The Year in Review (Part I): Schools’ Pursuit of Academic Achievement and Student Proficiency

Curriculum, Instruction, Intervention, and Equity

Dear Colleagues,


   It seems that every day this month, I’ve received yet another e-mail or Blog from a national educational organization, newsletter, or “edu-prognosticator” predicting or discussing what we need to prepare for in 2020. . . our next new decade!

   Being the contrarian that I am, I would like—instead—to devote my two Blogs this month to reviewing the “themes” that we have discussed this past year. . . so that we can improve the future (2020) by “learning from and not repeating the errors of past.”

   To this end, I have re-read all of my 2019 Blogs, organized them into themes or clusters, and prepared synopses that will hopefully prompt you to go back and read the originals as needed or desired.

   The themes, arranged in Part I (this Blog) and the forthcoming Part II (toward the end of December), are:

Part I

  • Equity in Education and Educational Funding
  • Improving Students’ Academic Achievement
  • Untested and Ineffective Practices: The U.S. Department of Education

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Part II

  • Concerns with the Trauma Sensitive School Movement
  • Improving School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management
  • The School Seclusion and Restraint Epidemic

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Equity in Education and Educational Funding

   The following Blogs addressed equity and educational funding in our schools today.  As usual, I reviewed a number of new national reports that addressed this issue, and then added my analysis, perspectives, and recommendations on the topic at-hand.

   If you CLICK on the date of the Blogs below, you will link directly to the Blog that is posted on my website (

April 27, 2019

Solving Student Crises in the Context of School Inequity: The Case for “Core-Plus District Funding” (Part I). When Schools Struggle with Struggling Students: “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

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May 18, 2019

The Journey toward Real School Equity: Students’ Needs Should Drive Student Services … and Funding (Part II). The Beginning of the Next School Year Starts Now: The “Get-Go Process”

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September 14, 2019

Inequities in the Distribution of School Funds to Individual Students Revisited: Required Transparency, ESEA/IDEA Funding Flexibility, and Multi-Tiered Efficacy. Reminding Schools of their Responsibilities and Possibilities

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November 23, 2019

Maybe It’s the (Lack of) Money that Explains the Relationship Between Black-White Achievement Gaps and Disproportionate Disciplinary Suspensions? Analyzing the Results of a New National Study: Why Some “Two-Dimensional Problems” Need “Three-Dimensional Thinking”

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Synopsis of these Blogs

   In the first two Spring Blogs above (Parts I and II), written near the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, I discussed the national issue and reality of how students and schools are inequitably funded relative to their students’ psychoeducational and multi-tiered academic and behavioral needs. 

   One of the “bottom lines” discussed was that:

While segregated educational facilities were deemed by the Supreme Court to be inherently unequal, the quality of instruction and the availability of resources and money in today’s schools—for many students from poverty and students of color—is unequal.

   Indeed, at the root of this statement was an April, 2019 Report by the Shanker Institute, The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems.  This Report demonstrated that there is a cumulative state education funding gap in this country of $23 billion per year favoring white over non-white districts—a gap that is experienced by approximately 12.8 million of our nation’s students.

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   In Part I of this Series, we provided data from a number of sources showing that high-poverty non-white schools in this country receive significantly less money per pupil each year than high-poverty white schools and middle or upper class dominated schools, respectfully.  While this involves approximately 12.8 million students—many of them attending schools in urban settings—this is a nationwide problem.

   Because of the financial inequity, these high-poverty schools have fewer resources than middle or upper class-dominant schools, and they are typically staffed by less experienced teachers who have more skill gaps, and who resign from their schools more often and after fewer years in-rank.  In addition, the students in these schools typically have less access to high level science, math, and advanced placement courses, and less access to needed multi-tiered academic and social, emotional, and behavioral services, supports, programs, and interventions. 

   Correlated with the poverty, many of these students exhibit health, mental health, academic, and social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, that also triangulate with stress and trauma—including the impact of hunger and poor nutrition, parental incarceration and loss, abuse and neglect, and the exposure to violence and drugs.

   From a school perspective, all of this translates into lower numbers of academically-proficient students, and schools that are either in their state’s ESEA-driven school improvement programs or that are rated at the low end of their state’s school report card scale.

   From a student perspective, all of this translates into negative effects on students’ school attendance and expectations, classroom engagement and motivation, academic readiness and proficiency, emotional self-control and prosocial interactions and, ultimately, their high school graduation and readiness for the workforce. 

   Part I ended with a plea for systemic changes relative to federal, state, and district funding policies, principles, and practices.  We recommended a  “Core-Plus Funding” process whereby all schools in a district receive the core funding needed for student success, but where the schools with additional or significant student needs receive, annually, the additional funds and resources needed for their success.

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   In Part II of this Series, we discussed a new report showing the impact of poverty and the importance of inequitable school funding, and revisited our Part I recommendation that districts and their school utilize a Core-Plus Funding process.

   Core-Plus Funding is when every school in a district receives the “Core” funding that it needs to implement a sound educational program for its students.  The “Plus” funding involves the additional funds that each school receives based on the intensity of the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral needs of its students.

  The new report was released on May 15, 2019 by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  The report was titled: Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be.

