Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Assault on Teacher Ed

by Mike Rose (cross posted from his blog)

As the current education reform movement took shape in the 1990s, public schools were in the crosshairs. Then teachers. Then their unions. And though teacher education programs have long been a target of criticism, now they are in the center of the scope. A recent report from the National Council of Teacher Quality, a group advocating for alternative ways to train teachers, calls teacher education programs “an industry of mediocrity,” and opinion page writers gleefully assail them. The former executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, began his recent demolition with the old chestnut “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teaching.” If you worked in an ed school, you knew you’d better take cover.

Teacher education programs are widely varied by size, region, student body, nature and focus of curriculum, talent of instructional staff, status within home institution, balance of coursework and practice, relation with local district, and more. Some are excellent, some are good and experimenting with ways to get better, some are weak in some ways but decent in others, some are marginal and poorly run. The language of the criticism, at least the most public language, doesn’t allow for this variability. Nor does the dismissive rhetorical stance of the critic, that is the tone and attitude running through the language.

Reading these reports, I thought of the concerns about such language and stance I expressed in Possible Lives, a documentary of good teaching across the United States and a defense of public education. In essence, the assault further contributes to the problem it addresses by reducing the nature of the problem and providing one-dimensional solutions to it.

I reprint below a few paragraphs from the preface and introduction to Possible Lives. Whenever I write “public schools” or “public education” substitute “teacher ed programs,” and you’ll have an elaboration of my concerns:

“During the 1980s and ‘90s, a trend was developing in the national discussion of public education, a tendency to condemn it as a failure and, in some cases, to seek private, market-based alternatives to it. This tendency blended with broad claims about the schools’ responsibility for our economic woes and social problems. One result was despair and retreat from the public school. Another was the search for large-scale, single-shot solutions like vouchers, or charter schools, or high-stakes testing. This way of thinking about public schools and their problems has intensified, heard in legislative debate on educational issues, on talk radio, in newspaper and magazine commentaries. “We can all agree,” writes a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, “that American public schools are a joke.” This is our new common sense.

Now, God knows, there is a lot wrong with our schools. This book is not a defense of the status quo. The reader will gain sharp perspective on the ills of public education from the teachers and students in the classrooms we visit. It is necessary for a citizenry to assess the performance of its public institutions. But the quality and language of that evaluation matter. For that fact, before we can evaluate, we need to be clear about what it is we’re evaluating, what the nature of the thing is: its variables and intricacies, its goals and purpose. We would also want to ask why we’re evaluating. To what end?

The sweeping rhetoric of public school failure does not help us here. It excludes the important, challenging work done in schools daily across the country, thereby limiting the educational vocabulary and imagery available to us. It constrains the way we frame problems and blinkers our imagination. The classrooms in Possible Lives, replete with details of teaching and learning, are offered to spark our imagination and enrich our assessment.

A question that runs through Possible Lives is how we might develop a critique approach to public education. How to craft an approach and language that is critical without being reductive, that honors the best in our schools and draws from it broader lessons about ability, learning, and opportunity, that scrutinizes public institutions while affirming them.”

I’ll have more to say about teacher education in a future blog.  View Mike’s blog here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Equal Access to Early College Options?

I recently published a co-authored IERC report on the extent to which Illinois high schools engage in dual credit or dual enrollment. Dual credit or dual enrollment (I’ll use dual credit for consistency purposes) is an arrangement where high school students take college course and earn college credit (and sometimes earn high school credit also) before they transition to college. Based on data from 2003, our report found that the dual credit participation rate among high schools varied from 0% to 88%. I will note that these figures are based on old data and we know dual credit has expanded in Illinois since 2003, so it is likely that many more high schools offer dual credit to larger proportions of students. That said, national estimates based on data from the 2010-11 academic year suggest there is still large variation among high schools.

Our study found differences in high schools’ dual credit participation rate based on high school locale, geographic location within the states, and the composition of the student body. In particular, we found that rural schools, schools in the central and southern parts of the state, and schools with higher proportions of White and middle- and upper-income students tended to have the highest dual credit participation rates. In other words, we found that students’ access to college courses largely depends on the high school they attend. In a separate study of state dual credit policies I conducted for the regional accrediting agencies, my colleagues and I found that most state policies do not require high schools and colleges to offer dual credit, so the decision to build dual credit programs in the high school curriculum is a local decision. 

In my dissertation research (and similar to research conducted outside of Illinois and nationally), I found that dual credit positively impacts desirable outcomes such as college enrollment and college completion. Although this body of knowledge is relatively young, these studies increasingly suggest that access to college courses, college norms, and college expectations may provide positive benefits for high school students. If we believe these data, then the policy and practice community should engage in important conversations about equal accessibility to early college options for ALL high school students—including those attending high schools that have high concentrations of low-income students and students of color and high schools in more urban areas.

