Monthly Archives: November 2009

State Boards of Education

When it comes down to it the whole education system is run by state governors, legislators, school officers and agencies and the state board of education. In this post we will focus on state boards of education as well as school officers and agencies. These are the key players in the education of those students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Each department and entity plays an important role in the education that our children receive.

Directly under state legislators is the state board of education. The function of this board is six fold.
  1. Set the standards of certification and training that teachers and administrators must hold.
  2. Set the standards of high school graduation requirements.
  3. Set the criteria for which a school is accredited as well as the programs for preparing and training teachers and staff.
  4. Completely build and implement the state testing of students.
  5. Approve the budget of the state education agencies.
  6. Make the rules and regulations for the implementation of state education programs.
How a state board for education is built is different in each state. The majority of states have appointed members of the board. However, there are states that elect their board members or they may use both elected and appointed members. In states with appointed numbers the appointment is usually made by the governor but not always. Minnesota and Wisconsin do not have state boards of education at all.

School Vouchers

One of the most controversial topics in education today has to be the subject of vouchers. The idea of public funds going to private school or parochial schools seems to push a hot button for many. Some may argue that this defeats the purpose of a “public” school system. Others see this as a way of providing a better education to many. The thought is that if competition is introduced into schools this will make the schools improve so that they receive the funding that they want.

A few states such as Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and a few others have implemented either a tax credit or deduction while others have actually put in place a voucher system. Maine and Vermont also have a history with variations of the voucher system.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that publicly funded vouchers did not go against the separation between church and state that we find in the Constitution. This ruling was in a case in Cleveland, Ohio. This solidified the federal stand on the publicly funded voucher system.
There is not a lot of hard data regarding the use of vouchers. The programs that are in place are relatively new and therefore the overall success and satisfaction for those involved goes unknown. There is a lot of research to be done before we see the effects of such programs.

Teacher Effectiveness and Evaluation

Many people are to oversee the level of teaching that goes on in our schools. States depend on great teacher preparation and then they must implement and support further professional development. It isn’t enough for our teachers to just get a degree and then just continue teaching without further skills learned or being kept current on new teaching methods and ideas. States have the responsibility to make sure that their is plenty of teacher evaluation and then to have programs set in place to step in where a teacher lacks.

Everyone, including fine educators, has a difference of opinion about what makes a quality teacher. Not only should teachers have a thorough understanding of the topics they are teaching but of the best way to present these subjects for the needs of the children at their respective grade levels. Evaluation also must take into account the teachers relationship with students and their parents as well as their role in the school as a whole.
In years past a teachers performance was more based on their past performance. They were more judged on their courses taken, grades or scores received and other accolades rather than the quality of teaching that they perform daily in a classroom. Recent developments in evaluation have evolved to show what teachers actually do in the classroom.
Some policy makers want to attach a teachers salary and promotions to the student test results. There are other policy makers that will argue that a single test cannot possibly be the deciding factor for the quality of a teacher. Portfolios that take in an assessment of the teacher as a whole are becoming more and more popular.
There is a debate among policy makers about whether teachers should be held individually accountable for their effectiveness or if the school as a whole should be accountable. The fear with individual accountability is that if you attach school teacher salary or promotions to performance it can create a spirit of unhealthy competitiveness among teachers instead of a cohesive unit. Both sides have their pros and cons so it will be impossible to please everyone in this respect.

Brain Research

The brains most crucial development time is when you are a baby. The brain evolves rapidly and the environment in which it develops has a direct effect on the child emotional, social and intellectual development. We know that the years before preschool are vital to brain development.

Researchers once believed that a child’s brain was complete when they were born. It was a common belief that genetics were the sole determining factor on intelligence and brain capacity. Modern research has proven this wrong and shown that the environment in which a child is raised had a direct influence on the development of the brain.

There are many outside influences that are known to have a negative impact on the brains development. Toxins, infection, malnutrition, exposure during pregnancy to drugs and premature birth have all been shown to have a negative impact on the development of the brain. Additionally abuse and neglect are also major factors in the capacity of a brains development. Much more is known about what holds the brain back developmentally than we know about what to do to boost brain development.

