Category Archives: School reform

New research suggests ‘education gap’ in American society now more a function of economic class than of race

The New York Times reports:

Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects…

N0w, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist.

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National Council on Teacher Quality: K-12 teacher tenure being weakened or eliminated in more U.S. states

The Associated Press (via ABC News) reports:

America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic “satisfactory” teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers’ unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers.

STEM education in the media spotlight

In the wake of his State of the Union address this past week, President Obama is touring the country and speaking, among other topics, about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and the American economy.

For instance, yesterday, Obama toured a new Intel manufacturing plant in Arizona that has struggled to find qualified workers in the U.S. and thus has had to outsource some parts of the manufacturing process overseas, as PC Magazine reports. The president addressed the issues of STEM education and the American workforce’s readiness to participate in the high technology economy in his State of the Union speech (see Scientific American’s roundup of expert reactions to Obama’s STEM-related remarks).

Perhaps due to the attention brought to this topic by the president’s speech, a number of STEM education-related news items have surfaced in recent days:

  • A new survey conducted by M.I.T. uncovers reasons why American secondary students decline to pursue STEM studies (and, hence, STEM-related careers). Reasons include the perception that STEM fields are “too challenging.”
  • The National Center for Science Education has announced it will “fight efforts to slip incorrect climate science information into school lessons. ‘We are seeing more efforts in legislatures and schools to push climate misinformation on teachers and students,’ says NCSE head Eugenie Scott.” [Source: USA Today]
  • In a new podcast, the New York Times reports “an increasing number of parents are turning to outside organizations to supplement science education in the schools.”

South Texas school district suspends all sports programs

The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times reports:

Premont ISD has canceled its sports programs to save money and focus on academics as it tries to meet sweeping improvements proposed by the state.

[Superintendent Ernest] Singleton decided to temporarily end athletics after basketball season ends.

The ban runs until basketball season in late fall, meaning Premont students will go without tennis, track, baseball in the spring and volleyball and football in the fall. Other extracurricular activities, such as fine arts, are not affected.

When trustees last week signed an agreement with the state to stay open, Singleton warned parents and residents that he would make tough and unpopular choices to meet the Texas Education Agency’s 11 demands…

According to a school district press release:

Premont I.S.D. has been assigned an Accredited-Probation status due to the ratings assigned to the district in the financial accountability rating system and the state’s academic accountability rating system. Specifically, Premont I.S.D. was assigned a 2009 academic accountability rating of Academically Unacceptable, and a 2008, 2009, and 2010 financial accountability rating of Substandard Achievement.

Higher teacher salaries lead to better student achievement, economists argue

Writing in the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science, researchers Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez describe their analysis of data from the world’s largest economies and argue:

[There is] a clear statistical association between higher relative teachers’ pay and higher standardised pupil scores across countries. Our research with aggregate country data supports the hypothesis that higher pay leads to improved pupil performance. As an indication of the relative size of this effect, we find that a 10 per cent increase in teachers’ pay would give rise to a 5-10 per cent increase in pupil performance. Likewise, a 5 per cent increase in the relative position of teachers in the income distribution would increase pupil performance by around 5-10 per cent.

Virtual schools continue to draw controversy – and government dollars

Last April, I posted about a New York Times article which described growing controversy surrounding Web-based distance education in K-12. Now, the Washington Post has profiled one particular company, K12, Inc., that has become “the country’s largest provider of full-time public virtual schools.”

Conceived as a way to teach a small segment of home-schoolers and others who needed flexible schooling, virtual education has evolved into an alternative to traditional public schools for an increasingly wide range of students — high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying, among them…

It’s an appealing proposition, and one that has attracted support in state legislatures, including Virginia’s. But in one of the most hard-fought quarters of public policy, a rising chorus of critics argue that full-time virtual learning doesn’t effectively educate children…

People on both sides agree that the structure providing public education is not designed to handle virtual schools. How, for example, do you pay for a school that floats in cyberspace when education funding formulas are rooted in the geography of property taxes? How do you oversee the quality of a virtual education?

Thousands of students transfer to private schools as Indiana implements nation’s most extensive voucher program

The Associated Press (via St. Louis Today) reports:

Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.