Tag Archives: Science

Students of Color are Less Likely to Attend “Well-Rounded” Schools: Three Reasons This Hurts Students — and Their Schools

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Earlier this summer, I attended a launch event for Learn Together Live Together, a D.C.-based coalition that promotes racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The event featured a conversation with John King, CEO of The Education Trust and a former U.S. Secretary of Education. King spoke on many of the issues affecting poor children and children of color in our education system — they’re more likely to attend segregated schools, where students score below proficient on standardized tests in math and reading and which receive less per-pupil funding. But King made another surprising comment about these students: they’re also less likely to attend “well-rounded schools.”  

What is a well-rounded school? The National Center on Time and Learning describes well-rounded schools as ones that provide students with opportunities to engage in “critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork,” and that include “arts, music, and other enrichments in their curriculum.” These enrichments can include classes like physical education, drama, or debate, as well as hands-on versions of science and more in-depth social studies and civics classes than are offered in many schools. The instructional time being spent on these subjects is declining nationwide and King is right: students of color are less likely to be in schools that offer these opportunities.

I’ve seen this decline first-hand, teaching both urban and rural public school districts that serve predominantly children of color. At one school, there was no science or social studies time on my administrator-provided schedule, only a block for teaching “informational text.” There was one art teacher for 500 students, and it was impossible to fit every class on her schedule each year. At another school I had a 20-minute block on my schedule in which to teach science, social studies, and P.E. There were no art, music, or other enrichment teachers at all.

Those who make curriculum decisions often choose to prioritize reading and math instruction with good intentions. They might believe they’re doing right by their students, ensuring that they have the necessary grade-level reading and math skills they’ll need to be successful. They might also believe they’re doing right by their schools: as instruction time in “tested” subjects increases, increased test scores will follow, bringing more students, funds, and opportunities to their schools.

But there are three big reasons why increasing the instructional time spent on the arts, science, and social studies might help accomplish these same goals: Continue reading

What Good Are Higher Graduation Rates If Students Aren’t Learning More?

On Thursday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of its 2015 science assessment for America’s 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students. Only 22 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level, compared to 38 percent of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders. And while 4th and 8th graders both saw a small but significant improvement from 2009, high school seniors stagnated — earning the same average score as the 2009 sample.

This was also true across all subgroups. Among students of colors, students with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs), rural students, and female students, not a single group saw a statistically significant score change from 2009.2015 NAEP Science Assessment Scores

We saw a similar trend in April, when NAEP released the 12th grade results of its 2015 reading and math assessments. Seniors’ average reading score did not significantly change — again across every single subgroup. The average 12th grade math score declined.

And yet, earlier this month, data released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) showed that America’s high school graduation rate has reached a record high of 83 percent, continuing a five year trend. In stark contrast with this year’s NAEP data, rates among students of color, students with disabilities, ELLs, and low-income students have all improved.

While this is certainly good news, it begs the question: What good are higher graduation rates if students aren’t learning more?

According to ED Secretary John King: “Students who have a high school diploma do better in the 21st Century economy than students who don’t. So having a higher graduation rate is meaningful progress.” While high school graduates do earn more than non-graduates, this answer is still deeply unsatisfying.

States will have the opportunity to seriously address America’s stagnant high schools in the coming years. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law last December, provides greater flexibility for states in almost every facet of federal K-12 education policy. The law makes it easier for states to spend Title I money on high school students. It also gives states much greater leeway for using school improvement funds, including an optional set-aside for programs like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education. It remains to be seen exactly how states will implement the law, but luckily we’ll have NAEP along the way to give us a national snapshot of student learning.

We’re doing a better job of shepherding students to high school completion — now we just need to make sure they actually learn something.