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April 4, 2014

Public high schools are prominent in Ivy League rosters

By now, you’ve all read about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school student who applied and gained admission to all eight Ivy League schools.

Scattered along the East Coast, the universities— Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell— are among the most selective in the country, admitting less than 9 percent of its collective applicants this year. Harvard’s admit rate was the lowest at 5.9 percent, while Cornell was the highest at 14 percent.

Acceptance into one Ivy League college is difficult enough, let alone all eight which is why Enin’s feat has rightly garnered widespread media attention. And small wonder all eight welcomed him. Besides participating in student government and playing three instruments in the chamber orchestra, Enin throws discus and shot put for the track and field team, acts in school plays and volunteers at a local hospital. An extraordinarily gifted student from— can I point out— a public high school.

Fluke? Far from.

Although matriculating data was provided on only four of the college’s admissions websites, that information, along with other secondary sources indicate the majority of Ivy League’s recent classes have come from public high schools.

Public school grads make up 55% of incoming freshman at Dartmouth and Yale, 58.7% at Princeton and 66% at Cornell UniversityBrown doesn’t have figures for its undergrad program, but it does reveal that 67% of students accepted into its medical school in 2013 hailed from public high schools. In a 2009 New York Times piece, William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, noted that public schools provided almost 70 percent of the incoming freshmen class that fall.

With eight of the most prestigious universities knocking on his door — Enin also applied and received acceptance letters from Duke and three State University of New York campuses— the Long Island teen has every right to bask in the sun. But so should public schools who’ve prepared Enin and countless others for the country’s top universities and beyond.

In fairness, some commentary—even from the schools themselves—- have noted that the increasing fixation on Ivy League admittance has shifted attention from the fact that there are other high caliber colleges in the country, many of which are public universities that have a rich history of producing notable graduates including Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and former President Gerald Ford, to name a few.

Whether at the K-12 or post-secondary level, public education is clearly equipping future generations with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. This is an important point that shouldn’t get lost, as it debunks the common belief that exclusivity automatically equates to superiority. That’s obviously not the case, since public high school students occupy the vast majority of Ivy League’s incoming classes and it stands to reason that they likely occupy the ranks of public universities, too.

I wish Enin lots of luck as he enters the next chapter in his life. I’ve no doubt he’ll do well no matter where he goes. His parents and public education prepared him well.

To read more about the various approaches and practices of rigorous high schools, check out CPE’s report Is High School Tough Enough?






March 31, 2014

Common Core standards undergoes field testing

Field testing for the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests is now underway in many states and will continue to be implemented in others over the course of the next several weeks. More than four million students in grades 3-11 will be helping field test the new math and English language arts assessments. These field tests are an opportunity for students to experience the testing environment and get a sense of what they will be expected to know and be able to do for future Common Core-aligned assessments, but with no stakes attached at this time.

Doing field tests an entire year before these assessments will be used for any type of evaluation helps to ensure that the new Common Core-aligned assessments are reliable, valid, and fair for all students taking them, and gives SBAC and PARCC time to adjust both content or structural issues that might pop up during field testing. This trial run also gives teachers and schools a chance to practice administering the test and an opportunity to work out any technical or procedural problems before the assessments begin next year. Additionally, the field tests will introduce students to a type of assessment that is different from what many are used to: one that emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving and focuses less on memorization and simply filling in the correct bubble.

Of course, these assessments are not perfect, but that is all the more reason that this “test of the test” is important. Much of the controversy surrounding the implementation of the Common Core States Standards has involved how assessment would work and if it would be any different from the testing most states require now. This trial run allows thousands of teachers and millions of students across the country to become accustomed to the new system in what is essentially a “no stakes” testing environment. Will there be glitches? Of course – but the field tests allow time for these issues to be worked out before the actual test is administered next year. It might be an imperfect solution, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to ensure that CCSS-aligned assessments are the best that they can be before they are administered in a high stakes environment.

The Alliance for Excellent Education has a helpful Common Core Field Test Q&A available with more information. For more on the Common Core State Standards, visit CPE’s Common Core Resource page.

-Patricia Campbell






February 20, 2014

High school graduation rate at an all-time high

NAEPSecretary Duncan proudly wore number 80 on his jersey at the NBA celebrity All-Star game this past weekend— as well he should’ve. It just so happens the number 80 represents one of the best kept secrets in education: our national on-time graduation rate.

