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June 10, 2015

Nevada bets the schools’ bank

Nevada is known for gaming. That could explain why lawmakers there are willing to gamble on the delivery of public education in the state by passing the most sweeping school choice bill in the nation.

SB 302 (the bill has no name that I could find) offers Nevada public school parents a grant that they can use to pay for private school, online courses, or homeschooling expenses for their child. The roughly $5,000 per student subsidy will be deposited in individual education savings accounts (ESAs) for parents who leave public traditional and charter schools. The cost will be deducted from the state per-pupil allotment that would have otherwise gone to the child’s resident school district.

ESAs are not unique to Nevada. Arizona, Florida and Tennessee provide similar grants to parents whose children have special needs or, in the case of Arizona, are currently attending a low-performing school. Other states like Indiana and Florida provide state-funded vouchers to qualifying families that are similar to ESAs but are typically restricted to use in private schools only. What truly distinguishes the Nevada program from these others, however, is its universality. While other states limit eligibility, Nevada opens up ESAs to every child who has been enrolled in a public school for at least 100 consecutive days prior to applying for the grant. Officials estimate that the bill will affect 93 percent of all school-aged children in the state.

School choice advocates are relishing in the unprecedented scale of the Nevada bill in the belief it will give them a chance to do something decades of choice experiments across the country have failed to do  – demonstrate that a free market approach to education will drive school improvement. Education Week reports that the bill was drafted with the help of several national pro-school choice organizations, including the Goldwater Institute, the Freidman Foundation and the Foundation for Excellence in Education through its lobbying arm, Excel National.  Following its passage, Excel National released a statement saying, “This is a monumental leap forward in the fight for student-focused policies that allow every child the opportunity to receive a quality education.”

But will SB 302 offer this opportunity? Here’s what Nevada is gambling:

Gamble #1: Private schools will want ESA kids. Indiana has the largest voucher program in the country. Yet three years into the program, two-thirds of the state’s private schools are declining to accept voucher students. This is perhaps one reason only 4% of students who are eligible to participate are taking advantage of the state vouchers.  Even if a Nevada private school will accept ESA students, there’s no guarantee the school will take all who apply. For one, there may not be available seats. For another, there could be admissions criteria that screen for the most desirable students.

Gamble #2: ESAs will benefit low-income students. Children with disabilities or from families at or below 185 percent of the poverty line qualify to receive 100 percent of the state per-pupil allocation, currently about $5,700 per year. All other students are able to receive a grant equal to 90 percent, or $5,100. Nationally, the average yearly tuition at private schools was $10,740 for the 2011-12 academic year. Elementary schools, which tend to be cheaper, cost an average of $7,770. While Nevada may have some more affordable options available, families are certain to run into tuitions that exceed the ESA. Those who can afford to supplement the costs will do so, but low-income families are not likely to be among them. This begs the question – rather than opening up opportunities for all Nevada children, will the state be subsidizing private education for those who are in a better position to afford it anyway?

Gamble #3: Choice schools will be better schools. This is the basic premise underlying all choice arguments — that when parents are given the opportunity, they will choose a better educational fit for their child who will in turn perform better. This is not to say that parents do not want to make a good choice or are incapable of choosing well. They do and they are. However, it does assume that the simple act of allowing parents to opt in produces better results. And the track record on choice policies to date is really weak.

CPE has reviewed research on various educational options, including charter schools, voucher programs, virtual schooling and homeschooling. (A concise overview of all these findings will be published later this year.) The best that can be said is that school choice works for some students sometimes, is worse for some students sometimes, and is often no better or worse than the public school students attended before. Research on voucher programs, for example, shows some gains for minority and/or low-income students, while most studies show similar performance to public school students. One exception may be higher graduation rates. In addition, our earlier report on virtual schooling found, with the exception of a few noteworthy instances, there was little to commend in full-time online schooling for most students, and that even single courses had their risks.

Good data on homeschooling is non-existent. Anecdotes about the Tim Tebows and other homeschool success stories get wide play, many of which you can find here. Less heard are the stories about when homeschooling goes wrong – voices that are just beginning to emerge, for example, here and here. What is missing is a picture of how homeschooled students fare overall.

Nevada’s bill attempts to hedge its bets when it comes to quality control over school choices by requiring all ESA recipients to take standardized tests in math and English language arts. Participating private schools must further report the aggregated results of these tests to the Nevada Department of Education, which will publish the data. No performance thresholds or consequences are defined, however, so it’s unclear what, if anything, would happen if the ESA students don’t get the quality education they were promised.

And that, my friends, is a huge gamble.  — Patte Barth

Filed under: Charter Schools,Parents,Public education,vouchers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 7:30 am





June 4, 2015

Yet Another Report Touts Record High School Graduation Rates

EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit another all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school.  You may remember last month another report found the same. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results.

