Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More on teacher professional development

Recent research (and comments from educators themselves) underscore the importance of teacher planning time and collaboration to improving student achievement. Wisconsin legislation enacted in 2009, A.B. 95, takes an interesting approach to embedding teacher prep time and collaboration in the school day. The bill creates a new mandatory subject of collective bargaining in the state--time spent during the school day, separate from pupil contact time, to prepare lessons, labs, or educational materials, to confer or collaborate with other staff, or to complete administrative duties.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Upgrading Teacher Professional Development in California

Increasingly, states are looking to enhance teacher professional development to better align with areas that may substantially improve student achievement. Already back in 2008, California enacted A.B. 2391, which allows teachers to fulfill half of an 80-hour professional development requirement with instruction on such areas as data analysis, alignment of assessment and instruction, implication of data analysis and its effect on increasing pupil achievement, impact on
pupil success through diagnostic teaching, differentiating instruction through
pacing and complexity, and statewide and local data management systems.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Alabama: A state to watch on school leadership?

Last year, Alabama enacted S.B. 262 (e-mail me at if you would like the full text of this measure), which calls for the School Superintendents of Alabama (state-level professional organization) to develop and administer a professional development program for all superintendents in the state. The program must draw from the National Staff Development Council definition of "professional development", and contain specified elements supported by research and best practice. The legislation also requires all new superintendents to participate in the School Superintendents of Alabama's Mentor and Executive Coaching Program, to train participants in specific skills key to the superintendent's job. Per the legislation, every new superintendent must be assigned an executive coach (an experienced superintendent), to make at least 8 contacts a year and hold quarterly meetings with the mentee to work on several key issues, i.e., "Budget development, instructional planning and personnel actions, School system actions that must occur in the upcoming three-month period, [and] Identifying and addressing the issues and challenges of running the school district." A new superintendent can opt into a second year of mentorship.

In addition, a 2009 administrative rule adoption (e-mail me if you'd like the full text) rewrote the state's provisions on leadership development, making numerous changes (not necessarily related to the legislation).

Relatively few states appear to have statewide policies on professional development for new and experienced superintendents, much less requiring professional development for district leaders to be based on research and best practice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Texas: One model for tiered diploma systems

Back to state concerns about raising high school graduation requirements. Some observers worry that creating "college-ready-for-all" graduation requirements will induce the weakest students to drop out, while others fear that creating a tiered diploma system will lead well-intentioned adults to counsel students (particularly low-income and minority students) into selecting the lowest-level tier, despite grades and test scores suggesting that these students would succeed in more challenging courses.

Texas has created a tiered diploma system, but has also implemented two data-driven policies to limit the number of capable students steered into the "minimum" high school curriculum. The first policy requires the creation of "parent and educator reports", which must indicate for the child's campus the percentage of high school graduates who complete the minimum, recommended and advanced high school programs, and the number of students who complete the minimum high school program, disaggregated by student subgroup (see starting page 137 of 2009 H.B. 3).

The other policy directs the commissioner of education to call for a special accreditation investigation of a district when excessive numbers of students graduate under the minimum high school program, or when excessive numbers of students eligible to enroll fail to complete Algebra II or any other course that students in the recommended program would take but students in the minimum program would not take (see pages 86-87 of 2009 H.B. 3).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bonds to Help Working Poor Save for College

An intriguing idea, from an article in today's Dallas Morning News: provide partial matching funds to low-income parents who purchase savings bonds with part of their tax returns. The program is supported by Opportunity Texas, described in the article as "a new group trying to expand the ranks of the middle class", and is being implemented via a grant to the United Ways of Texas and a group that owns affordable apartment communities in Arlington and Carrollton.

It's a small program, and seems to have no direct connection to policy, but makes you wonder if this might be an approach for a state to help poor families--who won't have extra $ each month to put in a 529 plan--set aside funds for college.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Most States Not Backing Away from More Rigorous HS Grad. Reqts.

I recently was asked whether states in the last 12 months have backed away from more rigorous graduation requirements: in the form of increased opt-out opportunities for regular education and/or special education students, or changes to reduce or repeal the more challenging requirements.

Having looked at the majority of states with "college- and career-ready" graduation requirements in policy, it seems clear that most states are not backing away. And in fact, this year Connecticut joined those that have "college- and career-ready" diplomas for all. Meanwhile, in late 2009 South Dakota's state board acted to require all students to complete the most rigorous set of graduation requirements, effective with the Class of 2014. (Earlier legislative activity had reduced the diploma options from three to two, eliminating the lowest-level curricular option.) And North Carolina increased its social studies requirements from 3 to 4 Carnegie units, adding another unit of U.S. history, to increase the total # of units required from 21 to 22.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Illinois Report: Consider Performance-Based PS Funding

An earlier post to this blog described an Illinois task force charged with analyzing the use of private loans for postsecondary education. Other 2010 legislation in Illinois called for the creation of a Higher Education Finance Study Commission.

