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October 25, 2013

Good news but more work to be done

For nearly two decades researchers have attempted to link results from the domestic National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to the results from the international assessment Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), to give states an opportunity to compare their math and science achievement levels to other countries across the world. Yesterday, researchers at the National Center for Education Statistics released the latest attempt to make such a link. This report provides not only the most current but also the most accurate measures of how each state’s performance would stack up internationally.  As Jim stated in his summary yesterday, the results give many states a reason to pat themselves on the back.

 A deeper look into the results shows that some states posted some of the world’s best scores. In math, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire scored higher than all but 5 of 47 countries. Science scores were similarly impressive; 9 of the 14 top scorers were U.S. states, with Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire finishing in 2nd, 4th and 5th place respectively.

While these performances are certainly worth celebrating, other data points from the study warrant serious concern. Of the 36 states that scored above the international average in math, most of them, according to an EdWeek article, scored at the Intermediate proficiency level (There are 4 levels total: Advanced, High, Intermediate, and Low). In other words, the average 8th grade student in most states is not at the more advanced levels that Korea, Singapore, Japan and other countries are. If U.S. students hope to compete in a global environment, scoring above the average isn’t enough when other countries continue to achieve exemplary marks.

The data also show that many states contain vast disparities between high and low performers. Texas, for example, scored above the international average in math, but 30% of its 8th graders scored at the Low level or worse. And as a country, the rates aren’t much better; 32% of U.S. 8th graders performed at the Low level or lower and 69% were scored at the Intermediate level or below. To make matters worse, the aforementioned Edweek article states these figures haven’t changed much since 2007.

Moving forward, educators in most states should celebrate their ability to beat international averages while recognizing that above mediocre isn’t enough. Globalization requires more of our students reach the High and Advanced levels on international exams. –Jordan Belton

October 8, 2013

You don’t need to go to Harvard to benefit from college

Some parents and policymakers are uncomfortable with the recent emphasis in education policy on college readiness, which is typified by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 45 states. Reason likely being, the term college-ready is synonymous with preparing students for four-year postsecondary institutions like Harvard or their state’s flagship university. As the rhetoric behind the push to graduate all students college-ready typically revolves around graduating more students with a four-year degree, it is no wonder there is such apprehension.

It is absolutely true that not all students are meant or want to go to Harvard or any other four-year institution. Yet, it is clear most of today’s students will need education beyond high school to obtain a job to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. However, college-readiness goes beyond preparing all students to earn a four-year degree; it’s about preparing students to earn two-year degrees as well. A new report brings to light this fact by finding that community college graduates earn on-average $259,000 more over their working lifetime than those who only earn a high school degree. As a result, community college graduates pay $67,000 more in taxes. Moreover, community college graduates are less likely to need government assistance– such as unemployment benefits– as they are less likely to be unemployed as well.

Drawing attention to the success of community college graduates is critically important to promoting the fact that college-readiness is not just about preparing students for Harvard. The importance of the affordability and the technical training provided by our nation’s community colleges should not be overlooked. However, as my previous report on international college attainment rates showed, the U.S. does a decent job preparing students to earn a four-year degree but falls well short when it comes to the attainment of two-year degrees. If we as a nation focus on significantly improving the college attainment rates for our two-year colleges, the U.S. would not only once again be among the global leaders in college-attainment but it would also have a significant impact on the nation’s economy as well. – Jim Hull

September 10, 2013

New CPE report examines what’s wrong with current teacher PD offerings and how to fix it

CPE_AAG_inlineGraphic_HalfwidthMy first introduction to professional development as a young teacher was underwhelming to say the least.  When I first entered the profession, I was excited to meet other teachers and get down to the business of having lengthy, intellectual conversations about how to best teach our subjects.  Surely, we would debate which concepts to teach, which texts to use, and how we could get our students active and intellectually engaged.

Much to my dismay, in my first years of teaching, there was not one day carved into the expansive school year where I was able to meet with fellow teachers to really get down to the nitty-gritty questions of teaching.  What I did experience, though, was time set aside for “professional development” that did little to inform or improve my own teaching.

For example, when I started my first year of teaching, I sat through an entire day’s all-staff session devoted to the book Who Moved My Cheese?  The book chronicled how different mice responded to the cheese in their maze being moved somewhere else.  As valuable planning time before the first day of school ticked away, the entire staff analyzed which mouse they were in the book.  While I did learn that my department head was a “Sniff,” and another new teacher was a “Scurry,” I certainly didn’t learn anything that made me a better teacher.

