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December 21, 2017

Career and Technical Education: Quantity vs. quality

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has gained an overwhelming amount of support. Stan Litlow, the leader of the IBM foundation, is quoted saying that CTE “has broad support from business leaders, student organizations, not-for-profit organizations and educators.” In the political spectrum, people from President Donald Trump and Secretary Betsy Devos to Randi Weingarten have all praised CTE. So the question is, what does this idea that has brought together people that usually have opposing viewpoints actually look like in schools?

The terms career and technical education are very broad and can encompass many diverse types of classes, what are these classes and is this breadth of curriculum an asset or are we spreading ourselves too thin?

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) published a report in 2016 which defined several types of CTE programs that exist in schools that are eligible for funding under the Perkin’s Act. First, there are career academies which are one of the most intensive CTE programs that exists in schools. Students are placed in a learning cohort for CTE where they are taught a “career- themed college prep curriculum.” The curriculum clearly illustrates the relevance of high school level academic material by directly applying it in the context of an industry. These programs are supported by local employers and college partners who contribute financial and learning materials to keep the program relevant and up to date.

Two other types of CTE programs are Linked Learning and Early College High Schools. These are less extensive than the career academies because students are not tracked into a CTE learning group for two years. There are four main components of Linked Learning including a sequence of technical classes that are required to complete the program. These include work-based learning experiences for high school students, and academic alignment with postsecondary schools to ensure skills and credits are easily transferred.

Early College High Schools primarily focus on the post-secondary alignment piece of CTE to increase college readiness for students. These programs are unique because they offer courses that are taught by college faculty so that students have the chance of graduating with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or a significant number of transferable college credits.

Schools that do not have one of these three CTE pathways usually incorporate some aspect of the “16 Career Clusters.”

CTE chart 2

Clearly, these clusters are very broad and encompass diverse types of careers with one possible downside — they risk emphasizing quantity over quality of programs. Many praise the prospect of CTE for preparing students to fill the current skill gaps in growing industries, but by including so many career pathways, there could be little alignment between local industry gaps and CTE curriculum. A report from Excellence in Education notes that this “broad scope of programs” is a challenge for maintaining a high quality CTE program.

With new flexibility over CTE programs that are created and funded with the passing of H.R. 2353 this past summer, states should use this opportunity to cast a critical eye at the current CTE programs in their schools. By doing this they have a chance to rethink the program’s priorities and decide if giving students exposure to a large number of careers, or focusing on a few that specifically align with labor market skill gaps are a better solution for their current and future students.

Filed under: Career Readiness,college,Course taking — Tags: — Annie Hemphill @ 12:02 pm

ESSA: What LEAs must consider for local education plans

As state ESSA plans are being approved, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are gearing up to start drafting their plans for their local school districts. Section 1006 in ESSA outlines what LEAs are responsible for to meet their objectives of the approved state plan. Now, I want to break down the policy jargon and clearly explain the priorities LEAs need to have moving forward with their plan development.

Stakeholder Engagement

Under ESSA, LEAs are required to engage with stakeholders including teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, charter school leaders, administrators, parents and students. LEAs are required to meet with stakeholders to develop numerous education plans within ESSA. They are also required to have ongoing meetings to amend the plans in the future. It is critical for LEAs to have procedures in place to regularly meet with all the different stakeholder groups to gather their feedback on different components of the comprehensive and targeted school improvement plans.

Title I Comprehensive and Targeted School Improvement Plan
The school improvement plan must create and implement a program that will monitor all students’ progress towards meeting the academic state standards. This plan must address all performance indicators outlined in the state ESSA plan including “long term goals. . . evidence based interventions. . . a school level needs assessment. . . [and] identify resource inequities.” After these plans are implemented, the State Education Agency is required to regularly monitor the programs in relation to the goals and guidelines of the state ESSA plan.
The program also identifies low performing students and gives them the appropriate additional help they need for them to perform to the level of the state standards. Some of these specific requirements that the plans must address include:
– Programs for homeless students
– Strategies for students in foster care or juvenile detention facilities
– Early Childhood Program performance standards
– Procedures for effective parent and family engagement
– Transition programs for students from Early Childhood Education to Kindergarten, from Middle school to High School, and from High School to post-secondary education.
– Plans to reduce the overuse of out of school suspension practices
– Programs related to Career and Technical Education (CTE)
– Services for gifted and talented students
– Plan to develop effective library facilities in each school.
The LEA’s plan must also address how they will ensure certain programs are implemented in their area. These assurances include:
– Making sure eligible migratory children receiving appropriate services
– Ensuring private school students receiving services if they are eligible
– Selected schools participate in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)
– Collaboration occurs between schools and local child welfare agencies and each assigns an internal point of contact
– Services are efficiently integrated for English Language Learners, students with disabilities, homeless children, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian children to reduce redundancy
– Procedures are developed for the transportation of foster students to continue attending their original school when it is in their best interest
– Making sure all teachers and paraprofessionals meet the state certification requirements.
Schools must also inform parents about their child’s academic progress and achievement. This is typically done in a form or report card or parent teacher conferences. Parents also often want to know information about state standardized tests that students take each year. The LEA is required to inform parents that they have the option to “opt out” their child from the state assessment. The LEA is also required to give parents information about the content and purpose of the state assessment, and what information is gained from students participating. This is especially critical for parents who are considering opting out of the state assessment, so that they can make an informed decision after understanding the assessment itself.
English Language Learners (ELL)
LEAs must inform parents of ELLs that have been recommended for language programs no later than 30 days after the school year begins or 2 weeks if the recommendation occurs in the middle of the school year. The notification to parents must include:
– Why the child was recommended to the program
– Student’s current proficiency level
– Methods of instruction and curriculum used in the program, and how this program will meet the specific needs of the student
– Various program options that are available to the student
– Exit requirement of the program
– Informing parents of their right to remove their child from the program at any time or to decline the initial enrollment of their child into the program.
After the student is enrolled in a program, regular meetings about the student’s progress must be held to inform parents of their child’s status.
Under the new ESSA provisions, states have a lot of flexibility when creating their strategies to meet the federal requirements. This same flexibility is given to the LEAs. LEAs are encouraged to customize their plans to meet their specific local needs. Like the state plans, stakeholder engagement continues to be a crucial part of the process so that the plan can truly represent the community it serves.

