Articles tagged with 21st century skills

The week in blogs: High school reports spark more discussion

Two reports on high school rigor, which came out within hours of each other last week, have sparked an online discussion about the need to make secondary school more relevant for all students. 

“Are Disparities Creating an Educational Caste System?” the provocative title of Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoted reports on the status of high school from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and NSBA’s Center for Public Education. Among the more striking statistics from the government report — 3,000 high schools serving almost 500,000 students don’t offer algebra II – a gateway course to college and career success.

“Without algebra II, you probably don’t go to college,” Center director Patte Barth told Downey and other reporters. “If you go, you are probably going to end up in remediation. Without it, you don’t become an auto mechanic. You don’t get into one of the growing service jobs in growing fields like communications.”

The Center’s report notes that a rigorous math curricula, Advanced Placement courses, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all enhance the curricula of American high schools.

Moving on, we turn to a blog we missed last week but is too important to let slide: Diane Ravitch, who recently addressed the Louisiana School Boards Association, speaking on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s truly draconian plan to privatize education.

And lastly, concerning the latest skirmishes in the parenting wars, we’ve written about “Tiger Mothers” and the new homeschooling trend among progressives (or is that “mini-trend?”). Now it’s time to consider the French. The French? Well, do they do parenting any better over there? Apparently not, writes blogger Joanne Jacobs, who links to a new commentary in the Atlantic magazine.

 

Lawrence Hardy|March 16th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, High Schools, Privatization, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

New Center report looks at ways to boost high school rigor

Advanced Placement courses, rigorous math curriculum, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all increase the rigor of America’s secondary schools, according to Is High School Tough Enough?, a new report by NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

While the report noted that more in-depth research is needed, it said that school boards interested in applying these four strategies need to consider issues such as funding, data collection, and increasing access for low-income and minority students.

“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center.  “From Advanced Placement courses to dual enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math, the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula, and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career.”

Barth said this emphasis is reflected in many policy trends, including an increasing “PreK-16” perspective as well as the recently developed Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which most states have adopted in order to help produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.

Still, there is wide variation in secondary school rigor across the country, the report noted. It said that — while the term “rigor” is not easily defined — “many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition.” For example, according to a 2011 report by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a gateway to higher math, college, and career readiness.

In a survey issued Tuesday, OCR expanded on that issue, noting, among other things, only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment. In addition, the report found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less than teachers in low minority schools in the same district. It also noted that African American students, particularly males, were far more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than their peers.

“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.  It is our collective duty to change that.”

Exposure to advanced courses can have a big impact on the educational success of low-income and minority students, the Center for Public Education report said.  

“For example, Hispanic students who passed an AP exam were nearly seven times more likely to graduate from college than their non-participating counterparts,” the Center’s report said. “Such findings buttress the argument that exposure to higher-level courses can translate into long-term gains for underrepresented students.”

Moreover, the Center report said that taking AP courses can improve students’ chances for success even if they don’t pass the AP exam. It said that only 10 percent of African-American students who did not take an AP course graduated within five years, compared with 37 percent who took an AP course and did not pass the exam, and 53 percent who took an AP course and passed.

 

Lawrence Hardy|March 7th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Educational Research, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs: Obama’s education budget (abridged)

Want to get the high points of President Obama’s K12 budget — that is, without sifting through all the numbers and the fine print? Read the Quick and the Ed post by Rikesh Nana on the “three key takeaways” from the Administration’s proposal. It’s an excellent synopsis of what the president is proposing and what it all means.

So what are those takeaways? In order: consolidation of Department of Education programs (something that’s been tried in past budgets but never adopted): continued funding of Race to the Top and other competitive grant programs; and — in the absence of congressional action — an administration-sponsored overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

OK, sports fans, this next column is not about Jeremy Lin. (But if we find one on the New York Knicks sensation that has to do with K12 education, we promise to include it next week.) Instead, Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham looks at the firing — and quick rehiring by another team — of NHL hockey coach Bruce Boudreau and what that says about the importance of professional “fit.” Hint: It applies to teaching as well as big-time sports.

