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March 28, 2014

The reality behind homework hysteria

The popular press has been abuzz recently with horror stories about the unreasonable homework burden children are experiencing.  While the idea of a third-grader having to spend 4+ hours on homework each night or an eighth-grader staying up until 1:00 am to finish all of her work certainly grabs the public’s attention, the reality of homework for the average student in the United States is quite different from the angst-ridden, overworked children we see in the press.

Last week The Brown Center for Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education, which included a study of homework. The study addresses how much homework American students truly have; a question that The Brown Center first investigated 11 years ago during another period of heightened homework hysteria.  The original 2003 study found that most of the dramatic claims about homework were unfounded and that the amount of homework students were expected to complete each day had not changed in any significant way.

The results of the 2014 study support this conclusion as well. While these overworked kids and outraged parents we keep hearing about in the press certainly exist, they are much rarer than we are led to believe and are not representative of the typical American family’s experience with homework. According to 2012 NAEP data, only 5% of nine-year-olds, 7% of 13-year-olds, and 13% of 17-year-olds had more than two hours of homework the day before filling out the NAEP student questionnaire.  Compare this to the numbers from the 1984 NAEP, when 6% of nine-year-olds, 9% of 13-year-olds, and 13% of 17-year-olds said they had more than two hours of homework the day before. The NAEP data shows that between 1984 and 2012, homework load has remained quite stagnant. The largest movement has been for nine-year-olds, and that is primarily because students who previously had no homework at all are now receiving some, not because the homework burden has grown substantially during this time period.

The Brown Center’s report also analyzes parent surveys from 1987 and 2007 to determine if parental attitudes toward homework have changed dramatically in that time period. Parents rated both the amount and quality of homework their children received very similarly in 1987 and 2007;  60% of parents polled in 2007 thought schools were giving their children the right amount of homework. This is not exactly the enormous movement of unhappy parents fed up with too much homework that we’ve been reading about in the press.

Figure 23

We know that some students are assigned an overwhelming amount of homework and despite the inconclusive research on homework, some schools continue to assign large amounts of homework to students at all grade levels. However, the reality for most students is that they have a completely manageable amount of homework to complete each day – if any at all.

For more on homework, check out CPE’s Homework Q&A.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: Homework,NAEP,Parents — Patricia Campbell @ 7:47 am

March 20, 2014

Could math be the key to successful prekindergarten?

apple_and_slateboardPrekindergarten has been a hot topic in education for some time now, and with the White House proposing $1.3 billion for Preschool for All grants in the 2015 budget, it is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Various studies have shown the long-term benefits that pre-K can have for children, especially those from low- and moderate-income families. However, many of the studies we continue to cite today as evidence of pre-K’s effectiveness (such as the HighScope Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian Project) are decades old and focus on extremely small and intensive programs. Although these programs clearly illustrate the positive impacts that high-quality prekindergarten can have on children well into the future, they do not single out specific elements made these programs successful.  Furthermore, programs such as these would not be scalable today with how rapidly pre-K programs are expanding in many states.

A new study starting in New York this year hopes to determine what factors contribute to high-quality pre-K programs. “Making Pre-K Count” is following approximately 4,000 prekindergarten students at 69 different school sites throughout New York City and will continue to follow them at least through third grade. Half of the students will be taught using a math curriculum called Building Blocks, which has shown in short-term studies to improve the math and verbal skills of young children. Math is not something that is traditionally emphasized in prekindergarten classes, but some research indicates that developing math skills early can predict math and reading achievement well into elementary school, as well as help students learn to persevere academically. Children who maintain these early math skills are also more likely to graduate from high school and pursue a postsecondary education. There is also a professional development piece to the Building Blocks curriculum, with teaching coaches visiting prekindergarten classes weekly to help teachers implement the curriculum and advise them on the use of formative assessments

While we know there are benefits to high-quality prekindergarten, there has been much debate recently about what “high-quality” actually means.  The rapid expansion of pre-K programs throughout the country makes more up to date research on what types of programs are effective a necessity. A study like Making Pre-K Count will surely be expensive and time consuming, but has the potential to lead to some real breakthroughs on what an effective, scalable prekindergarten model looks like in the 21st century.

For more information about the impact high quality prekindergarten can have on students check out CPE’s Pre-K research here.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: CPE,Pre-k,research — Tags: , — Patricia Campbell @ 1:16 pm

March 10, 2014

CPE now accepting applications for summer internship program

The Center for Public Education CPE seeks a policy research intern to work closely with the Center’s senior policy analyst in conducting education policy research to be published on CPE’s website. In fact, a number of intern’s have had their research cited in the national media.

CPE is a national resource for accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools.

Primary duties include: Produce a report to be published by CPE as well as assist in the research of CPE’s next original research report, summarize findings of significant education reports on CPE’s blog, update the previous reports, and attend briefings/conferences in the Washington, DC area. Previous interns have produced reports on such topics as credit recovery programs, effective professional development and preparing high school graduates to succeed in college.

Job qualifications: A graduate or undergraduate student studying education policy, public policy, statistics, economics, or a related field. The student should also have a strong interest in education policy and research.

The internship begins in late May and concludes in August and requires a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week. The internship is unpaid. However, CPE will work with your school to satisfy any requirements for you to receive course credit.

Send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to: Jim Hull 1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 or e-mail to jhull@nsba.org with the subject line Policy Research Intern. Please contact Jim Hull at 703-838-6758 or jhull@nsba.org with any questions about the internship.

Filed under: CPE — Jim Hull @ 1:20 pm

March 7, 2014

Big changes coming for the SAT – What do they really mean?

