Federal Education Policy in Rural America

Bellwether(1)The Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, and Bellwether Education Partners have teamed up to write a new report, “Federal Education Policy In Rural America”. The authors of the report believe that, while roughly a quarter of American students are educated in rural areas, federal policy is not suited to the needs of rural education.

Following is an excerpt from the introduction:

It’s critical that federal policy complement and support the efforts of rural educators. Rural districts face unique challenges, such as maintaining a rich set of course offerings, attracting and retaining teachers, and managing administrative overhead due to their small size and remote geographies. Federal policy can catalyze much needed reform and innovation in rural K–12, some of which will yield lessons that could be extended to districts nationwide.

Recommendations included within the report are as follows:

  • Encourage Rural Schools to Fully Embrace Blended Learning
  • Encourage Rural Districts to Fully Embrace Administrative Service Sharing
  • Expand Broadband Access
  • Attract Teachers to Rural America
  • Remember Native and ELL Students

To read the full report, please visit:



PARCC Releases Practice Tests for all Grade Levels

PARCCThe Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments are the product of a testing consortium attempting to provide 21st century testing to measure 21st century skills.

Here is PARCC’s own description of their role:

PARCC is your state’s homegrown assessment. PARCC is not a testing company – it’s a group of states working together to build better assessments. Your state’s educators and state education leaders actively participated in the design, field testing, and implementation of the new assessments. Your state’s education commissioner or superintendent is one of the PARCC Governing Board members making the decisions about the PARCC assessments. Your state is not buying a test from a vendor. Your state is in charge of your state’s tests.

Most recently, the PARCC states have released mathematics performance-based practice tests for all grade levels in both the computer-based format and as PDFs to print out on paper. These practice tests add to the resources available to teachers, schools, students and parents. They help increase familiarity with the types of questions, the format of the questions, and the computer platform and paper forms. Practice tests are now available in English and mathematics for all grade levels, both for the performance-based assessment and the end of year assessment.

To take the practice tests, please visit:




Achieve’s Report Details States’ Progress in Advancing College and Career Readiness

achieveAchieve’s ninth annual “Closing the Expectations Gap” report, released recently, shows the progress that states have made in advancing college and career readiness while also revealing that much work remains to be done to ensure that all students are academically prepared to succeed in college and careers after high school.

“States have made some progress in closing the expectations gap and aligning high school expectations with those of colleges and the working world,” said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve. “However, this year’s survey also tells us that there is much work yet to be done if all students are to graduate from high school prepared for success. While all states have college- and career-ready standards in place, standards alone are not enough. Each state must employ a coherent approach to college and career readiness, which includes having policies that align graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems, to graduate all students ready for their next steps.”

Achieve’s annual policy survey asks all states and the District of Columbia about the steps they are taking to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and the workplace: through adoption and implementation of college- and career-ready (CCR) standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems. The national survey of state education leaders has measured the same areas of reform each year since the National Governors Association and Achieve co-sponsored the National Education Summit in 2005. This year’s survey reveals the following results:

Standards: All 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted K-12 mathematics and English language arts (ELA) standards aligned to the expectations of colleges and careers. As implementation of these standards continues in classrooms across the country, success hinges upon the provision of time, support, training, and aligned instructional materials to teachers and principals as well as the use of strong performance metrics to monitor progress.

Graduation Requirements: As of 2014, 23 states and the District of Columbia have raised their high school graduation requirements in mathematics and ELA to the CCR level. Ten of these states and the District of Columbia have established a mandatory CCR diploma, while the remaining 13 states enroll all students in the “default” CCR course of study but allow students to opt out of the requirements or to modify a course or courses with parental permission. More than half of states have yet to take steps to align the courses or content students are required to take with their standards. For the implementation of CCR standards to be meaningful, students must be required to actually be exposed to all of the states’ mathematics and ELA standards in order to receive a high school diploma.

States’ failure to align graduation requirements with the expectations of colleges and careers was demonstrated in Achieve’s 2014 survey of recent high school graduates; only one in four reported that their high school set high academic expectations, and those students were more than twice as likely to feel well-prepared for their next steps as those who reported that their school set low expectations.

As states implement CCR expectations, they also need to clearly and publicly report how many of their students are not just graduating, but graduating college and career ready. Few states know how course-taking patterns differentially prepare students for their next steps after high school.

Assessments: This year, 36 states are administering an assessment capable of generating a score that reflects students’ readiness for first-year credit bearing courses in mathematics and ELA. In nearly all cases, these states are members of the PARCC or Smarter Balanced consortia or are administering the ACT or SAT. Additionally, seven states indicated that they are instituting policies that formally link their high school assessments’ CCR determinations to postsecondary placement decisions; 20 additional states have plans underway to ensure high school assessments are valued by postsecondary systems in states.

Accountability: Today, 37 states and the District of Columbia publicly report or include in their school accountability formulas at least one of four accountability indicators that Achieve has identified as critical to promoting college and career readiness. No state meets Achieve’s criteria regarding the use of all indicators in its accountability system, but two states (Hawaii and Texas) now publicly report school-level data on each of the four indicators.

