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February 12, 2015

Reading the kindergarten Common Core State Standards with purpose and understanding

The Common Core State Standards’ (CCSS) English Language Arts (ELA) benchmarks for kindergarteners came under scrutiny in a recently released report. Issued by two early education advocacy organizations, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood, the report argues that “many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten” despite the CCSS requirement that prior to first grade, students are expected to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” If an impossible standard has been set, then expecting children to be able to do something beyond their capability appears to be a waste of time, money, and effort for all parties.

However, a deeper look into the CCSS English/Language Arts for elementary school children, provides an additional piece of information that should ease the concerns raised by the recent report. This introductory information notes that for kindergarten students, the goal is just for children to demonstrate an increased awareness and competencies in the ELA standards. Moreover, the CCSS does not advocate for removing play-based learning from the classroom, although a review of the report could easily allow a reader to believe that the CCSS explicitly denounces such practices. Surprisingly then, a complete read-through of the CCSS shows that the authors of the CCSS explicitly state that “the standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. For instance, the use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document” (p.6). Within the same document, the standard that the DEY/AFC report focuses on (Foundational Skills: Fluency) is on page 16. Thus, it becomes confusing how the DEY/AFC report can read the standards with such purpose, yet without understanding.

Last, and most importantly, the CCSS does not prescribe how teachers must reach these goals. As highlighted in our own 2013 publication on the Common Core, the CCSS is just a guiding document as to what the goals are, not the pathways in which to reach them. In fact, there is widespread support for play-based learning within the kindergarten curriculum. For example, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association agree that pretend play is an important part of the learning process for young children. In an ideal world, using the CCSS in kindergarten should not interfere with incorporating play into the curriculum and in the practical world, whether or not play-based learning is included in kindergarten falls on the teacher, not the standards. Perhaps kindergarten is an excellent time to start raising awareness and competence in reading with purpose and understanding as this is a skill that is often needed by adults in order to comprehend and think critically about information.






February 9, 2015

High-quality preschool reduces later special education placement

A recent study released on Tuesday shows that children who attended high-quality preschools in North Carolina were significantly less likely to require special education services in the third grade. These findings were from a longitudinal study following children from at-risk families from birth to the end of third grade. Two programs, More at Four and Smart Start, both publicly funded programs in North Carolina, aim to provide high-quality child care to 4-year-olds living in poverty and to improve the quality and delivery of child care and preschool services for children from birth to 5, respectively. The focus on this developmental period of life is reflective of much developmental research showing that significant cognitive, social, and emotional development occurs across this timeframe and thus, it is a critical period to support. Furthermore, educational psychologist Jeffrey Liew highlights that cognitive and social-emotional development in early childhood can be heavily influenced by teaching efforts targeting those skills.

These findings evidence the importance of a high-quality early childhood education. Between the years 1997 and 2010, over 127,000 students were serviced by the North Carolina preschool programs. As reported in Thinking P-12: The school board role in pre-k education, appropriate class sizes, teacher qualifications, and teacher training, among others, constitute markers that differentiate low from high-quality programming.

Although the results from this study are encouraging, it is important for readers to not misinterpret the results. Furthermore, the study uses maternal education (at time of the childbirth) as a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES). While maternal education is an indicator of SES, the inclusion of additional at-risk markers, such as household income and whether or not the parent(s) are employed typically provides a more comprehensive picture.

That high-quality education in preschool reduced special education placement years later in third grade just reinforces the many reasons why addressing issues early can benefit children throughout life. Similar to the foundation of a house, early childhood represents the bedrock of development; when this foundation is built poorly or weakened for whatever reason (e.g., toxic stress, poverty, neglect), the integrity of the entire building is at risk. Through the implementation of high-quality education, these positive experiences can help to “repair the cracks.” As reported in our Research on Pre-K, children who are able to attend high-quality preschool programs, like the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, for example, tend to graduate high school, demonstrate higher achievement at age 14, and earn more income at age 40 compared to those who did not attend similar pre-kindergarten programs.

