Higher Education News
The story of rebirth in New Orleans’ schools since Hurricane Katrina is one of nationally historic significance – but as is true of the city’s recovery, it is a profoundly unfinished story.
As residents of the area know too well, the devastation of the hurricane wasn’t merely an accident of weather and geography. As others have observed, the abandonment of New Orleans’ people began not when they were calling for help from their rooftops, amid sudden national attention, but throughout decades leading up to that moment.
The same can be said for New Orleans’ schools. It is a painful understatement to say that students and families deserved better than what they had in 2005. Math and reading achievement at Orleans Parish public schools ranked second-to-last in the state. Barely half of high school students graduated on time. For low-income and minority students, prospects were particularly bleak.
After the flood subsided, the New Orleans community courageously set out to break with the past and build a set of schools worthy of the city’s children. They dedicated themselves to creating schools that honored the city’s rich traditions and history, and prepares every student for college and the careers of today’s world.
The story of change since then offers lessons that educators everywhere cannot afford to ignore. To the enormous credit of the city’s educators, families, students and leaders, New Orleans has made strides rarely seen in this country. Graduation rates are up 19 percentage points since the hurricane. The “failing schools” label is nearly gone. Expulsions are down nearly 14 percent, amid a new push for restorative justice practices – which aim to develop reflection, communication and empathy. And, as former Louisiana senator and New Orleans native Mary Landrieu noted in a recent commentary, “most importantly, African American students in New Orleans have gone from the lowest performing in the state in 2004 to 5 points above the state average for all African American students today.” New Orleanians should be proud of what they have accomplished.
As I’ve visited the city in recent years, I’ve seen the rebirth firsthand. Buildings damaged beyond repair have been replaced by bright, colorful, creative learning spaces. From chef’s kitchens and school gardens to Advanced Placement robotics courses, schools are making learning real for students.
Despite the massive, painful impact of the hurricane on families and educators, the community is making rebirth a reality.
Yet, as Senator Landrieu writes, we must not confuse progress with success. Similarly, my friend Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, said the decade anniversary of Katrina must be a moment of taking stock, saying, “Give yourself some check marks and then, on the other side of the paper, say ‘Here are some things we really have to confront as a city.'”
Things like the fact that success is not equally shared for all children. Today, 18 percent of all youth aged 16-24 in New Orleans are neither working nor in school. That’s more than 26,000 young people. Only two other metropolitan areas – Memphis and Las Vegas – have higher percentages.
Educational opportunity has improved enormously, but is still not nearly consistent enough. And teachers have told me that, despite the years and the progress, they still contend with students’ trauma of disaster and dislocation.
What gives me enormous heart about what’s happening in New Orleans is the unflagging spirit of educators, families and leaders to continue to make changes to build the schools their students deserve.
Take, for example, Sabrina Pence, principal of Arthur Ashe Charter School. Ashe once had the lowest fourth-grade scores in the city. The school was under academic watch.
But Sabrina knew kids at Ashe could succeed. Today, the students at Ashe learn like never before. Sabrina implemented personalized learning projects, using technology to customize lessons for individual students and raise achievement for all. With computer-assisted instruction at work in their classrooms, teachers have information about student progress at their fingertips, so they can tailor future learning and assignments.
The hard work is starting to pay off: in 2012, the school boasted the Recovery School District’s highest eighth-grade math achievement. In 2013, Ashe had the District’s highest eighth-grade English achievement.
Likewise, in many schools, teachers are engaged as leaders working side-by-side with administrators, disseminating professional development resources to colleagues and even sharing bus routes.
Many teachers also are leading efforts in their schools to provide students with wraparound services, through partnerships with hospitals and nonprofit organizations. Responding to community feedback, education leaders are working to forge a common enrollment process to ensure that it becomes a more transparent and simpler experience for families in both charter and district schools, and the District and individual public charter schools are beginning to rethink discipline strategies.
These efforts, and many others, are needed to ensure that every student and family has access to strong schools.
