Tag: Federal Policy

Attendance as a Reform Agenda

Attendance as a Reform Agenda

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the recent State of the Union address, President Obama challenged states to address the required age of school attendance. The President stated, “… when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.“

For the eighteen states that use sixteen years of age as the attendance requirement and the eleven states that require attendance until seventeen years of age, Obama’s expectation that they raise the age requirement is probably causing some lively discussions among school reformers.[1] The Education Week blog Obama Rekindles State Debates on Dropout Age by Lesli A. Maxwell sheds some light on this highly relevant topic.  According to Maxwell, experts on this issue contend that changing attendance laws will do little by itself to decrease national dropout rates and that without comprehensive strategies for making school engaging and relevant and for identifying and addressing early signs of dropping out, states and districts are not likely to have much success with increasing graduation rates.

The blog goes on to cite national statistics on dropout rates, stating that nationally 8.1 percent of people between 16 and 24 years of age are considered dropouts.  The blog fails to report on the graduation rates of students of color. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2007-2008 dropout rate for white students was 2.8 percent, with the Hispanic dropout rate at 6.0 percent, the Black dropout rate at 6.7 percent, and the American Indian/Alaska Native dropout rates at 7.3 percent.[2]

A study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education points out that only 47 percent of Black males graduate, while 78 percent of white male students graduate.[3]

President Obama’s advocacy to raise the required graduation rates and the points offered in the Education Week blog cause me to wonder about the students’ experiences on day-in and day-out basis. I contend that if what the student experiences everyday isn’t dramatically changed, having more of the same thing is not likely to improve the outcomes for students, even if they do stay in school longer. The Education Week piece does make the case that other strategies are needed beyond mandates for required years in school to make a difference in graduation rates. As an example of efforts underway to increase school attendance and improve graduation rates, New Hampshire reforms are presented as a case study. Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s Deputy Education Commissioner, stressed the importance of tackling the dropout problem by providing extended learning opportunities, creating multiple pathways to graduation, and making the state’s programs in career and technical education and adult education more accessible. New Hampshire’s data suggests that their approach is making head-way — the cohort rate for students who had dropped out of school (and did not earn a GED) was 3.3% in 2010-11 – down from 4.4% the previous year.  Interestingly, Maxwell cites a 2010 report by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins that suggests that of the six states that increased the compulsory-attendance age between 2002 and 2008, only Nevada accomplished a decrease in graduation rates. Illinois and South Dakota saw an increase in their high school graduation rates.

I am reminded of the comments made by Richard Elmore of Harvard University. In various presentations, I have heard Dr. Elmore comment on his observations of classrooms that he believes are “excruciatingly boring”. He goes further by stating that educators have a moral responsibility to save students from being bored and disenfranchised by ensuring they are given engaging and challenging tasks. Anecdotally, I have personally visited many classrooms where students are politely engaged in lessons and tasks that are designed to address the expected standards and curriculum. The noteworthy commonality across these observations was that the students seemed bored and that the lessons and tasks were not particularly relevant or student focused.

Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, a scientist at the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University and director of the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) reports findings from the HSSSE annual survey of students’ perceptions about their school experience,  the learning environment , and their interactions with the school community. According to the 2009 analysis of this survey, students report that boredom is a major factor in deciding to drop out. The report lists these findings: “Two out of three respondents (66%) in 2009 are bored at least every day in class in high school; nearly half of the students (49%) are bored every day and approximately one out of every six students (17%) are bored in every class. Only 2% report never being bored, and 4% report being bored “once or twice.”[4]

Education policy makers may hope that, with the stroke of a pen, they can make a significant difference in the graduation rates by changing the policies that set the age of mandatory attendance. Keeping students in school longer does have some face validity, but as suggested by the states that have changed the mandatory age without results, it may not yield the quick- fix that is desired.  If students anticipate being bored and disappointed by what they are asked to learns as they walk through the school doors each day, just requiring more days may not be the best strategy. Providing learning experiences that are relevant, challenging, and connected to the real world beyond the classroom should be high priority for school reformers.  Particular attention must be paid to designing authentic learning experiences for all students of color and for black males, to make schools an engaging place where students choose to stay. These improvements will require changes to the curriculum and intensive professional growth for teachers and school leaders to learn new practices.  Additionally, working conditions in schools will need to be established to provide teachers with the time to plan and collaborate with each other as they develop dynamic and more personalized learning opportunities for students.

The Obama Administration provided this graphic on the costs of dropping out as part of the State of the Union presentation.[5] Considering the statistics on dropouts, along with the costs of dropping out, creates a sense of urgency to do something. Taking action to transform instructional practices and the learning students engage will accomplish far more than just extending the mandatory age of attendance. Improved teaching and learning will not just keep students in school; it will also prepare them for the world they will face when their K-12 years are over. Funding the more comprehensive reforms will be expensive, but the considering the cost of dropping out, the investment should be indisputable.

