July 28, 2003

HS for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender

School's Out, by Carl Campanile (New York Post, July 28, 2003).

The city is opening a full-fledged high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students - the first of its kind in the nation, The Post has learned.

Operating for two decades as a small alternative program with just two classrooms, the new Harvey Milk HS officially opens as a stand-alone public school with 100 students in September.

[...] The Hetrick-Martin Institute - the gay-rights youth-advocacy group that manages and helps finance the school in conjunction with the Department of Education - has hired the school's first principal.

[...] [Principal] Salzman said Harvey Milk will be an academically rigorous school that follows Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's mandatory English and math programs. It will also specialize in computer technology, arts and a culinary program.

The New York Post claims the story as an exclusive, and my first reaction was to wonder if it would hold up. However, there does exist a Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City and it is indeed home of the Harvey Milk School, which is at present offering some path to an alternative high school diploma. They are going mainstream, then. Meanwhile also New York Newsday has picked up the story and they quote Mayor Bloomberg as to why it is a good idea.

Posted by Bas Braams at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2003


The Daley generation. A Chicago Sun-Times special report, July 27-28, 2003, in collaboration with the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. The report deals with the progress of the 36,000 children that started first grade in a Chicago public school in 1995, just after Mayor Daley won control of the school system. Those that stayed on track have just completed eighth grade. Sunday's article focusses on grade promotion and retention, and Monday's article will look at why middle class children are still leaving the system at a high rate.

Education Secretary Defends School System He Once Led, New York Times, July 27, 2003. Based on a conversation with secretary of education and past superintendent of Houston schools Rodney Paige. The "Texas education miracle" has received plenty of well-deserved scepticism over time. Presently in the news are the result of an audit of drop-out figures from Houston public schools. According to the article, Houston as a whole reported a 1.5 percent annual dropout rate, though education experts estimate that the true percentage of students who quit before graduation is nearer 40 percent.

(Clearly the two rates, 1.5% and 40%, are not directly comparable. Is it 1.5% of the high school population or of the entire school population? For how many years should we count those 1.5% to obtain the reported percentage of students who quit before graduation? I am guessing 5 or 6 years. Even then the discrepency between reported and estimated drop-out rates is substantial.)

College Board Scores With Critics of SAT Analogies, LA Times, July 27, 2003. About the elimination of the analogies section from the SAT in response to demands by University of California president Atkinson. The famous "oarsman : regatta" question that appeared on the SAT several decades ago is hashed up as representative for the analogies questions. I trust that Kimberly Swygert will have something to say about this in her Blog on testing. [Addendum, 07/28: she has indeed, and Joanne Jacobs too.]

Is 'minimally adequate' education good enough?, The State (SC), July 27, 2003. My answer to the question in the title would be "Yes, of course, just barely", but a group of South Carolina school districts is arguing otherwise and wants a circuit Judge to order the state government to provide additional aid, beyond present additional aid, to rural and poor communities.

Sources: EducationNews.Org and a certain Google News search that I have bookmarked.

Posted by Bas Braams at 07:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2003

Shelley Harwayne retires

The New York Times and other NYC newspapers report the retirement of Shelley Harwayne. As superintendent of New York City's community school district 2 Shelley Harwayne was among the most visible proponents nationwide of the educational reform movement associated with whole language reading instruction and constructivist mathematics teaching. In the new governance structure that took effect just the start of this month Shelley Harwayne held the position of superintendent for Region 9: the largest region by number of schools in the system and encompassing most of Manhattan including the old CSD2. Ms. Harwayne is retiring to deal with health and family issues.

Shelley Harwayne has written at least 6 books and is a frequent speaker at national events; for example, keynote speaker at the NCTE Whole Language Umbrella Conference in Nashville (2000) and at the National Conference of the Reading Recovery Council of North America (2002), and giving the opening talk at the NCTE Whole Language Umbrella Conference in Bethesda (2002). Before becoming superintendent of community school district 2 Ms. Harwayne was the founding principal of the Manhattan New School. One of her books, Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School (Heinemann, 1999) is based on that experience, and offers insight into the educational philosophy that guided District 2 and that has been influential throughout the NYC school system.

My own interest is mathematics and science education. Last year I read Going Public with that perspective and used it for a Web article, Shelley Harwayne and Mathematics. The present contribution is based on that longer article.

