Saturday, October 22, 2011

Failing American Schools?

A few things I noted from the web.

Prof. RAVITCH: Actually, it wasn't popular at all. It had a very small box office. It was immensely popular amongst very, very wealthy Wall Street hedge fund managers and the elites of this country. The elites tried to whip it up. NBC gave it a week of programming. Oprah gave it two shows. The president invited the children in the film to the White House. But all this PR - which, by the way, was underwritten by the Gates Foundation - was not enough to make it popular at the box office.
 The public schools that do terribly are the schools where there is high poverty.

 And we have to address not just the schools, which are - I am totally opposed to the status quo. The status quo was the one that was created 10 years ago by the No Child Left Behind legislation, and this has turned schools into testing factories. And teachers know this is wrong; educators know it's wrong.

Prof. RAVITCH:  First of all, the tests are not designed to be measures of teacher quality. They are measures of whether students have learned. Sometimes, that's the fault of the teacher, and sometimes it's the fault of the student, and sometimes, it's the - you can say it's because the student is homeless, the student is hungry, the student has bad eyesight. I mean, there are all kinds of issues that get involved in how students perform on standardized tests.
It's also the case that the standardized tests are really very bad measures. And I know that Secretary Duncan's put out a lot of - like $350 million to say we need better tests. But in the meanwhile, we're using the same, crummy test, and we're using them to close schools. There are schools being closed across America based on test scores.
What we should be doing is helping those schools and making them better because public schools are not - they're not shopping malls. They're not shoe stores. They're public facilities. And many of them have long and wonderful histories, and we should do everything possible to make our public schools the best they can be.
There's - we have 20 percent and more of our children living in poverty, which is, frankly, in the modern world, is a disgrace. The film "Waiting for Superman" compared the U.S. to Finland, which is a great comparison. Finland does no standardized testing at all of its students. They just rely on having the best possible teachers and pay them well, and give them respect. But they don't have poverty. The kids in Finland are -less than 3 percent of them are in poverty.
Prof. RAVITCH: We really don't have a lot of bad teachers. I think that everybody forgets that it's not the job of the union to hire teachers or to evaluate teachers or to remove teachers. It's their job to make sure that teachers have due-process rights - that when somebody says they're a bad teacher, that they're entitled to have a hearing. That only seems fair. And if they're bad teachers, then the people who want to get rid of them have to produce the documentation.
Lots of people have been fired. And this is true in right-to-work states. They've been fired because somebody doesn't like them. The person who's the principal just doesn't just like them. If we had wonderful, experienced people as principals, we would not have any bad teachers at all because they would be counseled out.
In fact, I would suggest that what your listener needs to know is that 50 percent of the people who enter teaching leave within five years. We have actually something like a revolving door in teaching because teachers don't get the respect; they don't get the pay; and they don't get the working conditions that make it feel like a good profession.
What's preventing innovation are two things: One is the No Child Left Behind legislation, which says you will be judged by test scores and if your scores don't go up every year, you may have your school penalized and eventually, your school may be closed; all the teachers may be fired; the principal may be fired. And this is causing school districts and teachers to cut the amount of time available for the arts and science and history and geography - everything except standardized testing and reading and math. What we - what I believe firmly is that any school that does this is cutting away good education.
KELLY: So how should we measure teacher performance?
Prof. RAVITCH: You know what? Can I tell you, a good school is a school that has a balanced curriculum, where the teachers are dedicated, where there's strong leadership, where there's an experienced person who's - an experienced teacher who's the principal, who can go into the classroom and give the teachers help if they need it, and make sure that all of the teachers are good teachers, and that they have the support and mentoring that they need to get better.
And all the children have access to the arts and history and science, and everything that we would want in a great school. And the measurement is totally unimportant. I think the measurement is what's driving education into the gutter these days.
High-stakes testing warps everything. It warps - it even warps the test, because we now have districts that are so focused on the testing that they're not teaching children anything other than how to take tests. And we're also seeing cheating.

Chater chain in california, admitted that they were giving kids the answers to the test, and they just renewed their charter-despite the fat that they had been systematically cheating.


American students from well-funded schools who come from middle-class families outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. 

Our average scores are not spectacular because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland has less than 4%).

 Our first step should be to protect children from the damaging effects of poverty: better nutrition (Susan Ohanian suggests the motto "No Child Left Unfed"), excellent health care for all children, and universal access to reading material. The best teaching in the world is useless when students are hungry, sick, and have little or nothing to read.
Stephen Krashen

 Just a few countries, not so in reading and science, strong evidence for effect of poverty, other factors, percentage or absolute numbers?

A look at the full report, available at the Education Next website, suggests that these researchers looked hard to find evidence of a STEM crisis, and kept looking until they found a statistic that seemed to show it.

The math gap is caused by just a few very high-scoring countries– Taiwan with 28%, Hong Kong with 24% and Korea with 23% of students at the advanced level. Without these countries, US children with at least one parent with a college education do pretty well. 

