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March 18, 2016

Improving civics education is key to strong, equitable democracy

While the constant news coverage and interest in the presidential campaign might suggest Americans are well-versed in our country’s political process, data from the latest civics assessment of NAEP, colloquially known as the Nation’s Report Card, finds otherwise.

Indeed, the results show that there is not only a widespread lack of civic knowledge, but it is especially pronounced among minority students.

Administered on a rotating basis to fourth, eighth and 12th-grade students from participating schools, the data from the last Civics Assessment for 12th- graders show that 62% of African American students have a below basic knowledge of civics, and only 8% are at or above proficient. Meanwhile, 50% of Hispanic students possess below basic knowledge of civics, with 13% are at or above proficient.

What kind of knowledge gaps are we talking about?

Based on the sample questions in the NAEP assessment, most minority students in eighth-grade cannot name a right protected by the First Amendment, while most 12th-grade minority students cannot explain the meaning of a Supreme Court opinion. A mere 3% of 12th-graders nationally knew that the Supreme Court could use judicial review to preserve the rights of minorities.

Conversely, white students are performing better on each aspect of the civics exam, creating a civic engagement gap that is important for the nation to address. Democracy cannot be fully realized when citizens do not recognize how the government works and their own ability to make change. Research shows that civic learning corresponds to an increase in students’ civic participation and likelihood of voting. Building a civic identity in students will increase their sense of empowerment over their lives and the direction of their communities.

An unintended consequence of recent policies pushing for achievement and excellence in reading and math is that there is less time in the curriculum for other subjects. Science and social studies are often sidelined to increase time in English and math courses. Seventy-one percent of districts have cut back on time dedicated to subjects other than math and English— the largest cut coming from social studies. This has meant that civics education is not valued as much as courses that will prepare students for standardized testing. Civics education is vital for all students so that they are able to participate in democracy and engage the community in a meaningful way.

A great danger for the future of the United States is that we are educating a citizenry that does not understand how to have a voice in politics, how the government of the United States operates, or how to enact change and influence in their communities; particularly among poor and minority populations.

While it is important that students continue to have strong content knowledge in English and math, it must also make time in the curriculum for civics education. Civics courses will complement English and math courses as it requires students to read, think critically, write, and analyze charts, graphs and data. Further, students who feel empowered to change their communities and circumstances and receive instruction that is relevant to their lives become more engaged in school which could lead to higher performance in all subjects.

It is imperative that all students learn how to participate in a democracy and then create change in their communities in a civically responsible manner. A civics course that requires students to learn how the United States government works as well as how to be active, politically-engaged citizens must be included in public school curricula.  -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,First Amendment,NAEP — Tags: , — Breanna Higgins @ 7:00 am





January 29, 2016

Developing Social Emotional Learning in K-12

The Fordham Institute released a report yesterday on
Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is a process where people learn to recognize and manage emotions, learn empathy and responsibility, and develop positive relationships.

The movement began in the 1960s in New Haven, CT when a collaborative social development program achieved success at one of the lowest performing elementary schools in the district. By the early 1980s, these two pilot schools went from having among the worst truancy and behavioral problems in the district to achieving academic results at the national average and seeing a large decline in absenteeism and behavior issues. This spurred the movement on to other school districts. The field was ultimately defined by the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) which promoted SEL projects such as responsible behavior, good decision making, and building relationships.

SEL researchers and educators believe it will help students develop important soft skills for life and develop their academic achievement by creating a culture of respect in the classroom. Research shows that when students feel comfortable and respected in the classroom, they are more likely to participate in class, take risks, and therefore, learn more.

There has been another developing movement to teach resilience, grit and a growth mindset (versus fixed mindset) in schools. The idea is to get away from talk that sounds like “I’m not good at math” and change student’s mindsets into “I’m struggling with math right now but if I keep working hard and ask for help I know I’ll be good at it.” This is certainly easier said than done but are very important skills for children to develop to encourage the idea that hard work and resilience can help them accomplish their goals. We may know that some people are born with certain talents, but for the most part, people achieve success by hard work and practice, something we should foster in all students.

There is overlap between the growth mindset and SEL and educators need not necessarily choose between the two. Both are important for students for students to learn.

