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Hedy N. Chang directs Attendance Works, a national initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. She co-authored the seminal report, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades and has written numerous other articles about student attendance.
In February, Oregon became one of the first states to take a thorough look at its school attendance data, and the results surprised many of us. Nearly a quarter of students missed 10 percent or more of school year, a level of absenteeism that put them at risk academically.
This is true across the state, affecting many schools and districts where daily attendance rates look just fine. The reality is that most schools only track average daily attendance (ADA) but this aggregate figure can mask large numbers of individual students missing so much school that they are at risk academically. (more…)
Over the last several years, critics of public education in the United States have regularly turned to data provided by the Europe-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) through its student assessment initiative, the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA). (Two other international assessment programs similar to PISA have also been implemented. Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) is administered to a sample of 4th and 8th graders every 4 years, including 2011. Progress in International Reading (PIRLS) is administered to a sample of 4th graders every five years, including 2011. The methodologies employed in all three assessments are similar, so comments I make regarding PISA generally apply to the other assessment programs as well.)
Every three years, PISA administers a common assessment to a sample of 15-year-old students in participating countries. In the most recent 2009 cycle, PISA assessments were administered in 65 countries/economies. Each assessment surveys student achievement in three domains: (1) reading literacy, (2) mathematical literacy, and (3) science literacy, with one of these being the primary focus. For the 2009 cycle, the focus was reading literacy with questions in this domain comprising about 60 percent of the assessment.
From these assessment data, individual country profiles describing student achievement are prepared along with various reports seeking to compare achievement across participating countries/economies. The comparison reports have been popular within the United States as a basis for criticizing public education and justifying the call for education reform. Based on average test scores for 2009, the United States ranked 17th in reading literacy, 30th in mathematics literacy, and 23rd in science literacy. These “low” rankings must signal a problem, right? As we shall see, these ranking may or may not be correct, and even if they are, more analysis is needed to understand their significance. Simple rank order displays rarely reveal much about the complexities of student achievement.
Marc Tucker, in his recent report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” made some strident observations about education reform in the United States, and after spending some time with it, I’d like to explore some of his proposals over the next few blog posts.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire report, the Chalkboard team offered a summary in their recent Research Update. In short, Tucker is the head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and crafted this report after a summit of various education ministers from around the globe. Commissioned by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the summit sought to investigate what the “best” nations were doing well in order to learn how to improve our beleaguered education system in the U.S.
This particular document drew some interesting conclusions—in fact, I found myself startled at some of Tucker’s claims. One was the ineffectiveness of charter schools as a means of true reform. Tucker feels that the gains made by charters are too sporadic and, ultimately, these schools are more prone to fail than succeed. I appreciated the insight since two of my children are educated in Portland charter schools.
The summer weather has finally arrived in Oregon and summer vacation is in full swing. Some kids are camping, some are at summer camp. Many teachers are taking a much-needed break, while others are enrolled in summer courses.
Summer vacation has been a tradition in the United States since the mid-19th century, but as the students of the United States fall behind in reading, math and science, the trend towards year-round education is gaining momentum. Is it possible that summer vacation is a tradition that is doing more harm than good for our children? Could year-round school be the key to improving our struggling public education system?
Public schools in the United States haven’t always had a long summer vacation; in fact, in the 1800s different areas of our country had different school schedules. In the city schools were open as many as 48 weeks a year while rural areas had a summer and winter term for school and a fall and spring break allowing children to help with planting and harvesting on the family farm. In the 1840s, popular educational reformers like Horace Mann proposed a blending of the two schedules citing the belief that year-round school was over-stimulating to children’s minds, but that 2 semesters wasn’t enough. And so it was. The “traditional” calendar was born: a 9 month school year with a long summer break. (Source)
There is so much education research out there focused on the myriad details that it’s hard to keep track of it all. But the latest study that’s generating buzz—and standing out—in reform circles zooms out and examines education from a big picture, global perspective.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform by Marc S. Tucker is a report that actually stems from the last two chapters of a book that will be published in September by Harvard Education Press. The project began when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to study the education strategies that other countries have used to outpace us.
American students are now ranked below those in almost 40 developed nations in terms of science, math and reading according to a study by the Programme for International Student Assessment, and this new report shows that the most popular tactics in the US—like smaller class sizes and charter schools—are not making the significant difference that has been hoped for.
The National Center on Education and Economy, a Washington DC think tank, picked up the work and focused on education systems in the highest performing countries—Finland, Singapore, Japan, China (Shanghai), and Canada (Ontario)—to see what we may learn from their successes.
In the middle of our nation’s major recession there are signs of an upturn here and there, but in the meantime, we are struggling to fund the most valuable piece of our future: Education. Unemployment is high, inflation is real and people are having trouble making ends meet. Simply put, there is less money to go around. So is it really any surprise that recent ballot measures asking Oregon taxpayers for even more money have failed? Where do Oregonians draw the line? To hopefully find an answer, I decided to take a look at our past.
As I reviewed Oregon’s ballot measures for the past 40 years, I noticed some not-so surprising patterns. Schools only asked for more taxpayer dollars during tough economic times. Schools suffer when people are making and taking home less money. Accordingly, during times of economic prosperity, Oregon would go years without a mention of educational funding on the ballot.
