Articles in the Educational Research category

Align Pre-K and early grades, coalition says

High-quality preschool is essential for ensuring that all children — particularly disadvantaged children and English Language Learners — are launched onto a path of academic and career success, says a new report by the Pre-K Coalition, a group that includes NSBA and six other education organizations. Yet, as important as this advantage is, Pre-K is not some kind of educational “silver bullet,” and its successes must be built upon in early elementary school,

To get the most impact from Pre-K, the programs should be closely aligned with early elementary school (kindergarten through third grade) so gains made in preschool can be maintained and enhanced throughout the K12 years and beyond, says the coalition’s report, The Importance of Aligning Pre-k through 3rd Grade.

“Child development is a continuous process that must be fed and nurtured along the way,’ the report says. “Gains made in high-quality Pre-K programs must be sustained by quality education throughout the K-3 years. Likewise, skills developed in first grade must be reinforced and built upon in second grade.”

The report cites several impediments to aligning Pre-K with early elementary school, as well as strategies for addressing them. One issue is the lack of focus that policymakers have put on the early grades.

“Unfortunately, our education system is structured to pay the least attention to children’s progress during these critical years,” the report says. “Under current federal law, state and district accountability benchmarks focus primarily on student performance in grades three through eight. Intervention strategies and turn around models for schools ‘in need of improvement’ target these grades as well.”

While the new Common Core State Standards, which cover grades kindergarten through 12, will help states and districts focus on the entire K-12 continuum, schools need to provide “a continuous and well-aligned set of early learning experiences” in grades K-3 to achieve sustained success,” the report says.

School districts also have to work to finds ways to collaborate with community preschool programs, which may have different regulations, funding streams, and educational philosophies.

“To foster collaboration, some districts have implemented joint professional development opportunities for community-based early educators and teachers to come together to share experiences and align expectations,” the report says. “Other efforts may involve more formal program integration such as the sharing of program staff, space, or other resources between a public school and a Head Start provider.”

The report cites school districts in three communities that are successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school: Montgomery County, Md.; Nooksack Valley, Wash.; and Santa Maria Bonita, Calif.

In addition to NSBA, which is spearheading the coalition, the other members are: the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Education Association.

Successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school will take hard work and the cooperation of educators and policymakers at all levels, said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

“There must be a culture of shared responsibility among all partners (local, state, and federal as well as parents to support a comprehensive continuum of learning from pre-K to grade 3,” Bryant said. “We are asking the federal government to become a true partner with states and local communities to ensure that students receive a high quality start to learning.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 7th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, National Standards, Preschool Education, School Board News, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Depending on your point of view — and your experiences with high-stakes testing — No Child Left Behind was either a critical first step toward school accountability, a good idea with some major flaws, or a colossal flop. (And there’s probably a myriad views in between.) Will the Common Core State Standards Initiative be any better? As you might expect, the views expressed by a number of experts on the National Journal’s education blog are all well-reasoned — and all over the map. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Alberta has one of the best school systems in the world, writes the provocatively-named blog Dangerously Irrelevant, and it doesn’t look too kindly on what’s happening to its south. Thanks to This Week in Education for pointing out this eye-opening critique of why Canada seems to be getting things right in school reform – and much of the U.S. is getting it wrong.

Another must-read is the review of a new Department of Education report on school inequity from Raegen Miller of the Center for American Progress.  Then, on the same site, see Robert Pianta’s proposals for improving teacher development.

Finally, a non-education story, strictly speaking, but one that says a lot about what it takes to be an effective leader – including a leader in a school district. Yes, it’s a sports column (by the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins) and yes it deals with recent coaching changes on two of Washington’s pro teams, which, most of you I would imagine do not care a whole lot about. ( I live here, and even I don’t care that much.) But — trust me here — Jenkins’ message about the kind of leaders people follow goes beyond mere games.

 

Lawrence Hardy|December 2nd, 2011|Categories: Board governance, Educational Legislation, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, Leadership, National Standards, Professional Development, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Pundits made a big deal about Rick Perry forgetting the name of one of the three federal departments he plans to eliminate if elected president– for the record, it was the Department of Energy — but blogger Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute is more concerned about just what the Texas governor means when he says the Department of Education would also be “gone.”

“It isn’t clear that abolishing the Department would itself end any federal education programs (since they can migrate elsewhere),” Hess wrote. “So, specifically, which programs and activities will you eliminate?”

