Several recent studies question the efficacy of STEM-focused schools, writes Holly Yettick for Education Week. A report in The Journal of Educational Research indicated that students in STEM schools in North Carolina were significantly more likely to take core, advanced, and vocational-technical STEM courses than peers in other schools; however, in Florida, STEM students took vocational-technical STEM courses at higher rates, but took core and advanced STEM courses at the same rate as peers in non-STEM schools. Students in STEM-focused schools in both Florida and North Carolina were no more likely to perform well on state math exams between 2006 and 2008. Another report in the same journal looked specifically at STEM-focused elementary and middle schools, finding results mixed. Transferring to STEM magnets didn’t change achievement trajectories; students performed at the same levels as peers who transferred to non-STEM schools in the same district. Still another study examined math, biology, chemistry, and physics course-taking and exam results for 70,000 students attending both selective and nonselective public STEM high schools in New York City. The STEM schools appeared at first glance to have higher scores and STEM course-taking rates than other high schools, but once researchers accounted for demographics and prior test scores, most STEM-school advantages disappeared, suggesting they were disproportionately attracting higher-achieving students interested in STEM. More
Getting off tracks
Should public schools offer separate programs for “gifted” students? asks The New York Times on its Room for Debate blog. Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed write that New York City’s gifted and talented (G&T) programs have long exacerbated socioeconomic and racial segregation within schools. Instead of providing segregated tracks, they write, schools should take a school-wide approach to gifted education, incorporating identified students into mixed-ability classrooms. Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute strongly favors segregation by ability, arguing that it puts future innovators at risk to hope that overburdened classroom teachers can offer the teaching and learning environments gifted children need through “differentiation.” Economist Darrick Hamilton writes that tracking students by ability is self-fulfilling, and locks students into hierarchical groups; particularly pernicious is so-called ability-group sorting across and within schools that is largely defined by race and class position at birth. Economist Bruce Sacerdote feels that data, theory, and decades of experience show that tracking can have a big payoff, since high-ability students benefit most from high-ability peers. Wholesale elimination of G&T programs or specialized high schools could have serious consequences for bright but not wealthy students. More
When teachers are no-shows
A new study from the National Council on Teacher Quality looks at how often teachers are in the classroom and what factors affect their attendance. Using district data for 40 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas for 2012-13, researchers found that on average, public school teachers were in the classroom 94 percent of the year, missing 11 days out of 186. Teachers used slightly less than all of short-term leave offered, an average of 13 days. Sixteen percent of teachers were classified as chronically absent for missing 18 days or more, accounting for a third of all absences. In spite of prior research to the contrary, the study did not find a relationship between teacher absence and poverty levels of children in a school. Districts with formal policies to discourage teacher absenteeism did not appear to have better attendance rates than those without them, suggesting common policies to encourage better attendance bear further scrutiny. Common attendance incentives also did not significantly impact teacher attendance rates. The authors suggest further research is needed: What factors in high-poverty schools contribute to similar teacher attendance rates across school-poverty levels? Are there differences within poverty levels examined? Potential catalysts such as school climate, teacher and administrator leadership, and community involvement are also subjects for future analysis. More
‘How to deal with black folk’
“Community engagement” is a euphemism for “how to deal with black folk,” writes Andre Perry in The Hechinger Report. Referring to the reorganization of New Orleans’s schools post-Katrina, Perry is constantly asked, “In lieu of a hurricane, what can be done to radically reform districts?” “Hurricane” is a metaphor for an apparatus that can spur certain reform strategies, and the turnaround/takeover/portfolio district, implemented without community input, has become a favored model. Yes, community groups, alumni associations, teachers unions, parents, and non-profits can be part of the problem, but they are an undeniable part of the solution, too, in Perry’s view. Turnaround districts should incubate local talent, recruiting teachers from a diverse range of prep programs. In most cases, the benefits of changing a school name don’t outweigh the ill will it brings. And if building a positive school culture leads to disproportionate expulsion and suspension rates of black and brown children, a different strategy is needed. Ensuring that parents and neighbors are represented on charter school boards heightens trust, and reformers must work with local civil rights organizations to conceptualize a community-relations strategy. These are some of many different ways to facilitate authentic community engagement, but “funders and reformers don’t want to work with the community, because hurricanes don’t negotiate,” Perry says. More
What’s Boston’s secret?