It is interesting that in the world of academic achievement, accountability, and standardized tests, movements promoting soft skills are gaining more and more attention. Districts and school leaders are warming to the idea that soft skills such as SEL and growth mindsets need to actively be taught in schools. Teachers, of course, have always known that soft skills are critical and have been losing time to teach them as they are forced to focus on the next test. Although SEL is important at every grade level, it is most often focused on in elementary and early middle grades when children’s attitudes towards school and their ability to form relationships are most developing.

This is all connected to the newest movement, particularly in high schools, to make students “Career Ready”. The exact measures needed to be career ready are still being debated but some of them are, incidentally, familiar to the SEL goals. Students must be ready to take responsibility for their actions, build appropriate relationships with coworkers and supervisors, cope with adversity etc. There are more specific career goals but the ability to regulate one’s emotions are crucial to beginning a career.

High schoolers are notorious for having raging hormones and difficulty regulating emotion- it certainly comes with the territory of being that age. But, students need to learn and practice skills to get along with difficult people and take responsibility for their actions if they are to succeed, in both college and careers paths.

These three movements have overlapping goals and it may be time to start discussing how social and emotional learning can be vertically aligned from kindergarten through grade 12. –Breanna Higgins

Resources on SEL

http://www.edutopia.org/resilience-grit-resources

http://www.edutopia.org/article/grit-resources

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/197157.aspx

http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/

 

Filed under: 21st century education,Career Readiness,instruction,Public education — Breanna Higgins @ 2:27 pm





July 23, 2015

CPE releases second part of study analyzing how schools prepare non-college goers for success

CPE_HomePage_SliderLast fall, we introduced the first installment of a series that examined the characteristics and outcomes of high school graduates who don’t go on to college.

We called it The Path Least Taken because, much to our surprise, the percentage of students who had not advanced to college by the time they turned 26 was remarkably small.

But more than just identifying which students had and hadn’t gone on to college, we wanted to know which of those non-college going students found “success” in spite of taking the road less traveled. And further, how high school had prepared them to achieve similar if not better outcomes than their college-going peers.

Jim Hull, CPE’s senior policy analyst, sifted through A LOT of data from NCES’ Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 to answer these questions and more. Read what he discovered in our second installment of The Path Least Taken.

Filed under: 21st century education,college,CPE,Data,Report Summary,research — NDillon @ 7:12 am





June 17, 2015

NPR Questions Historic Graduation Rate

As I have written a couple times (here and here) the U.S. high school graduate rate has hit an all-time high of 81 percent this year. This is great news that should be celebrated.

However, last week NPR ran a serious of reports questioning whether indeed 8 out 10 9th graders graduate four years later. They even stated “… this number should be taken with a grain of salt.”

Why is NPR so skeptical of the 81 percent on-time graduation rate? Well, it is because they uncovered possible loopholes in some states that could be used to bolster graduation rates without in fact preparing more students for college and career success. For example, NPR points out:

  • At-risk students are transferring to less rigorous alternative schools or entering credit recovery programs.
  • Schools are pushing out at-risk students to alternative schools so if the student drops out, it doesn’t count against the original school’s graduation rate.
  • Schools are misidentifying a dropout as a transfer, for example, recording a student as a transfer to a private school even though they actually dropped out.
  • Districts are creating multiple pathways to a diploma to make it easier to graduate.

While these are all loopholes that are should be exposed, it is unlikely they had much impact on the overall national on-time graduation rate. It’s not to say that these practices aren’t a problem. In fact, NPR reporters did an exemplary job highlighting examples where these loopholes were taken full advantage of. However, none of the NPR reports provide data on the impact on the national graduation rate.

This is not a criticism of NPR’s reporting as they are journalists not researchers. With that said, here are reasons why the graduation rate is still a number worth celebrating and believing:

  • While credit recovery is a growing trend in education and their benefits are still in question, only a small portion of graduates actually ever enrolled in such programs.
  • The U.S. Dept. of Education has very specific rules on when a student can be counted as a transfer and which school gets credit if they graduate. Yet, no matter which school is responsible for push outs to alternative programs, it would have no impact on the national on-time graduation rates as those students are included in calculating the national rate, too. As such, push outs would only impact individual schools’ rates but not the national.
  • States have little flexibility on whether to identify a student who stops attending a school as a dropout or a transfer. In fact, states are required to verify with “official documentation” that a student enrolled in another school before they can be listed as a transfer. If it cannot be verified, the student must be identified as a dropout. However, as NPR noted different states have different requirements for what documentation is needed to verify transfers to home schooling and those students who may have left the country.
  • While it is true a number of states offer multiple types of diplomas, as NPR noted, for a student to count as a graduate they must have earned a standard high school diploma, or higher. Meaning, they must have earned a diploma whose requirements aligned with the states standards. Students who earned GEDs, Certificates of Attendance, IEP diplomas or otherwise modified diplomas are not counted as on-time graduates. Again, it is important to point out that different states have different requirements for earning a standard high school diploma. Simply offing multiple diploma levels does not necessarily lower the bar to earning a diploma. It just provides an opportunity to recognize those students who completed requirements above those aligned to the state standards.

