Demographics Signal Changing Education Landscape

The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday released a very interesting study on the demographic changes ahead for higher education. The two major challenges to be faced are: 1) there are already considerably fewer 4-year-olds than 18-year-olds in the population signaling smaller numbers headed for higher education and 2) the numbers of white and African American students are declining while the numbers of Asian and Latino students are increasing significantly. The future for American colleges is forecasted to be smaller and much more diverse than it currently is. Here is the link:

http://chronicle.com/article/Demographic-Data-Let-Colleges/144101/

You will find at this link a very interesting search engine that lets you examine data on a state-by-state basis and a county-by-county basis. It contains downloadable files should you wish to capture some of their data.

The data point to issues that are, not only, relevant for higher education, but also for PK-12. The entire PK-20 system must adapt to these two fundamental changes, i.e., population growth will primarily be among ethnic and linguistically diverse populations and, over time, there will be fewer students overall. How our systems learn to adapt to the needs of diverse students is the core question ahead. Preparing education professionals and systems to successfully meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in this changing landscape at all levels of the education enterprise is the defining challenge of our time.

Shooting the Messenger Doesn’t Kill the Message

A recent editorial in The Oregonian has repeated the biennial shooting of the messenger of the Quality Education Commission Report by creating the illusion that the public does not need to worry about the ongoing and chronic underfunding of Oregon education. (http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/12/a_reminder_of_the_value_of_per.html) Using terms like “fantasy,” “Mitty-worthy daydreaming,” “imaginary shortfall,” and “ritual self-flagellation,” the editorial repeats an all-too-common dismissive response to the constitutionally required analysis of Oregon education finances. Instead of benefiting from one of the few attempts to examine Oregon education funding in concrete terms, the editorial concludes that Oregonians should prepare for recent changes in the Public Employee Retirement System regulations to be overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court and should expect that improving upon the recent modest gains in school funding should be constrained by a Legislature “that looks first at ways to live within its means.”

What is the Quality Education Model?

The editorial perpetuates a common misunderstanding of what the Quality Education Model does. The QEM, from its beginning, was designed to do a few basic things. First, it created a method to look at the costs of common education services in a way that provides comparability across all districts in the state. Using the actual level of spending, it objectively looks at program costs in Oregon schools. It identifies characteristics of effective elementary, middle and high schools and establishes a projected cost of those items in Oregon. These calculations have been updated every two years since the first report was issued by the Legislative Council on the Oregon Quality Education Model in June, 1999. They are based on a “Common Chart of Accounts” in place in Oregon schools that provides common definitions for categories of expenditures. Imaginary? Hardly. At the core of the model are hard numbers of what Oregon districts actually spend on teachers, books, transportation, special education, technology, etc. The model, therefore, provides a set of choices and their costs for thinking about the kind of schools we want in our state.

What Does a Full Service School Cost in Oregon?

Second, it asks a very simple question: what would it cost to provide a full service school to every Oregon student based upon that current expenditure? Aspirational? Yes. But labeling it “fantasy” and “daydreaming” is no answer for the children and families who have something much less than full service in their schools. They may more likely refer to Oregon spending as “unfair,” “discriminatory” and “inadequate” for Oregon’s economic future. Is it fantasy that every child should have a reasonable class size, access to support and special services, a librarian, a music teacher, physical education? How are we to decide who receives these services and who does not? And what would it cost to provide those services? Some of them? All of them? Phase them in over time? These are all valid questions that can be answered using the QEM as a tool.

As the current report from the Joint Special Committee on Public Education Appropriation points out, there have been biennia where the funding “gap” between the full model and actual expenditure has been narrowed. In four consecutive years, for example, in the 2005-07 and 2007-09 biennia, the gap was narrowed. (See p. 14 of the Report: http://library.state.or.us/repository/2008/200812221407571/2013-2015.pdf) If all of the changes approved by the Legislature in the 2013 Session and in the Special Session survive, the gap is reduced from $3.04 billion to $1.90 billion. In other words, in 3 of the last 6 biennia, the gap between full funding of the QEM and actual funding levels has been narrowed. The QEM puts a stake in the ground for planning that, at least, helps us understand the fiscal difference between full service schools and what we currently have. It is up to us, citizens and legislators, to decide what we want for our children. Ritual self-flagellation? No. It demonstrates that progress is possible after over two decades of frustration from the passage of Ballot Measure 5 in 1990 to today. Citizens are tired of watching schools be stripped of the very services needed for student success.

