What Does the ‘Nation’s Report Card’ Tell Us?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—known as The Nation’s Report Card—was released in October and the results caused quite a stir. Overall, students’ math and reading scores dropped or remained stagnant.
NAEP results revealed that between 2013 and 2015, math scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students declined. In reading, the eighth-grade scores dropped by three points, from 288 to 265, while the fourth-grade reading score remained virtually unchanged.
“Scores should be viewed in context, over time. Just because a single test scores goes down (or up), it does not represent the complexity of the system or mean good things are not happening,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García in a statement when the scores were released. “The NAEP scores are just another piece of the puzzle.”
A main piece of the puzzle, Eskelsen García said, is how poverty affects the lives of the one in two public school children who live with it every day.
Eskelsen García emphasized the education community’s role in acknowledging that the effects of poverty are pervasive and that students can’t learn if they lack nutritious food, a safe place to sleep, or access to health care.
“Our society must address those needs,” Eskelsen García said.
Extremists Ousted From School Board
Last November, parents and community members in Jefferson County, Colo., used the power of the ballot to recall the school board president, first vice president, and secretary—effectively taking back their school board from an ultraconservative majority.
The ousted board members had forced out a popular superintendent, met in secret, limited public comment at meetings, and attempted to censor the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum. Their actions prompted several student walkouts, which received national news coverage.
The Koch brothers-financed group, Americans for Prosperity, spent more than $500,000 on behalf of the conservative trio. But first-time candidates Debbie Dunlap, Rob Truex, and Neal Whitman—all recommended by the Jefferson County Teachers Association—overcame the advantage and won their races.
“School boards that make decisions behind closed doors and spend money on attorneys and public relations consultants instead of in the classroom, where it benefits students, are concerns shared by all Coloradans. Parents, teachers, and communities made their voices heard today,” said Colorado Education Association president Kerrie Dallman on election night.
Teen Media Use Off the Charts
According to a survey by Common Sense Media, teenagers use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day, and tweens (age 8–12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework.
Of particular interest (or concern) to educators was the finding that many young people use media while doing homework.
- 76 percent listen to music
- 60 percent send texts
- 51 percent watch TV
- 50 percent check social media
Worldwide, Status of Educators Harmed by Austerity and Political Attacks
Education International, the global union representing teachers and education workers worldwide, details the impact of crippling austerity measures on educators in the 2015 Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession report.
The study grew out of a six-month long survey of 73 education unions to measure how educators—in the wake of the global recession and ongoing political attacks—view their profession. Unfortunately, the story is generally the same across continents: Educators do not enjoy a high professional status.
Educators Protest McDonald’s “McTeacher’s Night”
In October, educators, parents, and community members mobilized against “McTeacher’s Night,” an event at which educators sit behind the counter at local McDonald’s franchises and serve up hamburgers, french fries, and soda to their students. McDonald’s bills it as a “popular and successful school fundraiser.” Teacher and parent Mark Noltner sees a blatant attempt to market fast food to children.
“It’s hard enough helping my daughter navigate the minefield of unhealthy marketing. The last thing she needs is her teachers hawking junk food. And as a teacher myself, it infuriates me that McDonald’s would manipulate the trust that teachers develop with their students,” says Noltner, who complained to the principal of his daughter’s school and reached out to other educators to create awareness about the event.
NEA and more than 50 state and local teacher unions sent a letter to McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook demanding an end to McTeacher’s Night.
Corporations often subsidize school events. And yet, these practices—“McTeacher’s Night” notwithstanding—have generally not registered so much as a blip on the public’s radar screen.
“I think people tend to underestimate the risks and the downsides of these types of activities in schools,” says Faith Boninger, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author with Alex Molnar of the new book, Sold Out: How Marketing in Schools Threatens Student Well-Being and Undermines Their Education. “Advertising is such a big part of our culture, so people just shrug and figure, ‘Well, kids are inundated by commercials in their lives anyway, so what’s the big deal?’”
Number of Homeless Students Doubles
During the 2013 – 2014 school year, the number of homeless children in U.S. public schools reached a record national total of 1.36 million.
