Monday, November 15, 2010

Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected

The NYT might be surprised but it's no surprise to IQ researchers

An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another. But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The report, “A Call for Change,” is to be released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.

Although the outlines of the problem and many specifics have been previously reported, the group hopes that including so much of what it calls “jaw-dropping data” in one place will spark a new sense of national urgency. “What this clearly shows is that black males who are not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are doing no better than white males who are poor,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the council.

The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower.

The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.

The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers. The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” Mr. Casserly said.

Other have a different response. The key to narrowing the achievement gap, said Dr. Ferguson, is “really good teaching.”

One large urban school district that has made progress is Baltimore’s, where the dropout rate for African-American boys declined to 4.9 percent during the last academic year, down from 11.9 percent four years earlier. Graduation rates for black boys were also up: 57 percent in 2009-10, compared with 51 percent three years earlier.

Andres A. Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said the improvement had little to do with changes at the margins, like lengthening the school day or adding mentors. Rather, Mr. Alonso cited aggressively closing failing schools, knocking on the doors of dropouts’ homes to lure them back and creating real-time alerts — “almost like an electrical charge” — when a student misses several days of school.

“Hispanic kids and African-American kids this year had a lower dropout rate than white kids,” Mr. Alonso said.


The Lone Star State’s Good Reasons for Going It Alone on Education Standards

Texas Governor Rick Perry was at The Heritage Foundation on Monday to speak on his new book FED UP! Its message is bringing limited, constitutional governance back to Washington and the role that state governments should play in that restoration.

In his speech, the Governor stressed that the election was a clear message to lawmakers in Washington to return to exercising their constitutionally defined powers and that the federal government needs to support the states, not work against them.

One of the areas in which the Governor has demonstrated the kind of state leadership he advocates is education. Texas refuses to sign on to the national standards encouraged by President Obama’s Race to the Top program. National standards would likely standardize mediocrity across the states as well as conflict with the principle that Governor Perry articulated Monday morning: that the best government is that which is closest to the people. The push for national standards represents another area in which the federal government is trying to do a job that should be done by states.

Texas also has another good reason to oppose the suggested “common core” standards, since their Board of Education, under its Perry-appointed Chairman Don McLeroy, recently completed a revision of Texas’s social studies standards. The standards emphasize the American founding, highlight the role of free-market enterprise in American economic success, and institute “Celebrate Freedom Week.”

Media furor over the revised standards focused especially on the alleged removal of Thomas Jefferson from a list of political philosophers, prompting the Huffington Post to call the new standards “propaganda.”

Despite the hysteria, Thomas Jefferson fans can rest assured that the Founder retains his place—actually, places—in a number of different objectives under the new standards. Other revisions include insertion of additional historical figures, organizations, and movements, from The Heritage Foundation and the National Rifle Association to feminist Betty Friedan, labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and of course, President Obama. (Only the first few drew the ire of The New York Times, of course.)

As Governor Perry said to Heritage in October, “Our reforms that we’re putting into place that have been fine-tuned for Texas and our very diverse population out there [are] working.” Texas doesn’t need a one-size-fits-all plan from Washington, and its social studies standards are a good case in point. Governor Perry has reaffirmed Texas’s commitment to the principle of federalism in education.


Teacher, not class size, key to results, says Australian report

GOVERNMENTS waste millions of dollars in education on expensive and ineffectual programs to reduce class sizes. A new report advocates that the money instead be spent improving the standard of teaching.

A report by the Grattan Institute released today aims to refocus the education debate on teacher quality, arguing improving the effectiveness of teachers is the biggest economic reform governments could implement, adding $90 billion to gross domestic product by 2050.

The report says government spending on education increased about 40 per cent over the past decade, much of it spent on reducing class sizes, which has had no effect on improving student or educational standards.

"It is more important for a student to have an effective teacher than to be in a class with a few less students," it says.

"Smaller classes are intuitively appealing. It is easy to imagine that they result in more one-on-one interaction with students, more effective teaching and learning time for each student, and a reduction in the burden of dealing with negative behaviour.

"Unfortunately, the evidence does not support these assertions."

An analysis released this year of the effects of reducing class sizes in the US state of Florida found the program had "little, if any, effect" on learning and behavioural issues such as absenteeism, suspensions and bullying.

But the program was extraordinarily expensive, costing about $US1 million per school per year to reduce class sizes by 2.5 to three students in every year up to Year 8.

The Grattan Institute advocates concentrating resources on lifting the performance of the bottom 10 per cent of teachers to drive improvements in learning, which would be enough to lift Australian students' results to the top tier in international tests.

In the literacy and numeracy tests of 15-year-olds conducted by the OECD, Australia sits in the second tier of nations behind Finland, Hong Kong and Canada. To reach the top tier, Australian students would need to learn at least an extra half-year of curriculum.

The institute's director of school education, Ben Jensen, argues improving teacher effectiveness is the best way of lifting student performance to this level, and increasing the standard of the bottom of 10 per cent of teachers will achieve this.

Dr Jensen nominated five main mechanisms to improve teaching standards: improving the quality of applicants to become teachers; improving the quality of their initial education and training; evaluating and providing feedback to teachers once they're in classrooms; recognising and rewarding effective teachers; and moving on ineffective teachers who are unable to improve.

The last three steps are the most critical development for teachers in Australia.

Dr Jensen said he was not advocating teachers be assessed solely on the basis of their students' results.


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