Chapter I

 INTRODUCTION


Statement of the Problem

        In the wake of World War II, America’s public school systems were hit by a tsunami of children, the likes of which had never been seen in America.  This mass of children born between 1946 and 1964 became known as the “baby boom” generation and their number exceeded 75 million.  From the end of the World War II through the triumph in July, 1969 when an American first set foot on the moon, most Americans believed their public education system was one of the best in the world.

        Beginning in the early 1960’s, America’s social and political landscape began to change from its conservative, post-war style to a more liberal movement. Social scientists and educators eyeing the huge baby boom generation could not resist seizing this opportunity to test their ideas for improving America’s educational system. The New Math pedagogy was based on the belief that massive change was not only desirable but also urgently necessary. New Math reformers claimed that existing educational practices did not prepare students to be able to do mathematics (Tsuruda, 1994) .

        At roughly the same time, global events began to occur that, for the first time, began to cast doubt on America's preeminence in public education (Schugurensky, 2002) . The post-Vietnam war economic slow down and the Middle-East oil embargo are two events that foreshadowed the demise of heavy industry in America. American car companies were suddenly losing huge swaths of market share to German and Japanese manufacturers who produced smaller, more efficient, and less expensive vehicles. And the shift was not restricted to making cars. High-tech became a favorite takeover target. Almost over night, many electronic goods began wearing “Made in Japan” or “Made in Taiwan” stickers on them.

        The protracted recession of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the closing of many American companies, and their accompanying jobs losses cast further doubt on America's public education system and its ability to compete in the new global economy. Perhaps for the first time, serious consideration was given to studies comparing academic achievement of students in America’s public schools with those in other industrialized nations (Gardner, 1983) . The report card was sobering. In general, American students tended to place in the lower half among industrialized nations on standardized tests measuring reading, writing, science, and mathematics ability.

        Since this awakening, improving education has become one of the most important issues in America. Politicians, educators, and parents are now paying a great deal of attention to the public education system, how it is working, and how it can be improved. The decade of the 1990’s saw an undeniable move back to the basics in education (Bennett et al., 1998) .

        Soon after the presidential election in 2000, Congress passed President George W. Bush's "Elementary and Secondary Education Act" better known as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB. This federal high stakes testing program has been fiercely criticized by virtually everyone in education since before it was voted into law. Several issues are at the nucleus of the criticism.

        First, the No Child Left Behind Act is long on punishment and short on reward. In fact, there is no reward system in place for schools that achieve or surpass the benchmark. Second, the benchmark is arbitrarily moved up every year so that, in theory, 100% of America’s children will pass the test in 2014. And finally, billions of dollars promised by the Bush administration to help at risk schools achieve higher scores on the high stakes No Child Left Behind test were never made available. Consequently, state and local governments already overburdened by diminished tax basis are being forced to operate with deficit funding to cover the cost of a federally imposed program and no federal money to support its implementation or success (Meier & Wood, 2004) .

        The seriousness of the situation cannot be understated. Schools that get “three strikes” on the No Child Left Behind high-stakes test lose most of the discretionary funding. The money is subsequently used to pay private corporations to provide after school tutoring. Since the corporate tutors are not held to any performance or increased achievement standards, many in education view this as a first step towards privatization of public schools (Meier & Wood, 2004) .

        The passage of the No Child Left Behind law has upended the America's public education system. The resulting upheaval has fueled extensive research by educators and economists. Much of this research has focused on identifying steps that schools can take to improve student achievement and thus keep the school's proverbial head above the ever-rising water level.


Importance of the Study

        The high-stakes testing of the No Child Left Behind law has been in place since 2002. After five years of testing, some schools have already exhausted their three strikes. Since the bar (the percentage of students required to pass the test) is increased every year, it is almost inevitable that the majority of public schools in America will eventually strike out. Until the law is reviewed, revised, and reauthorized, schools have to continue to operate under its punitive rules.

        Survival of America's public schools is predicated on their ability to maintain their autonomy and local governance. In order for this to happen, schools will have to employ every tactic available to them to get the highest academic return on investment. Since schools cannot choose the quality of students that cross their thresholds, they need to focus on the factors they can control that will influence student achievement.