Filed under: English Language Learners,equity,ESSA,Public education,School boards — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 11:35 am

December 15, 2017

Charter schools: new evidence on their impact on school segregation


The Associated Press recently wrote about a study that analyzed charter school student demographics. It found that since the “2014-2015 school year, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99%, and that number has been rising steadily.” In addition, while data reveal that almost equal numbers of white, black and Hispanic students attend charter school, when charter schools are more segregated when their student distribution is compared to a local public school.

This data has been getting a lot of attention because “levels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.” For example, a research report form the Brookings Institute published in 2016 analyzing desegregation in schools found that “7% of the total variance in student achievement is associated with student demographics at the school level.” On the other hand, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokesperson responded to these comments saying “modern schools of choice with high concentrations of students of color is a demonstration of parents choosing the best schools for their children, rooted in the belief that the school will meet the child’s educational needs, often based on demonstrated student success.” The question remains, if charter schools market themselves as a targeted approach to better educate underserved populations, is this actually resulting in segregation which is correlated with lower overall student achievement?

The NAACP believes that this increased segregation could have negative consequences for black student achievement. While the NAACP does not oppose charter schools, their charter school recommendations ask for charter schools to adhere to policies to ensure that certified teachers, discipline procedures, student recruitment and academic performance of students are monitored to ensure that students are being prepared for life after high school. They want to make sure that every student receives a quality education, and recognize that charter schools vary between states and even between districts. The Brookings Institute research report concluded that the level of segregation in charter schools depends on the state and state policies. “Malkus finds that charters tend to enroll lots of low-income students, or very few, relative to the traditional public-school comparison group.” While it does depend on the state, many result in increased segregation for black students when they enter charter schools. This evidence makes charter school segregation a local issue. Depending on the local context, charter school segregation could mean charter schools only enrolling low income, minority students, while in others charter schools could be places that are selecting the best and the brightest in the area. While both result in a more segregated school system, each situation requires its own tailored solution to promote increased student integration in charter schools throughout the country.

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,Demographics,research,Segregation — Annie Hemphill @ 7:33 am

December 12, 2017

School discipline: Understanding the current debate

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a full-day briefing on school discipline policy. The hearing comes at a moment of increasing tension in the debate surrounding racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline, like suspensions. While a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter outlined the duty of districts to ensure that suspensions and expulsions do not disproportionately impact students of color, opponents of the Obama-era guidance may have gained an ear in the Trump administration. Recently, officials from the Department of Education have been reportedly meeting with critics of the policy. As this debate ramps up, we examine the facts on school discipline, which students are most impacted by suspensions, and what can be done about it.

Racial disparities in suspension have been well-documented. In K-12 education, black students comprise about 16% of enrollment, but 34% of students suspended at least once. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported in 2016 that this disproportionate representation means that black students are 3.8 times as likely as white students to receive at least one out of school suspension. This pattern holds true even at the preschool level: black children make up about 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of black preschoolers have experienced one or more suspensions. Research also suggests that black students may receive harsher punishments and be suspended for more days than white students – even when involved in the same incident. Similar disparities exist for low-income students and those with disabilities. In particular, children with disabilities have been found to be suspended at twice the rate of their peers. Critics of the Obama administration’s 2014 school discipline guidance suggest that these rates do not take into account behavioral history, and that the policy creates racial quotas for suspension. However, regardless of prior student behavior, the vast over-representation of students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities among those impacted by exclusionary discipline should be cause for alarm.

