Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Why It Matters, What Makes It Challenging, and How to Address These Challenges
There is currently little consensus on how special education teachers should be evaluated. The lack of consensus may be due to several reasons. Special education teachers work under a variety of complex conditions, with a very heterogeneous population, and support student progress toward a very individualized set of goals. In addition, special education is marked by historical rates of attrition, with a lack of highly qualified teachers entering the field, and a number of special education teachers completing alternate certification programs, leading to a combined effect that impacts overall professional quality.
This article reviews the challenges associated with evaluating special education teachers, describe and analyze current approaches, and present a conceptual framework for an approach to special education teacher evaluation. It provides an overview of the Recognizing Effective Special Education Teachers (RESET) tool as a possible alternative to measure special education teacher effectiveness. Given the current zeitgeist of teacher evaluation systems that fail to address the unique circumstances related to special education teachers, the information in this article will contribute to the small but growing body of research on special education teacher evaluation and effectiveness.
The good news: Research suggests that a new federal rule has prompted the nation's schools to serve an extra $5.4 million worth of fruits and vegetables each day.
The bad news: The nation's children throw about $3.8 million of that in the garbage each day.
Researchers from Brigham Young University and Cornell observed three schools adjust to new school lunch standards that require a serving of fruits or vegetables on every student's tray -- whether the child intends to eat it or not. As they report in the December issue of Public Health Nutrition, students discarded 70 percent of the extra fruits and vegetables.
"We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper," said BYU economics professor Joe Price.
Strange as it sounds, directly paying students to eat a fruit or vegetable is less expensive and gets better results.
With Cornell's David Just, Price conducted a second study to measure the effect of small rewards in the lunchroom. The week-long experiments took on different twists in the 15 different schools -- some could earn a nickel, others a quarter, and others a raffle ticket for a larger prize. But the results were generally the same. As the scholars report in The Journal of Human Resources, offering small rewards increased the fruit and vegetable consumption by 80 percent. And the amount of wasted food declined by 33 percent.
Which begs the question: Is benevolent bribery a better way?
"Parents are often misguided about incentives," Price said. "We feel a sense of dirtiness about a bribe. But rewards can be really powerful if the activity creates a new skill or changes preferences."
The case against using bribes in parenting is perhaps best articulated in Alfie Kohn's 1999 book "Punished by Rewards." In many scenarios, the use of rewards can crush internal motivation. With healthy eating, for example, some fear that prizes will prevent children from developing their own motivation to eat things that are good for them. Another danger, known as a boomerang effect, is the possibility that some children would eat less fruits and vegetables when the rewards disappeared.
That's why Price and Just measured fruit and vegetable consumption before and after the week-long experiments. When the week of prizes ended, students went back to the same level of fruit and vegetable consumption as before -- no lasting improvement, but no boomerang effect either.
Now the researchers are studying whether extending the experiments over three to five weeks might yield lasting change. So far things look promising.
"I don't think we should give incentives such a bad rap," Price said. "They should be considered part of a set of tools we can use."
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The restraint and seclusion of students in U.S. public schools in response to student behavior problems are used much more frequently on students with a disability than on students without a disability, and especially in affluent school districts, according to new research at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
Restraint is a practice that uses physical or mechanical means to restrict a student's freedom of motion. Seclusion is a practice that usually involves the involuntary isolation of a student for a period of several minutes.
The research is presented in the Carsey Institute brief "Variation in rates of restraint and seclusion among students with a disability." The research was conducted by Douglas Gagnon, doctoral candidate in education at UNH and a research assistant at the Carsey Institute; Marybeth Mattingly, director of research on vulnerable families at the Carsey Institute and research assistant professor of sociology at UNH; and Vincent Connelly, associate professor of education at UNH.
On average across school districts nationwide, there were 2.6 instances of restraint for every 100 students with a disability for the 2009-2010 school year, compared with only 0.1 instances for every 100 students without a disability, the researchers found. Seclusion rates followed a similar pattern.
The researchers found there was wide variability in the use of restraint and seclusion on students with a disability in school districts, with the vast majority of school districts not employing these techniques. According to the researchers, 59.3 percent of school districts report no instances of restraint of a student with a disability and 82.5 percent do not report a single instance of seclusion. However, a small proportion of districts report exceedingly high rates.
"Schools today are tasked with implementing positive techniques that can effectively manage the difficult and sometimes violent behaviors of the most challenging students with a disability, which might lead some schools to more extreme measures," the researchers said.