Ms. Harwayne's book has one chapter where one may look for academic ambitions of the school: Chapter 6, Talking Curriculum and Assessment. The issue of mathematics education covers about half a page in that chapter, and there is nothing at all about science education. In the half page about mathematics Shelley Harwayne describes how she marvels at what her children are able to do, such as renaming numbers, seeing patterns in hundreds charts, and performing great amounts of mental math. With little attention to algorithms her students understand how knowing that 6 x 7 = 42 helps you to know what 60 x 70 is, what 12 x 7 is, what 3 x 7 is, and so on. Observing the teaching of mathematics she realizes how little she knows and how much there is to learn.

Ms. Harwayne's limitations in mathematics did not prevent the CSD2 superintendency from taking a very active and damaging interest in mathematics instruction, removing curricular choices from the schools and teachers and imposing a sequence of reform mathematics curricula throughout the District that are roundly rejected by mathematics professionals. These curricula include TERC: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space in grade school, Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) in middle school, and Mathematics: Modelling Our World (COMAP) in high school.

The educational reform in district 2 gave rise to an opposition, and especially to New York City HOLD: an advocacy organization for parents, educators, mathematicians and others focussed on improving the quality of mathematics education in New York City schools. In spite of the efforts of NYC HOLD and others, at present the District 2 philosophy holds sway throughout the New York City school system.

Posted by Bas Braams at 12:07 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2003

Accountability in the NYC school system

Ronald Brownstein writes a Washington Outlook column for the Los Angeles Times. The column of July 21, 2003, Failing Schools Need Courses in Readin', Writin' and Accountability (also here in case the LAT link disappears) made some laudatory references to the performance of NYC schools chancellor Klein in his focus on accountability. I think it useful to provide a counterpoint.

Ronald Brownstein wrote:

Joel I. Klein, the accomplished attorney who was Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's unconventional choice as schools chancellor last year, understands he can effectively educate the 1.1 million students in his care only if he shatters the cozy arrangements that have kept the New York City school system focused more on providing jobs for adults than on opportunities for kids. After 11 months on the job, Klein has the scars to prove his commitment to that cause. [...]

In conversation, it's apparent his greatest challenge is to impose more accountability for results on principals, teachers and the rest of the school system's 150,000 employees. "In public education," he says in a measured understatement befitting his days as a federal prosecutor and an assistant attorney general under Clinton, "the normal merit approach to service is very limited."

It's achingly ironic that Klein's headquarters is now in the 19th-century courthouse built near City Hall by legendary political boss William Tweed. Tweed's power rested on a patronage system that guaranteed jobs for even his most unqualified supporters. Klein presides over a $12-billion system whose work rules and union contracts make it dauntingly difficult for him to fire even the most incompetent. Last year, Klein initially hoped to remove 50 principals in woefully under-performing schools; he was only able to dismiss one. Just 132 of the system's 78,000 teachers last year were removed for inadequate performance.

The article goes on to argue that, besides accountability, also more resources, and specifically federal funds, are required in order to help schools make the grade.

Brownstein is correct to point out that so far there is little to show for chancellor Klein's focus on accountability. Where our new chancellor has made an impact is in the choice of a system-wide mandated curriculum for reading and mathematics, and here the result is entirely negative. In a secretive Children First process a K-5 mathematics curriculum, Everyday Mathematics, was selected that was twice rejected in the California textbook adoptions process. For reading the chancellor and his deputy decided upon "instruction based on classroom libraries" (what may safely be understood as "do as you like whole language") supplemented by a program that has phonics in the name but that was severely criticized by reading researchers; later a further supplement to the supplement was identified. Recently the chancellor also decided to preserve New York City's failed bilingual education program. There will be a relentless focus system-wide on the subjects of reading and mathematics, with no apparent concern for science, history, or the arts. Finally, chancellor Klein's personnel decisions to-date, including his choice of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning and his choice of which of the 32 local district superintendents to promote to one of the 10 newly created regional superintendent positions, give not much hope for his future focus on accountability.

For ongoing commentary on the state of mathematics education in New York City, please visit New York City HOLD.

Posted by Bas Braams at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2003

High school exit exams under fire

Here is a sensible Op-Ed on California's decision to delay the high school exit exam requirement: Why the exit exam got held back instead of failing kids, by Daniel Weintraub (SacBee, Sun Jul 20 2003).

The California Board of Education's recent decision to delay the impact of the state's new high school exit exam was a disappointing but necessary tactical retreat that should ultimately advance the long-term goal of accountability in the public schools. If the ed board hadn't backed off, the legal dogs would have sued the state on behalf of thousands of students in the class of 2004 who would have been denied diplomas after failing the test. Their argument: These kids never got a fair opportunity to learn the material on which they were tested. Unfortunately, they are probably right.

