Differentiated Instruction and the One-Dimensional Ability Fallacy

Are you thinking, here we go again with that one-dimension thing? I am. But I need to. Discussions of differentiated instruction needs and challenges could be a transformational school system change lynchpin. I believe that by failure to sort children, through school choice, by ability by subject, we create differentiated instruction needs that only super-human teachers can address. For example, consider this response to Education Week’s second major recent opinion piece, which responded to the first piece that said that adequate differentiated instruction was impossible, and thus was only rarely even attempted: “Because of my constant criticism of differentiation, the district paraded five of the best teachers to show how it is done. But we need a methodology that works for average and below average teachers, too (1/21/15 letters [p 26]).” Indeed, and the rare super teachers can only succeed, partially, because of the limitations of the system and the fact that even super-human teachers still suffer time scarcity and cannot be in more than one place at a time. If we can get that to sink in, the need for transformational school system change becomes an inescapable conclusion.

Reasoning Mind Engages and Prepares STEM Students

It’s a great time to be a STEM major in Texas. Dallas made Forbes‘s list of the top 10 cities for STEM jobs and has the second highest annual median wage growth for STEM workers, while Houston and Austin were named the top two metropolitan areas for STEM professionals in a Wallet Hub report. By 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects Texas will have 758,000 STEM jobs, second only to California.

Another Version of the “Best are Still Not Very Good”

A longstanding attempt to drive progress by recognizing excellence bit the dust. The problem: difficulty finding persistent, systemic excellence. I’ve argued that high-performing TPS are rare, and that the best public school systems will still have lots of room for improvement, and the Broad Foundation now agrees that’s true in the U.S.

They’ve put their annual $1 million award for the best urban public school district on hold. Their aim was to “identify, reward, and incentivize progress”, but when only two districts made enough progress to be eligible for the 2014 prize, that fact seemed “to underscore failure.” Indeed, “the prize has been criticized for selecting finalists from a small pool of eligible districts and choosing winners with less-than-stellar academic records.”

I agree with Andy Smarick’s observation that, “it’s not possible to achieve that [dramatic improvement] goal by working through urban districts.” However, I think it would have been better to keep the competition alive, but with a high minimum standard, and then announce failure to meet that standard every year such failure occurs.

New York’s Parental Choice in Education Act

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently introduced the “Parental Choice in Education Act“, an act designed to “support and protect alternative school options” for students across the state. The act will dedicate $150 million in education tax credits designed to enable low-income families to send their children to nonpublic schools and schools outside their district and to teachers to purchase supplies, as well as incentives for public schools to enhance their educational programming.

Another Superintendent Bites the Dust

The latest example of a dis-employed school district superintendent is a Starr (literally and figuratively), Joshua Starr. The Education Week article that reported Superintendent Starr’s demise ― written by John Mannes, a former member of the School Board that employed Mr. Starr ― blamed widespread “school board dysfunction.” “A successful superintendent with a national reputation for positive change and vision was made unwelcome to continue his work by board members in Montgomery County, MD;” the nation’s 17th largest public school district.

More Evidence that System-Friendly Reform Cannot Happen

We keep re-affirming what should be more widely obvious.  Alongside our persistent failure to address the roots of the persistent low performance problem other efforts, such as changing the actors in a deeply flawed system, will yield little or no effect. The latest example is an assessment of the value of board certification for teaching effectiveness. Like many before it, the article makes a big deal about that finding; that now two studies had found that costly, demanding board certification yields a “statistically significant” effect on student academic progress. But, in a one-sentence paragraph in the middle of the article, the author dutifully confesses a key fact: “The overall effect of holding the certification is fairly small, across the two studies.”

National Charter School Week Recap

Some view public charter schools as testing labs for traditional public schools, while others view charter schools as alternatives to traditional public schools. With one million student names on charter school wait lists across America, parents are clearly demanding better educational options.

During National Charter School Week, President Barack Obama, issued a presidential proclamation:

Political Control: The Root of the Roots of Persistent Low Performance

The 50th Anniversary of the first edition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is an opportunity to widely focus attention on what we’ve achieved with a tripling of inflation-adjusted per pupil spending, higher standards, increased accountability (supposedly) and the “ESEA’s Blend of Idealism, Policy Tensions.”  Test scores, national commissions, and mind-boggling anecdotes about young adult skill deficiencies say, “not much”. To be clear, less than ten percent of the current ~$13,000 per pupil annual expenditure is federal money, and the current version of the ESEA, several editions removed from the 1965 first edition, is the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which has greatly improved our awareness of how many children continue to be left behind. NCLB is formally way overdue for revision, but Congress has been unable to agree on the outlines of the next edition.

A Lot of Children are Left Behind, but Not Just by Failed Schools

Our key school system problem is NOT that some public schools work poorly for everyone assigned to them (truly “failed schools”). The key problem is that one size does not fit all; that every traditional public school is a poor fit for a lot of the children assigned to them. Lance Izumi documented that for Texas. Even the most highly touted neighborhood public schools leave a lot of children behind.

Still, schools deemed unacceptable are abundant. In the relatively high-performing, desirable Northside Independent School District (NISD) discussed previously, 34 out of 110 NISD schools are “failed schools” according to the state, via the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLAB) law. That, sadly, is relatively high-performing. For example, adjacent to NISD is the San Antonio Independent School District with 75 of its 97 schools deemed failing. In between, Texas’ failing school rate is 48.6%. That’s what over $10,000/pupil buys (with the federal definitions of per pupil spending, it is over $13,000). According to a lawsuit filed by Texas school districts, the official statewide average of $9981 (in 2012-13) is not nearly enough. The districts say we can’t expect acceptable performance until we spend a lot more. By the way, NISD with 2012-13 revenue per pupil of $9497 is a party to the lawsuit, and as we know, NISD Superintendent Brian Woods can’t imagine that some children will be better served by an alternative to the assigned NISD school. His view is that public money earmarked for schooling belongs to school districts, not children.

8th Graders Nationwide Flunk Civics: Debate Can Help Defend Democracy

This blog post was mentioned on Breitbart.com and appeared on PRWeb:

Just 23% of U.S. eighth-graders are “proficient” or above in knowledge of American civics, according to the “Nation’s Report Card,” released this week by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Only one-third know that “the United States government should be a democracy.”

For a nation governed by the people, for the people, this news is deeply troubling. Democracy takes work. It requires knowledge, interest, and vigilance from its citizens to remain healthy. If less than a quarter of young people meet only baseline standards of proficiency, and two-thirds are unable to identify America as a democracy, the future looks bleak.