Are Dropout Factories Closing?

Following years of a national policy push toward college- and career-readiness, are we seeing a decline in dropout factories?  According to Building a Grad Nation, a new report released today by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and America’s Promise Alliance, the answer to that question seems to be yes, with some caveats.

According to Grad Nation, more than a million students are still dropping out of high school each and every year.  And many of those million come from historically disadvantaged groups.  But there does seem to be some movement, including:

* The number of high school dropout factories fell 13 percent between 2002 and 2008
* More than half of states (29, actually) increased their graduation rates
* Tennessee has made the most impressive progress (boosting grad rates 15 percent), with New York offering an impressive 10 percent increase
* The decline in dropout factories is most prevalent in the South

That’s the good news.  What about the not-so-good?
* The graduation rate for Hispanic students is still only 64 percent, and for African-American students it is only 62 percent
* Nearly 80 percent of the dropout factory reductions are happening in suburbs and towns, meaning our urban centers remain magnets for dropout factories
* Our national high school grad rate is essentially still where it was 25 years ago when Nation at Risk was released
* Three states (Arizona, Nevada, and Utah) actually saw significant declines in their grad rates from 2002 to 2008

Yes, the collective authors are trying to put a positive spin on data that shows only modest improvements, at best.  But Grad Nation also offers some insights into what can be done, at least at a building level, to build on the successes of those who have improved and make change at those schools that have been persistently lagging.  It advocates for improved parental engagement (a must that we too often ignore).  It preaches the importance of both data collection and application.  It embraces scientifically based research and the need to do what works.  And it even tips its hat to the importance of making instruction relevant, particularly for students how may leave without the diploma otherwise.

Most realize that if we see an ESEA reauthorization in the coming months, it is going to focus, in large part, on college and career readiness.  As the GI Joe mantra goes, knowing is half the battle.  And Grad Nation goes a long ways in making sure we both know the current state of high school dropout affairs and know the possible paths of remedy available, even for those dreaded dropout factories.

Blue Ribbons and Teacher Prep

With all of the talk about student achievement and turning around schools, there is a larger issue lurking in the shadows.  Teachers.  For much of this year, we’ve focused discussions of teacher quality on how we measure effective instruction in the classroom.  And while Eduflack is all about the outcomes, the research shows that the inputs of teacher quality are just as important, particularly when we look at the education and clinical preparation that goes into growing a better teacher.

Today, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education releases its (much) anticipated report from its Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improving Student Learning.  The Panel itself is a relative who’s who of the education blob, particularly those organizations and individuals involved teacher quality issues, including AACTE, AFT, IEL, KA, NBPTS, NCTAF, NEA, and a host of IHEs and LEAs (how’s that for using your edu-alphabet?).

What did the Blue Ribbon winners offer up on their key reccs for improving teacher quality and the clinical preparation of educators?  The group offered up a Top 5 list:

1) More rigorous accountability, including calling for teacher ed programs to do a better job of monitoring their programs, ensuring they are up to par, and guaranteeing they are meeting the needs of the school districts filling teaching jobs.

2) Strengthening Candidate Selection and Placement, with a careful eye to making teacher ed programs more selective and more diverse. 

3) Revamping Curricula, Incentives, and Staffing, with a commitment to couple practice, content, theory, and pedagogy in the teacher ed process.

4) Supporting partnerships, particularly those relationships that produce college graduates “who do want to teach and are being prepared in fields where there is market demand.”

5) Expanding the knowledge base to identify what works and support continuous improvement, giving a hat tip to the unfortunate fact that “there is not a large research base on what makes clinical preparation effective.”

To help move these concepts into practice, NCATE announced that eight states — California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee — are now part of the new NCATE Alliance for Clinical Teacher Preparation (though it is interesting to note that six of those eight states now have new governors, thanks to this month’s elections).

