By James Clark
Deep in the Heart of Texas lies the small town of Meridian. It is home to a little over 1,000 residents. Known for its southern hospitality, one Mexican restaurant and the agricultural business, at large Meridian is a small rural town. Take a right turn going north on Main Street and you will land on a county road recently named Yellow Jacket Drive conveniently in honor of the school's mascot, and a result of the creative collaboration of a student body's democratic vote. This is where your unbiased journalist and author of this read graduated 2 years ago.
I decided to pursue journalism my 8th grade year when Senora Carpenter told a Spanish 1 class full of nervous and uneager students, myself included, the importance of understanding culture and the world around you even when it is not in your backyard. I instantly wanted to learn everything about the world and the people who live in it.
Senora Carpenter eventually asked me to join the speech team. The result was my passion for current issues, which created my curiosity to try public debate. The accomplishments from these academic events are what allowed me to attend a private university on a hefty scholarship. With the help of several teachers from Meridian High School I was able to leave town, pursue my education and fight hard for what I believe in. I was a lucky one.
I didn't just have teachers. I had mentors, awakeners, leaders and motivators that allowed me to discover what I was capable of and the barriers I was meant to break. I had my own educational philanthropists.
Even with the guidance of teachers like mine goals of higher education seem impossible to students from small rural areas. Lack of college academic recruiters make students feel unwelcomed to many universities. Lack of funding diminishes and destroys chances for extra academic opportunity and prosperity. Societal expectations and disbelief in personal endeavors make students feel that they should remain stagnant.
I know those facts to be true, because they are the stories that become an endless novel of people in towns similar to where I grew up. It is not that the rural area populous do not want to achieve higher education, it's the fact that regionalism prevents it from happening. Altogether, it seems like there is no one standing up for rural area students and schools.
Similar to how my former teachers believed in me, small rural schools and students across this nation need the same level of encouragement and confidence. Leading to the undeniable belief that students, no matter the location deserve the best education in pursuit of their biggest dreams.#
By Nancy Doolittle
Cornell Provost W. Kent Fuchs has been named the 12th president of the University of Florida, the UF board of trustees announced October 15. The appointment is subject to approval by the Florida Board of Governors. He is expected to begin his new position January 1.
Fuchs, who was appointed Cornell's chief academic officer in 2009, came to Cornell in 2002 as the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering.
In a statement, Cornell President David Skorton said Fuchs leaves behind a legacy that "will be felt by all Cornellians, and by colleagues at other top research universities, for decades to come."
Known for his knowledge of Cornell, clarity of purpose and vision for the future, Fuchs became provost at the onset of the economic recession and helped the university find creative ways to hire and retain diverse, outstanding faculty, develop its new budget model and strategic plan, and establish the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, which, Skorton said, may be "Kent's greatest legacy as provost."
"Kent will bring to his new position a deep understanding of the issues, constituencies and avenues for collaborative action that are central to the life of a university," he said. "We will greatly miss his leadership, intellect and thoughtful, principled actions."
"Personally," Skorton continued, "I am excited for Kent and look forward to our continuing partnership as we each continue to contribute to the advancement of education and research at a national level."
"I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve Cornell for the past 12 years," said Fuchs. "Cornell is a wonderful university with a marvelous history and glorious future."
In developing the strategic plan, "Reimagining Cornell," Fuchs led the effort to erase the university's $150 million deficit and, in his words, to make Cornell a leaner, stronger university by 2014. The plan included downsizing and restructuring the university, and developing a new budget model.
"This comprehensive change in Cornell's budget model is one of the most important initiatives impacting the university's future that I have been involved in during my tenure," Fuchs said when announcing the model in 2012. Cornell balanced its budget that July.
Both as dean and later as provost, Fuchs spearheaded efforts to increase diversity within the Cornell community. He recruited faculty of color and women faculty and increased student diversity at the College of Engineering, and supported the establishment of institutional diversity goals and accountability with the Toward New Destinations initiative.
Fuchs led these efforts to recruit diverse, outstanding faculty and students and renew its focus on high-priority academic areas at a time when Cornell's peers were less engaged in doing so, helping Cornell to increase its competitiveness and influence in the U.S. and internationally.
Looking at the growing impact of technology on higher education, in 2012 Fuchs appointed a massive open online course (MOOC) committee and approved its recommendation that the university encourage this technological advance in the delivery of education. Fuchs said Cornell is "committed to remaining in the forefront of educational innovation." The first four courses launched in early 2014.