Been to Cleveland recently? Even if you haven’t, or have no plans to do so, you’ll want to check out another interesting Quick and the Ed blog on the city’s “portfolio” system of managing schools. Schools would operate with greater or lesser autonomy depending on their performance. “Charter schools as well as district-operated ones would participate,” says the blog by Richard Lee Colvin, “with the goal of giving families a real choice among several good options in every neighborhood.”

Lastly, check out Mark Bauerlein of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the attitudes and academic habits of college freshman. Here’s an interesting paradox (actually a bunch of paradoxes): more than 70 percent of students placed their academic ability in the “highest 10 percent” or “above average,” but only 45 percent felt that confident about their math ability, and just 46 percent believed they were that stellar in writing.

Lawrence Hardy|February 17th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Budgeting, Charter Schools, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs: A gentleman’s C?

Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012 came out this week and with it the annual State of the States report card.  So how did the nation do?

“Overall, the nation received a grade of C across all policy and performance areas, which remained the same as a year ago,” writes Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

 That’s the average. But if you want to know whether that’s a half-full C or half-empty one, you’ll need to read the details, which Hull summarizes in his EDifier blog. The good news: states have been taking steps to improve their standards. The not-so-good news: states haven’t been especially innovative in terms of teacher policies.

One big teacher policy issue, value-added teacher evaluations, received a boost this week from a Harvard/Columbia study of teacher effectiveness, writes Hull in his second blog this week. For another look at the study, read Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. And for background, see the Center’s report “Building a Better Evaluation System.”

One critic of value-added is education historian and former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who says in a recent blog that they “never” should be used.

Also read Ravitch’s post “NCLB Death Star,” which you have to admit — however you feel about the federal law that turned 10 this month — has a great title.

The Big Questions kept coming this week with a rather brave post by Jay Mathews, of the Washington Post’s Class Struggle blog, who revisits the issue of Intelligent Design and says (for a second time) that he thinks it should be taught alongside evolution.

After his first blog on the subject, Mathews received 400 not-so-nice e-mails. “Seventy percent of them said I was an idiot,” Mathews quipped. “Many added that I was a dangerous idiot.”

However, Mathews has an interesting reason for wanting Intelligent Design included. And — as you might expect — his post sparks a lively discussion.

 

 

Lawrence Hardy|January 13th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Student Achievement, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs: Center report on time in school elicits big response

Public education, like any discipline, has accumulated a lot of truisms over the years, most of which are, well … true.

Who can challenge statements like: Parents are the first teachers. School boards should set policy, not run the district. Next to home influences, teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education.

Pretty self-evident stuff.

And then there’s this: U. S. students don’t do as well as their international counterparts because they spend less time in school. True? Well, plausible enough (and certainly repeated enough) that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a reference to it recently, saying that students in India and China “are going to school 25 to 30 percent longer than we are,” and adding, “Our students, I think, are at a competitive disadvantage.”

Such a deficit might indeed be a competitive disadvantage —  if it were true.  But NSBA’s Center for Public Education examined the claim and, using the best available evidence, concluded that it was not.

For the report Time in School: How does the U.S. Compare? Senior Research Analyst Jim Hull compared the hours required in school by several nations that compete with the United States with the those required from five of the more populous states. (States were used because they set minimum hour requirements.)

His conclusion? U.S. students attend about the same number of hours as students in most of these other countries, with some variations. (Less than in Italy, for example; more than in Finland.) Moreover, Hull said, a big issue for schools is often not how much time they require, but what they do with the time they’ve got.

The report took off in the blogosphere, being featured in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet column in the Washington Post and several other places.

“Many modern school reformers have unfortunately maintained a narrow focus about the conditions that lead to academic success, including the notion that more time is necessarily better,” Strauss said.

In an EDifier blog, Hull said he appreciated the Posts citation, but he emphasized that “while simply adding more instructional time will not automatically improve student achievement. What gets lost is that adding time can be an effective tool to improve student achievement especially for students from low-income families.”

