Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

July 11, 2016

STEM has become the Beyoncè of the curriculum

STEM is steadily earning a place as the dazzling star in the high school curriculum and for good reason. The benefit of high-level science and math courses to later success in college, jobs, and even to healthy living is well-established (see, for example, here and here). But while the importance of STEM is unquestioned, we do risk allowing it to outshine other disciplines that may lack the same predictive value, but in their own unique ways contribute as much to preparing students for productive and fulfilling adulthood.

QueenBeyHow does Beyoncè fit into this? Right now, the Queen Bey touch predicts success like nothing else in popular culture. She drops a surprise album. Billboard gold. An hour-long music video? Three months later, critics still gush about it. She has the president on speed dial. Sure, we will sometimes weep with Adele, get uptown funky, or tell someone to shut up and dance with us. But the spotlight will inevitably draw our eyes back to Beyoncè.

STEM seems to have that same power in education policy discussions, often leaving the humanities and the arts as afterthoughts. This is not to suggest that course-taking in these other subjects are declining. Actually, high school seniors are earning more credits in all subjects. But we also don’t talk about English, history and the arts as much as we do STEM when we call for improving the curriculum.

Why do STEM courses get all the attention? I can think of a couple of reasons. The first is one, we at CPE, probably encourage, albeit not intentionally. Fact is, the evidence in support of high-level science and math is much stronger than it is for courses in other subjects. We therefore point more often to STEM subjects when writing about what works. Everything else gets short shrift by default.

A second possible reason is that the needs of the workforce often drive the conversation about the content of education we provide students. Technical jobs are leading the pack among fastest growing occupations, so we want to make sure our young people are prepared for them.

But the thing is, the research doesn’t necessarily say that STEM courses have more benefits than the humanities. What we do know is that it is easier for analysts to draw a line between science and math curriculum to college and career outcomes, particularly when the analysis is based on course titles. We can infer that a course named Algebra II, for example, is higher level than one called Business Math. But we typically don’t have a similar proxy to distinguish one English 4 course from another.

However, we can look to postsecondary education for some fairly strong hints about the importance of a well-rounded curriculum – one that emphasizes the humanities and arts as much as STEM. After all, exposure to a range of subject matter is an essential ingredient in the development of literacy skills, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems.  Entering college freshmen who lack these abilities are at a serious disadvantage. Barely one-third of freshmen who require remedial reading courses can expect to eventually earn a two- or four-year degree compared to 45 percent of students requiring remedial math and 56 percent who do not take any remedial courses at all.

Those who make it through continue to be served well by a broad-based general education along with their major. A session at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival specifically addressed business majors’ need for the liberal arts. One of the panelists cited a 2014 study from the Collegiate Learning Assessment – a national college assessment of critical thinking and writing – that found “business, health, and education majors substantially underperformed students in the humanities, sciences, social sciences and engineering” as seniors, even after controlling for students’ abilities’ levels when entering college. Rachel Reiser in the business school at Boston University went on to say that the skills businesses want include attributes developed through the liberal arts — “the ability to think, the ability to write, the ability to understand the cultural or historical context of whatever business decision they’re making.”

The evidence for the humanities and arts may not be as compelling as it is for STEM in high school, but I think it’s enough to make the case for giving them a prominent place in the curriculum. And let’s not forget that college and career readiness is just one part of public schools’ mission. We also want graduates to be prepared to be good citizens and enjoy satisfying lives. Beyoncè will still command our attention. But let’s leave room for some others, too, who we can love just as much.






June 17, 2016

Some advice for students as they contemplate the future

graduation-jubilationAs we approach the end of the school year, education news coverage has turned reflective, with many articles expounding on what worked and what didn’t before predictably throwing in a dash of what could be.

One of the more unique voices I read within this familiar set-up, was a high school student from Seattle, Ronnie Estoque. A junior at Cleveland High School, Estoque is an aspiring journalist (I think he’s got a bright future), who drew me in with the headline “Why I’m unsure project-based learning prepares students for college.”

In 2010, Estoque explains, Cleveland restructured its curriculum and instruction to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and project-based learning or PBL.

Group work and projects are the backbone of PBL and while his high school adopted this form of learning and instruction to prepare students for the workplace, Estoque worried, that it was not preparing students well enough for college.

He interviewed two Cleveland alum, who as current freshmen at the University of Washington relayed how the college experience seemed to be more about independent learning and class work.

While some have proclaimed PBL as the end-all-be-all, as a way to engage students, apply deeper learning, instill soft skills like collaboration and connect abstract subject matter to real life problems, it has its flaws, namely, that some students will coast leaving all the hard work to others.

“The one thing I hated was that they (teachers) didn’t enforce student accountability during projects,” Linda Chen, a Cleveland High grad told Estoque. “Most of the time it was me just doing all the work and someone else taking the credit.”