This may come as a shock to many as popular perception tends to be the myth that our public schools are flatlining. But the facts show otherwise, as recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show our national on-time graduation rate for our public high schools now stands at 80 percent— an all-time high.  It’s quite an accomplishment considering the rate hovered around 71 percent for much of the 1990s.

And keep in mind, the 80 percent graduation rate represents only those students who earned a standard high school diploma within four years of entering high school so it doesn’t include students who earned a high school equivalency (ex GED) or certificates of completion. Nor does it include those students who took more than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As our report on late high school graduates Better Late Than Never found, including late high school graduates would likely add more than 5 percentage points to the national graduation rate. So the actual national graduation rate is quite likely closer to 90 than 80 percent.

What is even more impressive about these gains is that our high schools are serving an ever more diverse student population. Yet the overall graduation rate increased due to the substantial gains made by minority students. The on-time graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from 64 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2011. During this same time period the on-time graduation rate for black students improved from 61 percent to 67 percent. These are tremendous gains made in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s not overlook the fact that the graduation rate also continued to climb for white students during this same time period (81 to 84 percent).

While these are numbers worth celebrating they also show there is much more work to be done. The attainment gap between minority and white students needs to be closed. While they have narrowed in recent years, the narrowing needs to accelerate so minority students who are just entering school now will have the same chance to graduate as their white classmates.

Of course, simply giving students a diploma will not help them get a job or get into college. So, the diplomas they do receive must represent that fact that these students have completed courses they need to get into and succeed in college or get a quality job after high school. While there is more work to be done to ensure all students leave college and career ready, the data clearly shows our public schools are up the challenge. – Jim Hull






February 7, 2014

U.S. Schools Are Not Flatlining!

NAEPThe idea that U.S. school performance is flat is indefensible. But unfortunately all too many people believe it to be true. Why wouldn’t they? This sentiment is so often stated that it is assumed to be fact, especially since the 2012 PISA results were released last December. For example, in a recent Washington Post column Is The U.S. Making the Grade in Education? columnist Fareed Zakaria wrote “The United States has muddled along over the past few decades, showing little improvement or decline” as if it was undisputed fact even without providing any evidence. Over at Education Week Marc Tucker tries to answer the question Why Has U.S. Education  Performance Flatlined? by cherry-picking a few pieces of data that at first glance appear to support his assumption. Broadly speaking Tucker asserts the U.S. has made little progress since the 1970s in improving student achievement or graduating more students from high school or college.

Marc Tucker is not alone in pointing to such data to claim that U.S. schools are not improving which makes it vitally important to look at all the evidence to determine if indeed our schools have flatlined. As I recently wrote in the American School Boards Journal, the evidence is quite clear that our public schools have not flatlined but are making dramatic improvements in many areas.

Here is the evidence and you decide whether our schools have flatlined or flourished:

Students today are learning more than ever before

If you simply look at overall NAEP scores for our nation’s 17-year olds scores have improved by just six points between 1978 and 2012 it does appear that our schools have indeed flatlined. However, when you take a closer look a much different picture emerges. You’ll see that our nation’s black 17-year olds have improved by 20-points while Hispanic students improved by 18-points—these gains equate to nearly two years worth of learning. The results were even more impressive in reading where black students improved by 28-points between 1975 and 2012 which is nearly three years worth of learning while Hispanic students make a significant progress as well by improving their scores by 21-points. Such lines are hardly flat. Keep in mind that white students made significant gains during these time periods as well. Furthermore, similar gains were made by our nation’s 9- and 13-year olds.

A world leader in improvement

Our schools may not top the international rankings but few countries have improved their performance as much as we have. On the international Trends In Math and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 4th graders saw their math scores improve by 23 points between 1995 and 2011. U.S. eighth graders saw similar improvements with scores rising 18 points during the same time period. For each of these grade levels the gains were among the largest made by participating countries.  It should be noted the U.S. also made significant gains on the 8th grade TIMSS science assessment and on PIRLS the international 4th grade reading assessment.