This is by far no small task and we offer concrete recommendations in our recent report. However, any task to expand dual credit access should be accompanied by data collection efforts to ensure we understand both the implementation and outcomes of such efforts. This is especially important if the policy goal is to expand dual credit access to different school contexts where contextual factors may influence the intended program outcomes in unanticipated ways. In Illinois, policy and practice has shifted recently in the direction of expansion. For example the Chicago Public School system and City Colleges of Chicago are scaling up dual credit offerings in key subject areas and recently began five Early College High Schools focused in STEM areas. Also, the Illinois Community College Board is holding forums around the state this year and recently provided grant funding to colleges to enhance and/or build dual credit programs. These efforts and similar efforts underway in other states are positive developments for expanding access to postsecondary education, but it will be important to study these efforts to ensure access is equitable and just.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Do We Know About School Segregation?

Several recent studies have been released questioning the extent of resegregation in US public schools.  A study published in the American Educational Research Journal this spring examined schools in metropolitan areas and found modest increases in integration over the last decade with increasing shares of segregation between non-white groups (as compared to segregation between whites and nonwhites).  More recently, Sean Reardon and Ann Owens argued that there has been little change in overall segregation, though variation exists between groups, regions, and other factors. Finally, in a new study out in American Sociological Review that has attracted popular attention, Jeremy Fiel argues that the declining percentage of White students and between-district segregation are causes of minority students’ lower exposure to White students.  Last year, researchers at the Civil Rights Project found increasing segregation and racial/poverty concentration for Black and Latino students and high isolation for Whites, although this too varied across contexts.

How to make sense of these different findings?  Fiel frames the argument as a tension between exposure and imbalance.  The calculation of racial exposure (as is the case with another measure, racial concentration) of one group to another is influenced by the percentage of each group in the overall enrollment, which is why it may be less preferred in examining trends over time.  Yet, despite the sensitivity to group changes, it provides important substantive information: it tells us about the experience of the “typical” student of a given racial group.  Measures of racial imbalance (also referred to as measures of evenness) are not as sensitive to these population changes, and one of the more popular measures of imbalance allows for calculations of multigroup segregation.  Yet, if all schools were balanced in a district that is 90% Black and Hispanic, we would calculate low segregation according to balance and miss the fact that the students in these schools have very low exposure to White and Asian students—which, using exposure or concentration, would look more segregated.

As our nation and particularly our public school enrollment gets more demographically complicated, the segregation measures used in many southern court desegregation cases, for example, are less likely to completely assess contexts that have three or more racial groups.  I have argued elsewhere that our conceptualizations of school racial context should be more dynamic as schools seem sensitive to relatively small percentages of Black and/or Hispanic students.  Schools that are diverse and stable are likely to be quite different from schools that are in the midst of racial transition in ways that affect the school environment.  Other research finds that the identity of the racial groups in multiracial settings also matters. In other words, there are many ways to measure segregation, and because of the various factors that impact segregation—district policy efforts, changing racial composition, residential segregation, and so on—using multiple measures can give us different ways of understanding this complex issue.  Further, these different dimensions of segregation may imply varied policy solutions.

What should we do about this? Given the considerable consensus of research finding that racially isolated minority schools tend to provide fewer educational opportunities for students and the short- and long-term benefits of diverse schools for students of all races, here are a few brief suggestions for policymakers and practitioners.

  • It is a multiracial world, and studies and discussions about segregation need to look at segregation between Whites and multiple non-White groups as well as segregation within non-Whites.  Likewise, using multiple measures will enhance understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of segregation, and increase the likelihood that policy solutions will best address a particular district or metropolitan area’s segregation patterns. For example, many of these studies and others find that there were different patterns of segregation in more diverse metropolitan areas.
  •  Segregation existing between districts is a serious issue. Much of these new studies and other research as well finds that, in particular, as suburbanization occurs, sorting is happening between suburban communities and districts by race and class, replicating segregation on a wider geographic scale. Thinking about districts and student assignment on a more regional basis can help to overcome these boundary-related segregation patterns. Research on interdistrict voluntary desegregation plans finds them to be successful for students’ outcomes and incredibly popular.
  •  Over the last two decades, school choice has rapidly increased, and some of these studies have noted the contribution of charter schools has become increasingly important. Further, Whites remain the most isolated racial group of students, and their lack of exposure to other groups may have important long-term implications for their post-high school integration experiences.  In particular, they may be more likely to use residential choice or school choice to attend homogeneous schools, so evaluating the effect of school choice polices should become an essential part of their continued development and implementation.
  • For more suggestions and/or discussion of these issues, the National Coalition for School Diversity has devised some recommendations for federal education policy, and Penn State will be holding a conference on Civil Rights & Education next summer.
by Erica Frankenberg

Monday, November 11, 2013

Erosion in State Student Need-Based Financial Aid and Implications for College Affordability

