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January 17, 2018

Some takeaways about the U.S. education from 2017

Ed Week recently published an article that highlighted 10 different education statistics from data reports that were released in 2017. The article provided a broad overview of different data that was collected relating to various aspects of education policies. My aim is to highlight three of the data points mentioned in the article and explain what the data tells us and why it may have led to some surprising conclusions.

us grades map

Above is the national overview of EdWeek’s rankings published in its most recent Quality Counts Report. The researchers calculated an overall grade for each state in the U.S. and the country as a whole. The grades were based on three criteria. The first was the “Chance for Success” Index which aimed to measure the influence of education throughout an individual’s lifetime. The second metric was a school finance analysis. States were graded on their education spending amounts and the method of distributing the funding throughout all the districts or regions in the state to ensure that it was done in an equitable way. The third criteria for the grading system was the K-12 Achievement index. This index evaluated the current academic achievement of students, any narrowing of achievement gaps and the change in achievement over time at the state level. It is important to understand that these three different components makeup the letter grades, because they cover a very broad range of education policies. A state that has an overall grade in the B range could simply devote more funding to education, but may not actually see improved academic performance from the students.

Obama schools chart

The report in Ed Week referenced some data that was collected from 19 schools throughout the U.S. that are named for Barack or Michelle Obama. The chart above shows that the student demographics in these schools are disproportionately made up for Black and Hispanic students and thus claim that these schools are more segregated. However, this claim may be misleading. While schools named after the Obamas may teach more minority students, many changed their name because they wanted the school to be named after someone that the student population could identify with and admire. For example, Barack Obama Elementary in Normandy, Missouri decided to change its name to reflect the high percentage of minority students enrolled. A sixth grade teacher from the school is quoted saying “’not only is this person a president, but this person looks like us. It represented what we could be or what the kids could grow up to do.” The president of the Normandy School Board further explains that the high percentage of minority students at the school was a conscious choice that the school made when they chose a neighborhood to build the school. He says “We didn’t build [the school] in the middle of the best neighborhood. . . [but] where the need is greatest.” When you look at the raw data about the number of minority students at schools named after the Obamas, you cannot deny that they serve a majority of Black and Hispanic students, but this could be the reason why they are named after them in the first place.

school choice graphs

Surprisingly, voting patterns from the 2016 Presidential Election do not appear to play a big role in how people feel about school choice. Kris Magruder, a Trump voter and director of the Northern Montana Cooperative, said that “In Montana, school choice is beyond ridiculous.” In an article from the Atlantic written in January 2017, Karen Eppley, an editor of Journal in Rural Research and Education shed light on these views explaining that schools in rural communities are seen as an “anchor in the community” and provide a plethora of services that go beyond educating students. Families in rural areas are often very involved in their local schools, so choosing to send their children to a different school is a more complicated decision than it may be in an urban or suburban community. Based on an NPR article that broke down voting patterns by area, 66% of rural residence voted for Trump. Many rural residences may have voted for Trump but do not necessarily agree with his ideas to promote school choice because they do not see it as a viable option in their communities.

CPE highlights similar findings in its soon-to-be-released report on rural education, which further highlights the challenges unique to rural communities, so watch this space.

December 21, 2017

ESSA: What LEAs must consider for local education plans

As state ESSA plans are being approved, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are gearing up to start drafting their plans for their local school districts. Section 1006 in ESSA outlines what LEAs are responsible for to meet their objectives of the approved state plan. Now, I want to break down the policy jargon and clearly explain the priorities LEAs need to have moving forward with their plan development.

Stakeholder Engagement

Under ESSA, LEAs are required to engage with stakeholders including teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, charter school leaders, administrators, parents and students. LEAs are required to meet with stakeholders to develop numerous education plans within ESSA. They are also required to have ongoing meetings to amend the plans in the future. It is critical for LEAs to have procedures in place to regularly meet with all the different stakeholder groups to gather their feedback on different components of the comprehensive and targeted school improvement plans.