[CLICK HERE for this study]

   This study used data from a number of national longitudinal databases to investigate the impact of students’ socio-economic status in kindergarten on their college and career outcomes.  Among the databases used were: the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (to determine students’ socio-economic status); and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999, and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002.

   The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study’s 1998-1999 kindergarten cohort involved a representative sample of 21,260 kindergartners from across the country.  The Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 sampled a nationally representative group of over 15,000 10th graders from over 750 schools beginning in 2002.

   This study is important to our discussion of inequity because it (a) demonstrates that socio-economic inequity for students in kindergarten has dire, long-term effects; and (b) that schools with large numbers of poor students (many of whom are students of color) need more (not fewer—as shown in Part I of this Blog series) resources and funding to address these students’ needs.

   Here are the Key Findings from the Born to Win, Schooled to Lose study.

1. In America, it is often better to be rich than smart. Among the affluent, even a kindergartner with test scores in the bottom half has a 7 in 10 chance of reaching high SES among his or her peers as a young adult. But for similarly talented White, Black, Latino, and Asian children from low-SES families, the meager material supports available along the way to adulthood subvert nature’s generosity. Across racial and ethnic groups, a disadvantaged kindergartner with test scores in the top half has approximately a 3 in 10 chance of being high SES by the age of 25.

2. Even at an early age, environmental disparities by class, race, and ethnicity are evident in measures of children’s achievement. Only about a quarter of lowest-SES kindergartners have top-half math scores, compared to around three-quarters of highest-SES kindergartners. Children’s early scores also vary by race, in part because Black and Latino children are twice as likely as White children to come from lowest-SES families.

3. As children progress through primary school, they can improve on measures of achievement, but their chances of improvement correlate to their class status. Becoming high achieving is less likely for low-SES kindergartners with bottom-half math scores. By the eighth grade, fewer than 1 in 5 lowest-SES kindergartners with bottom-half math scores will score in the top half, compared to more than 2 in 5 highest-SES kindergartners with bottom-half math scores.

4. A child from an advantaged class is more likely to maintain high scores than one from a poor family, and White and Asian children are more likely to do so than Black or Latino children. For low-SES students with top-half math scores, staying at the top throughout their academic journeys is difficult. In addition, Black and Latino students with top-half math scores in kindergarten are less likely than their White and Asian peers to persist in earning top scores.

5. Achievement patterns are largely set by the time children enter high school. This is particularly evident for students with the lowest scores: students with bottom-quartile scores have difficulty improving their scores once they reach high school. Most tenth graders who score in the bottom math quartile will still score in the bottom quartile in twelfth grade.

6.  High school achievement sets the stage for college attainment—but family class plays an even greater role. The highest-SES students with bottom-half math scores are more likely to complete a college degree than the lowest-SES students with top-half math scores.

7.  Class mobility in America is limited—but education can be a lever for change. The lowest-SES tenth graders with top-half math scores are twice as likely to become high-SES (top-half) young adults as their peers with bottom-half math scores. Disadvantaged students who show promise can achieve, but their chances are better with interventions—and while lowest-SES tenth graders with bottom-half scores can become high SES, their chances are very slim.

   And here are some additional data from the study:

  • According to report, more-affluent students are often provided with more resources both in and out of school, which may benefit their education.
  • White and Asian tenth graders are more likely than Black and Latino tenth graders to earn a college degree in 10 years, no matter their high school math scores.
  • Most tenth-graders who score in the bottom math quartile maintain their low grades through twelfth grade.
  • Improving scores in high school is uncommon, but highest-SES students are twice as likely as lowest-SES students to move into a higher math quartile.
  • Lowest-SES tenth graders with top math scores are less likely to immediately enroll in a college than highest-SES tenth graders with bottom math scores.  These lowest-SES tenth graders also are less likely than highest-SES students to complete college 10 years later—regardless of their high school math scores.
  • Affluent children with low test scores have a 71% chance of becoming affluent adults at age 25, while poor children with high test scores only have a 31% of chance of becoming wealthy in adulthood.
  • The disparity becomes more severe when broken down by race. Fifty-one percent of black and 46% of Latino 10th graders with high math scores were more likely to earn a college degree within 10 years than similar students with low scores, but they were still less likely to early a college degree than their white and Asian high-scoring peers. Among the latter groups, 62% and 69%, respectively, received degrees.

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   These results crystallize the long-term impact of poverty.  And while the Georgetown University report did not analyse whether low-SES students attending better resourced schools had better outcomes, past research suggests that quality education and sound multi-tiered supports can mediate the impact of poverty.  This, then, reinforces the critical need for funding for schools by student need when they have high numbers of students from poverty. 

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   In the September 14, 2019 Blog, we summarized a 2018 report by the Aspen Institute, Ensuring Equitable Funding which stated that ESEA requires:

  • States and school districts to produce report cards that include information about per-pupil expenditures, including actual personnel and non-personnel expenditures disaggregated by source of funds at the district and school levels.
  • Districts are required to conduct resource reviews for schools that are identified for comprehensive support and improvement and additional targeted support and improvement.

   Given these requirements, this document suggests that Districts have an opportunity “to drive bigger conversations around equitable funding, expanding the equity conversation beyond funding to include other dimensions affected by funding like teaching, school design, instructional support, and central services.”