There is good news and bad news here. The gap is, indeed, narrowed and there is reason for optimism that the Legislature could begin to string together several biennial budgets that restore some of the budget ground that has been lost. But the gap is still $1.9 billion. By continuing on a path of fiscal system reform coupled with strategic investment, we have already demonstrated that progress can be made.

Where Are the Most Strategic Investments?

Third, as a planning tool, it allows the legislature, school boards, citizens, administrators, and, even, editorial boards, to look at actual costs of individual areas of expenditure. We know, for example, that an area with huge upside return on investment for Oregon students and taxpayers is full day kindergarten. What would it cost to provide this in Oregon schools?

And what of increasing class sizes and declining numbers of teachers? An analysis from a recent New York Times article reported that Oregon has the sixth highest rate of loss of education personnel per 100 students in the country. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/22/education/subtract-teachers-add-pupils-math-of-todays-jammed-schools.html) According to the Oregon Statewide Report Card, 2012-13, the total number of teachers in Oregon districts and ESDs declined from 31,659 (2008-09) to 28,065 (2012-13). Over the same period of time, the student enrollment increased to 563,714 after 4 consecutive years of decline. The student population also continues to become more diverse with increasing ethnic/racial diversity (35.3% of students), language diversity (55,402 English Learners), and students with special needs (13.3% in special education and 7.11% in Talented and Gifted programs). See Oregon Statewide Report Card (http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/annreportcard/rptcard2013.pdf). Fewer teachers attempting to meet the needs of larger and more diverse classes has become the norm in Oregon schools; but this information is known primarily to parents and staff. Since The Oregonian has reported on these issues in the past, it is reasonable to assume that its editors are also aware.

Moving Forward

If we are to find workable pathways for improved success, it is important to know where to invest, what to invest in and what the cost of investment will be. The QEM provides the tools for answering questions like this. Individual elements of the model are based on actual Oregon school district expenditures. The most practical and informative use of the model is to look at program costs in current dollars. This adds specificity and reality to school financial deliberations. Those disappearing programs and larger class sizes are real in Oregon. There is no pretending here.

The editorial correctly raises a critical issue, i.e., there is no guarantee that even the recent modest increases in funding will survive legal scrutiny. The changes in the PERS system face a review by the Oregon Supreme Court. And the additional $100 million approved in the Special Session does not impact current budgets and only goes into effect in 2014-15. These factors could place significant downward pressure on school budgets. Instead of looking at the 2015 session as a chance to continue modest rebuilding, we will be back to trying to salvage whatever we can of current expenditure.

It is misleading to citizens to suggest that solid fiscal planning is fantasy. In fact, more than ever, we need concrete information on what kind of educational system we want for our children and what that system will cost. The real fantasy is believing that shooting the messenger makes the message go away.

Enriching Literacy Instruction

Enriching literacy instruction is a central issue in responding to the coming implementation of the Common Core State Standards and, as we saw recently, responding to international comparisons, such as, the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Student outcomes that reflect the heightened "college and career ready" expectations that characterize current policy discussions will require rigorous and effective approaches to literacy for all students.

The NW Regional Conference of the National Council of Teachers of English will be held in Portland on March 1-3, 2014, at the Downtown Marriott Waterfront. The conference is part of the Oregon Council of Teachers of English centennial celebration and will bring teachers from eight NW states and British Columbia to Portland. The program features 180 speakers from 22 states and Canada, including more than 20 with ties to the Graduate School of Education and Portland State University. It is co-sponsored by the Oregon Council for the Social Studies, Oregon Association of School Libraries, Rethinking Schools, National Writing Project, Portland Reading Council, as well as by affiliates in other states.

This is a great opportunity to learn from some of the best regional and national resources engaged in enriched literacy programs that address the needs of increasingly diverse learners in schools targeting higher outcome expectations.

There is a lot more information on the attached flyer.

NCTE regional conf flyer 1.pdf

How do we open doors for English learners? Interactive Webinar Opportunity

How Do We Open Doors for English Learners?

Join a free, interactive webinar on December 12th with PSU Graduate School of Education faculty member Julie Esparza-Brown on this topic.

How do we open doors for English learners? Interactive Webinar Opportunity

How can we provide high-quality, research-based instruction and interventions to support the growing English language learner population?

On December 12, Drs. Claudia Rinaldi and Julie Esparza-Brown will present research-based examples of preventive assessment measures, collaboration structures, data-informed problem solving, and instruction and intervention planning and delivery to support ELLs.

