Articles in the Curriculum category

“Myths and lies” threaten public schools, renowned researcher David Berliner says

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David C. Berliner  participated in a no-holds-barred interview with the Arizona School Boards Association.

David C. Berliner, Regents Professor Emeritus of education at Arizona State University (ASU) and co-author of the recently released book “50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools,” recently spoke with the Arizona School Boards Association‘s (ASBA) Arizona Education News Service. Berliner discusses the policies, practices and popular beliefs that he believes are the greatest threats to Arizona’s public schools and shares his thoughts on how schools can better serve children. His co-author was Gene V. Glass, also a Regents Professor Emeritus of education at ASU.

The following question-and-answer session is republished with permission from ASBA.

Q: What three policies, practices and popular beliefs mentioned in the book affect Arizona’s public schools most?

A: The first and most important myth is that American students do not do well in international competition, which shows how poor our schools are. This is complete nonsense.

If you start to break up the scores of kids on the tests into five groups – one of which are kids that go to schools where less than 10 percent of the families are in poverty, and another group of schools where less than 25 percent of kids are in poverty –in the last big international test scores, the PISA, those kids actually scored among the best in the world.

In reading, they scored almost better than anyone else. Even in mathematics, which is not our strongest area in the U.S., they scored terrific.

It’s the other end of the spectrum – kids who go to schools where there are over 50 percent in poverty or at schools where there are over 75 percent of kids in poverty – they’re doing terrible.

The blanket statement that our schools don’t do well is factually incorrect.

The proper statement is that some of our schools are not doing well, and almost all of them are schools where poverty is endemic.

The second one that I would touch on is the absolutely stupid policy passed by our Legislature (Move on When Reading) to hold kids back if they are not reading well in third grade.

There is no better set of research in education than in that area. We know quite factually, as certainly as we know evolution and as well as we know global warming, that leaving a child back is a wrong decision for almost all of them. It’s a mistake.

The child who is left back has a much higher chance of dropping out of school. They don’t like school. When those students are interviewed, they call up the equivalent of wetting their pants in school, or losing a parent, or going blind. It’s a horrible occurrence for the family.

What’s more, the state has committed itself to putting in another approximately $8,000 because to leave that child back, means one more year of elementary school.

If they used that $8,000 for tutoring of the kid, you wouldn’t have to leave the kid back. The kid wouldn’t drop out of high school. The kid wouldn’t be a negative force in classrooms and wouldn’t be overage for their grade. You’d be much better off.

The third one I’d suggest is one promulgated by Arizona’s own Goldwater Institute, in which the president of the Goldwater Institute says early childhood education is no good.

She is factually wrong.

There are studies out showing that for all kids high-quality early childhood education makes a difference in their lives and for poor kids in particular it has really profound effects.

Those are three areas where Arizona, in particular, has got it all wrong.

Q: Which specific funding issues identified in the book need to be addressed most urgently and how?

A: There are a number of parts to this. Number one, teacher salaries in Arizona have gone way down. Other states, while they had to rescind some salaries during the recession, have restored them. During the recession, Massachusetts’ teachers’ salaries went up.

You cannot attract the best and the brightest to the field even if they want to be teachers, if you don’t pay them enough for the starting salary.

Maybe even worse for the long-term in Arizona is that state funding for the three state universities has gone straight down for the last 20 years while the demand for higher education and the demand for educated workers is up.

You can’t have a future in a knowledge economy without people possessing knowledge.

Also, we have not restored the funding that the state gives to school districts either. So we’ve had to cancel art and music classes, we’ve had to cancel a lot of special services for kids who need them, and after school programs, etc.

Not only have you hurt who you can attract to the field, but you’ve actually hurt the systems themselves.

Funding matters a lot. Other states are way, way ahead of us.

Q: You have identified a group of college-and-career ready “myths and lies.” What is the most prevalent issue related to this that you identify in the book?

A: We don’t think most people know what career- and college-ready means.

What we need is certainly a literate workforce, a numerate workforce, a scientifically literate workforce, but we’ve always needed that. I don’t think that’s anything new.

What we really need to save our state and our nation is a population that takes its role in citizenship seriously. We are more likely to lose our pre-eminence as a nation because of apathetic voters than anything else.

Q: How can schools better serve children?

A: Schools could be better if they were, in our more modern times, more encompassing of the child.

That means more after-school programs, because lots of families are not home for kids after school. It could be homework areas for kids with tutors, it could be sports, it could be music, it could be art.

