campus for about a decade—without telling a soul—and at least four Texas school districts are known to have granted select employees permission to take concealed weapons to school.

A rural Texas district, Southland is 15 miles from the nearest law-enforcement agencies, says Superintendent Toby Miller. Deciding “we are the first responders,”  Southland is training some of its employees to carry guns.

The armed employees, a small subset of the district’s 32-member staff, went through mental-health screenings and trained for their concealed-weapons licenses together. The training will be ongoing, he said, as long as Southland employees carry weapons. And the guns fire so-called frangible ammunition, which breaks into small pieces on contact, preventing ricochet.

Armed staffers must carry their weapon at all times in a concealed holster: Guns cannot be carried in a purse or locked in a desk.

Michael S. Dorn, who runs the nonprofit Safe Havens International, worries about a new attitude among school employees since the Newtown shootings: “Now, I’m supposed to die” to defend students.

Dorn, a former school police chief, thinks too many teachers and administrators have switched to attack mode. “We’re seeing so many [school employees] saying they would attack” someone, he said, “whether it’s two parents coming into the office arguing over a custody issue or people pulling a handgun but not actually shooting anybody.”

A few weeks ago, a school principal told me she’s been thinking about whether she’d give her life to protect her students from a gunman as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary did. Another woman said. “I’d want a gun.”

Other schools are taking a different tack: Marietta, Georgia public schools are installing “panic buttons” that call 911.  At an Alabama school, teachers and staff wear panic buttons around their necks that trigger a school lockdown.

Obama’s universal pre-k isn’t universal

President Obama’s pledged “to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America” in the State of the Union speech. His “early learning” plan doesn’t do that, which is a good thing. Obama is focusing on disadvantaged children who may not be learning enough at home to be ready for school.

In short, universal pre-k isn’t universal, writes Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic. Sharing costs with the states, the president would try to improve preschool quality and expand access for four-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. (That tops out at $46,100 for a family of four.) He’d also expand Early Head Start for low-income children from birth through age 3.

Forty-two percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in taxpayer-funded, center-based preschool.

Obama also proposes expanding home visits to high-risk families — young, single mothers — by nurses and social workers. Visits by public health nurses appear to lower the risk of child abuse and neglect — and increase the use of birth control.

Early education helps disadvantaged children — for awhile, writes Emily Richmond, noting the president’s call for states to add full-day kindergarten. She researched that issue in 2007.

The greatest benefits to full-day kindergarten seemed to be for minority children and those growing up in poverty, who were more likely to otherwise arrive unprepared for first grade. But the gains trickled off unless those full-day kindergarten students continued to receive the tailored instructional programs and services they needed as they advanced into the higher grades.

Here’s how I summed the data at the time: “Full-day kindergarten may be a springboard to academic success, but it’s apparently of little use if students are diving into an empty pool.”

Except for a few boutique programs, preschool gains don’t last.  By third grade, Head Start graduates do no better  in school or in social and emotional skills than similar kids who weren’t in the program, according to a federal study that was not released for four years.

Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst asks if we can be “hard-headed” about funding preschool.

Head Start spends about twice as much per child per year as states ($8K per child per year for Head Start vs. $4K for state pre-K). And Head Start includes many program components that are advocated by early childhood experts such as health, nutrition, and parental involvement that are much less prevalent in state pre-K. If a year of Head Start does not improve achievement in elementary school, should we assume that a year of state pre-K does?

Universal pre-k in Georgia produced very slight gains (for the neediest children) at high cost, Whitehurst writes. A Texas pre-k program produced slightly better gains for low-income children.

5% of public schools are charters

Twenty years after the first charter school opened, there are 6,00 public charters educating more than 2.3 million students this year, reports the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Charters now comprise more than five percent of public schools in the country.

California added 81 schools this year, Florida added 67 and Texas added 41.

Since 2007-08, the public charter sector has added 1,700 schools – almost a 50 percent increase – and is serving an additional one million students – an increase of 80 percent.