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September 11, 2014

Chamber of Commerce grades states on their educational effectiveness

Report-Card The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation once again is grading each state on their educational effectiveness based on 11 indicators in their most recent Leaders and Laggards report card. However, if you’re looking to find out which state is this year’s valedictorian you won’t find it in this report card. Unlike student report cards, the Chamber didn’t calculate a composite GPA. Reason likely being the Chamber wanted to keep the focus on where state’s can improve in each of the 11 areas graded which would have likely been overshadowed by an overall ranking of states. For this, I applaud the Chamber as the report card should be viewed as a tool for continuous improvement not as a final evaluation.

Although each of the indicators has their limitations, they provide some context as to how each state compares to other states in a wide range of areas. As our Data First site highlights, there is no single measure that can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of our public schools and all measures have their limitations. Understanding these limitations is key to using any measure to evaluate our public schools.

Keep in mind, however, that not everyone has the same definition of effectiveness when it comes to our public schools. While we all may agree that the main objective of our public schools is to improve student achievement, others may argue that schools should also turn out good citizens or creative thinkers while others may argue an effective school is one that keeps children out of harms way. These are all valid characteristics of an effective school but it shows that effectiveness is really based on the values of the individual doing the evaluating.

And the Chamber’s report card is no different. While they utilized 11 indicators, these indicators align with the values of the Chamber and what they believe constitutes an effective school which may not align to the beliefs of you or me. That is important to keep in mind as you read the Chamber’s report card. As the report card likely doesn’t include all the indicators you would use to evaluate the effectiveness of your public schools.

So, just because your state may not have earned high grades on the Chamber’s report card, your state may have earned straight A’s on yours. – Jim Hull

 

The Findings

 

All states improved their academic performance between 2005 and 2013 but the improvement varied greatly by state

  • Hawaii, Washington, DC, and Maryland made the greatest gains during this time period by improving their NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores by 13, 12, and 10 respectively. Such gains are roughly equivalent to about a year’s worth more of learning.
  • On the other hand, South Carolina, Michigan, and South Dakota made the least amount of gains over this same time period by improving their scores by 1.5, 1.0 and .25 points respectively.
  • Half or more of 4th graders in just six states scored at or above the NAEP proficient achievement level on the 2013 math assessment.
    • In no state did at least half the students reach the NAEP proficient achievement level on either the 4th or 8th grade reading assessments.
    • Massachusetts was the only state where at least half (54 percent) of 8th graders reached the NAEP proficiency level in math.

States vary widely in the return on their education investment

  • Utah, Colorado, and Idaho received the most bang for their buck as they spend fewer dollars per NAEP score point when taking into consideration the differences in the cost of living.
  • On the other end of the ROI spectrum, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Delaware saw low NAEP performance along with high costs.
  • Yet, simply keeping costs down didn’t necessarily equate to higher ROI grades. For example, both Wyoming and Mississippi received F’s in their return on investment yet Mississippi ($9,330) spent over $7,000 less per student than Wyoming ($16,594).

The college readiness of most high school graduates is lagging

  • On average 20 percent of graduates passed at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam.
    • No state did more than 30 percent of graduates pass at least one AP exam while in high school.
    • Maryland and Connecticut had the highest pass rates at 29 percent followed by Virginia at 28 percent.
    • Louisiana and Mississippi had the lowest pass rates at 5 and 4 percent respectively.
  • In those states with high pass rates provide both the access and the preparation to succeed in college-level courses.

Few students are receiving preparation for STEM related fields

  • Less than 10 percent of graduates passed an AP STEM exam nationwide.
  • Massachusetts had the highest pass rate of AP STEM exams at 16 percent followed by Maryland and Connecticut with 15.8 and 15.4 percent passing respectively.
  • Nine states had STEM AP exam pass rates of less than 5 percent with Louisiana and Mississippi achieving the lowest pass rates at 1.9 and 1.2 percent respectively.

Parental choice varies by state

  • Washington, DC has the largest market share for schools of choice—in terms of charter schools and voucher programs—which is by far the largest share of any state. The state with the next highest market share is Louisiana at 22.9 percent.
  • Wyoming has the smallest market share at just 2.5 percent
  • However, larger market shares didn’t necessarily lead to higher grades in parental options.
    • Indiana received an A despite the fact they only have 4.5 percent market share for schools of choice.
    • Maryland received a F while having a 15.9 market share for schools of choice.

 

States can identify good teachers; they just can’t get enough of them

  • The recent reforms to teacher evaluation system appeared to have improved the states’ ability to identify teacher quality, retain effective teachers, and exit ineffective ones.
  • However, states are still struggling with preparing good teachers and expanding the pool of teachers through alternative certification programs.

Unfunded state pensions threaten public education

  • The inability of some states to fund their pension liabilities threatens their ability to fund all types of public services like education.
  • Connecticut, Kentucky, and Illinois are three states that have contributed less than half of what they should to keep their funds solvent.
  • On the other hand, Washington, North Carolina, and South Dakota have funded their programs at the required levels.
Filed under: NAEP,Public education,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 12:33 pm





August 21, 2014

Common core support drops, local control rules, and other public opinion trends

Back to school season means it’s also time for the yearly ritual of gauging American attitudes about their public schools. Two major surveys released this week once again show that the public says its local schools are great even though they think U.S. schools overall are in the tank (a mathematical impossibility, by the way). The surveys also highlight some inconsistencies in public thinking as well as widespread acceptance of misinformation, particularly regarding the common core. So let’s start there.

