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1) Grad Rate Questions: Sherman Dorn frames 12 questions about the forthcoming grad rate measure. If the 2014 proficiency target provides any indication, the answer to this question, "If there are such required benchmarks, is there any supporting research to suggest that the status or improvement benchmarks are realistic?" will be a resounding no.

2) Swifty Statistics: I'm a sucker for a good Harper's Index, so head over to Charlie Barone's brief on the new school choice and tutoring report. His take: "The take-home message is that more and more students are exercising their options to transfer to another school or to enroll in after-school tutoring. The number who chose to transfer more than doubled. The number enrolled in after-school programs increased over 500%."

Charlie's index gives us raw numbers, but the percentages of eligible students participating in choice and SES are 1% and 17%, respectively. On the choice tip, everyone likes to blame districts for not notifying parents (70% of districts required to offer choice to elementary students notified parents; 20% did at the middle school level, and 17% did at the high school level). However, the report notes that:

Most districts that did not offer the school choice option said it was because all schools at that grade level were identified for improvement. Districts typically have fewer total schools available at the middle and high school levels: 77 percent of districts with high schools have only one high school and 67 percent of districts with middle schools have only one middle school, while 53 percent of districts with elementary schools have only one elementary school.

Even if we consider the group of parents who were notified and had options in their districts, very few chose to leave their schools. The literature I've seen on choice suggests at least four reasons for low choice participation: 1) revealed preferences (parents are actually pretty happy with their schools, and have better information than NCLB does about these schools), 2) preferences for closeness to home and other non-academic features of schooling, 3) a lack of information about school options, and 4) structural barriers to choice (attending a non-neighborhood school imposes costs on the choosers). Whatever the reasons, we need to ask whether school choice is a better NCLB policy option than more targeted interventions that could be delivered to struggling students in the schools they currently attend.

The raw numbers are misleading in a lot of ways. The % of students enrolling in SES shot up to around 20% in the first few years of the program, but has been stuck there for the last two or three years now. Considering that the program has been less than a rousing success, though, it is worth nothing how many more kids are enrolling in these tutoring programs that are often of somewhere between unknown and dubious quality.

Check out http://detentionslip.org for all the crazy news stories in public schools and education.

I find choice one of the most problematic provisions of NCLB -- and certainly problematic as a "first option."

One, it really only makes sense as a response to schools which are particularly inept compared to similar schools -- which is highlighted by the number of districts where all the middle schools and high schools are labeled failing. Even among elementary schools, the difference between failing and not-failing may be as much demographics as instruction. In our district, the elementary schools in "program improvement" are the ones with significant English-learner populations or significant numbers of students with disabilities. Those groups don't necessarily have higher test scores at the not-failing schools -- they are just a smaller group at those schools. It's really not clear that moving your child from one school to another would make a real difference to your child's achievement. And in fact, for parents of English-learners, and parents of students with disabilities, the fact that their child is part of a significantly sized group at a school is often part of the appeal of the school. The challenges their kids face may lead to the school being labeled "failing" but they are challenges that can't be ignored by the school.

Second, in situations like this, the fact that "choice" is available to all parents at a failing school, whether or not their child scores below proficient, is an invitation, in many areas, to a federally subsidized increase in economic/racial/ethnic segregation.

SES, on the other hand, recognizes that schools that are "failing" may not be especially bad, instructionally, but that students who aren't at grade level may need more, and different, instruction than they get during the school day, which seems like a much more positive approach. It's the difference between spending Title I dollars on tutoring vs. spending them on bus service

Rachel, Very well put about the problems with choice and the (unfulfilled) promise of SES. Though it has been poorly implemented and the quality of providers has not been established, as Corey points out, at least it is a targeted intervention that directs resources to poor kids who are struggling in a way that might plausibly improve their achievement.

One issue noted (again, at AERA) is that private SES providers are offering incentives (such as laptop computers) to students who enroll in their programs, but are not particularly worried about student attendance or progress once they get the contract dollars. The providers keep their own attendance records with little or no oversight. In fact, some merely provide study materials (a dvd to go with that computer) or access to a web site. "More students signing up" isn't equivalent to "more students getting additional instruction."

My experience as a parent is that the district has been significantly less than enthused by either option. As the parent of a child in a school in school improvement, I can say that the transfer options (in a district that already has a "school choice" system of alternatives and other geographic cures produced nothing new, or of value.

The SES option was obscured by 1) denying providers the opportunity to rent space in any district building; 2) requiring the parent to attend a face-to-face interview for a district employee to explain the options; 3) refusing to forward applications to SES providers doing online tutoring ("we don't use money to buy kids computors"); 4) setting up their own tutoring program (using materials purchased from one of the well-known chains) and presenting this as the preferred option (and providing in-school space for the program).

This all just layers on top of what little is known about the effects of any of the programs. I was able to get one year of one-on-one (it was supposed to be small group, but I was the only parent who made it through all the barriers--and found them a site from which to offer the tutoring). The school did not cooperate by providing any communication about current levels of performance, setting goals (as they are supposed to), or anything that would have helped to make it useful.

In short--neither the transfer nor the SES are the most helpful features of NCLB. I am absolutely certain that there are more effective interventions. I am also pretty well convinced that neither transfer nor SES is interfering with schools' ability to provide meaningful interventions--the numbers just aren't there. But neither is there any evidence of intensive "catch up" programs offered for kids who arrive at middle school lacking skills (or anyone looking upriver to figure out why); or extended school day or school year for those buildings not making AYP, or doing anything different to respond to those "countable" numbers of kids who speak English as a second language, or who have disabilities.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Margo/Mom: My experience as a parent is that the district has read more
  • DW: One issue noted (again, at AERA) is that private SES read more
  • eduwonkette: Rachel, Very well put about the problems with choice and read more
  • Rachel: I find choice one of the most problematic provisions of read more
  • sweetchuckd: Check out http://detentionslip.org for all the crazy news stories in read more




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