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February 10, 2016

Suspension: Does it help or hurt? And how much?

Penn State’s recent report, “Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States” has put the issue of student suspension back in the limelight. The report’s main finding was that:

“Nationally, 1.2 million Black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year- 55% of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states. Districts in the South also were responsible for 50% of Black student expulsions from public schools in the United States.”

Other details in the report go on to show the impact of implicit bias in school discipline. Cultural awareness is something that all US schools need to work on. Studies have shown that black students are more likely to be disciplined or suspended for a specific behavior than a white student, even when their infringement was the same. The disproportionate numbers of white teachers compared to minority students should make cultural awareness an even bigger priority since we need to understand the backgrounds of our students in order to teach them effectively.

A Learning Lab article this week points to another study released last month that shows that as much as 20% of the achievement gap between black and white students could be due to getting suspended from school. This study included more than 15,000 students in Kentucky; researchers analyzed test scores and discipline records from 2008-2011. The study found that students who were suspended did significantly worse on year-end assessments than their peers of similar demographics who had not been suspended, or even compared to their own year-end test scores in years they had not been suspended.

This probably seems like an obvious conclusion that students who are out of school (suspended) are learning less and therefore getting lower scores than students who are consistently in school. Still, a 20 percent difference due to suspension is large and worth looking into.

An article from last week highlighted a disturbing statistic that Massachusetts public and charter schools suspended kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students 603 times in the 2014-2015 school year, which is half as many as the year before. These numbers are not broken down by race but, regardless, it is a large number of children ages 4-5 being suspended.

It is certainly worth questioning if suspensions are doing any good teaching appropriate behavior and changing the way a child would behave in the same situation again. As a teacher, I understand how much one misbehaving student can derail a class. One student can be the difference between a successful lesson and crashing and burning. It’s almost impossible to teach when a student is out of their seat, talking, calling out, or otherwise distracting the other students. Is it fair to leave that student in the class when it is taking away from the learning of everyone else? Is it fair to keep that student out of the building and take away their opportunity to learn (learn both content from class and appropriate behaviors)? I don’t think there is an easy answer. There are persuasive arguments on both sides.

Here is a common scenario: A student is disrupting class (use your imagination, there are a million methods for this); what does the teacher do? There might be a dean of students or a student engagement counselor that you can send the student to. These are the ones who typically dole out punishment, and hopefully, talk to the student about their behavior, why it was wrong, and what they should have done it differently. The student could have to sit in that office for a certain period of time, miss lunch or recess with the class, serve a detention, or get suspended for the infraction. But what does this mean in practice? An adult will have to STAY WITH that student in the office or during lunch or recess- taking away from breaks or other duties. An adult may even need to get paid extra for these duties. Same with detention; there would need to be a specific room available in the school for detention along with a staff member to run detention- which would have to be paid for. You, as the taxpayer, may think discipline is worth the money. It probably is, but it still takes a certain amount of time in the day of a faculty member and money in the budget. But then what happens if the student refuses to go to detention? Teachers can’t physically force them to go to the room, or to stay there, or to behave while there. A lot of times that refusal is what leads to suspension. What else can you do? This is a serious question- what else can the school do for discipline? I don’t have the answer.

My own recommendations for the suspension problem are:

  • Engage parents as much as possible. Not just when the students are in trouble, but throughout the school year. Having parents on the school’s side can make a huge difference
  • Teacher preparation programs NEED to teach classroom management and student-teaching needs to play a huge role in putting the theory into practice. Facing a room full of kids is NOT easy. Many teaching programs don’t have a specific class in classroom management; I suppose it is something that teachers are expected to learn on the job. It’s true, you perfect the craft with time and practice but it is still essential to have some ideas before you get in there.
  • Cultural Awareness needs to be taught in teacher preparation programs and practiced in schools. A lot of research show that there are cultural differences in how various races respond to directions and discipline. Teachers and school staff can all learn how to respect these differences while doing what will most effectively work with each student.
  • Have conversations with students. In my experience, teachers and deans of discipline have done this very well, but I’m sure there are cases of schools where this doesn’t happen. Having a conversation with a student can help adults understand why they acted a certain why and how to approach the situation differently the next time.

I want to make clear that these recommendations will not stop classroom disruptions and will not make the suspension problem go away- but they can help to lessen the issue. What to do when there are severe behavior issues that are consistent is definitely an issue that needs more conversation. Out-of-school suspensions can’t be the only way.

-Breanna Higgins

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,Public education — Tags: , , — Breanna Higgins @ 1:38 pm

January 22, 2016

CPE examines educational equity in new paper

It’s been over 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared education “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” In ruling that separate was in fact not equal, Brown v Board of Education forced federal, state and local governments to open public schools to all children in the community.

