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September 18, 2014

PDK/Gallup poll Part 2 shows teachers matter

The folks at PDK and Gallup apparently had so much to report in this year’s annual poll of public attitudes toward public schools, they had to release it in two parts. Part 1, which we summarized here, addressed the Common Core state standards and perceptions about public schools more generally. Part 2, released this week, focuses primarily on public attitudes about the teaching profession. What they have to say should provide comfort to beleaguered teachers.

First, nearly two-thirds of the public expresses “trust and confidence in the men and women teaching children in the public schools.” The study’s authors note that this represents a decline from previous years. Nonetheless, it must be a refreshing show of support for teachers who have many reasons to feel beat up by the punditry.

The public also recognizes the key role teachers play in student learning and by large margins would welcome policies to bolster their preparation and training. A full 81% believe prospective teachers should be required to “pass board certification” similar to that for other professionals like doctors and lawyers on top of their college degree in order to be licensed to teach. Likewise, 60% thought that there should be higher entrance requirements into teacher prep programs at the front end. The majority also support the idea of requiring a longer period of supervised practice before teachers take charge of their own classrooms. A plurality of 44% thought such a bridge period should last one year with 27% saying new teachers need two (see chart).

 

PDK2

 

Political affiliation had almost no effect on opinions about teacher preparation. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike called for increasing rigor. Not so when asked about teacher evaluation, however, possibly in response to growing political controversy over new evaluation policies that are based in part on teachers’ impact on student learning. Nationally, 61% of the public opposes evaluations that include “how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.” Yet only 50% of Republicans were opposed compared to 68% of Democrats. Interestingly, overall opposition to using evaluation in this way is much higher now than it was just two years ago when slightly less than half of the overall public thought it was a bad idea.

Similar party-affiliation gaps were evident when pollsters asked about the purposes of evaluation: 86% of Democrats said using evaluation to help “teachers improve” was “very important” compared to 71% of Republicans. In contrast, Republicans were much more favorable to linking evaluation to salaries or bonuses: 51% of Republicans said this was “very important” compared to only 41% of Democrats.

Other questions explored whether the public thinks their schools need to change “to meet today’s needs” and if so, how. More than half (58%) said that schools need to change compared to 47% who though so in 2006. The biggest needed change the public would like to see is a greater emphasis on career-technical education: 60% “strongly agreed” that “high school students should receive more education about possible career choices” while 32% said the same about placing “more emphasis” on college preparation for all.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the public thinks career education is more important than college readiness. It could indicate that they think high schools are doing ok with college prep but they need to do more to get students ready for work. But either way, the message is clear that the public is looking toward high schools to make sure all graduates are able to thrive in the new workplace.

Along those lines, CPE’s Jim Hull has been analyzing work and other outcomes for the group of high school graduates who do not go to a two- or four-year college. His findings should produce some valuable insights into what career-readiness should look like. His first report will be released in the next two weeks so stay tuned. – Patte Barth






August 20, 2014

ACT scores improved while college readiness flattened

According to ACT’s The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014 report released today, after several years of overall ACT scores remaining flat, scores dipped by two-tenths the between 2012 and 2013. This was likely due, at least partially, to the fact that ACT included students who required accommodations to take the test, such as extra time. Such students–on-average– typically perform lower, so their inclusion may have negatively impacted last year’s results. However, the Class of 2014 took back some of these losses by posting a gain of one-tenth of a point while still including all test takers.

Unlike overall scores that improved in 2014, the percent of students meeting ACT’s college readiness benchmarks remained flat after posting gains over the past several years. However, there were some differences by subject areas. In fact, more 2014 graduates met the college readiness benchmark in science than in 2013. On the other hand, fewer 2014 graduates met the college readiness benchmark in math than in 2013.

More positive results were found at the state level where all eight states that have administered the ACT to all students for multiple years as part of their statewide assessment systems (Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming) scored higher in 2014 than in 2013. In fact, a handful of these states make fairly dramatic gains in just the past year.

On the surface, the results don’t show much change in how prepared our graduates are for life after high school. Overall scores increased while there was no change in how many graduates were deemed college-ready. Keep in mind that ACT scores change very little from year to year so it will take several years to determine if these results are the start of a trend or not.

