In America’s schools, desegregation is a dream deferred

Demand No. 3 of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was “desegregation of all school districts in 1963.” Fifty years later, we’re still waiting.

And when the nation marks the anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, will the pundits and newscasters even mention this failing? Don’t count on it.

Sure, there are no longer laws that mandate separate schools for blacks and whites. Those were overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, nine years before the march. But as the Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented, U.S. schools are growing more segregated, not less.

The project’s most recent report, released last fall, showed that segregation of Latino students has increased, especially in the West; and segregation remains high for black students in much of the country, despite reduced racial isolation of neighborhoods.

“It is also double segregation by both race and poverty,” project director Gary Orfield and his fellow authors write. “Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates are low-income.”

Among the report’s most striking findings: 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools,” where white students are less than 1 percent of the student body. (In Indiana the figure is 10.5 percent for black students).

And segregation matters. “The consensus of nearly 60 years of social science research on the harms of school segregation is clear: separate remains extremely unequal,” the report says. “Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes.”

School choice may be making things worse. Continue reading

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PDK poll: Charters yes, vouchers no

Seventy percent of Americans oppose the idea of vouchers – publicly funded tuition subsidies for parents who send their children to private schools. On the other hand, 68 percent support the concept of charter schools, and a majority think the U.S. should have more of them.

Those are among the findings of the 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. The poll is conducted each year and is sponsored by Bloomington, Ind.-based Phil Delta Kappa International.

The voucher result is especially interesting. PDK says it’s the strongest opposition since the poll began asking about vouchers, over 20 years ago. Just last year, only 55 percent opposed vouchers. Voucher supporters will argue that PDK is primarily an organization of public-school teachers and its results can’t be trusted. But the question in the poll – “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense’’ – is a straightforward and accurate description of what vouchers do.

And the poll also finds strong and growing support for charter schools, something that may not please public education advocates. This suggests charter schools are here to stay, and maybe we need to judge schools on whether they promote opportunity for all children, not how they’re organized.

Another interesting result is that 58 percent of respondents were against using students’ scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers. That’s a reversal from what PDK found just last year. And it runs counter to the support for test-based teacher evaluations in a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of parents. Continue reading

Will Indiana schools reject grades?

Fort Wayne Community Schools took a bold step in deciding not to recognize school grades awarded under the A-to-F system created by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. But will others follow the lead of Indiana’s largest school district?

There seems to be considerable agreement the grading system is flawed. But almost 900 Indiana schools were awarded an A last year. Those schools have a pretty strong incentive to think the system got it right, at least where they are concerned.

And Bennett’s adjustments to the grading system had the effect of raising grades for more than 160 schools, as NPR State Impact Indiana showed last week. Does that make it less likely that some teachers, parents and elected representatives will shun the system?

A-to-F was looking shaky this summer as a result of the widespread computer disruptions of the state tests that are the main inputs for school grades. Richard Hill, a testing expert hired by the Department of Education, found the disruptions didn’t hurt students’ overall test scores. But individual students may have been affected, Hill conceded. And school officials will say that a handful of scores can make the difference between an A and a B – or between a D and an F.

Then came the revelation that Bennett, as state superintendent, altered the grading system last fall in a way that boosted a charter school run by a campaign donor from a C to an A. Maybe getting an A wasn’t such a badge of honor.

Indiana political leaders aren’t ready to jump ship, however. Continue reading

Jonathan Plucker straight up

Jonathan Plucker has been guest-posting this week at Education Week’s Rick Hess Straight Up blog, and it has been great reading for anyone who’s interested in Indiana education politics or education policy in general.

Plucker was director of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy until last fall, when he returned to his home state to become a professor at the University of Connecticut. He offers an inside take on the email controversies involving former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, along with original thoughts about teacher preparation, poverty and special education.

// Tony Bennett – Plucker did work for Bennett’s Indiana Department of Education, and he likes Bennett while being blunt about some of the man’s faults. Notably, he helped develop the initial framework for the state’s A-to-F school grading system, the subject of the Bennett email flap. “IDOE staff eventually took our model in a different direction, one I didn’t agree with,” he writes, downplaying the frustration that he no doubt felt.

// Teacher preparation – We don’t really know a lot about what types of preparation produce the best teachers, he writes. Therefore it makes sense to encourage innovation and let “1,000 flowers bloom” while evaluating what works. He says teachers are professionals and should have some control of what it takes to join the profession.