As New Orleans’ schools and leaders move forward with innovative and exciting new models, they must not lose touch with the city’s communities and history. For every inspiring school leader that has emerged, there also are stories of teachers who were displaced after Hurricane Katrina; and thousands of teachers – more than half of whom were African-American – lost their jobs in the aftermath of the storm and amid the District’s restructuring.
It’s vital for the city’s educators to reflect the backgrounds of the students they teach, and it’s encouraging that the city’s teaching force is demonstrating diversity. It’s also critical for teachers and school leaders to forge strong connections with the community and to provide children with culturally responsive learning experiences that help them see how their education can prepare them to succeed in New Orleans and beyond.
As the people of New Orleans reflect on the last ten years, I join with them in remembering the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and in honoring the hard work that has made progress possible. Louisiana Superintendent John White got it right when he said the anniversary of the storm is not only about “how much New Orleans has improved life opportunity for its children, but also how much is left to be done.”
The promise of New Orleans is in the potential of its children and the indestructible spirit of the community. I thank everyone who supports and nurtures New Orleans’ rebirth, every day.
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education
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Have student loans? You’ve probably seen social media ads, received emails, or even opened a piece of mail from companies promising to reduce your monthly loan payments or cancel your loans.
But here’s the catch. These companies are doing something you can do yourself, but they’ll charge you a fee.
The U.S. Department of Education provides FREE assistance to help you:
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Help get the word out, and help protect your friends and family from student loan scams. Watch and share the video below, and visit studentloans.gov/repay to learn more.
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Even though the colleges kicked in more grant aid, only about half of them were able to bring in more freshmen than the year before, according to an annual survey.
Keeping the students can require tutoring, help with financial aid, and emotional support.
Appealing to potential applicants is colleges’ No. 1 goal in an era of digital recruitment.
As increasingly more apps and digital tools for education become available, families and teachers are rightly asking how they can know if an app actually lives up to the claims made by its creators. The field of educational technology changes rapidly with apps launched daily; app creators often claim that their technologies are effective when there is no high-quality evidence to support these claims. Every app sounds world-changing in its app store description, but how do we know if an app really makes a difference for teaching and learning?
In the past, we’ve used traditional multi-year, one-shot research studies. These studies go something like this: one group of students gets to use the app (treatment group) while another group of students doesn’t (control group). Other variables are controlled for as best as possible. After a year or so, both groups of students are tested and compared. If the group that used the app did better on the assessment than the group that didn’t, we know with some degree of confidence that the app makes a difference. This traditional approach is appropriate in many circumstances, but just does not work well in the rapidly changing world of educational technology for a variety of reasons.
1) Takes too long
Waiting as long as two years to know whether or not an app helps students learn is simply too long — apps are often updated on a weekly or monthly basis as new features are added, bugs are fixed, and user feedback is implemented. The app measured at the start of a traditional multi-year study may be a completely different app by the time the study is finished, making the results of the study irrelevant.
2) Costs too much and can’t keep up
The complete development costs for many educational apps are a fraction of the cost for conducting traditional educational research studies. It wouldn’t be economically feasible for most app creators (or schools) to spend $250k (a low price tag for traditional educational research) to evaluate the effectiveness of an app that only cost a total of $50k to build. Even if cost was not an issue, there is also a logistical problem with applying traditional research methods to evaluating educational apps; traditional research methods simply can’t keep up with the ever increasing number of apps.
3) Not iterative
Traditional research approaches often make a single estimate of effectiveness; the treatment either worked or it didn’t. But apps aren’t static interventions. Apps are built iteratively — over time functionality is added or modified. A research approach that studies apps should also cycle with the design iterations of the app and show whether an app is improving over time. Similarly, snapshot data often doesn’t fully capture the context of an app’s implementation over a period of time.