One difference is that this most recent report sheds a brighter light on disparities between different groups of students. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available—the poverty gap in on-time graduation rates is as large as 16 percentage points in Minnesota to just one percentage point in Kentucky.  Nationally, the gap between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates continues to narrow. Again, the gaps differ significantly from state to state.

While the overall story is certainly good news, the persistent gaps are still troubling. Gaps are particularly large between special education students and the general student population as well as between English Language Learners (ELL) and native English speakers. So while significant progress has been made, there is a lot more work to be done until all students enter high school with a similar chance to graduate high school four years later.

 

The Findings

National Graduation Rates

  • The national graduation rate hit another all-time high.
    • Eighty-one percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2009 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2013 — the highest level seen since the late 1960s.
      • Between 2011 and 2013 the graduation rate increased 2 points.
      • Graduation rates had remained relatively stagnant between the late 1960s and early 2000’s.
  • Large attainment gaps also remain between traditionally disadvantaged groups and their more advantaged classmates.
    • 16 point gap between white and black students (71 and 87 percent).
    • 12 point gap between white and Hispanic students (75 and 87 percent).
    • Seventy-three percent of students from economically disadvantaged families graduated on-time.
      • This is 8 points lower than the national average.
    • Just 62 percent of Students with Disabilities graduated on-time.
      • This is 19 points lower than the national average.
    • Only 61 percent of Limited English Proficient students graduated on-time.
      • This is 20 points lower than the national average.

State Graduation Rates

  • Most states have improved their graduation rates since 2011.
    • All but six states (Arizona, Illinois, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming) improved their on-time graduation rates between 2011 and 2013.
    • Nevada made the greatest improvement by increasing their graduation rate from 62 to 71 percent (9 points) during this same time period.
      • New Mexico and Utah both improved their graduation rates by 7 points as well.
  • Large gaps remain between states
    • There is a 28 percentage point gap between Iowa –the state with the highest graduation rate (90 percent)– and the District of Columbia which has the lowest graduation rate (62 percent).
    • Only seven states (Alaska, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon) have graduation rates that fell under 75 percent while 21 states have graduation rates of at least 85 percent.
    • In Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota there is a 15 point gap between the graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students and their state averages.
      • In six states (Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Indiana, and District of Columbia) the gap is 5 points or less.
    • In Mississippi just 23 percent of Students with Disabilities (SWD) graduated on-time which is 53 points lower than the state average (76 percent). Mississippi had both the lowest graduation rates for SWD and the largest gap.
      • On the other end of the spectrum Arkansas had the highest graduation rate for SWK (80 percent) while Alabama had the smallest gap (3 points).
    • Three states (New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Texas) had graduation rates over 80 percent for black students.
      • Three states (Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon) had graduation rates of less than 60 percent for their black students.
    • Eleven states graduated at least 80 percent of their Hispanic students on-time.
      • Minnesota was the only state to graduate less than 60 percent of their Hispanic students.

 






April 30, 2015

Long-Term but No Short-Term Gains in History, Civics, and Geography, According to NAEP

Classroom Observations Yesterday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in History, Civics, and Geography for U.S. 8th graders. Results are provided for the nation as a whole but not for individual states, unlike as they do for the mathematics and reading assessments. Similar to other NAEP assessments, results are given in scale scores (0-500) and achievement levels (Basic, Proficient and Advanced).  Scores are given for overall student performance as well as by race, gender, and income groups.

While scores have remained relatively flat since the last administration in 2010 for each of these subjects, 8th graders in 2014 performed higher than their predecessors a decade or two ago. Much of the growth over the past two decades has been driven by the improving performance of low-performing students. Who for each of the three subjects narrowed the gap between themselves and their high performing peers.

Yet, the same gap narrowing was not typically found when it came to the gap in the percent of black and Hispanic 8th graders reaching NAEP’s Basic Achievement Level relative to their white classmates. While there was some gap narrowing, in most cases gaps have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade or two and those gaps remain quite large in most cases. It is important to keep in mind, though, that because all racial and ethnic groups have improved at relatively the same rate over the past two decades, these racial and ethnic gaps have not significantly changed.

