Ed Sector: High standards help low achievers

High Standards Help Struggling Students, argues Education Sector in a new report. Using NAEP data, Connie Clark and Peter Cookson Jr. compare “below basic” students in states with low and high standards in 2003 and 2011.

In fourth-grade math, the percentage of below basic students, on average, declined 26 percent among high-standards states and 20 percent in low-standards states. In reading, the decline was narrower, with a 10 percent reduction in high-standards states, and 9 percent in low-standards states.

In eighth-grade math, the reduction in the percentage of below basic students was 23 percent in high-standards states. In low-standards states, the decline was 14 percent. In eighth grade reading, the decline was 10 percent in both cases.

A state’s economic health had no effect on the achievement gap, Clark and Cookson found.

States do not need to dilute Common Core State Standards or set lower expectations to help low achievers, the report concludes.

Teachers talk about unions, reform

Teachers support their unions, but they’re open to reform ideas, according to a new Education Sector survey, Trending Toward Reform

Teachers think evaluations are improving. In 2011, 78 percent said their most recent evaluation was done carefully and taken seriously by their school administration.

Three out of four teachers—76 percent—say that the criteria used in their evaluation were fair.

Teachers are warming to the idea that assessing student knowledge growth may be a good way to measure teacher effectiveness, with 54 percent of 2011 teachers agreeing. This compares with 49 percent in 2007.

Teachers are still opposed to including student test scores as one component of differentiated pay, with just 35 percent supporting that idea.

Teachers do support differentiated pay for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low-performing schools (83 percent support). Teachers also support differentiated pay for teachers who have earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification or for those who teach hard-to-fill subjects.

Few teachers want to eliminate tenure — only a third would be willing to trade tenure for a $5,000 bonus — but most agree it shouldn’t protect bad teachers, notes the Hechinger Report.

. . . a growing number of teachers believe that unions should play a role in making it easier to fire ineffective teachers. “Teachers pay the greatest price for incompetent teachers,” one teacher wrote in response to the survey. “Year after year, [other teachers] pick up the slack.”

Forty-three percent of teachers said unions should focus more on improving teacher quality, up from 32 percent in the 2007 survey. Sixty-two percent said unions could be “helpful partners in improving schools.”

To 2014 (and beyond)

In Getting to 2014 (and Beyond): The Choices and Challenges Ahead, Education Sector collects nine essays on education reforms — “new Common Core standards, new assessments, new accountability systems, new teacher evaluations, new data systems, and for some states, Race to the Top” — that will have to be implemented “all at once.”

Why top students end up in remedial English

Despite California’s strong content standards, many high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level classes or careers, write Bill Tucker and Anne Hyslop in Education Sector’s new report, Ready by Design: A College and Career Agenda for California. They discovered a disconnect between what high school English classes are teaching and what colleges expect students to be able to do.

San Diego County’s West Hills High School has many of the hallmarks of a solid school. Its middle-class students consistently master state standards, perform well on state achievement tests, and graduate at a high rate. But four years ago, school leaders realized they had a big problem. A stunning 95 percent of the top students in senior English
courses who were headed to nearby community colleges failed the colleges’ English placement tests.

. . . Alarmed, West Hills’ teachers joined with faculty at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to see what had gone awry. They investigated years of student transcripts, exchanged lesson plans, and shared curricula.

They discovered high school students who’d done well in literature classes weren’t prepared for college classes that required “argumentation skills, analytical thinking, and writing clearly to inform, persuade, and describe.” (When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing, but that was before the invention of the journal.)

High school teachers revamped their English classes and persuaded local community colleges to let A and B English students skip the placement test and start in college-level courses. Success rates are high –86 percent — for West Hills graduates.

California needs to assess whether high schools are preparing students to succeed in college — not just enroll — and in careers, the report ecommends. The state’s Academic Performance Index looks only at test scores and graduation rates.

In addition to test scores, Florida measures participation and successful completion of advanced coursework like AP, IB, and dual enrollment, and industry certifications and performance on college entrance exams, Tucker and Hyslop write. “Although these additional measures are only predictors of preparedness, they are more closely related to desired outcomes than state test scores alone.”


Obama, Romney confuse student loan issue

President Obama visited colleges and universities on a three-state tour promoting his proposal to keep the interest rate on new federal student loans at 3.4 percent, writes Matthew Chingos on the Brookings Institution’s Up Front Blog. The temporary rate reduction passed in 2007 is scheduled to end in July, which would return the rate to 6.8 percent.

Obama’s proposal — now endorsed by Romney — won’t help current college students, graduates or dropouts, writes Chingos.  It only applies to new loans.

