Friday, December 17, 2004

Another Congresswoman endorses change for NCLB

NCLB isn't going away. But I think some people have underestimated the broad support for change to the three year old Act. I have written in the past about members of Congress who support change; I've just found another.

Congresswoman Nancy Johnson (R-CT) said of NLCB: "We've had a lot of problems with it... We're trying to straighten it out." She still supports No Child Left Behind, but like a growing number of lawmakers, she has come to understand that the problems are very real.

Will that realization lead her to actively try to fix the Act? Doubtful, but I'll be watching.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Is accountability for Republican contributors, too?

Education Secretary Rod Paige visited several charter schools operated by White Hat Management in Ohio yesterday. He praised the innovative spirit of charters-- and rightfully so. I think charters hold a lot of promise.

But when I dug a little deeper, I wasn't quite as hopeful. White Hat Management runs a majority of Ohio's 225 charter schools and raked in $344 million in state revenue for their troubles. The company is run by an industrialist, David Brennan, who is one of the top contributors to Republican candidates -- nationally and in Ohio. (He personally contributed $155,000 in 1998 alone.)

Shouldn't there be some sort of law preventing people who receive government contracts from giving money to the very government officials who provide their livelihood? Is it just me, or is that shady?

But the shadiness doesn't end there. Charter schools in Ohio -- and elsewhere -- have generally performed abysmally; 71% of charter schools there were placed in "academic emergency" compared to 10% of public schools. And the state nearly put a moratorium on charters this year because they weren't even reporting basic information to the state Department of Education.

Secretary Paige clearly thought they should be rewarded with a visit full of gushing praise.

Now, I'm not often accused of being fair, but decency requires me to point out the nuances of this situation.

First, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't point out that the 71% number means very little to me. Why? Because it's based on one test. Yes, I'm opposed, as nearly any thinking individual must be, to basing one's entire judgment of a thing as complex as a school on one test given on one day of the year. I'm opposed to it in all cases -- even if that opposition means that a company I don't like benefits from it. Principles aren't always convenient.

Further, many charter schools -- including many of those run by White Hat Management -- take students that have dropped out of public schools. Their task is difficult to say the least. Many public schools oh-so-subtly push kids out so that they don't drag down their test scores in this era of insanely high stakes tests. Charter schools often step in to fill the void for these teens who would otherwise have little hope of a high school degree. That their test scores aren't impressive shouldn't be a shock or even a cause for any real concern.

Still, most for-profit education companies are operating in the shadows. They come out into the light -- briefly -- when someone like Secretary Paige comes to town, but other than that, they avoid the scrutiny of the public whenever possible.

It's quite possible that these for-profit companies will have ever expanding roles in the education system; we need to understand them better in their day-to-day operations, and not just when a high ranking official shows up for photos.

Highly qualified or highly connected?

There's more than a little irony in this story. First Daughter Jenna Bush wants to teach. Hey, if she's crazy enough to join this wonderful profession of ours, then I say welcome.

There's one problem, though. Her father's No Child Left Behind Act requires that each class have a highly qualified teacher. As an English major with no teaching experience, I think it would be a stretch to give her that label. Perhaps -- gasp --the law doesn't apply equally to everyone?

Apparently, you don't have to be highly qualified if you're the President's daughter. (via Susan Ohanion)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Making sense of the alphabet soup

The education headlines today will be dominated by the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The basic summary is that things stayed pretty well the same. That is, American kids score pretty much in the middle in math and science compared to other countries. Not much of a surprise here since NCLB has not had enough time to take root -- for good or for bad.

For an analysis of the difference between the TIMSS test and the PISA test (whose results were released last week), click here.

For more on TIMSS, click here.

And for a totally contrary view, read Monty Neill of Fairtest.org's editorial in today's USA Today.

And last but not least, I've been meaning to link to one of my favorite blogger's analysis of the PISA test results: Chris Correa, of the aptly named chriscorrea.com, found that countries that focus on rote memorization fared the worst on the PISA test.

I'll look forward to reading his analsyis of the TIMSS results, too.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Heading for the Supreme Court?

It will take a few years, but it looks increasingly likely that Florida's financial support of Christian schools will have to be judged by the Supreme Court.

Florida already provides voucher money for students who attend parochial schools, in violation of the state's constitutional clause against public funding "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." A district appellate court ruled that the voucher programs must end. The state appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

And now this. The state will soon provide money for pre-K programs with "Christ-centered" curriculum. Florida Senate President Tom Lee, a Republican with a temporary conscience, spoke out against this, only to realize that in today's political climate, that may not be the smartest political move. He retracted his oppositional statement within hours.

Christian schools are fine. They should thrive and prosper -- but not with public funds. They are, and should remain, private institutions. I think before the decade is out, the Supreme Court will make a similar statement. Let's hope so.
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