In The New November 2011

The Forum on the Future of Public Education - College of Education at Illinois

column graphic

Forum Research Topics

College and Career Readiness
Collegiate Outcomes Assessment
Public Expectations
School Choice
Underrepresented Undergraduates in STEM

The Forum on the Future of Public Education draws on a network of premier scholars at the University of Illinois and beyond to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions in educational policy. The Forum pursues original research projects and facilitates collaboration between researchers and policymakers to examine the pressing issues shaping the future of public education.

Education Policy in the News is edited by Forum associates Collin Ruud, Jason Taylor, and Matthew Linick. If you have any questions or comments about the newsletter, email Dr. Debra Bragg at

New Ratings Push Teacher Preparation Programs to Center Stage
By Jason Taylor and Nora Gannon-Slater

A national conversation about teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education has been prominent since NCLB, but this conversation was recently thrust in the spotlight with an announcement by U.S. News & World Report and the National Council for Teacher Quality(NCTQ). These two organizations reported that they would soon develop and disseminate ratings of teacher preparation programs nationwide. U.S. News & World Report is known for its annual ranking  of higher education institutions and the NCTQ already publishes an annual yearbook for participating states that reviews samples of teacher preparation programs and serves unions and districts nationwide in researching current teacher evaluation systems. The national ratings, which will be released in fall 2012, are focused on the quality of college and university teacher education programs. The ratings are based on a set of indicators and standards that include reviews of program selectivity, curriculum content, and attention to students with specific needs (e.g., English language learners). The teacher outcomes were developed in consultation with an expert review panel and piloted in two states, Illinois and Texas. Teacher education programs will receive a grade on an A to F scale based on the indicators and standards. The methodology used by U.S. News and NCTQ, however, has received much criticism by states and institutions who are declining to participate. It is also not clear how the results of these ratings are intended to be used by the states and institutions under review.

Parallel to this conversation, in September, the Obama Administration recently released a plan to reform teacher education titled, “Our Future, Our Teachers: The Obama Administration’s Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement” (see video).  The plan includes three primary elements: a) institutional reporting and state accountability; b) reform of financing of students preparing to become teachers; and c) target support to institutions that prepare quality teachers from diverse backgrounds. Also included in this plan is a focus on identifying and closing low-performing programs. The plan has been received in a favorable way by some organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, but others such as the American Federation of Teachers has criticized the proposal for using graduate’s standardized test scores as a primary measure of teacher preparation program effectiveness. Given the central focus on accountability across the P-20 educational spectrum in the context of declining student performance, it is likely the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs will continue to be a critical policy issue at the national and state levels, and a primary focus of institutions of higher education.


High School Graduation Rates Sink under New Federal Formula
By Jason Swanson

Many state education leaders released their annual report cards last week, which document high school graduation rates.  Public school educators with sharply lower graduation rates braced for possible sanctions, under the new federal guidelines. Under the previous formula, educators would divide the number of high school graduates in a given year by the number of first-time ninth-graders for earlier years and calculate a percentage.  However, under the new formula first-time ninth-graders are tracked as a cohort and must graduate four years later to be counted as high school graduates. Guidelines allow for including summer graduations, and Illinois is one state that chose to include summer graduations.  

According to the Huffington Post, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan argues: "Through this uniform method, states are raising the bar on data standards, and simply being more honest." Advocates for the new federal formula believe public school educators were misrepresenting graduation rates to bolster their school’s image or to comply with NCLB.  On the other hand, public school administrators argue the new guidelines disproportionately affect school districts with a highly mobile population of transfer students.  For some educational administrators, in the past, mobile students did not factor as heavily into the final graduation rates.  Alexi Ruiz-Alessi, assistant superintendent of education reform at Azusa Unified (California) notes: "Because of economic factors effecting everyone in the country, we have seen a tremendous amount of transiency and mobility. So when someone moves, we have to report where they went ... a student could move to a different school, and if we cannot get an accurate read of where they landed, we get assigned them as a dropout.”

With the new formula based on cohort data, some school districts do not have the infrastructure to follow transfer students to their new school district and as a result, will have lower graduation rates.  However, in many states, administrators will be able to follow students by assigning each student an identification number and by enrolling them in a soon-to-be-built interstate intranet data system. 

In light of the debate over the new formula, the new figures in many states, particularly in large urban school districts, are bleak.  For example, the graduation rate in Kansas tumbled from 89% to 80%. Michigan experienced a drop of 10% and Georgia is expected to have a drop near 15%.  Large urban school districts in Ohio were hit particularly hard: rates in Dayton dropped from 84% to 59% and in Cincinnati from 82% to 62%.   Three quarters of high schools in Illinois experienced a decline. In Illinois, a high school that showed one of the sharpest declines is North Chicago Community High School where the graduation rate declined from 90% under the old formula to 50% under the new formula.


NAEP Results Continue National Pattern of Increased Math and Flat Reading Scores
By Matt Linick

Earlier this month new test data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) were released. Referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” the new release of data has inspired a variety of responses from educational experts, bloggers, and media outlets. The NAEP is offered in math and reading at the 4th and 8th grade levels. According to Education Week, nationally students performed slightly better in mathematics, but scores in reading were mixed as 4th grade students performed at the same level as two years ago. These results are part of a trend that has developed over recent decades, with scores in mathematics steadily increasing while reading scores remain stagnant. In a recent press release, David P. Driscoll, of the National Assessment Governing Board, stated:
In 1990, just 13 percent of fourth graders nationwide reached the Proficient achievement level in math. This year 40 percent reached Proficient…. There have been major gains over the past two decades in eighth-grade math as well—from 15 percent to 35 percent reaching the Proficient achievement level, and a 21-point rise in the national average…. Unfortunately, the gains over two decades in NAEP reading have been quite small—just 5 points in the percentage of students at or above Proficient at both fourth and eighth grades, compared to a gain of 20 and 27 percentage points at or above Proficient in NAEP math (press release).

The performance of individual states was more mixed. Texas saw a one-point drop in Grade 4 reading and a small increase in other subjects overall, but saw very large increases in African-American and Hispanic Grade 8 mathematics. Arizona had reason to celebrate as the state saw increases in Grades 4 and 8 in both math and reading, in addition, Arizona students showed a greater increase in Grade 4 math than any other state. New York, on the other hand, worked against the national trend and dropped significantly in Grade 4 math; New York also showed no change in the other three tests. The poor test scores caused New York State Educational Commissioner to state that the results were “disappointing and unacceptable.”


The Forum would like to welcome two new staff writers to its online newsletter this month. They are Nora Gannon-Slater, a PhD student in Educational Psychology (QUERIES division) who studies educational research and evaluation, and Jason Swanson, PhD candidate in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (Educational Leadership) who studies the intersection of leadership of social justice and dialogue. These professionals join Matt Linick, PhD student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (Educational Policy Studies) who studies the ways the competitive pressures of charter schools impact instructional appropriations at traditional public school districts, and Jason Taylor, PhD student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (Higher Education) who studies the impact of dual credit on educational outcomes.

The Forum Director, Debra Bragg, can be reached at


Want to recommend Education Policy in the News to a friend or colleague? They can subscribe at this link: 


You can unsubscribe from Education Policy in the News here:



The Forum on the Future of Public Education
College of Education - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
129 Children's Research Center
51 Gerty Drive, Champaign, IL 61820
phone: (217) 244-9390 | fax: (217) 244-0851