By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Every couple of years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress releases a short-term snapshot of how students fare in science, civics or other subjects.
But it doesn't quite answer the big question: How are students really doing?
That's the job of a report released Thursday, "The Nation's Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012." It's an assessment released every four years that tracks U.S. students' performance in reading and math since the 1970s. The 2012 assessment included more than 50,000 students from public and private schools. It tracks them at ages 9, 13 and 17, regardless of grade level, and compares their performance using tests - mostly multiple-choice questions - that take about an hour to complete.
Here are five things to know about academic progress since the 1970s, according to the 2012 report.
9-year-olds and 13-year-olds outscore 1970s counterparts
Indeed, those kids scored higher in reading and math. In reading, 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds improved at every level, so even the lowest-performing kids now are ahead of the lowest-performing kids then. In fact, kids in the low and middle range showed the greatest gains.
17-year-olds? Not so much
Seventeen-year-old students aren't scoring better in reading and math, but their scores aren't falling, either. In reading, the lowest-performing 17-year-olds made gains since the 1970s, as did lower- and middle-performing 17-year-olds in math. But scores overall are about the same as in the early 1970s - and that might not be all bad. In a conference call with reporters, Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics' assessment division, pointed out that there are far fewer dropouts than in the 1970s; even with more kids in school, performance has remained steady.
By Julia Duin, Special to CNN
(CNN) – In Maryland, a group of students ponder which depiction of the Nativity shows true beauty: A 14th-century Giotto, a 16th-century Barocci or a 20th-century William Congdon. The students are in seventh grade.
Outside Houston, second-graders learn Latin amid the Doric columns, Romanesque arches and the golden Renaissance hues of a gracious brick building.
And in West Tennessee, a first-grade classroom lists virtues - reverence, discipline, diligence and loving kindness - along with Aristotle's "four questions," a simplified version of the Greek philosopher's four causes.
The students attend some of several hundred “classical” schools around the country - institutions designed to reflect the scholarship from the past three millennia of Western civilization, rather than the latest classroom trends.
Classical schools are less concerned about whether students can handle iPads than if they grasp Plato. They generally aim to cultivate wisdom and virtue through teaching students Latin, exposing them to great books of Western civilization and focusing on appreciation of "truth, goodness and beauty." Students are typically held to strict behavioral standards in terms of conduct and politeness, and given examples of characters from history to copy, ranging from the Roman nobleman Cincinnatus to St. Augustine of Hippo.
Parents like them, too; the number of classical schools - public and private - is growing. The curriculum has helped to boost enrollment at religious schools and inspired new public schools.
(CNN) - What makes the United States "so mediocre when it comes to education?"
When that loaded question was posed to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, he said he thinks it's because both parents are working - "mom is in the workplace." ("It's not a bad thing," he added after making his initial point.)
What do you think of Bryant's response? What changes in education have you noticed as more women entered the workforce? Share your thoughts in the comments.
By Brad Lendon, CNN
(CNN) - Schools must give students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular athletics, including varsity sports, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday. And if existing sports don't meet the needs of those students, schools must create additional athletic programs.
Some advocates compared the move to Title IX, the 1972 amendment that mandated gender equity in education and sports programs at schools receiving federal funds. The department’s Office for Civil Rights pointed to a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office that said disabled students were not getting equal opportunities to participate in sports, a right they were granted under the Rehabilitation Act, passed in 1973.
Denying disabled students’ participation meant that they “may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits” of playing sports, the education department said in a statement Friday.
“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in the statement accompanying the guidelines.
Examples of the kinds of accommodations the department is seeking included offering a visual cue, along with a starter pistol, to allow deaf students to participate in track races or allowing a one-hand touch to end swimming races, rather than a two-hand touch, which would allow students with only one arm to participate.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - "America's young people stand last in line for jobs."
That's the warning from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charity that aims to assist underprivileged children in the U.S. The organization recently released a report that says youth employment is at its lowest level since the second World War.
The foundation says that only about half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 had jobs in 2011. And when you look at the numbers for the teenagers in that group, 25% percent of them were employed last year - a significant drop from the year 2000, when 46% of teenagers had jobs.
The lingering effects of the Great Recession are largely to blame here. Entry-level jobs at restaurants and clothing retailers have increasingly gone to more experienced, more qualified workers, according to the study. This has left young people without a paycheck and without the workplace experience that could help them later in their careers.
It also places a burden on taxpayers, as the federal and local governments spend more to support young, unemployed workers.
The foundation lists a number of recommendations for addressing the issue. You can view the full report here.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - During the average school day, teachers are with children as many waking hours as parents are. But many educators believe there’s a short in the communication lines between themselves and parents. When asked what they’d want parents to know about education, not all of the teachers we spoke to wished to be named - but they did share many common concerns from the classroom.
1. We're on the same team
First and foremost, teachers want students to thrive in the classroom, and they could use your help.
Jennifer Bell, a 7th grade social studies teacher in Tennessee, suggests that parents do all they can to ensure that students are doing their homework, exercising, eating well and sleeping. Whether students come to class tired or ready to learn can hinge on parents’ involvement. “We need their support,” she says. “We can’t do this on our own.”
In the words of an elementary school teacher from Georgia, “We are professionals. Teaching children is our area of expertise. Your child benefits more when you support me.”
And while educators expect students to make mistakes, Mississippi teacher Beth Wilbanks Smith asks parents to help them learn from those mistakes. “They will grow to be productive citizens if we all work as a unified force,” she writes.