As a supplement to this year’s report, Achieve has created four resources detailing which ELA/literacy, math, and science assessments states will administer to all students in grades 3-8 and high school in 2014-15, as well as how the state plans to use the assessments (i.e., to evaluate schools and districts, as part of a teacher’s evaluation, student stakes) and one table that includes states’ graduation requirements in math, ELA, and science. These resources, all of which are available on Achieve’s website at www.achieve.org/ClosingtheExpectationsGap2014 , will be updated throughout the year as states’ policies evolve.

This current school year and the next several years will be particularly critical to the CCR agenda. It is crucial that state leaders remain firm in their commitment to adopting and implementing CCR policies and resist the political expediency of being less transparent and lowering expectations for students.

“As they work to advance their students’ preparedness for college and the working world, state policymakers and educators must stand together to confront the policy challenges and political obstacles they will face,” said Cohen. “States are midway through a long-term effort to better prepare all young people, and our nation, for a successful future. Staying the course in these efforts is what is most needed.”

For more information, please visit: http://www.achieve.org/ClosingtheExpectationsGap2014


A Global Look at Education Reform

logooecd_enA new report from the OECD offers a detailed look at 450 education reforms adopted across OECD countries between 2008 and 2014. The (OECD) Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s mission is to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.”

Of those 450 education reforms, 16 percent focused on ensuring quality and equity in education; 29 percent aimed to better prepare students for the future, in some cases via vocational education or work-based training and apprenticeships; 24 percent focused on school improvement through development of positive learning environments and quality staff; and 12 percent focused on assessment.

Given that the governance of education systems has become increasingly complex, 9 percent of reforms elaborated overarching visions. Eleven percent of all reform measures addressed funding at the system level, the institutional level, and the student level.

For all of this — critically — the report finds that once most new policies are adopted, countries conduct little follow-up. Only 10 percent of policies that the OECD identified had been evaluated for impact. Measuring impact more rigorously and consistently, the report notes, is not only cost-effective in the long run, it is essential for developing useful, practicable, and successful policy options.

As long as one in five 15-year-olds in OECD countries does not acquire the minimum skills necessary to participate fully in today’s society, not enough accountability concerning reforms has been instituted.

For more information, please visit: http://www.oecd.org/edu/education-policy-outlook-2015-9789264225442-en.htm


The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape

carnegieThe Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has released the results of its two-year study of the influential, longstanding Carnegie Unit and its impact on education reform in K-12 and higher education. The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape, authored by Carnegie’s Elena Silva, Thomas Toch, and Taylor White, describes how the Carnegie Unit’s time-based standard of student progress came to define the design and delivery of American education and its current usage across the country.

The report draws on historical research, interviews with dozens of experts in K-12 and higher education, and extensive study of emerging alternatives to the Carnegie Unit in the United States and abroad. The study finds that the Carnegie Unit continues to play a valuable role in education as an administrative currency and opportunity-to-learn standard, but it is miscast as a measure of student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance in order to reach its goal of increasing transparency and flexibility in education.

Read the full report here: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/resources/publications/carnegie-unit/

For more information about the Carnegie Unit, please follow this link: http://www.coreeducationllc.com/blog2/re-thinking-the-credit-hour/



Building Leadership Talent Through Performance Evaluation

AIRPrincipals’ roles have expanded significantly over the past decade. These leaders face new challenges and new levels of accountability. Performance evaluation provides a powerful tool for developing leadership practices, but many districts and administrators are inexperienced with this strategy. AIR engaged educators in three states to design the Five Essential Practices of School Leadership framework, a foundation for facilitating principal growth and accountability. The framework can be used for principal coaching, self-reflection, and performance evaluation.

The Five Essential Practices include the following:

  1. Build shared purpose. The leader develops a compelling, shared organizational vision and assures that the vision is “lived” in the daily work of educators.
  2. Focus on learning. The leader engages in instructional leadership to develop and maintain student access to appropriate, ambitious, and strong instructional programs focused on academic excellence and social-emotional development.
  3. Manage organizational resources. The leader acts strategically and systematically to create safe and supportive conditions for better teaching and learning by aligning financial assets, human resources, data, and other resources.
  4. Collaborate with community. The leader assures that parents and community organizations are engaged with the school.
  5. Lead with integrity. The leader models professionalism by acting with integrity and making his or her learning visible.

For more information, please visit: http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/Building%20Leadership%20Performance%20Through%20Performance%20Evaluation_Jan%202015.pdf



The landscape of competency-based education: Enrollments, demographics, and affordability

AEICompetency-based education (CBE), in which credit is provided on the basis of student learning rather than credit or clock hours, is starting to gain traction with educators and policymakers.

CBE programs are often touted as a far more affordable route to college credit and a degree, but these claims often fail to account for assessment fees, differences in financial aid eligibility, and opportunity costs of time.

