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Kids in Poverty Can Still Learn

by Kevin P. Chavous
Huffington Post
October 23, 2012

During slavery, under some of the worse conditions known to man, slaves taught their kids to read by candlelight under the threat of death. And those kids learned.

On the heels of the great depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s new deal invigorated educational opportunities for poor white kids in places like Appalachia. And those kids learned.

Following the Vietnam War, thousands of Vietnamese refugees came to our nation. The vast majority of those children came to America unable to speak English and often lived with several families under one roof. And those kids learned.

In California, folks like Cesar Chavez fought for better working conditions for Latino migrant workers. While those families struggled to make ends meet, many strived to put their children in schools that would meet their needs. And those kids learned.

Throughout the history of our country, the unifying promise of America has been the hope for a better life for one’s children through education. Especially those children trapped in poverty. At every turn in our history, kids in poverty have demonstrated their ability to learn and succeed.

Today, as we struggle with what ails many of our schools, more and more emphasis is being placed on the linkage between poverty and education. It seems as though each week there is a new study trumpeting the difficulty of teaching low income children and; the fact that poverty needs to be taken into account when we delve into tissues pertaining to teacher effectiveness and the quality of a school’s overall performance.

I get all that. And I do agree that there must be better coordination of services between schools and those entities that help families in poverty. Without question, Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone should be replicated all over America. Geoffrey understands the need to take

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NAEP Writing Results

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the 2011 writing results mid-September 2012. The test is given to 24,000 8th graders and 28,000 12th graders in both public and private schools. This is the first computer based test NAEP has done, so for that reason, there are no comparisons to past writing tests.

The results are unfortunately substandard as usual. For both 8th grade and 12th grade, only 27% scored proficient or above. It is depressing to report that this means only about half of the nation’s student population only has a basic knowledge and understanding of writing. Basic achievement is defined as “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade,” which, in other words, means not at grade level. What’s worse is that about 20% of students scored below this basic level.

The results also indicate a gap between economic groups, as measured by the federal standard of free and reduced lunch participants. Students participating in federal program scored 27 points lower than those that did not.

See results in greater detail and a statement from NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley on the NCES website.

A Tale of Two Cincinnati’s

Special Briefing from Education Nation
September 24, 2012

Cincinnati’s public school system is featured as an Education Nation case study because of its holistic approach to education, beginning with wraparound services before children have even entered kindergarten.

But while the achievement claims made by the superintendent sound promising, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all of Cincinnati’s students are achieving at grade level.

The data touted says the percentage of children deemed ready for kindergarten, has increased nine percentage points since 2005 based on a standardized kindergarten readiness test. However, the total number of students deemed ready is still a very low 50 percent.

Eighth-grade math scores for Cincinnati public school students have increased 24 percentage points over the same period. It’s hard to know if that is a direct correlation to the wraparound services provided by these organizations, such as Strive, which estimates that around 100,000 children and students participate in the partnership in some fashion.

It’s clear from reviewing the Ohio Department of Education school district level report cards that at least over three years (2008-09 through 2010-11), proficiency in Cincinnati has increased modestly in most grades and in both math and reading. Third graders increased their proficiency in reading and math by ten percent over a three-year period, and tenth graders increased their proficiency by eight points in reading and seven points in math. However there is no record of scores over the last five years and tests have changed — dramatically. The question is how is this being measured?

More importantly, the urban district has affluent schools and poor schools. What is the disaggregated data for poor and wealthy schools? Education Trust did a path breaking report on this issue several years ago and found that many overall district’s progress actually masked

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Big Apple Charter Schools Big Winners

“Charter Schools Celebrate Test Score Gains”
by Yasmeen Khan
New York Times
July 17, 2012

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, while congratulating traditional district schools for making improvements on state test scores, on Tuesday reiterated his support for more charter schools.

“I think they demonstrate again and again and again that that model gives superior results,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference at the Tweed Courthouse, where he discussed the state test results.

For the third year, the city’s charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math and English, and the spread in results between the two groups has increased.

In math, 72 percent of charter school students passed the state tests this year, compared with 60 percent of traditional public school students. In English, 51.5 percent of charter school students passed this year’s tests compared with 46.9 percent of traditional public school students. (About 30,000 charter school students took the tests; 400,000 students took the tests in traditional public schools.)

“What we’re seeing, and what we’ve seen all along,” said James Merriman, chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, “is that the longer school day and longer school year that characterizes charter schools, as well as simply a focus on instruction and the sense of having a schoolwide culture that everyone buys into, results in these kinds of achievement scores.”

Critics of charter schools argue that charters attract some of the best students from the community, while enrolling far fewer students with special needs and English language learners than do traditional public schools.

Mr. Merriman said that he understood these concerns, and that demographics do matter when discussing data.

