New York

Saying discharges are up, report demands grad rate audit

Six years after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein vowed to crack down on a bureaucratic loophole that allowed principals to hide students' failure to graduate high school, a new report (PDF) suggests that the loophole remains open and may be growing wider. The report calls for closer study of the students classified as "discharges" — departures from the system, but not dropouts — through steps including a state audit. The report says that 21 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 both never graduated and were never counted as dropouts, instead falling into a category known as "discharges." The percentage was up from 17.5 percent among the Class of 2000. The rate is especially high among special education students, and includes a remarkable jump in 2005, when the special education discharge rate shot up to 36 percent from 23 percent in a single year. Students classified as discharges can include those who left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state, deciding to enroll in an outside G.E.D. program, or death. But some advocates have argued that principals can also misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially. A recent audit of 12 high schools in New York State by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, found that high schools classified students as G.E.D. discharges who did not actually enroll in a G.E.D. program. "As a result," DiNapoli's audit concluded, "the report cards understated the number and percentage of dropouts and overstated the percentage of graduates for some of the schools we reviewed." The audit did not probe any New York City high schools. Two persistent critics of the Bloomberg administration compiled the report: the executive director of Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, Jennifer Jennings. Jennings was the author of the now-defunct Eduwonkette blog, whose analysis of New York City education data became (as I reported) a thorn in the Bloomberg administration's side. The report is being released at a press conference this morning held by a third critic, the city's public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. City school officials were already disputing the report's claims yesterday, before it had been released.
New York

Mystery deepens over state senator's mayoral control report

I spent nearly an hour earlier today trying to cobble together out of several askew, truncated, and fuzzy faxed versions a single shareable copy of State Sen. Martin Dilan's explosive mayoral control report. I should have spent my time on something else, because Liz Benjamin at the Daily News just posted an impeccable version on her Daily Politics blog; I'm sharing it below the jump.  Benjamin's copy of the report, which recommends that lawmakers place substantial checks on mayoral control when the school governance structure expires June 30, is easier to read than the one I just trashed. But the version I was working with looked about as muddled as debate over the report has been since it was first revealed in the Post yesterday. At issue is whose opinions the report contains and whether the report was meant to be released this week at all. Gail Robinson at the Gotham Gazette wrote yesterday that her copy of the leaked report didn't indicate anywhere that it was a draft version. But City Hall, which condemned the recommendations, told the Post that it considered the report to be in draft form, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's office said the report doesn't reflect his position on mayoral control. Later yesterday, Dilan, one of the two chairs of the school governance task force convened by Smith, issued a statement saying that the leaked report represented only his own opinions, not those of his fellow committee members.  This afternoon, I called the office of State Sen. Shirley Huntley, the task force's other chair, to find out how her position compared to Dilan's. A spokeswoman who works in Smith's office, Selvena Brooks, returned my call on Huntley's behalf. "The task force is still convening hearings," Brooks told me. "She feels it’s a bit premature to make recommendations."
New York

What Pedro Noguera told Joel Klein — and what Joel Klein heard

Pedro Noguera and Joel Klein appeared at a panel together last month about the achievement gap, sponsored by Channel 13. (GothamSchools) Pedro Noguera, the NYU professor and all-around authority on urban schools, had lunch with Chancellor Joel Klein the other day. The two aren't natural candidates for a lunch date: Noguera is a co-founder of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a national effort to rival Klein's Education Equality Project. But they had recently spoken on a panel together and found that they agreed about a lot. So they decided to have lunch. There, Noguera urged Klein to visit an elementary school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, PS 28, which Noguera said epitomized his thoughts on what makes a strong urban school. Noguera said that its extended school day (some children stay until 5:45 p.m.), social services, professional development for teachers, and focus on emotional as well as academic growth have helped it become an impressive school, despite being challenged by serving a large number of homeless students. Klein visited the school "the very next day," Noguera told me in a telephone interview. It made an impression on him, too, and soon he wrote a memo to all principals in the city urging them to visit PS 28 (The memo was included in the April 7 Principals' Weekly newsletter, and is reproduced below.) But Noguera told me on the telephone that he was struck by what Klein's memo emphasized about the school — and what it did not say. Namely, Klein talked about the importance of a strong principal and of analyzing students' test scores, but not about addressing children's non-academic needs, the focus of the other programs Noguera admired.
New York

Mission Accomplished?

Tuesday marked the release of the 2008 wave of data from the long-term trend component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  NAEP has been around since about 1970, and the long-term trend component has been administered every few years to 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds since 1971.  The long-term trend data are best at charting changes over long periods of time, as the content and format of the test items in reading and math have been relatively stable over the nearly four decades since the federal government began tracking student achievement at the national level.  The flip side of this is that the test is not closely aligned with the contemporary curricular frameworks in reading and math devised by states or by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB).  For this reason, the NAEP long-term trend data are a poor basis for a referendum on the successes of failures of No Child Left Behind—or any other recent education policy reform. That, of course, didn't stop former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings from declaring victory.  Remember the good old days, when politicians left office gracefully and didn't try to rehabilitate themselves by rewriting history in the first 100 days of a new administration? Sam Dillon's New York Times article quotes former Madame Secretary as saying, "It's not an accident that we're seeing the most improvement where N.C.L.B. has focused most vigorously ... The law focuses on math and reading in grades three through eight - it's not about high schools. So these results are affirming of our accountability type approach."
New York

What Counts as a Big Effect? (II)

On Friday, I began talking about what counts as a big effect.  Turns out I'm reinventing the wheel, as there is an excellent paper by Carolyn Hill and her colleagues at Manpower Development Research Corporation on this topic, entitled "Empirical Benchmarks for Interpreting Effect Sizes in Research."  But I'll press onward nevertheless. Last month, the federal Institute for Education Sciences released the third-year report on the evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers for K-12 children and youth in the DC Public Schools who win a lottery to attend a private school.  The key outcomes in the study were scale scores on the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT-9) in reading and mathematics.  (Scale scores are converted from "raw" scores based on the number of correct responses to the test.)  The evaluators found that, after three years, students who were offered a voucher scored 4.46 points higher on the SAT-9 reading test, which represented an effect size of .13.  This effect was statistically different from zero.  Interestingly, the impact of being offered a voucher on reading scores was not reliably different from zero for male students.  In mathematics, there was no evidence of a positive effect of being offered a voucher:  after three years, students offered vouchers scored .81 points higher on the SAT-9 math test, an effect that was not statistically different from zero, and which corresponded to an effect size of .03. Based on how these effect sizes equate with percentile changes, these are pretty small effects, and the presence of an asterisk denoting statistical significance for the effect of being offered a voucher on reading scores for girls alone, and no effects on math scores for either boys or girls, doesn't justify the political spectacle that surrounds the program.  After three years, the net movement in reading for voucher students starting at around the 34th percentile nationally is about five percentiles;  in math, it's about one percentile.  Anyone who thinks that effects of this size are altering the life trajectories of DC children is kidding himself.