Public schools in the nation’s capital recently reported that the graduation rate for 2017 was the highest in the school system’s history.
According to school officials, about 73 percent of Washington public schools’ students graduated on time, another record high for a school system that had struggled years ago to graduate even half of its students. The graduation rate marked a four-point rise from the previous year and a 20-point gain from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated within four years.
In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proudly described the school system as the “fastest improving urban school district in the country.
“These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels,” Bowser said in a statement.
But it was all false. A report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education shows more than one of every three diplomas awarded to students were not earned. The report found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates of D.C. public schools did not meet the minimum attendance requirements needed for graduation. Teachers even admit to falsely marking students present.
Washington is the latest of a series of public school systems found guilty of widespread cheating. Similar cheating was found in public schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.
The perpetrators in these scandals weren’t the students but the administrators and teachers. Both have admitted to falsifying records on standardized tests, graduation requirements and student grades.
In response, some teachers have been fired and stripped of their licenses to teach again. In other places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators have gone to jail. In Washington, D.C., Antwan Wilson, District of Columbia schools chancellor, resigned Feb. 20 after it was revealed he used his position to get his daughter into a preferred school.
The real culprit in these cheating scandals, according to education experts and teachers, is the increased — and some say unfair — pressure on education officials from the government to meet a certain level of student performance. If they don’t meet the mandated standards, school systems could lose funding, and with less money to pay for staff and supplies some people could lose their jobs.
President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and former President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top created an “accountability system,” education experts said, linking student performance to Title I funding, which are federal grants given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.
No Child Left Behindwas the first law requiring federally-mandated tests to measure student performance. Prior to the law, states and cities used achievement tests to measure what students were learning to decide how effective their instruction was and what changes they might make.
Harvard professor Dan Koretz, author of the book The Teaching Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, said cheating by teachers — in many cases sanctioned or encouraged by administrators — is fueled by the misuse of standardized tests to measure school performance which has pressured teachers to raise scores beyond what is reasonable.
“Some cheat and, ironically, all of these shortcuts undermine the usefulness of tests for their intended purpose—monitoring what kids know,” Koretz said.
Koretz and other education experts believe standardized tests can be a useful measure of students’ knowledge, when used correctly.
A survey by the Washington Teacher’s Union and EmpowerED echoes Koretz’s assertion that teachers feel pressure to cheat. The survey found that almost 60 percent of teachers said that they’ve felt pressure or coercion from superiors to pass undeserving students.
“There has been strenuous pressure to hit specific targets regardless of student performance or attendance,” an anonymous D.C. public school teacher said on the survey.
Another teacher said, “Administrators, parents, and teachers just want good grades so the school system and the student look accomplished on paper.”
A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, showed that over 45 percent of Black students nationwide attend these low-income or high poverty public schools. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of White students attend these same schools.
Education expert Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, said the result is that cheating is found primarily among majority-Black schools, which lack the educational tools and support they need in order to adequately serve their students.
“There are teachers who’ve felt pressure because they don’t feel that they have the capacity or support to achieve expectations through realistic measures,” Polikoff said.
Koretz said the cheating underscores the fallacy of rewarding and punishing schools based on standardized tests.
The answer “is to reduce the pressure to meet arbitrary targets,” he said. “Another is to routinely monitor how schools are reaching their targets. Yet another is to broaden the focus of accountability in schools to create a more reasonable mix of incentives.”
Sybella Inman, 8, who is on the honor roll at Birmingham’s EPIC Elementary, appears about 30 minutes into the film in a scene where T’Challa, the main character, is lying in the dirt. Sybella known as Bella, said she was excited about securing the role of an orphan in the movie.
“I think acting is fun and cool and awesome,” Sybella told ABC 33/40 TV.
“She thought it was pretty cool to talk to (main character) Chadwick Boseman and work with Forest Whitaker,” said K’la, Inman’s mother.
When Sybella was six, her mom had professional headshots taken. “We’ve done some workshops that she’s done really, really well in,” K’la said. “She did a workshop with Alpha Tyler, one of Tyler Perry’s casting agents.”
