Posts filed under ‘Student Outcomes’

Advanced Placement or Early Introduction

To get kids ready for college, we need to expose them to rigorous courses in high school. Advanced placement (AP) courses are designed to offer college-level material to highly proficient students. But we also need to introduce intellectually challenging content to many students in a non-threatening way. These can be divergent goals. So, how do we address these needs…in the same class?

It’s always a little bittersweet when AP Calculus teachers boast that all of their students scored a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. Congratulations are in order, of course. The teacher’s students have delivered great results under his or her guidance. The concern I have, however, is that admission to that course must have been extremely selective. And that we may be missing part of the goal of college preparation.

We rush to make sure the kids who are strongest in math have access to calculus in high school. But we allow the rest of the kids – weaker in math skills by definition – to wait and face the topic for the first time in college, in the midst of one of the most tumultuous transitions of their lives. The latter group of students would benefit from early introduction to calculus…while they are still in high school. They may drag the average AP exam scores down a bit, but does that matter?

The conflict between college placement and college readiness is somewhat moot – all students will need to be diligent in their college studies. In the final year or two of high school, however, we need to take care of the students who, at 16 or 17, are intellectually ready to grasp complex concepts faster than even above average students bound for college at 18 or 19. This is not a tracking issue – which is controversial when it begins as early as middle school – but more of an exit strategy for students whose variations in ability suggest a dichotomy between advanced placement and early introduction.

As we design new programs for high schools that encourage students to pursue STEM careers, more students will need to be ready for calculus in college. There will be analogous situations in science, technology, and engineering as well. In fact, one could argue for reconsidering our objectives in most AP subject areas. As public school children achieve better outcomes in education, an increasing number of students will qualify for accelerated college courses, but many more will benefit from access to advanced content in a sheltered environment.

May 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM Leave a comment

Anti-Testing Activism Is Destroying Evidence

Testing for compliance with NCLB is meant to reassure regulators that we are delivering on 14th amendment rights of our students for that personal property that is education. Period. We owe it to the students. Hiding the evidence that some of the kids are not given that which is due them is a cover-up. And part of what is hidden under that cloak is a secret belief among educators that all children are not equal in their most basic potential.

Educators who rally against achievement tests probably to not think they are obstructing justice. In fact, they may be wonderful teachers of social justice, environmental justice, or economic justice. But their efforts to obscure this measure of educational justice are out of synch. Kids who cannot pass the tests have been cheated out of some piece of their property rights for an equitable education.

Achievement tests set lower limits for adequacy of education in terms of literacy and mathematical ability. We still need to work harder to prove to ourselves and to the children that they have the intellectual ability to match their peers in the classroom and in life. Those who are afraid the children cannot pass the test guarantee that those same children are less likely to find out how great their accomplishments in life might be.

Hiding the evidence does not negate the charges levied against us…nor does it save the children from paying the price for life.

May 1, 2013 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

Hey, You! Get Off of My Cloud…

Flexible data platforms to build robust student portfolios over time? YES! Data mining by outsiders? NO! Need-to-know cannot be extended to outside entities that offer to provide analytical support to schools while covertly sharing content with others. In fact, the data architecture must not follow the social networking model. Rather it must be designed to shield the data from ready transfer and exploitation.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this comment with GatesEd concerning their $6 million contest for education applications:

Great idea…but I am worried that we do not have a platform to receive these innovations. Education needs a systems integration project to reinvent the standard for information technology. School systems need an integrated financial, student outcomes, and educator effectiveness system…and it needs to be able to upload activities and download stats with technology-based pedagogy apps. We are being creative, but the process must stop generating incompatibilities eventually. Would love to open a dialogue on this, beginning with…

It was posted briefly on  and then deleted…I think I understand why. Platforms for student portfolios and learning apps have already been invented that marry cloud-based educational resources with externally focused profiling of the students via social networks. As commercial ventures they are attracting good buzz and ready money among venture capitalists. Unfortunately, they also are opening the door for exploitation of children.

