Virginia’s goals: Is ‘achievable’ OK?

Virginia’s “together and unequal” expectations for low-income, minority and disabled students received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, complained Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member. He suggested more ambitious targets to narrow the achievement gap in Eduwonk.

The controversy “shows reformers’ fealty to ideology over implementation,” responds Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. If NCLB’s “objectives, carrots, and sticks are to actually motivate educators, and not just demoralize them, they must been seen as achievable.” b

To be sure, even Virginia officials have agreed that the goals put into their ESEA application weren’t ambitious enough; they will come back later this month with more challenging targets for their poor and minority students. That’s fair; groups that are further behind should be expected to make greater progress over time.

On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle argues for common targets for all students: Virginia set low expectations for black, Latino and poor students because it’s reluctant to push “the strong reforms needed” to improve achievement, he writes.

NCLB waivers let states set goals by race

Virginia will revise its new goals for student achievement, but will continue to set “different achievement goals for students according to race, family income and disability,” reports the Washington Post.  That’s OK with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration has allowed states to set different goals for different groups of students, as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.

The District and 27 of the 33 states that have received waivers from the Obama administration under No Child Left Behind have also set new goals that call for different levels of achievement for different groups of students.

In Maryland, for example, state officials say they want Asian students to progress from 94.5 percent proficient in math in 2011 to 97 percent by 2017. During the same period, the state wants black students to improve from 68 percent to 84 percent. The black students are expected to reach a lower endpoint but they would have to improve at a faster rate.

Virginia’s goals qualified the state for a NCLB waiver. While 89 percent of Asian students and 78 percent of whites are expected pass state math tests in 2017, only 65 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks and 49 percent of special-education students are expected to pass.

Virginia schools: ‘together and unequal’

“Together and unequal” is the new motto for Virginia schools, writes Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member, in the Washington Post. With No Child Left Behind’s rewrite in limbo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan allowed states to set new performance targets. Virginia “took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.”

President George W. Bush famously talked of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in education, meaning the subtle ways educators and policymakers shortchange some students by expecting less of them.

Virginia’s new policy is anything but subtle. For example, under the new rules, schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students. The goals for special-education students are even lower, at 49 percent. Worse, those targets are for 2017. The intermediate targets are even less ambitious — 36 percent for special-education students this year, for instance. Goals for reading will be set later.

Instead of setting lower targets for minority and poor students, Virginia could “provide substantially more support to these students and their schools,” writes Rotherham, a partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education and an education columnist for Time.

The expectations aren’t high for any students (except maybe Asians), Rotherham adds on Eduwonk.

Virginia doesn’t give parents much choice if they’re not satisfied with the neighborhood school, he notes.

There are fewer than a handful of charter schools in the Commonwealth and Virgina’s charter school law consistently is ranked among the nation’s worst by policy organizations, public school choice is vociferously resisted, and county borders are treated like international lines when it comes to almost any hint of letting students cross them for better schooling options. I’m not a big supporter of private school choice but if the best Virginia can do is say to citizens and parents that its public schools will have 59 percent of poor students and 57 percent of black students passing state tests five years from now then what exactly is the argument for not allowing their parents to seek out better options?

The Obama administration signed off on Virginia NCLB waiver, Rotherham writes. Are they OK with this?

No Child Left Behind waived away

Wisconsin and Washington received No Child Left Behind waivers today. That means Education Secretary Arne Duncan has waived federal education law for 26 states, reports the New York Times.

In just five months, the Obama administration has freed schools in more than half the nation from central provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, raising the question of whether the decade-old federal program has been essentially nullified.

To qualify for waivers, states must adopt policies favored by the Education Department, such as evaluating teachers and schools on student achievement and other factors.

Virginia was the first state approved for a waiver that refused to adopt Common Core Standards.

Online testing is coming — with glitches

Online testing promises to help teachers hone instruction by providing instant feedback on what students are learning and what they’re missing, notes the Hechinger Report. Online tests also should make it easier to spot patterns that suggest cheating. With backing from the Obama administration and new tests under development, a majority of students could be taking standardized math and English tests online in three years.

Delaware already has moved all state testing online.

 On a recent afternoon at Townsend Elementary School here, a little boy squinted at a computer screen and gripped his mouse. He was stuck. Half of the screen contained an article about rainforests. The other half was filled with questions, some multiple-choice, some not.

One question asked the boy to pick two animals that belonged in the rainforest from a list of pictures and written descriptions. Then he was supposed to drag the animals across the screen onto the rainforest background. Next, he had to move two correct descriptions of rainforest characteristics into boxes.

Test developers hope the next generation of online tests will be more challenging and stimulating.

In these new exams, a student might be asked to use a mouse to move the sides of a shape on screen into an isosceles triangle, highlight the main idea of a passage, or write an essay about two articles supplemented by their own online research.

But Delaware’s current test, which students take three or four times a year, doesn’t break down students’ scores on specific skills. Townsend Elementary also is testing students three times a year on a more sophisticated test that gives teachers feedback on where students are struggling. That means students spend more time taking tests.

Some early adopters are struggling with technical problems.

Wyoming abandoned online testing, after adopting it in 2010, and is back to pencil and paper. The technical problems were overwhelming. Every school was routed through a single, private network, which “collapsed under the weight of more than 80,000 public school students.” In addition, some schools didn’t have enough working computers.

On the other hand, Virginia, which invested $650 million in new technology, has rolled out online testing without major problems.

Mechatronics: It’s not your dad’s shop class

Virginia high school students will begin learning “mechatronics” to prepare for engineering tech classes in community college, well-paid jobs in high-tech manufacturing and possible transfer to Virginia Tech for a four-year engineering degree.

Students hit hard by textbook costs

While community colleges have kept tuition under control, students have been hit hard by rising textbook costs. Increasingly, students say they’re trying to get by without buying all the assigned books.

Virginia’s community college system will help India develop job training centers.

Public schools go online

States and districts are launching online public schools, reports the Wall Street Journal in My Teacher Is an App.

In just the past few months, Virginia has authorized 13 new online schools. Florida began requiring all public-high-school students to take at least one class online, partly to prepare them for college cybercourses. Idaho soon will require two. In Georgia, a new app lets high-school students take full course loads on their iPhones and BlackBerrys. Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools, up 40 percent in the last three years, and more than two million take at least one class online.

Achievement appears to be lower for virtual students, though it’s possible apples are being compared to oranges.

Districts hope to save money by outsourcing classes to online providers, reports the Journal.

In Georgia, state and local taxpayers spend $7,650 a year to educate the average student in a traditional public school. They spend nearly 60% less—$3,200 a year—to educate a student in the statewide online Georgia Cyber Academy, saving state and local tax dollars. Florida saves $1,500 a year on every student enrolled online full time.

If your teacher is an app, you’d better have an educated, at-home parent, who can answer questions immediately.  Not every student has that.

 

No more ‘overmathing’ in Virginia

Virginia community colleges have redesigned remedial education to speed students’ paths to college-level classes.  One big change: Students who aren’t planning to major in science, technology and engineering fields will need less math. “We are overmathing our liberal arts students,” says a professor who helped design the new module-based programh.

New center will study college-jobs link

A new research center will study the college-jobs link, including analyzing the effectiveness of college-based job retraining and the payoffs for short-term occupational degrees and certificates.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Virginia community colleges are redesigning the remedial math curriculum to move students quickly to college-level classes.