Then – wouldn’t you know it? – it gets complicated.

Would Perry try to eliminate federal funding for special education? Hess asked. How about Pell grants or Title 1?

“Many will think there are obvious right and wrong answers to these questions,” Hess writes after posing a few other queries “But I do want to know what the GOP candidate’s bold promises really mean.”

Remember nearly 10 years ago when Connecticut went to court over No Child Left Behind, claiming it would cost millions in unfunded mandates? Well, just look at what it could cost California in required “reforms” in order to be granted an NCLB waiver by the Obama Administration, writes This Week in Education’s John Thompson, and Connecticut’s decade-old legal gambit doesn’t seem that out of line.

Lastly, we turn to two timely blogs from NSBA’s Center for Public Education.  In one Mandy Newport, a former teacher, Center intern, and graduate student at George Washington University, takes the Heritage Foundation to task for it’s ill-conceived idea that paying teachers less will result in education improvements.

Then there is Research Analyst Jim Hull’s blog on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, the title of which I absolutely love:

“Using research to inform policy without understanding the research.”

Sort of like, “Vowing to eliminate the Department of Education without understanding what the Department of Education does?”

Lawrence Hardy|November 19th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

My favorite response to the Heritage Foundation’s controversial study that teachers just aren’t as, well, smart as your typical college grad and, therefore, are way overpaid is this Modest Proposal from a reader of Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine blog:

“How about we just don’t pay teachers anything at all and hope for the best possible outcome. That’s my kind of public policy.”

Ours too! And we have a think tank we want you to join.

Seriously, it’s fairly well known that education majors don’t score as highly on standardized tests, on average, as graduates in other fields. So, while some may consider such a study offensive and counterproductive, one could argue that there’s a certain logic in trying to compare wages by cognitive ability.

On the other hand, there’s a lot more that goes into teaching than test scores, many teachers enter the field from other majors; and cutting teacher salaries, as the report’s authors suggest, seems to be the last thing you’d want to do improve the profession. Finally, after an unprecedented year of public employee — and, especially, teacher — bashing, it’s disturbing to see teachers as targets once again.

For other views on the study, see Time magazine; former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (via Politico), and a response by report co-author Andrew Biggs.

A lot of grand ideas come out of Washington, emanating from think tanks such as Heritage and, of course, from government itself. Right now, Congress is taking a critical look at one of the biggest “grand ideas” — No Child Left Behind — struggling to preserve its goal of higher achievement for all while revising or abolishing its more onerous mandates.

That’s what’s happening here; for a view of what it was like in the trenches, read Mandy Newport, a former teacher, NSBA Center for Public Education intern, and graduate student in education policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., as she describes the real-world impact of NCLB.

“No chalkboard space was left in classrooms because we were required to use that space to hang standards and essential questions. Science and social studies were taken away for the younger grades and replaced with test taking skills for an hour a day … Lesson plans had to be a certain font and size and were on a template given to teachers by the district.”

But if we just paid teachers less…..

Finally, read Newport’s evenhanded — and largely positive — review of Denver’s ProComp Pay for Performance plan.

Lawrence Hardy|November 4th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

Is NCLB hurting top students?

The following post was originally posted on the Center for Publc Education’s blog The Edifier.

It’s déjà vu all over again. Back in 2008 the Fordham Institute claimed in this report that our nation’s best students were being hurt by current education reform efforts, particularly No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Fast forward to earlier this week where Fordham released another report to once again try to show that our education reforms are being targeted at our low performing students at the expense of our top students. The similarities don’t end with both studies examining the performance of high achieving students, in both reports Fordham’s conclusions don’t fit what their own data says.

In the 2008 study Fordham argued our top students were being left behind because their gains were not as large as the gains low performing students made post-NCLB. I argued then that their own data didn’t fit their claim. Once again, Fordham claims that our top students are being left behind don’t fit their own data. As a matter of fact, according to Fordham’s report the gap in math scores between low- (those scoring below 10th percentile) and high-performing (those score above the 90th percentile) did not significantly change as students moved from 3rd to 8th grade or from 6th to 10th grade. The good news is that all students made consistent gains, unfortunately for low-performing students their performance still lagged way behind. The story is a bit different in reading where gaps did close between the lowest and highest performing students. However, Fordham sees this gap closing as a negative even though high performing students continued to make significant gains between the 3rd and 8th grades. It was just that low-performing students made even greater gains during that period.

