Education Week - April 3, 2013 - (Page 22)

22 EDUCATION WEEK n APRIL 3, 2013 n COMMENTARY ▲ Assessing the Impact of New Science Standards By Arthur H. Camins N ew K-12 science learning standards soon will be released to the nation with great expectations. This is reason for both hope and concern. The National Research Council published “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” a visionary document designed to guide development of specific standards for use by teachers, districts, states, curriculum developers, and researchers, in July 2011. Subsequently, the bipartisan organization Achieve was commissioned to draft the Next Generation Science Standards, or ngss. Now, after two successive drafts and broad public and expert comment, the group is set to produce a final draft any day now. An impressive 26 states have contributed to this effort. Taken together, the framework and science standards have the potential to generate a wave of improvement, but only if we prevent their promise from crashing on the rocky shores of high-stakes, all-purpose testing. There are three reasons the framework and standards have the potential to generate great improvement. First, based on the earlier drafts, they would promote scientific thinking, which is the bedrock of informed democratic participation. Already, there is a choir singing in behalf of improved science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or stem, learning. The lyrics of their songs are all about preparing students for the demands of 21st-century jobs and enhancing U.S. competitiveness in the global mar- ketplace. These are vital goals. However, there is a broader and equally compelling goal for the standards. Specifically, their existence will emphasize that scientific practice is about building, testing, debating, and revising explanations about the natural world through evidence-based reasoning. The new standards should elevate the importance of scientific practices and make clear that the way students should learn and demonstrate their understanding of science is through their ability to use these practices. A central idea in science is that initial ideas, conjectures, and models should be made public and subject to verification and revision—with evidence as the arbiter. The prevalence of misrepresentation and illogic in the last election cycle and in public-policy decisionmaking, as well as the persistence of misinformation about critical issues such as climate change, suggest that schools have failed to inculcate evidence-based decisionmaking as a core value and skill. We are all the worse for that failure. The new science standards will offer one potential tool to help ease that failure. Second, the standards will elevate the importance of understanding the engineering design process. Why is it important for students to learn about engineering? Virtually everything we use to survive and thrive is engineered. Our food supply, clothing, housing, energy generation, health care, transportation, communication, education, and even leisure time are all engineered ... purposefully designed to solve problems with constraints and trade-offs in mind. Too often, the decisions that are made about each of these lack transparency and public scrutiny. Too often, such decisions “ The new standards should elevate the importance of scientific practices.” optimize design features that are not in the best interest of the wider public good. A broad understanding of engineering design and examination of the values that influence decisions should be an essential feature of every student’s education. Third, the next-generation standards will push at the boundaries of learning in two significant ways. They will build toward the most durable features of schooling: longterm memory and knowledge transfer—the ability to retrieve and apply skills and concepts to novel situations. They do so by carefully sequencing learning from novice to Do Charter Schools Serve Special-Needs Students? By Robin Lake & Alex Medler P olicymakers rightly want to know whether charter schools serve their fair share of students with disabilities. The fairest answer may surprise some people, however. In some cases, charter schools serve the same number of special-needs students as their regular public school peers; in others, as many have charged, charters serve fewer of these students. Certainly, there are elements of special education in the charter school sector that are problematic, but our organizations’ recent analysis of New York state’s special education enrollment illustrates why these challenges require a more sophisticated approach. As many people expected, a June 2012 Government Accountability Office report showed that charter schools nationally are serving fewer students with disabilities than traditional district-run schools. However, a later analysis of data from New York state, conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (where Robin serves as the director) and commissioned by the National Association of The Answer Is Complicated Charter School Authorizers (Alex’s organization), casts serious doubt on whether national, or even statewide, averages are the right numbers to guide policy. In the crpe study, which was released in November, the researchers found that in “ Any state-level uniform enrollment target is too simple a solution for the complex problems associated with special education enrollments and equal access.” New York (as in many other states) charter schools overall serve fewer students with special needs than regular district schools. In the average charter school in New York, about 14 percent of students have disabilities. In the average districtrun school, it’s 18 percent. Crpe then explored whether this trend holds at different grade levels, in different parts of the state, and under different authorizers. The results showed a much more complex picture, one that casts doubt on one-size-fits-all policy solutions like quotas or enrollment targets. At the middle and high school levels, for example, charter schools enroll students with special needs at rates almost identical to district schools’. It would be hard to argue that there is any systematic discrimination or exclusion occurring in these schools. crpe also found that, like district-run schools, charter schools in New York enroll both low and high numbers of students with special needs. About half the district schools in New York are serving a higherthan-average percentage of such students, while the other half serve a lower-thanaverage percentage. Like other public schools, charters offer a diverse array of supports, programs, and approaches— some of which may be more attractive to families with special needs. But for some reason, the same pattern does not hold with charter elementary schools, which serve a lower overall percentage of students with disabilities. This is particularly noteworthy because most of New York’s charter schools serve elementary grades. The fact that only charter elementary schools systematically enroll lower proportions of students with disabilities than their district-run counterparts calls into question whether discrimination drives that lower enrollment. We found no obvious reason to think that charter elementary leaders would be more likely to discriminate than charter middle and high school leaders. More research could eventually identify possible factors contributing to this pattern. With better knowledge, we could design solutions focused on what is actually going on. Are charter schools at lower grades less inclined to label kids as having a disability? Or are kids in charter schools less likely to need an individualized educational program (the federally mandated education plan for students identified as having a disability) because of early intervention? Or are specialized preschool programs and counseling services more likely to send students to designated feeder schools in districts? There are a number of possible explanations.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 3, 2013

Education Week - April 3, 2013
Test Rules Differ Between Groups for Special Ed.
Consortia Struggle With ELL Provisions
FOCUS ON: ASSOCIATIONS: Leadership Shifts in Changing Field
Safety Plan for Schools: No Guns
Access to Common Exams Probed
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Gaps Found in Access to Qualified Math Teachers
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: 3-D Printing Classes In a Virginia School Attract Global Visitors
Arizona Weighing ‘Performance Funding’ For Schools
L.A. ‘Incubator School’ to Teach Startup Tactics
Blogs of the Week
Cantor Raises Profile on Schooling Issues
Calif. Districts’ Waiver Bid Heads to Review Phase
Policy Brief
Congress Tweaks Special Education Funding Mandates
Marriage Arguments Hit Children’s Issues
ROBIN LAKE & ALEX MEDLER: Do Charter Schools Serve Special-Needs Students? The Answer Is Complicated
ARTHUR H. CAMINS: Assessing the Impact Of New Science Standards
LAURIE BARNOSKI: School Leaders: Make Sure Your Teachers Don’t Lose Heart
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment
DAVID BERNSTEIN: It’s Time to Mainstream Progressive Education

Education Week - April 3, 2013