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The Road Ahead: Improving Public Education One Step at a Time

August 25, 2010

The education reform process is all about steps. Reformers started by aiming to increase graduation rates; high schools around the country have been making a concerted effort to meet this goal. This effort was highlighted in the recent New York Times article, “Schools are Given a Grade on How Graduates do,” in which Jennifer Medina reports that schools in New York City have increased their graduation rates from 47% in 2005 to 59% in 2010. Yet, Medina also reports that, “At a third of the city’s 250 high schools, at least 70 percent of the graduates who went on to SUNY needed remedial help.” Given this statistic, school reformers in New York City have attempted to improve the quality of public education by providing high schools with feedback on how their graduates are faring in college. By compiling the relevant data, the New York City school system will begin to be able to help its high schools adequately prepare students for college. Other school systems around the country are following suit.

At the same time, many states are adopting common core standards. Public schools are putting these measures into place to ensure that their students have attained a basic level of essential knowledge by the time they graduate.

However, while the efforts that are now being made to improve public schools are necessary, they are not sufficient. Graduation from high school does not automatically mean that a student is college or career ready. And simply providing feedback on student performance in college is not enough to ensure students’ academic success in high school; the school must also know how to use this information effectively. Likewise, adopting the common core standards does not guarantee that a high school is adequately prepared to help its students reach these standards.

Now that schools have implemented quality standards and measures of academic achievement, the subsequent step is to supply schools and teachers with the necessary tools, strategies, and support they need to ensure their students are able to live up to these standards. This is where professional development and after-school programs come into play.

Currently, the short, episodic, and disconnected professional development programs in public schools across the country are ineffective at improving teacher quality and student achievement. Fewer than half of the teachers polled by the National School Development Council (NSDC) found their professional development programs to be useful. Long-term, intensive professional development training programs, such as those used in most European and Asian countries, need to be developed in the United States in order to bring about significant student achievement gains; high quality experimental studies done by NSDC found that student achievement increased by 21 percentage points when teachers got at least 49 hours of professional development over 6-12 months.

After-school programs improve students’ academic achievement both directly, by supporting students with their schoolwork, and indirectly, by decreasing juvenile delinquency. Right now, 15.1 million children have to take care of themselves when they come home from school; the hours between 3-6 pm are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs.  A study done by the After School Association (ASA) found that students who don’t participate in after-school programs are three times more likely to use marijuana and other drugs; they are also more likely to drink and smoke, among other destructive activities.  Investing in after-school programs and keeping students on the right path outside of school will help students achieve a higher level of success in school. Studies done by ASA show that students who attend after-school programs improve their standardized reading scores by 45% and math scores by 41%.

Given these findings, the time is now for education reformers to take the next logical steps and make certain that students are learning the material necessary for them to take their own next steps.

– Samantha Abrams

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 3, 2010 9:31 am

    the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards -;*

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