As they always say  — truism alert! – the devil is in the details.

The study was also picked up byThe Denver Post and U.S. News & World Report.

Lawrence Hardy|December 17th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , |

U.S. compares favorably on hours spent in school

As school board members and administrators, you may have heard the charge that U.S. students spend less time in school than their peers in other countries. It fits with the notion that we in the United States aren’t as serious about education as such top-performing nations as Finland, or up-and-coming competitors such as India and China.

There are two problems with the above assertion, according a new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education titled Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare? One, it isn’t true: U.S. students spend just as many, or more, hours in class than in countries like China, and Finland. And, secondly: Sheer time in class is not a good indicator of educational excellence.

“Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used widely,” says the study, written by Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst. “As the Center’s report Making Time found, the relationship between time and student learning is not about the amount of time spent in school. Rather, it is how effectively that time is used. And this report has also shown that there is no relationship between simply requiring more time and increased achievement.”

To compare time spent in school, the Center looked at international data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education Seventh Edition 2010-11. Because minimum hours in the United States are set by individual states, the Center used for comparison data from five states that enroll a significant number of U.S. students: California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts.

In most cases, U.S. students were required to attend as many, or more, hours of class as their international counterparts. For example, at the middle school level, the number of hours of instruction ranged from a low of 777 hours in top-performing Finland to 1,001 hours in Italy, an average performer.

“Three of our five large states, New York (990 hours), Texas (1,260 hours) and Massachusetts (990 hours) would rank near the top of all industrialized nations in number of hours required,” the report said. “California and Florida would rank near the middle at 900 hours but still above the OECD average of 886 hours.”

More important than total hours is the way schools use them, the report said. It said that school districts should evaluate how effectively they use existing school time and consider alternatives.

Lawrence Hardy|December 9th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, Comparative Education, Governance|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: , , , , |

Half-day pre-k + half-day kindergarten = big reading gains by third grade

Full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool both lead to significant academic gains — the research consistently bears this out. Put together, these programs offer students the best chance to achieve at high levels.

But what if your district can’t afford that combination yet still wants to provide a rich learning experience for young children? Would it be better, in terms of later reading proficiency, if your students got a half day of preschool and only a half day of kindergarten, or full-day kindergarten alone?

In a report released today entitled “Starting Out Right: Pre-K and Kindergarten,” NSBA’s Center for Public Education looked at both options and concluded that the half-and-half approach — half day pre-k plus half-day kindergarten — is more effective in boosting reading scores at the third grade level, which is often described as the grade in which students are expected to have largely moved from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The Center’s conclusion is more than academic: It has practical implications in these tough economic times, when school boards are faced with difficult choices about which program to cut, and which to maintain or expand. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), state funding for pre-k declined in 2010 for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving school districts to pay more of the cost. But the report suggests that cutting half-day preschool would be a mistake.

“Early education is vital,’ said Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst and author of the report. “With today’s release of the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] 2011 Nation’s Report Cards in Mathematics and Reading, this report gives us more information on how we can increase academic success in our schools by expanding access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.”

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

# Children who received a half-day of both pre-k and kindergarten were 3 percent more likely than those attending full-day kindergarten alone to comprehend words in sentence.

# These half-day pre-k, half-day kindergarten children were also 12 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to make “literal references” such as those expressed in the simile “Her eyes were as blue as the sky.”

# Children who received half-days of both pre-k and kindergarten were 18 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to extrapolate from their reading. That is, they were able to identify clues in a text and use those clues and their background knowledge to understand the contextual meaning of homonyms, such as whether a sentence containing the word “bear,” meant “to carry” or “an animal.”

In almost all cases, these results were more pronounced among African Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and English language learners.

 

Lawrence Hardy|November 1st, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Preschool Education, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

At the more popular charter schools operating within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are lotteries to see who gets to attend and waiting lists that are very long – 500 children long, in the case Larchmont Charter elementary school. But if you’ve got the money and the time, according to a revealing story in LA Weekly, you can go to the front of the line as “founding parents” — even though the school opened in 2004.

