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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





June 5, 2014

New report shows high school graduation rate at an all-time high

EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit an all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school.  You may remember back in April another report also found high school graduation rates were at an all-time high. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results. But this most recent report sheds a brighter light on how state graduation rates have changed over time, especially between 2007 and 2012 —the most recent year available to calculate graduation rates. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2007, 19 states had graduation rates below 75 percent. By 2012 that number dropped to just six states. In fact, just two states (Nevada and Mississippi) currently have graduation rates under 70 percent compared to 11 states back in 2007.

So, states are in fact making tremendous progress in improving their on-time high school graduation rates at a time when many states have actually made it harder to earn a high school diploma. What remains to be seen is if this trend will continue t as states implement the Common Core State Standards, a more rigorous set of benchmarks that aim to prepare all students for college and careers. If states provide districts with the resources they need to effectively implement the CCSS, it is likely more students will not only earn a high school diploma but be more successful after high school as well.

 

The Findings

State Graduation Rates

  • Most states have improved their graduation rates since 2007.
    • All but three states (Rhode Island, Michigan, and South Dakota) improved their on-time graduation rates between 2007 and 2012.
    • Ten states were able to improve their graduation rates by 10 or more points during this same period.
      • New Mexico made the greatest improvement by increasing their graduation rate from 59 to 74 percent.
  • Large gaps remain between states
    • There is a 33 percentage point gap between Vermont -the state with the highest graduation rate- (93 percent) and Nevada which has the lowest graduation rate (60 percent).
    • Six states have graduation rates under 75 percent while 15 states have graduation rates of 85 percent or higher.

National Graduation Rates

  • The national graduation rate hit an all-time high.
    • Eighty-one percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2008 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2012. This is the highest level seen since the late 1960s.
      • From 2007 to 2012 the graduation rate increased by seven points.
      • Graduation rates had remained relatively stagnant between the late 1960s and 2007.
  • Attainment gaps have narrowed
    • While graduation rates for white students have improved, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students have improved at a faster rate.
      • The graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from 62 percent in 2007 to 76 percent in 2012— a 14 percentage point improvement. However, the graduation rate for Hispanic students was still nine points lower than that of their white classmates.
      • Black students made headway as well by improving their graduation rate at a greater rate than the national average of seven points. Yet, there is still a 17 point gap in graduation rates between black and white students.
      •  Large gaps also remain for other groups of students.
        • 14 point gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students (72 and 86 percent).
        • 22 point gap between students with and without disabilities (61 and 83 percent).
        • 22 point gap between Limited English Proficient and English Proficient students (59 and 81 percent.)





May 7, 2014

U.S. 12th-graders make small gains on national assessment

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics and reading for our nation’s 12th graders.  While the nation as a whole has seen significant improvements at the 4th and 8th grade levels, the same improvement has yet to show up at the end of high school. In neither math nor reading did scores significantly change from 2009—the last time 12th grade NAEP was administered. However, scores in math are higher than they were in 2005—the furthest back math scores can be compared. On the other hand, reading scores have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade and were slightly lower than in 1992—the first year the reading assessment was administered.

It is important to keep in mind that results for our 12th graders are dependent on how many students remained in school. Unlike at 4th and 8th grades where students are required to be in school, at the 12th grade level most students have the option of dropping out. When our high schools retain a larger proportion of students it could impact the results. This indeed may be the case as it was reported last week that our national graduation rate is at an all-time high of 80 percent– with a significant improvement since 2006. So it is possible that scores would have been higher if graduation rates remained near 70 percent as they were for most of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Yet, higher graduation rates can’t fully explain why scores at the 12th grade have basically flat-lined while they have accelerated in earlier grades because scores have not changed much for most student groups. The exception is math where Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students made significant gains from 2005 to 2013 (5, 7, and 10 points respectively) although none of that increase is due to any improvements since 2009. Most scores were relatively unchanged no matter if groups were defined by parent’s highest education level, male or female, or high or low-performer.

What is clear is that those students who took more rigorous courses achieved the highest scores. Those students who took Calculus scored the equivalent to nearly 4 more years worth of learning than students whose highest math course was Algebra II or Trigonometry and nearly 7 more years worth of learning than those students who never completed a course beyond Algebra I. In reading, those students who say they discuss reading interpretations nearly every day achieve the equivalent to nearly two years worth of learning over students who rarely discuss reading interpretations.

Last week’s news about our historic graduation rate is certainly worth celebrating. Schools have also made strides at enrolling more students in high-level courses. But today’s NAEP results show that much more work still needs to be done. Simply earning a high school diploma is not enough. Students need to succeed in rigorous courses in high school to gain the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century labor market.– Jim Hull

 






April 29, 2014

Great news about our public schools

demanding parentWith 80 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2012 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically since 2006, improving by eight percentage points in just six years. According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.

While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and 2012 alone. Black students made significant gains during this period as well improving their graduation rate from 59 percent to 68 percent. During this same time period White students saw their graduation rate improve from 80 percent to 85 percent. At these rates the attainment gap between Hispanic and White students will disappear within five years. It would take another decade for the Black/White attainment gap to close completely.

While this is certainly good news it actually doesn’t provide a complete picture of the success in raising high school graduate rates. This is because these are only on-time graduation rates and do not include those students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As CPE found in our report about late high school graduates, Better Late Than Never, our national high school graduation rate is likely about 5 percentage points higher if we include students who graduate within six years. This means that our public schools are likely graduating at least 85 percent of students. And since Black and Hispanic students are more likely to graduate late than their White classmates, the attainment gap is likely to be narrower as well. These are graduates who are far too often over looked as successes even though, as the Grad Nation report pointed out, districts across the nation have made significant efforts to get students back on the graduation track or re-enroll students who had dropped out completely to help them earn the same diplomas as their peers who graduated on-time. – Jim Hull






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