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October 20, 2016

Let’s talk about college and career readiness

Ensuring students have the skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce is widely recognized as the ultimate goal of K-12 education. Toward this end, many states and districts have adopted and implemented college and career-readiness standards— a move that has caused some angst and outright rejection around the country.

While we know these are normal responses to change, we also know that new initiatives (especially within education) are hampered without community buy-in

It’s for this reason, the National School Boards Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have partnered with the Learning First Alliance’s Get it Right campaign to engage stakeholders around the importance of college and career readiness for all students.

A communications toolkit is the result of this joint project and it includes resources and materials (some of which hail from CPE’s bank) that will help educators spur dialogue, answer questions and hopefully build support for college and career readiness standards.

Find the toolkit here. Watch a sneakpeak of what you’ll find below.

Filed under: Career Readiness,CPE,standards — Tags: , , — NDillon @ 7:30 am

October 19, 2016

2015 Graduation Rates: All-time high

The National Center for Education Statistics released the 2014-2015 on-time high school graduation rates, and they look good: 83.2%. The all-time high rate continues the upward trends we have seeing for the last decade.

But, not all states look as good as others:

GradRates by State

While every student group is improving, you can see below that gaps between them are still present.

Grad Rates by Group

When you combine student poverty with state graduation rates, you see a picture that is a bit more clear.

Grad Rates

While the graph above is simply a best-fit line, it does show that states with higher poverty also tend to have lower graduation rates.  What we should be looking at are states with the same poverty rates as others, but much higher graduation rates, to identify possible lessons.  Is it a more homogeneous population?  Are more resources invested in schools?  Do teachers have better training?  Are graduation requirements easier?  There is a lot that goes into graduation rates.  So, even though we can be excited that they’re increasing for all groups, increasing opportunities for thousands of students, we still have a lot of gaps to fill.


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,Graduation rates,High school — Tags: , , — Chandi Wagner @ 10:37 am

October 12, 2016

Lessons for California’s Prop. 58 on Bilingual Ed

Bilingual Education requires patience and flexible thinking.  Hopefully Californians will have both of those things as they go to the polls in November.  Prop. 58 is a ballot initiative that would undo 1998’s Prop. 227, which drastically reduced bilingual education for the state’s 1.4 million English Learners (ELs).  To put this in context, 42% of Californian students speak a language other than English at home and 22% of Californian students are learning English at school.  In 1998, the state overwhelmingly supported a shift to English-only education, though school districts and parents did have some options to continue using students’ native languages.

Political rhetoric abounds when addressing the language of education, so for today we’ll put opinions aside and look at the argument that both sides are making about how students learn.  Do English-immersion or bilingual/dual-language programs provide better outcomes for students?  Even as a former bilingual teacher, I sometimes struggled against the intuition that said that my students would learn English best by teaching only in English, even though I knew that research said otherwise.  So, it’s understandable that others would have the same wonderings.

As is the case in most questions of research, the results are somewhat mixed and nuanced.  But, in this case, they lean toward the side of bilingual education.

Luckily, California was smart and planned for the evaluation of Prop 227.  This evaluation found that English language acquisition programs were similar in results, and may vary by school capacity, teacher supports, and program details.  The achievement gap between ELs and native English speakers narrowed slightly during the same time frame, but cannot be attributed solely to Prop. 227.

However, other research from the same time period has found that even though ELs acquire English faster in English-immersion programs than various forms of bilingual programs, students are actually more likely to be deemed proficient in English if they spend more time in their native language through dual-language and bilingual programs.  Schools that only spend 1-3 years in a student’s native language, known as “transitional bilingual,” have very similar results as English immersion.  The most promising bilingual model is called “two-way dual-language,” in which native English speakers and ELs are in classes together, both learning English and the second language (typically Spanish).

Bilingual Ed

We also have to consider the benefits of fostering bilingualism and biliteracy.  Research shows that bilingual people may experience later onsets of dementia and have improved cognitive abilities.   The economy may flourish with greater opportunities for cross-national trade and understanding.  “Soft” student outcomes such as attendance and engagement are often shown to increase when they participate in bilingual programs.  Students and families may see more value in education and themselves as their language and culture are positively addressed.

The downside to some bilingual education programs is that they may segregate ELs from other students in special classes.  Also, they typically cost more, as schools often have to pay stipends or other incentives to attract bilingual teachers.

As is true for most educational programs, results depend on the inputs invested: teacher capacity and training, parental support, administrative supports, and equitable policies.  All of our students deserve to learn in an environment that values them and their cultures.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,CPE,English Language Learners — Tags: , , — Chandi Wagner @ 3:46 pm

September 28, 2016

How do we measure the immeasurable— and should we?

We address what we assess. I’ve never cared so much about how far I walked until I bought a Fitbit and saw that my friends apparently walk 15 miles a day.  The same is true of schools.

