Monthly Archives: April 2018

April Comments 4/26/2018



Build and Support Successes

Larry Cuban reports on Richard Whitmire’s (a strong proponent of trendy charter schools) visit to one of the best charter schools in the nation which eschews “no excuses” and blended learning in favor of a broad curriculum, student engagement and support, and active instruction based on the research on and experience of the world’s highest performing schools, districts, and nations.

Contrary to flat NAEP growth in the rest of the country California’s NAEP 8th and 4th Grade Reading and Math Average Score has grown substantially and has posted the top growth scores in the country for the years for 8th grade reading and math and 4th grade reading. It was weak in 4th grade math but still gained. for 2009-2017 (the Common Core and Brown administration years using a base line of 2009). California has the most second language students, the most diversity, and high levels of low income children compared to other states

Reading: 8th grade: First in the nation +10 and now within 2 points of the national average.

4th grade: Tied for 2nd nationally +6  and now within 6 points of the national average.

Math: 8th grade: Tied for second nationally +6, Now within 5 points of the national average.

4th grade: Tied for 15th in growth +1. 7 points behind nationally.

Some subgroup info:

Hispanic growth scores for reading 2009-2017; 8th grade reading +10; 4th grade reading +8

Black: 8th grade +7; 4th grade -1!!!.

Hispanic growth scores for math: 8th grade +6; 4th grade +4

Black: 8th grade +5; 4th grade +1!!

Two California Urban Districts under the Trial Urban Districts Assessment (TUDA).

LA: 8th grade reading average score growth 2009-2017. +11.  1st in nation.

4th grade reading: +10;  1st in nation (Tied DC)

8th grade math:  +8 (Tied for 3rd)

4th grade math: +1 (Not good—tied for 7th)

San Diego

8th grade reading: +10. (2nd nationally after LA)

4th grade reading: +9.  (tied for 2nd nationally)

8th grade math:  +3 (tied for 7th)

4th grade math +1 (tied for 7th)

California also made substantial jumps in NAEP rankings of average scores adjusted for poverty, diversity, and special ed.

In 8th grade reading we are now 14th in the country up from the low 40’s as recently as 2013. In 4th grade reading 19th in the country up from the high 30’s in 2015.

In math we are 22nd in 8th math from the low 40’s as recently as 2013.34th in 4th grade math up from the low 40’s in 2011 and 2015.

Some confirmation of these results is provided by our most recent SBAC 11th grade reading scores. 60% now reach the “proficient” level—a level consistent with 4yr college work and the NAEP proficiency level which compares favorably to the other SBAC states that are much less diverse. To me, getting 60% of our diverse students to that level is impressive and a tribute to the hard work of our educational practitioners and policy direction. On the other hand, the state is much weaker in SBAC math performance at 11th grade (although improving) and the other testing grades. Math will be a major area of subsequent improvement efforts

What caused these increases? There is no certainty yet, but my candidates are the slow roll-out of the common core with plenty of opportunities for buy-in and understanding, the wide-spread policy coherence and educator agreement in the state grounded in a positive build and support, empowering approach rather than a more punitive strategy, a growing shift at the state and district levels from compliance to collaboration and support, the broad agreement on and willingness to use the highly-respected California curricular frameworks explicating common core and putting instruction at the core of improvement efforts, and a commitment of local schools and districts to team-building around deeper learning, professional development, continuous improvement, and adoption of quality materials. And, finally and crucially, a local control funding shift which provided significantly more funds especially for harder to educate students.

Important note: NAEP proficiency does not mean grade level but is equivalent to being prepared for a 4yr college. Many commentators suggest it is A, A-, or B+ work. See the comment by James Harvey

Peter Greene discerns a move back to the importance of a steady build-up of content in all the disciplines to effective reading comprehension.; and

Experts say that failure to attend to the build-up of knowledge through literature, history, science, humanities etc. is one of the major causes of flat NAEP scores.

Similarly the Knowledge Matters campaign makes the same point:

NAEP reading scores stagnant, time for a reading reset, say top reading experts
WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 10, 2018. Results from the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are “stubbornly flat,” said Carol Jago, Vice Chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP tests. She spoke [by video] at the official release of the 2017 NAEP scores, which showed that reading scores, generally stagnant for years, fell a point at 4th grade, leaving the 4th grade scores where they were in 2013; and rose by just 2 points at 8th grade, leaving those scores still a point behind where they were in 2013.

A panel of reading/language arts experts, speaking at the release of the results at the National Press Club, called for major changes in how reading is taught.

Panelists highlighted the need to focus reading instruction on increasing student knowledge of science and social studies topics. Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham said, “once students are fluent decoders, the key determinant of comprehension is what a student already knows about a topic.” He said our challenge is “to assure that every child is exposed to a curriculum that is knowledge-rich and appropriately sequenced.”

Ian Rowe, CEO of New York City’s Public Prep charter school network said, “what keeps us up at night,” is figuring out how to build students “knowledge foundation.” Providing “access to a broad base of background knowledge empowers students to understand” what they’re reading.

See But how students gain that background knowledge, particularly weak readers who are frequently put into “easier books,” was a topic of central importance for the panel.

