More at the link. h/t Tracey Bowens Douglas
Concord Academy Petoskey, Michigan
Petoskey News, June 3, 2011:
"Concord Academy Petoskey recently became the state's ninth public school academy (charter school) to attain the status of Michigan School of Excellence."
"Concord's authorizing organization, Lake Superior State University, has offered the Petoskey school a new contract to operate for 10 years as a School of Excellence." "...last year, Concord posted a 100 percent graduation rate"
Young Women's Leadership Charter School, Chicago IL
From an April 5, 2011 news article on WBEZ 91.5 website:
"Rahm Emanuel said that he wants an all-girls charter school to add another campus in Chicago. The mayor-elect praised the Young Women's Leadership Charter School of Chicago, while glossing over parts of its record.
`You have three hundred applicants for 50 openings in class,' Emanuel told the crowd of the school's supporters at a downtown hotel. `Let's give them another choice in the city of Chicago. Another charter.'
Emanuel called the school's results `quite impressive,' though state records show only 15-percent of high schoolers there met state standards. The mayor-elect twice on Monday cited a `hundred percent graduation rate' at the charter school."
Joanne Barkan - June 29, 2011
IN A nation as politically and ideologically riven as ours, it’s remarkable to see so broad an agreement on what ails public schools. It’s the teachers. Democrats from various wings of the party, virtually all Republicans, most think tanks that deal with education, progressive and conservative foundations, a proliferation of nonprofit advocacy organizations, right-wing anti-union groups, hedge fund managers, writers from right leftward, and editorialists in most mainstream media—all concur that teachers, protected by their unions, deserve primary blame for the failure of 15.6 million poor children to excel academically. They also bear much responsibility for the decline of K-12 education overall (about 85 percent of all children attend public schools), to the point that the United States is floundering in the global economy.
In the last few years, attention to the role of public school teachers has escalated into a high-profile, well-financed, and seriously misguided campaign to transform the profession based on this reasoning: if we can place a great teacher in every classroom, the achievement gap between middle-class white students and poor and minority students will close; all students will be prepared to earn a four-year college degree, find a “twenty-first-century job” at a good salary, and help to restore U.S. preeminence in the world economy.
Here is Barack Obama speaking at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia on March 14, 2011:
The best economic policy is one that produces more college graduates. And that’s why, for the sake of our children and our economy and America’s future, we’re going to have to do a better job educating every single one of our sons and daughters…But when the quality of a teacher can make or break a child’s education, we’ve got to make sure our certified teachers are also outstanding teachers—teachers who can reach every last child.
This article will investigate the fix-the-teachers campaign of today’s “education reformers.” It’s not their only project. They also want public schools run with the top-down, data-driven, accountability methods used in private businesses; they aim to replace as many regular public schools as possible with publicly funded, privately managed charter schools; some are trying to expand voucher programs to allow parents to take their per-child public-education funding to private schools. All this will reshape who controls the $540 billion that taxpayers spend on K-12 schools every year. It endangers the democratic nature of public education as well. But nothing affects children more directly in the classroom than what the reform movement is doing to teachers.
Some Necessary Context
Everyone who supports public education believes that only effective teachers should be in the classroom; ineffective teachers who can’t improve should lose their jobs. Accomplishing this requires a sound method for evaluating teachers and a fair process for firing. In the current system, school principals have the responsibility to assess teachers’ performance and dismiss ineffective ones. Making sure that principals do this well is the district superintendent’s responsibility (not the teachers’). The system works if administrators at all levels and school boards do their jobs.
Even with these assumptions stated, a productive discussion can’t begin without first addressing two questions: what accounts for variations in student achievement, and what is the overall state of K-12 education in the United States?
On the first question, research shows that teachers are the most important in-school factor determining students’ academic performance. But they are not the only in-school factor: class size and the quality of the school principal, for example, matter a great deal. Most crucially, out-of-school factors—family characteristics such as income and parents’ education, neighborhood environment, health care, housing stability, and so on—count for twice as much as all in-school factors. In 1966, a groundbreaking government study—the “Coleman Report”—first identified a “one-third in-school factors, two-thirds family characteristics” ratio to explain variations in student achievement. Since then researchers have endlessly tried to refine or refute the findings. Education scholar Richard Rothstein described their results: “No analyst has been able to attribute less than two-thirds of the variation in achievement among schools to the family characteristics of their students” (Class and Schools, 2004). Factors such as neighborhood environment give still more weight to what goes on outside school.
Ed reformers have only one response to this reality: anyone who brings up out-of-school factors such as poverty is both defending the status quo of public education and claiming that schools can do nothing to overcome the life circumstances of poor children. The response is silly and, by now, tiresome. Some teachers will certainly be able to help compensate for the family backgrounds and out-of-school environments of some students. But the majority of poor children will not get all the help they need: their numbers are too great, their circumstances too severe, and resources too limited. Imagine teachers from excellent suburban public schools transferring en masse to low-performing, inner-city public schools. Would these teachers have as much success as they did in the suburbs? Would they be able to overcome the backgrounds of 15.6 million poor children? Even with bonus pay, would they stay with the job for more than a few years? Common sense and experience say no, and yet the reformers insist they can fix public schools by fixing the teachers.
On the second question—what is the state of education in the United States?—both critics and advocates of the reform movement agree that some public schools need significant improvement and that improvement is achievable. But in order to mobilize broad support for their program, ed reformers from Obama on down have pumped up a sense of crisis about the international standing of the entire education system. In reality, however, students in American public schools serving middle-class and affluent children surpass students in other nations in standardized test scores (which ed reformers use obsessively to define success).
The most recent data come from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, released in December 2010. PISA tested fifteen-year-olds in sixty countries (plus five non-state entities such as Hong Kong) in reading, math, and science. Consider the results in reading, the subject assessed in depth in 2009: U.S. students in public schools with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent (measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches) scored 551, second only to the 556 score of the city of Shanghai, which doesn’t release poverty data. The U.S. students outperformed students in all eight participating nations whose reported poverty rates fall below 10 percent. Finland, with a poverty rate of just 3.4 percent, came in second with a score of 536. As the level of student poverty in U.S. public schools increased, scores fell. Because of the high overall child-poverty rate (20.7 percent), the average reading score for all U.S. students was 500 (fourteenth place). In short, poverty drags down our international standing (see this Department of Education site).