The high stakes of standardized tests
A sign on a bulletin board at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, New York alerts parents and teachers about a forum on high-stakes standardized testing.
May 17th, 2012
06:29 AM ET

The high stakes of standardized tests

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast from Steve Kastenbaum about high-stakes standardized testing.

by Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

(CNN) Standardized tests are nothing new in public schools. Chances are you filled out bubbles on an answer form at some point during your schooling. But for the past few years, scores from statewide tests in English and math have been used to determine which schools are doing a good job of educating students and which are “failing.”

Today, the test results count for more than just a letter grade for a school. Teachers in some states are now being labeled good or bad based on their students’ scores.

Welcome to the world of high-stakes standardized testing.

“I find it the most absurd thing in the world. I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re valid,” said Principal Anna Allanbrook at Public School 146 in Brooklyn, New York. “So the morale is down because teachers are worried that people who don’t really know their work will make decisions about their jobs.”

Standardized tests have long been used as one measure of a student’s progress in core subjects. But now, federal funding hinges on test results. It started with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to rate schools based on test results in order to receive federal funds.

President Obama’s administration then dangled an additional $4.3 billion dollars in front of school administrators in a competition called Race to the Top. In order to qualify for multi-million dollar grants, U.S. Department of Education spokesman Peter Cunningham said, states had to include test results in the process of identifying good and bad teachers.

“Some of those testing results need to be used to help identify schools that are struggling so that we can give them additional interventions, but they also need to be part of how we evaluate teachers,” said Cunningham.

Across the country, teachers, principals and parents are pushing back against the test results carrying so much weight. More than 1,400 New York principals signed onto a letter to the state education commissioner that said the tests are deeply flawed. The outgoing Education Commissioner in Texas called standardized testing “the heart of the vampire.” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the Texas Association of School Administrators said, “This one test has become the single measure for a student’s success, for a school’s success, and that’s what is absolutely wrong.”

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Filed under: NCLB • Podcast • Policy • Practice • Race to the Top • Testing
Growing tech students: A new high school model
The New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York have partnered with IBM to create a 6-year technology high school in Brooklyn known as P-Tech.
January 23rd, 2012
07:45 AM ET

Growing tech students: A new high school model

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast on P-Tech from Steve Kastenbaum.

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

(CNN) IBM’s job listings website today shows more than 1,600 job vacancies in the United States. But despite the nation’s high unemployment rate, IBM executives say they have a hard time filling those positions because few candidates have the backgrounds in math and science to qualify.

IBM hopes to change that by fostering future employees among high school students.

The company’s plan centers around a partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY). The result is Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn– “P-Tech” for short.

“It’s a unique model,” said Rashid Ferrod Davis, the school’s principal, “A 9-through-14 model, an actual six-year school.”

P-Tech goes two years beyond the 12th grade and every high school graduate will, in theory, also receive an associate’s degree from a nearby technical college. The school focuses on giving students a strong foundation in math and the sciences so they’ll be qualified for jobs in the tech industry when they graduate.

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Filed under: After High School • High school • Podcast • Practice
Charter schools: Wave of the future?
Students study American History at Coney Island Prep, a charter school in Brooklyn, New York.
December 15th, 2011
07:35 AM ET

Charter schools: Wave of the future?

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN Radio

(CNN) More students are attending class at charter schools across the U.S. than ever before, and the number is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast on charter schools from Steve Kastenbaum.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a report saying that more than 2 million children are enrolled in public charter schools this year. The nonprofit resource for charter schools said that more than 500 charter schools opened their doors across the country in the 2011-12 school year.

In speech after speech, President Obama has said the charter schools play an important role in his education policy. His administration hopes to double the number of charters that were existence when he took office.

“We’ll encourage states to take a better approach when it comes to charter schools and other innovative public schools,” Obama said in a recent speech on education reform.

Coney Island Prep opened in Brooklyn, New York, in 2009. But it took founder Jacob Mnookin two years to get to that point. He first had to get through the application process.

“When I submitted it, it was about 1,800 pages,” the graduate of Princeton University’s public policy school said.

Mnookin said a tremendous amount of information is required for the application. “Everything from daily schedules and annual calendars to five-year budget projections and personnel policies, curriculum, assessments, etc. So it’s a very detailed and lengthy document.”

He also had to put together a board of trustees that would oversee the school, find a location for the school and hire a staff. Most charter schools go through a similar process, but the details can differ greatly from state to state and city to city.

While Coney Island Prep is housed in a traditional school building, the similarities between the middle school and other public schools end at the door.

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Filed under: Charter schools • Policy • Practice