   This Report encouraged District leaders to meet the requirements above by reporting the financial information in the most meaningful and parent/community-friendly ways by:

  • Using comparative data to understand relative differences—not just absolute values.
  • Sharing school resource data in context of school need and school performance.
  • Including explanatory data that show what drives differences in spending levels across schools.
  • Integrating other dimensions of resource equity to show the ways in which financial resources are (or are not) invested in strategies and structures that drive student achievement.

   For some districts and schools across the country, the reporting of the now-ESEA-required financial data will be the first time that the public will truly know how public funds are being used to “run” the school district and to educate its students.  Consistent with the Aspen recommendations above, this will hopefully fuel a discussion—for both district personnel and the different constituencies within the community—as to how to best use the available funds as most-directed toward all students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral progress and proficiency.

   Hopefully, from a “Core-Plus Funding” perspective (see above), districts and schools will provide information on how much “Core” money each school needs to run an effective educational program.

   On the “Plus” side, hopefully districts will provide detailed information on the different “multi-tiered intensities of student needs” in each of its schools.  This information should look beyond (but include) information on poverty to also include the number of students (organized by gender and race) who are:

  • Retained in each school each year—and at what grade levels and for what reasons;
  • Students with IDEA-related disabilities—including the specification of their disability area, intensity of needs, and involvement of related services professionals);
  • Students with 504-related disabilities—including the specification of the intensity of their needs, and the involvement of related services professionals);
  • Students identified as English-Language Learners—once again, specifying their needs, and the services, supports, programs, and interventions they are receiving; and
  • Other students—for example—who are homeless, who do not have a disability but are academically or behaviorally struggling, or who have moved in from other districts that are low functioning.

   The Plus information above will help both district and community folk to discuss “equity and excellence” issues from a data-based perspective—describing and personalizing the needs of different students—rather than just from a philosophical or conceptual perspective.

   All of this should add depth and breadth to the financial information that must be reported—moving beyond public reports created for compliance purposes, to reports that provide information for strategic planning and student-centered decision-making.

   Indeed, here, we summarized the Aspen Institute Report and its overview of how ESEA allows districts to use their federal funds in flexible ways to enhance equity

   We also discussed ESEA’s Part E—Flexibility for Equitable Per Pupil Funding (Section 1501).  Finally, we reminded Districts of Section  613(f)(2)(A) of IDEA 2004 which allows them to use up to 15% of their IDEA Part B funds for coordinated early intervening services (CEIS).  These funds can assist students in grades K through 12 (with an emphasis on K through 3) who are not currently identified as needing special education and related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment.

   The Blog’s “bottom line” was that there is flexibility, within both ESEA and IDEA, to allow personnel and funds to more flexibly and equitably address students who need more multi-tiered strategic or intensive services, supports, strategies, or programs.  Even if districts and schools do not adopt Core-Plus Funding approaches, they still can tap into these (and other) legally-allowed flexibilities.

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   In my November 23, 2019 Blog, I reviewed and analyzed a study published on October 15, 2019 in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

   The article was titled, “Are Achievement Gaps Related to Discipline Gaps? Evidence from National Data.”

[CLICK HERE for original article]

   Written by Pearman, Curran, Fisher, and colleagues at Stanford University, the University of Florida, the University of Louisville, and Drexel University, the authors analyzed the correlations between academic achievement and school suspension/disciplinary gaps for White, Hispanic, and Black students—from third through eighth grade—from over 2,000 school districts across the country.  The data were pulled from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection and the Stanford Education Data Archive for the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school years, and the districts were chosen to be nationally representative.

   Overall, the statistical analyses showed that:

  • Students of all races faced higher suspension rates in districts with bigger racial achievement gaps—but they took a particular toll on black students.

For every 10 percentage-point increase in a district’s gap in math and reading performance between white and black students, there was a 30 percent larger black-white gap in suspension rates than the national average for similar districts.

Likewise, a school district with a 10 percentage-point wider disparity in suspensions between black and white students would have a black-white achievement gap that was 17 percent larger than the average for similar districts nationwide.

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  • For every 1 percentage point increase in the discipline gap, there was a 0.02 standard deviation increase in the Black-White achievement gap, and a 0.03 standard deviation increase in the Hispanic-White achievement gap.

This means that the racial achievement gap in a district that suspended 10% of its Black or Hispanic students but only 5% of its White students would be predicted to have a Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gap that was 0.10 and 0.15 standard deviations larger, respectively, than a district that suspended the same proportion of minority and White students.

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  • Academically, the racial discipline gap in a district whose White students scored, on average, 1 standard deviation higher than its minority students would be predicted to have a Black-White and Hispanic-White discipline gap that was 3.67 and 1.24 percentage points larger, respectively, than a district whose minority and White students achieved at similar levels academically.

Districts with higher levels of achievement for Black students had lower suspension rates for Black students.

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  • Even after controlling for unobserved district-level characteristics (see a discussion of these below), a 1 percentage point increase in the Black-White discipline gap was associated with a 0.01 standard deviation increase in the Black-White achievement gap.