Yet integrating school buildings would prove to be just the first step in an ongoing journey toward educational equity in the nation. There remained – and still remain – structural and social barriers to making a world-class public education “available to all on equal terms.” In addition, our ideas about equity have evolved to encompass more than a guarantee that school doors will be open to every child.

CPE explores these issues and more in our latest paper, Educational Equity: What does it mean, how do we know when we reach it? Our hope is to provide a common vocabulary for school boards to help them start conversations in their communities and thereby bring the nation closer to fulfilling its promise of equal opportunity for all.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,Demographics,equity,funding — NDillon @ 7:00 am

October 19, 2015

State graduation rates continue to climb

Even though the high school Class of 2013 reached a record on-time graduation rate of 81 percent,  it appears like the Class of 2014 is poised to pass their classmates. According to preliminary data released this afternoon from the U.S. Department of Education, 36 states saw improvements in their on-time high school graduates rates over the past year. On the other hand, just six states saw a decrease in their graduation rates while in another eight states graduation rates remained unchanged.

Unfortunately, the national on-time graduation rate won’t be available until early next year once the National Center on Education Statistics validates each state’s graduation data. Yet, with these preliminary results showing nearly three-quarters of states continuing to graduate a greater proportion of students who entered 9th grade four years earlier, it is all but certain the national graduation rate will surpass last year’s record breaking 81 percent on-time graduation rate.

The good news doesn’t end there either. The preliminary results show that our high schools are narrowing the graduation gaps between their traditionally disadvantaged students and more advantaged peers as well. In fact, 28 states narrowed the graduation gap between their black and white students while 32 states narrowed their Hispanic/white gap. Moreover, 23 states have been able to narrow the graduation gap between their economically disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers as well as between Limited English Proficient students and their English Proficient peers. States haven’t been as successful in narrowing the graduation gap between their students with disabilities and those without but still 21 states were more successful in doing so this year than last.

These preliminary results certainly show many of our high schools are on the right track, yet, they also show there is a whole lot more work to be done. While graduating 8 out of 10 students who enter the 9th grade within four years is a tremendous accomplishment, there are still many more students who never graduate high school. Students who leave high school without a diploma are likely in for a rough road ahead as they are much more likely to be unemployed and earn significantly less in wages than their peers who graduated with a standard high school diploma.  And all signs point to the job market getting more difficult in the coming years for those without a high school diploma, so it is imperative that our high schools keep the momentum going until all students graduate high school with at least a standard high school diploma. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Graduation rates,High school,Public education — Jim Hull @ 3:56 pm

October 15, 2015

Schoolwork worth doing

“Ok, students, it’s time to get out your crayons!”

Hearing this never fails to delight kindergarteners in the classroom. But what about in seventh grade social studies, even if colored pencils are substituted for crayons?  Outside of art class, does drawing really represent the kind of work middle-schoolers should be doing to get ready for high school?

Analysts for the Education Trust recently examined the quality of classroom assignments in a half dozen middle schools in order to document the degree to which they were aligned to the Common Core’s English language arts standards. The preliminary results were published last month in the report Checking In: Do Classroom Assignments Reflect Today’s Higher Standards?.

The Ed Trust team was able to identify assignments that were clearly up to the task. But they also found that these were a fraction of what students are being asked to do on a daily basis. According to the analysis, a surprising few assignments were “aligned with a grade-appropriate standard” – 38 percent to be exact. The 7th grade drawing assignment cited above is an example. And the picture is even worse for students in high-poverty schools (31 percent “grade-appropriate”).

The research team examined both in- and out-of-school assignments given by 92 teachers to students grades six through eight over a two week period. Common Core-ELA standards cross subject areas so assignments were collected from teachers of English, humanities, history/social studies and science. The average number submitted per teachers was 17. Altogether the analysts scored nearly 1,600 assignments on such attributes as “alignment to Common Core,” “centrality of text,” “cognitive challenge” and “motivation and engagement.”

The report authors, Sonja Brookins Santelises and Joan Dabrowski, acknowledge that they did not expect to see 100 percent alignment to the higher-level demands expressed in the standards. Indeed, there is a place in the classroom for the occasional quick check of facts or basic skills practice that will help students use these tools more confidently when applied to more challenging tasks. But Santelises and Dabrowski did hope to see more rigor than they found, as follows:

  • 16 percent of assignments required students to “use a text for citing evidence”;
  • 4 percent required higher-level thinking; in contrast, 85 percent asked for either the recall of information or the application of basic skills;
  • 2 percent met their criteria for “relevance and choice”; and
  • not surprisingly given all this, only 5 percent were scored in the high range of the Ed Trust framework.

