When Schools Don’t Understand the Power of Data

Back when I was a high school parent, I served on the school improvement committee. I kept asking for data on achievement, attendance, test results, and so forth, but it was early on in the life of data use for schools, so mostly I was met with blank looks.

Finally, one year, to fulfill a requirement for a grant from the state, the school gave reading tests to all the incoming freshmen. The resulting data were presented to the committee.

As I recall, about one-third of the incoming students were reading at a college level, one-third were reading at or a bit above the eighth-grade level, and the rest of the students were reading at lower levels, with a horrifying number reading below the third-grade level.

I asked the principal what he was going to do to respond to the data, and he said that there was nothing to do. But, he added, the data did explain the high school’s low graduation rate.

That was an example of an educator using data simply to explain failure rather than to look for what the school could do to make things better, and I suspect it happens far too frequently.

In Huffington Post this week, I talk about some of the more effective ways school leaders should look at data.

(And if you who would like to meet educators who use data to spur improvement, rather than explain failure, you should come to the Education Trust 2014 National Conference Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore. The conference will feature quite a few of them.)

How to Strengthen School Accountability

“Count me among those who applaud the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on enforcing fair access to critical educational resources. For far too long and in far too many places, the deck has been stacked against students of color: fewer experienced teachers; less instructional time; fewer teaching resources; antiquated technology. It’s long past time that we turn these patterns around and deliver on the American promise.

But unless the secretary of education takes advantage of the opportunity he will have later this month to reverse an ill-fated decision he made three years ago, there is great risk that schools and districts will get the wrong message: that low achievement for some groups of children doesn’t matter so long as resources are equal. Not a legacy, I suspect, that either the secretary or his boss wants. …”

Read the full column, “Driving for Equity – in What?” here.

A School’s Traditions Demonstrate Its Values

When I visit a school, I am always struck by the traditions and rituals that help establish the school’s identity and signal what a school values.

Most high schools have lots of traditions around athletics, for example. We’re now in homecoming season, which was certainly a big deal at my kids’ high school.

It’s in the non-sports traditions that you can see the real values of a school, though. Continue reading

What Happened With Cohort Default Rates?

The U.S. Department of Education recently released student loan cohort default rates for colleges and universities. Schools with rates of 30 percent or more for three consecutive years (and those with 40 percent or more for one year) were in danger of losing federal financial aid. In the end, the list included only 21 schools. Why was that?

The department made a last-minute change to the calculation that determines student loan cohort default rates — making the already-imperfect measure even less perfect. Continue reading

Broad Prize Lessons From the Middle Seat

On a recent flight to Atlanta I was stuck in a middle seat, which I initially viewed with dismay but soon grew to appreciate.

The person on my left saw that I was reading Fifteen Thousand Hours, prompting her to reveal herself as a recently retired educator who had been a high school teacher for many years before working at the state level in Georgia. She and I got to talking about education, at which point the young woman on my right introduced herself as an elementary school teacher in Florida. Continue reading

A Next-Generation Design for Federal Financial Aid

This morning, we’ll be hosting a panel discussion about better targeting federal financial aid, work-study dollars, and other funding to more effectively benefit students and taxpayers. It’s a culmination of four policy proposals released this year (from four entities, Ed Trust included) that provide policy recommendations for creating a next-generation design for our nation’s financial aid system.

All of the work is wrapped up in Beyond Pell, the paper we’re releasing today and discussing at the event. Beyond Pell pushes for a 10 percent affordability guarantee for low-income students — meaning that any student who is eligible for a maximum Pell Grant (those from families with incomes of $23,000 or less) should not have to pay more than 10 percent of family income each year to go to college. (Currently, maximum Pell Grants are $5,645, so any remaining tuition, fees, or other academic expenses are paid for out-of-pocket.) Continue reading

It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It

Attend nearly any D.C.-based education event, and you’re bound to hear an endorsement for XXXX program or approach. You can practically see the Hill staffers pinging someone back at the office to be sure to include XXXX in legislative language. These endorsements drive me nuts. Because within every XXXX lives an enormous diversity in quality — and quality is what makes the difference for kids.

I saw what a difference quality makes during recent visits to two schools, each implementing project-based learning.

Project-based learning (PBL) has an intuitive draw for educators: It’s a teaching method that, in theory, develops critical thinking and content knowledge simultaneously by engaging students in a process of inquiry. As students work through projects, they are also building important skills, such as collaboration and communication. The problem is that, in practice, PBL is difficult to implement well, since the multiple emphases (content delivery, inquiry, and skill-building) create a tough balancing act for educators. Continue reading