Even one suspension may have a serious negative impact on student achievement. Removing students from the classroom for any reason results in lost learning, making it difficult for a student to catch up to the class upon his or her return. The learning impact of just a few days out of class may be significant: a 2014 study found that missing three or more days of school in the month leading up to the National Assessment of Educational Progress was associated with reading achievement scores more than one full grade level behind peers who did not miss class. Similar gaps were found in mathematics. Students who miss school due to exclusionary discipline, then, face a second hurdle when they return to class: catching up with their classmates who benefited from additional days of instruction during the suspension.

We know that suspensions disproportionately impact students of color, low-income students, and those with disabilities, and that these suspensions may have a significant impact on student learning. How, then, can we ensure that this discipline disparity does not perpetuate or exacerbate existing achievement gaps? Research-backed programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Safe and Responsive Schools (SRS) aim to improve the overall school climate and implement interventions for problematic behavior. Other methods, like Response to Intervention (RTI), directly target student behavior and adjust punishments to meet students’ individual situations. The 2014 guidance on school discipline emphasized the importance of these sorts of restorative justice policies, a position that may now be under reconsideration by the Department of Education. Implemented correctly, these approaches may significantly reduce suspensions for all students and alleviate behavior problems throughout a school.

Critics argue that not every school has been able to implement an effective behavior program centered on restorative justice, and that limiting suspensions puts teachers in these schools in a difficult position. Certainly, the number one priority in all classrooms should be safety. Teachers whose students struggle with serious disciplinary challenges may face difficult situations in which one student puts the rest of the class at risk. Additionally, even one violent or disruptive student may negatively impact the learning of the whole class. Teachers need options for student discipline, including training in approaches that seek to mitigate, rather than punish, student misbehavior. Approaches like PBIS, SRS, and RTI that aim to improve the school culture and provide targeted interventions to behavior challenges provide teachers with a discipline structure that encourages both fair distribution of discipline and equal access to learning. While increasing teachers’ reliance on exclusionary discipline will continue to negatively and disproportionately impact students of color, restorative justice policies may help combat the racial disparity in school discipline and keep all students learning.

Filed under: CPE,equity,Public education,school climate — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 9:41 am

December 8, 2017

US 4th-graders earn a B+ in reading

American fourth-graders are good, not great, readers. But they clearly know their way around the Internet. At least that’s one of the lessons to take away from the latest international assessment of nine-year-olds’ reading ability.


Earlier this week, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released the results of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Our fourth-graders scored 16th out of the 61 participating countries and jurisdictions, although just 12 countries outscored us by statistically significant margins. The five top performers in descending order were Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland and Finland.

Although we can’t claim number one status, our young students once again show they are more competitive internationally than either their 15-year-old siblings or their parents and grandparents, who barely register at the international average on tests of literacy. (As though the nation needed more evidence that we Baby Boomers need to get over ourselves.)

Yet the report was not without troubling signs. For one, the overall average was not significantly different from 2001, and we actually saw a decline from 2011 even while scores increased in ten countries. As we often remind CPE readers, one year’s data does not make a trend. But it does bear watching, particularly since the decline in this case was most pronounced among our low scorers, producing a widening gap.

As in past administrations of PIRLS, our fourth-graders performance is largely driven by their proficiency with reading literature. Only six countries outperformed the U.S. when reading for “literary experience.” In comparison, 14 did better than we did when asked to “acquire and use information.” The relatively weak performance in informational reading extends through adulthood in the U.S. — an issue CPE addressed three years ago in our report Beyond Fiction, which highlighted the importance of including non-fiction texts in the school curriculum.

Interestingly enough, however, our fourth-graders are really good at locating and using information online. For the first time in 2016, PIRLS assessed students’ ability to navigate the internet for information. IEA developed discrete web pages that students accessed through computer, and navigated through them to answer short multiple-choice or open-ended questions. (You can test-drive ePIRLS sample items here.) Out of the 16 participating education systems, only three — Singapore, Norway and Ireland — outperformed the U.S.

This begs the question: Why can our students read for information online, but aren’t as proficient in print? Hopefully, ePIRLS will prompt researchers to take a deeper look into this area. And while they’re at it, we need to know more about why U.S. schools seem to be able teach kids to read, interpret and analyze literature, but the skills aren’t transferring to their approach to printed informational texts. There’s an urgency to finding answers. Our nation has entered an era when consumers of information must increasingly rely on their own judgment and skills in order to discern fact from fiction. We need to figure out how to make sure our next generation is up to it.

CPE will soon be releasing a report that examines differences in the perceptions teachers in the U.S. have about their profession compared to their peers in high-performing Finland. The report, written by our research analyst Annie Hemphill, doesn’t specifically address reading instruction. But it does highlight some issues important to preparing and retaining good teachers who, after all, are a key ingredient in students’ academic development. So keep watching this space.

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