The researchers also found that school districts with higher concentrations of poverty and larger black and Hispanic populations are associated with lower rates of restraint and seclusion. In fact, average rates of restraint and seclusion are more than twice as high in school districts of low poverty and low diversity.
"If certain disability types elicit more frequent restraint and seclusion, and the frequency of such disabilities differs by school type, this may help explain why rates differ across school poverty and racial composition," the researchers said.
New types of assessments will be needed to measure student learning once the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are implemented, says a new report from the National Research Council. The tests that states currently use emphasize factual knowledge and were not designed to assess the type of understanding envisioned by the standards, which emphasize depth of knowledge based on the ability to integrate core content with science and engineering practices.
The report describes a new system of assessments that should be developed, and it offers examples of the types of tasks and questions that could assess student knowledge as detailed in the standards. To monitor progress in meeting the standards, states should use information both from state-administered tests and from classroom-based assessments, as well as information about students’ opportunity to learn in the ways laid out in the science standards, said the committee that wrote the report.
“The Next Generation Science Standards present challenges for assessment, but they are also an opportunity to address longstanding limitations with current approaches,” said committee co-chair James Pellegrino, Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor and Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Current assessments tend to ask students to define the scientific method absent specific content; assessments under NGSS should ask students to demonstrate that they understand aspects of scientific reasoning by applying particular science practices, such as designing a study or interpreting the meaning of a data set, to questions about genetic inheritance, for example.”
The Next Generation Science Standards, which have been adopted by eight states so far, describe “performance expectations” that articulate what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. The standards support science learning structured around three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices; core ideas of the science and engineering disciplines; and crosscutting concepts, such as “cause and effect” and “energy and matter.” In classroom teaching and learning, these three dimensions should be integrated: for example, the students should always learn by engaging in one or more scientific practices in the context of core ideas, and their advancement should be mapped out in terms of a learning progression.
To assess students’ mastery and integration of these three dimensions, a variety of question formats will be needed, the report says. Questions may require students to supply an answer, produce a product, or perform an activity. “Formative” assessments would help teachers see how students are progressing and make instructional decisions; and “monitoring assessments” would measure science learning on a broader scale.
For the monitoring tests, the full breadth and depth of NGSS expectations for a given grade level cannot be covered with a single large-scale test, the report says. The committee recommended that the information from external “on-demand” assessments (that is, assessments that are administered at a time mandated by the state) should be supplemented with information gathered from classroom-embedded assessments (that is, assessments that are administered at a time determined by the district or school that fits the instructional sequence in the classroom) to fully assess whether performance expectations have been met.
These classroom-embedded assessments could take various forms. For example, they might be self-contained curricular units that include both instructional materials and assessments, provided by the state or district to be administered in classrooms. Or the state or district could develop banks of tasks that schools and teachers would use at the appropriate time in classrooms.
Assessments should be developed using a “bottom up” rather than a “top down” approach, the report says. The learning progression should begin with designing instruction and assessments for the classroom, perhaps integrated into instructional units, and then move toward assessment that meets the needs for monitoring purposes, including accountability.
In addition to using assessments to monitor students’ progress, states should monitor indicators of "opportunity to learn" – the extent to which students have the opportunity to learn science in the way called for in the standards and the extent to which schools have the resources they need to support learning (e.g., teacher subject-area knowledge, adequate time, and appropriate materials to devote to science instruction).
“It will take time to implement the new system of assessments, just as it will take time to implement the teaching approaches needed for students to learn science in the way NGSS envisions,” said committee co-chair Mark Wilson, professor of policy, organization, measurement, and evaluation and of cognition and development in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. “States should develop and implement the new assessments gradually, starting with what is necessary and possible in the short term while establishing long-term goals for reaching a fully integrated system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”
In 2011 the National Research Council released A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, which served as the foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards.
Fordham Law School's Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) has released a report on how school districts address privacy when they transfer student information to cloud computing service providers. The report marks the nation’s first in-depth analysis of this increasingly contentious issue.
The study found that as public schools in the United States rapidly adopt cloud-computing services to fulfill their educational objectives and take advantage of new technologically enabled opportunities, they transfer increasing quantities of student information to third-party providers, without requiring basic privacy protections such as strong data security measures and limitations on commercial data mining. As a result, school districts frequently fall short of federal privacy standards and of community expectations for children’s privacy. The study can be found here: http://law.fordham.edu/k12cloudprivacy.