        This study examines the data elements chronicled by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in what is called the “school report card”. A report card has been produced every year since 2000 for each regular public school in compliance with Section 10-17a of the Illinois School Code. The objective of this research study is to use statistical analyses on selected data contained in the school report cards to determine if there are controllable conditions that school administration and teachers can use to improve student achievement on eighth grade Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) math scores. The scope of this data to be used is restricted to schools containing eighth grades classes in Cook (excluding Chicago Public Schools), DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties.


Research Question

        The research question is: to what extent do controllable factors reported on the state report card, affect junior high and middle school classroom learning environment as measured by eighth grade math ISAT passing percentage?

        The proposed product of this study is a mathematical model that uses statistically-significant, controllable factors to help predict elementary and middle-junior high schools’ average eighth grade math ISAT passing percentage.


Operational Definition of Terms

B.A.: Bachelor of Arts degree.

Controllable Factors: For the purposes of this study, controllable factors are aspects of the school environment that the school’s administration can exhibit partial or full control over. These aspects of the school environment include: pupil-to-teacher ratio, eighth grade average class size, eighth grade minutes of math per day, percentage of male teachers, teachers’ average years of experience, percentage of teachers with M.A.s or higher, average teachers’ salary, average administrators’ salary and 2005 expenditures per student on instruction.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: The law passed by Congress in 2002 better known as the No Child Left Behind law. The law mandates that specific percentages of students in every American public school pass an annual high-stakes achievement test administered by the states' board of education. The minimum passing percentage is raised every year so that, in the year 2014, 100% of America's students subject to the high-stakes test will pass it.

Education Production Function: Studies usually conducted by educational, economic, or social scientist researchers focusing on the relationship between educational resources and student achievement outcomes on standardized testing.

Illinois School Report Card: This is the annual report, by school, published by the Illinois State Board of Education and available to the public on the Illinois State Board of Education website at ISBE.org. It includes demographic data of students and teachers, and facilities profiles of schools. Each schools’ statewide assessment results are included as part of the Illinois School Report Card.

ISAT: The acronym for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. This is the statewide achievement test administered to students in grades 3 through 8.

M.A.: Master of Arts degree.

Non-controllable Factors: In a study done by Hoerandner and Lemke (Hoerandner & Lemke, 2006), non-controllable factors were defined as aspects of the school environment that the school’s administration exhibited no control over. They identify the non-controllable factors reported on the Illinois State Report Cards to include percentages of demographics (white, black, Hispanic, Asian, native and multiracial students), percentage of low-income, mobility rate and attendance rate. For the purpose of this study, these factors are considered non-controllable.

Passing Percentage: The percentage of eighth grade students that meet or exceed the minimum ISAT math score.

PSAE: The abbreviation for the Prairie State Achievement Examination.  This is the statewide achievement test administered to students in the 11th grade.

NCLB: The abbreviation for No Child Left Behind, officially The Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

NELS 88: The acronym for the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. This is a nation-wide survey of eighth-graders first conducted in 1988 with follow ups in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 2000. The survey covered many facets of the school and home conditions as well as student aspirations. The study also included achievement tests in reading, social studies, math and science. The NELS 88 data is available to any policy-relevant research organization (Department of Education, 1988).

Low-income: As defined by the Illinois State Board of Education, low-income refers to students with families receiving public aid; live in institutions for neglected or delinquent children; are supported in foster homes with public funds; or are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Student achievement: In the context of this research study refers to eighth grade ISAT math passing percentages reported on the Illinois School Report Card.


Delimitations

The following are items that are not addressed by this study:

a. School report cards for schools in the Chicago Public School system: the Chicago Public School system is one of the largest school systems in the country and, therefore, its metrics would almost certainly skew the results of suburban school districts, which are the focus of this study.

b. School report cards for schools in counties other than Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will: the focus of this study is suburban school districts in the counties surrounding Chicago.


c. ISAT reading passing percentages of students in eighth grade: the focus of this study is ISAT math scores.

d. ISAT Math passing percentages of students not in eighth grade: the focus of this study is eighth grade students only.