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NCLB Outrages

Bobb's plan: Tougher curriculum, more teacher training

Ohanian Comment: Question: Has anything been done about the lead levels endangering thousands of Detroit children? Tests in 2004 indicated that 6% of all children six years of age and younger tested in 2004 were identified to have lead poisoning. In response to this, the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan have committed to the goal of reducing the incidence rate of new lead poisoned children (age 6 and under) to 3.2% or less by 2010. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2005), the best studied effects of lead poisoning are cognitive impairments measured by IQ tests, but other aspects of brain or nerve function, especially behavior, may also be affected. According to the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University (WSU), health consequences of lead poisoning have few physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, sleeping or eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, and weakness or clumsiness), but significant damage to intellectual functioning is evident even at blood lead levels lower than ten micrograms per deciliter, the level of concern established by the Center for Disease Control.

Lead poisoning is the condition in need of "a crisis response" and longer school days, tougher curriculum, and teacher training are a ludicrous response to the real crisis. Here is the typical bureaucratic/standardisto response:

Bobb said this week that his team will retool the reading program, augmenting the current program -- called Open Court -- with a new Harcourt program. Mandatory professional development for teachers, as well as extended school-day programs proposed under the new teachers' contract, will address the problems, he said.

Teachers blame parents, parents blame teachers. Nobody seems to be thinking about lead poisoning.

By Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Robin Erb

Detroit school leaders declared the need for a crisis response Tuesday after revealing that fourth- and eighth-grade students in the district recorded the worst math results ever in the 40-year history of a respected nationwide test.

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools, called the results a wake-up call for the community and outlined an action plan to boost after-school tutorials for students, toughen the curriculum and increase training for teachers and others.

In an interview with the Free Press, he pitched the idea of creating a Reading Corps of volunteers to help students improve reading skills.

If Detroit students and the city are to have a viable future, he and others said, adults will have to take a real stance on ensuring change.

"There definitely has to be a cultural change," Bobb said. He said a reasonable goal would be to get all third-graders reading at grade level by 2015.

Experts: What's missing is a value on education

The devastating test scores earned by Detroit Public Schools students on a nationally respected test signal a far-reaching problem stemming from a lack of value on education, educators, experts and observers said Tuesday. Detroit is not the only city with low scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, which was given in 18 large cities in the spring. But the city is alone in the fact that the numbers coincide with extreme job and population losses, heralding a need for regionwide problem-solving.

The results come just months after U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan branded DPS "ground zero" for education and comparable to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

PDF: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2009/2010452.pdf" target="_new">Read the complete report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (13MB)

"Only a complete overhaul of the school system and how students are taught should be permitted at this point because the results signal a complete failure and breakdown of the grown-ups who have run this school system," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a group of urban schools that is based in Washington, D.C., and asked DPS to participate in the test.

Casserly said Detroit's solutions must come from beyond school doors. If achievement doesn't improve, "the city has no viable future," he said.

Many suggest the reading crisis in DPS is likely partly to blame for the poor math test scores, because students who can't read well, can't answer math story problems.

"There's nothing wrong with these children's minds," said Bobb, the state-appointed emergency financial manager in DPS. "There's a lot wrong with the adults that have been responsible for educating them. We have to work with kids and show them the value of education."

DPS's fourth- and eighth-grade students earned the worst scores in the 40-year history of the NAEP test. Considered a national benchmark for assessment, the test also has been criticized for being too demanding. Tuesday's results are part of the Nation's Report Card: Trial Urban District Assessment Mathematics 2009 report, released by the National Center for Education Statistics, a wing of the U.S. Department of Education.

As the nation suffers through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the state is hungry for jobs -- with 29% unemployment in Detroit -- these test results can send an economic shudder far beyond the city borders, said Carol Goss, president and chief executive of the Skillman Foundation, which funds educational and social programs in the region.

"The way you bring back the city is to have people that are well-educated and that have skills for the jobs that exist here. If we keep going the way we're going, we're not going to have that," she said.

Improvements planned, again

The NAEP test was taken last spring amid a storm of hard times in the city's schools, including the third turnover in leadership in three years, a state takeover of the budget, school closures, declining enrollment and continued political infighting.