Fuchs earned his B.S.E. from Duke University and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. In between, he earned his Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an experience that he credits with reinforcing his lifetime focus on service to people.
Skorton plans to announce an interim provost by October 31.#
- Reprinted with permission of the Cornell Chronicle.
By Arthur A. Katz
In previous columns, I wrote about the Vergara litigation in California, which held that California's teachers' tenure laws violated the constitutional right of California students to an education.
This summer, two lawsuits were instituted against the New York State Board of Regents, and others, contending that the New York Education Law provisions regarding tenure, disciplinary procedures and seniority, in combination, prevent affected New York State public school students from obtaining the sound basic education that is guaranteed to them under Article XI of the New York State Constitution.
The first litigation (Mymoena Davids, et al., v State of New York, et al.), coordinated by the NYC Parents Union, was commenced in early July, and the second litigation (John Keoni Wright, et al. v State of New York, et al.), sponsored by the Partnership for Educational Justice, was commenced the end of July. Both organizations are New York City based and are focused on public school reform, although the Partnership's activities are not limited solely to reforms in New York. In each instance, the plaintiffs are New York public school children. The Complaints in both litigations are similar, although with a slightly different emphasis, and argue that several related New York State Education Laws make it difficult to terminate ineffective public school teachers resulting in a lack of quality education in affected public schools which, in turn, violates the New York State Constitutional provision requiring the affording of a sound basic education to all students.
On August 7, New York State Attorney General Schneiderman filed a motion for consolidation of the two litigations, which motion was granted on September. On August 29, New York State United Teachers filed a motion to intervene, which was granted on September 30.
The principal laws involved in this constitutional challenge are Education Law § 3012 (tenure), Education Law §3020(a) (disciplinary procedures and penalties) and Education Law §3012 (seniority).
Tenure protection in the United States arose out of the labor struggles in the 19th century and initially was instituted at colleges to protect academic freedom and to limit the ability of the college from terminating a teacher for disagreeing with the college's authorities or spending time on topics unpopular with the college's benefactors. These rules were made applicable to New York State public school teachers by the addition of provisions in the New York State Education Law more than fifty years later.
The purpose of tenure was not to guarantee permanence of employment, but to mandate an appropriate level of due process into termination proceedings for a tenured teacher. The tenure laws were enacted to protect public school teachers from what then was a lack of due process and rampart discrimination at a time when adequate protections just did not exist. Today, however, freedom of information laws, open meeting laws and anti-discrimination laws exist on both the federal and state level and have eliminated most "star chamber" termination proceedings. As a result, the tenure laws do not serve the same purposes for which they initially were enacted. Although the tenure laws probably have had the desired effect of inducing qualified individuals to enter into the teaching profession in lieu of other better-paying jobs not offering tenured positions, one still needs to determine whether such laws, as currently being utilized, continue to be appropriate on balance.
Tenure in New York, in accordance with Education Law §3012, is normally required to be granted no later than the third anniversary of a public school teacher's employment. However, in order to make this deadline, actions need to be taken by the school system after only two years of performance review, which many commentators contend is too short a period to adequately assess whether a teacher has earned a lifelong benefit of tenure. As the Wright Complaint states, "most studies indicate that teacher effectiveness is typically established by the fourth year of teaching. After that, effective teachers tend to remain relatively effective and ineffective teachers remain relatively ineffective."
New York State has implemented an Annual Professional Performance Review (the "APPR") to assist in evaluating the effectiveness of teachers. Although each school district negotiates the specific terms of their respective APPR plans, these plans still are required to comply with the Education Law. Unfortunately, these locally determined evaluation methods have, in practice, invited variable definitions that do not always assure selection of the most effective teachers in determining whether to award tenure.
Once tenure is awarded, a teacher cannot be removed except (i) for just cause (i.e., insubordination, immoral character or unbecoming conduct, inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental disability, neglect of duty or failure to maintain required certification) and (ii) in compliance with the process set forth in Education Law §3020(a). However, the prescribed process, as customarily effected, makes it prohibitively expensive, time-consuming and very difficult to dismiss an ineffective tenured teacher. Meticulously maintained and detailed documentation that is required has become a laborious and complicated process that must be completed within a defined time schedule. As a result, and because of the likelihood of an appeal after the process and the cost engendered by the process, many public school administrators appear to be loath to even commence the process. Moreover, disciplinary proceedings take time, and as mentioned in the Wright Complaint take well over a year from the time that charges are brought until a final decision. During this period, the affected teacher (while not teaching) must remain on the payroll, increasing the school district's burden.