The first three years of life are the most crucial. In a setting where they are exposed to negative developmental factors a child born with a normal IQ may never achieve their full potential. One that is exposed to negative factors but experiences and intervention may be able to catch up their peers though with property intervention. This ability of the brain to be able to recover is very promising for children in less than ideal environments and shows us the importance of a healthy, nurturing environment for children. This is great news for those with learning disabilities because we know that the brain is flexible and can overcome delays. This is also great news for those with brain injuries because we know that we can help the brain overcome a lot of the trauma.
By the time a child is in kindergarten a lot can be done to intervene in the development of the brain. This, when done properly and with care, can help a child in school. We all know that if the child gets a great start in elementary school, they have a foundation for life. This starts in the womb and carries on for a lifetime.

Policy makers are faced with a difficult task, they must translate how to make brain research policies beneficial to children. Scientist have much more knowledge on how the brain develops than how to change or enhance it. This would lead one to think that public policy should focus on helping to eliminate the factors that inhibit brain growth such as biological and social conditions.

They cannot over stress the importance of those first crucial years though, lest it lead to neglect of the necessary environment in other times of development. Such as the importance of prenatal care when the brain is particularly vulnerable while first developing or during adolescence which is another time of significant growth.

Arts in Education

Increasing amounts of recent research show the importance of art in improving students achievements and getting them ready for a job in a world market that demands new and exciting solutions to ever more challenging issues. It is also shown to increase a students engagement in learning and both their social and civic development.

Studies have shown that the arts can have the following benefits on a learner.
  • Improved performance of students that may be struggling.
  • Continuously give already successful students new challenges.
  • Provide job skills and sense of satisfaction to students who are incarcerated leading to a lower rate of second time offenders.
  • Skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic are improved which helps with problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Students become more involved in learning and their schools.
  • Attendance has also been shown to improve.
  • Creates stronger relationships between students and teachers.
  • Allow the child grow creatively and foster curiosity.

Many states support Arts in Education programs and have made them requirements for graduation from high school and parts of standards and assessment tests. One of the pitfalls that art programs run into though is that they are often the first to feel the pain of budget constraints.

There is a growing movement though to keep these programs alive. One that rests on the premise that the purpose of education has a greater responsibility than to just teach basic subject matter. That the arts help students to become life time learners, creates more of a feeling of community, to appreciate other cultures and prepares a student for an ever evolving world.

Extended day programs

In this country today over 28 million parents work outside the home. It is estimated that some five to seven million children come home to an empty home after school, with the numbers topping out at fifteen million. Many areas have begun to address this by starting after school programs. These programs are designed to keep kids safe and out of trouble but also to keep them involved in activities that help them to learn.

Most people think that it is beneficial to a child to have a place to go after school that helps them develop learning skills and social behaviors in a safe environment. There are many different types of after school programs such as child care centers, tutoring centers, dance programs, sports clubs, drop in centers that are offered in conjunction with community facilities like libraries and recreational centers. There is no single cause for the success of these program, both the researchers and facilitators of the programs agree that in order for a program to be effective it must offer both academic enrichment and recreational activities.

Successful programs
  • Set milestones for the children to reach
  • Have staff that are qualified
  • Have community partnerships
  • Family involvement
  • Learning environments
  • Evaluation of program and success of activities

Children of low income families and between the ages of 5 and 9 have been shown to show the most benefit from these programs. Improved grades, better behavior and work habits are just a few of the things that have been noted.

Teens who are involved in programs like these are less likely to be involved in dangerous behavior and sustain better grades. But since these programs are not mandatory it may be that the more motivated students choose to attend the programs. Associating with these programs has also been linked to improved attendance in students.

State and Federal budgets for education, public safety, crime prevention and child care provide some of the funding for after school programs. Private companies are an additional source of support for after school programs. The majority of the support for these programs comes from the parents in the communities themselves.

Corrections Education

The United States currently has the largest prison population in the world. It is estimated that over 2.5 million people are incarcerated in the country today, compared to 1.5 million in 1995. When compared to America as a whole the education levels are considerably lower than the rest of the population. Only eighteen percent of Americans have not completed high school but in state and local systems that number is drastically different with over 40 percent of State and Local inmates not having graduated high school.

To help change these numbers over 90 percent of prisons and 60 percent of local jails have an educational program. Secondary and basic education programs being the most prevalent. Rates have decreased in the last two decades but the numbers themselves have increased with over 50 percent of inmates reporting participation. It was estimated that over 425,000 inmates were educated in prison in 1991 with that number increasing to over 600,000 by 1997.

