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January 22, 2015

Shhh!! Don’t say anything but more students are graduating now than ever before

One of the great secrets in education is the fact that our nation’s high schools are graduating more students on-time than ever before. Even after it was first reported last year that the national high school on-time graduation rate reached 80 percent it still seemed like this news was all too-often overlooked by critics and proponents of public education alike. Maybe this will change with President Obama highlighting this fact in his State of the Union speech last night. But the fact that the latest graduation rates were released last week by the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) without many noticing doesn’t give me much hope.

So, in case you hadn’t heard already here are the facts. Our national on-time high school graduate rate reached another all-time high of 81 percent for the Class of 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available. This represents an increase from 79 percent for the Class of 2011. Keep in mind as well, this is an actual graduation rate not an estimate that NCES and most states had used for years. Since states have developed data systems in recent years that can determine which individual students entered ninth-grade and graduated four years later with at least a standard high school diploma it is now possible to calculate an actual on-time graduation rate.

Yet, this rate doesn’t even include late high school graduates who took more than four years to earn the same diploma. If the number of late graduates remains similar to what I found in my Better Late Than Never report it is likely that including students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma would increase the national graduation rate above 85 percent. Keep in mind, the national graduation rate hovered around 70 percent between the mid-1970s and early 2000s, making these gains all the more impressive.

Just a decade ago, few thought that reaching the 90 percent mark would even be possible, even if late graduates were included. However, now it appears the 90 percent mark is within reach. In fact, Iowa has already achieved a 90 percent on-time graduation rate according to NCES data. And five other states -Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin- are getting close to that marker, boasting 88 percent on-time graduation rates. Again, if late graduates were included it is likely that these states are graduating over 90 percent of their students.

And a number of states not as close to the 90 percent threshold also have reason to be optimistic. Particularly Nevada, Alabama, and New Mexico who have ranked among the bottom of states in terms of graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, each of them improved their on-time graduation rates by 9, 8, and 7 percentage points, respectively. Such increases represent thousands more students earning the minimal credentials needed to be prepared for life after high school.

Of course, no one should be satisfied until all students leave high school with a high school diploma, even if it is as likely as a baseball player hitting a thousand. Everyone wants all students to be college and career ready and our nation’s high schools have made tremendous strides toward meeting that goal. A high school diploma may not guarantee success after high school but without one the chances are minimal. While there is more work to do, our high schools should be congratulated for this tremendous accomplishment. Fortunately, it looks like they are heading towards another record next year. If given the support they need, there is no reason our nation’s schools can’t obtain and surpass the 90 percent graduation rate. When they do, hopefully it won’t be such a secret. – Jim Hull






January 8, 2015

EdWeek’s Annual State of the States Report Card: How does your state compare?

Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2015, which included its State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors with an overall B average while the nation as a whole earned a C. Out of the three categories each state and the nation were graded on, the nation earned the highest marks in the Chance for Success Index with a grade of C-plus.  In the other two categories– School Finance and Student Achievement– the nation earned a C and C-minus respectively. Massachusetts earned the highest grade in both the Chance for Success Index as well as the student achievement categories while Wyoming took top honors in the School Finance category by earning a B-plus.

Massachusetts has consistently ranked among the top states for several years. Several other states have consistently ranked near the bottom. Such a contrast highlights the fact states differ significantly in the performance of their public schools. This is important to point out as most states that received high marks by EdWeek also compared favorably to high performing countries while states that received the lowest EdWeek grades typically scored below most industrialized countries. While these grades are not necessarily reflective of the effectiveness of each state’s public schools since they don’t take into account how much students improved their academic performance while in school, they do provide valuable information on how well their students are prepared to enter the global labor market upon graduation. EdWeek’s grades indicate that some students are more likely to be prepared than others simply due to the state they were born in. ­­

 

Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:

Composite Score

How well do states prepare their students for success?

  • U.S. public schools earned an overall grade of C.
    • The grade is an average of the nation’s Chance for Success, School Finance and Student Achievement grades.
  • No state earned an A but Massachusetts earned top honors by receiving a B. New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont also received B’s although they earned slightly lower average scores.
  • Wyoming earned a B-minus placing it among the top 10 for the first time in EdWeek’s rankings.
  • No states earned a failing grade but three states earned a D (Mississippi, New Mexico, and Nevada).
  • Thirty-one states earned grades between a C-minus and C-plus.

Chance for Success Index

What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)

  • Massachusetts ranked first for the eighth consecutive year by receiving an A-minus. New Hampshire also earned an A-minus while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus as they did a year ago.
    • This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
  • On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively once again.
  • The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2014.

School Finance

How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?

  • Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance as it has for the past couple of years.
  • Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A-minus to a B-plus but still received the highest grade of any state just as it has for seven consecutive years. However, seven states received a B-plus this year compared to just three last year.
  • On the other hand, 15 states earned a D-plus or lower with Idaho the only state to earn a failing grade.
  • States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
    • Vermont spent the most per pupil with $18,882 and Utah once again spent the least with $6,688.
  • States differ in how much of their taxable resources they spend on education.
    • West Virginia and Vermont spent the greatest proportion of their taxable resources on education at 5.1 percent
    • Conversely. North Carolina and North Dakota spent the least of their taxable recourses on education with 2.4 and 2.3 percent respectively.
  • States also differ in how much is spent between districts.
    • Alaska had the largest difference between the funding of their highest and lowest districts where districts at the 95th percentile in per pupil funding spent nearly $14,000 more than districts at the 5th percentile.
    • On the other hand, the disparity in Florida was less than $2,000.  On average, the disparity between high and low spending districts nationally was $4,559 per pupil.