For me, reading this report was like déjà vu all over again. In the nineties and early aughts, I worked at the Ed Trust as part of a team that helped teachers in high-poverty schools align their lessons and assignments to state standards. During that time I can’t say how often we saw the “movie poster assignment” as the culminating task following a major unit of study. This assignment asks students to create, to draw, a movie poster on the topic as opposed to writing a paper or otherwise have students show their capacity to extend their thinking about the material. Could such an assignment be given occasionally as a break from a routine of academic heavy lifting? Absolutely. But in the schools we worked in, the movie poster wasn’t the exception. Too often, assignments like it were the routine.

Today, as it was then, low-level assignments are not a teacher-led plot to keep kids illiterate. Teachers in many schools struggle to keep their students engaged while keeping up with overstuffed curricular and testing requirements. The problems are exacerbated when students are performing well below their peers. Teachers in such situations often respond by providing lessons in easy bits with the idea that they will eventually build to higher understanding – what educators call “scaffolding.” (I show an example of a scaffolded math lesson on slides 7-13 in a common core presentation you can find here.)  While the practice is sound, Santelises and Dabrowski documented an over-reliance on scaffolding which rarely led to independent learning.

Nonetheless, the fact that 5 percent of the lessons were complex and high-level is cause for optimism. These teachers clearly know what rigor looks like. In addition, because of the short two-week window, the analysts may well have missed out on major end-of-unit assignments that push students’ thinking to higher levels.

The Ed Trust team is continuing its study, which should tell us more about how typical these findings are. In the meantime, school leaders who want to know how well instruction in their schools and district align to higher standards can check out this implementation guide.

October 1, 2015

Diversifying the teaching force

We know many of the qualities that define “good” teachers: subject matter knowledge, credentials, experience, and impact on learning. But according to a growing body of research, this list is incomplete without also assuring the teaching staff resembles the demographic make up of the students they serve. Let’s just say, we have a long way to go.

Our current public-school enrollment is very close to being majority-minority. In 2011-12, 51 percent of public K-12 students were white down from 59 percent 10 years before. In contrast, 82 percent of their teachers were white (see chart). In American cities, where students of color comprise a two-thirds majority, 71 percent of their teachers were white.  A full three-quarters were female.


Across the country, districts are facing teacher shortages, especially in key areas like special education and mathematics. The additional effort to increase the diversity of their staff may seem like making an already difficult job even harder. In its recent report on the subject, the Albert Shanker Institute acknowledged as much, stating that “our first priority must be to ensure that every student has the benefit of being taught by skilled, knowledgeable and caring teachers – of whatever race and ethnicity.” Nonetheless, they further maintain that diversity “should be a factor, and an important one at that.” This is especially so for the education of minority students.

Among the reasons cited by the Shanker Institute authors is that teachers who share a cultural experience with their students are better able to motivate and inspire them, and are less likely to “confuse cultural difference with cultural or intellectual disadvantage.”  The authors also refer to research suggesting that a demographic match between teachers and students improves students’ academic performance.

Evidence for this latter statement received a big boost earlier this year by researchers Anna Egalite, Brain Kisida and Marcus Winters who analyzed the relationship of what they call “own-race teachers” to student achievement. The authors had access to a huge database enabling them to link 92,000 Florida teachers to 3 million students over a seven year period. They tracked the performance of individual students while in classrooms with different teachers by race and ethnicity over several grades, and compared the impact of same-race to different-race assignments. In this way they have produced perhaps the most rigorous study to date of the effect of minority teachers on minority student achievement.

Here’s what they found: students perform higher in math and reading when they are assigned to teachers of the same race. The overall results are small, but statistically significant. There are differences by race, however. The performance of black, white and Asian students were significantly positive in math, but the effects were highest for black and Asian students.

Hispanic students were the exception. For this group of students, having an Hispanic teacher actually produced a negative effect. The researchers conjectured that this finding could be due to limitations in the data. They explain, the Florida Hispanic population is quite large and culturally diverse, including self-described Caribbeans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans. Grouping them into one ethnicity could therefore be masking important differences among them.

As virtually every researcher does, Egalite and her team call for more research to better understand the relationship between teachers and students by race. But for us lay people, the evidence is pretty clear that school districts should pay attention to recruiting a teaching force that is demographically representative of the community alongside their professional qualities.


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Demographics,teachers — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 12:42 pm

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