Earlier today, Eduflack was hopeful that P-12 education would garner three or four paragraphs in the State of the Union, just enough space to lay out a bold call to action and a focus on real, lasting change. As the final speech was delivered this evening, P-12 got little more than a paragraph (while higher education and student loans got far greater attention).
Tonight is the State of the Union address. Across the nation, folks are looking at this speech to either make or break President Obama’s Administration (no pressure there). And while Eduflack continues to hear those in the education community expect that education reform will be front and center in tonight’s speech, I have my doubts. With an hour-long time slot likely to be interrupted by applause (and hopefully no more “you lies”), there is a lot to talk about. We have wars and national security. Jobs and the economy. Healthcare and Haiti. At best, I suspect education will get a few paragraphs about two-thirds of the way through the address.
ing. We need to give our educators all of the tools for success, knowing that not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. But if we expect our teachers to be held accountable for student achievement in their classrooms, we need to equip them with the skills and knowledge to manage their classes and deal with the challenges that cannot be planned for in a workshop, an institute, or a textbook. We need to empower and cultivate our teachers, much like the TAP program in my hometown of Chicago does.
Whenever Eduflack writes about the “successes” of New York City’s school improvement efforts under Chancellor Joel Klein, I get publicly flogged by some audience or another. Most take significant issue with my conclusions that NYC Department of Education has improved the quality of the public schools. Others take issue with giving Klein (and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) credit for such school improvement. And even if I can get the opposition to acknowledge an uptick in student achievement in NYC, they will immediately retort that the gains are minimal, and not nearly enough to declare turnaround efforts in New York a success.
My responses to such criticism have been relatively simple. The test scores, at least on New York’s state exams, do show gains in both reading and math in NYC. If you don’t believe the final tallies coming from Albany, you should at least acknowledge that NYC has won the Broad Prize, and that Broad similarly crunched the numbers and found academic gains across the city. And if the gains aren’t big enough for you yet, first, give it time. Then remember how large the NYCDOE truly is. Upticks in a system that size are worthy of praise.
Always a glutton for punishment, Eduflack is going to raise the NYC achievement flag again. Today, we’re going to reflect on a forum hosted yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Offering a multi-hour symposium yesterday under the banner of “Informing Federal Education Policy Through Lessons from New York City,” the Alliance also put a spotlight on a new report it has released, “New York City’s Strategy for Improving High Schools.”
So let’s take a look at the most recent set of numbers, namely four-year high school graduation rates. The Alliance took a look at four different calculations of NYC graduation data from 2002 to the present. By NYC’s own calculations, grad rates rose more than 29 percent from 2002 to 2008, from 51 percent to 66 percent. According to the state calculation, rates increased nearly 52 percent, from 40 percent to 61 percent. EdWeek has the number increasing 35 percent from 2002 to 2006 (37 percent to 50 percent). And Jennifer Jennings and Leonie Haimson have the grad rates lifted nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2007 (40 percent to 47 percent).
Let’s set aside, for a second, the fact that no one started with the same 2002 baseline. (yes, we still have problems with data collection and such) Even if we throw out the top score and the bottom score (in the Olympic tradition), we are still looking at a gain in NYC’s high school graduation rates of nearly 33 percent from where we started in 2002. In an era of drop-out factories and rising dropout rates, such numbers in NYC are worth paying attention to.
Whether you like the rhetoric coming out of NYCDOE or not, you can’t deny that the Klein plan has had a real impact, and an impact for the good. As other urban centers struggle to deal with graduation rate challenges, NYC has found real solutions. And it has done so applying a four-year graduation rate formula (a calculation many fear because it offers a lower grad rate than many want to admit.)
Moreover, NYC has been able to apply its high school reforms to help close the achievement gap. According the Alliance, “since 2005, the black-white and Hispanic-white [graduation rate] gaps have narrowed by 16 percent and 14 percent respectively.”