The issue continues to play in New York State as well. The difficulty of the June 17 instance of the Regents Math A exam was misjudged and the exam had an unexpected high failure rate. Commissioner of Education Richard Mills might have responded by lowering the passing score, but instead he tossed the exam entirely. It must have given him great relief to get it off his back and not have anyone fail the Math portion this year, because he went a step further and extended the good news to juniors as well: any junior that sat the exam in June has it waived as a graduation requirement. The Board of Education has now named a panel to investigate the Regents Math A exam and respond to 9 specific questions. My take on the exam is in this critique of the Regents Math A.

In other news on high school exit exams, the Boston Herald has this:

STIRRING STORY: Tracey Newhart, an aspiring chef who has Down syndrome, failed her MCAS test, which could keep her from studying cooking at Johnson and Wales University.

The original is pay-per-view at the Herald. The story is also here in the Cape Cod times. How long ago was it that a grade school diploma, or at most an eighth grade education, would be the normal requirement for studying cooking?

Which brings me to this news item from Australia. Drop-outs can be successful, by Farrah Tomazin (The Age (AU), July 21, 2003).

A study tracking nearly 8000 students has found that many teenagers who do not finish year 12 earn more money and have higher job stability than those who stay but do not go on to university. Geoff Masters, chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, which released the study, said the findings contradict the common belief that early school leavers tended to struggle after dropping out. 'It's often believed that students who leave school before the end of year 12 are at risk of not making a successful transition from school into the workforce,' Professor Masters said. 'But when you compare them with students who finish year 12 but don't go on to university, the early leavers are more likely to be working full-time, have a degree of job stability and be in a job that they like.'

It sounds plausible to me. The trend to demand a high school diploma for everything and look down on those that leave high school without a degree mainly reflects a steady lowering of standards for the eighth grade education.

Posted by Bas Braams at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2003

UC Regents approve new admissions test policy

The San Fransisco Chronicle reports on actions by the UC Regents at their meeting of July 16-17. A 25% fee increase, a ban on romances between faculty and their students, and then this.

In other action, the regents approved a new admissions test policy to require students entering UC in 2006 to take a new SAT I that includes a writing exam, or the ACT with an added writing component. In addition, students will have to take two SAT IIs in subjects such as history/social science, English, mathematics, laboratory science or a foreign language. They currently take three SAT IIs: math, writing and one of their choice.

UC initiated the changes in its testing policy in 2001 after President Richard Atkinson said that the SAT I did not test what students were learning in the classroom. After he called for UC to scrap the test, the College Board decided to revamp it, dropping the analogies, changing the math and adding a writing component.

Under the new UC requirement, the SAT II exams will no longer be weighted twice as heavily as the SAT I.

"I think this is sending a message to the schools on the importance of writing at an early age and focusing on certain mathematics skills," Atkinson said. "I think we have accomplished a great deal."

Now, I recall Atkinson's call to drop the SAT-I requirement, and I recall when in response the College Board announced that it was changing the nature of the SAT-I by adding a writing component. Some notable critical comments at the time came from Stanley Kurtz in NRO and from Heather Mac Donald in City Journal. I also recall comments by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.

As I understood the issue, the claimed intent of Atkinson and the California Regents was that the UC system would rely for its admissions decisions more on subject oriented tests and less on an aptitude test. Looking at the whole enchilada as the SF Chronicle presents it, however, I don't see this happening in a significant way. Previously the applicants submitted a two-part (three-hour) SAT-I and three one-hour SAT-II subject tests and the subject tests were weighted twice as heavily as the SAT-I (I assume it means the subject tests together carried twice the weight of the SAT-I). Now they have a three-part SAT-I and two SAT-II tests, and I guess that they are weighted equally. It looks like a marginal change, and it is hard to discern if it increases emphasis on subject matter at all. Applicants no longer have to take the SAT-II mathematics test. Moreover, as I understand it, the standardized tests continue to have less weight than high school grades.

I'm sympathetic to an increased emphasis on standardized subject matter tests in college admissions decisions. Let universities move to requiring their applicants to submit test scores for at least English writing, English reading and literature, mathematics, two or three sciences, one foreign language, U.S. history, and world history. Leave it to the applicants to choose in each case what test best fits their background: an SAT subject test, an AP or IB, or something like the New York Regents. Use those tests scores in addition to the high school transcript - it will offer a mechanism to keep high school grades honest at the same time.

