Monday, April 18, 2011

STEM: The power of business/high school partnerships

A piece that ran in today's Honolulu Star Advertiser speaks to the potential of business partnerships with public schools to improve STEM capacity. Nolan Kawano, the president of the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation describes the substantial investment the foundation has recently made in Roosevelt High School in Honolulu to build a new science lab, provide training for math and science teachers at the high school and its feeder elementary and middle schools, and Good Idea Grant program that offers annual grants to teachers to promote innovative learning in the classroom.

Kawano notes, "The sum of all the parts is too large in terms of effort and cost for any organization to implement at all of the public school complexes in Hawaii, as a renovation of science labs statewide alone will run in the tens of millions of dollars. But if one business together with the state Department of Education could adopt a school complex, along with PSHF's supporting Good Idea Grant program, the enormous task becomes manageable."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Utah: "Mission based funding" for postsecondary institutions

In a time of scarce economic resources and increasing postsecondary enrollments at all levels, performance-based funding has become a hot topic among state policymakers. In this vein, Utah legislation enacted last month creates "mission based funding" for postsecondary institutions.

Under S.B. 97, the state board of regents is directed to establish mission based funding, which includes enrollment growth and up to three strategic priorities. Each institution's strategic priorities, which must be approved by the board, must be designed to improve the availability, effectiveness or quality of higher education in the state. Each institution's president must, in turn, establish institutional initiatives aligned with the strategic priorities, and allocate the institution's mission based funding to the initiatives.

At the same time that the board of regents recommends mission based funding to the legislature, it must also recommend means to address funding inequities for institutions with similar missions.

S.B. 97 also requires all institutions and the board of regents to report to the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on the use of the previous year's mission based funding, including performance outcomes relating to the strategic initiatives. Hopefully those reports will be made public--if so, it will be interesting to see the degree to which this approach positively impacts, as the bill states, "the availability, effectiveness or quality of higher education" in Utah.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New York: Recognizing cost-efficient districts

S.B. 2808 (a.k.a. Chapter 58), signed by Governor Cuomo at the end of March, provides financial awards to recognize districts that have maintained or improved student achievement while implementing cost efficiencies. Established in Part B of the lengthy budget bill, the District Management Efficiency Awards program provides competitive grants to districts beginning in the 2011-12 school year, based on a plan developed by the commissioner (the legislation does not specify the amount of the awards, but that awards will be based on student enrollment, and no awardee may receive more than 40% of the total funds being awarded).

The commissioner must give priority to applications that demonstrate that the long-term efficiencies implemented:
(1) Are innovative in changing management or organizational structures to generate significant savings while maintaining or improving student achievement
(2) Have the participation of teachers, parents, and/or other stakeholders
(3) Are measures/strategies replicable by other districts, or
(4) Have the greatest quantifiable savings that will be sustainable.

Rather than a poor use of government funds, I see this as an investment that may more than pay for itself. If District A is saving $100,000 a year (and keeping student achievement steady) by certain management practices that other districts in the state do not know about, a $25,000 award that brings those replicable practices to statewide attention, and entices, say, 10 other districts to adopt the same practice, is a net $750,000 win for the state.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Improving HS attendance and engagement: A case study

Recently-published research provides a case study of the positive results of efforts to improve student attendance and achievement at an urban high school in California. Though the results are for a single high school, they do bear out other research findings on the importance of relevance and relationships for high school students, and have implications for state policy.

Student attendance at the high school "was noticed, corrected and celebrated". A single absence triggered a note to the student's home--many students expressed surprise that anyone cared when they weren't at school! And various approaches were taken to reverse unexcused absences--home visits from a social worker or school faculty, a phone call to the parent, etc. Attendance was celebrated--and in fact made into a competition--by students and staff alike: "When we instituted a small reward for any class with perfect attendance ... we actually had entire grade levels conspiring to win[.]"

Instructional practices also changed. Professional development supported a transition from "teacher talk" to a research-based approach based on ‘‘ 'free exchange of information among students and/or between at least three participants that lasts longer than 30 seconds. The three participants may include the teacher, although the teacher may be deliberately silent during some discussions' ’’. Teachers videotaped short segments of classroom activity and shared them with other instructional staff in regular professional development sessions, learning from one another's best practices.

In addition, the staff undertook a shift toward more student group work in the classroom: "In the company of fellow novice learners, they ask questions of one another, clarify understandings, demand justifications, and formulate ways to complete the assignment. ... Students, otherwise left to fend for themselves through independent work, have the safety net to hone their learning before attempting it alone. The results, in our experience, are more engaged and motivated students who are confident in their abilities to do the work correctly and teachers who are better able to evaluate the effects of their instruction."

The school's attendance rate has risen from 90.3% to 95.6%. Students at the high school have narrowed the achievement gap on the state's grade 10 exit exam in English and math.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Jersey: Let's take a 2nd look at all ed. regulations

An executive order issued by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie earlier this week creates the New Jersey Education Transformation Task Force. The task force is charged with reviewing all current administrative rules that relate to public education, evaluating the extent to which the regs improve: (1) the quality of instruction; (2) students' academic achievement; (3) teacher effectiveness; and (4) student safety and well-being. The task force must also review the state's accountability systems and related incentive structures.

The task force is directed to prepare an initial report by August 15 for the governor, identifying all statutes and regulations that are overly prescriptive. The report must also provide recommendations on a revised accountability system to grant schools and districts greater autonomy while retaining strong accountability related to student performance, safety and fiscal responsibility. The final report is due by December 31, 2011.

According to an article on NJ.Com, the governor hopes the effort will encourage local innovation.