There’s a fascinating study that says when people reach the age of 55 or so, which is usually around the peak earning parts of their lives, people who have studied the humanities out-earn people who have gone into business.

But what we see all over America is the cutting of the humanities – less government, less history, less art, less music.

What we’re doing is cutting off our humanities, when we need to keep them. We need the journalism club. We need the music classes. We need the art classes. That would make some schools better, but it also makes kids want to go to school.

I bet very few kids want to go to school to study mathematics. I bet lots of kids want to go to school to be part of the music program, the art program, and the sports program.

What you want are the hooks to keep kids in school, and those are the ones that we’re getting rid of. Every parent knows this, and every legislator doesn’t care.

Q: “Myths and lies” is a pretty inflammatory title. Why did you choose this as a way to discuss the serious issues facing America’s and Arizona’s public schools?

A: A good deal of what’s promulgated is self interest.

School uniforms companies tell everyone learning improves if you wear uniforms. Not true. Your laundry bill may improve, though.

Other companies sell iPads, and say it will help kids do better in school. Well, there’s no evidence of that.

Another part of it is simple failure to understand the research base. Like the passage of Move on When Reading.

(The interview was edited for length and clarity.)

Joetta Sack-Min|April 23rd, 2014|Categories: Assessment, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Preschool Education, Privatization, Public Advocacy, School Reform, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA Executive Director tours successful schools, community partnerships in Cleveland

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel saw firsthand the successes of an urban school district during a tour of  high-performing schools in Cleveland last month.

Gentzel met with Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon and CMSD Board Chair Denise Link in addition to CMSD board members Willetta Milam and Robert Heard. Milam also sits on the steering committee for NSBA’s Council for Urban Boards of Education.

Gentzel was particularly impressed with the school district’s emphasis on student achievement and its innovative programs.

“I toured schools in an urban district that clearly is achieving significant gains in student achievement, thanks to a reform plan that enjoys broad community and political support,” said Gentzel. “I was especially impressed with the district leadership’s commitment to being held accountable in very public ways for their work.”

One school even had a “countdown clock” for student achievement, he added.

Other exceptional programs included dual-language elementary programs, a partnership with Cleveland State University, and the district’s pioneering partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Gentzel toured the museum with Ohio School Board Association Executive Director Rick Lewis to learn more about its curriculum, which integrates rock n’ roll into prek-12 lessons, from business to technology to English/language arts. A lesson might ask students to build a persuasive argument for their favorite band to be admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or teach business and contract management skills.

Lewis, for one, noted that  “a feeling of excitement and optimism for the future flourishes throughout the CMSD.”

“The Board of Education and community have collaborated to create several standout schools and programs that offer assurances for higher student achievement,” he said. “As you walk through the halls of these schools, you can’t help but feel the contagious spirit of faith and energy. The results of their transformational plan show that excellence is possible even in an urban district with enormous socio-economic challenges.”

Gentzel toured two top-performing schools, Buhrer Dual Language School and Campus International School on the campus of Cleveland State University.

Buhrer Dual Language School is a K-8 school with the first dual language education program in Ohio. All classes are taught in English and Spanish, and Buhrer students become proficient in both.  Students earn high school credit in Algebra I and Spanish I.

Situated on Cleveland State University’s downtown campus, Campus International School, is the only International Baccalaureate candidate school in the CMSD and prepares students in grades K-6 for international citizenship with a rigorous and comprehensive global curriculum. Each year the school adds a grade level until it will become a K-12 school.

“Our Board members and our CEO appreciated the opportunity to meet with Tom to discuss our school district’s ongoing transformation plan and our efforts to increase the number of high-performing schools in Cleveland,” said Link.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|April 2nd, 2014|Categories: Assessment, Curriculum, Dropout Prevention, Governance, High Schools, Urban Schools|Tags: , |

Watch NSBA discuss digital learning at Discovery Education’s Future@Now

National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel is a featured panelist at Discovery Education’s second annual Future@Now forum, where he and other K-12 education leaders will discuss the transition from traditional classrooms to digital classrooms and the critical steps necessary to successfully implement digital learning.