Posted by Bas Braams at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2003

Women in Mathematics

In the Chronicle of Higher Education Robin Wilson (login required) writes about programs boosting the number of women PhDs in mathematics. She explains the effort by:

Women in the field are particularly at risk: In 2002, 42 percent of the undergraduate mathematics majors in the country were women, but only 31 percent of those who earned Ph.D.'s in math that year were women, according to the American Mathematical Society. And only 13 percent, or 127, of those who earned doctorates were female U.S. citizens. In the professoriate, in 2000 only 17 percent of those tenured in math at four-year institutions were women.

Seems to me that 42% undergraduates and 31% of doctorates are very respectable numbers. Sure they can grow--given that there are enough women interested in PhD in math. The argument of only 13% US citizens is spurious. In her eagerness to show the female "disadvantage", the author strays to bigotry. What would satisfy her? Prohibiting legal residents to attend PhD programs? Numerus clausus for foreign students? 50% US female citizens plus 27% non-citizen women?

This seems like yet another attempt to find "disadvantage" where there is none. Should we now go and check the percentage of women in journalism or medicine? In teaching? Bookkeeping? Engineering? Clearly there were professions that in the past discouraged women (or men). However, there should be a limit to such bogus equity argument. Isn't it only natural that certain disciplines are more or less attractive to different sexes? 42% and 31% look pretty decent when viewed in this light.

The real problem is that our education system does not prepare enough US students to study math, science and engineering. That is why those programs, and the graduate ones in particular, have plenty of foreign students. Both male and female.

Posted by Ze'ev Wurman at 03:39 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2003

Apples to apples evaluation of charter schools

The Manhattan Institute Center for Civic Innovation has just released the Working Paper Apples to Apples: An Evaluation of Charter Schools Serving General Student Populations, by Jay P. Greene, Greg Forster, and Marcus A. Winters (July, 2003). In the report the authors confuse the ability of schools to improve themselves with their ability to improve their students, as this Web contribution will explain. It is an elementary error that completely invalidates the report.

I remark that in February, 2003, the same authors produced a report Testing High Stakes Tests: Can We Believe the Results of Accountability Tests?. I wrote a Web review of that report in which I explained that the authors confused the predictive power of a high stakes test with its validity as a measure of student learning. That too was an elementary error that completely invalidated the report. (In both cases the report's conclusions are plausible, but that is besides the point.)

The present Apples to Apples report sets out to compare the performance of charter schools with that of public schools serving similar populations. (Given the wide range of educational policies in place in charter schools as well as in public schools I'm not sure that the question is all that interesting, but let's accept the question anyway.) In order to compare similar schools, the report focusses on charter schools that serve a general student population, and the control group of public schools is formed by taking for each charter school the nearest public school that also serves a general population.

The measure of performance is whatever standard statewide test is in place. Now I remind the reader of the concept of value-added assessment. See, for example:

Value-added assessment employs, ideally, performance data on individual pupils over multiple years, and looks at improvements over time. It is a way to factor out the effects of different student backgrounds, because these are, one assumes, reflected in their initial test performance. If one doesn't have data on individual pupils then one can use data on grades within a school. In that case the incremental performance that one cares for is that between a certain grade in one year and the next higher grade the next year, on the assumption that this involves approximately the same student population.

Greene et al. could certainly have used such grade-to-grade value added assessment in their work. However, they did something different. They look at the overall performance of each school in one year and compare it to the overall school performance the next year. The school performance is measured in whatever way the state measures it: typically some average scale score or a percentile rank within the state. They do this for each tested subject separately, but not separately for each grade. They then compare the year-to-year changes in performance of the charter schools to the year-to-year changes in performance of the nearest public schools. They find, finally, a small (in fact, very small) advantage for charter schools on this measure. In the executive summary they express their observations as follows:

Measuring test score improvements in eleven states over a one-year period, this study finds that charter schools serving the general student population outperformed nearby regular public schools on math tests by 0.08 standard deviations, equivalent to a benefit of 3 percentile points for a student starting at the 50th percentile. These charter schools also outperformed nearby regular public schools on reading tests by 0.04 standard deviations, equal to a benefit of 2 percentile points for a student starting at the 50th percentile.

And so, the authors completely confuse a measure of the improvement of schools with a measure of the improvement of student performance. Charter schools could be performing wonderfully or they could be performing dismally relative to public schools in improving student performance, and it would not be seen on the whole school year to year test score improvements that are the basis of this report. It would be seen, of course, in traditional value-added assessment at the pupil or grade level.