Lastly, and as both the Wright and the Davids Complaints point out, tenured teachers still can be laid off if a school district is decreasing its teaching staff. However, in accordance with Education Law §2588, seniority must be used as the criteria, removing any arbitrary element from the process. Unfortunately, such criterion does not result in retaining the most-effective teachers. If anything, it may even allow an ineffective teacher to refrain from attempting to improve since the effort will not result in greater job security.
Interestingly, neither the Wright nor the Davids Complaint, while arguing that the system is flawed and does not encourage effective teachers, believe that all of the disputed Education Laws should be abolished, but that such laws should be revised in a way to better achieve the desired purpose. However, in the absence of taking any actions, they contend that such laws have an unconstitutional effect resulting in the unequal and insufficient education of New York State public school children. #
While New York City is Making Major Investments in Afterschool, New York State is No Longer in the Top Ten States Nationwide
Today's release of America After 3PM reveals that New York State has stalled in meeting the demand for afterschool programs over the last five years. 1.1million of New York's children and families are still without afterschool opportunities--the same number as in 2009. The New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) is calling for substantially increased investments in afterschool programs so that these opportunities are available to students across New York.
When the survey was last conducted by the Afterschool Alliance in 2009, New York ranked third in the nation as an afterschool leader, based on a combined quality, participation, and parental satisfaction score. In 2014, however, New York is not even in the Top Ten.
New York State's drop in the America After 3PM rankings coincides with significant cuts to state funding in the recession, with funding 35% lower now than it was in 2009. Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a major new investment of at least $160 million annually in last year's Executive Budget to address New Yorkers' need for more afterschool programs statewide; unfortunately, however, no new statewide funds were added in the final state budget for 2014-15.
Moreover, America After 3PM highlights a growing gap in the availability of afterschool programs between New York City and the rest of the state. This year's survey found that 21% of New York students are enrolled in afterschool programs, a number unchanged from 2009. If New York City's higher than average participation rates are removed, only 15% of students participate in afterschool. This gap is increased by New York City's investment of $338 million in afterschool and summer programs this year, including the launch of 271 new middle school afterschool programs this fall. These programs started after the America After 3PM data was collected and are not reflected in the report.
"Outside of New York City, New York has actually fallen behind nationally on afterschool. This is a tremendous disservice to children and families across the state," said Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, Executive Director of NYSAN. "Five years ago, New York was seen as a national model for effective afterschool programs, and must again take leadership in this critical area. We applaud New York City's major investment in afterschool programs and hope to see similar program growth across the state over the next five years."
The Campaign for Children, a coalition of more than 150 early childhood education and after-school advocacy and provider organizations in New York City, said, "New York City is clearly leading the way when it comes to investing in high-quality after-school programs -- even more so now that tens of thousands of new slots have been added for middle school students since the data for this report was collected. We also know that there is much more work to be done to meet the demand across New York State, as well as within New York City, where 67% of children not in an after-school program reported that they would enroll if one were available to them. We look forward to continuing to work with City and State officials to ensure that all children have access to safe, affordable, and educational after-school programs."
Research suggests that regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs over several years can help close the achievement gap between low and high-income students. It has also been found to increase school engagement and school attendance, reduce risks of substance abuse and involvement in juvenile crime, and increase access to adult mentors. 85% of New York parents support public funding for afterschool.
Afterschool programs are also a tremendous relief to New York's working parents, who are otherwise faced with the nation's highest average costs for afterschool care--leading to an estimated 584,000 children being unsupervised every day across the state.
America After 3 PM can be accessed at http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/AA3PM/.
- This article is reprinted with permission of the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN).
Recently, the Confucius Institute celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Confucius Institute was created by HanBan, in collaboration with the Chinese government, to promote Chinese culture and language on a global scale. In the past ten years, there are over 450 Confucius Institutes and around 700 Confucius Classrooms around the world. In New York City, the five Confucius Institutes collaborated to host a full day of celebrating the milestone. The opening ceremony was held at the SUNY Global Center and hosted by the Confucius Institute for Business at SUNY (SUNY CIB).