In other words, two districts that were otherwise equivalent on observable and time-invariant unobservable characteristics but that suspended differing shares of Black relative to White students would also differ, on average, in racial achievement gaps, with the achievement gap being larger in the district that suspended greater shares of Black relative to White students.

Moreover, a 1 standard deviation increase in the achievement gap between Black and White students is associated with a 2.2 percentage point increase in the Black-White discipline gap after accounting for observable and time-invariant unobservable differences between school districts.

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  • One reason for the positive adjusted association between the Black-White discipline gap and the Black-White achievement gap is that Black students perform poorer, on average, in districts that suspend them at elevated rates compared with their White counterparts.  There is no evidence, however, that the racial discipline gap is predictive of White students’ achievement.

In other words, the Black-White discipline gap’s positive relationship with the Black-White achievement gap is attributable, in part, to the Black-White discipline gap being predictive of lower achievement for Black student—but unpredictive of White students’ achievement.

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   Significantly, Pearman and his colleagues were very aware of the district, student demographic, and other variables that might confound the results of their study.  Thus, relative to the results documented above, they statistically controlled (to neutralize) these different variables—in essence, factoring their potential influence (or bias) out of the empirical analyses.

   The authors summarized the results as follows:

We find evidence that districts with larger racial discipline gaps have larger racial achievement gaps (and vice versa). Though other district-level differences account for the positive association between the Hispanic-White discipline gap and the Hispanic-White achievement gap, we find robust evidence that the positive association between the Black-White discipline gap and the Black-White achievement gap persists after controlling for a multitude of confounding factors (e.g., parents’ education levels, the concentration of poverty among students, the level of racial segregation among districts). We also find evidence that the mechanisms connecting achievement to disciplinary outcomes are more salient for Black than White students.
We also found evidence that the association between the Black-White achievement gap and the Black-White discipline gap was attributable, in part, to the tight coupling of achievement and discipline for Black students in particular, who experience higher suspension rates in districts with larger achievement gaps and who experience higher achievement in districts that suspend them less frequently. Notably, this tight coupling of discipline and achievement was not observed for White students. This pattern indicates that the mechanisms connecting achievement and discipline (e.g., teacher biases, peer effects, feelings of belonging) are more salient for Black than White students.
While the results of our study do not speak directly to solutions to discipline and achievement gaps, they do suggest that interventions aimed at addressing one gap may have potential to influence the other. First, recent research has found that teacher professional development focused on improving instructional capacity and other classroom practices improves classroom behavior and reduces racial disparities in discipline (Gregory, Allen, Mikami, Hafen, & Pianta, 2015), which may be particularly the case for curricular and pedagogical approaches deemed successful at raising the academic achievement of ethno-racial minorities, such as culturally relevant teaching and ethnic studies programs (see, for instance, Dee & Penner, 2017; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Milner, 2010). Second, a body of evidence is emerging on alternative disciplinary practices that can reduce the time students spend out of the learning environment.

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   Significantly, I discussed a “hidden” variable in the “Achievement Gap” study, stating my belief that the inequitable funding between schools that serve mostly white versus mostly students of color may triangulate with the racial achievement and racial discipline gaps found.  In fact, I believe that funding—which was not explicitly analyzed or controlled for in this study—may be a primary predictor in the achievement and discipline gaps discussed in the AERA Open article. 

   Once again, please feel free to re-read the original Blogs to get a more detailed analysis of the Reports and summary discussed above.

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Improving Students’ Academic Achievement

   The following Blogs addressed how to improve students’ academic achievement, and some of the ways that schools are using the research-to-practice in this area in questionable ways.  As usual, I reviewed a number of new national reports that addressed this issue, and then added my analysis, perspectives, and recommendations on the topic at-hand.

   If you CLICK on the date of the Blogs below, you will link directly to the Blog that is posted on my website (

April 13, 2019

How Hattie’s Research Helps (and Doesn’t Help) Improve Student Achievement. Hattie Discusses What to Consider, Not How to Implement It . . . More Criticisms, Critiques, and Contexts

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September 28, 2019

Closing Academic Gaps in Middle and High School: When Students Enroll without Mastering Elementary Prerequisites. The MTSS Dilemma—Differentiate at the Grade Level or Remediate at the Student Skill Level? (Part I)

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November 9, 2019

Closing Secondary Students’ Significant Academic Skill Gaps: Teach at Their Grade Level or Their Skill Level? Reviewing Two Recent Studies of Math Deficient Students (Part II)

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Synopsis of these Blogs

   While we have discussed and analyzed Hattie’s research a number of times in my Blogs prior to 2019 (go to the list of “Blog Categories” on the right-hand side of my Blog master-page,, we revisited this topic earlier this year given a number of very recent articles by some notable researchers who critiqued (criticized) his statistical and decision-making rules.  The esteemed researchers documented how Hattie has used simplistic statistical approaches to establish his meta-meta-analytic lists of the variables that most correlate with students’ academic achievement.  In all, the critiques appear to invalidate most of his research and results (see the original Blog for this essential discussion).

   So that schools don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water,” I suggested a multiple-gating decision-making process so that schools choose the correct Hattie recommendations for their students.  Even when using the process below, it must be emphasized that meta-meta-analysis research combines studies that often have different methodologies with different student groups.

