Flypaper

K–12 education in America is making greater and greater use of digital resources. Schools are using them for ease (group collaboration via Google Docs), expense (electronic textbooks and curricular materials are cheap and easily distributed), and convenience (group chats and electronic grade reporting make necessary communication quick and uniform). Additionally, the workplaces into which graduates will emerge run on digital devices—even in more traditional fields such as medicine and manufacturing.

It is easy for those of us old enough to have memories of yesterday’s analogue world to minimize this evolution. We adapted to email easily enough and were quick to trade our pagers for flip phones, after all. But the more that non-electronic alternatives bow out and the more our world is run by digital natives, we ignore inequitable access to technology at the peril of our young people. A new brief from ACT, Inc. shines some interesting light on the status of technology access among today’s students.

A group of ACT researchers surveyed a random sample of 7,233 American students who took the ACT as part of its national administration in April 2017. Students were asked a series of questions about the availability and use of electronics at...

 
 
Cory R. Koedel

I enjoyed reading Fordham’s recent study by Seth Gershenson on a topic that has always been high on my list of interests: grade inflation.

Grade inflation has a number of important implications for education policy at the K–12 and postsecondary levels, but is notoriously difficult to measure. Some of the more compelling evidence on the consequences of grade inflation include (a) Philip Babcock’s 2010 study showing that students with higher grade expectations give less effort, and (b) Kristin Butcher, Patrick McEwan, and Akila Weerapana’s 2014 study showing that students choose college majors based in part on differences in the grades awarded across departments. These studies show that grade inflation has important implications for how much and what type of human capital is produced in our society.

Gershenson performs a clever analysis to help us better understand grade inflation in K–12 schools. The basic idea of his research design is to benchmark course grades against scores on end-of-course exams (EOCs) in Algebra I. While neither the EOC nor the course grade is a complete measure of performance, both provide useful information.

Course grades are assigned by teachers, whereas the Algebra I EOC is independently scored. Noting that grades...

 
 
Jamison White

Many students these days seek high-paying, meaningful, hands-on work without the burden of increasingly cumbersome student loan debt. Endless high-skilled job openings exist, and many Americans choose to jump straight into those jobs as an alternative to attending a university. This, however, requires job training, apprenticeships, and an intense focus on specialized skills. For students who choose this path, Career Technical Education (CTE) also known as vocational education provides a great alternative to the traditional education model. Some CTE schools focus primarily on specialized career fields while other schools fuse their core curriculum with real world experiences and industry-specific knowledge.

1. The Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers offers a college preparatory and vocational curriculum for high school students in Boston exploring careers in health and health-related professions. In 1995, a group of community health care providers and higher education leaders recognized that too few underserved children envisioned career possibilities in the health professions. They believed too many students lacked the role models, mentors, and rigorous academic preparation needed to explore the medical field. Consequently, very few students saw a future for themselves in health care. The group created Kennedy Academy for Health Careers as their solution to...

 
 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t get a lot of respect. She’s recently become the object of a mean-spirited board game and an unflattering play based on her (unflattering) confirmation hearing.

She definitely got off to a rocky start in Washington, partly her own doing, but much of it due to the plain fact that many critics dislike her part in the Trump administration’s gradual dismantling of the federal nanny state and her willingness to unwrap some of the institutional, regulatory, and attitudinal bandages that have shielded young people—college students in particular—from unpleasantness, from the consequences of their own actions, and, I think it’s fair to add, from growing up.

Bravo, say I, for her preference for freedom over regulation, for adulthood over protracted adolescence, and for obliging kids—mollycoddled undergraduates most definitely included—to grapple with reality.

And two-thirds of a bravo for Secretary DeVos’s strong National Constitution Day address the other day in Philadelphia. She did an exemplary job of explaining why free speech is essential for education in a free society, why it’s vital also to acquire basic knowledge about topics like U.S. history and government, to understand the interplay of rights and responsibilities, and to confront...

 
 

Many of us, if we’re lucky, can fondly recall a time in elementary school when our parents proudly posted one of our A papers on the refrigerator door. Maybe it was a spelling test or set of multiplication problems—no matter. What mattered, though, was the outstanding achievement that mom, dad, and kid believed was embodied in that A, and the pride and satisfaction that we felt in seeing it every time we opened the fridge for a sandwich.

Back then, we didn’t question whether that A was actually earned. We assumed that we had mastered whatever was being graded and our hard work had paid off.

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to assume that an A still represents excellence. And that’s a real problem.

Here at Fordham, we’ve had a longstanding interest in helping to ensure that parents know the truth about how their kids are doing in school. More than a decade ago, we published The Proficiency Illusion—a groundbreaking study that found that levels of reading and math “proficiency” varied wildly from state to state because of where states set their “cut scores.” What it took to pass a state test ranged from reading or doing math...