In her opening speech, Dr. Maryalice Mazzara, the American Director of SUNY CIB, talked about the mission of Confucius Institute, which is to "promote understanding through Chinese language study, cultural programs and events, and the establishment of positive relationships" between China and the United States. She noted how this was especially important in New York City, stating that the Confucius Institutes have allowed students to grow closer to members of the community.
Sally Crimmins Villela, the Assistant SUNY Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs talked about the impact of the Confucius Institutes on a global scale, saying the Confucius Institutes "truly embody the spirit of public diplomacy."
She added, "We know that nations are less likely to wage war on one another when they have significant cultural, personal, and economic ties. We know these ties are formed through higher education."
Cheng Lei, the Deputy Consulate General of China in New York City, echoed Villela's sentiments. He read a letter from the Consulate General, which said, "It is my sincere hope that those Chinese-American scholars can make full use of this platform for the sake of exchanging ideas and learning from each other so that the future emanations of those fine Chinese and American culture can bring benefits to mankind." Lei also stated that, "The Chinese Consulate General in New York City is ready to exert all its efforts to support Confucius Institute's for the sake of improving mutual understanding and friendship between two great nations and two great peoples."
Shenzhan Liao, Director of Education at the China Institute, read a letter from Carmen Fariña, the Chancellor of Education, which discussed the impact of the Confucius Institutes in New York City. Fariña wrote that the five Confucius Institutes "have provided wonderful platforms that made the teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture more accessible for the city's students, educators, and all the city's residents."
Following the speeches made by representatives of the five Confucius Institutes in the City discussing their specific programs and impacts on the community, Dr. Mazzara then talked about the events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute taking place throughout the day. The festivities mark ten successful years of promoting Chinese culture around the world through the Confucius Institute, with many more to come.#
Going overseas? Book your shots when you book your flight
Planning to travel outside the U.S. this holiday season? Check with your primary care provider or travel clinic when you book your flight. You may need to see a provider at least 4-6 weeks before leaving the country to allow enough time to complete vaccinations, says Caroline Sullivan, DNP, an adult nurse practitioner at the Primary and Immediate Care practice at Columbia Doctors. In addition to getting any needed vaccinations, advance planning can give you time to consider other health precautions to consider for your destination, Sullivan says. Sullivan, whose practice provides travel consultations, offers the following tips for trips abroad.
1. Find vaccine recommendations for your travel destination. If your trip takes you to South America, you might vaccines to protect against Yellow Fever or Typhoid Fever. Travel to Africa may require vaccines to protect against meningitis or rabies. If you go to Asia, you might need vaccination for Japanese encephalitis, a virus spread by mosquitos in the region. "People are often unaware that these issues exist, and that there are vaccines for them," Sullivan says.
2. Don't forget routine vaccinations. All adults and kids should get a flu vaccine every year. Adults should get the Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria, at least once if they didn't receive it growing up. Travelers 60 years and older should also get vaccines to protect against shingles and pneumococcal diseases, which cause infections in the lungs, blood, brain, and ears. "Keeping vaccinations up to date should be a routine part of primary care," Sullivan says. "It's never bad thing to double check before a trip."
3. Vaccines aren't the only protection you need. Depending on where you go and how you get there, you may want to have prescriptions for malaria, altitude sickness, or motion sickness. You should also take precautions with what you eat and drink, consuming fully cooked food and drinking beverages from sealed bottles. You may also need to take steps to protect yourself against mosquitos or other insects, or take precautions to prevent blood clots during flights or diarrhea on the ground. "Travel medicine isn't just about vaccinations," Sullivan says. "Other measures are equally important such as food and water precautions and protections against insects."
4. Know the costs of travel medicine. Insurance may not cover all the shots needed for trips outside the U.S., and travel consultations also have fees that aren't covered as routine primary care. "If you are traveling on a budget, you should be aware of these out-of-pocket fees," Sullivan says.#
The College of Mount Saint Vincent today announced two major initiatives: a Tuition Reset, which will provide more affordable access to higher education for students from middle income families, and National Measures of Quality, a model report giving students and their parents meaningful data about educational outcomes. Both the Tuition Reset and National Measures of Quality target common criticisms of the higher education sector. Mount Saint Vincent is dramatizing the case that it offers an exceptional education at an excellent price.
The College of Mount Saint Vincent is reducing what it charges for tuition, room and board, and fees for all students beginning with the 2015-2016 academic year. It will simultaneously reduce financial aid awards by an identical amount.