New York City may still be a work in progress, but aren’t these the sorts of numbers we are working toward? Klein and company offer a clear plan for how they are going to fix the problems (a plan so clear that it draws a with us/against us line). They take the necessary steps to implement that plan, regardless of the “friends” it may create. And then they have the data to demonstrate effectiveness, with both test scores and graduation rates rising. Isn’t that our ultimate end game? And if it isn’t shouldn’t it be?
Who knew? When I woke up this morning, I thought that edu-daughter was the all-American girl. She’s fun, she’s chatty, she loves to laugh. She a little precocious, a lot sassy, and quite a bit alpha dog. She is also my princesa, a two-and-a-half year old who can do no wrong in the eyes of her daddy … until today.
We are hearing more and more these days about international benchmarking. Maybe it is because of the increased focus on assessment generated by the common core standards movement. Maybe it is because we are finally starting to recognize that while our NAEP scores hold steady, our students’ standing on international tests such as TIMSS and PISA continues to slip. Or maybe it is because of the economy, as we grow more and more mindful of both the globalization issue of the past five or eight years or the more recent worries about jobs just evaporating, particularly for those without 21st century skills.
Whatever the reason, international benchmarking is standing as a hot topic. Not only are we aware of those tests where our kids compete against their peers in Singapore and Sweden, but we now seem to pay more attention to groups like Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, (even though the Obama Administration eliminated the U.S. Department of Education’s official liaison to OECD last year) and are perking up when we hear about test scores, teacher training, and seat hours in classrooms across either ocean.
Today, the Alliance for Excellent Education released a new report from OECD focused on the economic benefits of school improvement. The full report, co-authored by Hoover Institution/Stanford University’s Rick Hanushek, can be found here. In revealing the new study, All4Ed President Bob Wise said, “This report provides powerful evidence that educational improvements make an important and lasting impact not only in the lives of students, but in the livelihood of nations.”
Such is a comment that should be common sense to most, but if often overlooked by far too many. Despite all of the talk and the pleadings, far too many still view education (and even education reform) as something that happens in a vacuum. We make classroom changes and figure their impact are limited to the classroom. When we make changes related to curriculum or instructional materials or technology or teacher training or funding in general, we don’t necessarily see the ripple effect. We often fail to see how classroom changes impact what is happening in the home or in the local community. And most certainly, we fail to appreciate the impact it has on our nation, our economy, or our sense of global competitiveness.
The OECD study offers three examples of how education improvement (here measured by how our kids do on PISA) can have a direct and positive impact on our GDP, including:
* Increasing average scores on PISA by 25 points over 20 years would result in an increase in the U.S. GDP of $40 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. (And the Alliance notes that Poland was able to achieve such gains in just six years.)
* Bringing the United States to Finland’s level on PISA (meaning a 50-point gain) would increase the GDP by $100 trillion over the lifetime of a child born in 2010.
* Bringing all U.S. students up to a minimum level would add $72 trillion to the GDP over the lifetime of a child born in 2010. (Currently 19 percent of U.S. students before below the PISA minimum level.)
Every few months, it seems like we are presented with yet another study tying school improvements to economic success. How many more of these studies do we need to see before it truly takes hold in our psyche? How many of these studies do we need before state departments of education join forces with economic development and labor departments to develop a long-term education effort that reflects the learning and skills needed to meet our workforce pipeline demands? How many more toplines do we have to read before we see that sociologists, psychometricians, and economists need to work together to develop the long-term improvements necessary? How long before we all realize that true education improvement does not happen in a vacuum?
Over the last week, Eduflack has been teasing out a few of the key issues the education technology community has identified as top priorities for 2010. Interestingly, many of these topics are not limited to ed tech, but are applicable to the entire eduworld. So I thought it was worthwhile to take a look at the full list from the folks over at ISTE (www.isteconnects.org):
1. Establish technology in education as the backbone of school improvement. To truly improve our schools for the long term and ensure that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve in the 21st century, education technology must permeate every corner of the learning process. From years of research, we know that technology can serve as a primary driver for systemic school improvement, including school leadership, an improved learning culture and excellence in professional practice. We must ensure that technology is at the foundation of current education reform efforts, and is explicit and clear in its role, mission, and expected impact.