Posted by Bas Braams at 04:26 PM | Comments (4)

July 14, 2003

'Early College' high schools

The New York Times has a curious report today: 'Early College' Gains Ground in Education, by Karen Arenson (July 14, 2003). The article reports on two new schools in NYC that belong to a national wave of "early-college high schools". An excerpt:

Neither new school will require an admissions test, as Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and three new high schools opened on CUNY campuses last fall do.

Many high schools already offer their students college-level work through Advanced Placement courses or classes at local colleges, but those who take them tend to be the strongest students.

These early-college schools aim to make such advanced curriculum the norm for every one of their students, not just the handful at the top. The concept is based on the notion that less accomplished students - including those in danger of dropping out - are capable of handling more difficult work, and that more of them will graduate if they are challenged more. That idea appeals to school officials at a time when as many as half of ninth graders are dropping out before graduation in many cities.

The refusal to have an entry test, the dismissal of Advanced Placement classes, and the focus on students at risk of not graduating in the first place all lead me to wonder just what kind of view these schools have of college-level work. I'll venture a guess: lots of projects and independent work; not much learning; and it won't be certified by college level exams.

Posted by Bas Braams at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)


Academic bar lowered to get schools on track, Arizona Republic, July 14, 2003. "Arizona isn't alone in lowering passing scores on standardized tests and setting up dual rating systems to help schools meet tough new student achievement goals. [...] This year, Arizona will lower its proficiency rate for the math portion of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, the big state test. [...] Texas has lowered passing scores for third-graders in math and reading. [...] Colorado used to have a four-tiered state accountability system, but to appease new federal rules, lowered its standard of 'proficient' to include what used to be deemed 'partially proficient.'"...

Edison Schools Announces Merger Agreement with Management Team and Liberty Partners to Take Company Private, PRNewswire, July 14, 2003. "Edison Schools (Nasdaq: EDSN - News), the nation's largest manager of public schools, announced today that it has signed a definitive merger agreement with a company formed by Chris Whittle, its Founder and Chief Executive Officer, and an affiliate of Liberty Partners, a private equity firm based in New York City"...

Analysis: Darwin's defenders inspire debate on education board, Lawrence Journal World (KS), July 14, 2003. "If evolution plays a major role in Kansas politics during the next 18 months, Darwin's defenders - not Darwin's detractors - will have revived the debate"...

Putting the brakes on auto shop, SD Union Tribune, July 14, 2003. "Hampered by spiraling costs, inflexible curricula and a culture that places more emphasis on college-prep courses, districts have cut back on teaching trades in classes like auto shop. The result, educators say, is that the student who needs a shop class more than a philosophy course may be suffering. And the automotive industry - and every motorist - is feeling the consequences"...

(Sources: Google and Education News.)

Posted by Bas Braams at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

Charter schools and segregation

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University has produced a new study, Charter Schools And Race: A Lost Opportunity for Integrated Education (PDF), by Erica Frankenberg and Chungmei Lee. Please note as well the Executive Summary and the press release. According to the executive summary:

This report details a disappointing set of findings regarding its central question: charter schools are largely more segregated than public schools. Segregation is worse for African American than for Latino students, but is very high for both. In some states, white student isolation in charter schools is as high as that of African Americans. The problems reported here may not be due either to the intent or the desires and values of charter school leaders. They may reflect flaws in state policies, in enforcement, or in methods of approving schools for charters.

It is a strange study, meant primarily, it seems to me, to be quoted in the press. I cannot imagine that this work has anything to offer to a serious student of schools policy.

The situation is that charter schools are found disproportionately in inner cities. It may be of interest to ask why this is so, but the report doesn't address that issue. Taking it for a fact, then it is only natural that charter schools would disproportionately have a high minority population. The study authors might have avoided the loaded and pejorative language of segregation to describe the situation that charter schools are, in their demographics, not much different than public schools in the same geographic environment.

The authors could, of course, have undertaken a sincere study to investigate if charter schools have a special appeal to Black and Hispanic students, beyond what one would expect on the basis of the location of the schools. I don't know if it is a particularly interesting question in this generality - given the diversity of charter schools, as of public schools, it may be more interesting to focus on specific schools or districts rather than on charter schools generally - but in any case, the authors didn't think to ask.