K-12 Achievement Index

How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?

  • Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
    • The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
  • Massachusetts was once again top of its class just as it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
  • Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks compared to four states in 2012.
  • Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.

 

About Quality Counts

The nation and each state are graded in three categories (Chance for Success; K-12 Achievement; School Finance; Standards). However, new data is only available for the Chance for Success and School Finance categories.  Grades for the Student Achievement category are the same as last year because they are primarily based on NAEP results which are released every two years. Results from all three categories are combined to provide a composite grade in each state and the nation as a whole. – Jim Hull






December 19, 2014

The ROI of five ed reforms, according to Forbes

Many have tried to quantify the value of education— in fact, even we did in our video, Is it Worth It? But calculating what we get versus what we spend on public education is far from an easy exercise, as there are so many variables and value judgments that come into play.

Enter Forbes magazine, which attempted to determine what would happen if education policymakers put their money where their mouth is in five key areas: implementing the Common Core State Standards, strengthening teacher effectiveness and principal development, and expanding early education and blended learning.

Each comes with a hefty price tag that taken together would cost a cool $6.2 trillion over a 20 year period or $310 billion annually. In return, Forbes (with assistance from respected Stanford economist Eric Hanushek) predicts the U.S. would see its gross domestic product increase by some $225 trillion over the life of that generation’s professional career.

Where the initial outlay would come from— apparently hedge funds, inheritances and venture capital— is another story. What caught my attention about this study appeared to be a credible attempt to affix real dollars and cents to top education reforms and the benefits our country would reap from it.  Even if it’s hypothetical, a nearly 37 percent return on five major education investments is not something to ignore … though, apparently we have.






October 7, 2014

More Students Taking Advanced Placement But College Readiness Remains Flat

In a departure from past releases, this year’s SAT results included results from the College Board’s two other testing programs— the PSAT/NMSQT and their Advanced Placement (AP) exams— providing a more complete picture of student progress towards college readiness throughout high school.

This year’s picture provides evidence that more students, especially poor and minority students, are taking more rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), yet such improvements have not led to an increase in college-readiness rates. Unfortunately, it is not clear why this is the case especially since the AP test-taking rates for the nation’s largest growing population, Hispanics, make up a large portion of the increase in AP test-taking.

Although Hispanic students made tremendous strides on the AP, as a group, they were less likely to reach the college readiness benchmark on the SAT. While nearly 43 percent of the Class of 2014 who took the SAT reached the college readiness benchmark score of 1550, just under a quarter of Hispanic test-takers did so. Moreover, black students who took the SAT were even less likely to be considered ‘college ready,’ as just under 16 percent met or exceeded the college readiness threshold.

 

The Findings

 

College Readiness

  • Nearly half (43 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2014, which is unchanged from the year prior and slightly lower than in 2009 (44 percent).
    • The SAT College-Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Minority students are less likely to be college-ready.
    • Just 15.8 percent of black students and 23.4 percent of Hispanic students were college-ready, according to the SAT’s Benchmark.

Core Course Rigor

  • Three-quarters of SAT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.

Test Takers

  • Just over 1.67 million students from the Class of 2014 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a 4 percent increase from 2013.
  • More minority students are taking the SAT.
    • Nearly half (48 percent) of test takers were minorities in 2014 compared to 46 percent just a year earlier.

 

Advanced Placement (AP)

  • In 2014, 22 percent of the nation’s 11th- and 12th-graders took at least one AP exam which is nearly double the number of students from just a decade ago, when 12 percent took an AP exam.
  • Even though more students took an AP exam, passing ratings improved as well. In 2004, just 8 percent of 11th- and 12th-graders passed an AP exam; that rate increased to 13 percent in 2014.
  • Hispanic students (19 percent) are taking AP courses at nearly the same rate as the overall national average (22 percent), yet black (13 percent) and Native American (12 percent) students are still less likely to take AP.
  • According to the College Board’s PSAT/NMSQT results, nearly 40 percent of PSAT/NMSQT had the potential to succeed in an AP course but never took an exam. However, such students may have taken other college-level courses such as International Baccalaureate or Honors programs.





September 25, 2014

An increase in student homelessness

The National Center for Homeless Education reported that there were a total of 1.3 million homeless public school students in the United States during the 2012 – 2013 school year. The number of homeless students increased 8% from the previous year and 85% since the beginning of the recession. This number includes students whose families are sharing homes and students who are living in shelters, hotels, motels or without shelter altogether.

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education asked the students whether they were living with their parents and recorded that 76,000 homeless students were “unaccompanied.” These unaccompanied minors face greater threats of physical and sexual abuse and exploitation.

EdWeek has reported that the increase in homelessness can be explained by “an inadequate supply of public housing and assistance, growing rent costs, and relatively flat income levels in recent years.” Furthermore, this information has prompted child welfare advocates to push for the passage of the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which would expand the definition of homelessness, remove federal restrictions, and require better data and information on homeless individuals.

This last piece of the proposed legislation is important because the numbers released by the NCHE tend to underestimate the number of homeless students, who may be embarrassed to talk about their living situation. Additionally, CNN Money reported that part of the increase in homeless students could be explained by more accurate measures of homelessness. Regardless, it is still apparent that the number of homeless students continues to rise in the wake of the recession.






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