On the Flypaper blog of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Michael Goldstein examines why Boston charters outstrip those in other urban districts in terms of student outcomes. Is it a question of size? Boston’s charters serve 9,000 students, a fourth the charter population of cities like New Orleans and D.C. Yet when D.C., New Orleans, New York, or Los Angeles had 9,000 kids in charters, Goldstein writes, the schools didn’t perform nearly as well. Perhaps it’s since Massachusetts has a strong charter authorizer? Yet the same authorizer green-lit numerous non-Boston charters that generated few value-add gains. Funding doesn’t explain the difference, since several comparison districts spend equally or more. Nor are Boston’s traditional schools worse than those in comparison cities such that it’s “easier to outperform” them. Caps matter: The state lifted its “9 percent of a district’s enrollment cap” in 2011, but retained a “smart cap,” leading to operators like Edward Brooke, Excel, KIPP, and Uncommon each opening two more schools — not ten, not zero. To explain Boston’s success, Goldstein points to the high-quality, youthful talent drawn from universities in the Boston area, as well as cooperation mixed with competition among charters, and the number of self-identified, authentic adherents to the No Excuses model. Individuals in and around Boston also have had an outsized positive influence. More
(Student) survey says…
A new report from Bellwether Partners looks at the experience of states, districts, charter management organizations (CMOs), and teacher-preparation programs that were “early adopters” of student-perception surveys. Well-designed surveys ask students about instructional practices, student-teacher relationships, teacher management of classrooms, rigor of lessons, student engagement, and teacher responsiveness to student struggles. Researchers found experiences with student surveys to be positive, but identified several challenges. One is survey design: Questions must measure what matters and differentiate among classrooms. Another is teacher buy-in, since teachers fear that those with high standards and expectations might not be well liked. Administrators must communicate clearly and regularly with teachers and students about what surveys will ask, how questions were developed, and how results will be used. States and districts must integrate survey data into professional development to help teachers grow throughout their careers. The report recommends that states avoid one-size-fits-all solutions; support pilot programs in districts that want to incorporate surveys; and encourage knowledge-sharing among districts that implement them. Districts and CMOs should ensure survey data are part of professional development processes, not just evaluative measures. Vendors should develop functionality that links to technology platforms for ease of use and likelihood that outcomes will be part of broader teacher-effectiveness initiatives. And funders should create channels for stakeholders to share best practices, lessons learned, and vendor information. More
The push for data privacy
Moms and dads from across the political spectrum have mobilized into an unexpected political force to fight the data mining of their children, reports Stephanie Simon for Politico.com. They’ve catapulted student privacy — barely an issue last spring — to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming. Initially dismissed as a fringe campaign, the privacy movement has attracted powerful allies on the left and right. Activists have already claimed one trophy: a privately run, $100 million database set up to make it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies. The project, inBloom, folded just 15 months after its triumphal public launch. Now, parents are rallying against another perceived threat: huge state databases to track children for more than two decades, from as early as infancy through the start of their careers. In the past five months, 14 states have enacted stricter student-privacy protections, often with overwhelming bipartisan support. The latest iterations in Louisiana and New Hampshire take strong steps to limit the scope of state databases and restrict the use of information collected on students. All told, at least 105 student-privacy bills were introduced this year in 35 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More
Immigrant barriers to early childhood education
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute identifies the unique needs of immigrant parents across a range of expectations for parent skills and engagement in early childhood education and care programs, and strategies to address these needs. Children of immigrants are more than 25 percent of the total U.S. population aged 8 and under. The foreign-born parents of these children, who make up 21 percent of parents of young children overall, face challenges that impede access and meaningful participation in family-engagement programs and activities. Forty-five percent are low-income, and 47 percent have limited English proficiency (LEP). Currently, no public funding explicitly supports language, cultural access, or other immigrant family-specific needs in parent-engagement programming. The report recommends expanding parent education, literacy, and English-language programs: The federal Preschool for All initiative can be leveraged to include comprehensive and purposeful engagement strategies for low-literate and LEP parents — both immigrant and native-born — as part of state expansion of universal pre-K programs. These efforts can be bolstered by the creation of data systems that collect and share pertinent parent information — e.g., family home language and parents’ English proficiency (speaking, writing, reading), disaggregated by subgroup. The report also calls for a federal study to determine language and cultural barriers that impede access to federally supported early childhood and K-3 services. More
BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Torlakson versus Tuck
The state superintendent’s race in California is headed to a run-off, with incumbent Superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck now set to face each other again in the Nov. 4 general election. More
School bonds win big
In the primary, voters in 44 California districts passed 35 school-construction measures, worth $2 billion, a pass rate of 80 percent. More
The numbers are in
After a frenetic effort to count every high-needs student in the California public school system, the first official tally under the sweeping new K-12 finance law is in, but results are mixed. More
Orange and Los Angeles County schools are the winners of a $250 million pot of money from the state designed to provide students with more work experience in high-demand industries. More
Suspensions drop — maybe
In LAUSD overall, the suspension rate dropped to 1.5 percent last year from 8 percent in 2008, although some question the data. More
Where’s student voice?
