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April 14, 2014

Youth Career Connect grants distributed to schools in six states

Last week President Obama announced the winners of $107 million in federal grants that reward and encourage school districts that integrate real-world learning experiences and work opportunities into their curriculum. Twenty-four schools in California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, New York, and South Carolina received a grant as part of the Youth Career Connect program, which strives to equip students with the skills they need for both college and the jobs of the future.

The grants are intended to fund partnerships between local education agencies and employers that will provide students with increased opportunities for mentoring and job shadowing, as well as increased exposure to high-demand fields such as health care and information technology.

Schools participating in the Youth Career Connect program are also expected to incorporate more on-the-job skills training into their traditional classroom environment.  The program ultimately hopes to integrate post-secondary education and training into high school in a substantial way, such that graduates leave with credit toward a post-secondary degree and/or a certificate or credential to put them on a path to a successful career.  Although we won’t know much until this program has been fully implemented in these districts, it’s refreshing to see a program that is encouraging students to develop a skill set for both college and career simultaneously.

At a time when young people (including many who have a college degree) are still struggling to find employment in the aftermath of the recession, there’s no harm in encouraging high school students to develop career skills at a young age even if they do plan to attend college before entering the workforce. Furthermore, for the large numbers of students who start college but never complete a degree, perhaps a program like this will help them to see the value in other career paths and will give them a head start in receiving a certificate or professional credential.

The Youth Career Connect program is on the right track by encouraging schools to develop programs that put students on the path toward college and career readiness, not just one or the other.






April 4, 2014

Public high schools are prominent in Ivy League rosters

By now, you’ve all read about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school student who applied and gained admission to all eight Ivy League schools.

Scattered along the East Coast, the universities— Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell— are among the most selective in the country, admitting less than 9 percent of its collective applicants this year. Harvard’s admit rate was the lowest at 5.9 percent, while Cornell was the highest at 14 percent.

Acceptance into one Ivy League college is difficult enough, let alone all eight which is why Enin’s feat has rightly garnered widespread media attention. And small wonder all eight welcomed him. Besides participating in student government and playing three instruments in the chamber orchestra, Enin throws discus and shot put for the track and field team, acts in school plays and volunteers at a local hospital. An extraordinarily gifted student from— can I point out— a public high school.

Fluke? Far from.

Although matriculating data was provided on only four of the college’s admissions websites, that information, along with other secondary sources indicate the majority of Ivy League’s recent classes have come from public high schools.

Public school grads make up 55% of incoming freshman at Dartmouth and Yale, 58.7% at Princeton and 66% at Cornell UniversityBrown doesn’t have figures for its undergrad program, but it does reveal that 67% of students accepted into its medical school in 2013 hailed from public high schools. In a 2009 New York Times piece, William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, noted that public schools provided almost 70 percent of the incoming freshmen class that fall.

With eight of the most prestigious universities knocking on his door — Enin also applied and received acceptance letters from Duke and three State University of New York campuses— the Long Island teen has every right to bask in the sun. But so should public schools who’ve prepared Enin and countless others for the country’s top universities and beyond.

In fairness, some commentary—even from the schools themselves—- have noted that the increasing fixation on Ivy League admittance has shifted attention from the fact that there are other high caliber colleges in the country, many of which are public universities that have a rich history of producing notable graduates including Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and former President Gerald Ford, to name a few.

Whether at the K-12 or post-secondary level, public education is clearly equipping future generations with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. This is an important point that shouldn’t get lost, as it debunks the common belief that exclusivity automatically equates to superiority. That’s obviously not the case, since public high school students occupy the vast majority of Ivy League’s incoming classes and it stands to reason that they likely occupy the ranks of public universities, too.

I wish Enin lots of luck as he enters the next chapter in his life. I’ve no doubt he’ll do well no matter where he goes. His parents and public education prepared him well.

To read more about the various approaches and practices of rigorous high schools, check out CPE’s report Is High School Tough Enough?






April 3, 2014

U.S. students score well on first PISA problem solving exam

Earlier this week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report on the first ever Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) problem solving exam. 15-year-olds in the U.S. who took the exam scored above average but also had scores that were significantly lower than those of 10 of the other 44 countries and economies participating in the exam. Students in the U.S. performed on par with 15-year-olds in England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Norway, but still lagged behind highest-scoring Singapore and Korea, as well as students in several other nations.