E931FA4B-6A7C-4150-ACBF-6A983511A493-1Future@Now: Roadmap to the Digital Transition is designed to give educators the opportunity to hear practical advice and real success stories from K-12 and technology educators. This event takes place Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Rep. George Miller, Broad Prize Winner Superintendent Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and leaders from other national education groups will participate as well. Duncan will lead attendees on a live visit to a digital classroom in Washington D.C. Panels will include student discussions of technology, how to transition to digital learning, creating a culture and community of change, developing teacher leaders, and integrating digital resources into the classroom.

The free event also will be live-streamed at Discovery Education. Register today to watch.

Joetta Sack-Min|February 21st, 2014|Categories: Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Technology, STEM Education, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|Tags: , , , |

Common Core poses opportunities, challenges for English Language Learners

Imagine you’re a student being asked to demonstrate a level of knowledge and critical thinking never before demanded of the vast majority of students in the United States. That is what assessments for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative are asking — or will soon ask — students to do in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Now imagine you’re being asked to demonstrate this high level of learning and cognitive ability in a language different from the one you grew up with at home.  If you were, say, a native English speaker and were asked to do this in Europe or Latin America, would your high school French or Spanish suffice?

That’s a little what the growing population English language learners in this country is being ask to do.  And whether these students succeed or not is critical to our nation’s future.

“English language learners represent the future majority of our student population,” said Rose Aronson, executive director of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.  (TESOL).  “So whether you come from a district where English language learners are already in large numbers, or from a district where their numbers are growing rapidly, you are directly affected.”

Aronson and Patte Barth, director of NBA’s Center for Public Education, spoke last week at a webinar, now archived, called The Common Core State Standards and English Language Learners: Challenges and Opportunities for Academic Success, which was sponsored by NSBA’s National Hispanic Caucus of School Board Members.

On the “opportunities” side, the CCSS sets the expectation that all students — including English Language Learners — will meet rigorous performance standards. And, because of this, Aronson said, “it has the potential to raise academic achievement of ELLs and close the achievement gap.”

In addition, “CCSS and NGSS [the Next Generation Science Standards] give us an opportunity to reassess our assumptions, instructional approaches, and polices related to the education of ELLs” and to strengthen the role of teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL).

Among the biggest challenges is ensuring that ELLs “acquire and use the academic language necessary to access the rigorous content demanded by the CCSS,” Aronson said. And there is the challenge of ensuring that all teachers are prepared to teach in the academic language that CCSS requires.

School boards have a big role to play regarding CCSS, Barth said. They can help all students succeed in this initiative by setting clear and high expectations, creating the conditions for success, holding the system accountable, creating the public will to success, and learning as a board team about CCSS and what it requires.

Lawrence Hardy|January 14th, 2014|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Common Core State Standards, Curriculum, Diversity, Immigrants, Student Achievement, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

U.S. students doing quite well compared to international peers, CPE director writes

Even though the United States does not rank number one—or even close—in subjects on international tests, that doesn’t mean that our schools are failing, Patte Barth, director of the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, writes in an online column for the Huffington Post.

In “The Kids are All Right-er,” Barth analyzes recent international test results to show that U.S. students, particularly in the early years, are doing quite well. It’s adults, actually, who really could use some improvement.

“In many ways, the popular storyline that U.S. students get crushed in international comparisons is a distortion of the actual record,” she writes. “Truth is, our fourth- and eighth-graders consistently score above average, and do especially well in reading and science. Even our high school students are slightly above average in those subjects, falling below in math only.”

She notes that the recent NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study also found that if Massachusetts and Vermont were their own countries, they would stand with the highest-achieving nations.

Read more of her analysis in the Huffington Post.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|November 12th, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Diversity, Mathematics Education, Policy Formation, STEM Education, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Ravitch: We can learn a lot from Finland — and from our own public schools

Diane Ravitch praised the Finnish schools in a recent speech in Washington, D.C. But it was another nation’s public education system — and the remarkable progress it has made over the past 40 years — that most impressed the celebrated author and education historian.

What country is this? The United States, of course. During that time, student achievement has increased overall, even as today’s student population has become more racially, economically, and culturally diverse. Graduation rates also are rising. And “dropout rates,” said Ravitch, a keynote speaker at NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, “are the lowest they’ve been in history.”

But if you read some of the anti-public school literature out there, or watched some purportedly “balanced” news reports, you could easily be fooled into thinking something much different, said Ravitch, who spoke at the Economic Policy Institute about her new book on public school reform, Reign of Error.

As an example, Ravitch cited a 2012 report called “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, now head of Rupert Murdoch’s strongly pro-voucher News Corp. The report claims, contrary to the evidence Ravitch cites in the Long-Term Trend report of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), that U.S. schools are so bad they have “become a grave security risk.”

