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The Commission on Equity and Excellence had a Congressional mandate to provide advice to Secretary Duncan on the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities and to recommend ways in which federal policies can address such disparities. They just released a report titled “For Each and Every Child,” after a two year work period. The distinguished members of the panel, with diverse professional backgrounds and different political ideologies, focused on the inequality in our nation’s public school system as the primary driver behind two achievement gaps, the internal domestic gap and the international gap. Their conclusions and recommendations won’t surprise education professionals, but the report serves as a well-timed call to action for the struggles facing African American students, particularly males, during Black History Month. The opportunity gap also exists for a significant number of Hispanic and Native American students. ...

This was written in collaboration with many Project UNIFY staff members.

 Editor’s Note: This post is from our partners at the Special Olympics Project UNIFY. Each week in January, we will feature a new article on a topic related to the social inclusion of youth with intellectual disabilities. Through this effort, we hope to inform the public of the importance of such inclusion as well as offer educators and parents resources to implement it.

On Friday, January 25, 2013, the United States Department of Education (DOE) released new guidance to schools and school systems throughout the nation that receive federal aid about the requirements of providing quality sports opportunities for students with disabilities.  While the guidance does not make new law, it does identify the responsibilities that schools and school systems have under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The key messages in the new guidance could be summarized as the following: ...

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Top Posts of 2012

As we look ahead to what we hope to accomplish in education in 2013, it behooves us to also reflect on 2012. We reelected a president whose administration is committed to the issue (but whose policies we do not always agree with) and has granted many states waivers to key aspects of the nation’s top education law, No Child Left Behind. We moved closer to a vision in which students in Mississippi learn to the same high standards as those in Montana and Massachusetts as we worked to implement the Common Core. States and districts across the nation navigated new terrain in teacher evaluation and tenure. Educators continued exploring how to best take advantage of new learning technologies – flipping classrooms, starting one-to-one iPad initiatives, preparing for a shift to online assessments and more.  

With all that happened in 2012, what garnered the most attention from you, our readers? Here are our top five posts of 2012 (as indicated by our trusty Google Analytics tracking system). Enjoy!

5. Rethinking Principal Evaluation. Principals are second only to teachers among the in-school influences on student success. Yet we don’t hear much about how to measure their performance – and the little research that exists on the issue suggests that current evaluation systems are far from adequate.

4. Can Arts Education Help Close the Achievement Gap? Research suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But ...

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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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. ...

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