New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has gone on record saying that she would prefer retirement to leading the nation’s largest traditional district. But she has accepted responsibility for running the institution that, along with the criminal justice system and the economic system, one of the Big Apple’s three pillars of inequality. And she has a lot to do.
There isn’t much debate to be had about how de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, and his chancellors, improved achievement for the city’s fourth-graders. Graduation rates have also improved. But the real measure of district and school success lies in how well children are doing by eighth-grade. This is because by then, districts should be provided their students the preparation they need for success in high school, and ultimately, in college and career; eighth-graders reading at or above grade level will be able to do well once they graduate from high school four years later. Eighth grade achievement also matters because the teaching, curricula, and academic services districts provide can (and should) have mitigated any effects that come from as a result of families and socioeconomic background. Children who graduate from high school reading below grade level aren’t likely to succeed after leaving school.
So how well is New York City doing with its eighth-graders, especially for its black and Latino students? Based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal exam of student achievement, not well.
Three-quarters of the Big Apple’s eighth-graders read at and below Basic levels of proficiency in 2013. This means that just 25 percent of Big Apple eighth graders read at Proficient and Advanced levels, the key levels of grade level success. Between 2003 and 2013, the gap between the city’s performance and that of the national average increased by two points (from eight percentage points to 10).
Even worse, 80 percent of New York City poorest eighth-graders read at and below Basic levels in 2013. Only one out of every five impoverished eighth-graders read at Proficient and Advanced levels. Between 2003 and 2013, the Big Apple’s rate of progress for its poorest eighth graders fell behind that of the nation as a whole.
Nearly 90 percent of young black men in eighth grade attending New York City’s schools are reading at or below Basic levels of proficiency; in short, just 10 percent of young black men are reading at or above grade level. This is a situation that has not significantly improved within the past decade.
As for young Latino eighth-graders? In 2013, just 18 percent of Latino students read at proficient and advanced levels – three percentage points lower than the national average – while the remaining 82 percent read at or below Basic levels. Even worse, the one percentage point improvement in the percentage of Latinos reading at or above grade level between 2003 and 2013 is worse than the seven percentage point improvement nationwide within the last decade.
It isn’t all bad news. In 2013, 18 percent of black eighth-graders of both genders read at Proficient and Advanced levels. This is a five percentage point improvement over 2003, and better than the four percentage point improvement (from 12 percent to 16 percent) nationwide. But the city still hasn’t improved college and career success for Asian and white non-Latino eighth-graders, who often come from more economically-prosperous households.
Just 44 percent of New York City’s Asian eighth-graders read at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2013, six percentage points lower than the 50 percent rate for their peers nationwide. The percentage of Big Apple Asian eighth-graders increased by 10 percentage points between 2003 and 2013, a lower level of improvement than the 12 percentage point improvement nationwide.
Meanwhile 44 percent of white eighth-graders were reading at or above grade level in 2013, matching the national average. But a decade ago, 42 percent of white eighth-graders were reading at Proficient and Advanced levels, three percentage points greater than the 39 percent national average. The city’s two percentage point improvement was less than half the five percentage point improvement nationwide.
The challenges facing the new Chancellor are clear enough. Not enough of New York City’s children are prepared for success in college and career. The city no longer has time for happy talk about reform. We must focus our resources and energies to improve educational outcomes for all students – or else the Big Apple will remain a tale of two cities for another generation.
The newly-released National Assessment of Educational Progress data provides us with a yardstick of the quality of education produced by urban school districts. According to the report, the percentage of all students scoring at or above “Proficient” in grade 8 reading (a crucial indicator of education improvement) went from 30 percent to 34 percent between 2009 and 2013. There are various ways of looking at this. One would be that these are “tidal measures,” as it were, marks of the rising tide that is supposed to raise all boats.
Some of the boats had quite a way to go. Some did not float up all the way with the tide.
The percentage of male Black students that districts teach to read by the time they reach eighth grade is a key indicator of the educational opportunities those districts choose to make available, especially when we look across districts and states and make comparisons with other groups within specific districts. The results of the assessment of the skills of male Black students are the way that we can assess the opportunities to learn offered by districts.
Nationally, in 2009, just nine percent of eighth-grade young black men were reading at grade level – in this case, at Proficient and Advanced levels – in 2009. In 2013 that was up to 12 percent, a three point improvement that was slightly less than the improvement in that period for all students. In other words, looking at the crucial skill of reading at the key grade 8 level, nearly 90 percent of male Black students have been left with skills below grade level.
This is not good. At this rate of improvement, two percentage points every four years, it will take eighty years for half of eighth-grade young black men to read at grade level. Some tide.
