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We’ve all heard about the fiscal cliff that the nation will go over in January unless Congress takes action. Included in that cliff: Sequestration, 8.2% budget cuts to all federal discretionary spending programs – including education programs like Title I (which targets money to low-income students), IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which sends money to special education students), Title II (which provides money to improve teacher quality) and the Rural Education Achievement Program (which helps small, rural school districts).

According to a July survey by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), school administrators are planning for these budget cuts in a variety of ways. If the cuts come through, they will be reducing professional development, increasing class size, reducing academic programs (enrichment, after-school, interventions and so on), deferring technology purchases, laying off staff (both non-instructional and instructional), cutting bus transportation and more.

These cuts would be devastating to schools and students. But they would not be shared equally: New data from AASA shows that sequestration would disproportionately impact disadvantaged youth. ...

We’ve all heard about summer learning loss. Students lose between one and two months' worth of academic knowledge each summer. Low-income students are particularly sensitive to this phenomenon – some research suggests that more than half of the achievement gap seen in reading between these students and their wealthier peers can be attributed to summer loss.

So across the nation, schools, districts and states are trying to address the issue. One seemingly obvious solution: A move to year-round schooling. Given that the most popular school calendar in the nation is a relic from our agrarian days, when children were needed in the fields at specific times during the year, it certainly makes sense to revisit it. And many schools and communities have adopted a year-round calendar, replacing a long summer break with shorter breaks throughout the year.

But I was interested to read an article out of Grand Rapids, MI, that indicated a possible move in the opposite direction. Because of chronic absences at some district elementary schools that run on a year-round calendar (at one school, 41% of ...

A new report, Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence, suggests that government agencies and policy-makers, including the U.S. Department of Education, should rely more on research to guide their efforts in school reform and turnaround strategies.  The report, authored by Tina Trujillo at the University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renee of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, asserts that research shows that the top-down, punitive reform efforts that are currently in vogue are ineffective and cause more harm than good in turning around troubled schools.

While the current administration’s efforts to improve troubled schools are well-meaning, the reform strategies mandated destabilize schools and exacerbate the problems troubled schools already exhibit of high staff turnover and frequent change in leadership.  The administration’s efforts to turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools through creation of the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG) channeled increased federal dollars into states and struggling schools under the condition that a narrow choice of ...

Few would argue with the notion that public education in America needs to improve to ensure that our country remains prosperous in the coming years. And we should look wherever we can for ideas on how we can increase student achievement for each child in the nation.

One possible source for these ideas: charter schools. Last week, the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution released “Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools,” in which Roland Fryer discusses his efforts to learn what works in the world of charter schooling and implement it in traditional public schools.

By studying 35 charter schools of varying performance levels in New York City, Fryer and his colleagues identified five practices that are consistently found in higher-achieving schools and that together explain roughly half the difference in effectiveness between charter schools:

  • More human capital (how often schools give teachers feedback on their instructional practice)
  • Data-driven instruction (whether teachers alter instruction to
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obriena's picture

Solutions, Not Suspensions

Did you know that each year more than three million students are suspended from school?

While some of these suspensions are the result of violent or other extreme behavior, others are the result of relatively minor infractions – dress code violations, being late for school and so on.

Should we really be putting students through suspension for a minor infraction? Out-of-school suspension does not benefit schools in terms of test scores or graduation rates. And it can have a very negative impact on individual children. In addition to immediate academic consequences stemming from time out of the classroom (we all know the phrase, “you can’t teach to an empty desk”), suspension is a leading indicator of whether a child will drop out of school. It is also related to risk for future incarceration, part of the school-to-prison pipeline that we often hear about.

And these impacts are not spread equally throughout the student population. A recent report from the Civil Rights Project found that Black, Latino and Native American students are much more likely than their White and Asian American peers to be suspended. Seventeen percent of Black students – that is one out of every six enrolled in K-12 education – were suspended at least once in ...

In the August 19, 2012, edition of my home town paper The Washington Post, the Opinion page featured a column by James C. Roumell, founder of Roumell Asset Management, LLC, titled “What I built with government help.” 

In his column, Roumell described growing up in a working class family in Detroit with a single mother who supported them with a unionized job with decent pay made possible by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.  Roumell subsequently went to college with the help of Pell Grants and government loans made possible by the Higher Education Act of 1965. His now successful business was made possible by the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. ...

If you’re hungry, chances are that you won’t be focused on your meeting, paying attention to a seminar or truly engaged in anything you’re trying to do. The same happens for children in school. Being hungry affects their capacity to focus in the classroom (as noted by, for example, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress).

There are numerous reasons students may come to school hungry: Tight family budgets, limited morning time to prepare a nutritious meal, or a child being physically incapable of eating immediately after waking up. Research shows that school breakfast programs can address these circumstances. And through innovative programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom, schools and districts are ensuring that no child slips through the crack and has to spend the school day hungry. ...

By Nora L. Howley, Manager of Programs, NEA Health Information Network

We’ve all heard it said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But too many children in the United States are starting school each day without breakfast.  As NEA President Dennis Van Roekel pointed out last week on the Huffington Post: “If we're honest with ourselves, the faces of hunger are everywhere -- in every area, every city and every demographic. The 2012 edition of the 'Kids Count' report, one of the most widely quoted surveys on the condition of children in the U.S., indicates that child poverty is mounting. This is not just an issue of an extra donut or bagel. This is chronic hunger affecting millions of children every day, and the consequences are staggering.” Hungry children cannot learn, they cannot concentrate, and they certainly can’t achieve at the levels they would otherwise.

Educators everywhere know this problem all too well. A new poll from Share Our Strength found that three out of five educators report students coming to school hungry and the majority of those say that the problem is getting worse. 

Expanding participation in school breakfast is one of the most important and ...

This weekend I started reading David McCullough’s most recent book, The Greater Journey, which chronicles the experiences of some of the United States’ most accomplished writers and thinkers on their visits to Paris in the early part of the nineteenth century.  I’m still at the very beginning of what promises to be a fascinating book; however, I’m enjoying the description of the initial culture shock these prominent Americans had when they arrived in Paris and learned that most of the French knew very little about the United States and didn’t even speak English!  

McCullough points out that the French people’s initial introduction to the United States and its citizens came in 1835 when Baron Alexis de Tocqueville published his first edition of Democracy in America on his return from an extended stay in the US.  In his publication, de Tocqueville described the nature of American politics; the evils of slavery; and American’s love of money.  But the passage that has stuck with me is de Tocqueville’s assertion that from the beginning “the originality of American civilization was most clearly apparent in the provisions made for public education.”

This profound observation by de Tocqueville almost two hundred years ago frames the current debate on resource allocation and the future of both public schooling and our democratic way of life in a fresh context.  While the United States once again garnered the most ...

Not in most states, according to a national report card dedicated to answering that question.

Back in 2010, the first edition of a national report card on school funding and fairness was released. Considering “fair” school funding to be “a state finance system that ensures equal educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed to districts within the state to account for additional needs generated by student poverty,” it concluded that most states do not do a good job of ensuring equality of educational opportunity for all children. Last month, the second edition of this report card (which included funding data through 2009) was released – and once again, many states are falling short.

Just six states performed well on all measures of fairness that the report considered. Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont maintained their performance from the 2010 report, with Kansas and New Mexico joining them (Connecticut and Wyoming fell out of this group in 2012). Three states received below average rankings on all indicators – Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina.

These indicators reflect a number of core principles, one of which is that “varying levels of funding are required to provide equal educational opportunities to children with different needs.” Another is that the overall level of education funding matters ...

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