K’la, who has done some acting, almost missed an opportunity to cast her daughter for the film. Kl’a has casting calls come to her phone and when she saw one for “Black Panther” she almost discarded it until saw the movie was casting for Bella’s age range.
As the family arrived at church that particular day for Sunday morning service “my husband, Kalep, asked what I was doing because I had my head in my phone, and I told him ‘I was trying to apply for casting for some movie named Black Panther’ and he says, ‘Oh, that’s a black superhero, a Marvel character, you should finish that.’
Two weeks later K’la received an email while renting a car. “[I] was talking to the clerk, and looked down at the email and started screaming . . . I dropped my phone.”
Last March, Sybella and mom set out for Pinewood Studios, in Atlanta, GA to film her scenes.
Sybella’s painted face is the only orphan to be shown close up in the scene. “She actually got to film with Chadwick Boseman [Black Panther] and Forest Whitaker [Zuri] in the scene where they were doing the burial rite,” her mom said.
Sybella learned about hard work early. “They shot both her scenes the same day. Including hair and makeup, she had an 11-hour day,” K’la said.
K’la had her brush with A-list actor Forest Whitaker, as well. “I was actually sitting right next to him for a while before noticing I was barely two feet away from him,” K’la said. “That was pretty cool.”
Asked what Sybella was most excited about on set, her mom said, “food.”
“She was … hungry” K’la laughed. “On movie sets they always have what they call a ‘crafting table’, and their spread was pretty impressive. They actually gave us lobster … which is unheard of. But, I guess with a budget that big ($200 million). She was running over there for cakes and cookies, juices, and whatnot every chance she could.”
While Bella doesn’t talk in the movie, she loves the Hollywood glitz and glam.
“It got to be different and I like makeup being on my face,” Bella said. “It makes your face all shiny and glittery.”
Bella has been acting since the age of 6, but this is her first film role. Bella’s mom submitted her daughter for the role after learning about the opportunity in a casting email. “She really can act,” her mother said. “She can cry on demand.”
Along with working with other new actors, she also met the lead actor, Chadwick Boseman. He plays the comic book character her mother knew little about.
The Inman family is proud to have their daughter appear with a cast that looks like her. “I think it’s important,” K’la said. “Typically that doesn’t happen. I mean you look at Disney princesses, Barbie dolls, it’s not always representing everyone across the board.”
The film has a black director and an all-black cast and is set in Africa.
Word spread quickly in school that Bella was in the movie. “It was crazy at school – I had to do this,” that’s when she puts her fingers in her ears and laughs. “At P.E., I had to run away.”
Besides acting Bella likes to do everything – play soccer, model and being creative,” said her mother. “She likes to make her own makeup. She paints. She dances. And she likes to make slime.”
Like everyone else, the Inman family was blown away by the film’s debut. “She was pretty impressed by how it all came together,” Kl’a said of her daughter. She knew she was . . . inside a studio with a ton of graphs and stuff all over the floor, and the way the graphics brought it all together was amazing to her.”
During the Birmingham City Council meeting on Tuesday Mayor Randall L. Woodfin congratulated Bella for her role.
“The City of Birmingham family is very proud of your accomplishments, and we celebrate your success,” Woodfin said. “Continue to pursue your dreams and strive for ambitious goals.”
Gabrielle Johnson, a junior at Briarwood Christian School, is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Youth Leadership program.
On Wednesday, she was at the Institute for another occasion: tour guide for a teen summit sponsored by The Birmingham Pledge Foundation in partnership with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Davis Matthews Center for Civic Life.
“I decided to attend the summit because I realized there is such a need for these racial dialogues to go on, especially with the state that our country is in right now,” said Johnson.
After Johnson led Birmingham-area high school students on the tour the teens heard from the Reverend Gwendolyn Webb, who marched as a child in the Civil Rights Movement. Webb recalled meeting with Rev. James Bevel, one of the march organizers.
“I was the head of my cheerleading squad in high school and so Dr. Bevel went to every school and he set up boundaries . . . if you were head of the student government, he needed you; if you were head of the booster club, he needed you; if you were head of the football team or track, he needed you. Whatever you were a leader in, he needed you,” she said.
