Inspired by a recent report that many elementary school students missed more than a month of school last year, the general welfare and education committees of the City Council just concluded a hearing about absenteeism in the city's schools. One question that surely came up is how the Department of Education holds schools and students accountable for attendance. The answer: not as much as it could. In the centerpiece of the DOE's accountability system, the school progress reports, a school's average attendance accounts for 5 percent of its grade, the same proportion as teacher and parent surveys. The DOE chooses to base 85 percent of schools' progress report grades on test scores because attendance on its own simply doesn't ensure success, officials say. "Most students do attend school regularly, but many of them do not get the outcomes we believe they should be getting," DOE spokeswoman Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes recently told me. And what about accountability for individual students? Teachers can assign students failing grades for assignments they miss during an unauthorized absence. But DOE regulations don't require students to attend school a certain amount of the time to be promoted.
This flier, which disparages Center School Principal Elaine Schwartz, appeared on the building's fence and around the neighborhood. A tiny middle school on the Upper West Side that has flown under the radar for much of its 26-year history has become the object of intense scrutiny in recent weeks as its principal and parents threaten to derail the neighborhood's plans to alleviate overcrowding. A plan proposed last week by the Community Education Council for District 3 would require the school to move from its longtime home to a larger space several blocks away. That plan, and the Department of Education's response to it, will be the topic of a CEC 3 meeting tonight. But Center School Principal Elaine Schwartz has opposed relocating since the DOE originally suggested the idea in September, and the school's loyal parents have lined up behind her. "We are totally unified," parent Alan Madison told me. "When it comes to the education of our children, we listen to [Schwartz]." Schwartz, the 26-year-old school's founding principal, told the New York Times last week that she opposed a move under any circumstances. As Schwartz and her school have dug their feet in, tension has wracked the PS 199 building on West 70 Street, where the Center School is the sole occupant of the top floor.
SEATTLE — Here's an update to the who's-who list I started yesterday, name-checking the notable people here in Seattle for the Gates Foundation's announcement. It really is remarkable to have so many players in one place. I guess the prospect of dinner at the Gates family estate, which was offered to all guests Monday night (plus a romp on the family trampoline, says Eduwonk) was hard to pass up. Or is it that Bill Gates is more powerful than even the U.S. Education Secretary (see Skoolboy at Eduwonkette: "Bill Gates, U.S. Superintendent of Schools")? Below the jump, and in no particular order, the list. I've added links this time so you can read more about these people. Warning: One link will direct you to a MySpace page with loud gospel music. This will not be an error. UPDATE: Jim Hunt, the former North Carolina governor and a mentioned name for Education Secretary, was physically in Seattle; he did not teleconference.
Gates Foundation will steer its education giving in a new direction But how much impact will the billions have?
PHOTO: Alan PetersimeBill and Melinda Gates (via Flickr) SEATTLE — One of the world’s most expansive philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, emerged yesterday from a year-and-a-half-long silence on one of its major investment areas, releasing a plan to dramatically alter the foundation’s approach to improving American schools. The plan will transform the foundation’s education work from expensive but quiet investments that focus on a relatively small set of schools to higher-profile advocacy work that keeps up the investments in individual schools but also touches on several political hot buttons. Among the projects the foundation will tackle: a $500 million investment in experimenting with performance-based teacher pay systems; another $500 million toward creating data systems like the ARIS warehouse in New York City; ramped-up advocacy work pushing for national standards; and a research effort to create a national test that would be distributed to states and school districts across the country, free of charge. Perhaps the most sensitive project will be investments to study a seemingly innocuous subject: teacher effectiveness. The touchy part is that the foundation is signaling that it will urge school districts to find ways to fire teachers judged ineffective. “If their students keep falling behind, they’re in the wrong line of work, and they need to move on,” Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and principal benefactor to the foundation, said yesterday, announcing the new slate of initiatives to a private meeting of about 100 school officials, union leaders, and policy experts.
A study examining whether getting poor grades on city progress reports prompted schools to improve their students' test scores found little evidence of such a boost. The study, released today by the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, asked the question by comparing schools with progress report raw scores that were roughly the same, but just different enough to get different letter grades. In fact the two groups showed about the same amount of progress — except in fifth-grade math, where students in failing schools made "significant and substantial improvement" compared to their peers in schools that had been assigned a grade of D, according to the study. The progress reports assign letter grades to schools based primarily on improvements in students' test scores. Since the first reports were released a year ago, the program has been the subject of sustained criticism: Parents and teachers have complained about unfair stigmatization of good schools, and statisticians have charged that the reports are driven as much by error as by actual school improvement. The study's architect, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Marcus Winters, called his findings "mixed-positive" in favor of the progress reports. Those findings were the subject this morning of a panel discussion sponsored by the Manhattan Institute featuring Winters, Columbia University economist Jonah Rockoff, and two officials from the Department of Education's accountability office, including its CEO, James Liebman.