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March 19, 2015

Leading the Change to higher performance

Leading the Change

Public schools are excelling. Public schools are in the toilet. It seems like the rhetoric around public education in America these days goes from one extreme to the other, divorced from any history or context. The reality, as always, is more nuanced. There are public schools that rival the most prestigious establishments in the world and there are public schools whose performance is, admittedly, abysmal.

That’s actually the first step: admitting there are schools in the system whose performance leaves much to be desired . The second step is to find out why because until you can identify and articulate the problem, you won’t be able to implement the appropriate solution.

This, in essence, is what CPE’s work and mission is all about. This has also been the focus of NSBA’s current president, Anne Byrne, who wanted her tenure to not only highlight the good work occurring in public schools but the work that still remains to move all our schools forward.

Because while public school students are performing higher and graduating in record numbers, we also know that in many districts, one or more schools seem to languish at the bottom despite the efforts of teachers and desires of parents. Understandably, school board members can feel helpless trying to turn them around— though, if it were easy to turnaround chronically low-performing schools, there would be no low-performing schools in the first place. As is often the case, struggling schools are emblematic of deeper issues that extend beyond the campus grounds, issues like poverty, disenfranchised communities and inadequate infrastructure.

Enter Leading the Change, a set of data-driven decision-making tools to help school boards lead the transformation of chronically low-performing schools into high-quality institutions.

Currently housed on our Data First site, the tools build off the Data First decision-making process, which was developed by CPE in partnership with the California School Boards Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, and the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Informed by research on what works to turnaround schools, as well as real-world experience and insight from a diverse working group of nine school board leaders, the Leading the Change toolkit represents the best thinking on effective local school governance as it relates to tackling underperforming schools.

While designed with school board members in mind, we think this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in getting beyond the rhetoric and blame game that seems to typify school reform debate, and toward meaningful progress for all students and all communities.

Let the change begin!






March 5, 2015

Drawing a line in the sand (of our Zen garden)

I was looking through the Wall Street Journal earlier this week and stumbled upon an interesting article on mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly “hot topic” in the psychological literature, with particular emphasis in the fields of counseling and positive psychology. Essentially, when one is engaging in mindfulness practices, one is purposefully (and solely) living in the present moment by expelling all thoughts and judgments of experiences and focusing on the present. So, think about riding a roller coaster, that experience of focusing solely on the present is a good example of what mindfulness is trying to achieve. The WSJ article chronicled the growing trend of mindfulness practices, including its rise in school districts.

Citing research from the developmental, clinical, and counseling psychology, as well as neuroscience literature, proponents touted clear benefits from the integration of mindfulness practices in the schools. For example, schoolchildren were more like to score higher in mathematics, demonstrate less aggressive and depressive symptoms, and engage in more prosocial behaviors (e.g., respect, empathy, and perspective-taking). Certainly, these are qualities that any teacher would want to see in their students, so then where is the opposition coming from?

The article included interviews with teachers, some of whom viewed the integration of mindfulness practices into the curriculum as equivalent to promoting religion. A huge leap? Yes and no. While mindfulness (meditation) does have roots in the Buddhist religion, a critical component could be how mindfulness is approached and implemented. While there could be improper ways to teach mindfulness, it is perhaps easier to defend by explaining that a critical difference is differentiating between teaching a skill (mindfulness meditation) and an idea (as a tenet of Buddhist religion). For a more detailed paper on whether or not a practice is too religious to be in a school, check out CPE’s paper on religion and public schools.

Filed under: CPE,Public education — Tags: , , , — NDillon @ 10:20 am





February 19, 2015

A matter of principal

After a conversation with CPE’s senior policy analyst Jim Hull last week in which Jim helped explain to issues of accountability, the conversation segued onto the topic of school principals and the powerful role they play in public education. Apparently, Jim is not the only one who believes that principals are key players in student success.

In a recent piece by Real Clear Education, graduate training programs designed for principals should foster a more practical skillset. The report goes on to suggest that incorporating disciplines such as business administration, could provide principals with the training for activities that are actually practiced on the job. A caveat however, the report also makes it very clear that they are not advocating for schools to be run like automated businesses either. That being said, there are still numerous leadership skills taught within an MBA program that fall directly within (or should) the purview of a principal, such as budgeting, data analysis, talent and quality management, organizational change, and leadership.

One thing is clear; good principals are essential for school success. As mirrored in a report by CPE, The Principal Perspective, high-quality principal leadership can facilitate numerous beneficial school outcomes, such as increasing student achievement, reducing both student and teacher absences, and reducing the turnover of high-quality teachers. Additionally, principals can be the linchpins in school turnaround. When a new principal is introduced into a school challenged by low student achievement, one of the first tasks an effective leader would undertake would be to assess the quality of the teachers, in an attempt to replace the lowest-quality teachers and retain the highest-quality teachers. These recruitment skills could be fostered through training in talent management, whereas retainment skills are taught through quality management, both skillsets that are central in an MBA program. Furthermore, our report found that principals were most effective at the earlier grades (i.e., elementary school), with an effect that diminishes across middle and high school. A plausible rationale for this decreasing effect is that as the structure of the school expands, it becomes more difficult to organize and govern. One way to address this downfall however, could be to incorporate leadership into principal training so that principals are better prepared to handle larger systems producing just as strong effects as elementary leaders.

In summary, the pieces by Real Clear Education and CPE share a common theme: principals matter. Although individual principals are not making broad changes at the state or federal level, they are poised to have (and sustain) incredible impact locally. It is because of their unique position that they play such an important role in increasing school outcomes. Thus, ensuring that principals are provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in effective school leadership certainly seems like a good principle.






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






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