Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Future of Nation Is in Its Schools...

It that's true, then the U.S. is in big trouble.

Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, issued by America's Promise Alliance, found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation's largest cities receive diplomas. Students in suburban and rural public high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, the researchers said.

Interesting. And what, exactly differentiates the student bodies in urban and rural/suburban areas? Might it have something to do with the students themselves? Well, the study didn't address that. Not surprisingly.

The report found troubling data on the prospects of urban public high school students getting to college. In Detroit's public schools, 24.9 percent of the students graduated from high school, while 30.5 percent graduated in Indianapolis Public Schools and 34.1 percent received diplomas in the Cleveland Municipal City School District.

Researchers analyzed school district data from 2003-2004 collected by the U.S. Department of Education. To calculate graduation rates, the report estimated the likelihood that a 9th grader would complete high school on time with a regular diploma. Researchers used school enrollment and diploma data, but did not use data on dropouts as part of its calculation.

Many metropolitan areas also showed a considerable gap in the graduation rates between their inner-city schools and the surrounding suburbs. Researchers found, for example, that 81.5 percent of the public school students in Baltimore's suburbs graduate, compared with 34.6 percent in the city schools.

Again, those pesky suburban school children. One wonders why they do so much better as a group, than school children in urban schools.

Studies like this will raise all sorts of alarms - and feed academics, policy wonks and politicians fresh material for yet another round of demands for more funding, small class sizes, more after school programs, etc.

But these often demanded solutions don't actually solve the problem. Take small class sizes, for instance. For several years now, public school advocates and officials have been claiming that reducing the number of children per teacher will enhance the learning experience, foster closer supervision and interaction between pupils and teachers and raise test scores. In short, oversized classes are responsible for poorly performing urban public schools. Adding more teachers will work miracles!

It's a nice, clean, politically safe explanation for the problem and a solution that bothers no one, and pleases the teachers' unions mightily. The problem is, it's nonsense. And they know it.

For 20 years, a large study of class size in Tennessee, known as Project STAR, has raised hopes that reducing the number of children in inner-city classrooms to 17 or fewer would yield significant increases in achievement. It was by far the most authoritative finding in favor of reducing class size and was generally considered one of the most important educational studies of its time.

But a Northwestern University researcher, looking closely at the same data on thousands of students from kindergarten through third grade in 79 schools, has concluded that high achievers benefited more from the small classes than low achievers. Since low-income students in urban neighborhoods have lower achievement, on average, than students from more affluent families, the finding in the March issue of Elementary School Journal contradicts assumptions that class size reduction might have a significant effect on the gap between rich and poor students.

"While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class," Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy, said in a statement released by the university.

The $3 million Project STAR study was launched in 1985. It was unusual for the large size of the sample of students, for the long, four-year period in which their progress was recorded and for the random assignment of students to three kinds of classes -- small (13 to 17 students per teacher), regular (22 to 25 per teacher) and regular with aide (22 to 25 students with teacher and full-time aide). Classroom teachers were also randomly assigned, giving the study a scientific validity rarely found in educational research.

Several researchers concluded that the results left no doubt that small classes had an advantage over larger classes in primary-grade reading and math. "Given that class size reduction is an intervention that benefits all students, it's tempting to expect that it also will reduce the achievement gap," Konstantopoulos said. Previous reviews of the data, however, provided weak or no evidence that lower-achieving students benefited more than others, and his study, he said, buttressed those findings.

Of course, educators will stick with the "class size" argument and policy solution as long as they can, regardless of results (just as they have with every other previous failed gimmick to avoid the truth).

Policy wonks will continue to analyze every aspect of classroom experience and teaching techniques, trying desperately to determine why "urban" students continue to underperform they rural/suburban peers. Indeed, they will analyze everything, save the children themselves. That is the one forbidden topic.

Because the results could never be said aloud.


At 8:18 PM , Blogger said...

Thanks for your hard work.




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