Earlier today, Eduflack examined the educational highlights of President Obama’s State of the Union address. The Cliff Notes version — strong on effective teachers, keep every kid in high school until age 18, college is expensive. But what is equally interesting is what was NOT included in the SOTU, particularly as a lead-up to the presidential campaign.
Last evening, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union Address to Congress and the nation. The speech focused on the four pillars the President and his team see as necessary for turning around the United States and strengthening our community and our economy. No surprise for those following the pre-game shows, education stood as one of those four pillars.
It is School Choice Week! Of course, that means yet another debate focused on whether schools of choice should play a role in our K-12 public education infrastructure. By now, you would think such a debate would be unnecessary, yet the beat goes on.
It is unfortunate that, in 2012, we must continue a debate about whether all students should have access to high-quality school options. It is unfortunate that too many children don’t have the opportunity to attend public schools that can change their destinies. And it is truly unfortunate that we continue to look for excuses and justifications for denying students access schools that are proven to be effective when it comes to addressing all students’ learning needs and preparing all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – for college and career.
Choice can, should, and must help inform the entire education policy agenda. Ultimately, our goal must be to provide great public schools to all students, no excuses. Public school success, regardless of the wrapper it might wear, serves as the exemplar for driving change. We should be agnostic about where solutions come from, as long as they are real, effective solutions that work for our kids. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything less.
When we talk about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we usually like to focus on the freedom of speech part. Some of us (including us former reporters) like the freedom of the press thing. The recent Occupy movement has given us new-found interest in the right of peaceable assembly. And come election time, we often hear about freedom of religion.
Students are put under pressure like never before to meet high expectations on Standardized Tests. Not only that, but teachers are held accountable for these tests scores, putting just as much pressure on teachers all over the United States. Ultimately, destroying the true purpose of school and education. Basically, it doesn’t matter how much a teacher helped a student go from a struggling reader to a student now never seen without a book in his hand. It doesn’t matter that the teacher inspired and motivated the student to want to graduate high school instead of dropping out on her 16th birthday just 2 months away.
The world has clearly changed for school districts. While we are hearing more about test scores and teacher contracts these days, we are just as likely to hear about social media, editorial board meetings, and a superintendent’s “message.”
“And I think as we look at how we talk about what’s happening in the schools, it really has to be a data driven discussion. We’re no longer just writing about spring break and how local sports teams are doing. This is now a very deep dive discussion into performance measures and data. And that requires a sophistication we’ve haven’t seen in education communications in the past.”
Over at Education Sector, there is a new report out focused on accountability efforts in England. The Report, On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service, offers an interesting look at how expert “inspection teams” can evaluate the success of local schools and local teachers.
By now, we all realize that effective educator evaluation requires multiple measures. While many want to focus on just the inputs that go into teaching – what our educators are bringing to the classroom – it is equally, if not more, important for us to focus on student achievement. And England makes clear that student learning is the most important element to its evaluation system.
Most of us can point to that one educator who truly affected our lives — both in and out of the classroom. We remember the one teacher who really pushed us to achieve. Or the instructor who refused to let us take the easy way out. And while we may not remember much about that year in the seventh grade, say, we definitely remember that educator from that year.
What shone through the study was the variation among teachers. Great teachers not only raised test scores significantly — an effect that mostly faded within a few years — but also left their students with better life outcomes. A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students earning almost 1 percent more at age 28.
Suppose that the bottom 5 percent of teachers could be replaced by teachers of average quality. The three economists found that each student in the classroom would have extra cumulative lifetime earnings of more than $52,000. That’s more than $1.4 million in gains for the classroom.
Yes, we are now smack in the middle of celebrating the 10th anniversary of our beloved No Child Left Behind. As we should expect from something that has been on the “out” list the past three or five seasons, many of the birthday wishes are focusing on the failures or shortfalls of the law. Yes, shocker!
At the end of the day, NCLB will best be remembered as an unfinished legacy, one with great promise, but real challenges in delivering on those promises. But we cannot deny that NCLB succeeded in moving K-12 education away from a discussion of process and inputs (as it had been for so many iterations of ESEA before it) and towards a focus on outcomes. We have started to see students and families as the customers in the process, with providers (the public school system) improving the quality of their product. And now, parents can look at test scores and other achievement measures to determine the return on investment for their local education dollar.
If we know anything, it is that we have much work in front of us if we are serious about providing all students — regardless of race, family income or zip code — access to truly great public schools. There are no quick fixes here, nor should we be foolish enough to think one entity has all of the answers to just do it alone.
For us to be truly successful, we must engage the entire educational “village” – the village we saw firsthand at last Thursday’s education reform summit. From the teachers unions, to superintendent and board of education groups, to think tanks, to community organizations, to advocacy groups, we’re all in this together. And as the adults in the village, it’s our job to focus on the kids. We must stop with the name-calling and the feigned procedural concerns. When we look back in 20 years and ask “What became of the Year for Education Reform?” the worst possible thing would be to say that this unprecedented moment was hijacked by a few status quo defenders who won out by making everyone feel icky. What a disappointment that would be. Can’t we do better, Connecticut?
It is no secret that our nation’s achievement gap is significant. The odds that a white or upper class student succeeds in public schools is significantly higher than the odds of an African-American, Latino, or low-income student receiving the same benefits. And as frightening as the size of the gaps may be, the persistence of such gaps are even more damaging.
From 1998 to 2009, the portion of black students passing Virginia Standards of Learning tests in Arlington rose from 37 to 77 percent. For Hispanic students, the jump was from 47 to 84 percent. The gap between non-Hispanic white and black passing rates dropped from 45 percentage points to 19. Between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites, the gap shrank from 35 points to 12.
He insisted on measuring each major ethnic group, plus low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English, on: the percentage passing first-year algebra with a C or better by the end of eighth grade; the percentage passing advanced courses in grades six through 12; the percentage completing the third year of a foreign language by the end of grade 11; the percentage of sixth- through eighth-graders taking electives in art, music and theater, the percentage meeting or exceeding criterion levels on the Virginia Wellness-Related Fitness Tests, and several other measures.