As the school board and Bobb fight in court for control, both sides said Tuesday that their educational plans will push the city forward.

Teresa Gueyser, acting superintendent for the district, said the plan adopted by the board -- but not Bobb, who has hired his own academic team -- includes extended day programming, and early identification of deficiencies and the crafting of individualized learning plans. It also mandates professional development one week prior to the beginning of the school year and during the holiday break.

Bobb said this week that his team will retool the reading program, augmenting the current program -- called Open Court -- with a new Harcourt program. Mandatory professional development for teachers, as well as extended school-day programs proposed under the new teachers' contract, will address the problems, he said.

The issue of accountability

In the wake of the NAEP results, parents blamed low academic expectations, and educators said parents need to be more accountable.

Casserly said the city needs to be on the same chord. "One of the things we learned in Detroit is that accountability is not clearly articulated in a way that holds everybody responsible for the nature of improvement," he said.

Benjamin Harris, an eighth-grade math teacher and dean of students at Spain Elementary School, agreed that reading problems can hinder math results. But he added that changes need to start at home with parents. "If the upbringing at home is strong, solid, supportive, there's reading at home, that makes it a little easier for everyone."

Veattris Edwards, who volunteers in second-grade classrooms at Coleman Young Elementary, agreed that parents must do more.

"The teacher does not have the time to do individual teaching on a regular basis," said Edwards, whose children graduated from Detroit public schools and attend Oakland University and Baker College. "When you have 10 different reading levels, then you need more help from parents. There should be a mandatory workshop for the parents to attend."

More about this national test

Under the No Child Left Behind law, each state must administer the NAEP, but districts can do so voluntarily. Results were relatively unchanged in most of the large cities between 2007 and 2009, though eight of the 10 districts that began participating in 2003 have made significant gains since then. Detroit was among seven districts to take it for the first time this year.

Students are selected to take the test based on demographic and family income in order to get a representative sample. The 1,900 DPS students were selected from 106 schools.

Michigan fared well in 2009, when compared with the national averages indicating a wide disparity between Detroit and the rest of the state. Michigan fourth-graders scored 236, compared with a national average of 239 on a scale of 0 to 500, with 78% scoring at basic levels, 35% at proficient and 5% advanced. The eighth-graders in Michigan scored 278, compared with the national average of 282. Sixty-eight percent scored at basic levels, 31% proficient and 7% advanced.

The NAEP is considered more rigorous than the MEAP because it tests students on layers of reasoning and calculations, whereas the MEAP is "not as detailed or process-oriented," said Karen Ridgeway, executive director of the Office of Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability for DPS.

A MEAP question, for example, might ask for a perimeter or surface area in a room. The NAEP might ask a student to determine how much carpet and paint to buy for a room or adjacent rooms, she said.

Detroit is so far behind other districts on the scale, officials with NCES could not estimate how many years it would take for the city to catch up.

Detroit's scores were "just above what one would expect by chance alone -- as if the kids simply guessed at the answers," Casserly said.

Bobb said he worried that any community outrage will be short-lived. But he said results only steel the resolve of the district's leadership: "We see it. We understand it. We're going to do something about it. And by God, it's for the kids in Detroit that we're standing up to fight for," he said.

Reading and science NAEP scores will be released in the spring.

For the full report, go here. Contact CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY: 313-223-4537 or cpratt@freepress.com Staff writer Rochelle Riley contributed to this report.
Related content
The NAEP vs. the MEAP

This is the first year Detroit Public Schools students have taken the NAEP exam. Here is how it compares with the state's regular standardized test, the MEAP:

THE NAEP, OR National Assessment of Educational Progress TEST

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Dubbed the "nation's report card."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Compares student results nationwide, among states and urban districts.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Administered every other year.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Tests some of the students in districts that take it.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Considered an aptitude test that aims partly to determine problem-solving skills.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Criticized as having standards that are too high.

the meap, or Michigan Educational Assessment Program test

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Compares districts and schools within Michigan.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Administered every year.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Taken by most elementary school students so that districts comply with testing requirements under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ A test of basic skills to determine whether students are meeting state-designated goals.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Criticized by some who say curricula is geared to the test and kids practice for it.

Source: Free Press research

— Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Robin Erb
Detroit Free Press


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