More students receiving a diploma

Not only are our students learning more, more students are graduating. Although graduation rates remained relatively flat between 1970 and 2000, between 2000 and 2010 they steadily increased from 67 percent to 75. Just like on the achievement measures black and Hispanic students made even greater gains during this period. In 2000 just 50 percent of black students graduated high school within four years. That percentage has climbed to 62 percent in 2010. The improvement made by Hispanic students was even more impressive by increasing from 50 percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2010.

More students are also graduating from college. The percent of the population over 25 with a bachelor’s degree increased from 11 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 2010. During this same time period the percent of black adults with a bachelor’s degree increased from 6 percent 20 percent. For Hispanics, 8 percent of adults held bachelor’s degrees in 1980—the oldest data available—compared to 13.9 percent in 2010.

Despite the common assertion that our schools have flatlined, the facts clearly show our students are performing higher and more students are earning degrees than ever before. Are our schools where we want them to be? No, there is obviously more work that needs to be done. But the facts do show that our public schools are making significant strides and are in the best position to ensure all students obtain the skills they need to lead a successful life. – Jim Hull






February 3, 2014

Early Education: Ups and Downs Since the Great Recession

Recent years have shown an increased interest in early learning for children in the birth-through-eight age span. However, this increased interest coincided with the Great Recession in the United States, and the funding levels for programs for children in pre-K and the early elementary grades have fluctuated wildly since the start of the recession.  New America’s Education Policy Program recently released “Subprime Learning”, a report summarizing the triumphs and trials of early education in the last five years.

One of the largest areas of improvement in the last five years has been in the development of new systems and programs to support birth-to-eight learning. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included close to $11.2 billion for early education (including K-3) and $6.3 billion for birth-to-five programs. Infrastructure is improving across the board with the introduction of competitive programs like Race to the Top that encourage improving data and evaluation systems. The creation of the Common Core Standards means that states are more on the same page than ever before with regard to early education standards, and have been working to create infrastructure that should encourage more collaboration and sharing of information between birth-to-five programs and elementary schools.

There has also been some progress in pre-K access.  Although funding has been cut in many states, universal programs such as those in Oklahoma and Georgia have increased access and Mississippi started a small pre-K program in 2013. Approximately 42% of four-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in some type of public preschool (either pre-K, Head Start, or a special education preschool program), which is up from 40% of four-year-olds in 2009.

Although there is no national testing of children before the age of eight, there are improvements being seen when students are tested at the end of this age spectrum.  Fourth-grade math and reading scores have improved on the NAEP over the last five years, but there still exists enormous achievement gaps between low-income and non-low-income students. This is especially concerning since there are increasing numbers of American children living in poverty: the percentage of children living in poverty increased by five percentage points in the last five years.  Furthermore, little progress has been made with regard to dual language learners and special education students, as their achievement scores have remained stagnant over the last five years.  These are some of the students who would benefit most from early interventions and extra support in the early years of their education, so it is of the utmost importance that our schools make these students a priority moving forward.

Another hurdle for early education is that school improvement programs such as the federal School Improvement Grant program do not require improvements to pre-K-3rd grade, and limited data makes it difficult to determine if there has been any true impact on children in early elementary grades as a result of school improvement programs. Additionally, implementing standards for teachers in early grades where students are not tested has proved difficult.  Since teachers educating children up to age eight are teaching grades and subjects that are not covered by standardized tests, schools have been seeking alternative ways to show student progress in the early grades, but in many states observational tools have not been validated for use in the early grades either.

While there have certainly been some things to celebrate in early education in the last five years, such as improved test scores for fourth-graders, some disconcerting trends came out of this report as well. Just because students are not tested in the younger grades doesn’t mean that early elementary grades should be neglected when it comes to school improvement and teacher quality, as learning and building upon the fundamentals in pre-K-3rd is an extremely important period for a child’s emotional and intellectual development. Furthermore, the lack of progress for special education students and dual language learners is disheartening. While these are two populations facing some of the biggest challenges to learning, they would also benefit the most from increased support in the early years. I certainly hope that as the economy continues to recover, schools and districts will be able to dedicate the funding and resources necessary to help these students achieve.

Check out CPE’s research on pre-K and kindergarten, English language learners, and special education for more information.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,English Language Learners,preschool,Public education — Patricia Campbell @ 7:00 am





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