“Add something called a ‘founding parent’ to the long list of ways that charter schools are accused of manipulating which children get to enroll and who doesn’t,” writes Alexander Russo, who cites the story in his This Week in Education blog. But “before you go crazy…” he adds later, “remember that district schools also have all sorts of ways of letting students in through the back door …”

True …but, the scale of the Larchmont “program” and the amount of money involved – and how it bridges the increasingly blurry line between public and private schools – is truly amazing. And it backs up what charter skeptics have long said about charters tailoring their admission policies in various ways (for example, not accepting near as  many special needs children) but claiming a universal benefit for an area’s students.

Need something lighter? When I do, I turn to the Principal’s Page and Superintendent Michael Smith’s often amusing view of his job and life. This short piece is on his junior high school daughter’s unusual level of self-esteem, which is uncannily high for someone who has every right to be the brooding teenager.

My favorite line: “Her worst day ever was great.”

It reminds me of those brilliantly funny Dos Equis beer ads – yes, brilliant beer ads – featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by the late Jonathan Goldsmith. (I love these two lines, especially: “When he’s in Rome, they do as he does.” And: “His Mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son.’” – both uttered with mock gravity by a reader who, in real life, does the ultra-authoritative voiceover for PBS’s Frontline.)

Enough fun. There are serious issues to consider. And Jay Mathews has taken on a weighty one in his Class Struggle blog, namely how well schools are addressing the needs of gifted students. Actually, Mathews is commenting on a much longer article by Rick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, who says “not very well at all.” But, like Mathews, I don’t think re-restricting access to Advanced Placement courses, because they’re presumably not as rigorous as in the past, is the way to go.

The final item is not a blog, but a piece Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered about how the recession caused a drop in the U.S. birthrate. (Scroll down to “US  Birthrate Dropped During Recession,” which refers to this Pew Research Center report.)

So what’s so bad about 300,000 or so less babies a year? Well, think of that in terms of the reduced number of parental Babies R Us visits, and you get an idea of the economic impact.

“Then, as we look further down the road, school enrollments will be begin to fall,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau who was interviewed on the radio show. “We would need fewer teachers….   A school board that looks at 15 percent fewer students has some tough decisions to make down the road.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 14th, 2011|Categories: Charter Schools, Student Achievement, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Last December I read a disturbing New York Times article about “China’s army of [college] graduates,” but it wasn’t disturbing in the way you might think.  For years, Americans have been concerned, understandably, about the increasing economic clout of the world’s most populous nation. And, in today’s high-tech world, economic competition means educational competition as well, with China’s aforementioned “army” of new graduates now numbering more than six million a year.

But the unsettling point of the story wasn’t that young, highly educated Chinese were taking away jobs from Americans; it was that, in growing numbers, they couldn’t find jobs at all. So much for the universal, transformative value of the college degree.

In the months since then, we’ve seen the same thing happen – on a smaller, but no less traumatic, scale – for thousands of disappointed U.S. graduates as well. Now comes Christopher Beha asserting in Harper’s magazine that “educating a workforce doesn’t change what jobs are available to society as a whole,” according to Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education blog. “Our treatment of education as a social panacea  … allows us to ignore entrenched class differences and the root causes of inequality in America.”

Read Beha’s entire essay on the Harper’s website. Also read John Marsh, author of Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality,” who is interviewed in Urbanite. Concerning the debate over whether schools can “do it all” in terms of raising up the disadvantaged or must be well supported by strong anti-poverty programs (the Richard Rothstein view) Marsh sides with the Rothstein camp, yet takes the argument a step further.

“If we do want to reduce poverty and inequality,” he tells Urbanite,  “we need to stop talking about classrooms and start talking about class  — about economics, about who gets what and why, and how this might be different.”

But, of course, education is important, especially public education. And no one makes that point better than Peggy Zugibe, a guest columnist in Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post Answer Sheet blog and a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education. Quoting academic Benjamin Barber, she writes that “public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness; institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 8th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |
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