So how does NCATE keep this report from suffering the fate of so many reports before it, being applauded at its release and then relegated to a shelf never to be read again?  Put simply, the NCATE reccs need to be moved into practice NOW.  The Alliance is a good first step.  But how are the reccs being implemented into the US Department of Education’s teacher candidate recruitment effort?  How are these priorities being funded through the Higher Education Act and Title II programs?  How are we rewarding colleges for doing right, while dealing with those leading us down the wrong paths?  And how do we ensure that federal, state, and local teaching dollars are going to employ those educators who live up to expectations and enter the classroom with the clinical preparation necessary to succeed from day one?

I realize I often throw cold water on these sorts of reports, always asking what comes next.  But informing is only the start of the battle, and all a report does is inform.  If we are to change the hearts, minds, and actions, we need to go further and dig deeper.  Changing the way we address teacher preparation is a big thing requiring a lot of work.  One report does not solve the problem, but it can get the discussion going.

Getting Caught In the Net(P)

With all of the talk about innovation, 21st century skills, college and career readiness, and much of the remaining buzz words surrounding school improvement this past year, little has actually be said about the old innovation workhorse, education technology.

Back in February and March, President Obama’s budget proposed zeroing out a number of the programs that served as dedicated ed tech funding for states and school districts, with a promise that ed tech would be better integrated in ESEA (and in ESEA reauthorization), and that increased dollars would be available for competitive ed tech programs that reach directly into school districts and schools.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education finally released its National Education Technology Plan, or NETP 2010.  Wrapping itself around the topics of readiness, global competitiveness, performance, and accountability, ED planted a new flag for the direction of education technology programs, injecting a little 21st century into our national blueprint.

According to ED, “NETP presents a model of learning powered by technology, with goals and recommendations in five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. The plan also identifies far-reaching ‘grand challenge’ R&D problems that should be funded and coordinated at a national level.”

How novel.  We are connecting the issues of school tech with actual learning and teaching in the classroom.  We are connecting ed tech with assessment and student performance.  And most importantly, we are addressing the “R&D problems,” important shorthand for how grossly underfunded education R&D, particularly in the area of technology, has been at the government level.  (Don’t believe Eduflack, at the percentage of the federal health budget committed to R&D and compare it to the percentage of the ED budget committed to R&D.  And don’t even get me started on the horrific shortage of private-sector education R&D.)

The release of NETP 2010 is important.  What is equally important, though, is how the rhetoric will be moved into practice.  How are these goals being integrated into ESEA reauth planning?  How are these goals weaved into evaluations for both RttT and i3 efforts in 2011 and beyond?  In our national commitment to better integrate ed tech into the infrastructure of K-12 education, how are we ensuring the necessary funding?  And in answering all of the above, who will champion a renewed federal interest and investment in ed tech on Capitol Hill?

For too many years, the ed tech community has been forced to play defense, trying to protect programs from deeper cuts, year after year.  NETP 2010 provides a greater sense of hope, a verbal agreement that ed tech is a priority of this Administration and this nation.  Now that verbal just has to carry over to the written contracts of this coming February’s Presidential Budget and long-expected ESEA action.
   

Say It Ain’t So, Joel!

Breaking edu-news out of New York City.  NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has resigned, after eight years of helming the nation’s largest public school system.  And never one to miss a beat, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already named Klein’s permanent replacement — Cathie Black, the chairwoman of Hearst magazines and the publisher of USA Today.