Our highest scoring state, Massachusetts, has 17% of its students at the advanced level, making it 5th in the world, not counting the three exceptionally high scorers.

Taiwan, first in math, is near the bottom of all countries in percent of students scoring in the top group in reading, and loses to all states in the US except Mississippi, and this is based on ALL American students in a state, not just those with a college-educated parent. Massachusetts would rank fourth in the world, nearly tying for third. And other states would rank highly too, again, counting ALL students.

Fifteen US states (again, all students) have a higher percentage of top science students than Korea (third in math) does.

The authors did not discuss studies that considered social class and poverty levels, and concluded that American children attending low poverty schools score very well. Bracey (2009) concluded that on the PIRLS reading test, American children attending low poverty schools (25% or less) outscored the top scoring country, Sweden. Bracey also pointed out that "if the students in schools with 24-49.9% poverty constituted a nation, it would rank fourth among the 35 participating nations" (p. 155). Payne and Biddle (1999) reported that when we consider only middle-class children who attend well-funded schools, our math scores are near the top of the world.

Tienken (2010) cites studies showing that a myriad of additional factors operate that artificially depress American students' scores on international tests, including the fact that the US tests nearly all students. 

Some other countries are selective – on TIMSS, this includes Russia (only native speakers of Russian), Israel (only native speakers of Hebrew), Switzerland (only highest performing regions, 16/26 cantons), Spain (excluded Cataluna), and Italy (excluded high-poverty regions). I don't know if this is true of PISA.
Finally, absolute numbers are more relevant than percentages. 

Tienken points out that the US had 25% of world's top science achievers on PISA, 2009. China had one percent.


American students are doing well in science and math. American children in low-poverty schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on international science/math tests. Overall scores are unspectacular because over 20% of our children live in poverty, the highest percentage among all industrialized countries.
The US produces more top science students than other countries: On the 2006 PISA math and science tests, 60,000 American students scored in the top category, compared to 34,000 Japanese students. 

American students are already taking lots of math and science, more than the economy needs: For example, in 2007, 30% of college-bound high-school seniors had taken calculus, but only 5% of new openings require a math/science background.

There is no shortage of science/technology experts in the US: There are three qualified applications for each science/tech opening. 

Also, the US contributed 63% of the top 1% most-cited science/tech publications in 2004 and according to the World Economic Forum the US ranks second out of 133 countries in "quality of scientific research institutions."
Stephen Krashen

And my teachers union president has gone even to the governor and suggested that
if charter schools are truly innovative, they should be a draft and not a cream of the crop

If teachers unions were to be
blamed for failing schools, then we would assume that schools in less unionized states
would outperform schools in more densely unionized states. So you'd assume that places
like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, who have relatively few unionized teachers would
do much, much better. But that's not the case. The states with the most densely
unionized teachers, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland; they do the best. And the
countries with the most densely unionized populations: Finland, Japan, they do the best.
So what do we learn from that? What we know is that there are problems like Mr.
Rosenkranz said. There are problems we have to solve. One of which is poverty. States
like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi; they have and had been plagued by tremendous
poverty. We have to compete with poverty. That's what public education is and that is
what the search we have for, that's what our search is, to find what works. So you felt, I
hope tonight we can move from scapegoating to solutions, to problem solving. And I
would argue to all of you that having a strong union, someone in an entity that will look
at what it's done right and what it's done wrong, and solve things and change things, is the
way to go. So what works? What can we learn from places like Maryland,
Massachusetts, New York State, Finland, and Japan? This is what we can learn. This is
what works. What works in places where we don't as Terry Moe will probably argue,
where we don't have niche markets, where we can't marketize our schools, where we

Randi Weingarten:
Well, given that the United Federation of Teachers under my watch, started two charter
schools in Eastern York, it’s totally and completely untrue. What we want to do is we
want charters to be held to the same accountability standards including the ones that we
started, as any other school and what the evidence has been in New York, like the
evidence around the country, is that charter schools instead of, as Diane Ravitch said,
should take more of the most at-risk kids are actually taking fewer special needs kids and
fewer kids with limited English proficiency. So we’ve open to, we think charters could
be a great incubator for instructional practice and could be a great incubator for labor
relations practice. But Terry, I don’t want New York to be as much as an evidentiary
zone as Washington D.C. seems to be, which means let’s look at the Credo story which
were done with a pro-charter advocate. What they said was, where 17 percent of the
charters are better than public schools, 34 percent are worse, and the rest are the same.
The idea is to actually find what works, make it sustainable and make it replicable.
That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Randi Weingarten:
What we wanted to do, what we wanted to do was actually the New York City and State
Union were in favor of lifting the cap and in favor of creating a level playing field to
make sure that all kids could equally get into all schools. And if you recall, New York
State became one of the finalists for Race to the Top so obviously whatever happened in
the state legislature didn’t disqualify us from Race to the Top. The bottom line is, we
need schools -- all schools: charter, public, private to be places where parents want to
send their kids and where educators want to work. That’s the bottom line. How do we
help all kids, not just some kids, but all kids.

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