Title I Comprehensive and Targeted School Improvement Plan
The school improvement plan must create and implement a program that will monitor all students’ progress towards meeting the academic state standards. This plan must address all performance indicators outlined in the state ESSA plan including “long term goals. . . evidence based interventions. . . a school level needs assessment. . . [and] identify resource inequities.” After these plans are implemented, the State Education Agency is required to regularly monitor the programs in relation to the goals and guidelines of the state ESSA plan.
The program also identifies low performing students and gives them the appropriate additional help they need for them to perform to the level of the state standards. Some of these specific requirements that the plans must address include:
– Programs for homeless students
– Strategies for students in foster care or juvenile detention facilities
– Early Childhood Program performance standards
– Procedures for effective parent and family engagement
– Transition programs for students from Early Childhood Education to Kindergarten, from Middle school to High School, and from High School to post-secondary education.
– Plans to reduce the overuse of out of school suspension practices
– Programs related to Career and Technical Education (CTE)
– Services for gifted and talented students
– Plan to develop effective library facilities in each school.
The LEA’s plan must also address how they will ensure certain programs are implemented in their area. These assurances include:
– Making sure eligible migratory children receiving appropriate services
– Ensuring private school students receiving services if they are eligible
– Selected schools participate in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)
– Collaboration occurs between schools and local child welfare agencies and each assigns an internal point of contact
– Services are efficiently integrated for English Language Learners, students with disabilities, homeless children, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian children to reduce redundancy
– Procedures are developed for the transportation of foster students to continue attending their original school when it is in their best interest
– Making sure all teachers and paraprofessionals meet the state certification requirements.
Schools must also inform parents about their child’s academic progress and achievement. This is typically done in a form or report card or parent teacher conferences. Parents also often want to know information about state standardized tests that students take each year. The LEA is required to inform parents that they have the option to “opt out” their child from the state assessment. The LEA is also required to give parents information about the content and purpose of the state assessment, and what information is gained from students participating. This is especially critical for parents who are considering opting out of the state assessment, so that they can make an informed decision after understanding the assessment itself.
English Language Learners (ELL)
LEAs must inform parents of ELLs that have been recommended for language programs no later than 30 days after the school year begins or 2 weeks if the recommendation occurs in the middle of the school year. The notification to parents must include:
– Why the child was recommended to the program
– Student’s current proficiency level
– Methods of instruction and curriculum used in the program, and how this program will meet the specific needs of the student
– Various program options that are available to the student
– Exit requirement of the program
– Informing parents of their right to remove their child from the program at any time or to decline the initial enrollment of their child into the program.
After the student is enrolled in a program, regular meetings about the student’s progress must be held to inform parents of their child’s status.
Under the new ESSA provisions, states have a lot of flexibility when creating their strategies to meet the federal requirements. This same flexibility is given to the LEAs. LEAs are encouraged to customize their plans to meet their specific local needs. Like the state plans, stakeholder engagement continues to be a crucial part of the process so that the plan can truly represent the community it serves.

Filed under: English Language Learners,equity,ESSA,Public education,School boards — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 11:35 am

December 12, 2017

School discipline: Understanding the current debate

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a full-day briefing on school discipline policy. The hearing comes at a moment of increasing tension in the debate surrounding racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline, like suspensions. While a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter outlined the duty of districts to ensure that suspensions and expulsions do not disproportionately impact students of color, opponents of the Obama-era guidance may have gained an ear in the Trump administration. Recently, officials from the Department of Education have been reportedly meeting with critics of the policy. As this debate ramps up, we examine the facts on school discipline, which students are most impacted by suspensions, and what can be done about it.

