Articles from January, 2006

Education’s state in the union

President Bush said he will speak about his education plans in tonight’s State of the Union address. One education topic that is a strong contender to be included tonight is the country’s math and science quandary. The lack of certified science and math teachers is a growing problem for schools around the nation, particularly those in poor neighborhoods. Lawmakers in Washington are proposing to spend billions over the next several years to encourage more teachers to enter those subject fields, USA Today reports.

The lack of quality math teachers has become a crisis in Los Angeles public schools, especially after the school district approved new graduation requirements included algebra and geometry. The state of California followed in 2004 by requiring algebra statewide. But too many kids are failing those classes, the L.A. Times reports.

Maybe in a few decades, we will be hearing a State of the Union address from this guy.

Erin Walsh|January 31st, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

‘Swot did you say?

Pupils in an East London school have been banned from raising their hands to answer questions in class because their teachers fear it leads to feelings of victimization, reports the London Telegraph.

While they hogged the limelight, the most able pupils often did not volunteer answers for fear of being labelled as “swots,” which is British slang for students who study excessively.

“There are others who never put up their hands because they have decided that they do not do that bit of the lesson, so they stop listening,” Mr. Buck said. “If you don’t use hands up, the pupils don’t know who you are going to choose, and they all have to think about the question.”

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was the first time he had heard of such a policy.

“The habit will be hard to break, but when you listen to what the head [teacher] says, there may be method in what at first appears to be madness.”

We can only hope.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Battle royale brewing?

Has it really been that long? Yep. Six years since the voucher lobby last took a chance and put the issue of private school vouchers to a vote of the people. And the people of Michigan and California left little doubt as to what they thought of the concept.

After that twin debacle in 2000, voucher advocates focused their energies and dollars on politicians instead, working to elect pro-voucher candidates and convince state legislatures to enact programs. On that front they’ve had only middling success but at least they haven’t been skunked like they were when the voters weighed in.

Which brings us to Florida. When the state Supreme Court struck down Florida’s flagship voucher program earlier this month, we noted its potentially devastating blow to the national movement. Last week in Tallahassee some of the biggest names in the voucher movement got together as talk of a potential constitutional amendment to salvage vouchers continued to percolate. Will the issue actually reach voters’ November ballots? The Legislature convenes in early March.

If it does get that far, expect “accountability” to be a major issue. Florida’s voucher programs have been riddled with scandals. And lack of accountability factored prominently in the Supreme Court’s decision, which noted that private voucher schools, despite receiving taxpayer dollars, do not face the same basic requirements the state’s public schools do, such as public reporting of student achievement, teacher qualifications and academic standards. Some politicians and pundits recently have speculated the decision threatens lots of education programs, practically suggesting that the ruling means every classroom in Florida must have the same color paint on the walls. Seems to us the Court laid it out pretty clearly. On big issues like public accountability and academic performance of students, there’s a double standard between public schools and voucher schools.

At the Tallahassee event, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, said this: “If you don’t measure, you don’t care. In Florida, we care, so we measure the be-jesus out of everything.” Everything that is except private voucher schools.

Erin Walsh|January 30th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

There they go again

“Reprehensible.” “Race baiting.” “Fear mongering.” Just some of the words used by African-American leaders in Milwaukee this week to describe recent political ads run by the school voucher lobby against Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

The ads, intended to pressure Doyle into raising the enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s voucher program, compared him to George Wallace and Orval Faubus, two governors who tried to block school desegregation in the 1960s. Doyle has indicated he will support raising the enrollment cap but wants additional accountability measures for the private schools and increased investment in the public schools as well.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the pro-voucher commercials were paid for by a Wisconsin group named the “Coalition for America’s Families.” Nice enough name. The ads were created by a Milwaukee radio talk show host and the editor of a local newspaper. Paging the Poynter Institute. Maybe this list needs a bit wider distribution? The ad’s creators also apparently enlisted the help of high school students in the voucher program, the Journal Sentinel reports. We hope character assassination has not become part of civics class.

Check out MJS columnist Eugene Kane’s take on the story here.

