OVAE Connection - Issue 152 - May 30, 2013

OVAE Connection

                                    OVAE Connection - May 30, 2013 - Issue 152

Are America's Middle-Class Schools Middle of the Pack?

Last month, America Achieves released a “wake-up call to America’s middle class” the study Middle Class or Middle of the Pack? What Can We Learn When Benchmarking U.S. Schools Against the World’s Best? Focusing on achievement in middle-class American schools, the study looks at the connection between socioeconomic advantage and student performance in mathematics and science as measured by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009. The study also draws from the results of a pilot study involving 105 American high schools that administered a new test called “OECD Test for Schools,” which is based on PISA. While internationally benchmarked like PISA and measuring reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds, this new test also measured key competencies such as critical thinking and problem solving, key tools for applying mastery of rigorous reading, math, and science content. America Achieves is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities and states leverage policy, practice, and leadership to build high-quality educational systems and prepare each young person for success in careers, college, and citizenship. 

This column addresses only the first part of this three-part study that focused on international comparisons of the level of educational standards, investments in teachers, and overall student performance.

The fundamental thesis of this study is that while the need to improve the academic performance of America’s low-income students is evident and critical, those in the “middle quarter,” who have economic and social advantages, share that need as they too perform significantly worse than their counterparts in dozens of other countries in mathematics and science. The study notes that many Americans (and others) assume that poverty in the United States is a significant factor in pulling down the overall U.S. scores on PISA. The findings, however, show that when nations are divided into socioeconomic quarters, it becomes evident that even America’s middle class students are falling behind not only students of comparable advantage but also more disadvantaged students in several other countries.

Specifically, U.S. students in the second-to-top quarter of advantage are significantly outperformed by students in that quarter from 16 countries in science and 24 countries in mathematics, while U.S. students in the third quarter are significantly outperformed by students in that quarter from 25 countries in science and 31 countries in mathematics.

Likewise, when looking at previously published data on reading levels, the authors found that U.S. students in the second-to-top quarter are significantly outperformed by students from 10 countries, while students in the third quarter are significantly outperformed by their peers from 19 countries.

Commenting on these results in the concluding section, “Taking the Challenge,” the study acknowledges mounting evidence that the education performance of U.S. students is “not just a challenge of poverty—it’s an American challenge” because even the country’s middle-class students won’t be prepared to compete in the global economy.

In addition to its existing strategies, such as promulgating and supporting the implementation of the Common Core Standards in all states as well as meaningful evaluation tools, the U.S. asserts the study needs “a deeper cultural shift based on a broader, deeper understanding that greater effort and better educational performance are needed for all kids in all schools, regardless of background. We must expect mastery from students in reading, mathematics, and science combined with the deeper learning skills such as critical thinking and complex problem solving that will prepare students to apply their knowledge in their 21st-century context. And to ensure that all students have this advantage, all parents, as well as educators, must expect this high-level learning and excellence from all students.

LaGuardia Community College Offers Promising GED Bridge to College and Careers

MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor, released earlier this month the policy brief  Enhancing GED Instruction to Prepare Students for College and Careers: Early Success in LaGuardia Community College’s Bridge to Health and Business Program. The brief outlines the preliminary results of MDRC’s rigorous evaluation of the GED Bridge to College and Careers Programs at LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) of the City University of New York (CUNY). LAGCC has redesigned its approach to high school equivalency preparation by providing career-focused academic preparation through GED Bridge classes that prepare students for both the GED exam and postsecondary education. Contextualized to focus on a specific career pathway, the curriculum is designed as a “springboard” to either college or vocational training for students age 19 or older.

MDRC used a random-assignment design to test the effectiveness of LAGCC’s GED Bridge programs compared to a more traditional GED program, (GED Prep). Aside from the use of a contextualized, career-oriented curriculum, rather than of GED textbook assignments, the GED Bridge courses were longer (108 instructional hours over 12 weeks, compared to 60 instructional hours over 9 weeks). They also relied on full-time instructors who were paid for preparation time as compared to GED Prep instructors who were adjunct faculty and paid only for in-class time. GED Bridge also provided students with more counseling and support services, while GED Prep students had access only to the standard resources offered at the college.

The study included 369 students randomly assigned to either a GED Bridge or a GED Prep course for four semesters from fall 2010 through spring 2012. Preliminary evidence strongly supports LAGCC’s redesigned, contextualized approach. Relative to their peers in the GED Prep course, GED Bridge students were significantly more likely to

  • Complete the preparation course (68.2 percent compared with 46.5 percent);
  • Pass the GED exam (52.8 percent, compared with 22.4 percent);
  • Enroll in a CUNY community college (24.1 percent, compared with 7.2 percent); and
  • Persist from the first to the second semester of college (11.5 percent, compared with 2.6 percent).

While MDRC acknowledges certain limitations in this study and calls for further research into contextualized, career-focused education and training initiatives aimed at low-income, low-skilled adults, it notes the “dramatic impacts” of the Bridge Program on GED pass rates, college enrollment, and persistence in college. These outomes, asserts the study, “suggest that the model holds considerable promise for strengthening the links between low-income students who need to complete their secondary education and college or skills training programs.”

Triumphant Adult Learners Visit ED to Deliver a Message About "How to Improve Services for Adult Learners"

Voices with Arne and Brenda

Secretary Duncan (at center in back row), Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier on left in front row, with current and former adult learners as a part of Secretary Duncan’s Student Voices series. Photograph from U.S. Department of Education.

Adult learners who were in town to attend VALUEUSA’s National Adult Learner Leadership Institute stopped by ED on May 18. VALUEUSA (Voice of Adult Learners United to Educate USA), the only national literacy organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners, works to improve the country's education system and to empower adults with low literacy skills to realize their human potential. To learn about the group’s meeting with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier, visit http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/05/adult-learners-share-stories-of-personal-triumph/.

Notice: The Affordable Care Act has a primary goal of helping those who are uninsured and eligible to get affordable, quality health care. To do this, the Health Insurance Marketplace has been formed to help eligible Americans enroll in a health plan and become covered when it begins next January, 2014. Enrollment begins this October 1. Go to marketplace.cms.gov to find tools, information, and resources. They include a schedule of webinars about the Accordable Care Act, the Marketplace and available exchanges. Please share this information with your constituencies.