// Mitch Daniels – This is Plucker’s take on the emails in which Daniels, the former Indiana governor, insisted that students and prospective teachers shouldn’t be exposed to American history according to Howard Zinn. He says attempts at political intimidation are a fact of life when you work in state policy. Continue reading

Three ideas worth considering

With everyone hunkered down over A-to-F school grades, Common Core, and Tony Bennett’s emails, it’s refreshing to hear new and interesting ideas for improving education. Here are three, presented in an Indianapolis Star op-ed by Terry Spradlin of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy and gleaned from multi-state conversations aimed at creating a “blueprint for college and career readiness.”

Redesign the senior year of high school: Students who are ready for college should focus on AP or dual-credit college classes, Spradlin writes. Students who plan to go to college but aren’t ready should take classes that combine remediation with college gateway credits. Those who aren’t college-bound could use the year to become certified for jobs that are in demand.

Review math requirements for college programs: “It is becoming apparent that the math remediation problem in college is somewhat of a manufactured crisis because of our ‘one size fits all’ singular math pathway,” Spradlin writes. Continue reading

Lifting ‘ceiling’ helped Christel House, other schools

It was widely reported last week that Tony Bennett boosted the grade for Christel House Academy by finding a way to disregard scores on high-school-level algebra and English assessments. But that only got the school’s grade from a C to a B. How did it get to an A?

Here’s the answer, thanks to Cynthia Roach, director of assessment for Indianapolis Public Schools: Indiana Department of Education staff also removed a “ceiling” that had been used in calculating grades.

This is a pretty big deal. The change improved final grades not only for Christel House but for more than 140 others schools. Some school officials may have been aware of the new approach, but I can’t find evidence that DOE officials discussed it as a policy matter with the State Board of Education or shared it with the public.

Indiana’s grading system gives schools 4 points for an A, 3 points for a B, 2 for a C and so on. Elementary-middle schools get a base grade for the percentage of students who pass ISTEP exams in math and English/language arts. Additionally, they get up to 2 bonus points if a high percentage of certain students show “high growth.” Sub-grades for math and English/language arts are averaged to produce the school’s overall grade.

The state initially put a ceiling of 4 points (an A) on the math or English sub-grade for any school; in other words, a school couldn’t get extra credit for high scores and high growth in the same subject. State board members said this would keep schools from getting an A if they didn’t excel in both math and English. You can see an explanation and the rationale for the ceiling in items No. 11 and 29 from an old FAQ document for the state’s grading metrics. But those items were deleted from the current version of the FAQ.

The ceiling was still in place last summer, according to information provided to school officials at the time. And it was still there when Jon Gubera, the DOE’s chief accountability officer, emailed Bennett with the bad news that Christel House had earned a C. The school’s elementary-middle students earned 3.5 points for their math passing rate and got 1 point for growth, a total math sub-grade of 4.5 But Gubera capped the math score at 4.

Once the ceiling was lifted, however, Christel House had just enough points to meet Bennett’s expectation that the school get an A. Continue reading

Tony Bennett’s sad fall

Tony Bennett went down defiant and dissembling, insisting he did nothing wrong when he boosted the grade of a charter school run by a political supporter. That’s too bad. Everyone would give him a lot more credit if he owned up to making a mistake.

Bennett resigned Thursday as Florida commissioner of education, saying he didn’t want the state to be distracted by the grade-changing scandal from 2012, when he was Indiana superintendent of public instruction. He blamed “malicious and unfounded reports” and insisted he was only trying to make sure the grading system was fair for all.

“What we did in Indiana was very simple,” Bennett said. “We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools to have their grade truly reflect their performance because they were unfairly penalized for kids they didn’t have in their school. That wasn’t rigging anything. I believe we did the right thing for Indiana schools and Indiana children.”

But the intra-departmental emails that Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco unearthed tell a very different story. Bennett was focused on making sure Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school founded by philanthropist and GOP mega-donor Christel DeHaan, got an A. Christel House initially got a C because its high-school-age students bombed the state algebra exam. But Bennett knew Christel House was an A school – so the scoring system had to be changed.

As Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation writes, “It’s clear from the emails obtained by the AP that he was working backward from a pre-determined outcome in applying the state’s accountability rules to charter schools he favored … That’s the opposite of equal justice under the law.” Carey adds that Bennett crossed a line when he mischaracterized the grading change in a Q&A this week with supporter Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. Continue reading