Tag: the achievement gap


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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Take It Higher


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This week’s Dropout Nation Podcast focuses on the internal cleansing school reformers and other caring adults must do to reform American public education. Far too many within traditional public education…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

This week’s Dropout Nation Podcast focuses on the internal cleansing school reformers and other caring adults must do to reform American public education. Far too many within traditional public education are either defending the status quo of systemic academic failure, anti-intellectualism, obsolete organizational structures and poor practices that perpetuate a dropout crisis in which 150 teens every hour drop out into poverty and prison. Strong action in reforming public education — including calling out those defenders — is key to improving and elevating education for our children.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Watch: Michelle Rhee on Teacher Quality and Achievement Gaps


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(Click on the headline to watch the video) Certainly Michelle Rhee knows how to stir up controversy — especially when it comes to her efforts as chancellor of D.C. Public…

(Click on the headline to watch the video)

Certainly Michelle Rhee knows how to stir up controversy — especially when it comes to her efforts as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools to improve the district’s abysmal quality of teaching and curricula. Her decision to dismiss 241 teachers rated as ineffective by the district’s year-old IMPACT system (which uses student test score data as part of evaluations) is going to be contested by the district’s dysfunctional American Federation of Teachers local and will play its part in the election battle between her patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty and rival (and Rhee foe) Vincent Gray. Rhee’s bedside manner isn’t exactly lovely. But she deserves much praise for her Churchillian commitment to seriously overhauling a school system once called the Superfund Site of American public education and for slowly revamping an obsolete regime of teacher compensation that is terrible for children and high-quality teachers alike.

In this clip from her 2008 testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee, Rhee not only explains why improving teacher quality is important, but why we can no longer count on integration and the noble desire to improve education for all children to address racial-, ethnic- and gender-based achievement gaps. Improving education for all children not only requires dedication to the idea that all children can learn and deserve the best education. It also means restructuring a system that has long damned itself (and kids) to low expectations. Also, watch this Dropout Nation video on how Rhee’s teacher czar, Jason Kamras, is working to improve teacher quality and the challenges he faces in doing so.

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The Magic Bullet-Shooting Holes Fallacy in the Urban Teacher Quality Debate


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One problem within the debates over education reform is what I call the “magic bullet-shooting holes” fallacy: The tendency of each side to either attempt to use some sort of…

We need a Chase Mielke in every urban classroom. Let's get to making it happen. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Gazette

One problem within the debates over education reform is what I call the “magic bullet-shooting holes” fallacy: The tendency of each side to either attempt to use some sort of magic bullet to prove their argument or tear down the argument by complaining that the research is full of holes. Given the fact that education research is, for the most part, so notoriously lacking in rigor that debates can end up being little more than shouting matches with five-dollar words in substitute for salty language, this isn’t surprising. But it often means that one of the two sides tend to miss the point entirely.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek– one of the foremost researchers in education — exemplifies this in a commentary on Education Next about addressing the low level of academic instruction in America’s poorest schools. Arguing that there is more inference than evidence that low teacher quality is the underlying cause of woeful student achievement, Hanushek then declares that several of the key methods used by school reformers to determine this — most-notably the teacher salary comparisons pioneered by Marguerite Roza and the Education Trust — offer little evidence that this is so.

Certainly the Roza model isn’t exactly foolproof. Some of the worst-performing school districts certainly have plenty of veteran teachers. Which is often as much a problem in those districts as having far too many inexperienced teachers. Considering that just 1.4 percent of tenured teachers are ever dismissed for performance issues (and less than seven-tenths of one percent of newly-hired instructors are ever fired), the veteran status of teachers merely means they have avoided felonious activity and more-rigorous performance management. Additionally, as  Dan Goldhaber and Michael Hansen of the Center for Reinventing Public Education pointed out in their report, the average 25-year veteran is no more effective at improving student achievement than a teacher who has taught for four years.

But the Roza method does offer a  good starting point for measuring teacher quality among and within school districts. Why? Because the nature of the current teacher compensation system — in which teachers must earn years of seniority and numerous degrees before gaining high levels of salary and benefits — means that salary can be used to measure the number of newly-minted teachers in a school or district. Salary and experience are positively correlated (even if experience and teacher quality may not). As Hanushek concedes, there is correlation between the number of rookies on a teaching staff and the quality of instruction. I have used Roza’s basic method in my own work, most-notably in a 2006 editorial on improving teacher quality in Indiana’s poor urban schools.