The report was featured in the Boston Globe on Sunday. (That article quotes Frankenberg as saying that charter schools remain more integrated than public schools, but the press contact for the Civil Rights Project describes that as a mis-quote. Should have been: more segregated.) Joanne Jacobs covers the study with reference to a book that she is writing about one overwhelmingly Hispanic charter school. The Center for Education Reform has also paid attention and has put out a press release criticizing the study. Thanks to Education News for the first pointers to this study and the press coverage.

Posted by Bas Braams at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2003

NAEP 2002 writing results

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Writing 2002 report is being released today. The test involves a sample of 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students across the nation. For 4th and 8th grade there are also samples for individual (participating) states and for subgroups, e.g. by gender or ethnicity. NAEP has assessments in reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, and the arts. NAEP results need to be interpreted with caution. The tests are, I think, set at a rather low level, and there are problems with varying exclusion rates for students with disabilities. However, the tests serve as a benchmark for calibrating States' results on their own 4th and 8th grade assessments. The results of the 2002 writing assessment will no doubt be all over the news, so with that in mind, here are some pointers to the official sources.

Overview: What is NAEP?. Links to descriptions of the individuals tests of NAEP; the governance and organizational structure; clarification of the national and the state NAEPs, and of the main NAEP vs. the long-term trend NAEP.

The Nation's Report Card. NAEP main site at the National Center for Education Statistics.

Writing 2002 Major Results. The main page for the results of the 2002 writing assessment.

Statement by the Associate Commissioner of NCES on the release of the 2002 writing assessment.

Executive Summary of the 2002 writing assessment.

Posted by Bas Braams at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2003


Occasionally I may feed some education related terms to the Google News search engine and post here whatever I find of most interest.

Ed board to discuss science testing standards, Topeka Capital Journal, July 8, 2003. "Evolution could become a hot topic again for the State Board of Education. Board members planned to discuss Wednesday whether they want to review science testing standards in place for the past two years, which make evolution an important topic for students to learn. The alternative is a limited, internal review of how students are performing on science tests"...

Drop the control, monsieur, Telegraph (UK), July 2, 2003. "Charles Clarke and his French counterpart have much to learn - about how not to run schools, says Anthony O'Hear." Centers on a book by French minister of education Luc Ferry that was distributed to all schools.

Exit exam likely to be postponed for 2 years, The Mercury News, July 8, 2003. "California's high school seniors have been told since they were in eighth grade that they would be the first class to have to pass an exit exam to get a diploma. Now, the State Board of Education appears poised to deliver a revised message: You're off the hook. The board is expected to vote Wednesday to delay enforcing the high school exit exam requirement for at least two years"...

Sometimes high school just isn't enough, Christian Science Monitor, July 8, 2003. About members of the first graduating class of Bard High School Early College in New York City. The school compresses high school in two years and offers two years of college level material. [I don't quite see how this differs from offering plenty of AP/IB classes.]

NEA vows to undo President Bush's education programs , USA Today, July 6, 2003. "Wrapping up its annual meeting Sunday in New Orleans, the 9,000 delegates to the National Education Association crowded special kiosks to telephone and e-mail members of Congress, asking them to amend or reject provisions of Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform law. [...] The delegates also approved a resolution aimed directly at its core, saying generic, 'norm-referenced' standardized tests should only supplement classroom tests"...

Posted by Bas Braams at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)

PU president Tilghman on teaching science

Today's New York Times science section has a conversation with Shirley Tilghman, a distinguished molecular geneticist and since 2001 president of Princeton University. The conversation dwells for some time on issues of Women in Science and then touches briefly on science education.

Q. How would you change the way science is taught at universities?

A. I think we do not teach the introductory courses appropriately. Right now, we just teach all the basic facts of chemistry, physics, biology or mathematics. Then, we teach a few basic principles. By the third year, we finally tell the students what is interesting about all of this. I think we should break the pyramid. We should begin with the most exciting ideas in chemistry, physics, biology and how you go about studying it. What are the things you need to know? We should only teach what students need to know in order to understand what those are.

Q. Would you teach science by changing science education into a "great ideas of science" course?

A. Absolutely. I'd like to see us teaching more than a canon, a collection of facts, but why this is exciting, why is the exploration of nature one of the most wonderful ways to spend one's life.

All this without a hint of regret that even Princeton University students should have to be babied into an appreciation of science. I wonder if it is really so.