   This means—even if Hattie’s research suggests a global approach that has a strong effect size with achievement—that schools still do not know which strategy, approach, or methodology most contribute to the effect size reported.

   The multiple-gating process recommended in the Blog involved the following steps:

Step 1.  Identify your school’s history and status, resources and capacity, and current positive and needed outcome relative to student achievement.

Step 2.  Determine which Hattie variables will most improve student achievement—with a constant awareness that many of these variables will interact or are interdependent.

Step 3.  Evaluate the methodological and statistical quality and integrity of the meta-analytic studies that Hattie included in his meta-meta-analyses.

NOTE:  If Hattie’s meta-meta-analysis has flaws or included flawed meta-analytic studies, identify the best separate meta-analysis studies and continue this multiple-gating process.

Step 4.  Evaluate the demographics and other background characteristics of the schools, staff, and students involved in the meta-analytic studies used by Hattie in his meta-meta-analyses to validate that they match the school demographics and background characteristics where you plan to implement the program, strategy, or intervention.

Step 5.  Using and analyzing Hattie’ best meta-meta-analytic study (or the best individual meta-analysis studies—as immediately above), identify what program(s) or strategy(ies), and what specific implementation approaches and steps were most responsible for the positive effects on student achievement.

Step 6.  Finalize the select of your program or strategy, and its implementation approaches and steps, and develop an Implementation Action Plan that identifies who will be involved in implementation, what training and resources they need, how you will engage the students (staff, and parents), how you will evaluate the short-and long-term student achievement outcomes, and what will be the implementation steps and timelines.

Step 7.  Resource, train, engage, implement, evaluate, fine-tune, implement, and evaluate.

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   This Blog also provided a “Primer on Meta-Analysis” to teach schools what a meta-analysis is and is not. . . so that they can effectively analyze Hattie’s work.

   Finally, the Blog decried the emergence of a “cottage industry” of “official and unofficial” Hattie consultants (some sponsored by major publishing companies) who are providing “Visible Learning services”—even though some of them do not have the research, statistical, or methodological expertise to be effective in their positions.

   Relative to this latter situation, I recommended five questions that schools should ask “Hattie/Visible Learning Consultants” before offering them a contract:

  1. What training and experience do you have in evaluating psychoeducational research as applied to schools, teaching staff, and students—including students have significant academic and/or social, emotional, or behavioral challenges?
  2. In what different kinds of schools (e.g., settings, grade levels, socio-economic status, level of ESEA success, etc.) have you consulted, for how long, in what capacity, with what documented school and student outcomes—and how does this experience predict your consultative success in my school or district
  3. When guided by Hattie’s (and others’) research, what objective, research-based processes or decisions will you use to determine which approaches our district or school needs, and how will you determine the implementation steps and sequences when helping us to apply the selected approaches?
  4. What will happen if our district or school needs an approach that you have no experience or expertise with?
  5. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your consultation services, and how will you evaluate the short- and long-term impact of the strategies and approaches that you recommend be implemented in our district or school?

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   The second two Blogs in this category (published in the Fall) discussed a common middle and high school pedagogical problem that occurs when students transition in (or up), and they haven’t mastered the prerequisite academic skills to succeed at the next grade level

   While this occurs most often in the areas of English, reading, and literacy, or mathematics, calculation, and numeracy, we sometimes forget the impact on students’ learning when they are also unprepared to effectively write or communicate verbally at their grade levels.

   And then there are the “lateral effects” when students’ low literacy or mathematics skills negatively impact their learning and performance in science, the social sciences, or in other transdisciplinary areas.

   Typically, when students’ prerequisite academic skills are so low that everyone knows that they have virtually no chance of passing the next middle or high school course, most schools use one of the following Options:

  • Option 1.  Schools schedule the “not-ready-for-prime-time” students into their existing course sequences, and teach them at their grade levels—hoping that effective differentiated instruction will close the existing achievement gaps at the same time that the students learn and master the new, course-related content and skills.

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  • Option 2.  Schools use Option 1—scheduling the “not-ready-for-prime-time” students into their existing course sequences, and then they offer/provide tutors or tutoring (usually before or after school) to supplement the instruction and “close” the gaps.

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  • Option 3.  Schools “double-block” the students—scheduling them into the existing course sequences while also giving them an additional academic period a day (or less) to remediate their skills gaps. 

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  • Option 4.  Schools “double-block” the students, but the students have the same teacher for both blocks.  This allows the teacher to follow the grade-level course’s syllabus, but s/he can spend time remediating students’ prerequisite skills gaps and adapting the instruction so they are prepared for and can learn and master the grade-level course material.

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   The Part I discussion emphasized the importance of completing, for all students with significant academic skill gaps, a data-based problem-solving process—including diagnostic assessments to determine the depth, breadth, and root causes of the gaps—so that needed services, supports, instructional strategies, and interventions are accurately identified.

   While we understand the time, effort, and good intentions of our school colleagues, we still noted that:

Unfortunately, many schools have some data, but it is descriptive and not diagnostic data.  And then they use these data to inadvertently play “intervention roulette”—throwing “interventions” at problems without really knowing the root causes as to why they exist.

