Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NY Times Panel Members Far Apart on Best Strategies for K-12 Progress

The U.S. Department of Education today (Apr. 28) released the 2008 results for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend Reading and Mathematics Assessments. After the release, the New York Times asked a panel of individuals interested in education policy to suggest the best strategies for progress.

The Times picked people who they thought would have different views. The editors got what they hoped for.

Writer Sandra Tsing Loh contends that the presence of middle-class white and Asian children would lead low-performing students to succeed. Hence she calls for centrally-designed class and racial intermingling, if possible through magnet schools.

Howard "Multiple Intelligences" Gardner (Harvard psychologist) suggests "benign neglect" toward inter-group comparisons. Instead he proposes concentrating on minimum academic competency for every student.

NYU education professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco says that we should "throw out" all high-stakes tests and instead "nurture interpersonal sensibilities." In particular, he promotes the wolly concept of 21st-century skills:
[W]e’ll need intellectually curious and cognitively flexible workers comfortable with ambiguity, able to synthesize knowledge within and across disciplines and work collaboratively in diverse groups.
I (Bill Evers) was one of the panelists. In my commentary, I said: that incentives matter for administrators, teachers, and students, and that solid academic content matters. I also point out that pluralism in delivery of K-12 education (charter schools, opportunity scholarships, virtual schools, and the like) is now a permanent part of the educational landscape.

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  1. Bill,

    In your NYT piece you wrote that “Pluralism is not only happening already (charters, vouchers, virtual schools, etc.), but pressure from pluralism will encourage needed reforms like those listed here.”

    It is dangerous to use vague terms such as “pluralism” to describe education reforms, because different policies produce different outcomes. Pooling many different reforms together with a catchall phrase obfuscates these often very substantial differences.

    In a literature review in the current issue of the Journal of School Choice, I note that the 156 international scientific findings comparing public and private school systems, loosely defined, show a notable advantage for private provision. But when we winnow this pool of results down to those comparing truly free markets to monopolistic state schools such as those of the U.S. (both of which I define in the study), the results are far more stark. Statistically significant findings favoring markets outnumber those favoring monopolies by a margin of 15 to one. There are few insignificant findings. No other system of organizing and funding schools is backed by a similarly compelling weight of empirical evidence.

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