Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier

The EDifier

April 14, 2016

What’s different about ESSA?

What’s Different about ESSA?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) created the starting point for equity-based education reforms. It established categorical aid programs for specific subgroups that were at-risk of low academic achievement. “Title I” comes from this act- it created programs to improve education for low-income students. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a reauthorization of ESEA which gave more power to the federal government to ensure that all students received an equitable education and that standardized testing was the vehicle to assess high-standards for schools.

In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) again reauthorized ESEA and changed much of the language and policies of NCLB. At its foundation, the law gave a lot of decision-making power back to the states. Although state’s still need to have high-standards, test their students, and intervene in low-performing schools, the state’s themselves will have the power to determine the “how”.

This table below provides the key differences between NCLB and ESSA and was compiled from several sources (listed at the bottom) which provide a great deal more detail and specifics for those interested in learning more.


ESSA Table


-Breanna Higgins







Filed under: Accountability,CPE,ESSA — Tags: , — Breanna Higgins @ 1:10 pm

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

February 19, 2016

When report cards collide

One surefire way for education policy groups to get press is to release a state report card. Any kind of ranking is clickbait for news outlets. Plus, with a state-of-education report card you get a bonus man-bites-dog story when the grade-giving institution is the one being graded. Consequently, organizations representing business interests from teachers’ unions to think tanks have gotten into the act at one time or another. But readers should beware. When it comes to ranking states on education, a rose is not a rose is not a rose.

Three state report cards released over the winter show how widely the grades vary, even though they are all ostensibly evaluating the same thing – public education. The American Legislative Exchange Council published its Report Card on American Education in November. Just last week, the Network for Public Education released a 50 State Report Card.  Both ALEC and NPE are advocacy organizations with clear, and contradictory, agendas. January saw the release of Education Week’s annual Quality Counts which, as the education publication of record, represents the Goldilocks in this bunch.

What, if anything, can we learn by looking at these three rankings collectively? On the one hand, there is little agreement among the organizations regarding which states are top performers: no state makes the top 10 in all three lists. Yet on the other hand, there is consensus that no state is perfect and that much more work needs to be done, since no state earned an ‘A.’

Obviously, these reports differ because they value different things. ALEC and NPE grade states on education policies that they like. ALEC, which advertises itself as supportive of “limited government, free markets and federalism,” awards states that promote choice and competition, such as allowing more charter schools, providing private school options with taxpayer support, and having few or no regulations on homeschooling. NPE emphasizes the “public” in public education and opposes privatization and so-called “corporate reforms” such as merit pay, alternative certification for teachers, and especially high-stakes testing. Policies that earned high grades by ALEC, therefore, got low grades from NPE and vice versa.

The two had one area of agreement, however, albeit by omission. The report cards say little (ALEC) or nothing (NPE) about actual performance. The result is that grades on both reports have no relationship to student learning.

To its credit, ALEC features a separate ranking on states’ NAEP scores for low-income students as their way to draw attention to student performance. However, by doing so, the authors also cast a light on how little ALEC’s preferred policies relate to achievement. For every Indiana, which earned ALEC’s top grade and produces high NAEP scores, there is a Hawaii whose low-income kids ranked 6th on NAEP, but earned an ALEC ‘D+.’  NPE isn’t any better. Despite the appearance of high-performing states like Massachusetts and Iowa in the NPE Top 10, they also awarded high-scoring Indiana an ‘F’ and Colorado a ‘D.’

In contrast to ALEC and NPE, Ed Week does not take positions on education policy. Its state report card focused on K-12 achievement, school finance, and something they call “chance for success” — demographic indicators related to student achievement including poverty, parent education and early education enrollments. With policy out of the equation, Ed Week’s grades in each domain track fairly consistently with the overall grade suggesting that the indicators identified by the authors tell us at least something about the quality of education.

So which state gets bragging rights? If you want to use one of these report cards as fodder for your own particular brand of advocacy, then by all means go with ALEC or NPE – whichever one fits your views best. But if you really want to know how well different education policies work, you’d be better off consulting the research. You can start here, here and here.

As for ranking states by their education systems? Stick with Goldilocks.

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

Older Posts »
RSS Feed