   To demonstrate the benefits of the recommended diagnostic assessment, data-based problem-solving process, we also noted that:

In reality, based on their data-based student analyses, schools may be well-advised to have Options 1, 3, and 4 available in order to maximize the learning and mastery of different students with different learning histories and instructional needs.
   For example, while Option 2—Tutoring can be effective for students with narrow skill gaps, these Options will not work for students with significant academic skill gaps.
   [For Option 3, obviously, schools need to coordinate the curriculum, instruction, and interventions in order to attain the strongest student outcomes.]

   The Part I discussion then differentiated between middle schools versus high schools that have students with critical academic skill gaps.

   Here we noted that middle schools (if they choose to take it) have more flexibility to “individualize” their students, staff, and courses than high schools—especially when the latter are not allowed (usually, by their state education codes) to give course credit for “remedial” courses.  This helps deliver the targeted interventions that students with significant skill gaps need.

   Indeed, we recommended that middle schools, if they know the academic and behavioral status of their rising 6th graders in April or May (an implicit recommendation), they can align their students, staff, and courses to flexibly meet the needs of different clusters of students—from those entering with significant academic skill gaps, to those whose academic skills already exceed the 6th grade courses they might “repeat.”

   We concluded that, if middle school students with significant academic skill gaps “pass” their courses, but do not master the “elementary” and “middle school” skills that they need, we have simply passed the “problem” on to the high school “to solve.”

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   At the high school level, we described a number of “stark realities” (please see the original post).  These led up to an Option 5 that we said—under explicit conditions—should be allowed, if not encouraged, by every state department of education and the U.S. Department of Education.
   Option 5 is for students who have no chance of passing their next middle or high school course even using Options 1, 3, or 4 above—because their prerequisite academic skills are so low.  This appraisal is based on objective, multi-instrument, diagnostic skill gap analyses of each struggling student—conducted at the relevant secondary school level.
   Option 5 involves scheduling students into a course (or a double-blocked course) in their academic area(s) of deficiency that targets its focus and instruction on the students’ functional, instructional skill level.  That is, the course takes students from their lowest points of skill mastery (regardless of level), and moves them flexibly through each grade level’s scope and sequence as quickly as they can master and apply the material. 
   This should be an instructional—not a credit recovery or computer/software-dependent—course with a teacher qualified both in instruction and intervention. 
   Moreover, this is the students’ only course in the targeted academic area, and the course instructors are responsible for making the content and materials relevant to the grade level of the student, even as they are teaching specific academic skills at the students’ current functional skill levels.
   Thus, students are not concurrently taking a grade-level course in the same academic area (as in Options 1 through 4 above).  In addition, the teachers in these students’ science, social science, or other courses also know the students’ current functional skill levels—differentiating their instruction as needed, while providing additional supports, so that the students’ areas of academic weakness do not negatively impact their learning in these “lateral” courses.

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   In Part II of this Series, we focused on the impact and implications when students have significant skill gaps in mathematics at the secondary level.  We did this by analyzing a recent article:

“Do Kids Fall Behind in Math Because There Isn’t Enough Grade-level Material, or Because There’s Too Much? It’s Both” (published in the74).

That cited a 2018 TNTP Report, “The Opportunity Myth.”

   In their the74 article, the authors reproduced a figure from a 2012 ACT report that longitudinally analyzed tens of thousands of students who were behind in math in fourth versus eighth grade, respectively.  The goal was to identify—from a normative perspective—how  many students academically “caught up” over a four-year period of time.

   Based on this figure (see the original Blog):

  • Students who began 4th grade “at grade level,” had an 82% probability of being on grade level in 8th grade—four years later.
  • Students who began 8th grade “at grade level,” had an 70% probability of being on grade level in 12th grade—four years later.
  • Students who began 4th grade “off track,” had an 46% probability of being on grade level in 8th grade—four years later.
  • Students who began 8th grade “off track,” had an 19% probability of being on grade level in 12th grade—four years later.
  • Students who began 4th grade “far off track,” had an 10% probability of being on grade level in 8th grade—four years later.
  • Students who began 8th grade “far off track,” had an 3% probability of being on grade level in 12th grade—four years later.

   From the Report, it appears that most of the (especially) “far off track” students were receiving Options 1 through Option 4 above.  This Report and these data simply reinforce that these Options have a low probability of significantly improving the learning, mastery, and math proficiency of students with significant skill gaps—in both middle and high school.

   This, at least, puts the consideration of Option 5 “on the table”—once again, in the context of both root cause analyses and multi-tiered systems of support.

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   The the74 article went on to reference a September 2019 Report released by the New Classroom Innovation Partners:

“The Iceberg Problem: How Assessment and Accountability Policies Cause Learning Gaps in Math to Persist Below the Surface . . . and What to Do About It”

   In my Blog, I described three “Key Insights” from Report—conclusions that support the primary theses of this two-part Blog Series.

Key Insight #1:  Math is cumulative—unfinished learning from prior years makes it harder for students to master more advanced concepts.
Key Insight #2:  Current educational policies favoring grade-level instruction (i.e., teaching students at their current grade placements) are hindering many students’ longer-term success.
Key Insight #3: Balancing pre-grade level, on-grade level, and post-grade level skills to each student’s needs can better support their long-term success.