President Obama asked University of North Carolina students, “Anybody here can afford to pay an extra $1,000 right now?” Nobody would. Subsidized loans accrue no interest until students leave college.

There is no doubt that many college students and their families are being squeezed by rising college costs. And there are good reasons for the federal government to provide financial assistance to help low-income students afford college. But charging below-market interest rates on student loans is an inefficient and likely ineffective way to encourage college enrollment and completion because students don’t pay any interest until after they leave college.

“If Obama and Romney want to buy the votes of struggling college students, they should at least propose the more efficient path of increasing the grants that students receive when they attend college, not decreasing the interest they pay after they leave,” Chingos writes.

Federal policy should prioritize grants for low-income students over tuition tax credits that benefit the affluent, argues Education Sector in a new report.

On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service

Evaluating schools based on test scores satisfies few people. There’s another way, writes Ed Sector’s Craig Jerald in On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service. In England, school inspectors visit each school.

The process is thorough and rigorous: “[I]nspectors observe classroom lessons, analyze student work, speak with students and staff members, examine school records, and scrutinize the results of surveys administered to parents and students,” he notes.

A school inspectorate could work in the U.S., Jerald argues.

Holding everyone accountable

Schools are held accountable for student achievement, even when students’ performance is affected by poverty, family dysfunction and neighborhood dangers, notes Education Sector.

In Striving for Student Success: A Model of Shared Accountability (pdf), Kelly Bathgate, Richard Lee Colvin and Elena Silva look at the Strive Partnership of Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky, which is trying to create cradle-to-college supports for children’s education and well-being.

Made up of more than 300 civic groups, businesses, nonprofits, colleges, public agencies, and philanthropies, Strive “coordinates every service and support that children and adolescents need, at every stage of their education and development,” the authors write.

One result: kindergarten readiness has risen substantially in Cincinnati and two Strive towns in Kentucky.


Ready or not: Tracking grads’ outcomes

College and career readiness is all the rage, but only 13 percent of high school educators track their graduates’ academic performance in college, notes Education Sector in announcing Data That Matters: Giving High Schools Useful Feedback on Grads’ Outcomes by Anne Hyslop.

Now over 40 states can collect information about college readiness. Yet fewer—only eight—are using that information in ways that can materially improve college preparation.

High schools brag about how many students go on to college. But how many have to take remedial classes? How many give up in the first year?

Kentucky high schools made changes after discovering how many graduates were struggling in college, reports Education Week.

Kyle Fannin thought he was doing a good job as a teacher of U.S. history and AP American government at Woodford County High School in Versailles, Ky. “By all outward appearances, we were a great school,” said Mr. Fannin, as students scored well on tests and AP exams. But the data told a different story.

Some Woodford students who had received state scholarships based on merit had lost their funding because they weren’t maintaining a 3.0 GPA in college. Other data showed more of the students taking remedial math and English in college than the school had expected. When Mr. Fannin would talk to returning students, they would tell him that finals “killed” them. In high school, final exams counted for only 10 percent of their grades.

Armed with that information, the school made changes. More reading was assigned, including primary sources, and longer periods of sustained reading were included in classes. Finals counted for a bigger part of their grades.

Eastern Kentucky University is working with high school teachers to reduce the number of students needing remedial classes.


How much debt for a degree?

Education Sector’s debt-to-degree ratio finds “the national enterprise of producing college degrees is increasingly being floated on a sea of debt.”

Also on Community College SpotlightWhere the boys are, but the men aren’t.

Better teachers

The Race to the Top competition pushed states to change education policies in 2010, concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality in its State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Twenty-one states now require annual evaluations of all teachers, up from 15 in 2009. Fourteen states now hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ students performance, up from only one the year before.

However, “most states’ evaluation, tenure and dismissal policies remain disconnected from classroom effectiveness,” NCTQ concludes. In addition, “rather than working to expand the teacher pipeline, many states create obstacles in their alternate routes to certification.”

“Simply put, the nation’s thousands of teacher preparation programs are good at churning out teachers but far less successful at ensuring that those teachers meet the needs of public schools and students,” say the authors.  

The brief proposes creating a federal framework for evaluating teacher preparation programs, using “outcomes-based indicators of quality,” and establishing competitive grants to encourage states and institutions to change “how, and how rigorously, they monitor, evaluate, and improve their teacher preparation programs.”  Streamlining financial aid should include  “eliminating TEACH Grants, an ineffective pre-service grant program, and using those resources to expand debt forgiveness benefits for high-quality classroom teachers.”

Education Week has several commentaries on the future of teaching.