Still, despite the model’s visibility, few researchers have actually taken an in-depth look at the wide range of competency-based education providers. Many questions have emerged around the various ways students can earn credit, the number of providers that offer competency-based coursework or degree programs, and the number and types of students enrolled in these programs. Additionally, although the list prices of competency-based models appear very cost effective in relation to traditional higher education models, no one has comprehensively examined the true affordability of CBE programs and whether they actually deliver credentials to their students at a lower price. AEI’s new report, The Landscape of Competency-Based Education, addresses these questions and more.

For the report, please visit:

Also, for more on the Credit Hour issue, please visit: http://www.coreeducationllc.com/blog2/re-thinking-the-credit-hour/


Resources on the Social Side of Education Reform

shankerblogThe folks over at Shanker Blog have been writing recently about how education reform cannot happen in a vacuum. Schools and the people in them are inherently social, so approaching education reform through a social lens makes sense. Here is a piece from one of their recent blogs:

For the past few months, we have been insisting, through this blog series, on the idea that education reform has a social dimension or level that often is overlooked in mainstream debate and policy. Under this broad theme, we’ve covered diverse issues ranging from how teachers’ social capital can increase their human capital to how personnel churn can undermine reform efforts, or how too much individual talent can impede a team’s overall performance.

This collection of issues may prompt a number of important questions: What exactly is the “social side?” What are its key ideas? I would like to offer a few initial thoughts and share some resources that I’ve compiled.

The social side is primarily a lens that brings into focus a critical oversight in the public debate on educational reform and its policies: The idea that teaching and learning are not solo but rather social endeavors that are achieved in the context of the school organization, and within the districts where schools are embedded, through relationships and teamwork, rather than competition and a focus on individual prowess.

This social side perspective does a few things:

  • Shifts the focus from the individual attributes of stakeholders (e.g., teachers, principals) to the supports and constraints afforded by the school organization and the broader social context in which individuals operate;
  • Highlights the importance of interdependencies (formal and informal) at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district, schools and the community etc. – and the idea that a complex system is more than the sum of its parts;
  • Recognizes that valuable resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through relationships within and across the overlapping networks of schools and districts, and that monitoring and strengthening this infrastructure is crucial for educational improvement.

For more, including numerous links to resources on the social side, see http://shankerblog.org/?p=11108


Three new videos from AEI Vision Talks

AEIThe American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that covers education issues, has a new series of videos out addressing the course of education reform in the United States.

Following is an excerpt from their description of the series:

Our schools are failing the most vulnerable kids.

Everyone’s heard the scary statistics. But the dollars we spend per child and the national trends in test scores are not what’s most important.

Here’s what matters: We are failing in our moral duty to provide every American boy and girl the education they need to build a meaningful and satisfying life.

Three of four talks have been released:

Are American Schools Designed to Succeed? by Rick Hess, AEI’s Director of Education Policy

Institutions don’t last forever. As the world changes, they adapt or die. But U.S. education still uses a 200-year-old philosophy. Hess explains why it is time to rethink the real purpose of American schools.

Making the Case for Education Reform by Arthur Brooks, AEI President

Education reformers have the ideas to fix America’s failing schools. So why aren’t people listening? Brooks explains why we have failed to capture hearts and minds — and how we can win the debate.

Has Education Reform Gone Wrong? by Kaya Henderson, DCPS Chancellor

Is education really about test scores and economic forecasts? Or is it about the aspirations of children and families? Henderson explains what we should really be measuring when we measure our schools.

To view the videos, please visit:


Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning




As employers and postsecondary institutions increasingly demand students and workers equipped with high-level skills, many states are exploring performance assessments as part of their K-12 education strategies. Unlike multiple-choice tests, these assessments require students to construct answers, produce products, or perform activities; they allow educators to assess student performance meaningfully and foster deeper learning.

In Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning, Stanford University Professor and SCOPE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond and NASBE Deeper Learning Project Director Ace Parsi argue that focusing on assessments is essential for facilitating meaningful learning that leads to  state educational agency success and helps policymakers address some of the thorniest issues around them: purpose, sustainability, reliability, accountability, policy alignment, equity, professional practice, and implementation. The paper includes key considerations for state policymakers as they assess whether their states are getting the maximum benefits from the adoption of performance assessment strategies.

“Transforming a state assessment and accountability strategy to support and advance the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are essential to students’ college, career, and civic success is not an easy task for any state,” says Darling-Hammond.

“New strategies will require a commitment to funding new systems, training educators, and collecting and analyzing the information that performance assessments provide to continuously improve state education systems,” adds Parsi. “While this commitment will require funding, the costs are dwarfed by the substantial costs of inaction: poorly trained educators, continued and persistent opportunity gaps, and most important, a system that is misaligned to the goal of enabling all students to seize opportunities the 21st century provides. Luckily, many states have already begun to engage in this important task.”

Read and share Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning at: http://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/Parsi-LDH-Performance-Assessment_Jan2015.pdf