From whence we came: 1776 til now

Being in a celebratory mood, I looked up a Wikipedia article on U.S. public education in 1776. The first public and oldest existing school, Boston Latin School was opened in 1635. The first tax supported free public school was opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1639, and all northern states had tax supported elementary public schools by 1870. Tax supported schooling for girls began about 1767 in New England, but it was not universal. It’s curious that girls were often taught to read the scriptures but not taught to write!

Horace Mann became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts in 1837 and promoted the concept of ‘common’ schools. He argued that “universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into judicious, disciplined, republican citizens. One room schools became age-related grade level schools. By 1918, an elementary school education was required in all states. Just think, my dad was a little boy then.

In the southern colonies it was more common to have private tutors than schools. Some churches provided basic instruction, but the first public education systems were not started until the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. By 1900, only four southern states had compulsory education laws. My grandparents were alive then.

High schools in all states were mostly for the college bound. Even as late as 1940, only fifty percent of Americans had a high school diploma. Yet, the availability of high school and post secondary education for ordinary Americans, not just the wealthy, set the U.S. apart from the world.

The pressure for expanded educational opportunities due to changes in the American economy in 1900 are echoed in the drive for school reform today. It is reassuring in a way. The struggles are the same. The need is equally strong. The public interest will survive if our nation is to survive.

Maybe all the current dissension is just growing pains. We are, after all, a young nation. When I was born, only half of Americans went to high school. Now we are arguing about who should go to college. As the nation changes, schools change. It just is not easy dealing with adolescence.

New Bill: Why are 8th grade reading scores lower than 4th grade scores

Legislation

This one makes me smile.  Maybe even laugh.  Senator Stargel wants to study eighth grade reading.  She asks why NAEP scores for fourth graders are so much higher in Florida than for eighth graders.   Over and over educators have said that if you retain the lowest scoring third graders, they will not be in fourth grade.  When they finally do arrive, they will have learned more and be older than fourth graders in other states.  Thus, the fourth grade reading scores in Florida will be higher.  Only a handful of states retain third graders.  It is a classic smoke and mirrors tactic to inflate scores.  Yet, I am not sure legislators even think about this.

Wait, there is more.  According to the Florida Department of Education reports on the tax credit scholarships, students who struggle the most are more likely to go to private, mostly religious schools.   This year there are over 92,000 FTC students.  Most students end up leaving the private schools.  Only about 18,000 students remain in the FTC program after eighth grade.  Could it be that they have not made good progress in these small private schools that do not have certified teachers and are not held to the school grades or other accountability measures that public schools must meet?

Stargel is asking the Department of Education to study states with high performing middle schools to find out what they do.  You can read SB 360 here.  High performing states, in fact most states, do not offer tax credit scholarships to private schools.  At the latest count, I found fourteen.  Even states that do offer them do not have nearly the same percentage of participants as Florida.

Which states have high achieving eighth grade NAEP scores:   Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut.   The demographics in those states are very different from the Florida population.  They do not have tax credit vouchers.  They place a high value on quality education and less value on state accountability programs to promote student learning.

Frankly, I am encouraged that Senator Stargel is asking questions.

 

 

Time is Money or Maybe Not!

wrist-watch-941249_640Suppose you are a really good teacher and can prove it.  You notice that a neighboring district has a pay for performance plan where high quality teachers with less experience earn more money than average teachers with more experience.  Would you change districts?  In today‘s Gainesville Sun, a local economist, Dave Denslow, summarized a study by Barbara Biasi, a Stanford graduate student, who compared school districts in Wisconsin that used a ‘pay for performance plan‘ with districts that did not.   The result?

 

 

 

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Suspension Happy Charter Schools

childrenCharter schools represent 7% of New York City’s school population  but 42% of all student suspensions.  Of the top 50 schools with high suspension rates, 48 were charters.  These schools are clustered in the heart of black communities in Harlem, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Brooklyn.  The problem extends far beyond New York.  Parents are pushing back.

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Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

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Massachusetts: Charter Lawsuit Will Not Fix the Achievement Gap

Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library

Some Massachusetts students compete with the best other countries can offer  In order to understand why I turned to a Watchdog.org article in which a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education described its system.  Then, I dug some more.

Massachusetts adopted high standards in 1993.  They resisted much of Florida’s accountability system, but students do test annually.  It is how Massachusetts does and does not use test scores that is interesting.  The demographics of the state’s population are also telling.  The lawsuit is pointless.  Get to know more about Massachusetts….

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