Ravitch devotes much of her new book to the high performing public schools in Finland, a place where she says teaching is a highly respected — and highly selective — occupation, where teachers and principals belong to a common union, and where public education of the highest quality is seen as a national obligation.

“They don’t have charters,” Ravitch said. “They don’t have vouchers. …. There is no Teach for Finland.”

U. S. schools are doing a lot right, too, Ravitch said. In fact, some of the highest-scoring nations on international tests — Singapore among them – are looking at how U.S. schools embrace creativity and teach problem-solving skills. Ironically, with the recent emphasis on high-stakes testing, she added, “We’re moving in the opposite direction.”

“And now we have kindergarten children taking bubble-in tests,” Ravitch said. “This is insane.”

Ravitch criticized the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which she said “has put $5 billion into the pursuit of higher test scores.” She said the money could have been put to better use in efforts to address the growing segregation of many public schools by race and income, particularly in the South and West.

“We’re not trying to solve the real problem, which is child poverty,” Ravitch said. “Poverty is the elephant in the room.”

Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also spoke at the event. Weingarten said budget cuts have harmed school systems across the country, opening them up to criticism and threats of privatization. However, studies consistently show that privatization does not lead to higher student performance while resulting, in many instances, in greater economic and racial segregation.

Lawrence Hardy|October 22nd, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Charter Schools, Comparative Education, Conferences and Events, Curriculum, Diversity, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, Privatization, Race to the Top (RTTT), School Board News, School Vouchers, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|

Ariz. districts look to early childhood programs to boost long-term achievement

The following article was originally published by the Arizona School Boards Association

By Tracey Benson, ASBA Director of Communications

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It may be an old saw, but it well summarizes what many education leaders across Arizona and the nation believe to be true about the relationship between college and career readiness and early education – the learning and experiences that happen between birth and age 8.PAT 14

Current research about brain development and early learning backs those beliefs, according to Karen Woodhouse, chief program officer at First Things First, a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help children be successful once they enter kindergarten. For example:

  • 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before they enter kindergarten, and the quality of a child’s interactions with adult caregivers – from parents to childcare providers and preschool teachers – lays the foundation for a lifetime.
  • Differences in children’s vocabulary first start to appear at 18 months.
  • A child’s vocabulary, attention and general knowledge at 3 and 4 years old correlates to their reading comprehension levels at ages 9 and 10.

With the implementation of new, more rigorous academic standards in Arizona and the Move On When Reading law, which requires students to be reading at a sufficient level before they can be promoted from third to fourth grade, the stakes have been raised for preparing children for K-12 success.

Dr. Debbie Pischke, director of the Peoria Unified School District’s preschool program for the past 19 years, and a regional partnership council chair for First Things First, says early childhood education is more important today than ever before. Peoria USD serves approximately 1,000 preschool students through 40 programs on 15 campuses. Scholarships are available for more than one-fourth of those children through a grant from First Things First.

“In education we talk about the achievement gap a lot, but there was a readiness gap before there was an achievement gap,” she says. “We know that the brain a child brings to kindergarten started way before they got there. The pathways for learning were established by age three.”

Pischke and others say that achievement gap may widen if early education isn’t more fully addressed.

While preschool attendance is not the only indicator of readiness, it is one. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2013 Kids Count report, 46 percent of all U.S. children attend preschool. In Arizona, only 33 percent do.

That could become a bigger problem. “Kindergarten is no longer about reciting the ABCs,” Pischke says. “Today when children come into kindergarten, they need to know how to work with other children, listen to an adult other than mom or dad, pay attention, demonstrate persistence, be able to control their emotions and body appropriately for their age.”

They also need pre-math and pre-literacy skills.

She repeats a saying she once heard at an early childhood conference to drive home her point: “The speaker said, ‘You can’t climb the ladder of success if the first rung is broken.’”

Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Kelty also is concerned that without more aggressive early preparation and greater access to early childhood programs, the achievement gap will grow. “We see too many children starting behind, and that gap is rarely closed,” says Kelty. “We’re so used to blaming the K-12 system (for this), instead of asking how we can provide more access to quality early education options for children and their parents.”

A community survey conducted this year in Coconino County revealed that 53 percent of children in the county enter kindergarten unprepared to learn what is now expected of them. “Our county data and our statewide data are reflecting that (lack of preparedness) in our students’ academic performance,” he says.

