Closing the Math Gap for Boys
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In 2000, we had around 4,000 applications. Today, even though we're slightly behind where we were last year, we've had nearly 36,000 individuals apply with another five weeks before our application window closes. There's a reason this number isn't in the Times story. It's huge—larger than the number of individuals enrolled in all of California's education schools, combined. It is also double the number of applications we received during the strong economy in 2005-2007, and nearly 10 times the number we received in the 1999-2001 time period.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Princess Lyles and Dan Clark, the executive director and lead organizer of the school-choice group Democracy Builders, argue that states and/or authorizers should require charter schools to "back-fill" their "empty seats" when they lose students to attrition. This is a terrible idea.
Their argument in favor of requiring charters to backfill is twofold. First, they say it's unfair to compare schools that backfill to those that don't, because those that don't (like Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies*) almost certainly end up with a more motivated, higher-performing population over time as weaker, less engaged students depart for less challenging environments. It's especially unfair, they say, if the comparisons are made on proficiency rates—the percentage of students passing state tests—instead of individual student growth. (I agree that such comparisons are unfair. More on that below.)
Second, they argue that, by not backfilling seats, schools like Success Academy are limiting opportunity. As a result of this policy, parents only have a shot at getting their kids into schools at designated entry points (like kindergarten or sixth grade). If families lose the charter school lottery for those specific grades, they are out of luck forever.
It's a reasonable point, and I respect schools like Democracy Prep that welcome in students at any grade when space opens up. But whether to do this should remain the prerogative of the school, not the state or its regulators.
Why? Because there are strong instructional arguments for not backfilling. Great schools spend a lot of time building strong cultures—the almost-invisible expectations, norms, and habits that come to permeate the environment, such as the notion that it's cool to be smart and it's not OK to disrupt learning. Culture-building is a whole lot harder to do if a school is inducting a new group of students every year in every grade. Furthermore, schools that help their charges make rapid gains in their early years will be forced to spend a lot of time remediating new students who enter midstream. That's why so many solid charters and networks that launch as middle or high schools eventually reach down to start serving students at age four, five, or six. It's hard to remediate a kid who has already gone through half a dozen years of learning nothing in a dire school.
This isn't just a technical challenge; there's a moral question too. Backfilling is surely good for the student who gets to claim an empty seat. But what if it's bad for their new peers? What if the disruption to the many outweighs the benefits to the few?
For sparking a new willingness to battle for education reform. A California lawsuit made headlines last summer when a Los Angeles judge ruled that the state's laws concerning teacher hiring, firing, and tenure were unconstitutional, due to their disproportionate impact on low-income and minority students. The suit, backed by deep-pocketed donors, revealed an important shift: Education's most contentious debates increasingly play out in local elections and legal filings, and early mover Democrats for Education Reform is in many ways responsible for awakening a new generation of Democrat-leaning leaders (and donors) to the realities of political hardball. Whether or not you agree with DFER's policy positions, their impact is undeniable: "There were a lot of people who believed that if you supported good ideas, good schools, people would make room for you," says Joe Williams, the executive director. "I think that that notion has been nipped in the bud."
For bringing high-quality, affordable schools to the developing world. A fragmented market of for-profit schools has been exploding in Africa and Asia for over a decade. Now Bridge International Academies is introducing scale and quality control, with a tightly managed model that provides a year's worth of schooling for the cost of dinner in Manhattan. The organization operates the largest chain of for-profit schools in Africa; this year it's expanding beyond Kenya and Uganda into Nigeria while serving more than 120,000 students, all taught by local, Bridge-trained instructors. Already, one in 100 Kenyan students attends a Bridge academy—and outperforms peers at neighboring schools in reading (scoring 35% higher than average) and math (19%), with results continuing to improve. The company's wildly ambitious goal: to educate 10 million students per year by 2025.
The idea of less testing with the same benefits is alluring. Yet in practice it would actually roll back progress for America's students.
Yes, test quality must be better than it is today. And, yes, teachers and parents have a right to be alarmed when unnecessary tests designed only for school benchmarking or teacher evaluations cut into instructional time. But annual testing has tremendous value. It lets schools follow students' progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment.