- 2007 – 2008: 795,054
- 2008 – 2009: 936,886
- 2009 – 2010: 938,948
- 2010 – 2011: 1,065,794
- 2011 – 2012: 1,166,339
- 2012 – 2013: 1,258,182
- 2013 – 2014: 1,360,747
President Barack Obama: We Will Work to Limit Overtesting
“I’ve asked the Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that any tests we use in our classroom meet three basic principles.
First, our kids should only take tests that are worth taking—tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction, and make sure everyone is on track.
Second, tests shouldn’t occupy too much classroom time, or crowd out teaching and learning.
And third, tests should be just one source of information. We should use classroom work, surveys, and other factors to give us an all-around look at how our students and schools are doing.”
—President Barack Obama
Q&A: Turns Out, Good Intentions Can Widen Achievement Gaps
John B. Diamond, associate professor of education at the University of Wisconsin, and
Amanda E. Lewis, associate professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spent five years examining why a well-funded, diverse suburban high school was still plagued by wide disparities in achievement. Diamond and Lewis interviewed educators, administrators, students, and parents at “Riverview High”(a pseudonym used by the authors) to find out what is going on.
What you discovered at Riverview were “racial hierarchies” that were very much embedded in the school. How were they evident inside classrooms and around the school?
JD: The hierarchies were overtly evident in how the kids would enter the same school, walk together through the hallways, but then go to different classrooms—especially the higher level, more heavily resourced honors classes. Honors classes were 80 percent White in a school that is less than 50 percent White. For Advanced Placement classes, it was 90 percent White. There were also clear differences at the school in how suspensions and expulsions were handed out.
AL: What was surprising to me was the extent to which students, educators, and administrators talked about these patterns in consistent ways. They all recognized these problems. So something that was important for us early on was figuring out how this became so naturalized.
You interviewed many Riverview parents, most of whom were self-described liberals who value diversity. Explain how White parents play a more active role than they realize in blocking progress on the achievement gap.
AL: Most of the White parents we spoke to explained the racial achievement gap in a way that made them not responsible at all for a situation in which their kids were getting advantages over other kids. We understand that people are grappling with real contradictions. Thinking about schools and making the right decisions for your kids is very challenging for parents. At the same time, part of the reason why we ended up understanding this as “opportunity hoarding” is the fact that not only were they passively accepting the way things were, but they were actually playing a role in making sure it didn’t change. The long history of White communities protecting their advantages looks different across time, but is still happening in ways that we need to grapple with. When we talk about achievement gaps, everybody says, “What’s wrong with the Black kids?” but we need to reframe that and say, “Well, what are White families doing to protect their advantages and making sure their kids get more and better?”
What can educators do on an individual level?
JD: Good teaching happens when people know their students and are reflective about how their own practices shape student outcomes. It’s about thinking about what I’m doing at the school level—with the things that I can control, that have positive or negative implications for young people. That self-reflective stance is important and I think most teachers generally have it.
Conscious beliefs about equality or diversity can get overwhelmed in the moment-to-moment decision making by unconscious or subconscious biases that people carry. All of us carry certain biases that we don’t intend to. That doesn’t make us bad people; it makes us humans living in a society where there is racism, sexism, and homophobia that can shape how we interact with people—even if we don’t want it to.
That’s a key point of the book—that discussions around race tend to focus on overt discrimination and not enough on outcomes.
JD: Traditional kinds of racism are permeating our media right now and they are real problems that need to be addressed. But racial inequality is maintained by those day-to-day behaviors that are less individually motivated by animus. One of our challenges is—even in our legal approach—that we too often focus on intention as opposed to the disparate outcomes and disparate opportunities that get created. But we have to discuss this in a way that doesn’t blame or point fingers. There are no villains or heroes, but let’s begin the process assuming good intention on the part of people but showing that even good intentions can create negative outcomes.
Are Schools Starting Too Early in the Day?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Source: The Centers for Disease Control.
- 8:30 a.m. Average start time for U.S. Public Schools
- 75 to 100% of schools in 42 states start before 8:30 a.m.
- Only 17.7% of schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later