This year’s results may not be worth celebrating but they don’t show any systemic failure either. What they do show is that 8th graders continued to make gradual progress in History, Civics, and Geography over the past two decades despite the increased focus over this time period on math and reading. Unfortunately, there was no significant progress made in recent years. While it could be that improvements will appear in the next iteration of these NAEP assessments, in the meantime policymakers and educators should use these current results to ensure all students are being taught the History, Civics, and Geographic skills they need to obtain a well-rounded education so they can maximize their contribution to society as adults. –Jim Hull

 

The Findings

History

  • Overall scores remained flat since 2010
    • However, 8th graders scored higher in 2014 (267 points) than they did in both 2002 (262 points), and 1994 (259 points).
    • 8th graders are performing nearly a grade level higher in 2014 than they did in 1994.
    • Low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (12 points) between 1994 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile—who gained 4 points.
    • Between 1994 and 2014, 8th graders made significant improvements in three of the four themes assessed—Democracy (13 points), Culture (6 points), and World Role (12 points). They made no significant gains in the Technology theme.
  • There was no change in the percent of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level since 2010 as well.
    • Just 18 percent of 8th graders scored at or above proficient in 2014, which is not significantly different from 2010.
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 (10 percentage points) scored at or above the proficiency level than 8th graders in 1994.
    • Students at this level should be able to incorporate geographic, technological, and other considerations in their understanding of events and should have knowledge of significant political ideas and institutions. They should also be able to communicate ideas about historical themes while citing evidence from primary and secondary sources to support their conclusions.
  • The percent of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic level remained flat as well
    • In 2014 71 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the basic level which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010.
    • Yet, just 61 percent of 8th graders in 1994 scored at or above the basic level.
    • Students scoring at or above this level should also have a beginning understanding of the fundamental political ideas and institutions of American life and their historical origins.
  • All racial/ethnic groups made significant improvements but large gaps remain
    • Eighty-four percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level compared to just 47 percent of black 8th graders and 59 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • However, in 1994 just 70 percent of white, 32 percent of black, and 41 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class
    • Eighty percent of 8th graders said they discuss history in their class at least once a week which is no different from 2010.
    • However, 8th graders in 2014 are more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies/videos, use computers at school for history/social studies, listen to information presented online, and use letters, diaries, or essays written by historical people at least once a week.

 

Civics

  • Overall scores remained relatively unchanged
    • Between 2014 and 2010 scores improved by 3 points but the difference was not statistically significant. Meaning the difference could have happened by chance.
    • However, 8th graders in 2014 performed significantly better (4 points) than 8th graders in both 1998 and 2006.
    • Low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (7 points) between 1998 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile— whose scores did not significantly change.
  • There has been no change in the percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level since 2010 as well.
    • Less than a quarter (23 percent) of 8th graders scored at or above Proficient in 2014, which has remained relatively the same since 1998.
    • Students at this level should understand and be able to explain the purposes that government should serve, as well as be able to describe events within the United States and other countries that have international consequences.
  • The percent of 8th graders scoring at or above the Basic level remained similar.
    • In 2014, 74 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level, which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010 (72 percent).
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 reached the Basic level than 8th graders in 1998 (70 percent).
    • Students scoring at or above this level should have some understanding of competing ideas about the purpose of government. They should also be able to define government, the Constitution, the rule of law and politics and be able to identify the fundamental principles of American democracy and the documents from which they originated.
  • Gaps exist between white 8th graders and their black and Hispanic classmates.
    • Eighty-six percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level compared to just 55 percent of black 8th graders and 61 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • However, in 1998, 78 percent of white, 49 percent of black, and 44 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
    • White and Hispanic 8th graders had significantly more students reach the Basic level in 2014 than in 1998 (8 and 17 percentage point gains, respectively).
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class.
    • Seventy-nine percent of 8th graders said they discussed civics in their class at least once a week, which is no different from 2010.
    • Eighth graders in 2014 were more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies and use computers at school for social studies.
    • However, they are less likely to discuss current events and take part in role-playing, mock trials, or dramas.

 

Geography

  • Overall scores remain flat.
    • Scores have remained relatively unchanged since 1994.
    • However, low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (7 points) between 1994 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile— for whom there were no significant differences.
  • There has been little change in the percentage of 8th graders reaching the proficiency level.  
    • Twenty-seven percent of 8th graders scored at or above Proficient in 2014, which has remained relatively the same since 1994.
    • Students at this level should possess a fundamental geographic vocabulary; understand geography’s analytical concepts; and solve locational questions requiring integration of information from two or more sources.
  • The percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above the Basic level remained similar.
    • In 2014, three-quarters of 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level, which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010 (74 percent).
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 reached the Basic level than 8th graders in 1994 (71 percent).
    • Students scoring at or above this level should possess fundamental knowledge and vocabulary of concepts relating to patterns, relationships, distance, direction, scale, boundary, site, and situation; solve fundamental locational questions using latitude and longitude and interpret simple map scales.
  • Gaps exist between white 8th graders and their black and Hispanic classmates.
    • Eighty-eight percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the basic level compared to less than half (48 percent) of black 8th graders and 61 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • Yet, in 1994, 81 percent of white, 34 percent of black, and 49 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
    • Gaps narrowed from 1994 to 2014 between black and white students by (7 percentage points) and between Hispanic and white students by 12 percentage points.
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class.
    • Seventy-nine percent of 8th graders said they discussed geography in their class at least once a week, which is no different from 2010.
    • Eighth graders in 2014 were more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies, listen to information presented online, and use computers at school for social studies.