Racial disparities in suspension have been well-documented. In K-12 education, black students comprise about 16% of enrollment, but 34% of students suspended at least once. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported in 2016 that this disproportionate representation means that black students are 3.8 times as likely as white students to receive at least one out of school suspension. This pattern holds true even at the preschool level: black children make up about 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of black preschoolers have experienced one or more suspensions. Research also suggests that black students may receive harsher punishments and be suspended for more days than white students – even when involved in the same incident. Similar disparities exist for low-income students and those with disabilities. In particular, children with disabilities have been found to be suspended at twice the rate of their peers. Critics of the Obama administration’s 2014 school discipline guidance suggest that these rates do not take into account behavioral history, and that the policy creates racial quotas for suspension. However, regardless of prior student behavior, the vast over-representation of students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities among those impacted by exclusionary discipline should be cause for alarm.

Even one suspension may have a serious negative impact on student achievement. Removing students from the classroom for any reason results in lost learning, making it difficult for a student to catch up to the class upon his or her return. The learning impact of just a few days out of class may be significant: a 2014 study found that missing three or more days of school in the month leading up to the National Assessment of Educational Progress was associated with reading achievement scores more than one full grade level behind peers who did not miss class. Similar gaps were found in mathematics. Students who miss school due to exclusionary discipline, then, face a second hurdle when they return to class: catching up with their classmates who benefited from additional days of instruction during the suspension.

We know that suspensions disproportionately impact students of color, low-income students, and those with disabilities, and that these suspensions may have a significant impact on student learning. How, then, can we ensure that this discipline disparity does not perpetuate or exacerbate existing achievement gaps? Research-backed programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Safe and Responsive Schools (SRS) aim to improve the overall school climate and implement interventions for problematic behavior. Other methods, like Response to Intervention (RTI), directly target student behavior and adjust punishments to meet students’ individual situations. The 2014 guidance on school discipline emphasized the importance of these sorts of restorative justice policies, a position that may now be under reconsideration by the Department of Education. Implemented correctly, these approaches may significantly reduce suspensions for all students and alleviate behavior problems throughout a school.

Critics argue that not every school has been able to implement an effective behavior program centered on restorative justice, and that limiting suspensions puts teachers in these schools in a difficult position. Certainly, the number one priority in all classrooms should be safety. Teachers whose students struggle with serious disciplinary challenges may face difficult situations in which one student puts the rest of the class at risk. Additionally, even one violent or disruptive student may negatively impact the learning of the whole class. Teachers need options for student discipline, including training in approaches that seek to mitigate, rather than punish, student misbehavior. Approaches like PBIS, SRS, and RTI that aim to improve the school culture and provide targeted interventions to behavior challenges provide teachers with a discipline structure that encourages both fair distribution of discipline and equal access to learning. While increasing teachers’ reliance on exclusionary discipline will continue to negatively and disproportionately impact students of color, restorative justice policies may help combat the racial disparity in school discipline and keep all students learning.

Filed under: CPE,equity,Public education,school climate — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 9:41 am

November 17, 2017

Mind over matter? New evidence on the impact of growth mindset

Growth mindset – the belief that intelligence is changeable, rather than fixed –  has been promoted in classrooms across the country for years. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged to praise children for their effort and grit in solving problems rather than their innate intelligence. The widely recognized importance of a growth mindset in students has even spurred some to emphasize the characteristic as a potential element of school quality, to be tracked alongside test scores.

Until now, the evidence in support of the growth mindset has relied on studies of high school and college-aged students, and has provided little insight to development of the characteristic in historically underserved students. A new study presented this month at the fall conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Measurement tackles these issues, and provides some intriguing new evidence about the academic impact of growth mindset.

The study examines 125,000 students attending 4th through 7th grades in five urban California school districts. In order to examine the impact of growth mindset on students’ learning outcomes, the authors linked student test score data to a measure of growth mindset that reflects responses to the following questions:

Please indicate how true each of the following statements is for you:
(1) My intelligence is something that I can’t change very much;
(2) Challenging myself won’t make me any smarter;
(3) There are some things I am not capable of learning; and
(4) If I am not naturally smart in a subject, I will never do well in it.
For each of these questions, students choose: Not at All True, A Little True, Somewhat True, Mostly True, or Completely True.

