Can our fourth-graders name two rights of U.S. citizens? Can our eighth-graders make sense of a graph on voting patterns? And can our high school seniors relate the “melting pot” to U.S. history?
New 2010 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress paints a mixed picture of school achievement in civics. The good news: Among fourth-graders, scores climbed overall. Since 1998, achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and between Hispanics and whites narrowed slightly.
Much of the nation’s debate about education reform has focused on accountability and standards, with an emphasis on improving student competency in math and reading. Critics fault this emphasis for squeezing out studies in other subjects such as civics. Yet without reading, kids don’t have a chance at mastering content. At the same time, exposure to a rich array of subject matter, including civics, strengthens students’ reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. That interplay could very well explain the civics gains seen among fourth-graders.
The Federal Pell Grant Program enables millions of students to attain their college dreams every year. These individuals include Erin Way of Virginia, whose father lost his job while she was in high school. Thanks to her Pell Grant, Erin managed to attend college anyway. She eventually went on to earn a Ph.D.
If the U.S. Senate approves the budget passed by the U.S. House of Representatives recently, it will shatter the dreams of promising young people like Erin. That budget slashes the maximum Pell Grant from $5,550 to $3,040 and puts these grants completely out of reach for 1.4 million students.
Until now, the fight to protect students from exploitative practices at for-profit college companies has mostly taken place in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. Earlier this week, however, 10 state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice joined the fray. Led by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, the states announced a joint investigation into misleading recruiting practices, specifically related to the collection of financial-aid money.
The Maryland legislature voted recently to extend in-state college tuition discounts to undocumented immigrants. While not yet the national DREAM act so many of us hope and advocate for, it is a step in the right direction. Opponents of the bill, however, are “angry” and “fearful” like never before. Or so we are told by Maryland State Rep. Patrick L.
The swift, strong reaction of thousands of citizens across the country to ruthless cuts the U.S. House of Representatives made to the Pell Grant Program in its 2012 budget bill appears to be getting the attention of key Senate leaders. But this is no time to let up. More action will be needed in the coming weeks to protect Pell and the opportunity that it offers to millions of Americans.
It’s been reported that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has identified Pell as a key issue for Democratic Senators seeking re-election in 2012.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (D-Texas) has no doubt also sensed the power of the issue and the advocacy effort behind it. The chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, he recently voiced his support for Pell. “I certainly think we ought to make Pell Grants a priority, but I tell you, everybody is going to have to share a little bit of pain probably to deal with the cuts that are going to have to be made at the federal level,” he said.
In statehouses around the country, lawmakers are taking bold steps to improve the effectiveness of our classroom teachers. Ohio, Indiana and Illinois are three of the most recent states to pass legislation that could raise teacher quality. The Ohio and Indiana bills improve systems for evaluating teachers and link teacher pay directly to performance. The Illinois bill ends teacher layoffs based solely on seniority and connects tenure for teachers to their evaluation ratings.
However, all of this legislation is missing a crucial piece: ensuring that performance management, compensation, and staffing systems give all students fair access to effective teachers.
“Stuck Schools Revisited,” a new report from The Education Trust, takes readers beneath the averages to examine the performance of minority and low-income students in schools that, on the surface, often look just fine. The analysis reveals what many educators and parents already know: “high performing” schools aren’t always high performing for all groups of students. Although some schools that started out behind for a particular subgroup make substantial gains for these students, others don’t improve at all.
Brooke Layton is a living testament to the power of the Pell Grant Program. Now a research assistant/coordinator working on artificial intelligence with a Florida research institute, Layton grew up in rural Alabama, the daughter of an iron worker and a daycare provider.
“Without Pell Grants, I would not be where I am today, working in a cutting-edge robotics lab with the best engineers in the world,” she said in comments e-mailed to a petition drive to protect Pell funding. The petition is part of an online campaign, led by The Education Trust, to prevent devastating Pell cuts passed in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the FY 2012 budget from also winning in the Senate.