 

For more information on NAEP, check out the Center’s report The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Middle school,NAEP,Public education,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 11:22 am





April 17, 2015

Early education: Profiles from 10 states

Sometimes getting and maintaining a job can be difficult enough for some people in poverty. To further make matters complicated, when these people are parents, they additionally have to care for others, their children, which includes finding a preschool or childcare facility to look after their children during the day. To highlight what some states are doing to ensure high-quality early childhood education, the Center for American Progress recently released a series of snapshots profiling early childhood policies in ten states drawing primarily from the research of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER compiles and releases an annual record of early childhood programs across the United States and aids in providing a glimpse at preschool across the nation. In its most recent edition, The State of Preschool 2013 report explains that across the US, the average state spending per child is $4,026. Keep this number in mind as each state is highlighted in turn.

Additionally, general trends are reported that may (or perhaps should) alert many readers. For example, 31 states throughout the nation have annual childcare costs that amount to more than annual community college tuition and fees for in-state students.

Although these states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, & Wisconsin) differ somewhat in both their approach and the quality of their early childhood programming, several findings deserve illumination.

Colorado:

  • For children 6-years-old or younger, 43% live in low-income families.
  • Colorado ranks 37th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,159/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Colorado state preschool programs only meet 6 (out of 10) of NIEER’s benchmarks of (high) quality. Colorado programs could increase quality by requiring preschool teachers to hold a B.A. degree or having preschools offer at least one meal per day, for example.

Florida:

  • Over half (53%) of all children six or younger grow up in low-income households in Florida.
  • Florida ranks 35th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,242/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Florida meets only 3 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Maintaining ratios of 10 children per teacher or less and ensuring that teachers are provided appropriate training and resources are two ways in which these state programs can improve.

Georgia:

  • Fifty-four percent of children less than 6 years of age live in low-income families.
  • Georgia ranks 28th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,599/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although Georgia meets 8 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality, only 4-year-olds are allowed to enroll in preschool. Opening enrollment to 3-year-olds would be a large step forward in terms of assisting those children most at-risk.

Iowa:

  • Roughly 4 out of 10 children (41%) ages six and younger in Iowa grow up in poverty.
  • Iowa ranks 32nd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,674/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Iowa meets only 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Alarmingly, the programs in Iowa only operate for 10 hours per week, having the programs operate on a full-day schedule would likely be a significant improvement for Iowan families.

Michigan:

  • Every other child (50%) under age 6 comes from a low-income family in Michigan.
  • Michigan ranks 18th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,452/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Michigan meets 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. An example of how Michigan programs can improve is by allowing (and ensuring) preschool teachers at least 15 hours of annual in-service training. Additionally, to address earlier issues related to its limited operating schedule, Michigan increased its preschool program to a full-day schedule. Unfortunately, this resulted in fewer enrollments slot available for children.

North Carolina:

  • North Carolina has 1 of 4 state programs across the US that meet all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks of quality.
  • North Carolina ranks 13th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,960/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although North Carolina has placed a large investment in its youngest residents, it is not without need. Roughly 54% of North Carolinian families with children ages six or younger are impoverished and greatly benefit from having high-quality early education programs. Unfortunately, these efforts likely only cover the symptoms and do not address any underlying causes for these families being at-risk, although one could argue that perhaps that is not the purpose of early education.

Nevada:

  • Fifty-two percent of Nevadan families with children 6 or younger live in poverty.
  • Nevada ranks 33rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,397/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Nevada meets only 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Nevada programs can seek higher quality implementation through ensuring that all assistant teachers have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and by providing at least one meal a day to its children.

Ohio:

  • Half of Ohioan families with children 6 or younger are impoverished.
  • Ohio ranks 21st out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,927/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Ohio’s preschool programs meet only 4 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Significant improvements to the state’s early education system will likely be seen if class sizes are kept to below 20 students while maintaining a 1:10 teacher-child ratio. Additionally, requiring teachers to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) will help ensure that Ohio children experience the best in early education.

Virginia:

  • Slightly over one-third (36%) of all families with children under six are living in poverty in Virginia.
  • Virginia ranks 23rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,752/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Virginia meets just 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Noticeable improvements will likely be seen if teachers are required to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and if at least one meal was provided to children per day. Additionally, Virginia does not serve 3-year-olds in the state preschool programs and their inclusion would serve as a substantial improvement to the early education system, although considerable increases in funding would likely be necessary.

Wisconsin:

  • Forty-four percent of the families with children six or younger in Wisconsin are considered low-income.
  • Wisconsin ranks 29th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,366/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Wisconsin preschool programs meet only half of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. State programs would see improvements by requiring assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent), maintaining teacher-child ratios of 1:10 or less, and offering screenings and support services related to vision, hearing, and health.





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!






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