[1] Education Commission of States. (2010). Compulsory school age requirements. Retrieved from http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/86/62/8662.pdf

[2] National Center for Education Statistics. (2007-08). Public school graduates and dropouts from the common core of data: School year 2007-2008.  IES Institute of Educational Sciences.  Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/graduates/findings.asp

[3] The Schott Foundation for Public Education. (2010). Yes we can: The Schott 50 state report on public education and black males 2010. Retrieved from http://blackboysreport.org/?page_id=14

[4] Yazzie-Mintz. E. (2009) Charting the path from engagement to achievement: A report on the 2009 high school survey of student engagement. Retrieved from http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/images/HSSSE_2010_Report.pdf

[5]  The White House. (2012). State of the union enhanced graphics. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/01/25/state-union-deep-dive

Keeping the American Indian Education Truths Alive

Keeping the American Indian Education Truths Alive

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Since Osama bin Laden was killed nearly one month ago, many details about the mission have been unveiled. One particular story, which brings awareness to the “inappropriateness” of coding Osama bin Laden as “Geronimo,”[1] is a relevant and current reminder to the prevalence American Indians have as a thread of our nation.

In this way, it is important to be cognizant of American Indians, not only their revered historical figures from the past; but also their cultural traditions which struggle to be maintained and their hopes of responding to these ongoing issues today. In observing and aspiring to fully understand these issues from an education lens, it is important to not forget the past that has in part led to today’s state of American Indian education.

Currently, there are 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. [2] While the Cherokee and Navajo nations contain the majority of American Indian citizens, the myriad other tribes hold their own distinct traditional and cultural markers.  American Indian adolescents “make up only 1% of the total youth population [but] they account for 2% of the total juvenile population being held in custody and 3% of juvenile status offenders in custody.” [3] In 2003, 15 percent of Native youths 16- to 24-years old had not completed high school or earned a G.E.D. credential. This rate was more than twice the rate for white youths (6 percent), four times that of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AA/PI) (4 percent) and about the same as Black youths. Only Hispanic students dropped out at rates higher than AI/AN students.

American Indian students attend public schools, private schools, schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and tribal schools.  In the 2005–06 school year, 644,000 public elementary and secondary school students, or about 1 percent of all public school students, were American Indian or Alaska Native.  Similarly, about 1 percent of all private school students were American Indian or Alaska Native. [4] About 8 percent of American Indian students attend schools funded by the BIE.

The BIE, despite accounting for serving only a small portion of American Indian students, carries strong cultural significance. The U.S. Department of the Interior website provides a useful history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the establishment of the BIE whose mission aims to provide quality education opportunities through life in accordance with a tribe’s needs for cultural and economic well-being in order to maintain the diversity of American Indian and Alaska Native villages as distinct cultural and governmental entities:

There have been three major legislative actions that restructured the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) with regard to educating American Indians since the Snyder Act of 1921: First, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 introduced the teaching of Indian history and culture in BIA schools (until then it had been Federal policy to acculturate and assimilate Indian people by eradicating their tribal cultures through a boarding school system). Second, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 93-638) gave authority to federally recognized tribes to contract with the BIA for the operation of Bureau-funded schools and to determine education programs suitable for their children. The Education Amendments Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-561) and further technical amendments (P.L. 98-511, 99-99, and 100-297) provided funds directly to tribally operated schools, empowered Indian school boards, permitted local hiring of teachers and staff, and established a direct line of authority between the Education Director and the AS-IA. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) brought additional requirements to the schools by holding them accountable for improving their students’ academic performance with the U.S. Department of Education supplemental program funds they receive through the Bureau.

Farther before the establishment of these various acts, with the installation of these boarding schools, came a very contrary notion. The founder of these schools, Richard Pratt, believed that “all the Indian there is in the [American Indian] race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” As a result, American Indians were assimilated away from their traditions using methods that have haunted them since.

Although schools have complied towards transforming this past structure into a more positive experience for American Indian students, perpetual stereotypes and myths about American Indians are persistent.

Common stereotypes are: “that American Indians are drunks, get free money from the government, are made wealthy from casino revenue…or, that Indians are at one with nature, deeply religious and wise in the ways of spirituality” [5]. In relation to these stereotypes, are myths of the American Indian.

Some examples:

1. They prefer to be called Native Americans.

2. They are given special privileges.

3. They are a dying race.

4. They are easily identifiable.

5. They all live on a reservation.

6. They are born knowing their culture and heritage.

7. They feel honored by mascots. [6] The American Indian Sports Team Mascots website addresses this controversy; as does the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media.

Suggestions to overcoming these common but misguided perceptions are to provide counterexamples that lead to knowing American Indian culture in a more positive light. This will not only allow us to interact with American Indians more appropriately, but it also will allow American Indian students to learn in a more comfortable school environment.