This gets us into the conflict between a public good and private enterprise. As business men or women, we may be in awe of any database that uses object design to build a flexible platform for student data, especially one that promises to comprise a wide range of episodic data over time as well as provide access to a content cloud for pedagogy. And it is becoming populated with data quickly because it’s free?!? We also know that’s too good to be true.

Clearly, these new student databases can only turn a profit through data mining and selling to paying clients. As adults we can chose to flagrantly ignore our own privacy rights as we connect with others in the ether. However, as parents or educators we cannot expose our children. The details of their growth and development, their evolving intellects and identities, their hopes and dreams…are not for sale.

It would be naïve to think that opportunists would not enter the market by simply exploiting existing technology. Next time around, however, we must develop decision architecture that is fundamentally different for student applications. My analogy would be a database that implodes rather than explodes in terms of availability. It has to be an insider’s club with “need-to-know” rules that rival those of GooglePlex or Microsoft employees. If you can’t shout it out on the school bus…don’t advertise it on a social network.

March 5, 2013 at 8:47 AM Leave a comment

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 2 of 2

Big data in education must be just as big on security. Everything from children’s journals to administrators’ meeting notes can turn up on Google Docs or Facebook. These may seem like great platforms for trying out 21st century tools. However, the long range plans must include tight security as we take very privileged information and make it broadly available…on a need-know-basis?!?

The future for education data is bright. We are just beginning to realize the potential for developing integrated systems that are student-centered and can bring together student funding and outcomes…which can then be reconciled with delivery system and educator effectiveness. Whew! But can this brave new world accommodate the privacy requirements for all the players?

Consider that…

  • The New York Times has published test performance data that might have been better kept in NYC DOE teachers’ human resource files.
  • Children who are not old enough to join Facebook or understand their ever-changing privacy rules are active on the site through their classroom pages and may be revealing too much about themselves in journals or personal essays.
  • Confidential memos have been leaked and shared for sport and maximum exposure.
  • Risqué videos and inappropriate photos of teenagers have trended on Twitter with record speed.

Everyone is in the media and social networks, but it is not clear who is in charge or what the rules should be. Privacy has become a thing of the past…at least for the present.

In a period of rapid technological change, it is all a person can do to stay current. Being open to new technology is a requirement for today’s professional, but the blurring of boundaries between public and private personas challenges even the savviest users. Bringing social networks into the classroom and school community has unleashed the potential for innovation in communication and collaboration. But it has brought with it loss of control over content.

Platforms offered by Facebook, Google, or Pinterest allow us to experiment with shared portfolios of content from a variety of media. Concepts for limiting access to information exist in theory, but most privacy shields have been proven to be flawed. For the moment, anything posted on an Internet site carries risk of exposure. Does that mean we should stop experimenting with new apps? No…because the milieu will define important ways that we can integrate data in the future.

Education data banks will need to accommodate all media types, but they also must be exclusive for participation. Essentially, the old privacy rights need to be engineering into new Intranet systems. For example,

  • Children need to be shielded from personal exposure to people beyond their immediate families or the school community.
  • Only students, their parents, and relevant teachers and administrators should have access to certain student information.
  • Every staff member has the right to privacy in employment records and personal information.
  • Student outcomes, teacher performance, and education effectiveness data may be intertwined for quality assurance internally, but the identities of the participants can never be revealed in public records.

We have a major opportunity to become far better informed as decision-makers in education. But as the song says, some things are private.

January 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM Leave a comment

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 1 of 2

Fully integrated systems in education hold incredible potential to combine a variety of types of data and media from finance, human resources, and education operations…organized around students. Once this very big picture was in place, truly mission-driven education services could become a reality. But do we have the courage to abandon our regulatory model?

Let’s make our education information systems a do-over. Start with student funding and build a zero-based budget from there. Financial statements aggregate from student education centers up. District services would be driven by demand and economy.