That wasn’t standard practice in all classrooms, however, and Estoque gave a shout out to one teacher who allowed his students to “fire” classmates who weren’t pulling their weight. But Estoque worried not enough teachers held students accountable and that this may ultimately set the less industrious ones up for failure when they got to college.

There’s a lot to unpack in Estoque’s thought-provoking piece.

To begin with, he’s right: educators should have high standards for all students. And when utilizing a learning model like PBL, schools should build in ways to ensure that all students are performing at their best and if they’re not, there is a way to get them back on track and ultimately accept responsibility for their own learning and growth.

Because that is really the outcome we desire. It’s not necessarily college-readiness because college is a pit stop on the way to a career, not a destination unto itself. And it’s not solely about career-readiness because a job, while a big part of someone’s life, is not the totality of it.

What high schools should be preparing students for is to be life-long learners, that is, to grasp every opportunity no matter how mundane and tedious, as a lesson to be absorbed and applied.

You see, I’ve got a lesson I’d like to share with Estoque and his classmates: you will never get away from people who will try to do the bare minimum. Your challenge is to learn from these experiences, so that you get the maximum out of these interactions. When you adopt that kind of mentality, you will be a success regardless of where you land and what life throws your way.

Class dismissed.

Filed under: Career Readiness,college,CPE,High school — Tags: , — NDillon @ 10:22 am





June 8, 2016

High-level academics+CTE = Success in college and work

This entry also appeared on CPE Director Patte Barth’s Huffington Post page

Colonial School District straddles the boundary where suburban Wilmington gives way to Delaware’s rural eastern shore. Its one high school, William Penn, serves a racially diverse population, about 40 percent of whom come from low-income families. Penn is a model for getting kids ready for life after graduation. Ninth-graders who enter its doors are asked to choose among 19 “degree programs” — essentially, career tracks ranging from construction to engineering — that will be their focus for the next four years. But there’s one choice they don’t have to make: Whether their “degree” will prepare them for college or the workforce. At William Penn, all graduates will be ready for both.

During a recent visit there, I spoke with a senior in the school’s culinary arts program who exemplifies the Penn way. In addition to his studies in the busy kitchen, which doubles as a student-run catering business, he has six AP courses under his belt along with his industry certification. Elsewhere in the building I saw physics being taught in a wood shop, while in another more traditional classroom, 11th-graders explored issues of race and equality in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story “Harrison Bergeron.”

Our studies at the Center for Public Education show that William Penn High School’s approach can be a winning formula for all students. For the last two years, our senior policy analyst, Jim Hull, has been examining longitudinal data on the high school graduating class of 2004 in order to identify factors related to later economic and social outcomes for individuals who do not go to college. The findings have been published in a series of reports we call “The Path Least Taken“ which reflects our initial discovery that non-college goers represent a small proportion of high school graduates. At age 26, only about one in ten had never enrolled in a college.

Like many other studies, we found that going to college is generally better than not going at all. Enrollment in a two- or four-year institution increases the chances that individuals will be employed full-time, earn higher wages, as well as vote and volunteer in their communities. As an overall group, non-college goers faced the dimmest prospects. But not all of them.

By drilling into the data, Hull found that some non-college goers fared well in comparison. These individuals in high school had taken high-level math and science, earned a C+ grade point average, and completed an “occupational concentration” of at least three courses in a specific labor market area. Throw in a professional license or certificate and these 26-year-olds performed better economically than the overall group of their peers who had enrolled in college. We labeled this combination of attributes “high credentials.”

Chart3“High credentials” also boosted prospects for high school grads who went to college, but didn’t earn a degree.

Compared to their peers who also left college early but lacked high-level courses and focused career training in high school, those with high credentials saw much better chances for higher wages and good jobs.

The implications of these findings for education policy couldn’t be clearer. Schools need to assure that all high school students have the benefit of high-level academics and get the support they may need to succeed in these courses. Students also need access to modernized career and technical education (CTE), including programs that lead to professional certification.

Earlier this month, we released the third and final installment of the series in which we were able to identify and compare the outcomes of non-college goers against those who had some college and those who actually earned a degree. Again, the overall group of non-college goers was outperformed in virtually every category. However, the “high-credentialed” non-college goers had better outcomes than those with some college but no degree, as well as two-year degree holders. Moreover, they were competitive with four-year college completers on several indicators, including hourly wages and full-time employment.

Keep in mind, this is not your father’s vocational ed. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) put it well during a mid-May Congressional hearing on the Perkins Vocational and Technical Act, which is currently due for reauthorization. Sen. Kaine acknowledged that the history of voc ed was too often an inferior alternate for students who weren’t considered “college material.” In his testimony he stated: “[T]here is a history of tracking students into vocational education, and we must ensure that federal CTE investments replace tracking with choice. Students and their families should have the opportunities to choose high quality CTE pathways that will prepare students for postsecondary education AND the workforce, not postsecondary education or the workforce.”