While California districts held an unprecedented number of meetings and conducted scores of surveys seeking parent, community, and staff input to develop financial blueprints to improve learning for their neediest children, some students feel their voices were left out of the process. More
A deficit at home
A new study finds that parents in Hispanic or Asian immigrant families in California were less likely to read or look at picture books with their young children than non-Hispanic white parents. More
What’s the metric?
The U.S. Department of Education may not have a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of Promise Neighborhoods, a $100 million competitive-grant program intended to improve education for students in distressed communities, according to the GAO. More
The National Education Association is attempting to revive a fundamental labor principle — organizing — as its membership drops. More
Eighty-two percent of high schools nationwide offered dual-enrollment courses during 2010-11 — an increase from 71 percent of high schools in 2002-03, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. More
But does it work?
Researchers at the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Tennessee Department of Education will share in a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch a five-year study on the impact of a new dual-credit policy in Tennessee. More
States turning to dual enrollment are encountering challenges unique to rural areas, such as finding high school teachers qualified to teach college-level courses. More
With the shift to the common standards and recent history of low student-achievement results as catalysts, education leaders in New York state are pushing a new agenda for English-language learners that calls for more accountability for their needs and more opportunities for rigorous bilingual and dual-language instruction. More
To universal applause
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed a bill into law that will offer 10 hours per week of early education to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state. More
Slow down, there
The Maine Department of Education will allow school districts to slow the process of implementing a law that requires students to graduate from high school only after demonstrating they have met a set of state standards. More
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a law dispensing with the Common Core as public school teaching guidelines and replacing them with state-designed education benchmarks. More
And then there were...
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina has signed a bill that requires the state to adopt new content standards for 2015-16 and drop the Common Core State Standards. More
Ohio holds steady
Ohio’s legislature, which is heavily Republican, reaffirmed the math and English standards it adopted along with 43 other states and the District of Columbia. More
Meanwhile, in Indiana
Indiana students must take an assessment that tests their knowledge of the new state standards next spring if the state wants to keep its NCLB waiver. More
No surprise there
Among the 20 schools with the highest dropout rates in 2011 and 2012, all but two saw the principal change during four years prior to graduation. More
Some Utah high school students cracked their yearbooks to find sleeves digitally added to their tank tops and tattoos erased; school officials have apologized to them. More
The Crayola Champion Creatively Alive Children program provides grants for innovative, creative leadership team-building within schools. Maximum award: $2,500 and Crayola products valued at $1,000. Eligibility: schools in the U.S. or Canada whose principals are members of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) currently and intend on renewing membership for the 2014-2015 school year. Deadline: June 23, 2014.
The Council for Economic Education John Morton Excellence in the Teaching of Economics Awards promotes economic education at the K-12 level by recognizing and honoring inspirational teachers whose innovative teaching concepts improve and stimulate economic understanding in and out of their classrooms and achieve results. Maximum award: $500; an all-expense-paid trip to attend the 53rd Annual Financial Literacy and Economic Education Conference in Dallas, October 2014; recognition at the CEE’s annual conference awards luncheon and dinner; recognition on the CEE website, digital assets, communications and in CEE’s Teaching Opportunity November newsletter; an opportunity to share best practices with their teaching colleagues by co-facilitating a session at the CEE annual conference in Dallas. Eligibility: all K-12 teachers that are members of the CEE Educator Community. Deadline: July 15, 2014.
Share Our Strength awards grants to eligible organizations involved in increasing access to summer meals programs supported through the Summer Food Service Program or the National School Lunch “Seamless Summer” Program; educating and enrolling more eligible families in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program; increasing the availability of school breakfast through alternative models such as “in-classroom” breakfast and “grab-n-go” breakfasts; increasing access to afterschool snack and meal programs, as well as child care programs, supported through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP); and advocacy around any of the above anti-hunger issues. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: nonprofit organizations and schools in the U.S. Deadline: rolling.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“Not only ought young persons (in association with their teachers) be provided a range of experiences for perceiving and noticing, they ought to have opportunities, in every classroom, to pay heed to color and glimmer and sound, to attend to the appearances of things from an aesthetic point of view. If not, they are unlikely to be in a position to be challenged by what they see or hear; and one of the great powers associated with the arts is the power to challenge expectations, to break stereotypes, to change the ways in which persons apprehend the world.” — Maxine Green, 1917-2014.