Just as I argued in 2008, this is how gaps should be narrowed, where everyone improves but the lowest performers improve at a faster rate. However, Fordham didn’t agree with me then and I’ll safely assume they won’t agree with me now. We will just have to agree to disagree because I don’t believe the data shows our best students are being short changed simply because our lowest performers are making more progress than our highest performing students. Now that doesn’t mean our schools or our education policies should focus solely on our lowest performing students. Educators and policymakers need to ensure that ALL students have an opportunity to reach their highest academic potential before they go onto college or the workplace. Yet, neither Fordham study provides compelling data that our schools are short changing our highest performing students.

Yes, educators and policymakers need to focus on our highest achieving students as international test scores show we have a much smaller proportion advanced students than the leading countries such as South Korea and Finland but the same international tests show we also have a much larger proportion of very low-performers than most other industrialized nations. And students with such low achievement have little chance to go onto any sort of postsecondary education or find a good job that pays a living wage and offers benefits. So we need to at least sustain the gains our highest achievers are making since many will be our country’s future innovators, policymakers and business leaders. At the same time we need to accelerate the gains our lowest achieving students are making so they at least have the minimal skills necessary to either go onto earn some sort of postsecondary degree/certificate or find a good job. Doing so is not a zero-sum game. If we provide our teachers with the training, resources, and support they need, they can improve the performance of all students.

Jim Hull|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Reports, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

CPE study shows impact of parental involvement on achievement

Get parents involved in their children’s education, and good things are bound to happen. That’s a statement that most everyone invested in the public schools — including parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members – can support.

But “parent involvement,” though widely praised, is a rather nebulous term encompassing a broad range of activities, from volunteering in the classroom, to helping children with homework, to serving on the PTA. Are certain types volunteering more effective than others when it comes to supporting a school’s most basic mission: raising student achievement?

The Center for Public Education — a research arm of the National School Boards Association – looked at this question by examining dozens of studies on various types of parent involvement.  Its conclusion:  The best things school leaders can do to improve achievement is to involve parents in the academic life of their children — by asking parents to monitor homework assignments, for example, and by setting high goals and encouraging college preparation.

“Families working in close partnerships with teachers can have a measurable impact on their children’s academic achievement, particularly when they are focused on helping students do well in school,” said Patte Barth, director of the Center. “While parent involvement is no substitute for good classroom instruction, it can make the job much easier for everyone — teachers, parents, guardians, and students themselves.”

Parents want to be involved in their children’s education, something that holds true regardless of their race and ethnicity or income level. For example, the study found that 82 percent of white parents checked their children’s homework. And those numbers were even higher for African-American parents (94 percent) and Hispanics (91 percent.) According to the report’s Executive Summary, studies “have shown that lower-income and minority parents often have the same level of involvement in education as others – even though it may not necessarily be reflected at PTA meetings or school fundraisers.”

“The vast majority of parents are involved and want their children to succeed,” Barth said. “However, the school may not be seeing it.”

The report — “Back to School: How Parent Involvement Affects Student Achievement” – looked at literacy programs in Minnesota and initiatives in West Virginia in which parents received learning packages in reading and math and training on how to use them. Among of the most effective programs, the report said, is an initiative run by Johns Hopkins University called TIPS (Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork).

A study of a TIPS writing program in Baltimore found that parent involvement at two middle schools increased the writing scores for 700 sixth- and eighth-grade students. And the more TIPS homework the students did, the better their language arts grades.

 

Lawrence Hardy|August 30th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Reports, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Does ‘proficient’ equate to college or career ready in your state?

This was also published in The EDifier.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education released a new report, Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2009. The report enables states to compare the rigor of their standards for proficiency in fourth and eighth grades in both math and reading to that of other states. To do so, it places each state’s assessment cut-score for proficiency — the score which students much reach to be considered proficient — onto NAEP’s scoring scale using statistical mapping techniques. This means it shows where on NAEP’s scoring scale a student would fall if that student scored right at the state’s cut-score for proficiency on the state assessment.

Example: If a fourth grader in Vermont scored at the proficient cut-score on the Vermont state assessment, that score would correspond to a score of 214 on NAEP, which falls within NAEP’s Basic Achievement Level.

What did the report find?