"The prevailing pricing model for higher education is broken," said Charles L. Flynn, Jr., President of the College. "Most colleges and universities pair high tuition with high merit scholarship awards. There are many reasons for this model, but it impacts all families, especially middle-income ones. They pay too much. The Mount intends to fix this broken model by charging what it really costs to provide a high quality college education. We are moving to a low tuition, need-based financial aid model."
The Mount is the first private college in the region and the first among its peer institutions to address the problem of spiraling tuition.
The new pricing model applies to full-time undergraduate students enrolled for the 2015-2016 academic year. Freshmen will pay $21,640, a 30 percent decrease from the projected 2015-2016 tuition price. Combined with a decreased room and board price of $8,120 and additional reductions in fees, the final cost of $30,610 gives freshmen campus residents a total cost savings of $14,940. Additionally, freshman commuters will see direct cost savings of $10,460 per year. Tiered pricing for sophomores, juniors, and seniors reflect slightly higher costs for upperclassmen.
"Mount Saint Vincent is fortunate to be able to lead in this way," said Dr. Flynn. "Our enrollment is at an all-time high. This year, with more than 500 freshmen, we are seeing the largest, academically strongest entering class in our history. We believe that it is our responsibility to recognize the financial pressure on families and to do something about it."
The College describes the low-tuition, need-based financial model as fairer to middle-income students. "With the high sticker price/merit scholarship model, middle-income families pay too much," says Emmett Cooper, Director of Financial Aid. "By moving to a primarily need-based financial aid policy, we can provide an opportunity to those who need it and lower the cost for families with incomes too high for need-based assistance."
Individualized emails and letters have been sent to students and their families, explaining the Tuition Reset and comparing costs under the old and new pricing models.
National Measures of Quality
Higher education is facing unprecedented criticism, as public officials demand data to prove that education is worth what it costs. "There is a lot of data about higher education. The federal government requires institutions annually to complete IPEDS [Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, an extensive report of complex data], said Dr. Flynn. "By instituting National Measures of Quality, a reliable, sensible model of assessment, the College of Mount Saint Vincent is providing students and their parents the data they need to evaluate the Mount's educational outcomes. We are also providing other colleges and universities with a model they can use. We think the data are pretty dramatic and demonstrate the high quality of a Mount education."
"Among policy wonks and federal officials, there is much discussion about how to standardize, measure, quantify, and compare the quality of educational programs," Dr. Flynn continued. "Not all schools are excellent--but, like Mount Saint Vincent, excellent schools are multi-faceted and complex. Some of their exceptional qualities can be measured by statistics, but much of it cannot. We believe there is a meaningful way to assess the quality of colleges and universities and to provide students and their parents a means to differentiate the exceptional from the rest."
National Measures of Quality includes both statistical and qualitative data. Among Hispanic serving institutions, for example, Mount Saint Vincent has one of the ten best graduation rates in the United States and has the highest graduation rate in the United States for Hispanic students in the sciences. National Measures of Quality reports these statistics along with such qualitative data as participation in service programs, internships, student-faculty research, and student satisfaction.
In announcing National Measures of Quality, Dr. Flynn emphasized the College's record of continuous improvement. "By national standards, our graduation rates are excellent," he said, "but we are delighted to have recently received a $2.3 million grant to try to improve them. We can always do better."#
Charter schools have been on the public education agenda for many months, being the topic of panel discussions at Teachers College, the University Club, and Roosevelt House (part of Hunter College), and of two new books, A Light Shines in Harlem and A Smarter Charter. A recent panel assembled by the Manhattan Institute and Sy Fliegel, head of CEI-PEA, at the University Club explored the 15th anniversary of charter schools.
Today there are 2.5 million charter school students in the United States, and 83,000 in New York City. Four expert panelists Michael Duffy, Michelle Haynes, Stephen Klimsky, and Harvey Newman discussed the issues. Fifty thousand students can't attend charters because there is no space. Education is a civil right, according to the panelists, and it's being "abridged by the denial of revenue for charter schools."
Mary Bounds, author of A Light Shines in Harlem asked, "How can charter schools retain and attract special ed and ELL students?"
Haynes, a principal of a charter school in New York City, replied, "Advertise in their language; we can do a better job at marketing to attract special ed and ELL students." For example, after her students graduate, Haynes keeps up with them via Facebook.