The philosophy, Webb said, was that “leaders beget followers, followers beget other followers and that’s how the children’s movement was formed.”
After Webb’s speech, students participated in forums and workshops on issues such as diversity, how to find common ground and ways to maintain a balanced perspective in conversations about public issues.
The Birmingham Pledge was written 20 years ago and the foundation has worked to eliminate prejudice and racism throughout the world through their pledge drives and other programs.
Misty Tipler, Birmingham Pledge Foundation executive director, said she was pleased to see the diverse group of students engaging in dialogue.
“I think that any time students get together and hear opinions that are similar to theirs or even different to theirs, they gain perspective on what other people are going through, what people feel about certain subjects and how they’re affected,” said Tipler. “I believe today’s group of kids do represent different areas and different socioeconomic backgrounds so I think they will be able to kind of gain some insight from each other.”
Wednesday’s summit was the first after a three-year hiatus. It was originally a yearly event.
“What we want to do is consolidate everything into a short period of time so it’s an easy commitment for students to make,” Tipler said. “We want them to be able to come here and spend some time and feel like they’ve gained some skills and learned a little bit and that they walk away knowing a little bit more than they did before.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has given six more states the thumbs-up on their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act: Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, and New Hampshire.
These approvals bring the grand total of approved state ESSA plans to 33, plus Puerto Rico’s and the District of Columbia’s. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia submitted plans last spring, and all but one of those states, Colorado, have been approved. Another 34 states turned in plans last fall, and so far, 18 have been approved.
So what do the approved plans look like? Below are some highlights of the state’s draft applications…
Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.
Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:
The Art Institute of Atlanta, where the surprise announcement was made, awarded the students $10,500 in scholarship money to attend the prestigious program. An additional $88,000 needs to be raised to support the students’ tuition, room and board, and travel. Donate here.
THE CHAMPION NEWSPAPER — The Fernbank Museum of Natural History is ready to provide a number of educational opportunities for children in the new year.
The first new temporary exhibit for the new year will be A Secret World Inside You. Fernbank Public Relations Specialist Kayla Rumpfeldt told The Champion the exhibit is from the American Museum of Natural History, and will use videos, larger-than-life models, and interactive games to investigate the cutting-edge science of the human microbiome and to offer a new perspective on human health. It begins Feb. 10.
In the meantime, museum-goers can experience a variety of permanent exhibits. Wildwoods and the Fernbank Forest offer 75 acres of outdoor area to be explored with activities spread throughout. Nature Stories (for young children) and Adventure Outpost (for preteens) include immersive interactive exhibits.
Special trailside experiences, including a sensory wall, animal tracks and tree molds help visitors experience nature up close. There are also educator-led nature walks through a variety of native plants, flowers and wildlife.
According to Rumpfelt, Wildwoods was installed in 2016 on top of the existing, unaltered landscape outside the museum and designed to be as non-intrusive as possible to keep the grounds as close to true nature as can be.
Through Wildwoods, explorers can access the Fernbank Forest—65 acres of mature mixed forest that has one of the few remnants of original forest vegetation in the Georgia Piedmont. Self-guided tours are welcome through the two miles of trails snaking through a canopy of trees that measures more than 16 stories above the ground. Educator-guided tours are offered one or two times a month.
Inside the museum is NatureQuest, an interactive permanent exhibit that includes a multi-level clubhouse, hands-on activities and live animal displays. According to Rumpfelt, activities such as a virtual waterfall and an interactive red oak tree are designed to give students a true-to-life nature experience without having to go outside.
A Walk Through Time In Georgia allows visitors to explore the natural history of Georgia through lifelike historic recreations of geographic regions. Highlights include a dinosaur gallery, a giant sloth, a cave, and the sights and sounds of the Okefenokee Swamp.
Reflections of Culture helps museum-goers learn how people around the world communicate information about themselves through forms of personal adornment. It includes a collection of photographs, costumes, jewelry, footwear, headdresses and masks.