Woodhouse, Pischke and Kelty all note that the academic and social costs to children can be high if they enter kindergarten unprepared. School districts incur financial costs, specifically those associated with remediation and retention. These education experts contend that rich early childhood experiences, whether at home, or through preschool or quality childcare settings, can reduce those costs.

A growing cadre of advocates from business, economic development, government and the social service sectors say the positive effects of investment in early childhood education are even more far reaching. Rob Grunewald is one of those advocates. An economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, he will speak before a group of Arizona citizens that will gather this fall for the annual Arizona Town Hall, where the topic of early childhood education in Arizona will be explored in-depth.

“Research shows that investments in early childhood education can return up to $16 for every $1 invested through reduced need for welfare assistance, increased income tax revenue, less burden on the criminal justice system and fewer children needing remedial education services,” says Grunewald. “Children and their families benefit from these investments, but the majority of financial benefits accrue to society and taxpayers.”

According to research cited by First Things First, children exposed to rich experiences in early childhood are 80 percent more likely to graduate high school, 70 percent less likely to commit a violent crime by age 18 and 40 percent less likely to be held back a grade.

That message about broad societal benefits is reverberating in many parts of Arizona. As part of its economic development strategy and in light of the results of the county’s recent community education survey, Coconino County has invested nearly $350,000 in a parent education program focused on the early years. Parenting College, developed and implemented by the Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Office as part of its Transformative Learning Center, focuses on nine topics, including brain development, safety, discipline and nurturing pre-academic skills through reading and vocabulary. The classes are delivered to teen parents attending Ponderosa High School, the county’s accommodation school, through a partnership with a high school in the Flagstaff Unified School District, and most recently through community sessions offered on Saturdays.

For these reasons and others, school district leaders increasingly are looking for ways to engage and influence parents and provide foundational learning and socialization experiences to children before kindergarten. “The model many people think of is to begin thinking about children as learners when they start kindergarten, but more and more school districts are taking advantage of opportunities to connect with families of young children before that point,” says Woodhouse. “It’s really important for the leaders on a school board to be familiar with the variety of ways that can be done.”

She emphasizes that meeting needs of children and families in ways that make sense for the local community is essential. One strategy does not fit all.

In addition to offering preschool programs that serve students with developmental delays, which is required by law, many school districts are extending the opportunity to other local children by braiding state and federal funds with grants from organizations like First Things First that provide scholarships to students whose families would not otherwise be able to afford preschool. First Things First currently provides 51 Arizona school districts – from small and rural, to large and urban – with grants for preschool scholarships.

Since opening a preschool four years ago, the small, rural Topock Elementary School District in Mohave County has seen kindergarten readiness jump. The 20-student preschool is offered free to 3- and 4-year-olds through a grant from First Things First. “It has become the great equalizer,” says John Warren, superintendent of the district that serves 140 students overall. “That pipeline of success stemming from the preschool is evident.” (See page 19 for an in-depth look at Topock’s program and the results it is producing.)

The Mesa Unified School District repurposed an elementary school this year as a preschool center. The school board voted last year to convert the campus because of declining enrollment. The Jordan Center for Early Education will house special education preschool, state-sponsored programs and the district’s tuition-based program, along with a “wrap-around care” option for working parents.

The Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson also has a preschool and early education campus, created after the district closed one of its elementary schools two years ago. All its preschool programs, which serve 400 children, are housed there.

Some districts and JTEDs offer fee-based, licensed preschool programs on their campuses that do double duty by providing high school students opportunities to earn career and technical education credits and valuable skills by working in the preschool programs.

The Pima County JTED is one of them. “We’re training the next generation of preschool teachers,” says Greg D’Anna, director of public relations.

West-MEC, a JTED that serves students in Maricopa County, funds early childhood education/education professions programs at 23 high schools in the West Valley. One of those schools, Apollo High School in the Glendale Union High School District, offers COOP – the Child Oriented Occupational Program. The program gives the older students hands-on experience by working one hour a day in the preschool along with an additional hour for classroom instruction and lesson planning. It gives the preschoolers a leg up on kindergarten.

Similarly, the East Valley Institute of Technology offers its early childhood/education professions students the opportunity to learn and work in a childcare center, but it has done so by partnering with a private preschool operating a center on its campus.

Other districts have created family resource centers on school campuses that offer parents of pre-K children access to information and materials to help prepare their children for school success.

