Monday, April 29, 2013

A couple of good readings
Obama’s big second-term education problem 
The Coming Revolution in Public Education

And if you don't follow Larry Cuban's blog:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Each and Every Child: Reflections on the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report (part 1)

On April 15, 2013 I attended the “Reframing Reform: Achieving Equity and Excellence in Public Education” summit in Chicago. It was an engaging event with attendees from various education sectors, including not-for-profit foundations, policy makers, education researchers, school board members, and community organizers. A primary focus was the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report to Arne Duncan, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.” The report is broken into five sections summarizing major findings and recommendations. The topics are: 1) equitable school finance; 2) teachers, principals, and curricula; 3) early childhood education; 4) mitigating poverty’s effects; and 5) accountability and governance. In future posts I will comment on these specific areas.

Hosted by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), this summit presented multiple perspectives on the role of education reform and its outcomes on equity and excellence. Additionally, the keynote speakers provided thought-provoking presentations on getting reform right. The first speaker, Pasi Sahlberg, an educator and policy advisor in Finland, has advised over 45 countries, the World Bank, European Commission, and OECD. His presentation focused on how Finland moved from an educationally low performing country in mid-20th century to one of the highest performing countries in the world on various international metrics. Unfortunately, the steps taken by Finland stand in stark contrast to the direction taken by recent reforms in the United States, such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The second keynote speaker, Congressman Mike Honda (D-California), presented the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report and pointed out that the Commission listed “equity” before “excellence,” an outcome the United States has not been able to achieve for many socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority students. As stated in the opening of the report:

This report summarizes how America’s K-12 education system, taken as a whole, fails our nation and too many of our children. Our system does not distribute opportunity equitably. Our leaders decry but tolerate disparities in student outcomes that are not only unfair, but socially and economically dangerous. (pg. 9)  

I concur that education in the United States is not equitable. We, as a nation, face a series of challenges and obstacles if we are to seriously pursue an excellent education for each and every child—perhaps the first of which is deciding how we define “excellent.”   

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

State Policy and College-Level Courses in High School

In the past couple decades, the number of high school students participating in college-level courses has increased drastically. A new NCES study estimates this number to be 2.0 million students in 2010-2011, an increase from 1.2 million students in 2003-2004 (an increase of 66.6%). The same study estimates that 82% of high schools have students participating in college-level courses, often referred to as dual credit, dual enrollment, or concurrent enrollment (I use the term dual credit for consistency).

The proliferation of dual credit translates into more students participating in college and earning college credits before they graduate high school. As dual credit offerings have expanded, questions have been raised related to dual credit quality, the extent to which a larger pool of students is adequately prepared for college courses in high school, and the extent to which dual credit courses are of college rigor. In many instances, high school faculty members, who often serve as adjunct college faculty, teach dual credit courses on high school campuses. There is a lot to unpack with dual credit, but I want to focus on the relationship between dual credit and state policy.

With colleagues from Indiana University and Lake Land College, I just completed a review of dual credit state policies commissioned by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Our purpose was to examine state policies in all 50 states and better understand the relationship between state policy and quality. The report, which is publically available on the HLC website, is being digested and considered by the HLC for future action.

One issue surfaced by our study is the tension between ‘quality’ and ‘access,’ both of which state policies address in various ways across states. Although the purpose of our study was not to examine this tension, our descriptive results lend themselves well to future analysis of this tension. For example, we found that nine states have state policies that either require or encourage dual credit programs to adhere to the quality standards of the voluntary accreditation organization, the National Association for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP). Several other states have quality-related policies such as Illinois (Illinois’ policy is the “Dual Credit Quality Act”) or Indiana and Tennessee (Chapter 15, Section 49-15-101), whose policies have many state-level provisions focused on quality standards. So there is very clearly a sector of state policies whose purpose is focused on quality.