In the coming days, we will surely see a great deal written on Klein’s edu-legacy in the city that never sleeps.  There is little doubt that Klein has had a real and lasting impact on NYC and its schools.  Under his watch, NYC schools have improved, student test scores are up, and graduation rates are on the rise.  Klein tackled every challenge Bloomberg put before him, and he became one of the true leaders of the education reform/school improvement movement.  Yes, he has plenty of critics.  But you don’t bring change and you don’t break the status quo without attracting some enemies and some opposition along the way.  
By bringing in another “non-educator” in Black, Bloomberg is clearly hoping to catch lightening in a bottle for the second time in a row.  It is far too early to know what Black stands for and what her agenda will be.  All we can hope is that she builds on Klein’s successes while learning from his shortcomings (particularly his ability to effectively collaborate and engage with parents and the community at large).
Today’s announcement has far greater impact on school reform in general.  Next fall, we are looking at new superintendents (or chancellors) in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Newark (just to name a few).  Some think a new supe in Atlanta is on its way.  That is a lot of change in some of our largest and most influential school districts.
We already know that LA is likely replacing its supe with a seasoned educator in John Deasy.  NYC is going the other route, with a seasoned business mind.  So how will mayoral control districts like DC, Chicago, and Newark break when the music stops and a new supe is placed in the big desk?
Now is the true measure to see the future of urban school reform.  Is Joel Klein the model, as DC tried with Michelle Rhee?  Do these districts in need go with educators who can work with strong teachers unions?  Or maybe this gives the Broad Foundation a real opportunity transform the urban school landscape?
And to think we used to worry about whether a potential supe candidate had the proper administrator credential in a given state …
  

Investigate-ED

Over the weekend, Darrell Issa (CA), the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, made clear that investigations are a-coming to our nation’s capital in 2011.  The new GOP majority in the US House of Representatives plans to investigate the Obama Administration on a host of policy and political issues, all in the name of transparency and accountability.

What does all this mean for education?  Possibly quite a bit.  We still have many people about town licking their wounds from the investigations into the NCLB-era Reading First program.  So what could Issa and the “Investigations Committee” have up their sleeve for education in the coming Congress?

Stimulus Funding — According to the US Department of Education, $89 billion has been provided through the Recovery Act for education, saving an estimated 300,000 education jobs.  How has that money actually been spent?  Why is so much of the available education stimulus funding still untapped?  Are states spending the dollars, or holding them back for a rainy day?  How real are those job estimates?  The Stimulus may be a bigger topic for for Issa and company, but how billions of dollars has been spent by the K-12 establishment is likely to be a storyline.

Race to the Top — By now, we all know about the $4 billion spent on RttT.  So let’s look into the Round 1 scoring and the discrepencies across review panels.  What about the huge differences in Round 2 scores before and after oral defense?  How hard were states’ arms twisted to change laws and adopt policies in order to qualify for money they never got?  And then, more importantly, how is the money being spent?  What vendors are now raking in the big RttT bucks?   It may be greatly unfair, but many a pundit and so-called policy maven will expect to see tangible results in Tennessee and Delaware next year, only a year after winning the grant.  If we don’t see marked improvement …

Investing in Innovation — The i3 program brings many of the same questions coming to Race.  Why were so many school districts unsuccessful in winning, while advocacy groups and “friends of the program” won big?  What about discrepencies across the different review panels?   

Edujobs — Just because so many folks seem to dislike the program, it would make a great investigation, particularly since many school districts are holding the money back for next school year or the following.  Did it actually save a job for the 2010-11 school year?  And at what cost?

General Favoritism — This was the great hook of the RF debacle.  The Bush Administration allegedly steering contracts, funding, attention, and well wishes to their closest friends and family in the reading community.  What goes around, comes around, I fear.  Imagine those hearings to see what orgs are sitting at the table to write the education stimulus and ESEA reauth?  Who helped develop criteria for RttT, i3, and other programs?  What orgs are now reaping the benefits of their “help” on moving education improvement forward?  And who is in the pipe to benefit from proposed funding consolidation and competitive grants, as proposed in the president’s budget?

Are such investigations fair?  Hardly.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t happen.  Education is one of those interesting policy topics, where everyone believes they know best.  We all went to school, after all, and thus our ideas are the most important.  Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent a great deal of education dollars.  There have been real winners and real losers.  And if the House GOP is serious about reducing federal spending and federal power, going after federal education can be a powerful rhetorical device. 

