Friday, August 28, 2009

How Should Students be Prepared for College?

*Originally posted at the National Journal here.

Right now, we don’t know.

Little data, and therefore no significant knowledge base, exists to address the lack of college ready students. If college readiness is a public priority, the government should quickly mobilize the national research and development initiative to find research-based, innovative solutions to this pressing problem. Other sectors do it. Why not education?

To date, the issue has not been a focus of the What Works Clearinghouse or research centers. Federal and state governments have not adequately invested in research to uncover present problems of practice. In fact, only one twentieth of one percent of the federal research and development budget goes to funding education research and development.

With an agenda to change those statistics, the White House aims to focus on and strengthen high schools through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by making “progress toward college and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning.”

In addition to common college and career-ready standards, the Administration plans to help America “build a new foundation strong enough to withstand future economic storms and support lasting prosperity. That means having the best-educated, highest-skilled workers in the world …and investing in research and development,” Obama said.

Federal education policy has evolved in phases over the past 15 years in concert with the implementation of the elements of standards-based reform. The focus on standards and assessments in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s spawned major attention to the alignment of standards, curriculum, and assessments in the 1990’s which has led, in part, to the current emphasis on accountability in No Child Left Behind. The next logical step in the reauthorization of NCLB is to develop standards that raise academic expectations, combined with significant investments in R&D that gathers evidence of what works to prepare high school students for college and beyond. This will put us on the right path of ensuring that high school seniors are ready for college and our nation will remain competitive on the global stage.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I was just so saddened by the passing of Ted Kennedy yesterday. I wanted to write a long statement for the media but so much has already been said in so many brilliant ways I can’t find the words except to say that his immensely powerful voice for equity and excellence in education will be sorely missed in the years ahead but his legacy will echo forever in profound ways. Rest in peace, Senator, while we continue the battle to transform education for the next generation of learning.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the Head and the Heart - Mutually Exclusive in the Context of Research?

Denis Doyle recently posted his feedback regarding the Innovation Summit in Tamaya, New Mexico, and drew a few conclusions about research. I diassembled the ideas to gain a deeper understanding, and pulled out the essence of Doyle's thinking, which you can read below. A response is on its way, but for today, find the context and conversation enclosed:

An excerpt from Doyle's latest post at

Take bilingual education – it is hard to imagine a more politically freighted issue. As a consequence there is little that research has to offer the debate. I support it for intellectual and cultural reasons, not pedagogical reasons which is why David Kearns and I argued in our book Winning the Brain Race nearly twenty years ago that every child in America (land of immigrants) should learn English and a second language. Research can help illuminate such a view, can help in deployment and implementation, can even help pedagogically, but it remains at heart an issue of what you believe.

Our conversation:
August 26, 2009

Dear Candice:
In response to your note, Q and A follows:

Q. Are you intimating that, perhaps, research is not an answer to the questions raised by education settings?
A. A partial and necessarily incomplete answer. For illumination, see Alfred North Whitehead’s famous essay The Aims of Education.

Q. Also, when you wrote "research can help illuminate such a view", did you mean that research could help the public come to the conclusion that every child should learn another language?
A. Yes, but the real argument is economic, political and cultural. See Paul Simon’s The Tongue-tied American, in which he makes the famous observation that “you can buy in any language, but sell only in your customer’s…” Or look comparatively at the Dutch, for example, 98% of whom speak English; why? They are a nation of merchants and the new lingua franca is English.

Q. You stated that research can help in "deployment and implementation", do you mean in general, or to a particular intervention, or to a child learning another language?
A. In general. And it should be in particular as well.

Q. When you wrote "it remains at heart an issue of what you believe", what do you mean?
A. The big decisions people make are normative (or ideological) rather than objective or scientific; they are informed by research, not driven by research.

Q. I would sincerely appreciate any help you could provide in breaking apart the last few thoughts of your piece, and additionally, what you believe the role of research to be in education, if any.
A. To cast light on vexing problems and to help guide right-thinking as Aristotle might have said.

I think education research should, above all, be practical and bear fruit; for example, solving the mystery of reading instruction should be within reach. So too should math and second language instruction.

A good example of education research-based practice is Rosetta Stone an IT-based language instruction program.

Finally, permit me to draw your attention to my latest book (co-authored with Stacey Childress and David Thomas, published Jul 14, 2009, by Harvard Ed Press) Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools, available from

Finally, finally, I’d like to post this colloquy with the View Point that inspired it, unless you have an objection.

I hope this is helpful.

All the best,

Friday, August 21, 2009

Innovation based on what works? Yes, please.

by Guest Blogger, Candice DePrang

Under the leadership of State Superintendent Steve Paine, West Virginia will compete in Race to the Top, the Department of Education’s competitive grant program initiating change in some states, and rewarding change in others. At the center of this debate for change is the charter schools cap, with Duncan advocating for the development of more high quality charters around the nation.

West Virginia neither prevents the creation of nor allows for the existence of charter schools, one sign of reform states must detail in their applications for funding. Despite the federal criterion, charter school research shows varying results across the United States, and West Virginia is looking for what works – an idea lost in the debate between traditional public schools and charters.