Let’s look at some examples from major cities. In Detroit, the percentage of young black men in eighth-grade reading at grade level increased from four percent to five percent between 2009 and 2013. In Cleveland, the percentage of young black men in eighth grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased from five percent to six percent in that same period. In Fresno, the percentage of young black men reading at grade level declined from seven percent to six percent, while in Milwaukee, it “improved” from three percent to four percent. On average, then, something like 95 percent of male Black students in these cities are not reading at grade level in eighth grade.
What is to be said about school officials who fail their students 95 percent of the time?
Certain commentators say that the issue is poverty. Put simply, until students’ families are not living in poverty schools cannot be expected to teach them to read.
There is some data about poverty, race and educational achievement. In Milwaukee, for example, three percent of male Black students eligible for national lunch programs (a measure of poverty) read at Proficient and Advanced levels, as compared to four percent in Mississippi, eight percent nationally, and 11 percent in New York City. If poverty were the decisive factor, why does its influence vary this much by location? Wouldn’t the correlation of poverty and educational achievement be the same? Why do so many more poor male Black students in New York City read at or above the “Proficient” level than those in Milwaukee?
The percentages of young black and young white men in eighth-grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in West Virginia are nearly identical. And yet in Wisconsin, where 32 percent of young white men in eight grade reach the “Proficient” level, only seven percent of their young black male peers do. How is it that Wisconsin’s young white men are taught to read at a level similar to that of Michigan and North Carolina, while their young black men are only taught to read at levels typical of Mississippi, Arkansas and the District of Columbia? Family income does not seem to be a factor. Black family income is about the same in Wisconsin as in West Virginia. State wealth cannot be the issue, either. Does one need to point out that Wisconsin is a much wealthier state than West Virginia?
If poverty isn’t the decisive factor, could it be, as some “conservative” commentators, Black and White, claim, something about family attitudes? But that would mean that Black families are less interested in the education of their children in Wisconsin than in West Virginia, right? Really? How do those commentators know that?
So if it isn’t poverty or family attitudes, what other possibility is left? Could it be something about the schools? Could it be, to reverse the blame on black families, that those responsible for the schools in Milwaukee and cities like it are less interested in the education of black children than that of white children?
One thing that can be said is that a rate of failure, such as NAEP reports in cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit and Fresno, is not necessary. Fifteen percent of young black eighth-graders in Charlotte’s schools are reading at grade level, as are 26 percent of their black female peers, improvements from 2009 of five points and three points, respectively. Hillsborough is at 16 percent for young black men in eighth grade and 19 percent for black female peers. And in New York City, 13 percent of young black men in eighth grade are reading at grade level – an increase of three percentage points since 2009 – and 23 percent of their black female peers are at grade level (a nine point increase).
These are not great numbers. But teaching 15 percent of young black men to read is unquestionably better than teaching only five percent of them to do so. All other things being equal, three times as many might graduate from high school, find a job, go to college, stay out of jail, help raise their children without needing national lunch programs, perhaps move somewhere with good schools.
There has been much discussion of late concerning the expense involved in the education of disadvantaged children. The success of the highly praised Harlem Children’s Zone schools is attributed to, and criticized for, that project’s access to hedge fund capital. Newark’s Abbott funding, at $22,000 per student, is seen as off the charts. In these discussions, after these criticisms, the question is said to be: How can the quality of education offered by the Harlem Children’s Zone, by suburban Montgomery County Public Schools, and by private schools be replicated by the average local district, given average funding?
It is the wrong question. The correct question is: How can we best provide resources, including more money, to children in order for each child to attain high-quality education, without regard to where they live or their family background? This is a question that has to be considered in the light of the education currently provided for four typical students. Let’s call them Alice, Bill, Catherine and David.
Bill’s family lives in the inner city of a metropolitan area. His mother is a nurse’s aide. Food stamps help her get through the month. His father, who is no longer in prison, has not seen Bill in quite some time. Bill’s grandmother was from a West Virginia mining town. Her education ended at sixth grade. Bill’s grandfather had to quit going down the mines when his lungs gave out. He died young from emphysema and alcoholism. Bill’s mother and grandmother want him to have a better life, but they have few resources to help him toward that goal. One quarter of the students in the schools Bill attended graduate from high school on-time and college ready. The annual per student expenditure of the district is $12,000. Bill went to summer school twice, when he was held back at grade 7 and then again at grade 9. He has stopped going to school. He tells me he is working on his GED.