Unfortunately, this session was just a taste of the prevalent realities of professional development in American schools, and as time went by, I had to realize that my job was not a place where I would learn to be a better teacher—I had to seek that out myself. I would have conversations after school with fellow teachers about teaching, or pay out of my own pocket to attend “real” professional development sessions that addressed real concerns of teaching my content, but these were isolated experiences, and they didn’t occur in a regular fashion as part of my work.

In all my years of teaching, I can’t think of one professional development experience sponsored by my school or school district that really addressed core issues of my instruction.  I’d like to think that my own experiences are an anomaly in a sea of schools with profound, helpful professional development, but unfortunately, this isn’t true … as you will learn in my report and the latest edition to the CPE library, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability.

-Allison Gulamhussein

August 16, 2013

CTE’s central role in the common core

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking with Oklahoma educators at the state’s summer Career and Technical Education (CTE) conference.  I was asked to be part of a panel addressing the question, how to implement the common core into CTE.  My message was simple: the question is backwards because the common core cannot be implemented well without CTE.

Here’s why. The aim of the common core standards is college and career-readiness, not college or careers.  We’ve actually been doing the latter for a long time. Traditionally, high school students elected to either prepare for one path or the other. But as many studies have pointed out (including CPE’s Defining a 21st Century Education) in order to be successful after high school all new graduates need high-level knowledge like that formerly reserved for college-intending students even if they are more interested in jumpstarting their careers than attending a four-year college.

We also know that for most new jobs, a high school diploma alone will not be sufficient; rather they will demand some kind of postsecondary training or certification. In addition, individuals who don’t immediately seek more education after high school will likely need to get back into the system at some point during their working life, as various occupations disappear.  So we need to make sure graduates are prepared for an uncertain future and can continue education and training as they need it.

But college preparation is just one side of the college-career equation. Students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities will work someday.  All young people need to develop the skills valued in the workplace, for example, the ability to apply what they learn, connect information from across disciplines to solve problems, and read and interpret complex informational texts and documents.  Students and employers can’t assume that traditional academic study will teach these abilities.

The common core standards recognize that there is a lot of overlap between the knowledge and skills needed for college and those needed for good jobs. For many students, this likely means higher expectations in terms of academic content. But the common core also differs from subject matter as usual where the CTE field has a head start.  This is especially so in the emphasis on mathematical practices; more data, probability & statistics than in traditional college prep math; reading and writing informational texts; and specific reading and writing standards for science and technical subjects.

These are all innovations that aren’t seen in current state standards, but ones that I applaud.  I’m not alone.  David Conley and his team at the University of Oregon surveyed close to 2,000 postsecondary instructors about the relevance of the common core standards. About half of the respondents taught CTE courses in two-year institutions. The vast majority of instructors rated ELA for non-literary reading and writing very high. A large majority of the CTE group gave mathematical practices the highest importance rating.

These skill-based standards command different, more hands-on instructional approaches. CTE educators have a real advantage in this area compared to their core subject area peers. CTE programs are by definition applied. In this way, they have a lot to contribute to the combined efforts of high school faculty to negotiate the shift to new instruction.

Make no mistake, the common core standards cannot be the sole responsibility of math and English teachers. That’s too much of a burden on two disciplines. It won’t be done well. And it would ignore the valuable resources in other subject areas that should be brought to the table, including CTE.

May 15, 2013

Community colleges make a difference

Getting the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings requires a focus on our community colleges. This is because the U.S. ranks second in the world in four-year degree attainment but ranks 18th when looking at two-year degree attainment rates. So there is certainly significant room for improvement when it comes to two-year degrees.

Of course, we shouldn’t focus on two-year degrees simply to move up the international rankings. We need to focus on two-year degrees because they are fast becoming an essential minimum prerequisite for a good job. Which is why the results of a U.S. Department of Labor grant program aimed at encouraging community colleges to prepare students for high wage and high skilled jobs is so encouraging.

Because of the grant, 15 community colleges across Massachusetts worked together to put a greater focus on preparing students for technical and middle-income jobs instead of simply preparing students to transfer onto a four-year institution. These community colleges did so by creating new and exciting degree and certification programs that were aligned with the preparation needed for jobs in six targeted industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing, IT, biotechnology, green energy and financial services. They even hired ‘college and career navigators’ to assist students in connecting with employers, not just when students nearly completed their degree, but throughout their time on campus. This ensures that students are receiving the training that area employers are looking for in future employees.

While such a program, in and of itself, will not catapult the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings, providing additional resources and incentives to community colleges will lead to more students completing a college degree and being better prepared to compete in the 21st century labor market. – Jim Hull

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