November 14, 2003

Education wars brewing in California

Education wars brewing, by Jill Stewart, San Fransisco Chronicle, Nov 14, 2003. In this superb article Jill Stewart expresses her unease about the incoming team of Arnold Schwartzenegger and his designated education secretary Richard Riordan.

FOR YEARS, I hammered Gray Davis as a weak leader and a bad governor. [...] [But] Davis excelled at one thing. He stopped a high-pressure crowd of educators and politicos hell-bent on reversing big advances that have ended 25 years of academic freefall in California's schools.

[...] Every year, opponents of reform bring forth politically motivated legislation to roll back reform, and the Democratic-led Legislature shamefully approves it. Every time, Davis vetoes the anti-reforms.

Indeed, Davis strengthened reforms adopted by the Board of Education under Gov. Pete Wilson. Davis' own Board of Ed backed rigorous academic standards that are tracked through testing so the public can see how well their schools teach subject matter.

Awful districts such as Los Angeles Unified saw student achievement in math and reading skyrocket after introducing Opencourt explicit phonics and English immersion, and retraining teachers who learned zilch at teacher colleges. But cities such as San Diego fought the reforms, and their student achievement tanked.

Stewart continues with a description of the battles that lie ahead with the anti-reformers, and she explains her unease with Riordan.

Riordan is pro-reform but doesn't grasp the Sacramento Education Wars. When I spoke to him, he did not volunteer details I believe should be on the tip of his tongue. I'm worried he will be drawn to trendy uber-discussions while the Legislature turns back the clock. [...] His job is to prevent anti-reformers from ramming California's education miracle back into the dark 1990s.

Posted by Bas Braams at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2003

Shark Blog on K-12 in Seattle

Shark Blog, by Stefan Sharkansky, reports from Seattle on "Current Events, Smarter Investing and Fatherhood". Shark Watch has been keeping close watch on the local school board, the latest school board elections, and the recent superintendent search. Stefan Sharkansky's articles are rife with links, and I advise the reader to visit the original. It is a great Blog. Here are a few links to recent entries on education, with just a snippet from each.

Seattle School Board (Nov 5, 2003).

The Seattle School Board has been captured by the loony-toons slate of Sally Soriano, Brita Butler-Wall, Darlene Flynn and Irene Stewart.

[...] Two of the new board members (Soriano and Butler-Wall) were endorsed by the Green Party, whose goal is to "transform pre-K-20 education in Seattle in alignment with all 10 Key Values of the Green Party of Seattle, through research, education, and advocacy". [...] Both Soriano and Butler-Wall propose eliminating the high-stakes WASL test, because the "use of WASL scores to label racial blocs of students as failures also constituted institutional racism" and/or because it reinforces the "public's perceptions about the 'failure' of our schools".

Putting the "achievement gap" in perspective (Nov 3, 2003).

Darlene Flynn, who has been endorsed by the teachers' union, might find it easier to blame an abstract bogeyman like "institutional racism" than to roll up her sleeves, understand the actual issues and propose actual solutions to actual problems.

Brita Butler-Wall and her nutty delusions (Nov 1, 2003).

It might be tempting to some people to blame an abstract bogeyman like "racism" for the underachievement of some children. But Brita Butler-Wall either suffers from delusions, or she doesn't bother look at the school system's actual data, or both.

First of all, although the population of Seattle is only 8% black, about 25% of the school systems' administrators are black. If that's attributable to institutional racism, it's probably not the sort of racism that Brita Butler-Wall is fantasizing about.

Second, the school system's performance data [large PDF] indicates that by a number of quantitative measures (e.g. high school GPA, graduation rates, attendance rates, test scores, expulsion rates), Asian students (especially Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese) outperform white students, and Latino students are doing better than black students. How this is explained by a lack of "recognition that people come from a variety of cultures" or a lack of books in foreign languages, is a big mystery to me.

Sally Soriano (Oct 31, 2003).

