Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another cautionary tale

In their zeal for taking over failing schools, education policy makers should take into account Edison Schools, Inc. The company has been in trouble since its beginning and now, it's got more trouble. From the Philly Inquirer:

Edison Schools Inc., and the Chester Community Charter School, which educate most of the district's students, have both been cited for testing irregularities that raise questions about claims of improved achievement.

Edison yesterday fired Jayne Gibbs, the principal of Parry Middle School in Chester Upland who was accused by students of giving them answers during state testing last month. The company also said it would ask the state and district to investigate exemplary test results at Showalter Middle School when Gibbs was principal there in 2003 and 2004.

...The fast-growing charter school has attracted attention for its apparent successes - and for the ambitious plans of its management company to expand not only in Chester Upland but also into the William Penn School District. Both districts are in Delaware County.

Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said that Gibbs had been terminated based on a draft report of a school district investigation into the cheating allegations, which neither he nor Chester Upland officials would release.

"The report is not final, but there are enough findings that we believe merit her termination," Tucker said. He said the findings included "misconduct around the April administration of the PSSA at Parry."

...When Gibbs was at Showalter in 2002 and 2003, scores skyrocketed on both the PSSA and the SAT-9, another standardized test that Edison administers. Edison said Showalter was the one school that most eagerly embraced the company's teaching methods. Tucker said yesterday that, based on the report's findings, Edison would ask the state and the district to recheck Showalter's scores, possibly by comparing the test scores of individual students with their grades and their subsequent performance in high school.

"We think a look at Showalter's scores may be warranted," he said, adding that "at the time, we had no reason to believe those scores were not valid, and we don't know if they're not accurate now."

From 2002 to 2003, Showalter's scores jumped 62 percentage points in math and 39 in reading on the PSSA - from fewer than 20 percent of the students being proficient in math to more than 70 percent.

Granville Lash, a persistent Edison critic on the three-member control board that runs the district, said Edison, the district and the state should have more aggressively looked at the Showalter results earlier.

"I have told educators [to investigate] since Dr. Gibbs was at Showalter and getting fantastic PSSA scores that were almost humanly impossible based on the students' educational background and their scores in the past," he said. "But no one at Edison was suspicious of these scores."

At the 1,300-student Chester Community Charter, officials decided on their own to exempt special-education students from the regular tests, even though it was against federal and state rules.

State officials caught the lack of compliance during a review in March, just weeks before the 2005 PSSA tests were to be administered.

State officials inspected student records at the charter school prior to the April PSSAs and agreed to only one exemption, Michael Carricato, a division chief in the Bureau of Special Education, said yesterday. That compares with 16 exemptions taken by the school last year - 18 percent of the 87 fifth-grade students in the testing pool.

Wow. Cheating. Exempting nearly 20% of students. This is progress?

Another cautionary tale

In their zeal for taking over failing schools, education policy makers should take into account Edison Schools, Inc. The company has been in trouble since its beginning and now, it's got more trouble. From the Philly Inquirer:

Edison Schools Inc., and the Chester Community Charter School, which educate most of the district's students, have both been cited for testing irregularities that raise questions about claims of improved achievement.

Edison yesterday fired Jayne Gibbs, the principal of Parry Middle School in Chester Upland who was accused by students of giving them answers during state testing last month. The company also said it would ask the state and district to investigate exemplary test results at Showalter Middle School when Gibbs was principal there in 2003 and 2004.

...The fast-growing charter school has attracted attention for its apparent successes - and for the ambitious plans of its management company to expand not only in Chester Upland but also into the William Penn School District. Both districts are in Delaware County.

Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said that Gibbs had been terminated based on a draft report of a school district investigation into the cheating allegations, which neither he nor Chester Upland officials would release.

"The report is not final, but there are enough findings that we believe merit her termination," Tucker said. He said the findings included "misconduct around the April administration of the PSSA at Parry."

...When Gibbs was at Showalter in 2002 and 2003, scores skyrocketed on both the PSSA and the SAT-9, another standardized test that Edison administers. Edison said Showalter was the one school that most eagerly embraced the company's teaching methods. Tucker said yesterday that, based on the report's findings, Edison would ask the state and the district to recheck Showalter's scores, possibly by comparing the test scores of individual students with their grades and their subsequent performance in high school.

"We think a look at Showalter's scores may be warranted," he said, adding that "at the time, we had no reason to believe those scores were not valid, and we don't know if they're not accurate now."

From 2002 to 2003, Showalter's scores jumped 62 percentage points in math and 39 in reading on the PSSA - from fewer than 20 percent of the students being proficient in math to more than 70 percent.

Granville Lash, a persistent Edison critic on the three-member control board that runs the district, said Edison, the district and the state should have more aggressively looked at the Showalter results earlier.

"I have told educators [to investigate] since Dr. Gibbs was at Showalter and getting fantastic PSSA scores that were almost humanly impossible based on the students' educational background and their scores in the past," he said. "But no one at Edison was suspicious of these scores."

