Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘EdWeek’

Backward March!

In Federal on July 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

The National Urban League, which is having its centennial convention this week, backed off of its criticism of President Obama's education agenda.

Michele McNeil reports that a group of civil rights organizations who released a document criticizing Obama and the Department of Education’s reforms have done an about face. Despite originally calling for Race to the Top and other recent reforms to be dismantled, three of the groups now say the document was released too early and do not support it. Instead, they say that they agree for the most part with what the Administration has done. Hugh Price, former president of the Urban League, one of the original organizations signing the document, called what the White House has done the “most muscular federal education policy I’ve ever seen.” This comes after Duncan said that he thought the criticisms were unwarranted and that the DOE’s policies have been particularly effective for minorities.

President Obama today spoke at the National Urban League’s 100th Anniversary Convention, pressing for support of his actions, saying that the pushback is due to “a general resistance to change, a comfort with the status quo .” He called education the “economic issue of our time” and said that the reforms that have passed are all about accountability. In the end, it seems the critics have backed off, whether from fear or from a feeling that they were being to hasty. The Reverend Al Sharpton, who was supposed to be one of the speakers at a press conference for the document on Monday that was eventually cancelled, said he agrees with the president and is “prepared to fight for a lot of what he’s saying.”

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Four Days a Week, Four Days a Week

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

The AP reported today that Caldwell Parish’s experiment with four-day weeks may not have been successful. The school switched to a four-day week just after 2007 test scores were released. Since then, the number of students scoring basic or above on three out of four state tests have dropped.  However, this doesn’t show the whole picture. Superintendent John Sartin says that their “district peformance scores” have actually gone up from 92.8 in 2007 to 96 in 2009 (2010 numbers aren’t available yet). These scores add up not only the test averages, but attendance, dropout, and graduation rates. I’m not sure what that scale is out of, but it’s not based on 100 (I hope!) based on the Louisiana State DOE’s data. They say the parish had the 8th least growth of any in the state at a measly 1%.

Sartin thinks that the four-day weeks are “absolutely not” affecting performance, but logic dictates otherwise. The district has four-day weeks and as far as I can tell from their calendar, they have the same length of the school year as everyone else. It’s hard to tell the length of schooldays from their website, but Louisiana law requires a certain number of hours for students to be in class (called seat time). That means instead of having 180 days with about 7 hours of school, students go to school for about 144 days for almost 9 hours/day. Now let me give you a second for that to soak in. Do you remember when you were in school and the days felt like they were soooo long? Now imagine adding two hours onto that. In economic terms, we have the law of diminishing returns. The longer you’re in your seat at a time, the less effective each additional hour will be. Brains wear down. Kids get tired. Teachers get tired. As a teacher, I loved having time to nap after school before getting back to work on lesson plans and such. A longer day means a less effective use of your time. In a 9 hour day, you will learn more than in a 7 hour day, but if 35 hours is spread over 5 days, it’s going to be more effective than over 4. You might be saving money, but you’re not helping students.

I would like to see a different 4-day model. I want to see what happens when schools stick to 180 days, buts spread it out over 45 weeks instead of 36. There is lots of evidence that students lose a lot of knowledge over the summer with their brains not being as active. Perhaps if education were more evenly spread out throughout the year, learning would be more effective. I’d love to hear some responses to that idea. Am I a genius? A crackpot? What do you think?

Why Oh Wyoming?

In Federal on July 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Now, I’m really confused. Remember a few days ago when I said Wyoming was one of those states? The ones that are so local-control centered that they will never take part in a national initiative like Race to the Test? Well, yesterday to my surprise, Wyoming announced they are adopting the Common Core Standards. The AP reported that state schools superintendent Jim McBride called the Core Standards, “a significant improvement over the standards that we currently have in Wyoming.” The Wyoming Education Department said they were a state-led effort, which is probably the reason they were OK with adopting them. They don’t have to tell people they’re bending to Washington if it’s a “state-led” initiative. The Core Standards reportedly start math earlier and are more rigorous in English than Wyoming’s current ones. Wyoming is now the 14th state to adopt the Common Core.