What is clear is that overall scores and college readiness results have not suffered, even as we’ve seen a record number of students graduate from high school on time, and seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking the ACT test and advancing to college. Of course, there is room for improvement but these results show that our nation’s high schools are indeed preparing more students for college than ever before.– Jim Hull

 

Key findings below

State Scores

  • Of the 33 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota once again achieved the highest composite score with 22.9.
      • However, just 76 percent of Minnesota 2014 graduates took the ACT
    • Graduates from Hawaii posted the lowest scores among states with a score of 18.2.
  • Of the 12 states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.8, followed by Illinois (20.7) and Colorado (20.6).
    • North Carolina (18.9), Mississippi (19.0), and Louisiana (19.2) had the lowest scores out of this group.
    • Three states (Wyoming, Tennessee, and Kentucky) improved their scores by three-tenths of a point over the past year while Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina improved their scores by two-tenths of a point.
      • Louisiana saw their scores drop by three-tenths of a point over the past year.

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2014 had an average composite score of 21.0, which was one-tenth of a point increase from 2013.  Scores had decreased by two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 likely due to fact ACT included scores from students who received special accommodations such as extra time for the first time in 2013. Such students are typically lower performing students than those who do not receive accommodations.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 75 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores increased by two-tenths of a point in reading (21.3) and increased by one-tenth of point in English (20.3) and science (20.8) between 2013 and 2014, while scores on the math test remained at 20.9.
  • Scores for black and white students improved.
    • White graduates increased their scores by one-tenth of a point between 2013 and 2014 (22.2 to 22.3), although it was still a tenth of a point below their 2012 score.
    • The average black graduate score improved from 16.9 to 17.0 over the past year as well.
    • As for Hispanic graduates, their scores remained at 18.8 just as in 2013.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2014 high school graduates were college-ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, reading, math, and science), which is the same as in 2013 but a three percentage point increase since 2009.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Little change in college readiness by subject.
    • The number of graduates reaching ACT’s college-ready benchmark in science increased by one percent from 2013 to 2014.
    • In math, the number of graduates deemed college-ready decreased by one percent.
    • In English and reading there was no change in the number of graduates being college-ready in those subject areas.

Core Course Rigor

  • Graduates who completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum were much more likely to be college-ready.
    • Two-thirds (67 percent) of graduates who completed at least four years of English courses were college-ready in English compared to 36 percent of those who did not. In reading, 46 percent of graduates who completed at least four years of English courses met ACT’s college-ready benchmarks for reading compared to 32 percent who did not.
    • There was a much greater disparity when it came to math and science.
      • For those graduates that completed three or more years worth of math nearly half (46 percent) were college-ready in math compared to just eight percent who did not.
      • For those graduates that completed three or more years worth of science nearly 41 percent were college-ready in science compared to just eight percent who did not.

Test Takers

  • About 57 percent of all 2014 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 54 percent in 2013 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2014, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 24 percent in 2010.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2010 and 2014, from 62 percent to 56 percent.

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Web site.

* Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college





August 7, 2014

Math wars redux

A distinguished Berkeley mathematician took to the Wall Street Journal’s pages this week to criticize the Common Core math standards for being “several years behind” the old California standards, which she called “among the nation’s best.” Given the author and its substance, the op-ed is going viral through the anti-Common Core blogosphere, adding more proof that the nation’s math wars may yet rival the Hundred Years’ War between England and France for longevity.

(The op-ed is behind the WSJ paywall. However, non-subscribers can find this summary of it at Breitbart.com.)

The author, Marina Ratner, a professor emerita of mathematics at UC-Berkeley, devotes most of her column to describing ways Common Core math are lower than those that preceded them. She bluntly concludes that “adoption of the Common Core standards represents a huge step backward … [and] will move the U.S. even closer to the bottom in international ranking.”

While I respect Dr. Ratner’s professional expertise, her criticisms should be viewed in the proper context. As EDifier readers know, CPE has no political or organizational stake in the Common Core standards. But we do believe two things: that there is a legitimate public conversation to be had at the state level about whether to participate in national standards; and that this conversation should be based on good information about the Common Core.

That said, I like the Common Core math standards overall even though I have some quibbles. For example, I think the K-3 standards may be a little too much, too soon. But here’s what I like about them:

For one, the Common Core defines fewer math concepts in more depth. One of the biggest problems of mathematics in the U.S. compared to other high-achieving nations is that our math curriculum tends to be, what researcher William Schmidt called, “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The Common Core is the latest attempt to change that, hence the fewer, deeper thing. Typically, U.S. students spend the first three to six weeks at the beginning of each school year re-learning mathematics they were taught earlier, but forgot. That’s a ridiculous waste of time and resources. What’s worse, it hasn’t helped our students learn mathematics any better.

Dr. Ratner held special contempt for her sixth-grade grandson’s math work that called for the visualization of fractions, writing “simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper—while the actual content taught was primitive.” But in fact, all of the modeling is designed to help students learn the concepts, basic concepts included, well enough the first time so they don’t have to repeat the same lessons over and over again.