Then build student records that combine data fields, documents, and audio-visual inputs. A continuum of real and metaphorical snapshots of the whole child would emerge over the course of his or her education.  It would comprise the usual demographic data, formal assessments, and grades. However, portfolios also could be included with key samples of student work as evidence of academic and psychosocial benchmarks, distinctive strengths, or leaning style profiles. Special education or English language learner files could be included as well.

Every educator would have a consolidated record. It could capture the teacher or administrator’s personnel data and link it to evidence on dimensions such as student progress, videos of practice activities, or feedback from students, parents, and colleagues. Professionalism and dimensions of leadership could be captured as well.

Each player would have a good picture of current achievement levels in addition to a longitudinal progress report. Beyond the individual, finance and performance analysis would inform system leaders as they refined the education delivery system for efficiency and effectiveness. Continuous quality improvement would not only be possible – it should become mandatory – for the people and the system.

Clearly today’s regulatory model is not working. But are we ready to give up bad data, scapegoating, and plausible deniability for real information that allows us to grow?

January 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM 1 comment

New PreK-12 Education Priorities for the Returning Obama Administration

The Common Core State Standards, NCLB waivers, and Race to the Top initiatives have altered the landscape in education in the absence of an NCLB rewrite. On this day of reflection after Election 2012, I offer a few thoughts on resetting policy priorities until ESEA renewal becomes feasible.

Entering the 2nd term, in my humble opinion, the Obama Administration could benefit from raising the priority of three issues in PreK-12 education…

  • Decision architecture for education finance, reporting, and analysis
  • Federal support for government employee pension reform
  • Incentives/accountabilities for grade level proficiency for students in general or special education and students who are English language learners

Decision Architecture

The Race to the Top program (RttT) has instructed states and districts to design new approaches to student funding, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes. Having completed the idea generation phase for reinvention of the decision architecture within education authorities, it is time to draw expertise from beyond traditional regulatory compliance models. Educators need to learn from non-education sources with more expertise in aligning information and analyses to the mission of educating children efficiently and effectively.

The finished products should draw on the best of the general industry models and those presented by RttT exemplars. They should include a standard for financial reporting that is student-centered as well as data elements to be automated in support of teacher effectiveness and student outcome reports.

Pension Reform

Government employee pensions are straining fiscal resources while yielding inequitable benefits for plan participants and limiting their career mobility. Current retirees and vested employees need security with their defined-benefit pensions. Separately, the wisdom of continuing to underwrite such pensions in the future needs to be assessed. However, any introduction of defined-contribution pensions for new or unvested employees would result in eventual bankruptcy for legacy plans.

The Federal role in the issue could be one of mitigating the financial crisis in pension funding. Changes to the tax code could lower the effective cost of borrowing for sponsors to meet pension obligations. In addition, elimination of the Social Security opt-out would extend the safety net for employees switching to higher risk, defined-contribution pension plans. A prior post discussing this issue can be found here.

Grade Level Proficiency

When redefining the data elements needed for measuring student outcomes, Federal regulators will need to keep in mind new targets and deadlines for general grade-level proficiency among PreK-12 students. Longitudinal tracking across content areas will need to be enhanced significantly, especially to ensure that students receiving services in Special Ed or ELL programs are demonstrating accelerated progress in response to accommodations and modifications.

This shift in emphasis should create incentives to move beyond regulatory compliance to demonstration of real benefits for students, a continuation of the work announced in an Education Department notice available here.

Other items on the Federal agenda

Meanwhile, teacher preparation does not need to be such a high priority on the Federal agenda. Educators are being trained under a variety of conditions ranging from rigorous 5­-year programs that combine baccalaureate and master’s degrees to boot camp immersion programs or online courses with limited apprenticeships. Aggressive evaluation of the most highly structured programs exclusively is both unfair and at risk of overestimating the state of the art in actual practice. In addition, success has been seen with many teacher prep models, raising doubt that the problem lies with the pipeline of new teachers.