State student financial aid is intended to increase affordability, by providing students with state funds that can be used towards paying for college. In 2010-11, states awarded a total of $11 billion in student aid. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, state spending on student grant aid increased from a total of $5,810 million to $9,105.5 million in constant 2010 dollars. Grant aid is a form of student financial aid that does not have to be paid back (as would student loans). Although there has been an increase of nearly 57% in state student grant aid over the decade, in general, there has been erosion in college affordability over time.
One way to think about how well states are doing in supplying need-based grant aid is to compare the efforts of each state to the amount that the federal government spends on need-based aid in each state through the Pell grant program. Need-based grant aid is aid that is awarded to students who show demonstrated financial need (or are low-income). Most states still award the majority of their grant aid on the basis of need. An example of a need-based grant aid program is Illinois’ MAP grants program. The Pell grant program is the largest need-based student grant aid program that is administered by the federal government. In 2011-12, the maximum Pell grant was $5,550. Pell grants are awarded to students on the basis of financial need, with larger award amounts going to more needy students. Pell grant award amounts also vary based on full- or part-time attendance status and the cost of attendance at the institution where each student is enrolled. Although there have been changes to the Pell maximum award and eligibility requirements over time, Pell grants remain targeted to low-income students and these grants serve as a useful benchmark for the level of federally identified student financial need in each state.
Figures 1 and 2 show total state student need-based aid investment as compared to the total federal investment in need-based aid awarded through the Pell grant program. This is done through a simple calculation in which I computed the following ratio for each state:

The data in these figures do not indicate if the same students received both a need-based state award and a Pell grant. However, if a state awards smaller total amounts of need-based aid (less than 100%), then the state lags behind the federal government’s investment in need-based financial aid for students in the state. By contrast, states that offer more state need-based grant aid than Pell (more than 100%) are doing more than the identified federal investment in need-based aid.
Figure 1 shows the state investment in need-based aid compared to the federal investment in 2000. Four states (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New Jersey) offered more need-based aid to students in their state than did the federal Pell grant program in 2000. More than 50% of the federal investment in Pell grants was offered by 13 states. Less than 10% of the federal investment in need-based aid was offered by 11 states.
When considering the data from 2010, the drop-off in the relative state investment in need-based aid is striking, as shown in Figure 2. Zero states offered more than 50% of the federal investment in need-based aid through Pell grants in 2010. Less than 10% of the federal investment in need-based aid was offered by nearly half of the states (22 in total).
            These numbers show the remarkable extent of the erosion of state support for need-based aid. This trend towards reducing the amount spent on need-based aid in the states as compared to the federal investment in Pell grants has concerning implications for college affordability. The solution is for states to reinvigorate their investment in need-based student financial aid. Not to do so will mean that many students will continue to lack the financial resources to make their college dreams a reality. 

by Jennifer Delaney

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Wither Alternative Teacher Certification Programs

The overreliance on alternative teacher certification programs across the San Antonio School Districts is alarming. Data released in October 2013 by the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Advancement of Teacher Education (CREATE), a center that provides Texas universities with information on teachers and schools, show that teachers who are certified through alternative programs receive preference in the hiring process over those graduating from the teacher preparation program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). The survey was conducted within a 75 miles radius from UTSA. According to CREATE, the highest percentage of university prepared teachers hired by the districts is only 34.5 (2012-2013). These data also show that charter schools within these districts hired the lowest number of teachers graduating from UTSA.

Of course, these numbers are troubling. Alternative teacher preparation programs are largely influenced by the neoliberal agenda in education. Teach for America (TFA), for instance, has been perceived by those who bash public education as a solution for improving educational opportunities in low-income neighborhoods. Yet the reality is that TFA has contributed little in schools that serve disadvantaged children. In a recent Politico editorial, Stephanie Simon provides provocative argument showing how TFA has thrived on the expense of the public good. Catherine Michna asks an important question, i.e., how can we expect teachers with little or no experience in education to be able to close the education gap in poor schools? A city like San Antonio, TX, divided by SES and racial lines, is bound to have schools with a disproportionate achievement gap. Local school districts should be committed to closing the achievement gap by recruiting more teachers graduating from UTSA, who have learned and practiced the pedagogical skills to work with linguistic and cultural diverse children.

Here are the reasons: The teacher certification programs in the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA provide expertise in educating students who will be prepared for educational inequities in public schools. To strengthen this mission, the College of Education and Human Development has The Academy for Teacher Excellence that helps prepare pre-service teachers with educational issues associated with a growing diverse student population.

Teacher candidates who attend UTSA spend at least two years studying the theory and practice of teaching, plus another year of student teaching, before they can be certified as teachers. Through the Academy for Teaching Excellence, teacher candidates are also required to immerse themselves in after schools programs so that they get to know the communities in which they will be serving. This helps them to learn about how communities and families relate to schools, especially those communities that have been historically marginalized in education.  Alternative programs such as TFA do not engage their teacher candidates in this kind of rigor. It seems, then, that school districts would benefit by hiring more teachers coming out of UTSA who are better prepared to teach in public schools with diverse communities.  

by Bekisizwe Ndimande