This interactive webinar by REL Northeast and Islands at Education Development Center, Inc., will be particularly helpful for district-level English language educators, special education teachers, and response to intervention (RTI) directors and coordinators. Sign up today!

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State Level 4-yr Cohort Graduation Rate

GRADUATION RATE DATA

According to new, preliminary data available here, many states improved their four-year high school graduation rates in the 2011-12 school year. The data shows that 16 states reported graduation rates at or above 85%, versus just nine states who reported the same graduation rates in 2010-11. This is the second year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure to indicate how many students received diplomas. Building off this new data, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will release a report in early 2014 regarding on-time graduation rates for school years 2010-11 and 2011-12. On-time graduation rate indicators provide a measure of the percentage of students that complete high school in four years with a regular high school diploma.

The interactive map of the US allows a quick look at how Oregon compares to other states, as well as, providing links to additional data sets. Oregon’s graduation rate of 68% places it in the bottom quintile of states in the US. A critical initial factor impacting whether the state’s goal of reaching 40% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree, 40% of graduates with an associate’s degree or certificate, and 20% graduating with a rigorous high school diploma (40-40-20 goal) is to significantly improve the on-time high school graduation rate. Doing so will require significant investment that begins to restore both the breadth of curriculum offerings that engage a broader range of student interests, as well as, creating conditions within high schools that directly contribute to student engagement and success. This would include restoring investment in student advising and counseling, academic support and intervention programs; reduction in the very large class sizes currently seen in Oregon high schools; restoration of Career and Technical Education programs including expanded partnerships with Community Colleges; and an intense focus at the individual student level on successful transition from the 8th grade into high school.

There are clear measures in place already in these areas and the Oregon Education Investment Board has, appropriately, called for better alignment across institutions and more careful monitoring of student success using longitudinal data. This problem cannot be fixed by focus on a single grade level. In other words, high school graduation rates are not solely the responsibility of high schools. Thinking of these data as "system indicators" and not just "school indicators" opens the conversation to how each element of the PK-20 system is connected to the next element. Each element is connected to what came before and influences the success of what happens at the next level. Having good metrics in place is only a prerequisite step to the more important work of establishing system alignment across all grades, restoration of support and intervention services, and creating conditions for success at the school and classroom level. There is a danger in spending too much time weighing the baby and not enough time feeding the baby.

Secretary Duncan Comments on PISA Results

Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan responded to the release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results this week. The blog post link below also contains a short video presenting information on US results.

PISA 2012

During a digital event with a live video feed, Secretary Duncan and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria announced the results of the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and discussed the implications for U.S. education policy. PISA is a test of reading, mathematics, and science literacy, given every three years to 15-year-olds around the world. In 2012, 65 education systems — including the 34 member countries of the OECD — participated in PISA.

Among the key findings:

· While other nations moved ahead, there was no measurable change in U.S. average scores in reading, mathematics, or science literacy between 2012 and any of the previous U.S. results.

· The U.S. remained below the OECD average score in mathematics literacy and was not measurably different from the OECD average scores in reading and science literacy.

· In mathematics literacy, the U.S. had a higher percentage of low-performing students and a lower percentage of high-performing students, on average, than the OECD countries.

“While we are seeing some encouraging progress on many important measures, the United States’ performance on the 2012 PISA is a picture of educational stagnation,” the Secretary said in a statement. “This is a reality at odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators. By taking those vital steps, we will ensure all of America’s children have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and careers.”

(Note: A recent blog post captures the PISA Day events and includes a video and a link to the Secretary’s prepared remarks.)

Comparing 2009-2012 PISA Results

When the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released its most recent data yesterday, a flood of commentaries has, predictably, followed. Getting a simple understanding of what the results were can be hard. This link will help. It will take you to an interactive chart created by Education Week that displays the rank order of the scale scores for each country for both the current release and for 2009. Drop-down fields let you switch between years and subjects. It also provides a color coded range of average, statistically above average and statistically below average. It is easy to use and lets you quickly see the spread among the 42 countries being compared.

In both 2009 and in 2012 the results from the United States place American students squarely in the middle of the countries participating. There has been little movement in US scores over the past two years.

Here is the link to the chart:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/pisa_scores_comparison.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1

Here is a link to Education Week’s analysis of the data:
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/12/03/14pisa.h33.html?tkn=TSUFY8eJwGjORp6VIB2zsB9KBk7fFE8xipyG&cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1