In conclusion, this study reinforces what we already know: high-quality early childhood education is one of the best ways to support optimal development. This study highlights that when cognitive, social, and emotional problems are addressed early through, children can stand to benefit the most before special education is required.

Filed under: Pre-k,preschool,research,special education — Tags: , , — David Ferrier @ 4:29 pm





January 22, 2015

Shhh!! Don’t say anything but more students are graduating now than ever before

One of the great secrets in education is the fact that our nation’s high schools are graduating more students on-time than ever before. Even after it was first reported last year that the national high school on-time graduation rate reached 80 percent it still seemed like this news was all too-often overlooked by critics and proponents of public education alike. Maybe this will change with President Obama highlighting this fact in his State of the Union speech last night. But the fact that the latest graduation rates were released last week by the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) without many noticing doesn’t give me much hope.

So, in case you hadn’t heard already here are the facts. Our national on-time high school graduate rate reached another all-time high of 81 percent for the Class of 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available. This represents an increase from 79 percent for the Class of 2011. Keep in mind as well, this is an actual graduation rate not an estimate that NCES and most states had used for years. Since states have developed data systems in recent years that can determine which individual students entered ninth-grade and graduated four years later with at least a standard high school diploma it is now possible to calculate an actual on-time graduation rate.

Yet, this rate doesn’t even include late high school graduates who took more than four years to earn the same diploma. If the number of late graduates remains similar to what I found in my Better Late Than Never report it is likely that including students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma would increase the national graduation rate above 85 percent. Keep in mind, the national graduation rate hovered around 70 percent between the mid-1970s and early 2000s, making these gains all the more impressive.

Just a decade ago, few thought that reaching the 90 percent mark would even be possible, even if late graduates were included. However, now it appears the 90 percent mark is within reach. In fact, Iowa has already achieved a 90 percent on-time graduation rate according to NCES data. And five other states -Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin- are getting close to that marker, boasting 88 percent on-time graduation rates. Again, if late graduates were included it is likely that these states are graduating over 90 percent of their students.

And a number of states not as close to the 90 percent threshold also have reason to be optimistic. Particularly Nevada, Alabama, and New Mexico who have ranked among the bottom of states in terms of graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, each of them improved their on-time graduation rates by 9, 8, and 7 percentage points, respectively. Such increases represent thousands more students earning the minimal credentials needed to be prepared for life after high school.

Of course, no one should be satisfied until all students leave high school with a high school diploma, even if it is as likely as a baseball player hitting a thousand. Everyone wants all students to be college and career ready and our nation’s high schools have made tremendous strides toward meeting that goal. A high school diploma may not guarantee success after high school but without one the chances are minimal. While there is more work to do, our high schools should be congratulated for this tremendous accomplishment. Fortunately, it looks like they are heading towards another record next year. If given the support they need, there is no reason our nation’s schools can’t obtain and surpass the 90 percent graduation rate. When they do, hopefully it won’t be such a secret. – Jim Hull






January 15, 2015

CPE welcomes new policy research intern

Good afternoon! My name is David Ferrier and for the next few months, I will be working with the Center for Public Education as their newest policy research intern. One of my responsibilities will be posting regularly on the EDifer, so I thought it best to first introduce myself. I am currently an advanced doctoral student studying applied developmental psychology at George Mason University, with a Master’s degree in school psychology, also from GMU.

I sought an internship with CPE because I wanted to broaden my knowledge of education policy and its implications on child development. Throughout graduate school, I have had opportunities to be involved in hands-on research, however, the opportunities to engage in policy-focused activities have not been as readily available. Moreover, my exposure to (education) policy has been recent— I held a summer internship with the Office of Children, Youth, & Families at the American Psychological Association, where I wrote policy briefs to inform policymakers, practitioners and parents on what research says about child development issues.