Some districts blend a variety of approaches. Co-located on Sunnyside USD’s preschool campus is the district’s award-winning, research-based, free and voluntary Parents as Teachers – or PAT – program. PAT serves expectant parents and parents of children birth to 5 years old residing in the Sunnyside district. It provides them with information on the latest research in neuroscience and child development, support and strategies during the crucial early years to strengthen families and prepare children for lifelong achievement. According to district spokeswoman Mary Veres, PAT has increased children’s school readiness and success. It also improves parenting practices and provides early detection of developmental delays.

And other models exist as well.

“Having varied approaches is important,” notes Woodhouse. “We need to meet parents where they are. Preschool is not for every child or every family, but every child does need rich early childhood experiences, and it’s in the interest of school districts to be a part of that.”

In addition to improved student achievement, ancillary benefits are being experienced by districts engaged in early childhood programs. Preschools and parent programs draw young families to the district.

“The early years are a great time for districts to begin building relationships with the family, to become a great resource, to make them comfortable in the school community and to help them understand what will happen when their child starts kindergarten,” Woodhouse explains.

Pischke agrees and says Peoria has experienced that benefit. An elementary school that opened four preschool programs on its campus one year had 25 variances for kindergarten the following year. “We’re their first exposure to school,” she says. “So if we’re making a good impression, they’re going to want to stay.”

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 11th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, Preschool Education, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

More classrooms see return to “ability grouping,” NYSSBA reports

The following story was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association in On Board Online.

Ability grouping – a controversial approach in which teachers sort students into small groups based on their level of comfort with curriculum material – is back in classrooms.

Ability grouping became unfashionable in the late 1980s and 1990s, when critics said it was an unnecessary technique that sends negative messages to some students and highlights racial disparities.

“It was PC to criticize ability grouping,” Tom Loveless, a prominent education analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington told On Board. But now ability grouping has resurfaced as way to differentiate instruction.

Seventy-one percent of fourth-grade teachers used ability grouping for reading in 2009, compared to 28 percent in 1998, according to a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For fourth grade math, 61 percent used ability grouping in 2011, compared to 40 percent in 1996.

Ability grouping is not the same as “tracking,” which Loveless said has been persistently popular in the crucial subject of eighth-grade mathematics. While ability grouping refers to the practice that teachers use to separate students within a classroom into smaller groups, depending on their proficiency with a subject, tracking is usually district-driven and focuses on making choices and placing middle and high school students into programs in which they study different curriculums.

In a recent paper published by Brooking’s Brown Center Report on American Education, Loveless suggested that the return of ability grouping was linked to the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, as well as the increased use of technology in the classroom, which enables teachers to personalize instruction more readily.

The debate about ability grouping – when, whether, and how to use it – involves disagreement about the best way to deal with one of public education’s perennial problems – the “achievement gap.” Middle- and upper-income students, who are usually white or Asian, consistently outscore low-income, usually African-American or Hispanic students, on standardized tests.

In New York, only 16.1 percent of African-American students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard in 2013, compared to 39.9 percent for white students. Racial and economic gaps widen as students get older; 94 percent of students from low-need districts graduate from high school, compared to 65 percent of students from high-need districts.

Educators say they are taking a second look at ability grouping as they strive to make all students college- and career-ready. “We are seeing more of a trend to go back to specifically working with students in ability groups,” said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown school district, who added that he is uncomfortable with the term “ability” and would rather say “proficiency groups.” Starting this fall, Middletown will offer a two-year kindergarten class “for kids who are not cognitively ready for kindergarten,” which represents about a quarter to a third of the class.

Ability grouping isn’t limited to less proficient students, Eastwood added. “There’s a push around rigor, where kids can accelerate,” he said. “Your best readers and writers have to be challenged. I like the concept of personalized learning, when we push kids individually.”

This fall Middletown is also adding two mastery classes in third grade. “We’re taking the highest learners and building a curriculum around their capabilities,” said Susan Short, principal of Presidential Park elementary school. “The sky is the limit. There will be a lot of project-based learning, with the teacher as facilitator.”

For many teachers, ability grouping reflects classroom realities. “When there’s a heterogeneous classroom, you’re still grouping students based on their ability level,” said Nicholas Sgroi, who taught fifth grade at Carter Elementary School in Middletown. “As lessons start going on, you see what they know, and see where they need support or push them further. It goes on all year long. The groups are pretty fluid.” Even students who stay in the lower group are “still growing at their own pace.”