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we began assessing our students’ math, reading, and science abilities, and test scores improved.  While some of that growth may have been due to teachers teaching to the test or students adapting to standardized assessments, we should still acknowledge that having stronger data about achievement gaps has helped us build the argument for greater equity in education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) adds a new, non-academic factor to school accountability in response to the over-emphasis on tested subjects that many schools experienced under NCLB.  States have to determine what their accountability plan will include, and policy wonks are chiming in with research and cautionary tales.  It seems that we can all agree that the non-academic factor should be equitable (not favoring particular student groups), mutable (able to be changed), measurable (we have to be able to put some sort of ranking or number on it), and important to student growth and learning (or else, who cares?).  So far, I haven’t heard any consensus come out of the field on what this could look like.


The reality is that states may even want to consider testing out several different variables to see what the data tells them.  The non-academic variable could be minimally weighted until states are sure that their data is reliable, both ensuring that schools aren’t penalized for faulty data and that schools don’t try to game the new system.  States may also choose to use multiple indicators to ensure that pressure isn’t exerted on one lone factor.  States also have to keep in mind that children develop at different ages.  While chronic absenteeism is a problem for students of all ages, first-graders may differ in their abilities to self-regulate their emotions, based on gender and age.

A group of CORE districts in California have been testing a “dashboard” of metrics for several years, and are offering their strategy to the entire state, as documented by Stanford’s Learning Policy Institute.  Forty percent of a school’s rating is based on social and emotional learning indicators, including measures of social-emotional skills; suspension/expulsion rates; chronic absenteeism; culture/climate surveys from students, staff, and parents; and English learner re-designation rates.  The other 60% is based on academic performance and growth.

The reality is that our students need more than just math and reading.  They need to learn how to interact with others who are different from themselves.  They need to be able to creatively problem solve.  They need to think critically about the world around them.  Good teachers have been teaching their students these skills for decades; now we just have to make sure that all students have these enriching opportunities.

Filed under: Accountability,CPE,ESSA — Tags: — Chandi Wagner @ 8:00 am

September 23, 2016

When given options, do we always choose the best one?

School choice is all over the news. John Oliver recently lambasted charter school programs. Donald Trump promised $20 billion to increase parents’ choice options.  The NAACP has called for a moratorium on new charter schools. But how does school choice play out for ordinary families?

In essence, parents have two routes to exercise their consumer rights in education: choosing where they live and where they send their child to school. The fundamental premise behind “school choice” as an education reform are that options not only allow parents to select the school that best meets the needs of their child but it also breeds competition, thereby forcing schools to improve. We’ll leave the competition argument for another time and just focus on how parents make their decisions.

These days, it’s not unusual to find real estate websites boasting better school statistics than state education agencies, because they want to enhance the idea that parents can move to a “good” school district. Many of my friends have asked me where they should move with their toddler so that they can send their child to a high-quality school. Note: this option is typically more available for families with the means to move easily and afford a home in the districts perceived as “good.”

However, research from UCLA has shown that even middle- and high-income parents tend to choose schools based on the opinions of others in their network more than actual investigation of school characteristics. Of the parents who moved in order to be in a particular school district, less than a quarter actually visited the new school, and the majority did not look up test data for the district they were leaving. Such practices exacerbate racial and class-based segregation, as high-minority and lower-income schools are perceived as “bad” and low-minority, low-poverty schools are seen as “good.”

Policy makers and advocacy groups tend to focus more on the second avenue for choice, as they have little influence over parents’ housing choices. Magnet schools, in-district transfers, private schools, charter schools, and private school voucher programs are all choices individual school districts and communities provide to families. Basic economics tell us that in order to have healthy competition, consumers must have access to as many options as possible, as well as the necessary information to help them in making their decision.

The first reality we must face is that schools are a geographic commodity.  Most parents don’t want to send their child on a two-hour bus ride every morning to get to the school across town, so they are limited to schools that are in close proximity.  Second, it is extremely difficult to judge schools objectively. We have ample test data available, thanks to No Child Left Behind, but even if parents know how to access and understand test scores, they are highly correlated with poverty and race, so it does little to explain student growth or school climate.

Evidence from two cities with high levels of school choice show that parental choice and school behaviors tend to increase racial and socioeconomic segregation.In Washington, DC, parent preferences on a web-based application found that parents prioritized demographic preferences and geography over academic achievement. The authors also cautioned that open-choice programs could actually decrease pressure on schools for academic achievement, given parental preferences for particular demographic characteristics.


Studies from Stanford and the University of Texas at Austin of the post-Katrina system in New Orleans found that schools often found ways to recruit high-achieving students and push out students who were harder to serve, leaving these students with little, if any, choice.  Top-performing schools enrolled disproportionately large numbers of white, non-poor, and non-disabled students.

Sure, families want choice. Who doesn’t like choice? But we also have to make sure that we give families the tools to make good choices that benefit all students.

For more on school choice, check out this visual breakdown we created of what this popular reform strategy looks like by the numbers.

Filed under: CPE — Tags: , , — Chandi Wagner @ 7:00 am

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