Rather, a crucial lapse in quality arises because individual schools and districts show uneven results with their ability to keep teachers in top form professionally throughout their careers. That is a local problem that is being addressed retrospectively through the teacher evaluation process. Prospectively, Federal regulators should consider grants for demonstration projects to introduce general management and human resource expertise from general industry into education leadership development.

November 7, 2012 at 2:46 PM Leave a comment

My Theory on Math, Puberty, and Emerging Abstract Reasoning…and why Middle School Should Begin with Grade 4

Puberty undermines the identity of middle school-aged children and initiates their exploration of a variety of possible adult personas. Paradoxically, it is also a time when their need to fit in seems to hit an all-time high. As a result, the simple act of getting dressed in the morning actually may require students to solve a daunting set of simultaneous equations. Their intellectual development in the years leading up to that time is crucial to their successful academic and psychosocial transition to more sophisticated abstract reasoning. However, the question is when, not if, they can handle the mental gymnastics of exploding possibilities.

The psychosocial exigencies of puberty may be as important as education as a driver of need for abstract thinking in young adolescents. The baffling combination of the search for a new identity and the peer pressure for conformity sets up the conundrum; intellectual strength can be the advantage or the goal. However, the mere act of living in the body of a pubescent child will stimulate cognitive ambition. As educators, we need to give the pre-adolescent as much reasoning ability as possible to face the task. He or she will get to a higher level with or without us…but the less confident student may try to hold off the challenge through social dysfunction and academic avoidance.

The math problem: suppose, in a class of 25 students, each child is trying on three unique personas at any given time. Then the number of possible combinations in that one class is 325. That would be a bit hyperbolic, so the children solve part of their problem by limiting the number of options that qualify as cool. Then, they begin the iterative process of arranging themselves in groups with similar attributes. Leaders will emerge as trend-setters, and controlling behavior will define many friendships. Best friends will become enemies, for example, if a group member forgets to make sure the blouse she promised to wear to school was laundered the night before. (Yes, her mother really *did* ruin her life.)

Students will find temporary comfort in groups that offer options that best match their coping strategies. However, precocious children may be excluded because of their tolerance for ambiguity and may seek adult approval through individual excellence in academics, sports, or the arts. At the other end of the spectrum, insecure children may opt out socially and need safe harbors to protect them from predatory groups, the most extreme being street gangs. Alternately, in the digital age, kids may take solace in virtual worlds.

So, my theory is that the 4th and 5th grade math teachers could help us understand why one child joins a gang while another joins a choir or a study group. Or why middle school friendships can be so fleeting. Or why kids who played computer games in isolation through puberty might emerge more socially adept in high school than the most popular kids in middle school – or at least make better social choices.

And it is not just about the math. Students need the vocabulary to express themselves and journals to document their inner lives, a sense of history and perspective, and methods for exploring cause and effect. And each needs a distinctive competency that becomes the backbone for an emerging identity that transcends the social turmoil. I would go beyond visiting the K-5 faculty to gain insight on behavior to making the 4th and 5th grade teachers a part of the team with shared accountability for readiness for the middle school mission.

I believe middle school should be redefined as grades 4-8. Research suggests that the trauma of the grade 6 transition to middle school has the most negative impact on academic outcomes for children. A grade 4 transition would ease the social and intellectual leaps for the child, who will not enter puberty until later. In addition, it would allow for vertical alignment of curricular and psychosocial goals as well as continuity for faculty members and the children through this tumultuous developmental phase.

In the context of a school system that resolved basic literacy and numeracy needs in a PreK-3 early elementary school, the Grade 4-8 middle school could give students a more solid academic readiness for puberty, safe harbor in a familiar place when it hits, and greater opportunity to develop academic and psychosocial readiness for high school.

October 9, 2012 at 9:45 AM 1 comment

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