Newman stated, "We don't have equal resources to address the needs of all children. Humanism exists in charter schools and does not exist in regular schools."
Fliegel stated, schools can learn from each other. Therefore, "co-locations are great and make sharing easier."
Michael Duffy, another participant, is the president of the Great Oaks Foundation, which has 50 percent ELL students and 20 percent special ed students.
Education Trust reports also found that poverty is still a major obstacle
By Pat Wingert
The rigorous new Common Core standards represent both a daunting challenge and a promising pathway that could help close the achievement gap for the growing number of American students who enter school knowing little or no English.
So concludes a new yearlong study released today by the California-based arm of Education Trust, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group that has repeatedly voiced concern that the new national standards might prove to be an additional burden for students whose native language is not English, particularly those who come from low-income families.
After analyzing state and federal data from the 276 California unified school districts that have more than 100 English learners, researchers identified top performers that are producing enviable results by embracing and adapting to the demands of the new standards. Even among these top districts, however, the researchers also found that schools with high proportions of students whose native language is Spanish and who live in low-income households do not do as well as other English learners.
"Rigorous standards are definitely something all students haven't been accessing before," said Jeannette LaFors, director of Equity Initiatives at the Education Trust-West. "Most disproportionately, English learners and other students of high need have been lacking access to that kind of college prep curriculum, so this is a heavy but necessary lift."
The report focuses specifically on how the Common Core is affecting the 1.4 million English learners in California, which educates more students who are less than proficient in the English language than any other state. Currently, almost one in four California students are English learners, and 37 percent of the state's enrollment comes from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Nationally, there are about 5.3 million students in grades K-12 who are English learners. Their numbers are on the rise in most states and are expected to grow to 40 percent of the nation's school population by 2030.
While the report's authors conclude that too few districts in the state are adequately transitioning English learners to these new standards, they spotlight 11 California school districts that have been particularly successful in boosting achievement for these students and describe the specific practices tied to the Common Core that have made the most impact.
"Effective districts are consistently evaluating how successful their interventions are, working at the individual level, at the grade level, at the school level and across the district," said LaFors. "Most programs that are successful are adaptive. They don't just drop it after the first wrong turn. They analyze what is not working, and ask, 'What can we do better, how can we better serve kids?' "
Championed by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the new national standards stress critical thinking and more sophisticated vocabularies, with the aim of setting a higher bar for American students and making them more competitive with their peers from other countries in an increasingly global economy. While the Common Core standards spell out what American school children should learn at each grade level, curriculum and textbook decisions are left to the district.
However, the Common Core has become controversial in many states, partly because critics fear it will negatively affect local control of schools. Some education advocacy groups have also expressed concern that these higher standards might inadvertently widen the achievement gap between students whose native language is English and English learners. As a group, these mostly Hispanic students have long scored significantly lower than their white peers on standardized tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card. They are more likely than other students to come from poor families (in California, 85 percent of English learners live in low-income households) and they tend to start school behind their English-speaking peers.
"Some people don't want to scare people about the Common Core," said LaFors. "They say it is not that much harder. Well, actually it is. The Common Core standards for language arts and math are a more rigorous set of standards for all kids to reach. But more so for English learners who are simultaneously becoming proficient in English."
That task has been made all the harder, said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman of Californians Together, an education advocacy group, by the lack of timely advice or direction from national or state proponents of Common Core. "School districts and teachers have had to figure this out on their own," she said. From the start, "there should have been a laser-like focus on English learners and the Common Core."
The new standards require all students to do more evidence-based writing and encourage them to use more sophisticated vocabulary, even in math class. For example, the Common Core standards expect students to do more than get the right answer to a math problem; they require students to explain their reasoning, in writing as well as orally.
"That's a much greater level of challenge than students had in the past, especially for English learners," added Carrie Hahnel, director of research and policy analysis at Education Trust-West and the lead author of the study.
But when the researchers compared California schools districts, based on their English learners' standardized test scores and mastery of English proficiency, and then followed up with site visits and interviews with administrators, they discovered that many of the most successful districts viewed the Common Core as a means to higher achievement for these students, and used strategies in line with its goals to achieve their good results. "We tried to tease out some of the things that are consistent that we see across the successful districts," said LaFors.