Posted by Bas Braams at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2003

Update on NYS Regents Math A

New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills is under much pressure because of the high failure rate on the recent (June 17) New York Regents Math A exam. The latest and earlier instances of the exam and the associated scoring keys and conversion tables are posted on the Regents Examinations Web site, under the link to Mathematics A. Procedural information related to the exam is posted at the State Assessment site under High School General Information. I know of two reviews of the exam on the Web. There is my own Critique of the New York State Regents Mathematics A Exam, and there is an Analysis of the June, 2003, Administration of Physics and Math A Regents done by the New York State Council of School Supervisors (NYSCOSS).

In connection with the Math A flack the director of the testing division at the NYS Education Department was reassigned and chose to resign, but this is not presented as a cure for any problem. The State Assembly and Senate will hold hearings, according to a report in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

[State Assemblyman Steven Sanders, D-Manhattan], who chairs the Assembly education committee, and Sen. Stephen M. Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, who chairs the Senate education committee, plan to hold public hearings for people to express their feelings about high-stakes testing in light of an estimated 37 percent passing rate on the June 17 Math A Regents exam. Those hearing dates have not yet been set, but Sanders said Rochester, Albany and New York City might be host cities.

Of course there are plenty of calls on editorial pages for the State to abandon its plan to require students to pass five Regents exams for graduation starting in 2004. However, according to an article in the Albany Times Union, Voided math test said to reveal systemic ills, the Regents and Commissioner Mills remain supportive of that plan.

Asked whether he and other Regents still stood behind Mills, board member Saul Cohen responded, "Sure," but added, "That doesn't mean we can't press him to do certain things as we did. We pressed him to nullify the results of the Math A, and I'm continuing to press him to re-examine the physics exam. But that doesn't mean we're not backing him."

A somewhat different take on the exam trouble is found in an article by Karen Arenson in the New York Times, Math Failures Are Raising Concerns About Curriculum.

But some explanations [of the high failure rate] touch on deeper issues, including whether the Math A curriculum is too broad, how much harder it is for students to solve problems than to manipulate equations, and whether unqualified teachers are even less likely to succeed in preparing students than they were with the old math curriculum.

[...] The shift from rote learning to a greater emphasis on mastery of concepts is welcomed by some college professors in math and science, who have been trying to accomplish the same shift. They say that although mastery of some facts is critical, students who focus on memorization may do well in a course but remember little of it six months later.

[...] Some educators say teaching students to be problem solvers takes more skill on the part of teachers, a challenge when there is a shortage of qualified math teachers.

"Teachers are not really prepared to prepare kids for this test properly," said Alfred S. Posamentier, dean of the School of Education, City College of New York, and the author of books on problem solving. "There is very little training for teachers in problem solving; it's assumed they will get it along the way."

My take on it is different. The low passing rate is a complicated affair in any case, and it isn't entirely clear from the data to what extent the exam was really more difficult than earlier instances. Students can take the exam three times per year over multiple years, in August, January, and June, and the character of the test taking population may vary greatly between the months. Many of last year's seniors may still have graduated on the basis of the easier Mathematics I exam. It is surprising that Commissioner Mills does not have the data to say anything more authoritative about the relative difficulty of the latest exam.

The main thing that can be learned from the low passing rate is that, in many cases, New York State high schools are failing to make up for the failures of elementary and middle school education. An eighth grader in a high performing country, say Singapore, or in a U.S. state that has high level content standards, say California, would be well placed to pass this exam. I find ony two kinds of questions that would probably be unfamiliar to such a student. One are the counting questions that require students to know something about permutations and combinations. The other are the very basic trigonometry questions: students must know the ratios in a right triangle that correspond to the sine, cosine, and tangent.

It does appear to me that the June, 2003, instance of the exam had a somewhat more difficult and less "standard" flavor than earlier instances, and in the open response section the June, 2003, exam tilts a bit more towards a test of aptitude rather than a test of school learning, relative to the previous two instances of the exam. This is not to say, however, that all the questions in August 2002 and January 2003 were of a standard and predictable form, and it is not to say that the June 2003 exam is plainly a test of aptitude and the earlier ones plainly a test of school learning.

The unintended shift in the character of the exam should be seen as a failure of the Regents testing division. In addition there are many mathematical flaws in the questions and dubious points in the scoring keys, as described in more detail in the Critique of the New York State Regents Mathematics A Exam and the Analysis of the June, 2003, Administration of Physics and Math A Regents, both mentioned earlier.

Posted by Bas Braams at 07:34 PM | Comments (1)

July 04, 2003

Can Education Schools Be Saved?