…Today's eagerness to jettison our commitment to leave "no child behind" is a shame, not just because better tests are on the horizon, but also because it worked. Fourth and eighth grade achievement scores of black, Hispanic and low-income students have never been higher. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. And researchers repeatedly link No Child Left Behind's emphasis on traditionally underperforming groups to real improvements in schools around the country. The conversations that No Child Left Behind sparked are not easy, but they are essential.
That's why it's exactly the wrong time to accept political solutions leaving too many of our most vulnerable children hidden from view.
Eric Nadelstern, a visiting professor at Columbia University Teachers College and a former deputy chancellor under Mr. Klein, with whom Ms. Fariña clashed, said that Ms. Fariña was "an outstanding teacher" and "a great principal," but that as chancellor she was relying on strategies that had proved unsuccessful over decades of efforts to transform urban education.
"What we haven't seen is the systemic approach to thinking about how to move the system from where it is to where it's never been," Mr. Nadelstern said. "And part of that really is defining learning outcomes so that the public knows how to hold you accountable."
He went on: "What exactly are they focused on that you can measure and as a consequence manage by and hold them accountable by? I haven't heard anything."
It has taken three years, a court case, an appeal, a half-dozen hearings, and a posse of lobbyists, but controversial education company K12 Inc. has finally won a battle to operate an online charter school in North Carolina.
The Board of Education approved today the opening of North Carolina Virtual Academy, an online charter school that will be managed and operated by K12 Inc. After years of resistance from the state school board, the approval was essentially mandated by a last-minute legislative rider slipped into the state's budget. Another virtual charter school, which will be operated by a subsidiary of education giant Pearson, was also approved.
In online charter schools, students take classes at home on their computers, interacting with their teachers via chat and video calls; as at traditional charters, taxpayers foot the bill.
The opening of North Carolina Virtual Academy is a key victory for K12, the nation's largest operator of online charter schools, which has been weathering increasing pushback across the country in the face of poor academic results and high student turnover in the online schools it manages. K12 does not dispute those results, but attributes them to the struggling student population it says it serves.
K12 was targeted by a high-profile campaign from activist investor Whitney Tilson, who criticized the school's practices and compared it to subprime mortgage lenders, as well as two shareholder lawsuits, which were both dismissed. The company was cited in Florida for failing to provide adequately certified teachers, and last year, the NCAA ruled that it would no longer accept coursework from two dozen of the company's virtual schools.
In 2013, the company lost its management contract in Colorado, which cited the school's poor results; last year, it lost a major contract to manage its largest school, in Pennsylvania, which at its peak made up 14% of K12's revenue. It is now on the verge of being driven out of Tennessee.
"K12 has have a lot riding on North Carolina Virtual Academy," said Matt Ellinwood, an attorney and policy analyst at the progressive North Carolina Justice Center, which has long publicly opposed K12's expansion into the state. "They're in a grow or die industry, and that's how their model works."
K12, currently valued at around $615 million, saw its stock rose almost 3% on Thursday, the day the company won the right to operate the North Carolina school. To increase revenue and satisfy shareholders, Ellinwood said, the company needs to replace its lost contracts with new ones, opening new schools in as many states as it can.
The complex legal and legislative battle K12 has waged in North Carolina shows just how far the company is willing to go to achieve that goal.
Thanks to a mysterious legislative mandate tacked onto the state budget, North Carolina will now be home to two new experiments in online schooling.
We know that women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. What we don't know is why it happens.
There are various theories, and many of them focus on childhood. Parents and toy-makers discourage girls from studying math and science. So do their teachers. Girls lack role models in those fields, and grow up believing they wouldn't do well in them.
All these factors surely play some role. A new study points to the influence of teachers' unconscious biases, but it also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be. Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn.
The effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families, according to the study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice, but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying.
"It goes a long way to showing it's not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher's behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls," said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper.
TEACHED Volume I is comprised of the first three short films of the TEACHED series: The Path to Prison, The Blame Game: Teachers Speak Out and Unchartered Territory. Each of these short films addresses topical issues around the American education system, especially those affecting urban youth. They are intended to help communities break through polarized education debates, provoke thoughtful discussion and motivate change around long-standing race and income-based inequities in our public schools.
TEACHED Vol. I won Outstanding Documentary Short Film at the Williamsburg Film Festival and aspecial jury prize for "Spirit of Independence" at the Amsterdam Film Festival. It has received acclaim in the Harvard Political Review, USAToday, One Day and other media (see our NEWS section) and was named one of Ten Education Documentaries Not to be Missed by TakePart.
