U.S. Department of Education Releases The Condition of Education 2008
The U.S. Department of Education recently released The Condition of Education 2008. Published by the Department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the report is full of facts that educators and policymakers might find interesting, such as
- Enrollment in America’s public schools is rising to an all time high.
- Twenty percent of children speak a language other than English at home; about 5 percent speak English with difficulty.
- Gains have been made in reading and math for all students in grades 4 and 8, most notably in math.
- Fewer students are dropping out of school and more students than ever are attending college.
- Minority students account for more than half of the growth of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees awarded between 1989-90 and 2003-04.
“This report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education,” said NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider. “What we see are improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders, and increases in college enrollment. But persistent challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population.”
Among the most persistent challenges are those related to high school. Although reading and math scores for younger students have risen for all subgroups since 1990, they have dropped for 12th grade students according to The Condition of Education 2008. Disturbingly, the achievement gap between white high school students and other high school students in reading and math continues to widen—the reverse is true among younger students.
Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust and one of the leading child advocates in the field of education, recently told the SEDL staff and the board of directors, “The gap grows wider the longer students remain in school.” She said, “We give students who arrive at school behind less of everything. When they don’t do as well we blame the kids and their parents.”
"This report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education."
“These gaps begin before children arrive at the schoolhouse door,” said Haycock. “But rather than organizing our educational system to ameliorate the problem, we organize it to exacerbate the problem.” She explained that in school we give less to the students who arrive with less. She presented statistics showing that per pupil spending is less in high-poverty and high-minority districts than in low-poverty and low-minority districts. But it isn’t just resource allocation differences that make a difference. “Some of the most devastating ‘lesses’ are a function of choices that we educators make,” Haycock said. “Kids who come in a little behind, leave a lot behind.”
These choices educators make center around what we teach which children. For example, minority children are much less likely to be enrolled in Algebra 2 or in college track courses. Poor and minority children are more likely to be assigned inexperienced teachers or teachers who are teaching out of field. Haycock noted that research shows a definite relationship between teacher experience and student achievement: Teachers are more effective after 2 years on the job.
According to Haycock, educators cannot blame the situation on the children’s parents or because of poverty. Education Trust has studied numerous high-performing schools that have minority, high-poverty student populations.
Ed Trust found the high-performing secondary schools have high expectations, are obsessed with time spent on instruction, have a focus on preparing all kids for college and careers, and put all students in demanding core curriculum. The single biggest predictor of post-high school success is the quality and intensity of the high school curriculum.
Haycock pointed out that leadership is important in the high-performing schools but so is high-quality instruction. She said they work hard to attract and retain good teachers, make sure that the best teachers are assigned to students who need the most help, and get rid of teachers who are not good enough for their students.
For more information about the Ed Trust’s comparisons of school performance, visit the Ed Trust Web site at http://www.edtrust.org/.
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The Silent Epidemic
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published The Silent Epidemic in 2006. The foundation conducted focus groups of young people ages 16-25 who identified themselves as dropouts. The authors included much about the perspectives of the dropouts and a discussion of policies at local, state, and national levels that could make a difference to high school students, especially those at risk of dropping out.
- Create different schools for different students – Instead of a “one size fits all” high school, develop options for students, including a curriculum that connects what they are learning in the classroom with the real world.
- Develop parent engagement strategies and individualized graduation plans – Schools and teachers should strengthen communication with parents and make sure that students show up, complete their work, and develop graduation plans that are shared with parents.
- Develop district-wide early warning systems of students at risk of failing to trigger appropriate support for students and provide follow-through.
- Provide additional supports and adult advocates – Often students need supplemental services such as additional literacy instruction, attendance monitoring, school and peer counseling, service learning, or summer school.
In the SEDL Letter
Mike Schmoker, author of The Results Fieldbook, discusses "High School As It Could Be" in a past issue of SEDL Letter. Also in that issue, a look at an urban Texas school district that has had great success with smaller learning communities at the high school level, and an article about a successful alternative high school.
Another past issue of SEDL Letter looks at service learning for high school students in the small West Texas town of Balmorrhea.
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