I also like that the Common Core puts more emphasis on mathematical practices and data, probability and statistics (DPS) than we usually see in state standards. Dr. Ratner echoes criticisms from a handful of university mathematicians who privilege algebra/calculus-based mathematics over all other math domains, even though DPS is the dominant math of other disciplines, work and citizenship. From my point of view, the new emphasis on DPS and mathematical practices is the biggest strength of the Common Core. It should also be noted that graduates meeting the Common Core will, at minimum, have mastered what my math friends call “substantial Algebra II” and nothing precludes students from taking more math. Neither eighth-grade algebra nor high school calculus is going away.

As a Californian, Dr. Ratner was most distressed by her belief that the Common Core are lower standards than the state had before. She claims, in part, this is because California’s previous standards defined expectations for higher math courses, including pre-calculus and calculus. While this is true, this argument is missing some very important context. That is, the advanced math standards applied only to students who took those courses — not to all California students. In truth, California’s existing high school graduation requirements call for only two years of high school math and do not include Algebra II. A high school diploma in the state, therefore, does not mean the graduate has had exposure to higher math.

Finally, Dr. Ratner goes on to repeat a statement from one of the Common Core architects, Jason Zimba, that has been circulated among anti-Common Core activists as proof the standards are lower. As Dr. Ratner tells it, Dr. Zimba admitted in testimony that “the new standards wouldn’t prepare students for colleges to which ‘most parents aspire’ to send their children.”

Dr. Zimba, of course, is exactly right. The Common Core are intended to prepare all graduates to enter a two- or four-year college without the need for remediation. Many (not sure “most”) parents aspire to more selective colleges that will be looking for more on the high school transcript, especially for students wanting to enter STEM fields. Those parents will continue to make sure their child gets pre-calculus and calculus just as they did before the Common Core, and schools will continue to provide those courses. But for the vast majority of students, the new math standards will be a big step up.

In related news, Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia provides a look back at earlier attempts to change math pedagogy so that students would learn concepts with deeper understanding. Beginning with the often-maligned New Math in the 1960s through the NCTM standards and now the Common Core, Willingham shows that the expectations were right, but that past efforts failed because of inadequate time and attention to helping teachers change their instruction. Whether we can muster the commitment this time to do it right remains to be seen. But if we don’t, we can expect the math wars to continue and the casualties we amass will be our students. – Patte Barth

 

Filed under: Common Core,Course taking,High school — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 4:44 pm





July 30, 2014

Hysteria to revised AP history framework shows prioritizing is hard

History is the most difficult subject to write K-12 standards for, and for one simple reason: the discipline is bursting with information. There’s not enough time, even over 13 years of public schooling, to teach students everything that is good to know in the subject. Of course, that doesn’t stop pundits and parents from protesting — often loudly — when some preferred person or event is left out.

The new AP U.S. history framework is the most recent effort to raise howls. The College Board has begun revising many of its frameworks and tests in order to reflect changes in scholarship and better align with current college freshman-level survey courses. According to the College Board, the new AP course will emphasize students’ “ability to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue.” Gone are the lists of topics, replaced by a list of 27 “key concepts” each supported by 3-4 related concepts.

By my estimate, that’s over 80 content standards. That sounds like a lot, yet it’s still not enough for some. In an analysis for the Heartland Institute, retired AP teacher Larry Krieger denounced the framework for, among other things, the alleged “excising” of James Madison and Benjamin Franklin from the historical record (because they were not specifically named); its “dismissal” of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Washington (although all are specifically addressed, just not enough); and an imbalance in content that, Krieger claims, stresses America’s negatives over its good.

Krieger’s critique was soon picked up by the National Review , Breitbart and Glenn Beck who see something pernicious in the rewrite amounting to “left-wing indoctrination.” They have also conflated the AP revisions with the Common Core standards, even though one has nothing to do with the other. In Texas, the possible connection concerned a member of the state board of education enough that he is introducing a resolution to “rebuke and reject” the teaching of AP U.S. history in the state. Texas could be just the first.

Which brings me back to the first point: it is really difficult to write history standards. I am reminded of a very sensible question a former colleague would often ask: “if we add [favorite topic here] to the standards, what are we willing to take out?” History courses are already packed. Great political figures and major military engagements represent only a part of what a rigorous program should provide today’s students. A half century of scholarship has opened up social, economic, cultural and other lenses for viewing the past that add depth and texture to the historical picture. Every subject area — math, sciences, the arts and technology — also has a history that contributes to our understanding of those fields. On top of all this, teachers need time to help students develop their capacity to think critically and analytically about the material.