4) Different purpose
Traditional research approaches are useful in demonstrating causal connections. Rapid cycle tech evaluations have a different purpose. Most school leaders, for example, don’t require absolute certainty that an app is the key factor for improving student achievement. Instead, they want to know if an app is likely to work with their students and teachers. If a tool’s use is limited to an after-school program, for example, the evaluation could be adjusted to meet this more targeted need in these cases. The collection of some evidence is better than no evidence and definitely better than an over-reliance on the opinions of a small group of peers or well-designed marketing materials.
The important questions to be asked of an app or tool are: does it work? with whom? and in what circumstances? Some tools work better with different populations; educators want to know if a study included students and schools similar to their own to know if the tool will likely work in their situations.Why now?
There is a pressing need for low-cost, quick turnaround evaluations. Two years ago the President announced the ConnectED Initiative which called on public and private sectors alike to work together to improve internet connectivity to schools across the country. Today, thanks to wide bipartisan and cross-sector support, significant funding is becoming available to help schools close the connectivity gap. This includes a one-time $2 billion investment by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase wifi in classrooms, a yearly $1.5 billion increase in the FCC’s E-Rate program, and an additional $2 billion in private sector contributions.
As a result, over the next two years, we will go from having roughly 30% of schools connected to wifi in the classroom to having nearly all students in classrooms with high-speed wifi. This is a monumental step forward and has the potential to be one of the most transformative moments in American education. This new infrastructure has the potential to bring amazing real-world learning experiences to the classroom. It has the potential to close long-standing equity gaps that other approaches haven’t been able to address. It has the ability to personalize learning for all students and engage parents along the way. But our ability to realize this potential depends largely on the availability of effective apps that support this transformation. Over the next two years educators and parents will be making a huge number of decisions about which apps to use with kids. They need to make good decisions based on evidence, as opposed to relying on marketing hype or the buzz among a small group of peers, is critical.
And let’s be clear, this is bigger than just knowing whether apps improve student academic performance. Many apps claim to reduce teacher time spent on administrative tasks, for examples, or increase parent engagement, or encourage collaboration among students. These are equally important data points that parents and educators alike should know when choosing which apps to present to their students.What are we doing about it?
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Rapid-Cycle Technology Evaluations. We’re looking for innovative approaches to evaluating educational apps to assist schools and parents make evidence-based decisions when choosing which apps to use with their students.
The project is also intended to design evaluation tools and training materials to support the field in conducting rapid cycle technology evaluations. Evaluation tools may include templates for use in establishing clear expectations for all participants, protocols for best practices, applications (for developers or educators) to participate in study, surveys, checklists, or quality assurance materials. Training materials may include resources for pre-, during and post-study such as self-assessments for participating educators (to indicate readiness for study), technical training, resources for developers on working with schools, and how to interpret study results. While the evaluation of a specific tool is the focus of this work, building capacity among participants is an important expected outcome.
The product evaluations supported by this contract are meant to demonstrate whether certain types of studies — for examples, studies that look at effects on outcomes but do not try to explain the mechanism by which any effect occurred, and/or studies that use administrative data — can be conducted rapidly enough to meet the need of educators for information about effectiveness of technology in this fast-changing landscape. All of these factors are increasing the need to identify what’s working and what’s not more efficiently and more effectively.
This project will establish a standard for low-cost, quick turnaround evaluations of apps, and field test rapid-cycle evaluations. In addition to generating evidence on specific apps, the project will help develop protocols for conducting rapid cycle evaluations of apps that practitioners, developers, and researchers can use beyond the scope of this evaluation.
This work follows on the guide released on 2013, Expanding Evidence, which calls for smart change by presenting educators, policymakers, and funders with an expanded view of evidence approaches and sources of data that can help them with decision-making about learning resources.
To learn more, or to submit a proposal, go here.
We need to help schools and families make the best use of their resources — both time and money. School and family budgets aren’t likely to increase significantly and the total hours of the day remain the same. Technology has the power to support the transformation of teaching and learning, but only when we know what works. By employing rapid-cycle approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of educational apps, we can make choices about which apps we use based on evidence, not hype.
Richard Culatta and Katrina Stevens work in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.