David lives in Bill’s neighborhood. His mother and father are both school teachers and have access to knowledge and resources not afforded to Bill’s family. They worked hard to get him into one of the few good schools nearby, a public school that is open from eight in the morning to nine at night, on weekends and in the summer and uses money raised from foundations to supplement the district’s funding. The expenditure per student from all sources is about $21,000 a year. David’s parents were able to contribute about $6,000 per year to his education for tutoring, Saturday language classes, and some educational travel. David has been accepted to the public university’s honors program.
Alice’s family lives in a suburb in the same metropolitan area as Bill. Her father is a surgeon; her mother, although trained as a scientist, has decided to remain at home. Alice’s father makes between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, which is far above the median, but not considered wealthy by many Washington decision-makers. The annual per student expenditure of her school district is $28,000. All of Alice’s grandparents have advanced degrees: two in the sciences, two in the humanities. They have been deeply involved in her informal education. She went to summer school nearly every year, except when her parents or grandparents had taken her to Europe for a few weeks. She is trying to decide whether to go to Princeton or to the University of California, San Diego. Her parents estimate that their family contributed, on average, $15,000 per year to her education in the form of language and music lessons, educational travel and the like.
Catherine’s family lives about forty miles from Bill’s neighborhood. Her father used to work on Wall Street, but now he works from a building owned by his investments firm in a small city near where they live. Her mother sells real estate—mostly houses, but some horse ranches. Catherine’s mother’s parents live on investments made by their parents. Her father’s parents had founded a company that had something to do with cars, she is not sure what exactly. Catherine goes to a private school in New England, for which her parents pay $40,000 a year, but as it actually spends much more than that on each student, her father has become chairman of the school’s annual appeal and makes significant leadership gifts. Catherine has taken some college-level courses in mathematics. Given that and her fluent French and Spanish, she is considering a career in international trade and is deciding now between spending her freshman year in either Paris or London.
Let’s do the sums. Bill’s education costs $12,000 a year, but averaged less over twelve years, as he dropped out in grade 11. David’s education costs $27,000 per year. Alice’s education costs $43,000 per year. Catherine’s education costs about $60,000 per year, when the school’s endowment funds and her educational travel are factored in. Just as importantly, Alice, Catherine, and David have access to opportunities and resources beyond money – from field trips to Saturday and summer school classes – that Bill never had.
Why is Bill’s future worth less than David’s or Alice’s or Catherine’s? Why do we, alone in the world, fund education from property taxes, which both guarantees that the children of the well to do will have more spent on their education than children living in poverty, and keeps some kids from accessing high-quality learning? If we believe that all children deserve high quality education, then why do we not provide it to all of them?
The question is not how to improve the education of the disadvantaged without spending more money. The question is how can we have a future worthy of our past without providing all the resources necessary, including and beyond money, for excellent education for all our children?
Photo courtesy of domaproject.org.
Within the past decade, a few things have become clear about the effectiveness of university schools of education in recruiting and training aspiring teachers. None of the facts are pretty. The first? That most ed schools do a shoddy job of recruiting aspiring teachers for the subject-matter competency, entrepreneurial leadership abilities, and empathy for all children regardless of background needed for success in helping students achieve lifelong success. The second: Even fewer provide the high-quality training — especially in reading and math instruction — aspiring teachers to be successful in classrooms; just 11 of 71 ed schools surveyed by the National Council on Teacher Quality in 2006 taught teachers all that they needed to provide adequate reading instruction, evidence that has been since proven over and over again by other studies. And three: That most ed schools fail to provide their aspiring teachers with high-quality experiences in actual classrooms in order to help them get ready for succeed in classrooms once they are hired.
So it isn’t shocking that NCTQ’s latest report reveals another weakness of traditional ed schools on the preparation front: Training teachers in managing the classroom, one of the four keys to providing children cultures of genius in which they can thrive educationally, economically, and socially, as well as reduce the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions that lead to kids dropping out of school and into despair. Once again, NCTQ’s report is another reminder of the need to develop and expand alternative models of teacher training.
The good news is that 97 percent of the 79 ed schools and other teacher training programs surveyed by NCTQ provided aspiring teachers with some form of classroom management training. The bad news? Few provided this training in a comprehensive or systematic way that helped aspiring teachers be successful in schools. On average, the ed school programs surveyed provided just eight classes — or a mere 40 percent of the classes for a single course — devoted to classroom management regardless of whether aspiring teachers were working with elementary school students or at the middle- and high school levels. A mere 16 percent of ed school programs surveyed devoted most of a single course to any one of the five aspects of classroom management.
