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January 14, 2016

Graduation Rates are High: Goal Met?

It’s now no secret that graduation rates have hit an all-time high of 82%, and as our previous blog post reminds us, the rate is even higher when we count students who took more than 4 years to earn their diploma. But, what does a high school diploma today mean? Unfortunately, as Robert Pondiscio at the Thomas Fordham Institute points out, SAT scores have dropped, the recent NAEP performance has seen a slight decrease, and there is a growing need for higher education institutions to offer remedial courses.

The newest report from Achieve – Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts reiterates the point that while more high school students are earning diplomas, these students are not necessarily adequately prepared for the next stage of their lives. In fact, over half of college-going students will have to take at least one remedial English or math course. In addition, less than half of college-goers actually graduate and 60 percent of employers report that high school graduates are lacking the necessary basic skills.

In light of this, we may need to tamper the excitement of rising high school graduation rates. Rather, we need to focus on making a high school diploma more meaningful. Students who graduate high school must be college and/or career ready. This is the next wave of reform. Many organizations, including Achieve, are working to create high school standards that are better aligned with the skills students need to be successful in college and career. The first part of this means to raise the standards for high school students to graduate and work to bridge the gap in academic expectations between high school and college. The second part is to include more career readiness skills in the high school curriculum. CPE’s report “The Path Least Taken” highlights the need for non-college-going students to have the necessary skills to achieve economic success. There is much debate about what career readiness skills are and where schools will find time in the school day to teach them (ex. Financial literacy, email etiquette, personal responsibility etc.). The conversation around that will, and should, continue.

Achieve advocates for including more “real world tasks” as assessments in schools. This is critical. Teachers will all agree on the difficulty of getting students to see the purpose behind the content they learn in classes, which in turn effects their engagement in class. Students don’t see the relevancy of Algebra II, English, Physics, etc. in real life or believe they will ever need those skills in the workplace. Standards, tests, and curriculum can be better aligned with real-world examples and projects so that students are more engaged in the learning. Higher levels of engagement will lead to retention of material and consequently higher academic performance in high school and beyond.

In sum, it is laudable that high school graduation rates are improving. But there is still much work to be done to raise the actual academic performance of the students and make sure that a diploma accurately represents a readiness for life beyond high school. -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: Career Readiness,CPE,Graduation rates,High school,NAEP,Public education — Breanna Higgins @ 1:30 pm





January 13, 2016

Introducing CPE’s New Intern

Hello! My name is Breanna Higgins and I am the newest intern for the Center for Public Education. I will be posting weekly on the Edifier about various topics of interest and the latest in education research and policy.

I am currently a doctoral student at The George Washington University pursuing an Education Policy degree. My specific areas of interest are in: K-12, secondary schooling, urban school reform, extended school programs, innovative teaching and grading methods, and teacher preparation programs. As my interests reach far and wide so too will this blog in the hopes of reaching the interests of a wide audience.

Before beginning my doctorate program I was a teacher in Boston for five years. I taught high school history, primarily, but was also licensed and taught many ELLs and special education students. I have taught all grade levels from 9-12 and worked in both a traditional Boston Public School as well as a charter school. In addition to being a teacher, I was the Athletic Director for the past three years and worked hard to ensure that students had access to extracurricular programming and athletics (something that can be hard to come by in a city with little space available).

Although I loved my students, I wanted to enact bigger change to a system that I saw as flawed in many ways. I wanted the space and time to study the policies that are affecting schools, teachers, and students. I wanted to understand the how and why behind their creation as well as methods of implementation which often determine whether or not a policy succeeds. I believe that my background as a teacher allows me to view policies with a critical eye to how the policy directly affects the classroom.

I hope that this blog will highlight new and important trends and research in education as well as present a unique perspective that blends teacher, student, and policy analyst.–Breanna Higgins

Filed under: CPE — Breanna Higgins @ 3:19 pm





December 15, 2015

It’s Official: HS Grad Rates Hit another All-Time High

I feel like am beginning to sound like a broken record as I seem to keep repeating “HS Grad Rates Hit another All-Time High”. Once again this is true as the U.S. Department of Education made it official today that the on-time high school graduation rate for the class of 2013-14 reached 82 percent.

This news does not come as much of a surprise since preliminary results back in October showed most states increased their graduation rates, but it is still worth celebrating. After decades of data showing graduation rates stuck around the 70 percent mark rates have increased significantly in just the last decade alone.

Keep in mind, however, the 82 percent actually understates how many students earn a high school diploma. That’s because the 82 percent is simply the on-time rate, meaning, only those students who entered 9th grade and graduated four years later are counted as graduates. But as our Better Late Than Never report showed, including those students who needed more than four years to earn a standard diploma or better would likely increase the graduation rate to around 87 percent — just a few percentage points shy of the 90 percent mark and a goal that seemed unattainable just a decade ago.