This commission's final report, released last week, gives considerable attention to the notion of adopting a performance-based funding system for Illinois colleges and universities. The report describes performance-based funding efforts in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Washington State, identifies how performance funding can be used to achieve goals beyond postsecondary completion, analyzes the components of a "good" performance-based funding model, and makes recommendations for future state action, in both performance-based funding as well as other areas of state policy, including financial aid, and adequacy and predictability of higher education revenues.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Helping Adult Students with Financial Need Pay Costs of Licensing Tests

It's a catch 22--you're unemployed, or low-income and seeking to find a better-paying job, so you enter a technical program at the local community college. That's already putting a strain on the budget. Now you are at the end of your program and need to pay to take a licensing test--you're in school because you're looking to get out of poverty, but the expenses seem to never stop coming!

Tennessee legislation enacted in 2010 seeks to assist low-income adults in such circumstances. H.B. 2645 directs the department of labor and workforce development, in conjunction with the department of education, to develop, implement and administer a program to pay licensing exam costs for adult students with financial need who complete a high school diploma or a general educational development (GED) credential in a career and technical education program and who are required to take a test in order to become licensed for a career in their fields of study.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Illinois Investigating Private Student Loans

Private loans today make up 20% of all education loan money, when they constituted just 5% of student loans just a decade ago. And borrowers who do not finish their degrees are 10 times as likely to default on their loan and twice as likely to be unemployed.

These are just some of the facts from the preamble of Illinois 2010 S.B. 1698, which calls for the creation of the Task Force on Higher Education Private Student Loans. The task force is charged with investigating a number of issues related to private student loans and student private debt load. The questions the task force are investigating appear to be exactly those all states should be asking as they seek to balance postsecondary access, tuition costs in a down economy, and the student debt load of college graduates.

Monday, November 29, 2010

District of Columbia's Recent Wellness Policy

Many states are adopting policies in hopes of improving student wellness, via physical activity mandates, higher nutrition standards for school meals and vending machines in school buildings, etc. This past summer, the District of Columbia adopted a comprehensive student wellness policy that includes the usual approaches, as well as more unusual but promising ones. Among the atypical but intriguing elements of D.C.'s policy:

--Requiring schools to collaborate with parents, students, food service providers, and community organizations in the development of wellness policies. (Involving those impacted by the policy to make sure the "customers" are happy while ensuring goals are realistic and attainable.)

--A growing number of states require the adoption of wellness policies that include physical activity and healthful school foods--D.C. will also require local wellness policies to include goals for (1) improving the environmental sustainability of schools; and (2) increasing the use of locally grown, locally processed, and unprocessed foods from growers engaged in sustainable agriculture practices.

More on the less-common but promising components of D.C.'s wellness policy in future posts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Increasing Efficiencies in Education

Many states are looking into ways to trim K-12 ed. expenses while maintaining program quality. To this end, most states are re-evaluating non-instructional services. However, Rhode Island legislation enacted in 2010 casts an eye at instructional services as an area for greater efficiency.

H.B. 7668 establishes the Cooperative Service Among School Districts Act of 2010. The bill calls for educational collaboratives to submit a plan to the board of regents, for approval by the commissioner of education, to increase efficiencies and economies of scale in providing instructional services. Each plan must incorporate best practices from business, reflect a regional approach and include measures related to (1) Teacher training and staff development programs; (2) Special education programs and diagnostic services; (3) Gifted and talented programs; (4) Programs for students at risk of suspension or expulsion; (5) Development of shared instructional services; (6) Joint purchasing agreements for various non-instructional services (which we are seeing in other states); and (7) Any other consolidation of services and purchasing that achieves efficiencies and cost savings.

Though some might argue that such plans are easier in small states like Rhode Island, there may be an argument for similar efforts in larger states, particularly states with numerous smaller school districts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

College completion has become an area of focus for many states. Illinois legislation enacted earlier this year is using financial aid as a carrot to boost 4-year degree completion rates, including in high-need fields.

S.B. 3699 creates the Community College Transfer Grant Program to award $1,000 scholarships for up to two years or 60 credit hours to students who have completed an associate's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. An additional $1,000 grant is available for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in engineering, mathematics, nursing, teaching or science.

It will be interesting to see several years from now how many students take the state up on the scholarship, and how B.A. completion rates of scholarship recipients compare against the completion rates of other students transferring to four-year institutions after A.A. completion.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Counseling, in comparison to other areas of high school reform, has seen relatively little meaningful policy change in recent years. Yet, as stated in an excellent report from several years back, Counseling and College Counseling in America's High Schools:

"repeated studies have found that improving counseling would have a significant impact on college access for low-income, rural, and urban students as well as students of color ... Specifically, if counselors begin actively supporting students and their families in middle school in preparing for college, as opposed to simply disseminating information, this will increase students' chances of enrolling in a four-year college[.]"

States need to reconsider policies that simply place more counselors in the schools or provide information with little direction to students, in favor of policies that call for counselors and other school staff to start developing a college-going culture and more individualized supports in the middle grades.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Welcome to ECS Ed Watch!

ECS Ed Watch aims to be your source for innovative, ahead-of-the-curve state policy approaches and the best new research with significant implications for education policy.

Today's tidbit: 2010 Tennessee legislation requires the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, in conjunction with the Department of Education, to develop and administer a program to pay the cost of licensing tests for adult students with financial need who complete a HS diploma or GED in a CTE program and who are required to take a test to become licensed for a career in their fields of study.