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December 10, 2010 ED Review
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 December 10, 2010 (Happy Holidays!)
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What's inside...
Everyone Graduates
College Completion
PISA 2009
Teacher Fellowships
Child Nutrition Legislation
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Editor's Note

This is the last issue of ED Review for 2010. Publication will resume January 7, 2011. I wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

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Everyone Graduates

According to a new report released by America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and John Hopkins University's Every Graduates Center, which frequently references Institute of Education Sciences (IES)-funded work, the United States is making progress in reducing the number of students who drop out of high school. Nationwide, the graduation rate increased from 72% in 2002 to 75% in 2008. Furthermore, the number of "dropout factory" high schools (where less than 60% of students who start out as freshmen make it to their senior year) decreased by 13%, from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008.

"Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic" shows progress is possible, even in low-performing schools in lower-income, urban, and rural school districts. The report highlights four cases studies of success: Alabama; Richmond, Indiana; New York City; and Tennessee. Among the common elements of success: strong leadership with clear graduation rate goals; multi-sector collaboration guided by data; commitment to innovation and continuous improvement; technical assistance for evidence-based solutions; and raising expectations, improving policies, and increasing student supports.

Other findings of the report include:

  • More than half the states (29) increased statewide graduation rates substantially from 2002 to 2008. Just three states lost ground. The graduation rate held steady in the remaining 18 states.
  • Tennessee and New York led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15 and 10 percentage points, respectively, and 10 additional states had gains larger than the national average.
  • 22 states had a decline of dropout factory high schools in urban areas, and most of the decline in dropout factory schools (216 of the 261) occurred in the South.

Secretary Duncan, speaking at the release event, called the report "required reading for those who believe that the high school dropout problem is too intractable to successfully take on.... The conclusion of this study is that schools, districts, and states have demonstrated high school graduation rates can increase significantly in the very communities where the dropout problem has been most severe." (Note: Secretary Duncan's full remarks are available online.)

Also: This year, 730 schools are receiving a federal School Improvement Grant to implement one of four turnaround models. Among the schools, 48% are high schools, 24% are elementary schools, 21% are middle schools, and 7% are some combination of the three.

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College Completion

While the Secretary addressed high school completion, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller was addressing college completion. "I want to provide two takeaway messages to act on when you leave this conference," he told approximately 6,000 attendees at the Federal Student Aid Conference in Orlando. "First, we need to embrace a modified mindset about the purpose of student aid. Student aid can no longer just be about providing college access. Instead, it also has to be about encouraging college completion and earning a degree.... My second, related message is that strengthening financial aid entails more than providing new federal dollars as vital as they are. The truth is that all levels of government and all institutions of higher education must advance reform and college completion, by making postsecondary education far more productive and efficient than it is today."

Presentations and session videos from the Federal Student Aid Conference are posted online.

Meanwhile, a new First Look report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) finds 49% of students who began postsecondary education in 2003-04 earned some credential by June 2009, ranging from an educational certificate to a bachelor's degree.

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PISA 2009

The performance of U.S. 15-year-old students improved in science, regained lost ground in math, and held steady in reading on the 2009 test of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is designed to assess what students have learned as they near the end of compulsory schooling and how well they apply that knowledge in real world contexts. Roughly 69% of the U.S. students sampled for PISA are tenth-graders. PISA is coordinated through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 34 mostly industrialized member nations. Some non-OECD member nations, as well as several non-national education systems (like Shanghai, China), also participated in the 2009 test.

Each three-year PISA cycle assesses one of the three subjects in depth. This time, that subject was reading. The 2009 results include a combined reading literacy scale, as well as three subscales that attempt to gauge students' ability to access and retrieve information, integrate and interpret it, and reflect and evaluate it.

Key findings from PISA 2009 include:

  • In reading literacy, the U.S. average score (500) was not measurably different from the OECD average (493) or scores from previous PISA assessments. Among the other OECD countries, six had higher average scores than the U.S., 13 had lower average scores, and 14 had scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. U.S. students performed above the OECD average on reading items that required them to reflect and evaluate, but not measurably different on items requiring they access and retrieve information or integrate and interpret what they had read. Moreover, across all countries, female students scored higher than male students. The gender difference in the U.S. was smaller than that for OECD countries on average.
  • In mathematics literacy, the U.S. average score (487) was lower than the OECD average score (496). Among the other OECD countries, 17 had higher average scores than the U.S., five had lower average scores, and 11 had scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. Math scores improved from 2006 but were not measurably different from 2003.
  • In science literacy, the U.S. average score (502) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501). Among the other OECD countries, 12 had higher average scores than the U.S., 9 had lower average scores, and 12 had scores that were not measurably different. Science scores improved from the only comparable time point: 2006.