So educators have to make choices, and there’s the rub. Every story has its champions ready to engage in metaphorical combat over what should survive out of the many worthwhile stories to tell, not to mention how to tell them. And nowhere is the battle more contentious than in deciding what is important in U.S. history to teach our future citizens.

That leaves standards writers with the thankless task of trying to reconcile disparate camps. Compromise has typically been achieved one of two ways: by drafting statements that are so broad they please everyone, offend no one, and provide little guidance for teachers; or by including every topic that everyone wants, resulting in history standards that move from one fact to the next with no room for students to develop any real understanding.

Educators have often charged that the AP U.S. history framework took the latter route, something the College Board was attempting to correct with the new revision. How successful they were is clearly a topic worthy of discussion. But as a long-time standards reviewer, I’d like to offer a few things to keep in mind when considering the content of the new AP framework:

  • The framework is not a curriculum. Rather it is designed to leave decisions to teachers about the particular topics to teach and concepts to emphasize. Likewise, the AP test will feature questions that can be answered effectively by drawing from a range of historical topics for evidence. This means that no AP classroom will look exactly like the next.
  • Approximately 400,000 out of 15,000,000 high school students, or 2.6%, took the AP U.S. history exam last year. If this is a coup by the College Board to impose a national curriculum on American high schools, they really have their work cut out for themselves.
  • AP courses are intended to model college-level survey courses, and the College Board consults with universities and faculties to validate that they do. Critics who are concerned about the content might do better to direct their barbs toward higher ed.
  • Finally, students have history every year in public school beginning in at least first grade, and likely study American history yearlong in both fifth- and eighth-grades. We can assume AP students already know who George Washington is. If they don’t, we have much bigger problems to deal with than worrying about what the College Board is up to.

I have my own quibbles with the new framework. For example, I think it could have done more with science, technology and the arts and their role in defining the U.S.  But in order to include this content, what am I willing to take out?

I’ll need to think about that. – Patte Barth

Filed under: Common Core,CPE,High school,national standards — Tags: , , , , — Patte Barth @ 11:29 am





July 3, 2014

Remembering a beloved writer

Earlier this week, contemporary literature lost one of its brightest stars. Walter Dean Myers was the author of over 100 books, recipient of multiple honors including two Newberys and three National Book award nominations. His books were especially popular with middle-school readers, many of whom read them first in English class. Myers died at the age of 76 on Tuesday, July 1 following a brief illness.

Myers primarily wrote about young characters for young readers, but his themes could hardly be described as adolescent. Often drawing from his own youth in Harlem, he told stories of youngsters’ struggles to grow up in an environment where crime, poverty and the specter of racism were constant companions to the events. As the New York Times put it, Myers wrote about “teenagers trying to make the right choices when the wrong ones were so much easier.”

A confession: I was dragged kicking and screaming to my first Myers’ book. I was — and to large degree still am — an insufferable snob when it comes to young adult fiction. The way I see it, the world has an abundance of good “real” literature that is easily accessible to young readers. Why pander to them with a dumbed down substitute? (Which I still maintain describes the bulk of the genre.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of good educators out there who don’t share my snobbery. I worked with one such person during a time when my job involved helping teams of teachers align their instruction to state standards. My colleague and I were bound for the west coast where he was going to demonstrate model lessons, including a multi-part unit based on Myers’ best-seller, Monster. He insisted I read the book first. So I started the book on the plane from D.C. with about the same enthusiasm as one approaches a root canal. I did not look up again until I finished it long before the Rockies.

Boy, was I surprised! Yes, in terms of character and plot, the book clearly shows its appeal to younger readers. Monster tells the story of a teenage boy who is on trial for a murder he may or may not have been guilty of. Told as part-memoir, part-news account, part-screenplay, the book is incredibly sophisticated, structurally complex and contains enough ambiguity to provide chum for the most discerning bookshark. Myers may have young people in mind when he writes, but the themes and the critical demands he places on the reader place him among our more innovative story-tellers.

I can see why teachers like to use his texts in their classrooms. His books provide so many riches to be mined in class discussions. They elicit many reactions. Moreover, they are open to very different, but equally valid interpretations based on the evidence in Myers’ text. As such, Myers not only relates to teenagers on their terms, he provides them with the stuff to help them develop into strong, critical readers and analysts.

Myers leaves many fans, young and old alike, who, I’m sure, will assure his legacy for many years to come. – Patte Barth

 

Filed under: High school,instruction,Middle school,Reading — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 2:44 pm





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