Specifically, they found that top-ranked districts offer their English learners "a full Common Core-aligned curriculum that includes rigorous expectations, frequent formative assessments and college-preparatory courses." They tend to designate time for their teachers to collaborate, and get site-based coaching and professional development. As a group, these districts also make a point of framing students' native languages as cultural "assets," rather than stumbling blocks to success, the researchers said, and they prioritize the creation of "strong home-school connections."
In high-achieving districts like Selma Unified School District, located in the state's rural Central Valley, teachers do not restrict English language acquisition to a specific class or period of the day. Instead, the report said, they are now "intentionally and consistently incorporating language development throughout the school day and across all grade levels," to meet the Common Core's goals of expanding students' vocabularies, infusing "more rich language in their writing" and providing more step-by-step support to help them take on more demanding lessons. In other words, teachers are fostering English-language proficiency at the same time that they're teaching all students increasingly challenging content.
"That is a big shift in the way we have been teaching English-language learners for the last decade or two," said LaFors.
Selma teachers learned effective ways to do this through a "coaching team" created by their district three years ago, shortly after the state legislature voted to adopt the Common Core standards. "The good news," said LaFors, is that the Common Core's increased emphasis on language skills is encouraging "teachers to engage in more give and take with students, and that is benefitting English learners. In the past, [these students] didn't have as many opportunities to explain their understanding or ask questions to advance their thinking."
In another top-performing school district, suburban Los Alamitos Unified, the researchers found that administrators "continually emphasized that they hold the same high expectations for English learners that they do for all students," including successful completion of a college-prep course load. To help non-English speakers succeed in their English immersion classrooms, the district hires "site-based English-learner coordinators" to monitor each student's progress and develop intensive interventions that include small-group instruction, after-school enrichment and special summer school classes.
"Some people don't want to scare people about the Common Core," said LaFors. "They say it is not that much harder. Well, actually it is. The Common Core standards for language arts and math are a more rigorous set of standards for all kids to reach. But more so for English learners who are simultaneously becoming proficient in English."
While the report emphasizes success stories, it also acknowledges that too many English learners in California continue to fall behind their native English-speaking peers. "Too often, English learners are labeled and tracked and stuck in a classroom with the least skilled and prepared teachers, partly because their parents tend to be the least empowered if their children are not getting services," LaFors said.
Since the state overhauled its school-funding formula last year, Hahnel said that districts now have more resources to better fund data analysis, coaching and professional development, and effective support programs. "This should be about thinking differently," Hahnel said. "The question is whether more districts will make the shift and think innovatively about how to serve these students. That is one of the goals of this report, getting these conversations going."
The authors also acknowledged that none of the 10 school districts in California that educate the highest proportion of English learners -- including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, San Francisco and Long Beach -- appeared on their list of the 11 top-performing districts for English learners. "The large urban districts tend to have highly disproportionate poverty, transiency, and urban problems, which must be dealt with in addition to the regular instructional challenges," said Patricia Gardara, a research professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. "There are also self-inflicted wounds in the big districts, but I think it's just a lot harder to get the kind of consistency that you can find in a smaller district."
The report's data analysis found, overall, that English learners enrolled in districts with large numbers of Spanish-speaking students from low-income homes tend to perform less well on state tests and to get reclassified as proficient English speakers at slower rates than similar students enrolled in districts with fewer poor students. The researchers also found that students tend to acquire English proficiency faster and score higher on state tests in districts where most English learners' native language is Mandarin, Korean, or anything other than Spanish. It probably is not a coincidence that none of the multi-language districts were also high-poverty districts, Hahnel said.
"Students from higher poverty districts looked different than those from lower poverty districts," she said. "The role of poverty needs to be acknowledged. Students who are learning English and come from low-income families face additional barriers that other students don't face."
Noting that there are high poverty schools that score higher on both state achievement and English acquisition tests than lower poverty schools, LaFors added that these general trends need to be put in perspective. "It is a predictor," LaFors added. "But it doesn't have to predict every outcome."
This article is reprinted with permission of The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education.
On Monday, October 6th, the Empire State Building lights will glow Barnard blue in honor of our 125th anniversary. This date marks the eve of the first day of classes at Barnard in 1889, the year of our founding. The sun will set at 6:30 PM, so make sure you get a good view and please share your photos on social media with #Barnard125.
Here are just a few spots with great views of the Empire State Building:
Top of the Strand
Top of the Rock
Z NYC Hotel Queens Rooftop
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Staten Island Ferry