So what’ll it be, Mr. Issa?  Is federal education on the hit list, somewhere between healthcare reform and cap and trade? 

Around the Edu-Horn, November 8, 2010

RT @hechingerreport Our latest Go Deep section tackles community colleges. Read all nine stories! http://bit.ly/9Orbg8

N.J. teachers union snubbed by state education chief: http://sbne.ws/r/630S (from ASCD)

Utah state ed leaders to consider grading schools http://t.co/SnIMzDv

Extended school days under consideration in DC public school system http://t.co/jTZDmCB

RT @sgermeraad: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on #teacher effectiveness: time of change or just talk of change? http://bit.ly/9djRqP

Is ESEA Reauth a Done Deal?

For months now, the popular wisdom has been that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be reauthorized in 2011 (only three or so years late).  After all, John Kline (MN), the incoming House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman, and EdSec Arne Duncan have never been that far off on what they wanted from the law.  Duncan’s blueprint has been public record since March.  Kline has been hoping for more local control and greater attention on rural schools, two issues Duncan seems fine with.  Their only significant difference is that Duncan is the champion of Race to the Top and Kline would like to see the program carted off to an early death.  Otherwise, there is a lot to work with in the middle.

Following Tuesday’s elections, folks (including Eduflack) have been quick to say that education is the one issue Democrats and Republicans can probably agree on (to a degree) in the coming year.  If both sides are looking for a quick win and a chance to show they stand FOR something and can move something forward, ESEA is likely it.  The outstanding question, to many, is whether Hill Republicans want to give the White House and the Dems such a quick win.

Let’s be clear.  We aren’t talking about a comprehensive overhaul of No Child Left Behind.  When you take the March 2010 ESEA Blueprint, and mix in current political realities, we are really talking about a minor remodel of the law, not a rebuild.  Additional flexibility.  Revised accountability measures.  Greater collaboration.  More carrot and less stick.  A kinder, gentler (and now level-funded) NCLB if you will.

Last week’s congressional elections make pretty clear that any ESEA reauth likely means a new law that is level funded.  The incoming class (many of who ran on a platform to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education) is not looking to increase Duncan’s budget.  And those cockeyed optimists who believe a lame duck congress passing an omnibus appropriations bill means a third round of RttT clearly haven’t been listening to Kline or a number of others who can undo in two months that which is done in the coming weeks. 

But are we missing the bigger story in the reauthorization debate?  Most seem to couch this as a Democrats versus Republicans issue, failing to see what current House Ed Committee Chairman George Miller (CA) and Kline have been moving a good draft forward for much of this year.  And both Miller and Kline seem to be in tune with most of the priorities coming out of Maryland Avenue.

Instead, isn’t the real debate between the House and the Senate?  Even when both chambers were controlled by Dems and all Dems were complaining about NCLB, we didn’t see a shared vision.  If we couldn’t get a Dem Administration, a Dem House, and a Dem Senate to agree on K-12 education, what makes tomorrow different?

Has Sen. Tom Harkin (IA) been the stumbling block?  Harkin controls both the Senate HELP Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that oversees education funding.  While the senior senator from Iowa has held numerous hearings on specific issues related to ESEA, we haven’t seen the trial balloon drafts we come to expect during the reauth process.  In fact, the Senate has been downright silent regarding its hopes and dreams for next-gen ESEA.  So even if Duncan and Kline come to agreement on a bill that could work for their constituencies, will Harkin join in the fun?

In all honesty, we simply don’t know if ESEA is a priority for either the House or the Senate.  Both committees have a significant number of TBDs on the membership roster for the coming congress.  When we hear the list of priorities for the new House, education simply isn’t on the list.  And we are hearing nothing coming out of the Senate.

If Duncan is smart, he just prepares to work under the confines of the current NCLB.  He can do most of what he wants anyway, with the current law and some guidance (even of the non-regulatory variety) to make the shifts proposed in his blueprint.  Is it ideal, no.  But it may be the best choice in the current environment.