TEACHED Volume I includes:
"The governor is misinformed," Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers' union, said on Wednesday. "New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation."
Asked how he would characterize New York's overall performance, Mr. Pallas said: "I think that everyone would likely agree that we want students to leave high school being able to do a lot more than they can right now. But the characterization of this as a crisis is a political argument."
To the Editor:
Re "Cuomo Cites School Crisis; Data Suggest Otherwise" (news article, Jan. 24):
Some critics claim that the education crisis that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has rightly called out is just a myth: You report that they say "it would be hard to justify describing the situation in New York as a crisis, unless persistent mediocrity itself were a crisis." This reminds me of the difference between a recession and a depression: A recession is when your neighbor is unemployed; a depression is when you are.
Similarly, whether you believe that our school system is in crisis may depend upon whether you are forced to send your child to a failing school, which the crisis-deniers plainly do not do.
In New York State, nearly 800,000 students in grades 3 to 8 fail to meet grade standards. In a kindergarten class of 30 minority children, just two will graduate from college. In New York City, 143,000 children are stuck in failing schools, where less than one in 10 can read or do math; 96 percent of them are minority children, and 93 percent are poor.
To those who doubt that we have a crisis, I say: Enroll your child in one of the failing schools to which we relegate the poor and the disenfranchised. You will quickly change your mind.
New York, Jan. 26, 2015
The writer, a former chairwoman of the New York City Council's Education Committee, is the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has been laying the groundwork for an aggressive education agenda as he begins his second term, signaling that he will seek several major changes that, atypically for a Democrat, will put him in direct conflict with teachers' unions.
In speeches, interviews and a letter over the past few weeks, the governor has said that he thinks the state's teacher grading system, only in its third year, is too easy to pass, making it too difficult to fire underperforming educators. He has suggested that the limit on the number of charter schools needs to be raised or eliminated. He has also expressed support for a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships.
All of those positions are opposed by the teachers' unions, and they, along with advocates of charter schools and other groups that back those changes, have already committed hundreds of thousands of dollars this month to television advertisements in New York City and Albany, leading up to Mr. Cuomo's State of the State speech on Wednesday.
The 2012 Urban Hope Act authorized the state to open four new public schools in Camden, and three opened this year, which are run by the charter school operators KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Mastery Charter Schools. Over the next several years, these three schools will gradually expand their enrollment until they serve the majority of kids in Camden.
These schools enjoy the same autonomy as charter schools in selecting their teachers and managing their budgets, but they also have one major thing in common with traditional public schools: They're attached to specific neighborhoods, so most of their students were assigned to attend them. Charter schools, on the other hand, generally accept kids from an entire city, and parents make a choice to send their kids to them.
Drew Martin, 34, who's the school leader at KIPP Cooper Norcross, says this provides an opportunity to rebut critics who claim that the only reason charter schools perform so well is that they attract the most involved parents willing to make the effort to look for better options for their kids, and that they push out the most difficult students.
These days, the energy in reform is with those who are taking the fight to the courts. Mayors, chancellors, and the rest of the Albany Establishment are too entangled in political interests to make change, the activists claim, and education reform's best chance is to bring lawsuits to challenge teacher tenure as unconstitutional.
Brown is their unlikely public face. Tenure, she says, violates students' rights to an equal education, protecting bad teachers and preventing productive turnover. Enshrining that legal principle, of true equal opportunity for every student, would presumably require a much fuller and more radical transformation of the school system than the one reformers envision—or even really support. But anti-tenure litigants won their first suit in California this summer, and Brown plans to help file suitsin two more states this year and ten in total over the next five years. Her first big day in New York court comes on January 14, when lawyers for her Partnership for Educational Justice will address the state's motion to dismiss its suit. It's unlikely her group will win, but the New York State chancellor has already announced plans to rethink tenure.
Even in school reform's new lawsuit era, hand-to-hand combat is still the preferred mode of resolving—or not resolving—conflict. Brown has become the latest vilified figure in a decades-long PR battle—between the teachers union, one of the last powerful unions in the U.S., and "reformers"—to rival the ugliest type of corporate warfare. That battle can be high-minded; Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, says schools are doing fine: "New York's graduation rates have increased by double digits since 2001, and New Yorkers still prize their public schools." And the fight can be low-minded: The union has denigrated Brown as a patsy for her husband, and a pair of union-backed lobbying groups set up a website where she's portrayed as a puppet being manipulated by two bankers with "1%" lapel pins. (Whether the union had anything to do with the site getting picked up by Twitter spambots seems an open question.)