According to the Fernbank website, other permanent exhibits include Sensing Nature—an interactive, sensory-based exhibit aimed at young children. It includes lasers, mirrors, water and sounds designed to demonstrate the role senses play in interpreting the environment.
World of Shells includes a variety of shells collected from the Georgia coast and explains how shell material is formed, the numerous ways animals use their shells and the life processes of shelled animals.
And inside the museum’s Great Hall is Giants of the Mesozoic, including life-size fossil-cast recreations of dinosaurs. This exhibit includes fossils of Argentinosaurus, Giganotosaurus, Pterodaustro and Anhanguera for visitors to enjoy.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History is open daily. Tickets can be purchased from the website, fernbankmuseum.org.
One thing we’ll keep stressing again and again this week: how far federal policy has moved since the days of the No Child Left Behind Act (ESSA’s predecessor). Read on.
So, what kinds of goals are states setting?
Some states chose fixed goals that aim for all students, and all subgroups of vulnerable students, such as those qualifying for subsidized school lunches or English-language learners, to reach the same target (such as 80 percent proficiency). What’s nice about this kind of goal is that it sets the same endpoint, making it easier to see over time how achievement gaps are expected to close. States in this category include: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, (grades 3-8 only), Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Rhode island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.
THE CHAMPION — More than 85 percent of black male fourth-graders in the United States are not proficient in reading, according to the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Nation’s Report Card. A program recently instituted by the DeKalb County Public Library (DCPL) will attempt improve that number by bringing books into the barbershop.
Barbershop Books is a national program designed to bring books written for children ages 4 to 8 into barbershops so they can begin to identify as readers.
DCPL is the first Barbershop Books sponsor in Georgia and has one barbershop—ITNOJ Barbershop in Scottdale—on board as a host site. And DCPL is doing everything it can to make the program a success.
“We wanted our barbershops to just be a host site, and we would take care of everything else. So we purchased the bookshelf and we also purchased the books that go on the shelf,” Teresa Totten, DCPL adult programming and services coordinator told The Champion. “Going forward, whenever they need to replenish the shelf with books, that’s our job.”
Why would the shelf need replenishing? Because the library is allowing readers who like a particular book to keep it.
“If they see a book, if they pick up a book and they really love that book, we told the shop owner to let them have it,” Totten said.
ITNOJ Barbershop owner Todd Cofield told The Champion the program has been well-received in his shop.
A small shelf sitting along the wall next to the barber chair inside ITNOJ has books aimed at elementary school-aged children, but both Totten and Cofield want to see the program grow beyond its intended limits.
“We expanded [the age range],” Totten said. “We want to cover zero to adult, because we really want to encourage everyone to read. We also tell adults, if you’ve got a little one with you who’s not at an age where they can read yet, read to them. We just want to create that space of community reading in the barbershop.”
Cofield, who grew up in a house with six siblings who all read together as a family, knows the power of reading. He wants to encourage a sense of a reading-based community in his shop. He said he hopes to soon have a larger shelf of books aimed at children of all ages, and add computer terminals, so school-age children can do research and work on homework.
“I want this to be a place where anyone can come and learn and grow,” he said.
And Cofield’s ambition has the full support of DCPL. Though the library won’t be involved in anything outside of providing books for the shelf, it’s already working to provide books for older audiences and has plans to expand the program to three more DeKalb County barbershops by the end of January.
DCPL also has the full backing of the DeKalb County Library Foundation for any funding it may need to grow the program as large as it can become.
“We’re gonna start with just the four locations and see what the demand is,” Totten said.
DCPL will work with host sites to track frequency of replenishments, specific demands for books and other feedback from children and parents who use the program to try to hone it to the specific audience in DeKalb County as much as possible.
“We’re also thinking we might want to have at least one location in a salon,” Totten said. “We want our little girls to read too.”
Totten said she hopes to launch a salon location in the first quarter of this year, possibly as early as February.
Cofield hopes the program expands into all areas of DeKalb County.
“Most people want to raise their children and they want to do right,” he said. “We’re really the same people raised with different belief systems, but morally, we want to do the same thing.”
Though he sees the goals as congruent, he said there aren’t enough people in his community willing to take matters into their own hands to make those goals a reality. He hopes Barbershop Books can be one tool to change that.