2. Leverage education technology as a gateway for college and career readiness. Last year, President Obama established a national goal of producing the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. To achieve this goal in the next 10 years, we must embrace new instructional approaches that both increase the college-going rates and the high school graduation rates. By effectively engaging learning through technology, teachers can demonstrate the relevance of 21st century education, keeping more children in the pipeline as they pursue a rigorous, interesting and pertinent PK-12 public education.
3. Ensure technology expertise is infused throughout our schools and classrooms. In addition to providing all teachers with digital tools and content we must ensure technology experts are integrated throughout all schools, particularly as we increase focus and priority on STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) instruction and expand distance and online learning opportunities for students. Just as we prioritize reading and math experts, so too must we place a premium on technology experts who can help the entire school maximize its resources and opportunities. To support these experts, as well as all educators who integrate technology into the overall curriculum, we must substantially increase our support for the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. EETT provides critical support for on-going professional development, implementation of data-driven decision-making, personalized learning opportunities, and increased parental involvement. EETT should be increased to $500 million in FY2011.
4. Continuously upgrade educators’ classroom technology skills as a pre-requisite of “highly effective” teaching. As part of our nation’s continued push to ensure every classroom is led by a qualified, highly effective teacher, we must commit that all P-12 educators have the skills to use modern information tools and digital content to support student learning in content areas and for student assessment. Effective teachers in the 21st Century should be, by definition, technologically savvy teachers.
5. Invest in pre-service education technology. Teacher preparation is one of the most important aspects of a world-class 21st Century system of education and learning. A federal investment in a new, technology-savvy generation of teachers is critical. To ensure their success in the classroom, pre-service teachers must be prepared to use technology and integrate it into the curricula before their first day as a teacher of record. By fully funding programs such as Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners (PTDAL), we can ensure that the United States produces the most technologically savvy educator workforce in the world.
6. Leverage technology to scale improvement. Through federal initiatives such as i3 grants, school districts across the nation are being asked to scale up current school improvement efforts to maximize reach and impact. School districts that have successfully led school turnaround and improvement efforts recognize that education technology is one of the best ways to accelerate reform, providing the immediate tools to ensure that all teachers and students have access to the latest innovative instructional pathways. If we are serious about school improvement, we must be serious about education technology.
7. Provide high speed broadband for all. The connectivity divide may be the most critical aspect of both our digital divide and our learning divide over the next decade. We must continue our national commitment to ensuring broadband access for all students through initiatives such as the E-Rate program. Today’s classroom applications require significant bandwidth that many schools lack. Students who don’t have Internet access at home face a significant hurdle to participate in school assignments and produce high quality schoolwork—and their parents are hindered in school-to-home communications. We must provide high-speed bandwidth to our nation’s classrooms and focus on the school-to-home connection so that all students can succeed.
8. Boost student learning through data and assessment efforts. In schools across the nation, teachers, principals, and district administrators are increasingly discovering the benefits of real-time instructional and curriculum management systems. To maximize these efforts, we must provide educators with the systems, knowledge, and support they need to effectively tailor their teaching strategies and better meet the individual needs of each learner. Teachers’ capabilities to use data to improve instruction are equally important to contemporary data and assessment systems.
9. Invest in ongoing research and development. With the current push for both innovation and school improvement, it is essential that we, as a nation, invest in the research and development necessary to identify what is driving increased student achievement and why. Increased investment in education R&D, particularly with regard to innovation in teaching and learning, ensures that we remain a global leader in education. By stimulating meaningful, broad-based research and the dissemination of such research, we can ensure that the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms keeps up with the goals and expectations we set for our students.
10. Promote global digital citizenship. In recent years, we have seen the walls that divide nations and economies come down and, of necessity, we’ve become focused on an increasingly competitive and flat world. Education technology is the great equalizer in this environment, breaking down artificial barriers to effective teaching and learning, and providing new reasons and opportunities for collaboration. Our children are held to greater scrutiny when it comes to learning and achievement compared to their fellow students overseas. We in turn must ensure that all students have access to the best learning technologies.