The debate misguides participants and listeners alike: traditional public schools and charters are both failing and succeeding. Neither is not in need of improvement and innovation. And instead of stepping into that debate, Paine aims to answer the real question: what works?

So, "it has to be research-based," he said. "It has to be tried and tested." Paine intends to fund innovation zones, schools that capture the spirit of charters, to innovate and try out new ideas based on research. West Virginia is looking for new teaching methods, ways to reward educators, and is looking to unions for models to “learn from”.

Using research-based knowledge to innovate is essential to increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps, and Paine is making it a central organizing concept for education reform.

With school boards willing to waive rules to allow for the changes, ten schools could be picked as soon as February. Just in time for the second wave of Race to the Top awards.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How Would You Assess the Early Learning Challenge Fund?

by Guest Blogger, Candice DePrang

Requiring data-driven standards simply means finding out what works through research. Currently, benchmarks like oral language and print awareness can be examined at early growth stages, and are thus appropriate. Seen as a part of the greater context of education research, the Early Learning Challenge Fund builds not only a system based on outcomes, but a culture of innovation and exploration where programs can be tried, assessed, dismissed, or reinvented based upon the very data in question.

In coordination with Race to the Top, which aims to improve student outcomes, high school graduation rates, and ensure college and career readiness, the Early Learning Challenge Fund seeks those same successes from the start. If the Department of Education wants to see Race to the Top realized, Early Learning is not simply a challenge, but a mandate. With far reaching effects from social, emotional, and language development to a reduction in crime, early learning is paramount to success at life and learning, and kindergarten is too late to play catch up.

Furthermore, one aspect of the achievement gap is a gap in expectations. Currently, urban schools are rife with low academic expectations, and as long as communities, states, and the federal government require no qualitative output, no data or evaluation, the achievement gap – the expectation gap – will persist. The demand for outcomes raises the bar for educational expectations, and in conjunction with Race to the Top along with its demand for continuous improvement and evidence based systems, the Early Learning Challenge Fund will set comprehensive expectations where previous pieces were missing.

This height in expectation and kind of innovation, spurred by knowledge developed from research, is a welcome challenge.

Our published response to the National Journal's Education Expert's Question: here

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cash for Clunkers in Education?

The Cash for Clunkers program for which the US Senate just approved another $2 billion is an easy target for skeptics. You can hear them now all over talk radio: "Oh, please, do you really think that several billions of tax payer dollars can at one and the same time quickly stimulate spending and energize a big reform agenda? Sounds like another government run boondoggle."

Well, I must admit that I was one of those skeptics at the outset. But now I am forced to also admit that I caved and actually tried to turn in my clunker (a 1987 red Chevy Cavalier convertible) for the down payment on a new Smart car. It didn't quite work because my mpg was too high but still I was swayed by the dual benefits of $ and "green" cars.

The anecdotal feedback on this program is very promising in spite of some potential unintended consequences. So is there something similar for education that could be cleverly implemented to produce the dual benefits of stimulating the economy and advancing significant reform. Might it be the Race to the Top or the Investing in Innovation funds? Or is it hidden in the School Improvement fund or Teacher Incentive Fund? I don't know but I sure look forward to conversations about this during the "Unleashing Knowledge and Innovation for the Next Generation of Learning" Summit in New Mexico this coming week. Check out here the conference's online networking platform as well as the comments about the clunker for ed idea.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Makes Teachers Better? Suprisingly...Not Professional Development.

Ineffective. That’s the word The Center for American Progress recently used to describe school districts’ use of Title II funding, which was designed to ensure that all teachers are qualified and effective. The brief states that the funds were not spurring the kind of innovation needed to attract, train, and maintain quality teachers.

The Center for American Progress recently published a brief that labeled the use of Title II funding “ineffective”, and stated that they were not spurring the kind of innovation needed to attract, train, and maintain quality teachers. While many of the allowable activities included in Title II are “worthwhile…funding is not specifically targeted to activities that are likely to yield a significant return on investment. In fact, districts use the bulk of their Title II funding to support professional development and class-size reduction, which both have questionable effects on student achievement when implemented on a large scale.”

Studies reported that only when teachers participated in an average of 50 hours of professional development did the investment increase student learning.

Class size reduction does not even have as consistently strong results in impacting student achievement as strong teachers.

So if professional development can’t help, and making class sizes smaller is convenient but not necessarily, effective, what does make teachers stronger, better, more effective? Is it possible to scale up the 50 hour professional developments to be utilized in large geographic areas?

Teach for America addresses this issue by basing teacher evaluation on observation that utilizes an incredibly detailed rubric, with multiple factors (investing students in ambitious goals, planning purposefully, executing effectively, etc), and uses the outcome to pinpoint exactly where a teacher is effective and where she can improve. This rubric is shared with the teacher within a week of the observation, and next steps are developed. Cycles of co-investigation with peer teachers and a mentor then use the evaluation to collaborate and problem solve in the areas where teachers can improve. These times are also used to share best practices and effective materials. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests it is highly effective, and certainly worth researching to find how it can quantitatively impact student achievement.

The money must be used for either programs that have been proven to work or new ideas that will be evaluated and adjusted as they are implemented. Basing education legislation on the rigorous research of professional development and other educational practices is wise policy.