By Tomeka Jones, CNN
(CNN) - Dozens of faith leaders from across the country recently gathered to attend The Stand Up Education Policy Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, to talk education reform. The daylong conference was hosted by education organzations StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee and Stand Up, led by her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The purpose of the event was a call for action for clergy to take part in the national movement to transform public education.
CNN spoke with some prominent religious leaders in the African-American community to find out their views on the role faith institutions should play in public education.
Rev. DeForest Soaries, Jr., a senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, laid out what he believes are three roles of the church in education.
"One is programs. Some churches have their own schools that would be on the programmatic level, after school programs and literacy programs. The second is political dealings with the various political forces that impact and control public schools: Making sure people run for school board, making sure people vote for school board, and monitor what's happening. And, the third is policy: Advocating for policies that enhance the likelihood of success."
According to Rev. Soaries, who was featured in CNN’s "Black in America: Almighty Debt", not every church will engage in all three roles but there’s a common theme for each religious institution and that is “to do something.”
By William H. Schmidt, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William H. Schmidt is a university distinguished professor at Michigan State University. He serves as co director of the Education Policy Center, co-director of the U.S. China Center for Research and holds faculty appointments in statistics and education. He has co-written eight books, including “Why Schools Matter,” “Teacher Education Matters” and his latest book, “Inequality for All.”
Myths have a powerful ability to shape our understanding of the world, sometimes for the worse. There are three myths about schooling in America that have distorted how we view education and compromised our efforts to improve it. Dispelling these myths is the critical first step to ensuring that children learn the content, skills, problem-solving and reasoning abilities essential for today’s world.
Myth No. 1: Everyone has an equal chance to succeed in school.
Americans see our country as the land of opportunity, where with hard work anyone can succeed in life. Education has always been one of the key parts of this idea, providing a “level playing field” so students from every walk of life can go to school, work hard and make something of themselves.
I absolutely agree that education should serve this role, and I wish that today’s system managed to live up to this fundamental responsibility. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The sad truth is that schooling in America is like a game of chance where the opportunities are arbitrarily determined by where a student lives, the school they are assigned to, the teacher they have or the textbook they’re given.
If you’ve been following debates about education, you’re probably aware that there are big inequities in how much money schools get, how good the teachers are and the kinds of skills children have when they first arrive at school. What doesn’t get very much attention is what I call equality of opportunity to learn, which is just another way of saying that every student should have the chance to learn challenging content.
It’s a simple idea with profound consequences. Whatever the resources, the quality of teachers, or the talent of students, if children are never exposed to strong mathematics (for example), how can they be expected to learn it? If they learn about a topic years after their peers, how are they ever supposed to catch up? Well, the fact is they don’t. Two children could go to the same school and are in the same grade, are both enrolled in a class called “Algebra I” and even have the same textbook, but one could be learning algebra and the other could be learning basic arithmetic.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
(CNN) - Latino student populations have been on an upward trajectory in the U.S. for decades, and a report released Monday says the group’s growth reached record levels last year, both in public schools and colleges.
The number of 18- to 24-year-old Latinos in college topped 2 million in 2011, accounting for 16.5% of all enrollments, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The number means Latino representation in U.S. colleges and universities is on par with the percentage of Latinos among the U.S. population, also 16.5%.
Record numbers of Latinos are also finishing college, with 112,000 earning associate degrees and 140,000 earning bachelor’s degrees. Pew states both statistics are new highs, yet Latinos still lag behind whites (1.2 million bachelor’s degrees and 553,000 associates) and blacks (165,000 bachelor’s and 114,000 associates) in degree attainment.
“Some of the growth in Hispanic college enrollments simply reflects continued growth in the nation’s Hispanic population - since 1972, the number of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds has grown nearly five-fold, rising from 1.3 million then to 6 million in 2011,” the report said.
However, population alone cannot explain the numbers, as eligibility to attend college also is a factor. In 2011, 76% of Latinos age 18 to 24 had completed high school, another record and a 3.5% improvement over 2010 numbers.
At the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade level, Latinos made up 23.9% of students in 2011, another record, according to the report from the nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) – At a time when test scores are used to determine everything from district funding to whether schools can stay open, they’re taking on even broader meaning in Ohio.
Gov. John Kasich has signed legislation that will partially link scores to what teachers are paid.
In Ohio – and many other states throughout the country – teachers have traditionally been evaluated by observers who’ve determined whether the instructors are satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
Evaluations will continue to play a role in Ohio. But by the 2013-14 school year, Ohio public school districts will be giving each teacher a grade, and half of that grade will be based on how much students learn, gauged by their test scores.
Decisions about salary, which teachers to promote, and which ones to fire will be based on these results. Teachers’ seniority will take a back seat in the new policy, and all but the top teachers in the state will be evaluated every year.
There are several reasons for the changes. One lies in the state budget, which specifies that student academic growth must determine at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
Another is the federal government’s Race to the Top program. In order to receive funds from it, Ohio is one of several states that have promised to find ways to measure and prove students’ academic growth.
A third reason is that Ohio is one of a majority of states that have gotten an Obama administration waiver from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law. In order to do that, the state has had to devise more detailed evaluations for teachers and base personnel decisions on them.
Some observers point out that the new Ohio law could still be changed or watered down before it goes into effect.
What’s wrong with America’s school system? Tell us here.