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Topic: Rand Corporation Report: Reform Working
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Rand Corporation Report: Reform Working
Posted: Aug 18, 2000 5:57 PM
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From the National Education Goals Panel Weekly, Thursday, August 3,
2000 -- Volume 2, Number 65. See


The education reforms established in the 1980s and 1990s "seem to be
working," according to a new RAND report, Improving Student
Achievement: What NAEP Test Score Tell Us. Researchers analyzed data
from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests given
between 1990 and 1996 - five in math and two in reading at either the
4th- or 8th-grade level. Forty-four states agreed to participate in
this study, and the RAND report ranks each by raw achievement scores,
scores that compare students form similar families and by score
improvements. The report also highlights
which policies and programs account for significant differences in
achievement across states that can't be explained by demographics.

Math scores are rising across the country at a pace far beyond that
of the previous two decades, which suggests that "public education
reforms are taking hold," notes the report. However, progress varies
from state to state. One group of states stands out, boasting gains
twice as great as the national average. These states include North
Carolina and Texas, as well as Michigan, Indiana and Maryland.

A cross-state comparison of achievement by students from similar
families found that Texas also topped the list of states, with
California dead last. Dr. David Grissmer, who headed the RAND study,
pointed to California's Proposition 13, a 1978 referendum that cut
state property taxes causing class size to skyrocket, as the culprit.
"California is a premier example of what happens when resources get
frayed," he said. Susan Burr, California's interim secretary of
education, told the WALL STREET JOURNAL that the report is "ancient
history." (Fialka, 8/1). Under Governor Gray Davis, she said, the
state has reduced class size and increased school funding.

A major finding from the report is the key role of targeting money to
disadvantaged students. "You can lift the scores of minority and
disadvantaged kids pretty significantly" if you direct funding to
them, said Grissmer. "If you have the resources at home, you don't
have to spend the top dollar on schools. If you don't you have to
spend to make up for the difference."

Connecticut is one state the RAND report found to have some of the
greatest gaps between wealthy schools and low-income schools, notes
the HARTFORD COURANT (Green, 7/30). In recent years, not reflected
in the RAND data, Connecticut has increased sending resources to poor
communities and has provided key programs to improve student
achievement. "It is about focusing on preschool and early reading
and focusing the money on our urban districts," said state education
Commissioner Theodore Sergi. "If we really want the gap to close, we
have to keep targeting. It is not just whom we
give it to; it's what we say should be done with it. It is probably
the single greatest issue on our plate for the next decade."

Other findings from the report include:

. Having a higher percentage of teachers with master's degrees and
extensive teaching experience has comparatively little effect on
student achievement across states.

. Higher teacher salaries also had little effect across states,
although they may have more important student achievement effects
within states.

. The most plausible explanation for the remarkable rate of math
gains posted by North Carolina and Texas is the alignment of
standards, assessment and accountability that both states implemented
in the late 1980s and 1990s.

. States that did well have lower pupil-teacher ratios in lower
grades, higher participation in public prekindergarten programs and a
higher percentage of teachers who are satisfied with the resources
they are provided for teaching.

"Our results certainly challenge the traditional view of public
education as 'unreformable'," said Grissmer. "But the achievement of
disadvantaged students is still substantially affected by inadequate
resources. Stronger federal compensatory programs are required to
address this inequity."
For more information, visit the RAND Corporation at
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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