   Once again, please feel free to re-read the original Blogs to get a more detailed analysis of the Reports and summary discussed above.

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Untested and Ineffective Practices: The U.S. Department of Education

   The following Blogs addressed how the U.S. Department of Education (and its federally-funded National Technical Assistance Centers continue to singularly advocate frameworks that have not been adequately field-tested and validated prior to their recommendations.  These Blogs included discussions—with validation—showing how the U.S. Department of Education has spent millions of taxpayer dollars in Grant Programs to validate these frameworks—after they have largely been unsuccessful in the schools across the country.

   The U.S. Department of Education’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (RtI/MTSS) was discussed as but one example of this problem.

   If you CLICK on the date of the Blogs below, you will link directly to the Blog that is posted on my website (

February 16, 2019

Redesigning Multi-Tiered Services in Schools: Redefining the Tiers and the Difference between Services and Interventions

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March 30, 2019

The Art of Doubling Down: How the U.S. Department of Education Creates Grant Programs to Fund and Validate its own Frameworks. Call Congress: The Tainting of RtI, PBIS, MTSS, and SEL

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Synopsis of these Blogs

   The first Blog here asserted that the goal of every school across the country is to maximize the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral progress and proficiency of every student.  Ultimately, this translates into academic independence and social, emotional, and behavioral self-management, respectively. 

   All of this is accomplished through (a) effective and differentiated classroom instruction, complemented with (b) positive and successful classroom management, that (c) is delivered by highly qualified teachers who have (d) administrators, instructional support and related services staff, and other consultants available to support classrooms, grade-level or teaching units, and other school programs and processes.  All of this is intended to result in students who demonstrate age-appropriate (or beyond) independent learning and behavioral self-management skills.

   While an admirable goal, the reality is that not all students are successful even when in effective classrooms.  Indeed, some students come to the schoolhouse door at-risk for educational failure, while others are struggling learners who are disengaged, unmotivated, unresponsive, underperforming, or consistently unsuccessful.  These struggles occur academically and/or as social, emotional, or behavioral challenges.  For these students, districts and schools are required to have multi-tiered services, supports, strategies, programs, interventions, and systems to address their individual academic or behavioral needs.

   This Blog addressed four inter-related topics: 

  • How the Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibly defines a “multi-tiered system of supports”—encouraging districts and schools to create their own system to address their own student needs;
  • What a model multi-tiered continuum could/should look like in the academic and social, emotional, behavioral areas;
  • Why schools and districts need to reconceptualize their systems away from the invalid framework that relies on the percentages of students being served in each tier, and toward a continuum that looks at the intensity of the services, supports, strategies, and interventions needed; and
  • How services and supports need to be discriminated from strategies and interventions so that students receive the approaches needed to change the areas of concern and to maximize the academic proficiency and independence, and their social, emotional, and behavioral self-management and competence.

   To expand briefly, the U.S. Department of Education—and its various federally-funded Technical Assistance Centers— describe their multi-tiered framework as having side-by-side three-tiered triangles representing the interface of a school’s attention to both academics and behavior. 

   The three tiers are typically described as involving:  Tier I (Universal programming for All Students); Tier II (Selective or Group programming for Some Students); and Tier III (Intensive or Individual programming for Few Students). 

   Also associated with the Tiers are percentages that reflect the assumption that schools will have 80% of their students responding exclusively to Tier I approaches; 15% of their students needing Tier II approaches; and 5% of their students needing Tier III approaches.

   CriticallyThere is no research or support anywhere that has validated these percentages. . . or even this framework of universal versus group versus individually-tiered interventions.

   In fact, from a strategic planning perspective, if schools prepared their budgets, organized their staffing, and allocated their resources to this “prototype of percentages,” many schools would be woefully unprepared to address the critical academic and behavioral needs of all of its students.

   And so, this Blog describes in detail a redesigned multi-tiered system in both the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral domains.  At the core of this redesign is the fact that the tiers in a multi-tiered system reflect the intensity of the services, supports, strategies, and interventions needed by students, and that these intensities additionally reflect the service and support resources and expertise in any particular school or district.

   From an academic perspective, the Blog describes a multi-tiered, science-to-practice academic instruction through intervention continuum organized as the Positive Academic Supports and Services (PASS) model. 

   The PASS model begins with effective classroom teachers providing (a) effective differentiated instruction (through Universal Design practices), complemented by (b) effective classroom management strategies, with (c) continuous progress monitoring, resulting in (d) student learning, mastery, and proficiency.

   When students underperform or are unsuccessful, the PASS model uses a data-driven diagnostic assessment approach to determine the underlying reasons, and the assessment results are strategically or intensively linked to the following continuum of services and supports:

  • Assistive support technologies
  • Remedial approaches
  • Accommodation approaches
  • Curricular modification approaches
  • Targeted Intervention
  • Compensatory strategies

   From a social, emotional, and behavioral perspective, the multi-tiered, science-to-practice instruction through intervention continuum is organized as the Positive Behavioral Support System/Social-Emotional Learning (PBSS/SEL) model. 