Can Education Schools Be Saved? was the title of a one-day event at the American Enterprise Institute on June 9, 2003. Among the contributors were George K. Cunningham of the University of Louisville, KT, Lisa Graham Keegan of the Education Leaders Council, and J. E. Stone of East Tennessee State University (and founder of the Education Consumers ClearingHouse).

From the Remarks by George Cunningham:

There are two major competing philosophies in education. One asserts that teachers should focus on increasing their students academic achievement. The other dismisses the importance of academic achievement and instead defines good teaching as the creation of a classroom atmosphere that eschews explicit instruction in favor of giving responsibility for learning to the students. The two approaches are incompatible and there is really no way to create a compromise between the two. The question left unanswered is who gets to decide between the two. Legislatures, governors, and the federal government through NCLB have declared that academic achievement should be paramount. The faculties of education schools and the national organizations that support them have decided otherwise. We will have to await the outcome of this contest, but it looks like the education schools already are ahead on points.

Closing recommendations from the Remarks by John E. Stone:

1. As you make decisions about teacher training and certification, bear in mind that colleges of education have a vision of teaching and learning that is at odds with the public's educational priorities. They have revised and reformed themselves many times over the decades, but the outcome has always been the same--another permutation of the same basic doctrines.

2. The ability of a teacher to produce achievement is not something that the colleges should be trusted to judge for themselves. If policymakers want colleges of education to respect the public's priorities, they will have to independently audit the student learning gains produced by newly minted teachers. Contrary to what is often assumed, it is possible to fairly and objectively judge this outcome. Tennessee has been doing so for the past 10 years.

3. The colleges of education need competition. Their virtual monopoly on training and certification has not well served the public. I think the Department of Education's emphasis on the subject-matter preparation of teachers is a step in the right direction. The key issue, however, is to allow individuals to become teachers without having to undergo training in the untested and often fanciful practices that are too often taught in schools of education.

A contributor on the other side was David Imig of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. He had the misfortune that day of being very much in the news in a negative way in connection with the leak of the ABCTE teacher test, and his remarks were delivered for him.

This seems a good occasion to remind readers of another recent article in the spririt of the contributions by Cunningham and Stone. The article is Ed Schools in Crisis, by Martin Kozloff (October 2002).

Posted by Bas Braams at 08:09 PM | Comments (0)

New OECD PISA Report

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment has updated its PISA 2000 report, Knowledge and Skills for Life. The new report, Literacy Skills for the World of Tomorrow - Further Results from PISA 2000, expands PISA 2000 with results from 15 middle income countries. The following is from a summary by the UN News Centre (July 1, 2003).

The report analyses data collected in 2002 from 15 mainly middle-income countries and economies - Albania, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Hong Kong-China, Indonesia, Israel, Latvia, Liechtenstein, FYR Macedonia, Peru, Romania, the Russian Federation and Thailand - with data collected in 2000 from nearly all 30 OECD members and first published in 2001.

OECD countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States.

Among the non-OECD economies, students in Hong Kong-China emerge as star performers, achieving overall scores in reading proficiency equivalent to those of students in the top OECD countries, after Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. Along with students in Japan and the Republic of Korea, they are also ahead of the rest, on average, in mathematical and scientific literacy.

On the other hand, students in Latin America are well behind. Peru has the largest proportion of students (80 percent) at Level 1 and below, indicating that students are having serious difficulties in using reading as a tool to advance and extend their knowledge and skills in other areas.

One can expect some agonized reporting from Israel in the coming days with regard to their educational system. As Israel Insider summarizes it, Report card on Israeli education: F:

In reading comprehension, Israel ranked 30th. The category was led by Finland, Canada and New Zealand, with the United States in 16th place. In mathematics, Israel ranked 31st, with Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea taking top marks. Canada was listed 7th, and the U.S. was listed 20th in math. In the sciences, Israel ranked even lower, in 33rd place. The top marks went to South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, with Canada in 6th place and the U.S. in 15th place.

Only students from Latin American countries, Bulgaria and Albania received consistently lower marks than Israeli students in the international survey.

PISA assessed mathematics, science, and language skills, but the present report is focussed on literacy. When PISA was first in the news I wrote some comments on the PISA philosophy and also a review, Mathematics in the OECD PISA Assessment. My view is that PISA is about as fuzzy a test as can be imagined, and certainly for mathematics quite unsuitable to evaluate student learning. Just the same, the results will have some correlation with student performance and are not entirely ignorable.

Posted by Bas Braams at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)