Soriano is right to be concerned about the disparity in achievement between different ethnic groups, but I am unpersuaded by her understanding of the problem or its solutions: [...]

The district can tackle this problem by reducing class sizes, giving teachers more time to collaborate with each other and embedding the curriculum with awareness of racism, sexism and classism, Soriano said.

I have no idea what "embedding the curriculum with awareness of sexism" actually means, or what it has to do with the achievement of black students. Furthermore, under the Soriano regime, we would never know whether or not we were making progress on the achievement gap, because:

Sally Soriano said the use of WASL scores to label racial blocs of students as failures also constituted institutional racism.

Naturally, Soriano is endorsed by all the elements of the clueless, lunatic left, including: Green Party of Seattle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and both weekly newspapers.

Seattle Superintendent Saga (Oct 6, 2003).

The attempt to recruit a superintendent for Seattle public schools continues to spiral out of control, as the hysterically self-interested teacher unions have trashed the only qualified candidates with the active assistance of the local newspapers. The second of the four finalists withdrew her name from consideration today, writing that

increasing polarization of this process makes it difficult to accomplish a common vision for educational leadership.

the school district's search consultant added that

all the candidates have been publicly humiliated and harassed. They felt the media coverage was very unprofessional.


Now, the only candidates left standing are the very impressive former Cincinnati superintendent Dr. Steven Adamowski and the less capable (but union favorite) Dr. Evelyn Williams Castro.

Seattle has a new superintendent (Oct 7, 2003).

The Seattle superintendent selection saga ended tonight, at least for now. The school board voted 6-1 to name interim superintendent Raj Manhas as superintendent on a one-year contract with an option to extend for a second year. I attending this evening's school board meeting. It was less a business meeting for a public authority than a group therapy session. It reminded me of the house meetings at the co-op where I lived my sophomore year of college.

Thanks to Number 2 Pencil (Kimberly Swygert) for her link to Shark Blog.

Posted by Bas Braams at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

Houston drop-out statistics and education 'miracle'

Education 'Miracle' Has a Math Problem. Bush Critics Cite Disputed Houston Data, by Michael Dobbs, The Washington Post, November 8, 2003 (front page). The article reports on the fraudulent drop-out statistics in the Houston school district during the tenure there of now education secretary Rod Paige.

Conceding that individual "indiscretions" may have occurred in a school system that serves more than 200,000 students, Paige described the Houston Independent School District as "the most evaluated school district in the history of America." He said he places great stock in the credibility of an accountability system that demands quantifiable results from administrators, teachers and children.

"The whole system for me rode on integrity," Paige said.

This image of integrity is not supported by the Washington Post article, or by earlier reporting on the Houston drop-out statistics. The WP article reports on clear fraud at one high school and continues:

An investigation by state auditors showed that at least 14 other Houston high schools, including Austin, reported unusually low dropout rates in 2000-2001, although there is no evidence administrators falsified data. By reporting a dropout rate of less than 0.5 percent, school principals increase their chances of winning bonuses of as much as $10,000 and earning top accountability ratings for their campuses.

After years of relying on dropout statistics as a key component in their annual accountability studies, school officials concede that they were worthless all along. "The annual dropout rate was a crock, and we're not [using] it anymore," said Robert R. Stockwell Jr., the district's chief academic officer.

In this matter, and writing from quite a distance without local knowledge, I am a lot more sympathetic to the school officials than to the Texas Education Authority officials. The TEA decided that schools must report drop-out statistics, but of course schools have no good way of knowing which students have moved to another district, switched to another school, or have really dropped out - and the school officials may well decide that it is none of their business and not worth their time to try to track down students that have left.

The WP article also pays attention to score inflation in Houston on the Texas 10th grade test - a very important benchmark in their high school accountability system. I am not surprised and not disturbed that many students are held back in 9th grade. The WP article, however, mentions cases - not clear if they are isolated or part of a pattern - of students that are held back twice in 9th grade and then advanced to 11th grade, thus not polluting the 10th grade test scores.

Posted by Bas Braams at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)