"They say I don't have standing to comment on schools because of my appearance and who I'm married to, and I say that's just pathetic," says Brown. "They don't want to engage in a debate because they have no argument." As for operatives who have said inflammatory things, such as that Brown's tabloid-ready charge that unions are protecting sexual predators in the teacher corps was "equivalent to a blood libel"? She waves a hand. "I've covered the White House and been yelled at by presidents," she says. "If people in power are pissed, it usually means you are doing something right."
The non-profit behind the Vergara lawsuit, Students Matter, is adding two former LA Unified lightning rods to their ranks. Ex-Superintendent John Deasy and founder of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin, are joining the advocacy group.
Students Matter successfully sued the state of California and its public school teachers unions, overturning five laws governing tenure, seniority and dismissal that the student plaintiffs argued kept ineffective teachers in their classrooms. The state and the unions have appealed, vowing to defend the statutes challenged in the case.
It's the second job-related announcement this month for Deasy, who will be serving on the Students Matter advisory board. He was recently named a consultant for The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems as a "superintendent-in-residence." Austin will serve as head of policy development and advocacy for Students Matter, leading the organization's "Courtroom to Classroom" campaign.
"By hiring Ben Austin and adding Dr. John E. Deasy 's expertise to our board, Students Matter is expanding its commitment to fighting for political change that focuses on the needs of our kids,"David Welch, the group's founder and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur said in a press release today.
Austin stepped down last month as executive director of Parent Revolution, a group he founded six years ago to aid parents pushing for change in their children's poorly-performing schools. Under his leadership, the organization played a role in creating California's parent trigger law and, later, helping three area schools use it. Three other schools used the threat of it to force changes.
Prior to that he served as a Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles under Mayor Richard Riordan and worked as a senior advisor to Rob Reiner and First 5 California. In 2010, he was appointed to the California State Board of Education.
Deasy resigned from LA Unified in October under pressure due to mounting criticism of his managerial style and several bungled technology initiatives. Since resigning, criticism of his three-and-a-half year tenure has continued, fueled by a federal grand jury investigation into his $1.3 billion iPad program.
It's unclear whether he would be held accountable by the grand jury for any aspect of the iPad program, which sought to put an iPad in the hands of every LA Unified student and teacher.
During his years as superintendent, graduation rates rose along with student test scores, and dropout rates fell.
There are enormous inequalities in education in the United States. A child born into a poor family has only a 9 percent chance of getting a college degree, but the odds are 54 percent for a child in a high-income family. These gaps open early, with poor children less prepared than their kindergarten classmates.
How can we close these gaps? Contentious, ambitious reforms of the education system crowd the headlines: the Common Core, the elimination of teacher tenure, charter schools. The debate is heated and sometimes impolite (a recent book about education is called "The Teacher Wars").
Yet as these debates rage, researchers have been quietly finding small, effective ways to improve education. They have identified behavioral "nudges" that prod students and their families to take small steps that can make big differences in learning. These measures are cheap, so schools or nonprofits could use them immediately.
Let's start with college. At every step of the way, low-income students are more likely to stumble on the path to higher education. Even the summer after high school is a perilous time, with 20 percent of those who plan to attend college not actually enrolling — a phenomenon known as "summer melt." Bureaucratic barriers, like the labyrinthine process of applying for financial aid, explain some of the drop-off.
While they were graduate students at Harvard, two young professors designed and tested a programto help students stick to their college plans. Benjamin L. Castleman, now at the University of Virginia, and Lindsay C. Page, at the University of Pittsburgh, set up a system of automatic, personalized text messages that reminded high school students about their college deadlines. The texts included links to required forms and live counselors.
The result? Students who received the texts were more likely to enroll in college: 70 percent, compared with 63 percent of those who did not get them. Seven percentage points is a big increase in this field, similar to the gains produced by scholarships that cost thousands of dollars. Yet this program cost only $7 per student.