 
 

From complaints that our undergraduates are “mollycoddled babies,” to laments over the disappearance of meritocratic athletic trophies, to descriptions of college students’ “embarrassing fragility,” decrying the cosseting of today’s youth is widespread. And there’s good reason for concern: Despite good intentions, overprotection can be harmful.

Life is hard. Bad stuff happens, and people suffer when we lack the emotional and experiential foundation to deal with it. Sooner or later, just about everyone confronts anxiety, embarrassment, trauma, and tragedy. Expecting people to successfully create the necessary foundation during adulthood is simply unrealistic.

That it’s unrealistic, however, is difficult to prove. There are no solid data or rigorous, gold-standard studies. There can’t be. So those who fret about overprotection do so based on intuition, belief, and personal experience. Often, though, that’s enough. Such was my response upon reading a recent report in the Atlantic about teens protesting in-class presentations.

“In the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options,” reports staff writer Taylor Lorenz. “Students who support abolishing in-class presentations argue that forcing students with anxiety to present in front of their peers is...

 
 

The debate about effective and equitable school discipline policies, fueled by a 2014 Dear Colleague letter from the Obama Administration, continues to weigh heavily on the minds of school reformers. As educators and lawmakers referee competing concerns about discipline and equity, we need more information about what states are doing. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has released a report on each state’s current school discipline policies; their findings highlight the movement against out-of-school suspension and provide a peek into how states are addressing recent concerns about racial inequality in the dispensation of discipline.

ECS developed eight key questions to compare school discipline policies between states. Among these are whether and how exclusionary discipline (suspension or expulsion) is limited, what non-punitive or positive behavior support mechanisms are in place, and what discipline reporting requirements exist. For answers, they combed through statutes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia and synthesized their findings into tables organized by state and key question. The product is a comprehensive, user-friendly snapshot of the state of school discipline around the nation.

When it comes to exclusionary discipline, state policies vary widely; only sixteen states plus the District of Columbia limit exclusionary...

 
 

States purport to use teacher relicensure to maintain educator quality and facilitate professional development. Yet according to a recent New America report by Melissa Tooley and Taylor White, they are falling short of that goal.

After examining standard license renewal policies in all fifty states and D.C., as well as conducting informal interviews with teacher certification personnel, the analysts grouped states into two groups. The first, comprising a dozen states, require educators to create professional growth plans (PGPs), wherein they identify personal growth goals and plans to achieve them, and then document their progress. Tooley and White believe these to be more teacher-focused and more likely to fulfill the purpose of teacher relicensure. The policies in the thirty-eight other states and D.C. do not mention PGPs. Yet regardless of the greater potential in the first group, they generally found systems in both to be lacking. And even when policies seemed sound in theory, they found them to be mostly ineffective in practice.

Take, for example, “continuing education,” the most common element of relicensure policies, which exists in forty-four states. Teachers fulfill this requirement through myriad avenues, such as higher education coursework and varying levels of professional development (PD). But they...

 
 
Dina Brulles

Cesar, a first grader, scored 92 percent on the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT2). Although he did not officially qualify for gifted education services (requiring a score of 97 percent or higher), the school’s gifted specialist “flexed” Cesar into the gifted cluster class because of his ELL status. Cesar attends one of the district’s Title I schools (where they have few gifted-identified students), so they were able to offer him this participation. In third grade, Cesar took the gifted test again, and with his new score in the ninety-eighth percentile, he was officially identified as gifted. Cesar continued receiving advanced academic instruction through the cluster grouping model and then in honors classes. Had he not been tested on a nonverbal assessment and then flexed into the program in first grade, his teachers may not have recognized his high potential.

Those in low socioeconomic groups remain largely underserved in gifted and talented (G/T) programs. Yet gifted and talented students span all cultures and socioeconomic groups. The inequity stems from two primary challenges. First, considerable controversy surrounds what it means to be gifted. States and school districts vary greatly in their identification procedures, program qualification criteria, and instructional methods. Second, educators wrestle...

 
 

My really smart and brave friend from Tennessee, Vesia Hawkins, wrote a thought provoking piece about how all in parents and families are when it comes to youth football and she wonders if those same families show an equal level of engagement and commitment when it comes to their children’s literacy and numeracy. As the mom of boys who play football, baseball, and basketball, I’d say the point Vesia makes applies beyond football—though football does bring out a special kind of passion and commitment—to other sports and also to competitive dance, cheerleading, and any other activity that pushes kids to their limits. The common thread is a fundamental belief in high expectations and excellence.

So it’s got me wonderin’ if these parents are as aware and as fervently engaged in their child’s literacy and numeracy performance as they are in the x’s and o’s of pee wee football. If the high expectations around making plays are equal to the expectations of making good grades. Let me be clear, I’m not sitting in judgment. Rather I wonder if parents and grandparents know what not reading at grade level really means for the long-term and if they fight for little...

 
 

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