In a lesson on fractions, for example, Sgroi has students who need more practice with the material adding like denominators. To challenge others, he’d offer a problem of adding fractions with different denominators or ask them to develop word problems on their own. “They’re not just doing work sheets,” said Sgroi.

But what happens when the kids in different groups are predominantly of different races? That’s something many districts with diverse populations want to avoid.

“We’re wrestling with big issues of equity,” said Laurence T. Spring, Schenectady superintendent. “Race, economics and disability cannot be predictors of students’ achievement. We need to think of lots of other things to do in the classroom. Most educational services should have a heterogeneous environment, especially in elementary school.”

He pointed to the district’s inclusive admissions process for the high school’s IB (International Baccalaureate) program as reflecting the goals of the district. As Spring said, “We want more kids in IB, to take the challenge.”

While ability grouping raises few eyebrows in the early grades, some worry that it might lead to tracking later on. These critics say that creating different groups for younger students to learn a given curriculum can create a culture that leads to older students being assigned to entirely different curriculums.

As Cathleen Chamberlain, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Oswego, said, “Some of the problems with tracking is that we can actually be determining a student’s future when we are making tracking decisions. Some tracks point to a future in college while others send students directly to a career path and we may be inadvertently closing doors that are options for students. Again, we have to be mindful that we are not typecasting students.”

“I’m horrified that tracking is coming back,” said Carol Burris, a principal at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, who was named principal of the year by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Her district has “accelerated all kids in math, including special needs kids, completely de-tracked ninth and 10th grade, and offered IB English to everybody in 11th grade,” she said.

With 15-16 percent of the district’s students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and a minority population of 21 percent, the district has 100 percent of graduating students receiving a Regents diploma and 80 percent having a Regents degree with advanced designation.

“We level the field,” said Burris, who has a book coming out on de-tracking in math. “We closed the achievement gap in terms of earning a Regents diploma. “We’re in the process of leveling up, to give the best curriculum we can. The tone of the building improves when you’re not isolating lower performing students.”

“For me, the problem really lies in not stepping back and saying ‘what is ability?’” said Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “With accountability and high stakes testing, the definition of ability has gotten more and more narrow. The return to ability grouping is so hierarchical because it’s competitive about very narrow measures. The perception of kids factors into the tracking process. We need to question what’s happening.”

For all the focus on data driven results, it’s unclear that ability grouping ultimately achieves its stated goals. “We don’t have good evidence that it helps or hurts kids, except for the highly advanced, high achiever, by giving them different curriculum,” said Loveless.

Despite questions about the value of ability grouping, Loveless expects to see more of it in elementary and middle schools as districts strive to improve results.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said. “It comes back under a different name.”

Joetta Sack-Min|September 13th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Policy Formation, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

Center for Public Education examines good and bad news from ACT data

Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Public Education (CPE) at the National School Boards Association, recently analyzed the latest batch of ACT scores for CPE’s blog, the Edifier:

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution.

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report:

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
  • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
  • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
  • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
  • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:

  • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
  • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
  • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.

Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:

  • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
  • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
  • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
  • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
  • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
  • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
  • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
  • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
  • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
  • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
  • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
  • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

 

Jim Hull|August 21st, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Curriculum, Educational Research, Mathematics Education|Tags: , |

CPE discusses resurgence of “Ability Grouping” in video chat

The Center for Public Education’s (CPE) Director Patte Barth joined the Huffington Post today for a video chat on “’Ability Grouping’ in Schools.”

The segment discussed the classroom practice of “ability grouping,” often known as clustering, of students by their strengths and abilities. The practice declined in the 1980s and 1990s because of concerns over inequalities, according to a recent article in Salon magazine, “The Return of Ability Grouping,” that inspired the video chat. The online chat asked, “Why are we revisiting a teaching method that we abandoned back in the 1990′s?”

Barth noted that two decades ago, students usually stayed in the same “track” that they started from first grade through high school, and the track became “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” However, the standards-based reform movement and mindset that all children need to achieve at high levels changed the landscape, she said, adding that teachers now know that they cannot let struggling students falls behind.

“All of these children are able, but the grouping needs to be dynamic” so that the structure does not become too rigid, Barth said.

 

Watch the archived chat at HUFFPOST Live.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|June 12th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Mathematics Education, Policy Formation, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , , |
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