Education Week - February 10, 2016 - (Page 21)

are more similar to those in other, lowerperforming states than they are to other countries'. Teacher labor markets are not drastically different from state to state. Furthermore, the state systems are regulated under the same federal rules. If students with similar family academic resources attending schools with similar socioeconomic and ethnic composition in some states make much larger gains than in other states, those larger gains are more likely to be related to specific state policies that could be applied elsewhere in the United States. In our study, we showed that the basis for such fruitful comparisons exists. We found that since 1992, the average annual increase in demographically adjusted NAEP 8th grade math scores of students in the top-gaining 10 states was 1.6 points per year, double that of students in the bottomgaining 10 states. Thus, for a 21-year period between 1992 and 2013, 8th graders in the higher-gaining states increased their math performance 16 points more than students in the lower-gaining states. This represents about one-half a standard deviation of the individual student variation in NAEP 8th grade math scores-a huge difference in performance gain by typical educational improvement standards. States that made large reading gains iStockphoto look to high performers in Europe and Asia for new education strategies if we lack our own success stories, but that is not the case. After we adjusted for socioeconomic differences in the samples of students taking the PISA and TIMSS tests, we found that performance on international math and reading tests in states such as Massachusetts and North Carolina is as high as, or higher than, in the highest-scoring countries in Europe. We also showed that gains in TIMSS mathematics scores over the past 12 to 16 years in several states are much higher than gains in other countries. Furthermore, students in these same states and others have made very large, steady gains on NAEP, especially in mathematics, over the last two decades, despite the dip in scores in 2015. That's in marked contrast with the average U.S. results on PISA, which did not rise between 2000 and 2012. Policymakers also must consider whether international tests are influenced by factors that are as much social and cultural as they are educational. There is no causal evidence that students in some Asian countries, for example, score higher on international tests mainly because of better schooling. Their achievement is more likely the result of large investments made by families on outside-of-school tutoring and cram courses to hone test-taking skills. Such differences between other countries and U.S. states in these social and educational contexts make it difficult to infer relevant educational policy from correlations with student test scores. By contrast, the conditions and context of education in the high-scoring states Why Small Steps Are Better for Small Schools By Jack Schneider W PAGE 22 > MARTIN CARNOY is a professor of education and economics at Stanford University. EMMA GARCIA is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. TATIANA KHAVENSON is a research associate at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. AP-File E? C I T C A R P ? E C I T C A PR E? C I T C A R P The Beatles appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show," 1964. Nowadays, the mere mention of educating gifted and advanced students separately from others elicits cries of elitism, racism, classism, and too many other "isms" to name. But if you just had a little grit, then everyone could be gifted, right? Wrong. Jefferson was on point when he wrote that "there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people." Sad to say, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often dubbed "the nation's report card," is working to include measures of grit on tests beginning in 2017. And just recently, the U.S. Department of Education awarded three school districts and a charter school network $2 million in grants to help students improve the "softer skills" of grit that accompany learning. My prediction? Five years from now, grit notwithstanding, some kids will still be smarter, more athletic, and more artistic than other kids. I'll bet my Beatles record collection on it. n JAMES R. DELISLE is a retired distinguished professor of education at Kent State University. He teaches highly gifted high school students in South Carolina. His latest book is Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation's Brightest Young Minds (Prufrock Press, 2014). hat ever happened to the small-schools craze? A little over a decade ago, philanthropists and policy leaders, believing they had identified the key to student performance, threw their collective weight behind an effort to redesign the nation's large high schools. They spent over a billion dollars and transformed hundreds of large schools into smaller ones. Then, as suddenly as it began, the effort was declared a failure and brought to an abrupt end. Now, post-mortem research indicates that small schools appear to promote several important outcomes, such as higher graduation rates. So were small schools just another failed school improvement effort? Or do they actually work? The answer, it turns out, is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Several years ago, I told the story of the small-schools push in a chapter of my book Excellence for All, which sought to identify the core assumptions and beliefs of contemporary school reformers. I included the smallschools movement because it seemed a perfect case in point of a modern school-change ethos guided by common sense, entrepreneurialism, and ambition. Several high-profile organizations-the Annenberg Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and, most prominently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-along with the U.S. Department of Education, through its Smaller Learning Communities grants, spent aggressively on small schools, with little attention to the myriad other factors affecting school quality. The backers appeared to believe that by making the neediest schools look more like their high-performing counterparts, they could produce equal outcomes. Creating smaller schools wasn't a bad idea, per se. But as a large-scale school improvement strategy, the movement was destined to fail. The theory of action-that wholesale reproduction of a particular structure would lead to equal learning outcomes-simply didn't make sense. To paraphrase the policy scholar Richard Elmore, schools are vessels "into which educators and communities" can "pour whatever content and pedagogy" they want. In other words, the size of a school building is a limited tool that leaves most of the instructional core untouched. But the ambitious and deep-pocketed backers of the small-schools movement, like other high-profile policy elites of the past few decades, had a different way of seeing things. From their vantage point, small schools were a potential moonshot. That is, until they weren't. Yet, failure to achieve goals didn't cause backers to re-evaluate their approach. Instead, the experience seemed to prove the need for more of the same. As Bill Gates put it in 2009, the letdowns of the small-schools movement "underscored the need to aim high and embrace change in America's schools." In the eyes of Gates and company, the problem was with small schools as a particular policy fix rather than with the thinking behind the fix. Collective faith in silver bullets-in finding "what works" and "taking it to scale"-remained absolute. Never mind the obvious disregard for the importance of context or inescapable complexity of improving schools. The backers declared small schools a failure and moved on. But were small schools really the problem? A decade later, we have fairly robust evidence suggesting otherwise. A 2014 study by the nonpartisan research organization MDRC, for instance, found that graduation rates in New York City improved by 9.5 percent at small schools, with effects across every student group-a tremendous increase that also led to higher college enrollments. Another study, by a team at Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research, found similar increases in high school graduation rates in Chicago's public schools, despite the fact that small schools generally served a more disadvantaged population in the city. As it turns out, small schools do exPAGE 23 > JACK SCHNEIDER is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, in Massachusetts, and the author of Excellence for All: How a New Breed of Reformers Is Transforming America's Public Schools (Vanderbilt University Press, 2011) and From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education (Harvard Education Press, 2014). EDUCATION WEEK | February 10, 2016 | | 21

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 10, 2016

Education Week - February 10, 2016
Federal Trade Regulators Target Brain-Training Product Claims
In States Hungry for Teachers, Policy Menu Expands
PARCC Scores Lower On Computer Exams
Equipping Parents on Spec. Ed.
News in Brief
Report Roundup
In Chicago, Schools’ Financial Crisis Deepens Divisions
Advocates’ Report Hits States For Overtesting, Other Policies
Blogs of the Week
Digital Directions: Partnership Boosts Data Privacy
Kindergarten: Less Play, More Academics (infographic
‘Proficiency’ Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward
Views Clash On K-12 Law Rulemaking
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept. CIO Grilled By Oversight Panel
State of the States
America’s ‘Edu-Masochism’
I’m Tired of ‘Grit’
Why Small Steps Are Better for Small Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
In Low-Income Schools, Teachers Need Guidance

Education Week - February 10, 2016