 

Unfortunately, not all states currently report data that includes late graduates so it is not possible to get a true national graduation rate. But the late grads are students who should be recognized for meeting the same requirements as their classmates who graduated on-time. And schools and districts should be recognized as well for identifying these students who fell behind their classmates and providing the support to them and their teachers to get them back on-track to earn a high school diploma. As our report showed, earning a high school diploma, even if it takes more than four years, significantly improves the chances a student will find success after high school. And both students and schools should be encouraged and rewarded for graduating all students who earn a high school diploma, not just those who did so within four years—Jim Hull

Filed under: Data,Graduation rates,High school,Public education — Jim Hull @ 1:47 pm





December 10, 2015

The future of using student achievement measures to evaluate teachers

With the president signing the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law today the days of the No Child Left Behind Act waivers (NCLB) as well as Race to the Top grants (RTTT) have officially come to an end. The elimination of these programs also ends the ‘incentive’ for states to evaluate teachers based, at least in part, on measures of student achievement. Keep in mind, however, over 40 states currently evaluate teachers partially on their students’ achievement.

Less than a decade ago this was far from the case. Prior to NCLB waivers and RTTT only a small number of districts included student achievement measures when they evaluated their teachers.  In fact, a number of states prohibited using these measures in evaluation as a matter of law.

More recently, NCLB waivers and RTTT grants provided ‘incentives’ to include student achievement measures as a significant portion of how teachers are evaluated. In response, the vast majority of states have made significant changes to their teacher evaluation systems. However, developing these new evaluation systems was no easy task. In fact, most states have just recently fully implemented such systems and some are still in the process of doing so.  So it is far too early to tell what impact these new evaluation systems have had on teachers and student learning.

Now that federal ‘incentives’ have been lifted, the question is will the states stay the course when it comes to evaluating teachers or will they shift gears? Of course, only time will tell but with the pushback against testing in a number of states I’m guessing at least some states will change their evaluation system, especially as it pertains to including student achievement measures.

Yet, even if states pull back on linking teachers’ ratings to student performance, these systems are likely to be significantly better than what states had in place prior to NCLB waivers and RTTT. As discussed in our Trends in Teacher Evaluation report, for decades most evaluation systems were little more than a bureaucratic exercise that failed to recognize either excellence or mediocrity in teaching. This is no longer the case. States have vastly improved their teacher evaluation systems in recent years and not just by including measures of student achievement. Nearly every state has vastly improved the way classroom observations are conducted. Now it’s the norm for teachers to be observed every year–in many cases, multiple times a year—and then provided immediate feedback to inform and improve their instruction. Moreover, nearly every state now evaluates teachers on multiple measures even when tests scores are not used. Such indicators include the quality of their lesson plans, feedback from their students, and the quality of their classroom assignments among others. These measures are then combined to provide a more accurate measure of a teacher’s true effectiveness as well as provide valuable information to help teachers improve their instruction.

States and districts have worked extremely hard over the past several years to design and implement these new teacher evaluation systems so it is unlikely they will be going to back to the old days when teachers were evaluated every couple of years and rarely provided useful information. While including objective measures of student achievement like test scores can be a valuable part of an effective teacher evaluation system, the new evaluation systems even without the student link are much more likely to accurately identify effective teachers as well as provide useful information to improve instruction. And that is good news for all teachers and students. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 1:42 pm





December 9, 2015

Some urban districts are ‘choice-friendly.’ So what?

The Fordham Institute today released a ranking of 30 cities according to which ones were the most “friendly” in terms of encouraging and supporting school choice. Topping the list is New Orleans followed by Washington DC and Denver – the only cities to receive an overall grade of B or better.

So what did these cities do to earn these bragging rights? Fordham scored each city on 50 indicators in three domains:

Political support based on interviews with local policymakers and important stakeholders;

Policy environment that, among other things, places no limits on the number of charters, funds them adequately and has quality controls in place; and

Quantity and quality
of choices.

Fordham apparently doesn’t grade on a curve. Almost half of the cities earned Cs and nearly as many got Ds. Albany NY, has the distinction of earning the only F. According to the authors, landing at the bottom of the list means you were deemed “downright hostile” to school choice.

I suppose this is useful information if you are a school choice advocate (Hey, LA: not looking so good with that C-!). But for those who are ambivalent, the ranking omits an important piece of information: how well the city’s schools perform. We’re Americans. Of course we think choice is good. But mostly what parents want are good schools. And being “choice friendly” is no guarantee the choices will be better.

Consider that Charlotte NC and Austin TX are the top-performing urban districts in the nation. Their 2015 NAEP scores in math were not just higher than other participating districts, they were higher than the overall average for the nation as a whole. According to Fordham, neither is a choice-friendly city. Charlotte and Austin respectively ranked 27th and 29th out of the 30 cities in the report. On the other hand, Detroit ranked in the top 10 yet produced the lowest scores in the NAEP urban sample.

This is not to say being “choice friendly” caused low performance. DC, for example, has been one of the highest improving districts in the country on NAEP and was ranked second on Fordham’s list. But it does show that choice for choice sake is not a school improvement strategy. For more evidence see our recent report on school choice.

To its credit, the Fordham Institute advocates for more accountability for student results in the design of choice programs. I also recognize the limitations in the available data. But ranking on “choice friendly” policies doesn’t tell the public what they really need to know: is this helping all students succeed? From what we have found, the promise of school choice has been largely oversold.

Filed under: Charter Schools,NAEP,vouchers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 4:46 pm





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