The U.S. Department of Education has put in place a number of safeguards to close most loopholes. However, as NPR discovered some schools still may be exploiting the few small loopholes that remain. Yet, what their reporting doesn’t state explicitly is that their exploitation is likely the exception with little impact on the overall national graduation rate.

What is also important to point out is that prior to NCLB it was more of the rule that schools and states were taking advantage of similar loopholes when reporting graduation rates. Hence, the strict rules from the Department of Education for calculating a more accurate graduation rate. Furthermore, it should also be noted that the 81 percent rate is simply an on-time graduation rate and does not include those students who took more than four years to complete the standard diploma requirements. According to my report Better Late Than Never including late high school graduates would likely increase the national graduation rate by about 5 percentage point to about 86 percent.

It certainly can be argued that just because our schools are graduating 86 percent of students who enter high schools doesn’t mean that 86 percent of students leave college and career ready. As our report Out of Sync found most states that have adopted the Common Core have not aligned their graduation requirements to the college and career readiness standards of the Common Core. Even so, with only a few exceptions, states are now requiring more from students to obtain a standard high school diploma than when graduation rates were floundering two decades ago. So while there is more work to be done, it is nearly indisputable that more students are completing high school with more skills than any other time in our nation’s history. – Jim Hull






May 4, 2015

ACT now, before time runs out!

In a report released by ACT, the testing company once again sought to explain into the concept of career readiness (part of the now common terminology “college and career readiness”) and to explain what it is in particular that so many students are desired to have and what schools are expected to impart, as well as how best to measure it.

The brief report begins by explaining that college and career readiness are often considered to be measured by the same assessments, however there are several significant differences between these two and that college readiness and career readiness are best measured separately. Stemming from misinterpretations of ACT’s 2006 Ready for College and Ready for Work report, the intention was to highlight that those students who choose to enter the workforce after high school still benefit significantly in school from exposure to academically rigorous standards as do those students preparing for college. Apparently, some saw this to say that by assessing the skills that serve as foundational components of both college readiness and career readiness that these two constructs are then the same.

The recent report explains that when defining and assessing one’s readiness to enter the workforce, there are skill sets that one acquires, from broad abilities that would apply to numerous jobs to specific skills that are job-specific. Accordingly, there are three levels of workplace readiness that follow this general to specific structure: work readiness, career readiness, and job readiness.

Work readiness is the most general form of academic readiness for the workplace. These would be the skills that would prepare any high school graduate for postsecondary workforce training regardless of the intended career or occupation. Career readiness, more directed than work readiness, would be the workplace readiness that would be required for a specific group of careers. For example, whereas all graduates would need foundational work readiness skills such as reading and math proficiency, the fields of health care and construction would generally require different types of skills (for example, the importance of knowing statistics or creating financial statements may be ranked differently by construction and health care professions) regardless of what specific profession is chosen. The last, and most specific, form of workplace readiness is job readiness. This would relate to the skill sets and competencies required or expected for a specific job or occupation.

Similar to our Defining a 21st Century Education report, the ACT report also includes a discussion as to whether including more than just academic skills is appropriate in assessing college and career readiness. In addition to core academic skills (such math, science, and English/language arts), three other skill domains are elaborated. These include: cross-cutting capabilities include those higher-level thinking and social skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation), behavioral skills, such as one’s ability to work well in a team setting and managing stress, and navigation skills, such as goal orientation and self-knowledge of abilities. ACT posits that without the consideration of these non-academic components in assessment, the value placed on such skills and abilities will be ignored despite their recognized importance by the education, business, and industry communities. Certainly, an environment fostering these skills would benefit students by way supporting a more comprehensive education. In the very least, it would be difficult to argue against wanting students to have such competencies. ACT concludes that they are currently underway researching how they can aid in examining this more “holistic approach” to career readiness. –David Ferrier






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