Taking the “Count” Out of Accountability

by Robert Pondiscio
October 23rd, 2008

Thousands of Ohio students who take state standardized tests aren’t part of the final grades reported by school districts, reports the Columbus Dispatch.  And the state says it has no way of knowing whether school districts are removing students from the testing rolls appropriately.  The paper reports an average of 4,000 students fell off the rolls for each of the 23 Ohio Achievement Tests given last school year. 

Here’s how the process works: Students take a standardized test. A testing company grades their work, then sends scores to the school district.  At that time, districts can remove students’ scores if they have withdrawn from the district or never attended in the first place. Even more students are stripped when districts report their scores to the state, because the Department of Education removes students who didn’t spend the entire academic year in the district.

Columbus schools dropped, on average, 11.4 percent of students from its test results, the paper reports.  ”In doing so, passing rates climbed at every grade level, sometimes dramatically.”  No surprise there, since students who don’t stay in school for the entire year tend not to do as well as those who stay put.  But then there’s this line in the story:  “Columbus schools cut fewer test scores from its rolls than its mobility rate would indicate it could.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

It’s The Economy, Stupid. Right?

by Robert Pondiscio
October 23rd, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says failing public schools pose America’s greatest national security concern–undermining the United States’ ability to lead and to compete in a global economy.  Speaking at a conference in Long Beach, California, Rice said it breaks her heart to see “kids who might be the next Nobel Prize winner trapped in some public school that’s just basically warehousing them.”

As a secretary of state, it makes me terrified because if we cannot do better in educating all of our people, then we are not going to be competitive in a global economy…We’re going to become protectionist, we’re going to turn inward, the United States is not going to lead.

In an unrelated NY Times op-ed, the Berkeley professor of education and public policy Bruce Fuller takes exception to fusing “the fundamental purpose of schooling to the capitalist yearning for economic expansion.”

Sure, as parents we want our children to succeed economically. But we also worry about whether they are forming supportive friendships in school and becoming confident thinkers in the hands of nurturing teachers. While contemporary parents still subscribe to humanistic ideals when it comes to children’s well-rounded development, the new utilitarian approach is too quick to fuse schooling to dollar signs. Do we really need more college-educated workers or would we be better off with young people who are employed and engaged in their local communities?  

Does Certified Equal Qualified?

by Robert Pondiscio
October 23rd, 2008

Should mid-career switchers, including former military personnel, be able to go directly into teaching without obtaining certification.  John McCain seemed to suggest as much in the last presidential debate. Over at Teacher Magazine, the question is being hotly debated.  Unsurprisingly most find the idea wanting.  Says one:

If military retirees are allowed to go straight into the classrom, then why not allow all college graduates to do the same thing?  As the nation argues for more accountability for teachers, why would we lower the bar for the necessary post-secondary education needed to become a teacher?

At least one teacher, however, is willing to suggest there is a difference between being certified and being qualified. 

Private schools do not require their teachers to be certified, and many have very qualified teachers….I agree that teachers should have extensive training in pedogogical practices before they become teachers, but I’m not sure if taking the Praxis and doing all of that paperwork towards my certification has made me a better teacher. 

Math Scores: U.S. Cities vs. The World

by Robert Pondiscio
October 23rd, 2008

Students in six major U.S. cities–Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, New York and San Diego–are performing as well or better in mathematics than 4th and 8th graders in other countries, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

However, students from five other major cities–Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia and Los Angeles–are performing below the international average, and sometimes well below.  The research compares data on the U.S. cities math performance in the NAEP 2007 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in  Mathematics with international numbers culled from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). 

USA Today looks at the numbers and concludes “Fourth- and eighth-grade students in…Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, New York City and San Diego actually hold their own against international competitors from Singapore, Japan, England and elsewhere.”  That’s an overly generous description given that Singapore has 73% of its 8th graders proficient in math; Japan has 57%; while the top U.S. cities in the study, Charlotte and Austin, have a proficiency rate of 34%.  However, the international TIMSS average among 8th graders is a mere 21%.  For it’s part AIR concludes:

The findings in this report reinforce the fact that neither the typical student in the United States or in any of the 11 urban districts has achieved the Proficient level of performance found in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, and Japan. If the United States is counting on today’s mathematics education to seed the future technology and science needed to carry our cities and our nation forward, then we are already at a competitive disadvantage.

A press release on the study is here.  The full report is here.