In general, voters have failed nearly every measure that proposed a tax hike to cover education costs. Since 1970, voters have failed at least 10 such ballot measures. Most recently last month, two local measures to fund education failed. Oregon City voters overwhelming turned down measure 3-376. It’s failure has forced the district to cut two school weeks from the 2010-2011 year in addition to numerous other deep cuts they have already made. Portlanders failed measure 26-121, which was earmarked for improving and repairing facilities.
I should note that voters have made some exceptions. Some measures have passed to keep schools open, keep class sizes down, and retain teacher jobs (Oregon Ballot Measure 2 in 1987; Oregon Ballot Measures 66 and 67 in 2010; and Portland Public School Measure 26-122 in 2011, respectively). But what did taxpayers really agree to? Measure 2 continued levies that were already in place; Measures 66 and 67 taxed businesses and the wealthiest Oregonians; and two other measures in the 1990’s allotted lottery funds for education. In most cases, the average citizen wasn’t giving up much.
In a blog post a few weeks ago, Liz Hummer wondered if the world uses too much edu-speak, too much jargon. She pointed out that jargon can remove us from what we are really talking about and it can turn people off from becoming part of the conversation.
She was right. Now, more than ever, Oregonians need to be joining the conversation about how we can improve our public education system, not shying away because they don’t have the facts, they can’t fathom the figures, or they aren’t familiar with the terminology.
In fact, many Oregonians aren’t familiar with the jargon of public education and who can blame them? Too many of us think we don’t have the time or the resources to really understand what a state public education budget of $5.7 billion means for our school district, or what a graduation rate of 66% means for the local economy. Even for data junkies, it can be overwhelming to try and find meaningful information. That’s why Chalkboard created the Open Books Project.
The last few months reflect a time of momentous change in public education. Weekly, it seems, headlines tout new developments from across the country. Much of this conversation has morphed into a broader, polarized rhetoric, portrayed with clear winners and losers. Whether it is the publication of VAM data by the LA Times, the exit of Michelle Rhee as chancellor of Washington, DC schools, or the redefining of tenure in Illinois, we sense that a battleground of high stakes change is afoot.
I suspect this positional media frenzy is more symptomatic of national political discourse than an accurate portrayal of the challenging yet rich high stakes conversations taking place in many states. Certainly in Oregon, we have chosen a more thoughtful path as we navigate the forces of reform together.
I was pleased to learn that President Obama specifically cited emerging work in Oregon and a few other states as part of his weekly radio address this past Saturday (watch the full address here). In fact, I believe there is a compelling and admirable story to be told within our state. This is not a headline story based in union bashing, erosion of contracts, or top-down directives from a governor; rather, it is a more subtle, compelling story of collaboration, hard work, and creativity in the midst of extreme economic hardship.
Anne Gienapp is an evaluation consultant at Organizational Research Services, leading qualitative and quantitative analysis of many community-based programs throughout the Northwest. With a Master’s in Public Administration from The Evergreen State College and extensive experience with children and family services, early care and education, youth development and community development, she brought an insightful and layered perspective to Chalkboard’s evaluation of our civic engagement efforts, which was conducted in 2010.
The Chalkboard Project’s long-term goal is to elevate student achievement and propel Oregon’s K-12 system to be within the top ten nationally. To achieve this goal, Chalkboard pursues multiple civic engagement efforts intended to provide the public with credible information, build broad support for education reforms, promote stronger stakeholder voices and mobilize key individuals and groups to advocate for proposed solutions.
In 2010, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Chalkboard engaged in an evaluation of its civic engagement efforts. The comprehensive evaluation (read the full report here) was based on interviews with a range of key informants—legislators, education practitioners, partners, staff, board members, and advisors—and review of multiple secondary data sources such as press coverage and past reports. The evaluation, conducted by the Seattle-based firm Organizational Research Services, addressed the extent to which Chalkboard’s efforts between 2007 and 2009 led to progress on education reforms in Oregon.
Children vary in cognitive ability. This is readily apparent in schools. We have long spent time assessing cognitive ability and developing programs to improve learning outcomes for those in general ability ranges (special education and TAG programs being notable). Yet the impact of cognitive differences on learning outcomes is rarely, if ever, taken into account by education reformers. This is troubling because over half of the variance in achievement among students of the same age is attributable to differences in cognitive ability.
Cognitive ability differences translate directly to academic achievement through variation in the ability of students to benefit from instruction. Lower ability students are more prone to misconceptions and are more likely to need more stage setting, more structured (scaffolded) skill development, and more skill practice to achieve mastery. In addition, they may need more examples to consolidate concept learning, more periodic and structured review to strengthen long term memory, more problems of escalating difficulty to reach desired levels of application, and generally need more frequent and precise assessment feedback. Instruction, if it is to be effective, must attend to these issues. But the consequence of these various learning challenges is that the rate of mastery of core concepts and skills is slowed. And without quality instruction, progress can stall altogether.
Higher ability students, on the other hand, generally need less staging—they already have the pre-requisites in hand, master skills and concepts on the first try, commit things to memory readily, and can handle sophisticated application problems without the need for intermediate levels of difficulty. They reach mastery with greater ease, more quickly.
As a consequence of these different orientations to learning, students diverge from each other over time in terms of achievement, even when they are exposed to the best quality instruction. Differences in achievement are inevitable, particularly when the learning resources available to students are roughly the same. And resources available through public education—especially time—are roughly the same for all students.
I have recently completed a research report that discusses the relationship between cognitive ability and achievement from an empirical perspective. I also discuss some of the implications for standards-based school reforms. You can access the report here.