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September 21, 2017

Closing the achievement gap means closing the word gap

The achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers has been well documented and can start even when students enter their first day of kindergarten.  In the elementary school I taught at in Tulsa, OK, I saw students come in and perform below grade level on their kindergarten benchmark assessment at the beginning of the school year.  This prompted many to ask, how can students already be behind this early in their school careers.

One factor is word exposure or the number of words infants hear per day. A research study by Hart and Risley found that low income infants hear many fewer words per day than their middle and high-income peers, totaling to about a 30 million word difference by the age of three. They also found a relationship between the number of words students heard as infants and toddlers and their development of vocabulary and language skills years later.  Several other research studies have confirmed these original findings adding to the notion that word exposure in infancy and toddlerhood is an important component to closing the achievement gap.

Several states or groups have developed and tested different initiatives to address the word gap and increase awareness for parents and communities.  Providence, RI implemented the Providence Talks intervention program to help parents track their word usage around their children.  A word pedometer was clipped onto each child which counted the number of words spoken and conversation changes between the care giver and the child in both Spanish and English.  In addition, families were matched with an in-home coach that would come and go over the data gathered each week with the parent and brainstorm different ways families could expose children to more words and make everyday activities teachable moments.  This program was a success in Providence with 60% of children hearing more words at the end of the program compared to the beginning, and 97% of the parents saying they were satisfied or highly satisfied with the program.

Another intervention program was the 30 Million Words Initiative. Tested in the South Side of Chicago, the initiative also involved tracking words through a device that counts the number of words children hear.  The researchers gave each child a word tracking device and randomly selected half the participants to receive eight weekly one hour home visits to go over the data collected and for educational training sessions for families. The other half received eight weekly nutrition interventional home visits where the data from the word counter was not discussed.  The results showed that the group that participated in home visits that talked about different strategies to increase word exposure and tracked the data each week had significantly increased their talk and interaction with children.

This demonstrates the importance of in-home meetings where families are coached and can see the impact of these changes in the data from the wordometers.  The guiding philosophy of the 30 million Words Initiative states that parents are children’s first and most important teacher.  To tackle the overall achievement gap, we need to start with parents.  Real gains can be achieved if parents are given the tools to help their children gain academic success.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Early Childhood,equity,Parents — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 12:09 pm





September 19, 2017

New report details history of school vouchers in US

The Center For American Progress (CAP) recently released a report on the history of vouchers in the United States, a reform strategy that has garnered renewed interest in the Trump Administration, despite it’s murky origins and outcomes.

Image result for prince edward county protest

The report begins by referencing a 1951 strike organized by black high school students in Virginia’s Prince Edward County who were lobbying for a new school with improved facilities and resources. The students were convinced, with the help of lawyers and the NAACP, to sue the district for segregation. Their story was a classic example of the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that allowed racial segregation to flourish even after the abolishment of slavery and it was cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.  After the Supreme Court ruled that public schools had to integrate black students, many districts found ways to get around the verdict. Prince Edward was one of the most extreme examples of the lengths some communities went to avoid adhering to the law.

The county decided to drastically decrease public education spending to the minimum $150,000 and shut down all public schools in 1959. The closure lasted for five years.  Officials thought if public schools weren’t open, they couldn’t be integrated. During this five year period the state offered tuition grants, specifically for white students, to attend schools in neighboring counties.  The white residents of Prince Edward also came together and built a private school, Prince Edward Academy, that was only for white students.  Between 1959 and 1964 some black families sent their children to schools outside of county lines or even outside of the state to live with relatives, but most were forced to go five years without any kind of formal education.  The tuition grants were specifically designed to sustain the idea of segregation in Prince Edward County and the entire state of Virginia where public money was being used to help only a handful of students.