“Especially in the African-American community, we wait on the church to do stuff for us,” he said. “But we’ve got to be the church. We’ve got to make the change come. And the first thing you need for change is knowledge. You need knowledge.”
The Every Student Succeeds Act may have kept annual testing as a federal requirement. But it also aims to help states cut down on the number of assessments their students must take by giving districts the chance to use a nationally-recognized college entrance exam, instead of the regular state test, for accountability purposes.
When the law passed back in 2015, some superintendents hailed the change, saying it would mean one less test for many 11th graders, who would already be preparing for the SAT or ACT. Assessment experts, on the other hand, worried the change would make student progress a lot harder to track.
Now, more than two years after the law passed, it appears that only two states—North Dakota and Oklahoma—have immediate plans to offer their districts a choice of tests. Policymakers in at least two other states—Georgia and Florida—are thinking through the issue. Arizona and Oregon could also be in the mix.
That’s not exactly a mad dash to take advantage of the flexibility.
Offering a choice of tests can be a tall order for state education officials, said Julie Woods, a senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States. They have to figure out how to pay for the college entrance exams, design a process for districts to apply for the flexibility, and find a way to compare student scores on the state test to scores on the SAT, ACT, or another test.
That’s “potentially a lot more work than states are currently doing,” Woods said. “States have to decide what the payoff is for them…”
Read the full story here: May require an Education Week subscription.
By Charlene Crowell, (Communications Deputy Director, Center for Responsible Lending)
AMSTERDAM NEWS — Mounting student debt is a nagging problem for most families these days. As the cost of higher education rises, borrowing to cover those costs often becomes a family concern across multiple generations including the student, parents, and even grandparents or other relatives.
Today’s 21st Century jobs usually demand higher education and specialized skills to earn one’s way into the middle class. In households where educational loans are inevitable, it becomes an important family decision to determine which institutions are actually worth the debt incurred. Equally important is the institution’s likelihood of its students graduating.
Higher education institutions that do not provide its students and graduates with requisite skills and knowledge become money pits that lead to deeper debt and likely loan defaults.
New research by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) analyzed student debt on a state-by-state basis. An interactive map of CRL’s findings reveal on a state basis each of the 50 states’ total undergraduate population, for-profit enrollment, and the top for-profit schools by enrollment for both four-year and two-year institutions.
Entitled “The State of For-Profit Colleges,” the report concludes that investing in a for-profit education is almost always a risky proposition. Undergraduate borrowing by state showed that the percentage of students that borrow from the federal government generally ranged between 40 to 60 percent for public colleges, compared to 50 to 80 percent at for-profit institutions.
Additionally, both public and private, not-for-profit institutions, on average, lead to better results at a lower cost of debt, better earnings following graduation, and the fewest loan defaults.
“In many cases, for-profit students are nontraditional students, making sacrifices and struggling to manage family and work obligations to make better lives for their families,” noted Robin Howarth, a CRL senior researcher. “For-profit colleges target them with aggressive marketing, persuading them to invest heavily in futures that will never come to pass.”
CRL also found that women and Blacks suffer disparate impacts, particularly at for-profit institutions, where they are disproportionately enrolled in most states.
For example, enrollment at Mississippi’s for-profit colleges was 78 percent female and nearly 66 percent Black. Other states with high Black enrollment at for-profits included Georgia (57 percent), Louisiana (55 percent), Maryland (58 percent) and North Carolina (54 percent).
Focus group interviews further substantiated these figures, and recounted poignant, real life experiences.
Brianna, a 31-year-old Black female completed a Medical Assistant (MA) certificate at the now-defunct Everest University. Once she completed her MA certificate and passed the certification test, she found she could only find a job in her field of study that paid $12 per hour, much less than the $35,000-$45,000 salary that Everest told her would be her starting salary as a medical assistant.
She was also left with $21,000 in student debt. As a result, she has struggled since matriculation with low credit scores and cramped housing conditions for herself and three children. For her, public schools, according to Brianna, are “better in the long run” due to their lower cost despite having more requirements for attendance.