   The PBSS/SEL model begins with effective classroom teachers. . .

(a) building teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships that sustain positive classroom environments;

(b) by consistently teaching students developmentally-appropriate interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills; that are reinforced

(c) by an equity-based motivational and behavioral accountability system that is anchored in both individual and peer group/social psychological principles; with

(d) continuous progress monitoring, resulting in (e) student learning, mastery, and proficiency.

   When students underperform or are disengaged, unmotivated, unresponsive, or behaviorally unsuccessful, the PBSS/SEL model uses a data-driven functional assessment approach to determine the underlying reasons, and the assessment results are strategically or intensively linked to the following continuum of services and supports:

  • Social, emotional, or behavioral Skill Instruction strategies
  • Speed of Learning and Mastery Acquisition strategies
  • Transfer of Training strategies
  • Emotional Control and Coping strategies
  • Motivational strategies
  • History of Inconsistency strategies
  • Special Situation Personal (e.g., trauma) or Peer-related strategies

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   Building on the first Blog in this cluster, the second Blog provides a history, extensive data-based documentation, and critical analyses demonstrating that the U.S. Department of Education (and, specifically, its Office of Special Education Programs—OSEP) has singularly advocated for its own academic (RtI/MTSS) and social, emotional, and behavioral (PBIS) frameworks since the late 1990s. . . .

even though these frameworks were never extensively field-tested and validated prior to their advocacy, and well-established researchers and practitioners demonstrated that they were delaying services to students and impeding their educational progress.

   Critically, much of this advocacy was funneled through a series of incestuously-linked (through their Advisory Boards) National Technical Assistance Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education since 1997.  The U.S. Department of Education funded these TA Centers (a) to make it appear that their frameworks were research-based and legitimate; (b) to beholden the research community to its singular agenda; and (c) to influence (bias) the next generations of advanced-degree graduates in education and psychology to their approaches.

   Moreover, in the face of independent two separate national evaluations of RtI and PBIS, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, the Department threw “good money after bad” by “doubling down” on their frameworks and issuing multi-million dollar Requests for Proposals (RFP) to “validate” their frameworks after-the-fact. 

   The results of these two separate evaluations are described in detail.  And, four specific Double-Down examples are specifically documented in RtI, MTSS, PBIS, and SEL.

   Finally, the Blog describes one specific national RFP where there was a clear appearance of a conflict of interest in who was involved in writing the RFP, paneling the RFP, and selecting the eventual grant recipient.  Specifically, the ultimate grant recipients had instrumental members of their organizations involving in all three phases of the RFP process.

   Beyond this, the Blog builds on past Blogs where data and documentation have been presented to demonstrate that the U.S. Department of Education (USDoE)—at the very least—has given its RtI, PBIS, and MTSS frameworks preferential treatment, funding, and funding opportunities—in the billions of dollars. 

   The USDoE has done this, often through its funded National Technical Assistance (TA) Centers, in ways where

  • It has misrepresented the federal law;
  • It has recommended or used only these programs in other federal grant programs—serving to extend these frameworks’ “legitimacy” and national reach;
  • By default, it has ignored, minimized, or failed to similarly acknowledge other evidence-based or effective models or programs that (often) report better results than their frameworks; and
  • It has done all of this as part of a conscious agenda whose goal is to “brand” their frameworks in national prominence.

   Collectively. . . 

   The lack of success of these frameworks has cost districts and schools millions of hours organizational and staff development time and resources, and our country and districts millions of dollars of taxpayer funds. . . with no real or sustained return on investment.

   More important are the services, support, programs, and interventions that academically struggling and behaviorally challenged students have not received because of the misguided advocacy of these frameworks.

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   Once again, please feel free to re-read the original Blogs to get a more detailed analysis of the Reports and summary discussed above.

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   Writer and philosopher George Santayana said:

 "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

   For us as educators, repeating the past sometimes means that the successes that we did not have for some students. . . significantly impacting their futures perhaps for their entire lives.

   Reframing President Kennedy’s famous quote—when talking about landing a person on the moon for the first time, even as he knew it would require education, training, and technology that the United States did not have and that would transform our educational system:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

   We have to choose a fair, equitable, and outcomes-based education for all students, in all communities, and in all schools.

   We have to choose research-to-practice approaches so that all students will graduate from high school with the skills needed for college and/or career success—even if that means redesigning instructional approaches at the secondary level for students with significant academic skill gaps.

   And we have to choose to question our “educational leaders” and the frameworks that they advocate to ensure that they have been extensively field-tested, independently validated, and successfully sustained.

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   As always, I appreciate your dedication in reading and thinking deeply about these messages.  As always, I am trying not just to critique the current (and historical) state of our educational affairs across the country, but to suggest field-tested and proven “other ways” to help us get the student, staff, and school outcomes that we all want.

   If any of you—with your school or district team—would like to talk with me by phone, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. about any of these (or other school improvement, academics or student discipline, or multi-tiered services) issues or practices, all you need to do is contact me and get on my schedule.  The first conference call is totally free.

   Meanwhile, at this Holiday Season, please accept my best wishes for a joyous, safe, and family-filled celebration.

   Until the next Blog, be successful and well !!!