“School districts throughout the country are embracing the use of cloud computing services for important educational goals, but have not kept pace with appropriate safeguards for the personal data of school children,” said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham Law School and the founding director of CLIP. Reidenberg points out that vendors who are not generally subject to federal privacy laws have put schools in a precarious position for the stewardship of children’s data through their contract terms. He said, “We believe there are critical actions that school districts and vendors must take to address the serious deficiencies in privacy protection.”
The goals of the study were 1) to provide a national picture of cloud computing in public schools; 2) to assess how public schools address their statutory obligations as well as generally accepted privacy principles in their cloud service agreements; and 3) to make recommendations based on the findings for the protection of student privacy.
Fordham CLIP selected a national sample of school districts including large, medium and small school systems from every geographic region of the country. Using state open public record laws, Fordham CLIP requested from each of the school districts all of the district’s cloud service agreements, notices to parents and computer use policies for teachers and examined whether the districts met privacy obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, as well as basic fair information practices.
The key findings from the analysis are:
• 95% of districts rely on cloud services for a diverse range of functions including data mining related to student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, data hosting, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning.
• Cloud Services are poorly understood, non-transparent and weakly governed with only 25% of districts informing parents of cloud services, 20% of districts failing to have policies for the use of online services, and a sizeable plurality of districts having rampant gaps in their contract documentation including missing privacy policies.
• Districts give up control of student information when using cloud services, with fewer than 25% of the agreements specifying the purpose for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restricting the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allowing vendors to change the terms without notice. FERPA, however, generally requires districts to have direct control of student information when disclosed to third-party service providers.
• An overwhelming majority of cloud service contracts do not address parental notice, consent or access to student information. Some services even require parents to activate accounts and consent to privacy policies that may contradict those in the district’s agreement with the vendor. FERPA and COPPA, however, contain requirements related to parental notice, consent and access to student information.
• School district cloud service agreements generally do not provide for data security and even allow vendors with alarming frequency to retain student information in perpetuity. Yet, basic norms of information privacy require data security.
Maintaining the most motivated, highly qualified teachers is an ongoing challenge for America’s schools. The top 20 percent of teachers end up leaving their schools due to neglect and inattention, according to The New Teacher Project. But, a new report “Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative” outlines strategies for making teaching an attractive, challenging profession with career advancement.
The report, jointly issued by Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network and National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), describes recent initiatives at the local, state and national level that promote teacher career advancement.
“Teaching has been called the flat profession—one in which the main opportunity for career advancement is for teachers to leave the classroom to enter administration,” said Katherine Bassett, Executive Director and CEO at NNSTOY. “By establishing true career continuums for teachers, we can create the conditions that will further student learning and increase the effectiveness of all teachers while increasing teacher retention.”
Pearson and NNSTOY’s report includes a state-by-state analysis of current and proposed approaches for promoting teacher leadership and a look at career trajectories for other professions such as nursing, architecture and engineering.
“The teaching profession should recognize and reward expertise by following the lead of other professions and countries,” says Dr. Kathy McKnight, Principal Director of Research, Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson. “Creating diverse and flexible career options as well as linking compensation to expertise, performance and responsibilities holds promise for improving recruitment and retention of talented educators.”
With half of the nation’s teachers planning to retire over the next decade, the report focuses on identifying practices that make teaching a more attractive option for a generation that expects flexibility in the workplace, collaborative work structures, differentiated roles and compensation systems that recognize performance and differing levels of responsibility.
State- and national-level recommendations include:
- advocate for federal and state legislation and grant programs that support new school staffing structures and leadership roles for teachers;
- implement state-level guidelines for standards-based assessment and teacher evaluation systems that create the groundwork for differentiated career paths and compensation systems; and
- develop and disseminate model teacher career continuums with input from excellent teachers as well as other stakeholders in the design, implementation, communication and refinement of the model.
Recommendations for the local level include:
- re-examine district human resource policies to see if they are recruiting teachers who are high academic achievers;
- take advantage of technology in extending the reach of highly effective teachers; and
- re-think the one teacher/one classroom organization of schools to facilitate new staffing structures that differentiate roles of teachers and extend the reach of highly effective teachers.
Monday, December 16, 2013
President Obama's "Preschool for All" initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s.
This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these "model" state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes.
The study finds that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike.
For lower-income families, the findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the chances that mothers work, and children's test performance as late as eighth grade.
For higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and have had no positive effect on children's later test scores.