“The news conference was intended to demonstrate that many black voters aren’t stupid enough to fall for an ad that exaggerates the school choice debate in such an unrealistic – and insulting – manner.

The Southern governors who stood in the door against black students were willing to do anything – no matter how extreme – to drive home their point of view.

Apparently, the school choice debate brings out that same kind of ugliness in some people.”

Yes it does. And has before. Just a few years ago, as Congress debated creating a federal voucher program for Washington, D.C., the voucher lobby ran similar smear ads comparing anti-voucher politicians to segregationist governors. And don’t forget this failed effort in South Carolina last year.

Perhaps after this week’s reaction by Milwaukeeans that page will now be stripped from the voucher movement playbook.

Erin Walsh|January 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|

Drinking at school events: A sobering tale

Keeping alcohol out of school events continues to be a big challenge for many schools. Powerful article here from Michigan about a judge who happens to be one tough opponent for students who get caught drinking at the prom. The story is about what happens when several of those students fail to take the judge seriously. Big mistake. Coverage in the Detroit Free Press includes reader comments. They offer a fascinating look at the culture of underage drinking today, with its many defenders. Worthy reading.

Erin Walsh|January 27th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security|

IDEA full funding: New life?

Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) reintroduced legislation Wednesday to meet the federal government’s commitment to fund 40 percent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Hagel-Harkin bill would fully fund IDEA in five years through mandatory annual phased-in spending increases, until federal funding reaches $26.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2011. The bill would free up local and state funds that had previously been used to meet IDEA requirements for other important education priorities. So as the federal IDEA share grows, local school districts will have increased flexibility for all their education programs. More details here.

Erin Walsh|January 26th, 2006|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Special Education|

Sign of the apocalypse, Vol. XXVI

Flash! On second thought, don’t. Please. A New Jersey male high school student will be allowed to wear a skirt to school after the American Civil Liberties Union intervened on his behalf. The ACLU of New Jersey announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with the Hasbrouck Heights School District allowing 17-year-old Michael Coviello, a high school senior, to wear the attire as a protest against the school’s no-shorts policy, AP reports. Insert your own joke here.

Erin Walsh|January 25th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Black history: Why not all year long?

Actor Morgan Freeman unwittingly started a discussion on the continuing relevance of black history month when he told “60 Minutes” in December: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? … Black history is American history.” Freeman gets some support here. And some dissent here. Either way, finding ways to integrate black history into traditional history curriculum throughout the entire year would seem to be a worthy goal. Read a transcript of Freeman’s comments on “60 Minutes” here. An audio version is available as an iTunes Podcast. What do you think?

Erin Walsh|January 25th, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Quality Counts chat today

If you have a few minutes at 3 p.m. Eastern Time today, you might want to tune into a live online discussion that will examine a decade of standards-based education. The discussion, hosted by Education Week, will explore key findings of its recent report Quality Counts. The report looks at student achievement trends over the past decade and the relationship between states’ implementation of standards-based reform policies and gains in student performance. You may post your questions before the discussion here.

Erin Walsh|January 25th, 2006|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Public schools, private schools, and inherent superiority

Do public schools outperform private schools, once student background characteristics are considered? An analysis from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education of the 2003 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reveals that without controlling for student background differences, private schools scored higher than non-charter public schools, as would be expected. But the study also examines the extent to which the gaps persist after controlling for potential variables including income, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, limited English proficiency, and school location.

Overall, the study demonstrates that demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous “private school effect” disappears, and even reverses in most cases.

Specifically, fourth grade public school students outscore private and charter school students by between 4 and 12 points. A 10-11 point difference on the NAEP is generally viewed as representing a difference of one grade level. Findings were mixed at the eighth grade level.

“These findings question the idea of an inherent superiority of the private sector in education,” the study reports. “Furthermore, the data here suggest significant reasons to be suspicious of claims of general failure in the public schools, and raise substantial questions regarding a basic premise of the current generation of school reform.”

The study is here (pdf).

Erin Walsh|January 24th, 2006|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization|
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