At the 1,300-student Chester Community Charter, officials decided on their own to exempt special-education students from the regular tests, even though it was against federal and state rules.

State officials caught the lack of compliance during a review in March, just weeks before the 2005 PSSA tests were to be administered.

State officials inspected student records at the charter school prior to the April PSSAs and agreed to only one exemption, Michael Carricato, a division chief in the Bureau of Special Education, said yesterday. That compares with 16 exemptions taken by the school last year - 18 percent of the 87 fifth-grade students in the testing pool.

Wow. Cheating. Exempting nearly 20% of students. This is progress?

Special ed exemptions

As expected, Spellings announced yesterday that 3% of special ed students will be exempted from standard state assessments. The previous level was 1%.

In Texas, the news was welcomed. But last year Texas exempted 9% of special ed students and said that the Education Dept. was out of touch with Texas students' needs. If 9% needed exemptions, why is 3% OK?

There are two competing issues here: One, some special ed students really can't take a standardized test. Their disabilities genuinely prevent them from having a chance on a test. Two, too many students who fail to perform on tests are being thrown into special ed programs and exempted so that the school isn't punished under NCLB sanctions.

Spellings is trying to find a middle ground. Most education policy wonks I've talked to think the 3% is fairly reasonable. I think eventually a 5% cap on exemptions would be more reasonable.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Victory for Florida teachers and students

Typically, government place mandates on schools while giving little or no money to pay for them. The reverse just happened in Florida:

Florida's public schools got money, but little else out of the 2005 legislative session that ended Friday. And that's fine with them.

Two months ago it looked as though mammoth education reform was headed their way, a nonstop train of changes that included more private school vouchers, middle school graduation requirements, new regulations on the teaching of history, stricter rules on teaching reading in high school, a teacher pay-for-performance plan, and even a requirement that the Golden Rule be part of character education classes.

...But it was all sent tumbling down late Friday night by a Republican rebuke of Bush in the Senate after South Florida school districts got stiffed by new funding formulas and a clash of ideology over criminal background screening of teachers in private schools that take vouchers.

No class-size changes, no new vouchers, no middle school reform. None of Bush's education initiatives passed.

Florida, you are -- for this one brief, shining moment -- the envy of teachers around the nation. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Newsweek's 100 best

Newsweek has their 100 best high schools issues out. I think, as most people probably do, that these rankings are insidious. But what's not insidious is the discussion about what makes a good high school. That's a discussion we should -- and will -- be having as a nation throughout the next few decades.

The story is here.

It's a weird night...

... because I'm about to praise Republicans for the second time in a single night (see the next post down for the other). I think that's more than in the last several weeks combined!

This time it's Florida's Senate Republicans who get the accolades for thwarting Jeb's ambitious agenda to expand vouchers and remove limits on class size. Via the NYT:

...[T]his week, Mr. Bush suffered some of the sharpest losses of his tenure - at the hands of his own Republican party.

On Thursday, the State Senate rejected the governor's proposal to ask voters to scale back the class-size limits they approved in 2002, which he has said would cost taxpayers billions of dollars. It also killed his plan to expand the voucher program, which would have allowed struggling readers to transfer to private and religious schools.

That afternoon, Mr. Bush, who usually sticks to the hushed executive wing of the State Capitol, waded into the circus atmosphere of the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers to lobby for his dying agenda.

...Seven Republicans in the Senate helped Democrats kill Mr. Bush's plan to scale back the class-size requirement, for which the Legislature has already spent more than $1 billion. The Senate did not vote on the voucher proposal, stripping it from another education bill. Some senators said they did not want to expand the voucher program before the Florida Supreme Court ruled on it.

"It's almost like daring the Supreme Court to find it unconstitutional," said Senator James E. King Jr., a Republican from Jacksonville.


Wow. How will these defeats play with the electorate in '08. Jeb's brother ran a campaign focused on his successes with the Texas Lege; Jeb won't be able to do the same. Oh yeah, I know he says he's not running. Call me cynical, but I just don't buy it.

I've gotta hand it to the Senate Republicans here: They stood up to the Governor and stopped some very bad policies from moving forward.

Update: More from the Miami Herald today, too:

After a six-year reign as arguably the most powerful governor in state history, Jeb Bush met mortality last week at the hands of his fellow Republicans.

...
[I]n the unkindest cut of all, they struck at the heart of the self-styled education governor's political legacy: They rejected his call to ask voters to repeal caps on classroom sizes and refused to expand school vouchers.

For a governor who has accrued unparalleled power in Florida and fashioned a national profile as a GOP leader on education and healthcare, it was an abrupt snap to an unprecedented winning streak.

...The class cap rebuff was the strongest sign yet that as Bush closes out his next-to-last year in office, his influence is beginning to wane as legislators who have eagerly granted him unrivaled authority assert their independence.



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