"I would caution you against making too much of small gradations in rankings," Secretary Duncan said at the release event. "But the gap between top-performing countries and the U.S. is meaningful—and large. To take one example, analysis suggests 15-year-olds in Korea and Finland are, on average, one to two years ahead of their American peers in math and science.... So, the big picture from PISA is one of education stagnation at a time of fast-rising demand for highly-educated workers. The mediocre performance of America's students is a problem we cannot afford to accept and cannot afford to ignore." (Note: Secretary Duncan's full remarks are available online.)

Also: A separate OECD study of the characteristics of the world's top-performing education systems and a McKinsey and Company study of American and international practices suggests the U.S. can improve its standing by continuing to pursue reforms that have taken root in states and districts within the last two years: setting rigorous standards for students, using data to improve instruction, concentrating resources on the most challenged students, and investing heavily in the teaching profession.

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Teacher Fellowships

Applications are now available for the Department's 2011-12 Teaching Ambassador Fellowship, offering highly motivated and innovative school teachers the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and experience to the national dialogue on education, and, in turn, facilitate discussions with educators across the country. Once again, the fellowship includes two tracks. Up to five Washington Fellows will become full-time federal employees in Washington, D.C., participating in policy discussions and working on education programs. Up to 10 Classroom Fellows will remain at their local schools under their regular teaching contracts and be paid for various assignments and projects throughout the school year on a part-time basis. All fellows will be selected on their record of leadership, impact on student achievement, communication skills, and insight from classroom experiences. Applications are due by January 17, 2011. Fellows will be named by early summer.

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Child Nutrition Legislation

Congress has approved new legislation that will make historic and urgent improvements to the nation's federal child nutrition programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which President Obama has indicated he will sign in the coming days, dramatically improves the quality of meals children eat in school and in child care, increases the number of healthy meals available to children in need, and provides the first real increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches in more than 30 years. It also eliminates junk food from schools by requiring schools to apply—for the first time—nutritional standards to food served outside the cafeteria. The legislation answers the President's and First Lady Michelle Obama's call to reduce childhood hunger and support school-based and community efforts to reduce childhood obesity. Improvements to child nutrition programs are a key pillar of the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. (Note: Secretary Duncan's statement on passage of the legislation is available online.)

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Odds and Ends

  • Since the summer launch of ED Data Express, a tool for sharing state-level K-12 data, the Department has added new data to the site through monthly uploads. In early October, the agency added disaggregated graduation rates, science assessment data, and high school assessment data. In early November, the agency added data on the Title III (English Learners) program. The next data update (migrant student data) is scheduled for this month. Updates will continue throughout the next year to provide further access to different types of state-level K-12 data.

  • Video from the November 17 "Math, Science, and the Future of Our Nation" global online town hall, sponsored by Time Warner Cable and hosted by former Vice President Al Gore, is now posted online. Secretary Duncan participated in this unique event with inventor Dean Kamen, Discovery Channel's "MythBusters" Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, astronaut Sally Ride, and Microsoft Xbox visionary Kudo Tsunoda. Guests were joined by young people from around the world, parents, educators, and other concerned citizens for an interactive discussion on youth attitudes around math and science and what these core subjects mean for future success.

  • Secretary Duncan joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel, Superintendent William Hite, and other guests at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland, to visit a classroom and join a roundtable discussion on turning around low-performing schools. Gholson is implementing a turnaround model supported by a federal School Improvement Grant.

  • Later that same day, the Secretary addressed the National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. At the summit, the Digital Learning Council issued 10 policy suggestions for states to use digital learning as a catalyst for education reform. In general, the suggestions are aligned with the Department's National Education Technology Plan.

  • In a recent article in The Hill, Secretary Duncan explains that passing the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act will "unleash the full potential of young people who live out values that all Americans cherish: a strong work ethic, service to others, and a deep loyalty to country."

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Quote to Note

"In 1957, the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. That was a wake-up call that caused the United States to boost our investment in innovation and education—particularly in math and science. And, as a result, once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries, and jobs. So 50 years later, our generation's Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment.... We've got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth. We need to do what America has always been known for: building, innovating, educating, and making things."

        President Barack Obama (12/6/10), in remarks at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Upcoming Events

Due to overwhelming demand, Project Tomorrow's annual Speak Up survey on education and technology, open to K-12 students, parents, teachers, administrators, and pre-service teachers, has been extended through January 21, 2011.

In March, the Department, OECD, and Education International will convene an International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City. Attendees will include ministers of education from the leading nations in education, as measured by the PISA 2009. Representatives from U.S. education associations, teachers, and union leaders will also be invited to attend.

The National Endowment for the Humanities supports tuition-free summer programs in the U.S. and abroad for American school teachers; community college, college, and university faculty; and a number of graduate students. Participants receive stipends to help cover travel and living expenses. The deadline for all applications for 2011 Summer Seminars and Institutes and 2011 Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops is March 1, 2011.

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Last Modified: 06/14/2012