Monday, May 20, 2013

Standards-based reform lacks evidence

By James Shuls

This past weekend, I was featured prominently in a story by Elisa Crouch of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the Common Core State Standards.

Crouch summarized my position on content standards like this: “Shuls of the Show-Me Institute would prefer parents and schools to set their own standards, rather than states.” She also quoted me as saying, “Ultimately, there’s absolutely no evidence that content standards improve education.” Both of these are true, but they deserve a little more explanation. In this post, I will address the evidence on content standards.

Proponents of national standards often point to some of the top-performing countries and note that they have national standards. These proponents often fail to point out that some countries that perform better than us do not have national standards and many who perform worse than us do have national standards. We could just as easily point to those countries at the bottom and say, “look, national standards don’t work.”

Even at the state level, the evidence that rigorous standards improve student achievement is very weak. The Fordham Institute, one of the biggest supporters of the Common Core, has issued grades for state standards for some time now. Using these grades, the Brookings Institution examined the correlation between the rigor of each state’s standards and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The authors concluded that there is no relationship between standards and performance. Moreover, they predict that the Common Core will have very little impact on student achievement:

"What effect will the Common Core have on national achievement? The analysis presented here suggests very little impact. The quality of the Common Core standards is currently being hotly debated, but the quality of past curriculum standards has been unrelated to achievement. The rigor of performance standards — how high the bar is set for proficiency — has also been unrelated to achievement."

Believing that rigorous standards will increase student achievement may be a fine theory, but it simply has not panned out in practice. There are several reasons for this, which I will address in my next post. I will also explain why I think parents and schools could do a better job of setting standards than the government.


My advice for graduates

    Don’t take the job that pays the most money. Nothing wrong with money, but it’s the wrong criterion for choosing if you are fortunate to have a choice in this not-so-great job market. People often confuse economics with anything that is related to money as if the goal of economics is to make you rich. But the goal of economics is to help you get the most out of life. Money is part of that of course, but usually there are tradeoffs–the highest paying job has drawbacks. Don’t ignore those.

So take the job that is the most rewarding in the fullest sense of the word. Sure, money matters. But so does how much you learn on the job, how much satisfaction it gives you and whether it lets you express your gifts. The ideal is to find a job you love that still lets you put food on the table and a roof over your head. You spend a lot of time at work. Don’t do something you hate or that deadens your soul just because it pays well.

    Time is precious. One of the simplest but most important ideas of economics is the idea of opportunity cost:  Anything you do means not doing something else. Don’t spend all of your leisure on email and twitter and entertainment. Keep your brain growing. Listen to Planet Money. Read a novel. Take a cooking class or keep working at that musical instrument.

    Finally remember the question Mary Oliver asks in her poem, The Summer Day:

    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

    You don’t have to answer that question today. Or even tomorrow. But time is precious. Find a way to use your gifts. If you don’t have any gifts, invest in finding some. If you have some, invest in improving them.


Rise of the supersized schools in Britain: Baby boom and immigration behind increase in primaries with more than 1,000 pupils

The size of primary schools has rocketed in the last three years as Britain deals with an explosion in the birth rate fuelled by the rise in young immigrant families.

There are 60 per cent more supersize primaries with more than 700 pupils - including some with more than 1,000 - than in 2010, according to Department for Education statistics.

While three years ago there were no schools with more than 1,000 pupils, it is now becoming more common to have six classes in each year.

There are now 130 schools with more than 700 pupils, compared with just 80 three years ago.

Supersized schools are most prevalent in deprived areas, particularly east London and central Birmingham, where cheap council housing is available for families.

Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, already has 1,200 pupils and will expand to accommodate 1,600 by 2014, according to the Guardian.

Local authorities are forcing headteachers to open mobile classrooms on playing fields and in playgrounds, music rooms and libraries, in order to comply with laws meaning councils must find all children a school place, the newspaper reported.

But a National Union of Teachers study earlier this year found a fifth of areas where new free schools were being built, under the Government's scheme, already had at least 10 per cent of places going spare.

Colin Ross, a school governor and Sheffield city council shadow cabinet member, said primary schools should not exceed 420 pupils - or two classes of 30 in each year.

He told the Guardian: 'Parents want to know that primary school teachers know their children. If a school becomes bigger than 420, it is very difficult for staff to know each child.'

Bob Garton, head of the 1,200-pupil Gascoigne Primary in Barking, east London, said: 'We have no open space. We had a playing field, but temporary classrooms are on that now. We don't have one spare room. We are full to bursting.'

But Kay Jones, headteacher of Pinkwell primary in Hayes, Middlesex, which currently has 983 pupils and will expand to 1,200 by 2016, said size was not a barrier to good teaching.

'Class sizes are the same as in other smaller schools and we make sure there are only 300 children in the playground at any one time,' she said.

Studies have shown that pupils may be less likely to be bullied in larger schools but research on whether large primaries are better or worse for children are inconclusive.


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