Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Study Finds More Than $1 Billion in Public Funds to Improve California Schools Yielded Little Student Academic Improvement

Study also explores failures of CA's API system to adequately measure academic improvement and capture best practices

Approximately $1.25 billion in state public education funding provided to schools to help improve student academic performance has yielded little if any academic improvement, even though these schools met the state Academic Performance Index (API) requirements to exit the improvement program as successful. This analysis comes just as the state is set to carry out the agreed upon terms of last year's SB 1133 (Torlakson) and pour nearly $3 billion more into a similar program.

This finding is included in a new study released today by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a free-market think tank based in California. "Failing our Future: The Holes in California's School Accountability System and How to Fix Them" exposes the flaws in California's school accountability system, the API, and makes recommendations to improve it. The study, co-authored by James S. Lanich, Ph.D., president of California Business for Education Excellence and Lance T. Izumi, director of Education Studies at PRI, can be downloaded free of charge at and at .

The study reviews the API system and finds that it is not an accurate or meaningful measurement of school and student academic achievement. The study also looks in-depth at two school improvement programs: the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II-USP) and the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP). Each program offers additional money to schools, which according to the API, are low-performing schools. Review of student test scores at the 1,620 low-performing schools that participated in these programs over three years, versus low-performing schools that did not participate, shows no significant difference in academic achievement over time as measured by improvement in grade-level proficiency on the California Standards Test (CST).

Collectively these two programs have spent approximately $1.25 billion or an average of $771,604 per school. Despite this lack of improvement in achievement, these schools met their API growth targets established by the state for successful implementation with sufficient results for exiting the program. The lack of significant academic improvement by schools participating in these programs is particularly troubling given that the state is set to spend an additional $2.9 billion of state taxpayer funds to continue a program that does not require higher rates of improvement. AB 1133 (Torlakson), signed into law last year, uses the $2.9 billion settlement from CTA, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al. to continue the High Priority Schools Grant Program.

The study also finds the API's "growth" targets are so minimal that simply by achieving the state required "growth" each year, it would take a school with a starting API score of 635 or less (3,423 of California schools have this API) between 61 to 84 years to reach grade-level proficiency. "If we keep using the API as our benchmark for gauging school and student academic improvement, we'll continue to deceive parents and the public about how our students and our schools are really performing academically," said Mr. Lanich. "We should be gauging academic achievement on the single most important measurement: grade-level proficiency. It's simple, it's understandable, and it's the standard every parent expects and every student should meet every year."

Mr. Izumi added that grade-level proficiency is not only a more rigorous measurement than California's API, it is more meaningful because it allows teachers, administrators and parents to understand precisely what is working and not working in our schools. "Under the API, we have an 'accountability' system that isn't accountable."

Poor and Minority Children Left Behind Under California's API System

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that not only a certain percentage of all students at a school attain grade-level proficiency in reading and math every year, but also that significant racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other subgroups of students achieve those proficiency targets as well. The eventual goal is to have 100 percent of students reaching grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2013-14. Since the API system focuses on collective school-wide performance and growth, there is no incentive to intervene and improve schools with lower-performing students as long as enough higher-performing students keep the school's average scores above the API benchmarks. School-wide API measures fail to detect or address stagnant or declining minority student performance.


According to Failing Our Future, California should set higher expectations for improvement for all schools, abandon the complicated API, focus efforts on grade-level proficiency as measured by the CST, and replicate the best practices from high-performing schools, especially those with low-income and minority populations.

The study profiles two exceptional California schools, the C.A. Jacobs Intermediate School in Dixon and Laton High School in Laton. "For state school accountability systems to be effective, there must be swift interventions and meaningful consequences for the performance or non-performance of schools," said Mr. Izumi, "Unfortunately, as our study shows, California's system is severely deficient in this crucial area."


Britain to abolish head-teachers?

The days of the "hero head", who manages everything in a school from hiring staff to ordering books, could be numbered, according to a report which suggests that business leaders with no classroom experience could run schools. Leaders with a classroom background would still be required for teaching and learning, but there was no reason why they should not report to a principal or chief executive, responsible for overall strategy and non-academic operations.

The report, prepared for the Government by the consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, follows fears of an impending shortage of head teachers and concerns that workloads, bureaucracy and over-regulation were deterring deputies from applying for headships. Although ministers deny there is a recruitment problem, they acknowledge that the job of leading a school is now so complicated that a new, "modern" approach is needed.One of the biggest barriers to reform identified by the report is the "hero head" perception, among teachers, parents and heads themselves, which presupposes that for big decisions, "only the head will do". Distributing leading responsibilities among a team was often more effective, it concluded.

The report recommends that schools consider new types of leadership: a federated model brings groups of schools under one "super-head"; a multi- agency model has schools run by a team that includes teachers and staff from other agencies, such as health and social care. Schools could also be clustered into groups, with heads rotated from school to school.

The structure of governing bodies should also be changed, the report says, suggesting the creation of "meta-governors" working across a number of schools in a locality. It also recommended greater flexibility in the rewards offered to heads. As well as increasing the pay differential between heads and other staff, it suggests allowing heads to take time off during term time.

Teaching unions were divided over the findings. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was not opposed to non-teachers being brought into certain school leadership roles: "The possibility should be opened up that the best of school leaders who are not qualified teachers - the bursars and business managers - should be able to come through to the top job, provided that the person in charge of teaching and learning is a qualified teacher."

But Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The primary purpose of schools is to educate pupils, not to be commercial organisations. Head teachers have told the Government they do not believe that those without teaching experience can run our schools."

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that the report's recommendations would be discussed with the teaching and support staff unions before any action was taken. The National College of School Leadership would be given 10 million pounds to support its strategy to help to identify future head teachers and cut the time that it takes to qualify, he said.


Aztecs vs. Greeks: Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise


If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed. That number demarcates the top 10% of the IQ distribution, or about 15 million people in today's labor force--a lot of people.

In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.

Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence

How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized--it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.

The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level. The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good. The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.

All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.

The goals that should shape the evolution of American education are cross-cutting and occasionally seem contradictory. Yesterday, I argued the merits of having a large group of high-IQ people who do not bother to go to college; today, I argue the merits of special education for the gifted. The two positions are not in the end incompatible, but there is much more to be said, as on all the issues I have raised.

The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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