Tim Shanahan, a longtime reading expert and professor emeritus at University of Illinois/Chicago, called for doing away with the practice of assigning students to books at their “level.” He described the popular practice, which he said is used in the majority of elementary schools, as harmful. “We believed students would only be able to read if they were put in easy texts, and it became the dominant way of teaching reading.” More current research shows that, “At best, this has no positive effects and at worst, it’s been found to do real damage—to hold kids back. “

Dr. Marilyn Adams, of Brown University, said that new cognitive and neuroscience research “destroys the underpinnings of our traditional view of reading development” which drive current practice. According to Adams, the new research indicates that “the widespread practice of giving students easier texts when they’re weaker readers serves to deny them the very language and information they need to catch up and move on.”

The Knowledge Matters Campaign issued its own statement highlighting some of the same evidence the panelists cited. Panel moderator Susan Pimentel called for “a greater focus on deliberately building students’ background knowledge of the world, so they can comprehend the texts they read,” calling such an approach “the best hope for improving reading results.” Building on Pimentel’s perspective, KMC Executive Director Barbara Davidson called for a “reading reset.” For a copy of the Campaign’s full statement, see

Civic education and engagement is crucially important for children of immigrants.

A useful site for civic engagement resources. Useful materials on civic engagement for educators.

News Literacy Project helps students tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Effective English instruction is crucial for math performance for English-as-a-Second-Language children.

A powerful statistics alternative to Algebra 2 for non-stem students by Pam Burdman.

Willingham proposes that the latest research on how students learn inform teacher training.

Larry Cuban asked top teachers how they define success.

My students are successful in future classes of the same subject.

97% of the teachers agreed and strongly agreed with statement.

My students are consistently engaged in content that is intellectually challenging.

96% agreed and strongly agreed.

Other teachers whom I respect give me positive feedback on my teaching.

96% agreed and strongly agreed.

My students tell me that they enjoy being in my class and having me as a teacher. 94%

My students perform well on assessments I have created. 94%

My students consider me someone they can trust and confide in. 94%

My students consistently behave in a way that meets my expectations.93%

My school leaders give me positive feedback on my teaching.93%

My students’ parents compliment me on my work with their children.92%

My students go on to college at high rates.88%

My students perform well on my state and district standardized tests.81%

New federal report shows crime in schools dropped significantly in the last two decades.

Just 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being the victim of a crime at school during the 2015-16 school year, the most recent period for which data is available – a big drop from the 10 percent of students who said they were the victim of a crime two decades before.


“Reforms” and Public School Funding Cutbacks Hurt

A New York Times articles in which teachers chronicle dreadful conditions of public school buildings and shoddy materials. 25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools

Loss of school libraries is harming reading performance.

Who suffers from state and local tax-cut packages for attracting companies—public schools.

Indiana superintendent explains how voucher funding is draining funds from every public school.

Jeff Bryant on why teacher uprisings may hit Blue states too.

Most Americans think teachers are underpaid and here is a chart to prove it.

Rick Hess, an intellectually honest “reformer” finds fault with the “reform agenda” and the rhetoric in support of it.

Another Hess piece reports on how an uncritical “reformer” rooting section was led astray by DC schools

Another example of failed mayoral control of schools, this time in Washington, DC. i

Another research paper showing teacher evaluation using Value Added Measures based on test scores doesn’t work.

Why giving letter grades to schools is a bad policy. This school in Arizona is functioning well but received a demoralizing letter grade from the state.


Charter, Voucher, Virtual-School Travails

Teachers at a no-excuses school complain of “dehumanizing” students.

Russ on Reading argues that expanding no-excuses charters is a bad idea.

Success Academy, a charter chain in NY City claims high success rates but only a few students of the original cohorts survive and that small group is then compared to the much larger cohorts in traditional public schools. Success Academy opened in 2006 with 156 students — 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Now, eleven years later, they have their first graduating seniors, though just 17 of them.  In my last post I wondered what can be learned about the Success model by examining who exactly those 17 students are.

A big question, and one that might never be answered, is how many of those 17 students were actually among the original 73 first graders.  Since Success allows transfers up until 4th grade it is possible that some of those 17 students transferred in which would make their attrition rate even worse than the 77% that it is at a minimum.

Texas Education Agency forces conversion to charters of Houston public schools serving Black and Brown children by threatening the district with a takeover in the face of evidence that such strategies don’t work but cause severe community collateral damage.

Diane Ravitch quotes a report by Guy Brandenburg on the large number of schools (47) in Washington, D.C. which have “never opened at all, even though they had raised funds, wrote curricula, were approved by the board, hired staff, began enrolling students, but never actually got their act together to hold classes and teach students. This list also leaves out several schools where the founders were found to be using their institution mostly to enrich themselves illegally, and the charter was transferred to another institution.”

Another comment by Diane Ravitch on a study by researchers at the University of Indiana who found that Indiana students who enroll in charter schools lose ground academically for two years.  About half of them subsequently return to the traditional public schools. The remaining students then do a little better.

A third comment by Diane Ravitch on how a NY State audit found that the self-dealings of the Gulan charter schools by leasing buildings from a controlled entity wasted $3 million.

Ohio charters spend more per pupil but obtain worse results than traditional public schools.

Six years ago an expose in Maine detailed the corruption surrounding virtual schools.

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