First, what a difference a year makes! The 46th annual PDK/Gallup poll registered a big increase in public awareness about the Common Core State Standards between 2013 and 2014. Last year, only 38 percent said they had heard of them. This year, awareness has more than doubled to 81 percent. But that wasn’t the only shift. Of those who knew about the Common Core in 2013 a majority liked them, but that pendulum swung, too. Now according to PDK, only 33 percent support the new standards while a full 60 percent are opposed.

A new poll from Education Next shows the same downward trend in public support for Common Core as PDK, although EN shows that a majority are still favorable: 53 percent of the public supported them in 2014 compared to 65 percent the year before. EN teased out attitudes by party affiliation and found that Democrats were more far more likely to support Common Core than Republicans — 65 to 43 percent, respectively. Still, even among Republicans, support is significantly higher than PDK reported.

EN also conducted a small randomized experiment. They asked the same question about Common Core standards to one half of the survey pool, except they eliminated the words “Common Core” in the brackets below:

As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use [the Common Core, which are] standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of these [the Common Core] standards in your state?

Now it gets interesting. When the words “Common Core” are eliminated, public support rises from 53 to 68 percent. Moreover, Republicans approved of the non-Common Core statement at the same rate as Democrats. The conflicting poll results could suggest that the Common Core critics are winning the media war. As EN puts it, the words themselves may have become “toxic.” As further evidence, the poll found that the majority of the public believed statements about the Common Core that were not true, such as the federal government requires states to use the Common Core. Yet these beliefs have entered into the information stream and are affecting public attitudes.

Of course, it’s also possible that we are seeing a sea change in attitudes. The EN survey raises an issue that should be of major concern: teacher support for the Common Core declined the most. In 2013, a full three-quarters of the teachers polled were in favor of the Common Core. In just one year their support plummeted to slightly less than half (46 percent). One has to wonder if teachers are expressing their frustration with inadequate implementation support. If this is the case, state and district policymakers should pay close attention.

On other topics, the public continues to view public schooling as a mostly local concern, according to PDK. The majority of the public — 56 percent — say local school boards should have the “greatest influence in deciding what is taught in public schools,” followed by 28 percent who say the state should, and only 15 percent who say the federal government should. In addition, to know public schools is to love them. Consistent with results of the last 20 years, the public gives public schools nationally poor grades, but grade their local schools highly. In 2014, 50 percent of the public and 67 percent of public school parents gave their local schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ compared to 17 percent who gave the nation’s schools high grades. However, this represents a slight drop from 2013 overall.

Both PDK and EN found that the public continues to like the idea of charter schools. But the polls conflict over voucher support. PDK reported that nearly two-thirds of the public opposed vouchers, while EN showed that about half support vouchers for students in “failing public schools” and even for “universal vouchers.” Surprisingly, only a third told EN they would support vouchers for low-income families.

As always, polls can be useful in understanding what the public is thinking. But this year’s polling seems to further cast a light on winners and losers in communicating their messages. – 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





July 18, 2014

How productive is your district?

Since the onset of the great recession, most states have been implementing higher academic standards while simultaneously cutting funding for their public schools. Basically, school districts across the country have been asked to do more with less. As I wrote in Cutting to the Bone there is simply no fat left to cut to enable school boards to balance their budgets. Many would have to make cuts in areas that would directly impact student achievement. Hence, the goal is no longer to find cuts that avoid negative impacts on students, it is to find cuts that have the least negative impact, even if they certainly benefited some students.

While school funding is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels anytime soon school boards continue to fight for the revenues they need to ensure all students are prepared for success following high school. In the mean time, boards are doing the best they can with the resources available to them. However, the Center for American Progress (CAP) argues in a recent report some districts are getting a better return on investment of their education dollars than similar districts. This means there are some districts that are spending less and are obtaining better results in terms of student outcomes than other districts within their state that serve similar students.

Accurately calculating the return on investment of school districts is notoriously complex due to such issues as differing accounting practices between districts and districts providing different services. As such the data is not always available to make a true apples to apples comparison of what districts spend on providing similar services. The report itself even points out the limitations of comparing the productivity of school districts. However, such limitations shouldn’t prevent districts from finding out for themselves how their productivity compares to other districts in their state. CAP’s new interactive web tool allows districts to do just that. Such comparisons may not be perfect but they provide a starting point to determine how effectively districts are spending the dwindling funds they have. Districts can use these comparisons to find out how more productive districts are using their dollars and determine if such practices would benefit their district.

Access to such information-as imperfect as it is– provides school boards an additional resource on how to they can best utilize their limited funds to improve student outcomes.—Jim Hull

Filed under: funding,Public education — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 1:22 pm





July 17, 2014

School choice in Sweden isn’t working

Earlier this week, Slate ran this analysis of school choice in Sweden that should be required reading for everyone who makes public school policy in the U.S. as well as those who write about it. I encourage everyone to read it for themselves. But briefly, the author describes how Sweden came to adopt Milton Friedman’s free market ideas for school reform in the mid- to late-1900s and since then, the nation, once a leader among OECD countries on PISA, has witnessed its international standing plummet.

According to the article, the main reason for this decline is the failure of free market principles to translate to school improvement. In Sweden, competition led to artificial test score inflation among charter and traditional schools alike.  But even if policies could be put in place to better control for that, there remains the futility of applying for-profit practices to meet what is essentially — and vitally — a not-for-profit public mission.

The author is not a complete charter school opponent. Like CPE, he recognizes the value of innovative, successful charter schools as laboratories that can provide lessons traditional public schools can learn from.  At the same time, we do not see any evidence to argue for expanding charter school — or school choice in general — as a way to improve public education. Indeed, an absolute free market system for public schools poses greater risks to the effort to raise student performance across the board, as Sweden is apparently learning the hard way. – Patte Barth

 






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