Today, vouchers still do not help most students achieve a quality education.  There are 49 million public school students but there are not 49 million vouchers to be offered. While current voucher programs do not segregate students by race in such an obvious way as those of the past, many still see segregation as an unintended consequence.  Public schools have legislation attached to them to address racially isolated schools but vouchers do not have the same civil rights legislation attached to their policies.  The research on vouchers today suggest that, in general, more vouchers are associated with more segregation in national and international studies.

The consequence of increased segregation from vouchers directly opposes the current beliefs about school diversity.  In the recent PDK poll on the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, 70% of the parents surveyed would prefer sending their children to a racially diverse school.  The data shows that the majority of public opinion has drastically changed regarding integration in schools, so it is time for our policies to reflect this transformation by learning from episodes like the one in Prince Edward County and moving forward.






September 14, 2017

New research: High-stakes tests influence teacher assignment decisions, impacting long-term student achievement

A new study released last month raises potential concerns about the ways in which teacher assignment decisions may impact student achievement. The study, which included data from the Miami-Dade County Public School district between 2003-2012, examined whether less-effective teachers were assigned to untested grades, and how those assignments affect students’ long-term academic achievement.

Previous studies have found that principals do take into account students’ academic growth when making decisions about teacher grade level assignments. One major factor in this decision is student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. Additionally, there has been evidence that less-effective teachers are more likely to be re-assigned to a low-stakes, untested classroom for the following school year. To further clarify whether teachers are re-assigned based on test scores, researchers measured the effect that a teacher has on students’ test score growth year over year. (Low-stakes tests given across the M-DCPS district were used to measure academic growth at the K-2 level.) They then examined the relationship between student test score growth and teacher grade level assignment in the following school year.

Researchers found that highly effective teachers in grades K-2, grades in which students are not subject to state tests, were more likely to be reassigned to grades three to five —tested, high-stakes grades— in the following school year. In contrast, highly effective teachers in third through fifth grades were unlikely to be reassigned to an untested grade. However, their lower-performing peers those third, fourth and fifth-grade teachers whose students made the least progress were more likely to be assigned to an untested K-2 grade in the following year. Researchers believe that by reassigning less-effective teachers out of tested grades, principals hope to improve student test scores over the short term. But what are the long-term consequences of concentrating the least-effective teachers in the “low-stakes” grades?

Though high-stakes standardized testing at the elementary level is focused in grades three through five, foundational skills learned in grades K-2, such as basic math and early literacy, drive success at all levels. After finding that lower-performing teachers are more likely to be reassigned to an untested grade, the researchers examined the effect that the resulting concentration of less-effective K-2 teachers could have on a student’s long-term achievement. Second graders taught by a teacher who had recently been reassigned from a tested grade had significantly lower gains in both literacy and math than their peers taught by teachers who had not been reassigned. Crucially, these effects carried into the following school year: a student taught by a recently reassigned teacher in second grade would also have lower third grade scores than their peers, reflecting a gap equivalent to having been taught by a first-year teacher during the second grade.

Clustering the least-effective teachers in untested grades— particularly K-2, where foundational skills like reading are taught— may have long-term consequences for student learning. Researchers have found that despite these lower gains for students over the long term, principals tend to focus on short-term staffing needs, and concentrate the highest-performing teachers in high-stakes, tested grades. These findings should raise questions for any district: How are student test scores used in staffing decisions, and how do those decisions affect student learning long term?






September 12, 2017

CPE busts myth of one-size-fits-all public school in new report

In a room packed with Congressional staff members, media, and policymakers today, the Center for Public Education released its latest report, Busting the Myth of One-Size-Fits-All Public Education. The study is an original analysis of federal survey data that aims to learn what educational opportunities and options exist in public schools. This was done, of course, against the backdrop of school choice, two words that have dominated discourse on public education lately, despite being somewhat vague and misunderstood among the general public.

For instance, did you know that school choice (i.e. a variety of programs and offerings) are in abundant supply in your very own public school? That’s what we discovered in digging into the latest survey data administered by the National Center on Education Statistics, which queried not only public school staff but private school staff on the types of programs that exist in their schools. While the data was limited in many areas, we were able to arrive at some fairly substantial findings:

• Public high schools offer more educational and extracurricular options for students including the arts, Advanced Placement, gifted or honors classes, and distance learning opportunities than private schools.

