What do Americans Really Think About Education Policy?

I came across this very interesting article through one of my news feeds.  It’s called “What do Americans Really Think About Education Policy?”  I think, in a nutshell, we are very confused.

The article discusses issues such as common core, testing, Federal Government funding, and many of the larger issues around education which tend to polarize our populous.  What’s interesting is that in two surveys, asking similar questions, but with different wording, very different results are obtained.

For example, one survey shows that 49% of adults support Common Core.  The other shows only 24% support it.  One survey shows that 25% of adults support allowing kids to opt out of standardized tests, the other shows that 44% do.  These are very large differences in polling results, and there were many more than just these two.

It seems that a lack of understanding is a contributor to the differences.  For example, most people believe the Federal Government provides a large portion of education funding, when in reality it’s about 10%.  That’s a simple, easy to understand number and yet, it’s not well understood.  When one starts looking into issues of local control, charter schools vs. traditional schools, school reform, pay for performance, and so on, it gets even blurrier.  My assumption is that given 70% of adults do not have kids in K-12, these issues are not very well understood by the general population.

What is the takeaway?  Be careful what you read.  Educate yourself on education because your understanding of the issues and your vote matters to the future of our educational system. Understand that polling in this area has a wide variety of results, and interpret those results with that understanding in mind.  I hope our political leaders understand that as well as they look at poll results and form their positions.


Teaching Social Skills to Improve Both Grades and Lives

I came across a NYT article about a ~20 year study published by Penn State and Duke which looked at the correlation between social competence and outcomes.  It focused on students in kindergarten, measured their social skills, and looked at where they were 13 – 19 years later.

The results were very clear.  Those who had high social competence were 4x more likely to graduate college, less likely to be arrested by the age of 25, had better grades, etc.  The study statistically controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teen parents, and several other factors.  It corroborates the results of other long term studies done in New Zealand and Britain.

The implications for school districts and teachers are clearly profound.  Students must be good at more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Or STEM.  Or whatever buzzwords you want to use for what have traditionally been considered “core” classes.  It makes a strong case for music education as core curriculum, which teaches social skills in many, many different ways.  (Of note, the recent updates by the US House and Senate to No Child Left Behind have added Music in as a specifically enumerated core competency, assuming that survives conference committee meetings before being passed on to the President for signing.)

When I think about the Jeffco 2020 Vision & Strategy work I was fortunate enough to be a part of, I know that we have hit the mark with regards to teaching social skills.  Jeffco is creating 5 competencies called: Content Mastery, Civic & Global Engagement, Communication, Critical Thinking & Creativity, and Self-Direction & Personal Responsibility.  Each of those has detailed components under it which I have written about in previous blog entries.  At least three of them directly address the results and recommendations of this study and are looking at 21st century education as needing to be more than simply building STEM capabilities.  We need to build the whole person.  In our Jeffco 2020 work, we discussed this concept continuously.

As Jeffco implements its new vision and strategy, it’s nice to know that a 20 year study helps validate the direction and all of the work we put into it.

How states differ in graduation requirements… and approaches to what constitutes graduation

I had never seen an analysis like this.  NPR analyzed graduation rates across the states.  Not just the rates, but how those rates are calculated.  There are some very interesting differences between states.  For example, Colorado offers two types of graduation diplomas.  Texas doesn’t classify hundreds of thousands of kids who “leave” K-12 as being dropouts, and offers 11 types of diplomas.  Colorado is ranked 36th in the nation for graduation rates, Texas is 2nd, yet the standardized test scores are virtually identical.

These are only small examples.  All across the country are many differences which make it virtually impossible to compare one state to another, or in some cases, even districts within a state.

Here is a link to the article which dives into the complexities of calculating graduation rates.

The Colorado Dept. of Education has released an online tool to estimate the future earnings potential of various college degrees

The CDHE has released a tool called “EdPays” which enables students to make informed decisions about the value of a given college degree.  It covers certificates, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees.  It enables searching across fields of study, level of education, and earnings potential at 1, 5, and 10 years post graduation.

With this information, a high school student can make an informed decision about the investment cost and potential return for a given field of study in college.  The CDHE is very clear that ROI should not be the only factor which matters when selecting a field of study; however, they have now consolidated this information into one searchable place for students.  Previously, it was next to impossible to find consistent data.

A link to a Denver Post article with more information is here.

A link directly the CDHE EdPays tool is here.

What American Exchange Students Say is Wrong With U.S. Schools

I stumbled across (metaphorically speaking, but literally in an internet sense) this piece of research.  An education reporter looks at what American exchange students say is wrong with US schools, based on their own experiences abroad, and breaks it down to three general items:

  1. The work is harder in schools in top performing countries
  2. Sports are just a hobby in most other countries
  3. Culturally, in top performing countries, students see and appreciate the importance of education to their futures

Here is a link to the original article on another blog.

If you read my earlier post on Finland, most of this boils down to #9 on the Finnish list of reasons for success.

A big week for standardized test reductions for Colorado students

This week has been a big week for reducing the number of hours of standardized testing for our students in Colorado.

First, Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 1323 which, at a high level, contains the following provisions:

  • Reduces K-3rd grade reading and literacy tests
  • Keeps 9th grade PARCC English and Math tests as-is
  • Replaces 10th grade PARCC tests with a shorter college prep test
  • Eliminates 11th & 12th grade PARCC tests entirely
  • Continues the state mandated ACT test for 11th graders
  • Allows for paper and pencil testing options, to be determined by each school, not by parents or districts (this is bigger than it sounds because many schools are burdened by the cost of technology to allow students to take online tests)
  • Allows parents and educators to opt-out of testing; however, educators, schools, and districts will face consequences through accreditation and performance reviews if participation drops significantly (unclear how this is defined)
  • Creates a pilot program for districts to develop their own tests, pending both state and federal approval
  • Requires districts to disclose the amount of time dedicated to testing and to classify it as federal, state, or locally required

In all, the reduction in testing time is expected to be modest, but people on both sides of the aisle generally agree that it’s a step in the right direction.

In addition to the signing of HB 1323, the second big announcement this week came from the governing board of PARCC which stated that beginning next year, both the English and Math PARCC tests will be reduced by 30 and 60 minutes, respectfully, for each grade level in which they are given.

Taken together, these changes will make a measurable, positive impact on our students and teachers next year, giving the opportunity for more classroom time for education vs. testing while continuing to hold districts accountable for student performance improvements.