At the other end of the spectrum are policies that emphasize access to college courses in high schools. We found that the preponderance of state policies had established policies about which students are eligible to participate in dual credit. These policies often restricted access based on limiting dual credit participation to students in certain grade levels, students with adequate standardized test scores, or students with appropriate course-prerequisites. However, nearly half of the state policies have eligibility waivers (e.g., Kentucky and Missouri) where student certain eligibility requirements can be waived for students as determined by the college faculty or Chief Academic Officer, for example. In some states where students are required to pay tuition, however, state policies provide financial assistance to low-income students (e.g., Connecticut and Indiana). So state policies appear to have different approaches to dual credit access, restricting access for some students based on academic ability and ability to pay, while also providing flexibility in some cases.

The is accumulating evidence about the impact of dual credit (for example, see here, here, and here), suggesting that dual credit participation is related to desirable outcomes such as college enrollment, college persistence, and to a lesser extent, college completion. One missing strand of research, however, is the extent to which state policies related to quality and access influence both which students participate and the outcomes of these students. Although we have observed state dual credit policies expand in the last decade (compared to a 2005 study), including an increased emphasis on promoting quality, there is little evidence about the extent to which specific state policies contribute to student success, increase college access, or even improve student learning. It is this area that is desperately needed for future research to inform our public policies so they work in the best interest of students. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Future Measurement of Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards are receiving a great deal of attention, some of which has been positive and some less so.  The matter of their utility is not yet resolved; currently, my view is that, if these standards are [1] well constructed and [2] adequately and responsibly measured, they are promising for their focusing power to improve instruction and lift student achievement in some areas.  On the first point, standard construction, my view is optimistic:  the notion of curricular standards is a good one, and I see no reason why we are incapable now of deriving strong and useful sets of standards for our students.  Moreover, these standards, however flawed they may be, are probably an improvement upon most states’ standards to this point.  Ultimately, they will be enormously influential to administrators, students, and producers of classroom materials, and conceivably will raise the average quality of curriculum delivery to our students.  Still, we are left with the issue of adequate and responsible measurement, and here is where I see significant cause for concern. I believe that public focus should shift more towards the Common Core assessments currently under development (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment). Ultimately, these assessments will comprise a critical aspect of the overall program and its success or lack thereof; therefore, in this post I will describe certain concerns related to their imminent future use, and predict key consequences.

Over-Promising:  All assessments are inherently imperfect, yet you might not think so from the hype surrounding these still-developing Common Core assessments.  For instance, Arne Duncan indicated that they will be an “absolute game-changer in public education”; meanwhile, the test-makers indicate that these assessments will draw on higher order skills by “leveraging technology” with use of “innovative items,”  in spite of the well-documented, longstanding issues of validly/reliability assessing such skills up to the present date (e.g., see 2011 Pearson review here).  Perhaps these assessments will improve upon prior ones, but the smart money favors at least some level of pessimism.

Minimal Piloting Prior to Widespread Implementation:  Currently, each of these assessments is set to be released in 2014-15, which allows precious little time for field testing prior to widespread and high-stakes (see below) release.

One Assessment, Many Uses:  Even if these assessments deliver as valid/reliable measurement tools, they may still be corrupted by the many ways in which they are to be put to use.  All the while being used, conceivably, to provide meaningful feedback to students, parents, and educators, federal incentives ensure that these assessments will be used as measures of teacher, principal, and overall school effectiveness; in many cases, results will even figure into educators’ annual compensation and future employment prospects.  

Narrow Focus:  Meanwhile, these tests focus initially upon just two subject areas: English/language arts and mathematics.  It is by this point fairly well established that narrow high-stakes testing often yields narrowed curriculums and more limited experiences for students (e.g., see here); we can expect such an impact to be exacerbated within a context in which expectations are raised, and the test is linked in many cases to educators’ livelihoods.

These are just a sample of the potential issues associated with the future measurement of students’ attainment of Common Core standards (for more detailed reviews, see here and here).  Altogether, I am concerned that something which could have been positive may be tainted or squandered, on account of trying to do too much, too fast with its assessment. 

By: Joe Malin