The William Penn senior I met could just as easily be headed to a college campus as to a restaurant kitchen after receiving his diploma. He told us that, in fact, he has enlisted in the military where he plans to use his culinary skills. College, he said, is still in his long-range plan. Fortunately, his high school made sure he has the knowledge and skills to keep all his options open. All of our youth deserve the same.






June 6, 2016

Behind every data point is a child

statistics-822231_640At CPE, we are data driven. We encourage educators, school leaders and advocates to be data-driven as well. (Indeed, we have a whole website, Data First, which is dedicated to just that. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time to check out.) So while we think an over-abundance of data is a good problem to have, we often remind ourselves and others to take a step back before acting on it, and consider that every data point represents a living, breathing, complex, does-not-fit-the-mold child.

Clearly, good data can lead you to solutions for improving policy and practice in the aggregate. It can also provide insights into particular classrooms or even students. But ultimately what an individual child needs is going to be, well, quirky. We may well find out that Joey struggled with fractions this quarter even though he did well in math the quarter before. If we keep digging, we might also discover that he was absent eight days. But the data won’t tell us why. We won’t even know if the inference that Joey’s fraction trouble was due to his multiple absences is the right one. There could be a million things going on with Joey that only he and his parents can help us understand. But we need to find out before we can effectively intervene.

NPR recently ran a story on Five Doubts About Data-Driven Schools that highlights some of the risks with an absolutist approach to data. I will just address two in this space, but encourage you to read the article itself. It’s short.

One: some critics believe a hyperfocus on data can suppress rather than spark motivation to do better, particularly for low-scoring students. Publishing data that points out differences by individuals or groups can lead to what psychologists call a “stereotype threat.” According to the article, “[M]erely being reminded of one’s group identity, or that a certain test has shown differences in performance between, say, women and men, can be enough to depress outcomes on that test for the affected group.”

I have had my own qualms about the practice in some schools of displaying student test scores, whether of individual students in the classroom or reported by teacher in the school building. There can be great value in having students examine their own data, and helping them use it to take greater charge of their own learning. But there’s also a fine line between encouraging constructive self-examination and reinforcing a potentially destructive perception of failure. Before instituting such a policy or practice, principals and district leaders should think very carefully about the messages being sent versus the messages students, parents and teachers actually hear.

Two: Just because we can collect the data, should it be part of a student’s permanent record? Most would agree that universities and potential employers should have access to student transcripts, grades, test scores and other academic information when making admissions or employment decisions. But, as the article points out, we are entering an era when psychometricians will be able to measure such characteristics as grit, perseverance, teamwork, leadership and others.  How confident should we be in this data? And even if it is reliable, should we even consider such data for traits exhibited in childhood and adolescence that are arguably mutable, and therefore may no longer be accurate descriptions of the individual? I have similar concerns about a child’s disciplinary record following him or her into adulthood.

Over and over again, the availability and effective use of education data has been shown to have a tremendous impact on improving performance at the system, school and individual level. Back to Joey and fractions. Had she not looked at his data, Joey’s teacher would not have identified his struggle, and it might have remained hidden only to become worse over time. This way she is able to dig more, ask questions, find out what Joey needs, and ideally, provide extra help so he will succeed.

But we also need to guard against the overuse of data, lest we allow it to reduce all of a student’s intellect, growth, production, and character to a number and lose a picture of the child.

Filed under: Accountability,CPE,Data — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 1:39 pm





June 1, 2016

Third and final report of series released

10901-4498 CPE The Past Least Taken Part III Slider When we first embarked on the Path Least Taken series, which we conclude with the just released third installment, we did so because we noticed a lot of attention and resources had been poured into making sure students graduated ready to enter college, but not necessarily the workforce.

And since not every high school grad will pursue post-secondary education but every graduate will likely work, we thought it was critical that policymakers, school leaders and educators gain a better understanding of how non-college goers fared in the years after graduation.

Research identifying the linkage between high school preparation and college success already exists but less is known about what that preparation looks like when high school graduates decide to enter the workforce instead.

By drilling down into a decade-long federal study of the Class of 2004, we had a perfect opportunity to trace the steps of non-college goers who had found success in life and the labor market all the way back to high school.

It was a pain-staking and time-intensive endeavor, but the Path Least Taken series yielded some surprising and note-worthy findings. While you won’t have to retrace our journey, we hope you take the first step and read what we’ve discovered. It’s worth the trip.

Filed under: CPE — NDillon @ 10:05 am





« Newer PostsOlder Posts »
RSS Feed