Through the combination of my work and school experiences, I hope to showcase in my Edifier posts an understanding of child development and the role it should have in forming education policy. I am very excited to begin here at CPE and look forward to contributing over the course of the semester, so come back regularly for new posts! –David Ferrier

Filed under: CPE — Tags: , — David Ferrier @ 1:48 pm





January 8, 2015

EdWeek’s Annual State of the States Report Card: How does your state compare?

Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2015, which included its State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors with an overall B average while the nation as a whole earned a C. Out of the three categories each state and the nation were graded on, the nation earned the highest marks in the Chance for Success Index with a grade of C-plus.  In the other two categories– School Finance and Student Achievement– the nation earned a C and C-minus respectively. Massachusetts earned the highest grade in both the Chance for Success Index as well as the student achievement categories while Wyoming took top honors in the School Finance category by earning a B-plus.

Massachusetts has consistently ranked among the top states for several years. Several other states have consistently ranked near the bottom. Such a contrast highlights the fact states differ significantly in the performance of their public schools. This is important to point out as most states that received high marks by EdWeek also compared favorably to high performing countries while states that received the lowest EdWeek grades typically scored below most industrialized countries. While these grades are not necessarily reflective of the effectiveness of each state’s public schools since they don’t take into account how much students improved their academic performance while in school, they do provide valuable information on how well their students are prepared to enter the global labor market upon graduation. EdWeek’s grades indicate that some students are more likely to be prepared than others simply due to the state they were born in. ­­

 

Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:

Composite Score

How well do states prepare their students for success?

  • U.S. public schools earned an overall grade of C.
    • The grade is an average of the nation’s Chance for Success, School Finance and Student Achievement grades.
  • No state earned an A but Massachusetts earned top honors by receiving a B. New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont also received B’s although they earned slightly lower average scores.
  • Wyoming earned a B-minus placing it among the top 10 for the first time in EdWeek’s rankings.
  • No states earned a failing grade but three states earned a D (Mississippi, New Mexico, and Nevada).
  • Thirty-one states earned grades between a C-minus and C-plus.

Chance for Success Index

What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)

  • Massachusetts ranked first for the eighth consecutive year by receiving an A-minus. New Hampshire also earned an A-minus while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus as they did a year ago.
    • This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
  • On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively once again.
  • The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2014.

School Finance

How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?

  • Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance as it has for the past couple of years.
  • Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A-minus to a B-plus but still received the highest grade of any state just as it has for seven consecutive years. However, seven states received a B-plus this year compared to just three last year.
  • On the other hand, 15 states earned a D-plus or lower with Idaho the only state to earn a failing grade.
  • States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
    • Vermont spent the most per pupil with $18,882 and Utah once again spent the least with $6,688.
  • States differ in how much of their taxable resources they spend on education.
    • West Virginia and Vermont spent the greatest proportion of their taxable resources on education at 5.1 percent
    • Conversely. North Carolina and North Dakota spent the least of their taxable recourses on education with 2.4 and 2.3 percent respectively.
  • States also differ in how much is spent between districts.
    • Alaska had the largest difference between the funding of their highest and lowest districts where districts at the 95th percentile in per pupil funding spent nearly $14,000 more than districts at the 5th percentile.
    • On the other hand, the disparity in Florida was less than $2,000.  On average, the disparity between high and low spending districts nationally was $4,559 per pupil.

K-12 Achievement Index

How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?

  • Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
    • The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
  • Massachusetts was once again top of its class just as it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
  • Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks compared to four states in 2012.
  • Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.

 

About Quality Counts

The nation and each state are graded in three categories (Chance for Success; K-12 Achievement; School Finance; Standards). However, new data is only available for the Chance for Success and School Finance categories.  Grades for the Student Achievement category are the same as last year because they are primarily based on NAEP results which are released every two years. Results from all three categories are combined to provide a composite grade in each state and the nation as a whole. — Jim Hull






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