Yet Hanushek fails to consider the fact that there are other ways of measuring teacher quality in urban schools which can stand scrutiny. This is something he should know quite well.

There are teacher absenteeism levels: For one, the higher the level of absenteeism, the more likely students are being taught by substitute teachers — who, no matter one’s views on credentials, are usually teaching out of field and thus providing lower-quality instruction; the measure may also show whether a large percentage of a teaching staff is coasting towards burnout. There is also the percentage of teachers with less than three-to-five years of experience; Hanushek already concedes that there is a correlation between number of rookie teachers and quality of classroom instruction.

Another is the percentage of teachers reassigned to new schools more than once every three years; this allows researchers to determine the percentage of teachers who are part of the notorious dance of the lemons that occurs between schools year after year. One could even use teacher test scores on such tests as the Praxis I — which is required in most states for initial certification — along with the percentage of teachers who have failed those tests and retake them for a second or third time.  As Katie Haycock of EdTrust (Hanushek’s foil in this debate) also points out, even the value-added assessment techniques Hanushek pioneered is offering new evidence that low-quality teaching is at the heart of urban school failure.

It is sad that Hanushek (and, to a lesser extent, Fordham Institute research czar Mike Petrilli) engage in the same sort of “magic bullet-shooting holes” argument that plagues so much of the education reform dialogue. Improving the quality of education for the poorest students requires high-quality reasoning and dialogue, along with high-quality research.

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Voices of the Dropout Nation: This Past Weekend


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“Black men must mentor Black boys.  No other way has worked or will work.  Many Black men say that they, themselves, have too many problems and competing issues or that…

They are all our children. All of us -- including black men and even white men -- should teach them well.

“Black men must mentor Black boys.  No other way has worked or will work.  Many Black men say that they, themselves, have too many problems and competing issues or that they are “too busy” to mentor Black boys… Unless Black men mentor Black boys, Many, if not most, Black boys will continue to struggle and fail in this life.” — Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project on the need for black men to play stronger roles in the lives of young men.

If traditional public schools had been meeting the community’s needs, there would never have been a discussion of using public education dollars for anything other than “traditional” neighborhood schools. This is not the case. America has had it up to ‘here’ with the failures of traditional neighborhood schools. Therefore, charters have no impact on good traditional schools.” —CNN commentator Steve Perry on why urban parents are looking to charter schools and other forms of school choice.

Mistreatment and miseducation causes student failure. The failure experience as a repeated occurrence frequently constitutes child abuse for at-risk kids as debilitating and inexcusable as the better publicized child abuses.  Moreover, failure is condoned and perpetuated as expected traditional educational policy. Teachers, having been successful in school, have difficulty relating to kids’ devastating failure and imperiled lives. Educators and community leaders who should be outraged are, instead, contributing to the calamity… Meanwhile, children’s lives are devastated. Without publicity, there is no outcry; without an outcry, there is no change.” — Bill Page of the At-Risk Student Advocate to EducationNews‘ Michael Shaughnessy about why he is dedicating “my twilight years” to activism on behalf of the most-neglected children.

“If we revert to a patchwork of standards and assessments that vary according to political pressures or societal and community biases, historically disadvantaged students, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will be mislabeled as achieving high standards when in fact they are not. In turn, the schools in which poor and minority students are enrolled are likely to be overlooked when it comes to badly needed investments in teaching and learning and in formulating and implementing fundamental reforms in chronically failing schools.” — Democrats for Education Reform and the Education Equality Project in a recent report explaining the need for standardized testing.

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Watch: Rod Paige on Black Leaders and The Achievement Gap


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As black leaders figure out their mission in a Barack Obama America, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige offers direction on what they should really concentrate on: Addressing the…

As black leaders figure out their mission in a Barack Obama America, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige offers direction on what they should really concentrate on: Addressing the achievement gaps that have condemned far too many young black men and women to crime and poverty. Estimating that just a five-percent decline in the number of dropouts would result in $8 billion in additional economic productivity, Paige (now back in Houston) argues that the conventional focus of civil rights activists on institutional racism and disputes over flags are meaningless given that so few blacks can actually reap the gains.

Paige, whose book The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time is now in print, offers some thoughts in the following short video, taped yesterday during his presentation at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in D.C. Watch and consider (mobile viewers can also download the video).


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