Going directly to the source is another way to debunk these common misconceptions. That is why collaboration and consultation with American Indian officials and individuals is often a priority recommendation for reforming education to better serve American Indians. These officials know, after all, that it is their young students that will pave the way in assuring authentic perceptions of their [diverse groups of] people:

“We must prepare them for active and equal participation in the global market. We must prepare them to be citizens in the 21st century. We must prepare them to be positive, involved members of our communities. And, most importantly, we must prepare them to be the future leaders of our governments. There is no more vital resource to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children.” [7]

In the National Congress of American Indians’ summit last December, one of the recommendations was that states should be “required to enter into collaborative agreements with tribes.” [7] This, they believe will create a more welcoming and positive environment for American Indian students in which they will be more likely to thrive.

To see more American Indian led policy recommendations, go here.

[1]The Buffalo Post. 2011 Use of Geronimo Code name to be Discussed on Capitol Hill. Retrieved from http://buffalopost.net/?p=14623

[2]Bureau of Indian Affairs, http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/index.htm

[3] Mmari, K., Blum R., Shone-Teufel N., What Increases Risk and Protection from Delinquent Behaviors Among American Indian Youth? Findings from Three Tribal Communities, 2009,Youth & Society, Volume 41 Number 3,  March 2010 pg 382-413.

[4] Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008. Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaskan Natives: 2008. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008084

[5] Fleming, Walter C. (2006, November). Myths and Stereotypes About Native Americans. Phi Deltan Kappan, 88, 213-216.

[6] Ibid.

[7] National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Education Association. National Priorities for Indian Education. Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/18/NCAI_NIEA_jointESEAreauth.pdf

[8] National Congress of American Indians, 2010 Education: 2010

Bills Designed to Stop Bullying and Harassment in Schools

Bills Designed to Stop Bullying and Harassment in Schools

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On August 5, 2010, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) was introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-PA). SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act—which is part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act—to include bullying and harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national original, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion in its definition of violence. As such, it represents the first time protections would extend to persons on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Districts would have to notify parents annually of their anti-bullying and harassment policies, as well as set up a grievance process for students and parents to report incidences. Additionally, states would have collect and report to the U.S. Department of Education data on incidences.

SSIA attempts to respond to staggering levels of bullying and harassment in schools. According to a 2005 report, 65% of the 3000 middle and high school students surveyed reported being bullied in school in the past year. According to a 2007 report, 84% of the 6,000 gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered students surveyed reported being harassed in school and 61% said they felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation. Both studies found anti-bullying policies like those required by SSIA significantly reduced bullying and harassment in schools.

The idea behind SSIA has been around for some time. The current iteration was introduced in the House by Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) in January 2009, but its introduction by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) represents the first time it has made it to the Senate.  SSIA follows the introduction of the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA), introduced in the House in January 2010 by Jared Polis (D-CO) and in the Senate by Al Franken (D-MN) in May 2010. SNDA is patterned after title IX and would prohibit discrimination (including harassment) on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds.

Both SSIA and SNDA have broad support from civil rights and education organizations. It seems their only vocal opposition is from groups like Focus on the Family, which has launched a campaign against SSIA by claiming it promotes homosexuality and pro-gay curricula. Senator Casey has responded to Focus on the Family’s campaign against the legislation in a blog post, arguing that “by mischaracterizing the purpose of anti-bullying legislation, Focus on the Family is intentionally ignoring the prevalence of bullying in schools around the country.” And, we would contend, it is perpetuating the consequences of such bullying–from higher incidences of drop outs all the way to bullying- and harassment-related tragedies. It is about time we took action to make our schools safe places for all students. The proposed legislation represents a firm step in that direction.

Learn more about SSIA here.
Learn more about SNDA here.

Wow, what a week (and a half)!

Wow, what a week (and a half)!

Reading Time: < 1 minute

18 States and D.C. Named as Finalists for Race to the Top

Senate confirms Elena Kagan’s nomination to Supreme Court

49 applicants win i3 grants (Congrats to our colleagues at Quill Research Associaties!)

Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Ban in California (we hear that the judge’s opinion is worth the read)

USDA announces $1.2 billion in ARRA funds for broadband infrastructure. Ed Secretary Duncan says will help rural, Native American, and tribal schools, impacting 550,000 students.

Cement in oil well may work, but not sure just yet.

What did we miss?

An Equity Lens for ESEA Reauthorization

An Equity Lens for ESEA Reauthorization

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Recently, bi-partisan leadership in the U.S. Congress invited suggestions for the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  In our comments, West Wind urged Congress to pay explicit attention to equity not only as an over-arching goal of reauthorization, but as a frame for reviewing each and every provision.

Our experiences over the past twenty years suggest that without such explicit attention, we simply will not achieve equitable results.  For decades we have worked on standards, assessments, and data systems and we have been tracking inequities.  But our responses have been limited at best.

For example, in response to demonstrated “gaps” in reading achievement by race, we focused explicit attention on reading while we systematically avoided addressing underlying issues of race.  And, even in the cases where the rising tide of improved student achievement did lift all boats state- or region-wide, it did not decrease racial disparities.

We believe must study and disrupt the underlying causes of the patterns of disparities we are tracking. By examining ESEA through the lens of equity, we might just come up with strategies to finally achieve our vision of equitable outcomes.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira