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Aug 222013

Professor Tony Wagner of Harvard weighs in on the global achievement gap affecting millions of U.S. students each year.  In his 2010 book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It  outlines some pretty staggering statistics regarding high school students:

Some Basic Facts

The high school graduation rate in the United States—which is about 70 percent of the age cohort—is now well behind that of countries such as Denmark (96 percent), Japan (93 percent), and even Poland (92 percent) and Italy (79 percent).

  • Only about a third of U.S. high school students graduate ready for college today, and the rates are much lower for poor and minority students.
  • Forty percent of all students who enter college must take remedial courses.
  • And while no hard data are readily available, it is estimated that one out of every two students who start college never complete any kind of post-secondary degree.
  • Sixty-five percent of college professors report that what is taught in high school does not prepare students for college. One major reason is that the tests students must take in high school for state-accountability purposes usually measure 9th or 10th grade-level knowledge and skills. Primarily multiple-choice assessments, they rarely ask students to explain their reasoning or to apply knowledge to new situations (skills that are critical for success in college), so neither teachers nor students receive useful feedback about college-readiness.
  • In order to earn a decent wage in today’s economy, most students will need at least some post-secondary education. Indeed, an estimated 85 percent of current jobs and almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs now require post-secondary education. Even today’s manufacturing jobs now largely require post-secondary training and skills.
  • According to the authors of “America’s Perfect Storm”: “Over the next 25 years or so . . . nearly half of the projected job growth will be concentrated in occupations associated with higher education and skill levels. This means that tens of millions more of our students and adults will be less able to qualify for higher-paying jobs. Instead, they will be competing not only with each other and millions of newly arrived immigrants but also with equally (or better) skilled workers in lower-wage economies around the world.”
  • The United States now ranks tenth among industrial nations in the rate of college completion by 25- to 44-year-olds.
  • Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work. Fewer than a quarter of the more than 400 employers recently surveyed for a major study of work-readiness reported that new employees with four-year-college degrees have “excellent” basic knowledge and applied skills. Among those who employ young people right out of high school, nearly 50 percent said that their overall preparation was “deficient.”
  • Only 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the last presidential election, compared to 70 percent of 34- to 74-year-olds.

To read more  from his book, click on the link below.

The Global Achievement Gap – Wagner

Nov 262012

Mike Petrilli is one of the nation’s foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization’s research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter. He is also a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Executive Editor of Education Next, where he writes a regular column on technology and media, as well as feature-length articles. Petrilli has published opinion pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal and appears regularly on NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, and Fox. He’s been a guest on several National Public Radio programs, including All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and the Diane Rehm Show. He is author, with Frederick M. Hess, of No Child Left Behind: A Primer. Previously Petrilli was an official in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and a vice president at K12.com. He started his career as a teacher at the Joy Outdoor Education Center in Clarksville, Ohio, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Honors Political Science from the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife Meghan and sons Nico and Leandro in Bethesda, Maryland.

Ten questions with Mike Petrilli about Mike’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma. This post was originally published on Education News.

1. Why did you write The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools?

Three years ago, when I started working on the book, I was struggling with the “diverse schools dilemma” myself. My wife, my young son, and I lived in Takoma Park, Maryland—a wonderful, urbanized city adjacent to the District of Columbia with walkable neighborhoods, a great sense of community…and socioeconomically diverse schools with lackluster test scores. I wanted to understand the pros and cons of such schools, and I decided to share what I learned with others.

2. You show that as cities change, middle-class families are returning to culturally vibrant urban neighborhoods for the first time in decades and considering sending their children to the diverse local public schools. What are the upsides of socioeconomically mixed public schools for middle-class children?

First of all, they get to become friends with kids with diverse backgrounds and experiences, with enriches their lives and, some research shows, will make them more comfortable in a multicultural America in the future. To be sure, getting to know people from different cultures or income levels can be stressful, but some amount of stress can be good for kids as they learn and grow. Second, living in the city can be great for kids, with less driving, more friends nearby, lots of museums and other cultural venues in the area—and many urban schools come with this sort of diversity.

3.What are the risks of choosing a socioeconomically mixed public school?

I see two. First, it’s true that such schools are less safe than homogeneously affluent schools. Still, all public schools are dramatically safer for kids than the world around them. Second, there’s the risk that high-achieving students—including, in general, many affluent kids—won’t get the challenge they need in diverse schools that are focused on helping other kids reach basic standards.

4. Can diverse schools effectively serve children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and educational needs simultaneously? What are the challenges? How are some schools overcoming them?

Yes, but it’s hard. The biggest challenge is academic diversity. All public schools face this challenge to some degree: How do you serve students who enter school at vastly different points in terms of academic preparedness? But socioeconomically diverse schools tend to face a spectrum that’s even wider, with some kids (mostly affluent) many grade levels ahead and other kids (mostly poor) several grade levels behind. There are no easy solutions. You can group kids by achievement levels, but doing so results largely in classrooms segregated by race and class. But if you keep all kids together, the high achievers will tend to be bored and the low achievers will tend to be overwhelmed. The best approach is probably a compromise: grouping kids by achievement for part of the day (say, for math and reading) but not for the rest.

5. Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards?

Sometimes, but it’s especially hard if schools don’t group students by ability. Beware of talk of “differentiated instruction”—the idea that one teacher can simultaneously instruct kids of vastly different achievement levels at the same time. It’s incredibly hard to do and often results in high achievers not getting the challenge they need.

6. Why are so few diverse public schools educationally “progressive”? Is it possible to find public schools that are both socioeconomically diverse and educationally progressive?

There are very few diverse public schools that are also “progressive.” They do exist—see, for instance, D.C.’s Capital City Public Charter School. But most diverse schools, focused as they are on meeting the needs of typically low-achieving low-income kids, tend to use a fairly traditional, structured, disciplined approach—in other words, the kind of educational style that many upper-middle-class parents hate.

7. Almost sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, many poor and minority children still attend segregated schools. How crippling is such isolation? In particular, what’s the evidence that poor kids perform better in integrated schools?

It’s just as crippling as it was sixty years ago. Some recent research from Caroline Hoxby, Rick Hanushek, and others shows that racially isolated classrooms are really bad for minority kids, especially African-American males. No one knows why for sure, but “separate but equal” is still a major problem. That said, some of the schools garnering the best results for poor and minority kids are racially isolated, such as many “no excuses” charter schools. So it’s not impossible to make racially and socioeconomically isolated schools work, but we’d be better off if we didn’t have to.

8. You note that the rapid gentrification of many of our great cities is making school integration more feasible than it has been for decades. As neighborhoods grow more diverse, it’s easier for their local schools to become diverse. How can we take advantage of this unique opportunity? How can charter schools be used to achieve this goal?

Public policy has to help, because schools that today are nicely integrated could “flip” to becoming overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class in just a matter of years, especially if their surrounding neighborhoods flip. There are a few options. First, cities could create “controlled-choice” programs, whereby parents choose from among several options and a computer considers parental preferences and school demographics to create matches. But this means that no one has the “right” to attend the school down the street. Another option is to draw school boundaries in a way that takes demographics into account. And a third way is to create magnet or charter schools that are designed to draw a diverse set of students.

9. In the book, you also share your personal struggle with the “Diverse Schools Dilemma.” What did you decide when it came to your own children? Why?

In the end, we decided to leave Takoma Park and move to a forested part of Bethesda, Maryland where, I’m embarrassed to say, the only diversity is biodiversity. I struggle with this decision every day, and we miss our old walkable, diverse neighborhood. But we felt that the schools in Takoma Park were too “traditional” and focused on getting kids to pass Maryland’s basic skills test. Those pressures play out differently in communities where the kids are all upper-middle-class and are going to pass the tests no matter what.

10. What solutions exist for parents facing the “Diverse Schools Dilemma”?

They can absolutely make diverse public schools work for them, especially if schools are willing to group students by achievement levels for at least part of the day. Parents might also consider diverse magnet schools, charter schools, or even private schools—which are often more diverse than their public school peers.

Jun 232012

The 2012-13 education budget reconciliation process was extremely painful this year, as city officials and BoE grapple with doing more with less.  With employee and retiree insurance benefits and special education costs continuing to rise, the real cost of delivering a K-12 education has more than doubled over the last 40 years.   Student performance in the US lags significantly behind the rest of the world.  These trends show little sign of abating  ( at least for the time being.)  With that in mind, parents, teachers, administration, taxpayers and public officials need to get more efficient and effective about how K-12 educational services are delivered, preparing students for the world in which they will compete.

Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go?  By Margaurite Odden

Imagine if a school were to spend more per pupil on ceramics electives than core science classes. What if a district were to push more funding to wealthy neighborhoods than to impoverished ones? Such policies would provoke outrage. Yet these schools and districts are real.Today’s taxpayers spend almost $9,000 per pupil, roughly double what they spent 30 years ago, and educational achievement doesn’t seem to be improving. With the movement toward holding schools and districts accountable for student outcomes, we might think that officials can precisely track how much they are spending per student, per program, per school. But considering the patchwork that is school finance—federal block funding, foundation grants, earmarks, set-asides, and union mandates—funds can easily be diverted from where they are most needed.Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? examines education finance from the school’s vantage point, explaining how the varied funding streams can prevent schools from delivering academic services that mesh with their stated priorities. As government budgets shrink, linking expenditures to student outcomes will be imperative. Educational Economics offers concrete prescriptions for reform.Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? by Marguerite Roza, is available from the Urban Institute Press (ISBN 978-0-87766-764-3, paperback, 128 pages, $26.50)Reminder about six ideas from Odden book.Idea #1:  Most Advanced Placement (AP) programs are now available online at modest cost.  If money is tight offer AP courses in an online format.  This is not all that different from the idea of learning packets, originally developed for adult education and now used for high school students missing a few credits to graduate.Idea #2:  Rather than academically and artistically programs of questionable value based on the evidence, provide a $25 per pupil allocation to provide extra strategies for gifted and talented students.

Idea #3:  Research supports class-size reduction but only for Grades K-3.  The findings were clear.  The small class sizes — but not the regular classes with an instructional aide—did positively impact student achievement for all students and about twice that for students from low-income and minority backgrounds.  There is no similar research on class-size reduction in upper elementary, middle and high schools. 

Idea #4 The public also pressures schools to offer many elective courses; fun classes; student activities including sports; and so on.  To respond schools (including Norwalk High and Brien McMahon) often expand to seven or eight periods a day, an option that increases costs by 20-40% compared to a six-period day.  Further, because many elective classes are small and often taught by senior teachers, the cost per pupil can be four to five times the per pupil spending on core classes. Second to class size the mix of core and elective classes is the next largest draw on the education dollar. 

Idea #5:  Use effectiveness indicators to make tenure decisions about teachers and principals; take every action possible to make sure that only effective teachers and principals are given tenure from this point on.  If possible, push out tenure decision to a teacher’s fourth, fifth or sixth year in teaching, so more and more stable evidence is available for making that important decision.

Idea #6:  Instructional aides are endangered staff positions in this book as randomized trial research —the gold standard of research—shows they do not add value to student achievement.  

Oct 032011

Book Photo

The second most important decision you will make as a parent — apart from deciding to have the kid in the first place — is deciding which school for them to enroll in. Make the right decision and you could put them on a path toward lifelong learning, a prestigious college education and a successful career. Choose wrong, and well, you know. Talk about pressure. Luckily for parents, Peg Tyre, author of The Trouble with Boys and a former Newsweek education reporter, has a new book to help parents evaluate both schools and teachers so they can find the right place for their child. Fittingly, it’s called The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.[1]


Read more:

Time Magazine 8/24/11, ‘The Good School’ by author Peg Tyre Article

Does Class Size Matter, Excerpt from “The Good School, How Parents  Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve”

New York Times 9/18/11 ‘Putting Parents in Charge’ by Author Peg Tyre

National Public Radio, 8/28/11, ‘The Good School’ Author Peg Tyre Interview

Education Next 9/15/11 ‘The Good School’ by author Peg Tyre Article and Podcast

[1] Excerpt from Time U.S. online “7 Things You Need to Know About a School (Before You Enroll Your Kid) by Kayla Webley. Wednesday, August 24, 2011