So we are seeing the full rodeo here. We have school improvement issues, including boosting high school graduation rates. We have relevant instruction. We have teacher quality and support, both preservice and inservice. We have data systems and improvement. We have global competitiveness. And we touch on issues related to ESEA reauthorization, RttT, i3, and most points in between.
In years past, it seemed like ed tech was an island unto itself. But if this list is an indication, it looks like ISTE is working to position its members as a core part of the school improvement infrastructure. This is a necessary move if we are to truly maximize the resources and opportunities available to both our teachers and our students. But the big unanswered question is a relatively simple one. Is the traditional K-12 infrastructure prepared to accept ed tech as a non-negotiable in the school improvement/student achievement movement?
Over at ISTE Connects, they are continuing the countdown on the Top 10 education technology issues facing the eduworld in 2010. In the latest installment, ISTE’s Hilary Goldmann focuses on the issue of assessment, noting that “we’re looking for better, richer, and more diverse assessment measures. Assessments that provide early feedback in the learning process, not just high-stakes bubble tests in a few content areas that don’t really evaluate the skills students will need. We can do better than this, and we must.”
If one puts an ear to the eduground, one hears multiple discussions on the topic of assessments. Many states are waiting to develop new tools until after the common core standards have been finalized and adopted. Others are working at improving their current measures, with the true leaders adopting new online or computer assisted assessments to provide educators and policymakers alike with a broader and more comprehensive set of data points. And then there are a few voices in the wilderness advocating for the elimination of assessment entirely, believing it is unfair to measure students or teachers on the results of an exam or a collection of tests.
Of course, we are assessing all of our students now. Under NCLB, every state in the union (even you Texas) is working to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. Each state sets their own learning standards and each year we evaluate how many students are proficient (according to those standards) compared to the previous year. Those states that show year-on-year gains quickly become our case studies. Those that flatline on proficiency or, heaven forbid, slip, are put on our lists.
In the pursuit of making the AYP success list, many states have been accused of lowering standards in order to show continued gains on the assessments. And some started at a low threshold for proficiency to begin with just so they could have high marks right out of the box a few years ago. As a result, we have a mis-mash of state learning standards.
Don’t believe it? Take a look at some of data released by Gary Phillips of the American Institutes for Research last week at the Quality Counts event. Phillips took a look at state test scores, state academic standards, and comparable international benchmarks. We shouldn’t be surprised to see that those states with the highest AYP scores are those with some of the lowest standards. And those states with the highest standards (and some of the lower proficiency numbers) are the states mostly closely aligned with the international learning standards set forth by TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS. (And just as interesting, how a state does on eighth grade NAEP seems to align pretty well with how it does in international comparisons.)
So which becomes more important when it comes to student proficiency? Is the emphasis on how many students score high enough on the scale or is it making sure that students are working on a scale that ensures they are academically competitive with their peers, regardless of country?
Common core standards is intended to fix some of this, supposedly giving all 50 states (and DC) one common standard to work toward and, presumably, one common assessment to measure it. But it begs two important issues, one of which Goldmann highlights, the other illuminated by Phillips and others.
First, can one single exam adequately assess the teaching and learning in a classroom, or do we need multi-variable assessments that look at both formative and summative assessment? It it a single state-administered exam, or is it a state exam influenced and shaped by ongoing tests and temperature-taking in the classroom at all points along the learning process?
And second, and perhaps most importantly, how do those assessments stack up outside of our fine union? How do they match up to PISA and PIRLS? Are the offering multiple-choice, constructed-response, extended tasks and project queries? Are they offering on-demand and curriculum embedded tests and tasks? Do they assess both knowledge (recall and analysis) and assessments of performance (demonstration of ability to apply knowledge in practice)? Do they effectively measure whether all students have both the skills and knowledge to succeed outside of a classroom environment?
Ultimately, we are putting an awful lot on the shoulders of “assessment” when we talk about school improvement, student achievement, and the narrowing of the achievement gap. But if we don’t have the right yardstick, we’ll never know exactly how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. By taking a hard look at the data, as scientists like Phillips have, and building better mousetraps, both in terms of content and the shift away from those bubble sheets, are essential steps forward.