  • The differences where states set their proficiency standards vary greatly.
    • The difference in scores between the states with the five highest and lowest standards is comparable to the difference in scores between NAEP’s Basic and Proficient levels.
    • The range of state standards is between 60 and 71 NAEP points, which equates to about six or seven years of learning. It is also more than twice the size of the Black/White achievement gap in 4th grade reading, which is 25 NAEP points.
  • Most state’s proficiency standards are at or below NAEP’s definition of Basic performance.
    • In grade 4 reading, 35 of 50 states set their standard for proficiency lower than NAEP’s cut-score for its Basic level. For grade 8 reading, 16 out of the 50 states did so.
    • In grade 4 math, seven of 50 states set their score for proficiency below the cut score for NAEP’s Basic level, with 42 states setting their proficiency score within NAEP’s Basic level. One state—Massachusetts—set its proficiency score within NAEP’s Proficiency level. Similar results were found in at the 8th grade level.
  • The rigor of state standards increased in states that substantively changed their assessments between 2007 and 2009.
    • Across the 34 math and reading assessments that substantively changed between 2007 and 2009, in 21 cases the rigor of the standards increased.
    • In just 5 cases did the rigor of the state standards decrease.
  • Most state results show more positive changes in the proportion of students reaching proficiency than NAEP results.
    • The change in the percent of students reaching proficiency between 2007 and 2009 was more positive in 17 of 22 state assessments than on NAEP.

Keep in mind when reading the report that NAEP does not necessarily define proficiency the same way states do. NAEP defines Proficiency as competency over challenging subject matter, not grade-level performance as states attempt to do. It is also worth mentioning that no country, not even the highest performing countries, would have 100 percent of their students reach NAEP’s Proficiency level. and that some leading assessment experts have stated that proficiency for accountability purposes probably lies somewhere between NAEP’s Basic and Proficient levels.

Even with that in mind, the results should be a warning flag to many states, especially those who set their proficiency standard below NAEP’s Basic level. But this could be a moot point in the coming years, as most states have signed on to the Common Core of Standards, where the goal is college and career readiness, not proficiency as both state assessements and NAEP are currently setup to measure. In the meantime, states should still ensure they set their proficiency standards at a level where students demostrate they have the skills necessary to get into college or get a good job after high school.

For more information on how NAEP’s proficiency levels compare to states’, check out the Center for Public Education’s The proficiency debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels.

Jim Hull|August 12th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Board News, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Food allergies more common, severe than previously thought

This week, the findings of the largest study of food allergies among U.S. children were released. In a nutshell (no pun intended), its worse than health officials thought.

The new research, which surveyed some 38,000 parents, suggests that roughly 6 million or 1 in every 12 American kids below the age of 18 suffer from food allergies.

This is up from a 2009 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which besides pegging the  prevalence of childhood allergies at 1 in every 26 children, noted that this figure had risen by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.

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Naomi Dillon|June 22nd, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Wellness|Tags: |

The week in blogs

It’s summer — time to break the routine. So, in that spirit, let me begin this column with a subject that is truly dear to my heart:

Interesting Facts About Your Week in Blogs Editor

Readers, did you know that:

A) I’m a champion swimmer*

* in the struggle-across-the-pool category

B) My wife says I have distinctive taste when it comes to home decorating*

* distinctively bad taste

I could go on, but, you get the point: Place a qualifying asterisk (*) after almost any assertion, and you can pretty much claim anything. It doesn’t make much difference when the subject is my swimming ability or home decorating prowess. But if I did the same with, say, a piece purporting to compare the relative advantages of charter school start ups to traditional public school turnarounds, the consequences might be  greater.

To his credit, Mike Petrilli does indeed qualify his assertion in a Fordham Institute blog entitled Charter start-ups are 4 times as likely to succeed as district turnarounds* (Note big asterisk). But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping policy pronouncements based on data from just 19 schools. That’s the number of schools (in 10 states studied)  in which 1) the start up charter was near a traditional school with state reading and math proficiency in the bottom 10 percent, and 2) either school subsequently increased its performance to above the state average.

Those 19 schools further break down to 15 charters and just four traditional schools, meaning, Petrilli concludes, that serious questions must be raised, “about the wisdom of the federal government pumping $3 billion into school turnaround efforts instead of using some of the money to replicate and scale up successful charters.”
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Lawrence Hardy|June 10th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Diversity, Educational Research, Governance, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|
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