• Public schools are more likely to offer afterschool child care and tutoring or enrichment activities.

• School counselors play a key role in students’ learning and care: Eighty percent of public schools have at least one part-time counselor compared to only 32 percent of private schools.

• The vast majority of public high schools offer access to hands-on college experience with almost all (98 percent) offering career preparation.

And there are other intriguing discoveries to be found in our report, but if there is one thing we hope you takeaway from our study it’s that school choice and public schools are not mutually exclusive. In fact, students are more likely to find more opportunities to chart their own learning path in public schools than in private schools. And we know this based on the data available. Remember data is key to making informed decisions.






September 7, 2017

PDK Poll: Public school parents highlight value of interpersonal skills, career preparation

The 49th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, released last week, highlights a shift in public opinion away from standard measures of school quality based solely on academic achievement. Instead, today’s parents favor alternate measures—including instruction in skills like cooperation, respect, and problem solving—that reflect the changing role of the public school. This shift is accompanied by a near record high opinion of the nation’s public schools, with one in seven respondents giving their local public schools an ‘A’ grade. This is the highest level since 1974, and reflects a significant jump over the past decade, with the portion of ‘A’ grades up 9% since 2007. Parents of students attending a public school—those most familiar with the quality of schools today—are even more complimentary, with 62% giving their local public schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

Throughout the poll, respondents continually indicated the importance of nontraditional measures of school quality. As the role of today’s public school has grown to include resources and instruction outside of traditional academics, Americans have begun to perceive these offerings as measures of school quality. Parallel to this trend is the fact that nearly half (49%) of public school parents polled no longer feel that standardized tests measure the things that it is important for their child to learn. Respondents to PDK’s polling diminished the overall importance of standardized tests, with just 6% identifying student performance on standardized tests as the most important factor in school quality. Instead, parents expressed a shift toward valuing skills outside of the traditional academic curriculum, citing the availability of technology and engineering classes and instruction in interpersonal skills as particular indicators of school quality. Respondents showed especially broad-based support for providing students with instruction in interpersonal skills, with 82% of respondents saying that teaching skills like cooperation, respect, and persistence is very or extremely important.

Parents’ enthusiasm for nontraditional measures of school quality extends outside of the traditional classroom environment, with approximately 7 in 10 respondents highlighting the need for extracurricular activities and art and music classes. Respondents also placed high value on preparing students for life after high school through instruction in practical job skills not covered in the standard curriculum. More than eight in ten Americans (82%) support classes focused on job or career skills, and 86% support local schools offering certificate or licensing programs to qualify students for future work. Today’s parents recognize all that can be learned in the public school setting through career training, arts education, and extracurricular activities, and value those interpersonal and other nonacademic skills highly when evaluating school quality.

Americans’ support for nontraditional offerings encompasses more than just instruction in interpersonal and career skills. The vast majority of respondents supported wraparound support programs, which expand the role of the public school to meet the needs of the whole child. Nine in ten respondents (92%) expressed support for after-school programs, with strong majorities also supporting the provision of mental health (87%), general health (79%), and dental (65%) services in public schools. Notably, about three-quarters of Americans said that public schools providing these wraparound supports should be able to seek additional funding. The majority of respondents recognized the value of additional wraparound supports in public schools that go beyond the traditional curriculum. Along with other nonacademic factors like interpersonal skills and job training, wraparound supports are becoming part of Americans’ increasingly positive image of the local public school.

Throughout this year’s PDK Poll, Americans emphasized the importance of the factors outside of traditional academic achievement in their perception of school quality. Today’s public school offers many services beyond traditional classroom instruction, and parents are embracing the expanding definition of a public school community. As more Americans recognize the value of a public school education, the local public school now receives an ‘A’ grade at the highest rate in more than 40 years.






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