Their findings are substantial: historically underserved students were less likely than their peers to hold a growth mindset, and students that did hold a growth mindset showed significantly more learning over the course of a school year than did students with a fixed mindset.

The authors find that what they call the “mindset gap” impacts a variety of historically underserved student subgroups. Students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, English Language Learners, and both Hispanic and African American students all show lower degrees of growth mindset across the 4th-7th grades than did their peers. Female students were more likely to maintain a high level of growth mindset than their male peers until the 7th grade, when the gap closes. The authors note that these gaps are larger across schools than within an individual school, possibly highlighting the power of the school environment to shape beliefs about learning among students.

The authors’ findings on the impact of growth mindset on academic achievement are particularly striking. Students who had a high level of growth mindset measured in one year, when compared to demographically and academically similar students, achieved higher test scores and showed greater learning when tested in the following year. Students in all subgroups – including students of all races and ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and genders – who held a growth mindset saw higher test scores in both mathematics and language arts (by 0.04 standard deviations and 0.07 standard deviations, respectively). These higher test scores reflect significant additional learning over the course of a school year. The average student who moves from a fixed mindset to a neutral mindset experiences learning growth reflective of approximately 19 school days of learning – about one additional calendar month in the classroom.

Evidence continues to build on the effectiveness of growth mindset. Teachers and administrators already know that developing this attitude can help build students’ learning, but now current research tells us just how significant that impact may be. It is particularly important for schools serving underserved populations – those students who may be less likely to hold a growth mindset – to cultivate these beliefs about learning in their students. With nearly one month of additional learning growth on the line, developing and promoting growth mindset may bring significant achievement gains for all students.

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,equity — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 4:44 pm

September 21, 2017

Closing the achievement gap means closing the word gap

The achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers has been well documented and can start even when students enter their first day of kindergarten.  In the elementary school I taught at in Tulsa, OK, I saw students come in and perform below grade level on their kindergarten benchmark assessment at the beginning of the school year.  This prompted many to ask, how can students already be behind this early in their school careers.

One factor is word exposure or the number of words infants hear per day. A research study by Hart and Risley found that low income infants hear many fewer words per day than their middle and high-income peers, totaling to about a 30 million word difference by the age of three. They also found a relationship between the number of words students heard as infants and toddlers and their development of vocabulary and language skills years later.  Several other research studies have confirmed these original findings adding to the notion that word exposure in infancy and toddlerhood is an important component to closing the achievement gap.

Several states or groups have developed and tested different initiatives to address the word gap and increase awareness for parents and communities.  Providence, RI implemented the Providence Talks intervention program to help parents track their word usage around their children.  A word pedometer was clipped onto each child which counted the number of words spoken and conversation changes between the care giver and the child in both Spanish and English.  In addition, families were matched with an in-home coach that would come and go over the data gathered each week with the parent and brainstorm different ways families could expose children to more words and make everyday activities teachable moments.  This program was a success in Providence with 60% of children hearing more words at the end of the program compared to the beginning, and 97% of the parents saying they were satisfied or highly satisfied with the program.

Another intervention program was the 30 Million Words Initiative. Tested in the South Side of Chicago, the initiative also involved tracking words through a device that counts the number of words children hear.  The researchers gave each child a word tracking device and randomly selected half the participants to receive eight weekly one hour home visits to go over the data collected and for educational training sessions for families. The other half received eight weekly nutrition interventional home visits where the data from the word counter was not discussed.  The results showed that the group that participated in home visits that talked about different strategies to increase word exposure and tracked the data each week had significantly increased their talk and interaction with children.

This demonstrates the importance of in-home meetings where families are coached and can see the impact of these changes in the data from the wordometers.  The guiding philosophy of the 30 million Words Initiative states that parents are children’s first and most important teacher.  To tackle the overall achievement gap, we need to start with parents.  Real gains can be achieved if parents are given the tools to help their children gain academic success.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Early Childhood,equity,Parents — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 12:09 pm

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