The same researchers also tested a texting program to keep students from dropping out of college. The problem is important because the graduation rate of low-income college students is dismally low; two-thirds leave without a degree. Community college students received texts reminding them to complete their re-enrollment forms, particularly aid applications. Among freshmen who received the texts, 68 percent went on to complete their sophomore year, compared with 54 percent of those who got no nudges. This, too, is a big impact — especially for a program that cost only $5 per student.
Just over half of all students attending public schools in the United States are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to a new analysis of federal data.
In a report released Friday by the Southern Education Foundation, researchers found that 51 percent of children in public schools qualified for the lunches in 2013, which means that most of them come from low-income families. By comparison, 38 percent of public school students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2000.
According to the report, which analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics, a majority of students in 21 states are poor. Close to two-thirds of those states are in the South, which has long had a high concentration of poor students. In Mississippi, for example, close to three-fourths of all public school students come from low-income families.
But the West also has a large and growing proportion of low-income students. Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada have high rates of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Children who are eligible for such lunches do not necessarily live in poverty. Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568, for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
The number of children eligible for subsidized lunches has probably increased in part because the federal Agriculture Department now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.
Still, it is clear that public schools are educating higher numbers of low-income children, and the trend has been going on for much longer than the period that started with the most recent recession.
Dartmouth College is banning hard alcohol from its campus and putting its notoriously rowdy fraternities on notice that they need to reform or disband, in the latest move by an elite school to crack down on a party culture that has been closely tied to sexual assault.
Before it was discredited, a coed's sensational story alleging gang rape at the University of Virginia prompted the university's president, Teresa Sullivan, to suspend fraternity and sorority activities on campus so that underlying problems of frat-house excesses could be addressed. The result, announced Tuesday, is an encouraging and realistic agreement by student and university leaders to crack down on the sort of binge drinking and partying abuses that have given frat-house behavior a notorious reputation on campuses across the nation.
Under the agreement, at least three "sober and lucid" fraternity members will monitor behavior at parties where "jungle juice" and other potent alcohol punches will be banned along with beer in kegs. Guest lists are to be tightly enforced at the door. One monitor will be in charge of watching frat-house bedrooms with a set of keys to guard against sexual assaults.
The agreement does not dwell on the Rolling Stone rape story that was challenged in subsequent reporting by The Washington Post. Rather, to the credit of the student body and university, the new code focuses candidly on already well known frat-culture excesses that for too long have invited uncontrolled and even criminal behavior on some campuses. The agreement, in which student fraternity leaders played an important role, is worthy of being used elsewhere.
It is important that student leaders played a major role in the process. In a separate statement, the leaders made the point that in allegations of misconduct "universities must demonstrate more respect for the fundamental rights to due process" — an apparent reference to errors in the rape story that spread widely. For its part, the university stressed the students' responsibility to address "high-risk drinking, sexual misconduct and unhealthy power structures" at fraternity events.
Together, the two sides have produced a code of mature behavior to protect what Ms. Sullivan called "our community of trust." It is timely as well: the fraternities' spring rush for new members begins next week. No one knows better than the university's students and leadership that the campus will continue to be watched closely to see how closely the code is observed.
Teach for America, the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation's most troubled schools, is suddenly having recruitment problems.
For the second year in a row, applicants for the elite program have dropped, breaking a 15-year growth trend. Applications are down by about 10 percent from a year earlier on college campuses around the country as of the end of last month.
The group, which has sought to transform education in close alignment with the charter schoolmovement, has advised schools that the size of its teacher corps this fall could be down by as much as a quarter and has closed two of its eight national summer training sites, in New York City and Los Angeles.
…Some say the decline in applicants could point to a loss of luster for the program, which rose to prominence through the idea that teaching the nation's poorest, most needy students could be a crusade, like the Peace Corps. Teach for America has sent hundreds of graduates to Capitol Hill, school superintendents' offices and education reform groups, seeding a movement that has supported testing and standards, teacher evaluations tethered to student test scores, and a weakening of teacher tenure.
"We are sort of at 2.0 of education reform, and its future direction seems a little bit uncertain at this point," said David M. Steiner, the dean of the Hunter College School of Education in New York.
Leaders of the organization say their biggest problem is that the rebounding economy has given high-achieving college graduates more job choices.
"It's so different from three years ago, where suddenly you have candidates that may have an offer from Facebook and Wells Fargo and an offer to join the T.F.A. corps, and clearly, the money is going to be radically different," said Lida Jennings, executive director of the Los Angeles office of Teach for America.