Wyoming. Famous for... um... low population density?

Is this a turning point, either for Wyoming or Common Core? I’m still having trouble reading Wyoming. I’m not sure whether they’ll join either of the assessment consortia. Common sense would say “yes”, since they will now need new state tests. PAWS will no longer be applicable (yes, that’s the actual name of their state assessment). But common sense doesn’t always guide political decisions. Whether or not Wyoming does anything further to join the fray, I do think this is big news for Common Core. It’s hard to think states, even ones with decent standards, won’t start wondering how Wyoming could possibly be more progressive than them (outside of Alaska and Texas, that is). I predict that within the next month or two, we will see the majority of states signing on, perhaps as many as 40 or 45 by the end of the year. The standards are out in public now and decision makers can clearly see whether their standards measure up. So can their constituents. It’s also an easy financial decision to make. Why spend tens millions of dollars paying Pearson to develop tests for you when you can just adapt ones that other states are already making? R&D is already being done. All you need to do is pay people to reassure yourselves that the legwork was done well.

Creating the Finish Line

In Federal, Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 2:02 pm

It seems as though I am not alone in my criticism of Cortines from my last post. The mayor’s not too fond of his mettle, either. He says he’s not supportive enough of charter schools.

As I said on Thursday, one of the big recent developments is Race to the Test, a contest to create assessments that align with the new Common Core standards. Personally, if they can actually make legitimate assessments that aren’t just multiple-choice fill-in-the-bubble exams that force students to regurgitate information for a few hours at a time, not only will I be impressed, but it will be a major step forward from what the current state tests look like.

The odd thing about this particular race, though, is that instead of allowing a number of different groups to compete for the prize, only three organizations were tapped and all three will be getting something. According to EdWeek, there were originally six consortia, but because there was so much overlap, they combined forces. Two of the three consortia, consisting of 26 and 31 states, are competing for $320 million of the total $350 million to create tests for all grades, while a smaller group of 12 states is aiming at making reliable high school exit exams. Even though these are states creating the assessments, it seems as though the federal government’s suggestions may go a long way to shaping what the tests look like. The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers initially started out with major differences in their proposals, but after the receiving comments on them, their plans now look very similar to one another. Both are planning on having performance assessments spread throughout the year to track development along with a big exam at the end.

Perhaps smarter tests can be integrated into schools better.

One major difference is that despite the fact that both groups are using technology, SMARTER seems to have latched onto the computer-adaptive model, which can lead to greater accuracy and faster tests. For those unfamiliar, most graduate entrance exams (the LSAT, the GRE, etc) at this point use computer-adaptive tests that change depending on how well the student is doing. They are essentially the exam equivalent of an optometrist trying to figure out your vision. Instead of changing the strength of the prescription depending on how well you can see,  questions get harder or easier depending on how well you perform on each question. That way, they can zero in on where your performance is. Why is this important? In most states, standardized tests take a significant amount of time. I can remember my own high school experience in Indiana when the entire school would essentially shut down for a week for the sophomores and students who hadn’t previously passed to take the ISTEP. As a teacher in Arizona, there were separate days  for reading, writing, math, and science sections of AIMS, as well as an additional day for freshmen to take the TerraNova, and that doesn’t even include the extra days in the fall for students who failed the previous spring to retake the tests. If these tests used adaptive technology, they could be whittled down to a fraction of the length, resulting in more accuracy because of less burn-out from the sheer length of the tests.

While these developments are encouraging, there has been some criticism of the process. EdWeek’s Catherine Gewertz says that the timeline might be too quick. The DOE wants these tests to be in use by 2014-2015. For a strong test to be administered, there needs to be considerable piloting and adjustment and four years may not be enough to reliably do that. Bill Tucker of The Quick and the Ed and EducationNext warns that there are some important steps that may or may not happen that could determine the success of the process. His biggest concern is having open platforms and shared infrastructure. The two consortia seem to be working together so far, so it looks like a positive start. We won’t know how successful this initiative is for a couple of years probably, though.