But with that in mind, he said, the fact that charter school students have improved by about nine percentage points on both the English language arts and math tests since 2010 “is cause for optimism in

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Florida Charters Outperform Traditional Public Schools

The Florida Department of Education released its annual study on charter school achievement comparing charters to conventional public schools. The most recent data (2010-2011 school year) show that in most subgroups, charter schools in Florida are doing better than their conventional counterparts. Some highlights from the report include:

• Six percent of Florida’s public school students are enrolled in charter schools.
• The percent of charter schools receiving a state grade of ‘A’ has increased from 42 percent in 2002-03 to 58 percent in 2010-11.
• More charter schools are receiving an ‘A’ than conventional public schools.
• More charter school students have consistently received a three or higher on the reading portion of the FCAT than their conventional school counterparts.
• Florida charter schools also ranked higher (in terms of how many students got a three or higher on their FCAT) when the study broke down the data into grades and subgroups by race.
• Charter school students outperformed traditional public school students in 50 of the 54 comparisons in this report.

Overall, charters have been improving academically year by year and have taken the lead in most subjects and across most sub-groups. It’s no wonder that charter schools are in high demand throughout the Sunshine State. Click here for the complete list of charter schools in Florida.

Voucher Students Make Gains

“Voucher students improve on reading, study finds”
by Erin Richards
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
February 26, 2012

A sample of students in Milwaukee’s private voucher schools made gains in reading in 2010-’11 that were significantly higher than those of a matched sample of peers in Milwaukee Public Schools, but math achievement remained the same last school year, according to the results of a multiyear study tracking students in both sectors.

The results of the study are being released Monday in Milwaukee as the final installment of an examination of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or voucher program.

The longitudinal study – meaning it tracked the same set of students over the testing period – was conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project, a nonpartisan research center at the University of Arkansas. The group was selected by the state to conduct a long-term study of the voucher program and its impact on Milwaukee.

Rather than looking at scores of all students, the study matched a sample of 2,727 voucher students in third through ninth grades in 2006 with an equal number of similar MPS students. The study used a complex statistical methodology based on growth models.

The study matched the random sample of students and found their achievement growth on the state’s annual standardized test to be about the same in math over the next four years, and about the same in reading for three of those four years.

The latest year of data shows the reading bump for the voucher students and represents the first time an achievement growth advantage has been observed for either the public school sample or the voucher school sample over the four-year period, according to the study. That finding casts the program in a slightly more favorable light than when the state released the fall 2010 results of the standardized test, known

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Fact-Checking Charter School Achievement

Download or print your PDF copy of Fact-Checking Charter School Achievement

CER Expresses Importance of Ed Reform With PA House Leaders

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
November 14, 2011

Pennsylvania is poised to be the next big battleground for serious, and potentially controversial, school reforms. Next to Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, if the legislature adopts the Corbett education plan, the state will be the next big prominent player in national school reform and the leader on the East Coast.

President of The Center for Education Reform (CER) Jeanne Allen was on the ground visiting with Pennsylvania House Leadership and other House members on Monday, November 14, to express the importance of pending education reform proposals for Pennsylvania children.

“At the Center for Education Reform, we’re both watching and working in the field to ensure that sound policy advances are adopted for all children, in every state. In Pennsylvania, we’ve been actively engaged for years in developing charter schools,” said Allen. “Improvements to that original law, which have been tested over time, are now pending and we’re hopeful that the state will soon stand with others who permit universities and other independent entities to create charter schools.”

Public school reform is an important proposal to allow parents, who feel trapped in failing schools by virtue of their zip code, to access schools of their choice. While limited to children in the lowest 5% of performing school districts, SB 1 ensures that those children, who are currently forced to attend a failing school, do not have to stay there any longer. The state’s popular business tax credit program, which funds additional scholarships for middle- and low- income families, also grows.

The teacher evaluation proposal is what will hopefully be a first step in a long line of important teacher quality initiatives that follow recommendations of some of the leading education researchers in the nation.

It’s important that Pennsylvanians have context for the pending proposals:

Academic Performance: On the 2011

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University of Chicago Study Finds Modest Learning Gains

A study conducted by the University of Chicago finds that while graduation rates have had significant growth, learning gains have been modest, racial gaps have widened, and many students have academic achievement levels below what is necessary to go to college. The report utilizes data that has been tracked since 1998, when U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett proclaimed Chicago’s schools to be the worst in the nation.

The study explains that the higher graduation rate can be attributed to a lowering of standards over the last 20 years. A Chicago Tribune editorial doesn’t think the study’s results are surprising, saying “Illinois sets the bar very low compared with other states, and in recent years has even lowered passing scores, creating phantom gains. Yes, we’ve dumbed down our tests. This should not come as a shock.”

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