Only ten percent of ed programs specifically require aspiring teachers to put the approaches to management they learned to use in real live classrooms with children, while another 24 percent presumably require such activities. Considering that nearly all teachers are solo practitioners with few opportunities for collaboration with colleagues, the lack of practice that makes perfect means that aspiring instructors will end up forgetting whatever they learned once they enter classrooms. Of the ed schools that do require real-world practice, few of them provide observations and feedback aspiring teachers need to improve their work.
Meanwhile the curricula on classroom managed provided to aspiring teachers was mostly subpar. Few covered all five of the key aspects of managing classrooms — establishing rules for classroom behavior, developing daily routines, providing students with specific praise, disciplining kids when needed, and fostering student engagement in learning — needed to build cultures of genius. Just 16 percent of ed schools focused on all five aspects of classroom management. Most focused on what can be the more-punitive aspects of maintaining orderly classrooms than on those that are more-nurturing. Seventy-four percent of schools surveyed failed to address how teachers can praise children for their successful work while 46 percent failed to work with aspiring teachers on how to keep children engaged in learning; most ed schools did focus on establishing rules, routines, and misbehavior.
This overemphasis in ed schools on establishing order instead of nurturing children is particularly problematic because far poor classroom management by teachers is often the first step in the overuse of suspensions and expulsions that send children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds as well as those condemned to the nation’s special ed ghettos — onto the path to dropping out of school and dropping into despair. Seventeen percent of black children were suspended once in 2009-2010, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, while 13 percent of kids in special ed ghettos and others considered to be disabled were excluded from school days at least once in the year.
Certainly low quality of instruction and curricula, especially in addressing the needs of kids struggling with literacy is one culprit. So are perceptions among many teachers that black and minority kids. But the lack of comprehensive classroom management training is also a problem. A teacher who doesn’t know how to manage a classroom of children — a group not known for always be well-disciplined in the first place — will struggle mightily in helping them master their subjects; they will use harshest discipline to do (a poor job) to deal with misbehaving children when better approaches that helps tame them and keeps them on the path to graduation. And when that teacher is also a laggard in other aspects of their instruction, the lack of strong classroom management skills exacerbates the damage their already doing to the achievement of the kids in their care.
NCTQ’s suggestions for improving how ed schools provide classroom management training are worth considering. Ed schools should immediately develop comprehensive coursework on keeping nurturing, orderly classrooms that is coordinated throughout their teacher training programs. Ed schools should also gather feedback from alumni and the school operators that hire them. Even providing video and live streams of high-quality teachers managing classrooms would be smart to do. But to be honest, these recommendations are no different from ones NCTQ and other teacher quality reform advocates have pushed ed schools and the organizations that represent them (including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education) for most of the last decade. And they will fall on deaf ears.
Save for a few notable exceptions including University of Virginia and St. Mary’s College (both of which have been cited by NCTQ in this report), traditional ed schools will not do anything to change their reputations as being the places where collegians go to get easy As (and inflated grade point averages). After all, the schools and the universities that operate them, benefit greatly from the $7 billion spent annually by aspiring teachers and taxpayers to sustain their operations. Ed schools will not sack ed school professors more-interested in filling the heads of aspiring teachers with unproven theories on how to teach children — or in some cases, on the claptrap of Paulo Freire, whose pedagogy has almost nothing to do with education — than on training them how to help kids memorize, retain and build upon knowledge. Such moves would require ed school deans to finally acknowledge that what truly matters most in teacher training are the lessons gleaned from high-quality teachers working in classrooms. And as seen over the past two years as ed schools and AACTE battled fiercely with NCTQ over its review of teacher prep programs it put together with U.S. News & World Report, ed schools won’t willingly accept any recommendations for overhauling their operations — especially when other players in American public education, including state teacher certification agencies and teachers’ union affiliates, willingly give the schools cover.
School reformers have begun realizing the need to abandon ed schools as sources of high-quality talents for their classrooms. It is why a group of charter school operators, including Uncommon Schools, have launched Relay GSE, and why MATCH has launched its own ed school division. It is also why Teach For America, Urban Teacher Residency United, and Teach Plus, who stand outside of the ed school world, have become the teacher training programs of choice for talented collegians who want to work in classrooms. Expanding the array of alternative teacher training programs makes far better sense than continuing to hope that traditional ed schools will get their acts together.
NCTQ’s latest report on teacher classroom management is one that reformers aspiring to launch their own teacher training programs should read; they should take its recommendations to heart. And ed school deans should do so as well — or else go out of business.