American students’ scores on the problem solving portion of the PISA exam were quite a bit higher than their scores on the math, reading, and science portions of the exam, possibly implying that students in the U.S. are better at applying what they’ve learned to real life situations than they are at performing strictly academic tasks. That said, the nations that excelled on the problem solving portion of the exam, such as Korea and Singapore, also do well on the traditional academic sections of the PISA exam.

Right now these findings don’t mean much, as this is the first time a problem solving portion of the test has been administered and the sample size was very small (less than 1,300 students in the U.S. took the problem solving exam). However, it is good to see assessments moving beyond only measuring math and reading proficiency and at least attempting to measure deeper learning skills that are also needed to solve real-world problems.  At this point in time we can’t say how well an assessment like this truly predicts problems solving ability, but it seems like a positive development that PISA is acknowledging that problem solving skills will be important for many of these students in their future jobs. At the very least, these results provide an interesting cross-sectional picture of problem solving skills throughout the world. If you’d like to try your hand at some of the problems, sample questions from the 2012 PISA problem solving exam can be found here and here.

Filed under: Assessments,International Comparisons — Patricia Campbell @ 4:08 pm





April 2, 2014

The role of technology in early education

toddlertabletAs technology becomes an increasingly important and ever present part of our lives, many are starting to ask what the appropriate role of technology is in the lives of young children.  While some parents and child advocates are concerned about possible negative impacts of excessive “screen time” for children, others believe that appropriately used digital media has the ability to help children learn in new ways and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. A recent brief from the New America Foundation proposes several essential actions to prepare early education for the digital age.

There are three important characteristics that must be taken into consideration when deciding the appropriate role of digital media in a child’s education: the content, the context, and the characteristics of the child.  Passive use of digital media or allowing children to watch adult-oriented TV shows can have negative consequences, but when the context and content are aligned to meet the needs of an individual child, interactive media can be used to promote learning and exploration, even for very young children.

There is enormous potential for technology use in early education, but expectations need to be set high and technology needs to be used as a supplement to, not in place of active play and exploration. We need to retire the harmful idea of “technology as a babysitter” and instead see it as something that can productively promote back-and-forth interaction between children and their parents, teachers, and classmates.

This can take many forms: reading an ebook with a classmate, video chatting with a relative who lives far away, or using a math app to practice counting skills while a teacher supervises. If technology is integrated into learning activities both at home and at school, children start building skills at a very young age that prepare them for a future as a student and citizen in the digital age. However, as with many of the issues we discuss here, the risk lies in poor implementation.

We can give toddlers tablets, but unless they have parents and teachers engaging with them to ensure the media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate and substantive, we might just be providing preschoolers with very expensive playthings (and veering into that “technology as babysitter” territory). As the role of technology in our society continues to evolve, I am hopeful that networks of parents, teachers, providers of children’s media, and other professionals who work with young children will work together to share information and high-quality materials.






March 31, 2014

Common Core standards undergoes field testing

Field testing for the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests is now underway in many states and will continue to be implemented in others over the course of the next several weeks. More than four million students in grades 3-11 will be helping field test the new math and English language arts assessments. These field tests are an opportunity for students to experience the testing environment and get a sense of what they will be expected to know and be able to do for future Common Core-aligned assessments, but with no stakes attached at this time.

Doing field tests an entire year before these assessments will be used for any type of evaluation helps to ensure that the new Common Core-aligned assessments are reliable, valid, and fair for all students taking them, and gives SBAC and PARCC time to adjust both content or structural issues that might pop up during field testing. This trial run also gives teachers and schools a chance to practice administering the test and an opportunity to work out any technical or procedural problems before the assessments begin next year. Additionally, the field tests will introduce students to a type of assessment that is different from what many are used to: one that emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving and focuses less on memorization and simply filling in the correct bubble.

Of course, these assessments are not perfect, but that is all the more reason that this “test of the test” is important. Much of the controversy surrounding the implementation of the Common Core States Standards has involved how assessment would work and if it would be any different from the testing most states require now. This trial run allows thousands of teachers and millions of students across the country to become accustomed to the new system in what is essentially a “no stakes” testing environment. Will there be glitches? Of course – but the field tests allow time for these issues to be worked out before the actual test is administered next year. It might be an imperfect solution, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to ensure that CCSS-aligned assessments are the best that they can be before they are administered in a high stakes environment.

The Alliance for Excellent Education has a helpful Common Core Field Test Q&A available with more information. For more on the Common Core State Standards, visit CPE’s Common Core Resource page.

-Patricia Campbell






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