Many states have started incentive programs to encourage prisoners to participate. Illinois grants 60 days off of a sentence for a prisoner who earns his high school diploma or receives their GED, West Virginia has since enacted similar legislature. While Arizona has removed the earned release credits for prisoners who fail to complete their diplomas while in custody.

There is still some argument as to the benefits of these programs. People in favor of them argue that it reduces the chances of repeat offenders and helps the inmate while trying to get back into the workforce. The largest complaint that people opposed to prisoner education have is that it is a waste of already strained resources.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Federal funds are provided for the education of neglected and delinquent children under title I, part D. The goal of this is to provide students with the same education and resources and allow them to reach the academic standards expected of other children. Part D states that schools in the juvenile justice system must be assessed using many different means to measure students progress. States are required to use these numbers to evaluate the schools effectiveness and make improvements on their educational systems.

Early Learning

Every bit of research that you will find on early learning will tell you that this plays a major roll in the development of a child’s brain. This includes cognitive, physical, emotional and social development. Because of these findings states are pushing for funding to help with early learning programs.

Early learning is more than just providing preschools. We have to incorporate the emotional and social needs of the children and meet these needs early on because they directly impact a persons life forever. Any kind of program won’t do. Kids need high quality experiences that enrich their minds and lives.
Policy makers have a big job when it comes to early learning. They have to identify what needs the children have that need to be met. Considering that it may take many different agencies and/or departments to meet these needs the policy makers need to find a way for these agencies to work together seamlessly on behalf of the child. And it doesn’t stop there. They then have to consider how this integrates into the early elementary education of the child. Will they just be cut off from some resources or will there be continuing care considering that early learning takes place for many years.
Schools are doing a lot to help these early learning efforts. Many offer all day kindergarten, have school counselors to help children cope with things going on at home or school that they need help with. The problem tends to be funding as well as focus. Schools need funding so that they expand and grow with the changing needs. They need funding to get high quality teachers and other employees that will make these programs shine. They also need the ability to be free of other extraneous issues so that they can focus on early learning. The importance of early learning cannot be expressed enough.

Remediation and What Schools Offer

Remediation by definition is the process in which you correct a fault or a deficiency. In education this term is commonly used in respect to learning disabilities. This is not to say that it only applies to those with big name disabilities but it even applies to the student that struggles in reading and needs extra help. No matter the severity of the need, remediation may help the student succeed.

States really hold all the control on what remedial coursework is offered to students. With the No Child Left Behind Act many states are taking a closer look at their remedial programs and what is offered in an attempt to help students resolve issues that they have in learning. In some schools these attempts are only made for those with reading problems while in other schools they offer remedial help for students struggling in a variety of subjects.
When it comes to remediation at the two year college or four year college time things are controversial. The proponents see the benefits of giving these students a second chance at being ready for college coursework while naysayers believe that this is “double dipping” as far as the funding for such programs.
Statistics show that 45% of those students that took two or more remedial courses graduated with at least an associates degree. Oddly, even with these statistics those students that received federal aid for college were limited to 4% allotted for remedial courses. As a side note, statistics show that those students that were given more challenging college prep coursework in high school were more likely to do better college regardless of their grades in high school.

Closing the Achievement Gap

There has been much discussion over the past forty years about the gap that separates underprivileged children and students of color from other students. This gap was narrowed quite a bit during the 1980′s particularly between whites and blacks it has remained fairly constant since. Below the national average performance of minority students continues to be one of the most pressing problems facing America’s educational system.

On average today’s black or Hispanic high school student reaches a level on par with white students in the lowest 25 percentile. They are also much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school and their chances of graduation high school, continuing on to college or earn a median income are much reduced.

There are many factors believed to influence this, the students racial and economic background, the level of education which their parents achieved, The access to schooling that they had in their preschool days, the funding of the school which they attend, the quality of teachers and involvement in school activities.

A recent study has shown that only 11 percent of students families in the bottom fifth of the economy have gone on to earn college degrees while 53 percent of children from the top fifth have graduated college. Children of Middle income black families have a 50 percent chance to fall into the lower fifth while only 16 percent of whites fell into that category. Black children from the lower fifth of the country have a 19 percent chance to reach the top fifth with 62 percent joining the middle class or higher.