Last week’s Dropout Nation analyses of states that excluded high percentages of kids in special education and English Language Learner ghettos garnered plenty of response from reformers and even some follow-up coverage from the Baltimore Sun and other outlets. But what is the response from chief state school officers in Maryland, Tennessee and the other states on this year’s dishonor roll? Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, whose state’s performance on NAEP this year was questioned by this publication after revelations of high exclusion levels (including a 27 percent exclusion rate for eighth-graders in special ed on NAEP’s reading exam, and an 18 percent exclusion rate of 14 percent of eighth-grade special ed kids from NAEP’s math exam):
So here is the deal: Tennessee has a terrible history when it comes to NAEP exclusion. This year, we made a massive effort to significantly increase the inclusion rates for students with disabilities. We made really significant progress. We have to make more progress next time, particularly on eighth grade reading. At the same time, we cut exclusion rates by more than half across the board, which is a pretty good move in the right direction for one testing cycle.
My overall thought is this: you are right to keep pushing states on NAEP exclusion. And we are going to keep pushing on it, and hopefully make the same kind of progress on the 2015 assessment in terms of exclusion. We were within the NAGB goal on 3 of the 4 tests according to the report they sent us (after going 0 for 4 in 2011 and previously), so we need to get to 4 out of 4 next time.
BUT: it isn’t accurate to say that our exclusion rates were a cause of our growth in NAEP scores, given that we cut exclusion rates so significantly. Our participation rates went way up, and our scores did too.
This may be so for Tennessee. But as the National Assessment Governing Board, the U.S. Department of Education division that oversees NAEP notes, states that exclude more special ed and ELL students tend to have higher scores (and performance on NAEP) than those that exclude lower numbers of kids. But as Dropout Nation noted in its analysis of North Dakota’s high exclusion numbers, none of the tricks it did actually helped it improve its performance on the federal exams. So Huffman’s argument is plausible.
Let’s give Huffman and Tennessee credit for working to exclude fewer kids in special ed and ELL programs from NAEP. At the same time, Tennessee and all the other states must stop excluding their most-vulnerable kids from NAEP altogether. When states excludes the performance of large numbers of its most-vulnerable kids from being measured, they are essentially admitting that they are doing poorly by these children and are essentially engaging in test fraud. None of this is acceptable.
The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress breaks down results into four categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. Students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels are where they should be for their grade in school. The others aren’t.
NAEP measures many subject areas at grades four, eight, and 12. The best general indicator of these is the essential skill, reading, at eighth grade. By eighth grade students have been in school long enough that it is fair to judge the overall effectiveness of their schools by the percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient in eighth grade reading.
How are we doing, particularly for young black men, arguably the most vulnerable group? The answer: Not well at all.
The percentages of White, Black, Asian and Hispanic students scoring at or above Proficient on eighth grade reading all increased between 2011 and 2013. This is either a good thing or an indication that there is a technical problem with the test. Let’s give NAEP the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that it is a good thing.
The percentage of White students scoring at or above Proficient increased by three points, as did that for Hispanic students. The percentage of Asian students scoring at or above Proficient increased by four points. The percentage of Black students scoring at or above proficient increased by two points. That is, the gap between Black students and the others increased by between one and two points.
This is not good. Particularly not good if we look at the actual percentages. Half of all Asian students scored at or above Proficient on eighth grade reading in 2013. The percentage for White, non-Hispanic, students is 44 percent. Not as good as the Asian result, but pretty good (especially when we see that the percentage in 2011 was only 41 percent). A fifth of Hispanic students (21 percent) scored Proficient or above.
Meanwhile, just 16 percent of Black students scored Proficient or above in eighth grade reading on the 2013 NAEP. Which means, of course, that 84 percent did not. It is particularly troubling that Hispanic students are now five percentage points more likely to read at grade level in eighth grade than their Black peers. [Hispanic outcomes include those of the large middle class Cuban community in Florida and the entirely Hispanic districts along the Texas-Mexico border, where differential intra-district school funding is not an issue.]
Young black men, as we have come to expect, are failed by their schools even more spectacularly than their sisters. Twenty-one percent of female Black students score at the level of Proficient or above, a rate identical with that of Hispanic students. But just 12 percent of male Black students score Proficient or above on the NAEP eighth grade reading assessments. Those are national averages. Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin have been unable to break 10 percent for their male Black students (nine percent, five percent and seven percent, respectively). Everyone knows about Milwaukee, not to mention Mississippi.
What is to happen to the nearly 90 percent of male Black students on the verge of secondary school who the schools have not taught to read proficiently? Will they graduate from high school? Will they avoid incarceration? Will they find good jobs and live with their families on middle class incomes? Will their children have access to good schools? Or will the Black poverty cycle continue, pushed along by inequitable school funding, stop-and-frisk policing, mass incarceration and increasing inequality? No prizes for the obvious correct answers.