Big changes coming for the SAT – What do they really mean?

On Wednesday, the College Board announced a major overhaul of the SAT in what will be the second revision of the college entrance exam in less than ten years. Substantial changes include:

  • The test will again be scored out of 1600, and the penalty for guessing will be eliminated
  • Some of the more obscure vocabulary words are being thrown out and replaced with words that are commonly used in the academic and professional worlds
  • The essay portion of the test will now be optional and source-based, and students choosing to complete it will have 50 minutes, rather than 25, to do so
  • Math questions will focus on three main areas: problem solving and data analysis, algebra, and real-world math related to the design, technology, and engineering fields

Perhaps the most substantial change is that the new test will be closely aligned with what high schools are teaching.  It will require students to analyze nonfiction texts, build an argument using evidence, and apply math concepts to real life situations; all skills that are emphasized in the Common Core State Standards. The alignment between the new SAT and the CCSS is not surprising, as David Coleman, a key architect of the Common Core, now serves as President of the College Board. The goal for the redesign was to create an SAT that is more transparent, focused, and closely tied to the work that students do in school every day. The College Board believes the test should move toward evidence-based thinking and reinforcing the skills that students should have already learned in high school, and move away from the need for test taking tips, tricks, and strategies that make the test prep industry so profitable and allow affluent students whose families can afford expensive tutors and intense coaching to “game” to SAT. The College Board is also partnering with Kahn Academy to offer free online test preparation materials in an attempt to level the playing field for SAT-takers and curb exorbitant spending on test prep.

While the College Board’s goal of reducing inequality is certainly admirable, we have to ask – how much will these changes really matter? The SAT is becoming less and less relevant in college admissions decisions now that over 800 colleges and universities have “test optional” admissions policies.  Even among students who are still required to submit test scores for college admissions, the SAT is declining in popularity. For the last two years more students have chosen the ACT over the SAT for their college admissions test (although this could change now that both tests focus on what students have learned in school).  I am also relatively unconvinced that changing the test will rein in the culture of test prep hysteria among parents. This new SAT might be more difficult to “teach to” but that’s not going to stop affluent parents from purchasing every book, tutor, or service that might help their children gain an edge. Changing the test is not going to kill the test prep industry, as the College Board seems to hope it might.

The bright spot seems to be that the test is moving toward aligning with what students are actually learning in school. Since high school grades are routinely given more weight in college admissions, it just makes sense to test students on material that matches up with what they have learned, rather than arcane words they may never see again after SAT day. This realignment and the availability of free online prep materials are steps in the right direction, even if they don’t substantially change the culture of college test preparation. — Patricia Cambell

Filed under: Assessments,college,Common Core,High school — Patricia Campbell @ 1:14 pm

March 6, 2014

Lessons from Common Core Early Implementers

We’ve talked a lot in this space about the Common Core State Standards – what they are, what they will change, and why some are concerned about them. But as we approach the four year anniversary of the CCSS being released, it’s time to turn our attention to how they are being implemented and what the rest of the country can learn from some of the earliest implementers.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers, which looks at some of the successes and challenges that four early implementing districts are facing. The districts featured in this report are Kenton County (KY), Metro Nashville (TN), Illinois District 54 (Schaumburg area), and Washoe County (Reno, NV), which show the diversity in size and structure of districts who have been working to implement the Common Core since the very beginning.

One key finding was that teachers and principals are extremely important in helping the public understand the Common Core. A May 2013 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll found that 62% of American adults had never even heard of the CCSS, making it even more important that teachers and administrators communicate their belief in the Common Core to their students and their students’ parents. Effective implementation should involve frequent communication between parents and educators about what will change in the classroom during the transition to the CCSS. Major public opinion challenges are likely to come up as implementation continues, and teachers and principals who know the standards well and can articulate both why they are important and how they are different from previous standards will have a leg up in helping parents and the greater community to understand the CCSS just as Kentucky did when they rolled out the Common Core.

One significant challenge that the early implementing districts faced (and others will likely continue to face for at least the next year or so) is the lack of appropriate CCSS-aligned curricular materials available. It takes time to develop high quality textbooks and materials, and districts are rightfully concerned about spending limited funds on materials that might not be truly aligned with the new standards. Even districts that have completely overhauled their curriculum under the Common Core are still using at least some of their old materials – or relying on teachers to work together to create their own materials aligned with the new standards.

This study found that professional development for teachers is also a bit patchy under the CCSS. The four early implementing districts here used master teachers and instructional coaches who worked with the authors of the standards themselves and used tools created by the authors to develop professional development plans for their schools. However, the quality of instructional coaching on the new standards is inconsistent.  While some specialists are able to help teachers analyze student work under the new standards immediately and effectively, others add little value or fail to fully understand how to apply the CCSS themselves.

These four early implementing districts give us a glimpse into what is to come for many more districts over the next few years as Common Core implementation continues. Schools have been put in the very difficult position of trying to implement new standards before a quality curriculum or appropriate professional development plan relating to these standards is completely in place, but as time passes materials will become available and schools more adept and will move toward full implementation of the CCSS.  These early implementers show that even with relatively limited resources, a dedicated staff that can articulate the need for and benefits of the Common Core Standards can be an important first step in getting a district and community on board for major changes. If political opposition to the Common Core continues (and it likely will as implementation ramps up across the country), teachers and administrators in early implementing districts can be some of the Common Core’s best and most knowledgeable advocates.

Have questions about the Common Core Standards? Check out CPE’s FAQ about the Common Core, or for articles, presentations, and more, visit CPE’s Common Core Resource page.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: Common Core — Patricia Campbell @ 10:52 am

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