Vicki Phillips Speech to 2010 NALEO Conference
June 24, 2010
Prepared Remarks by Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready
Thank you. It’s a privilege to be here. The Gates Foundation is enormously proud to be NALEO’s partner in driving greater educational opportunities for Latino students through the Campaign for High School Equity.
In a few minutes, a distinguished panel of education leaders will be discussing the recently released state-led academic standards – what’s in them and what the challenges in implementing them will be.
As the head of the Gates Foundation’s college ready efforts, I want to talk about the work we have been doing in this area – in partnership with many of you.
Today, we hope to work with you and many others to give our kids a better education. To fundamentally shift the national consciousness about the power of high standards and the power of great teaching in helping low-income, minority children achieve – and change the course of their lives.
This is the core of what we call our college-ready strategy. Our goal, bluntly and simply, is to make sure that every child finishes high school ready for college and career.
That doesn’t mean that they need to all go to a four-year college. But they need to be able to earn a degree that has value and meaning in the workplace. And cold, hard statistics alone will tell you – we can’t dramatically improve our national college-ready achievement if we don’t dramatically improve Latino college ready achievement.
II. The achievement gap
As state legislators, school board members and local leaders, you understand better than anybody the toll this recession has taken on local economies. States are slashing budgets, unemployment rolls are skyrocketing, families are struggling.
Things are bad for a lot of people. But they’re far worse for those without any postsecondary education.
In 2008, the median earnings for someone with a high school degree was 618 dollars a week. With an associate’s degree, that number went up to 757 dollars. And with a bachelor’s degree, that number went up to 1,012 dollars. Put another way: if you have a Bachelor’s degree, by Labor Day, you’ve made as much as someone with a high-school diploma makes in an entire year.
That’s a pretty convincing argument in favor of postsecondary credentials.
Even more convincing? 63 percent of jobs in the next four years will require postsecondary education.
So when we say that a high school education that puts you on a path to a postsecondary degree is a necessity, that’s not an opinion – it’s a fact. And it’s something that Latino parents understand.
Unfortunately, when it comes preparing Latino kids for college and career, we’re coming up far too short.
The Latino population is growing faster than the U.S. population as a whole. And in the very near future, and in the very near future, a huge new wave of Latino kids will be entering the K-12 public schools. The bottom line is if we don’t get education right for Latino children, we don’t get it right for America.
And right now, we aren’t getting it right.
According to recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by the 4th grade, Latino students are, on average, almost three academic years behind their white peers.
83 percent of Latino 8th graders read below grade level.
Average test scores of 17 year-old Hispanic students are 26 points behind white students in reading, and 21 points behind white students in math.
Barely half of Latino kids graduate from high school.
None of this is news to any of you… and your incredible work has been spurred by the sense of urgency raised by these alarming figures.
And graduation rates are often miscounted and underreported. Thanks to the tireless work of Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, Maryland enacted a law to improve graduation rate data calculation and reporting. We need more states to do the same.
So we know we’re failing Latino kids when it comes to K-12 education. But what about those kids who, against the odds, make it to college? At the average college or university, barely half of Latino students complete a bachelor’s degree in six years. In other words, even when these kids get in the door, it’s unlikely that they’ll leave with a diploma.
There are a lot of reasons for this huge graduation gap between Latino kids and their white peers. But most disturbing is this: According to the research, only twenty percent of Latinos graduate high school prepared for college.
These students are at a disadvantage right out of the gate. All because we didn’t provide them with an education that prepared them for the next step.
They they study in high school. Get good grades. Graduate. Apply to college. Get into college. Enroll.
They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them. And they’re still not prepared…
This isn’t their fault…it’s ours.
We’ve done something worse than sell them a false bill of goods.
Our system is robbing them of the education they deserve. The education that is their right. The education that will allow them to achieve their potential.
This is the most important civil rights challenge of our time.
Why aren’t our kids prepared? What are we doing wrong?
These are questions that we finally have some answers to.
I’ll be the first to say that some of what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is advocating – which is based on nine years of investments and research – flies in the face of our most deeply held assumptions.
For example, when the Gates Foundation started this work, we were sure that small schools and small class sizes would make a big difference. Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense – smaller schools, more sense of community… smaller classes, more attention. We invested a lot of money breaking up big schools into smaller ones. But when we measured student outcomes, it turned out smaller schools alone barely made a difference.
Or take Master’s degrees for teachers. It seems like common sense that students will learn more if their teachers have Master’s degrees in education. In fact, our country spends $8 billion a year rewarding teachers for earning master’s degrees. But it turns out that education degrees don’t make a bit of difference to student achievement.
And it’s just common sense that on average, teachers who have been teaching for 25 years are more effective than teachers who’ve been teaching for five years. It turns out they’re not. Research found that seniority only matters in the first three years. After year three, teachers usually don’t get significantly better or worse.
So we know master’s degrees in education have almost no value.
We know certifications don’t make a difference.
We know that after three years, seniority doesn’t really matter
But we do know that how effective a teacher has been in the past tells you a ton about how effective they’ll be in the future.
But what do we reward our teachers for? Master’s degrees in education, certifications, and seniority.
And what don’t we reward our teachers for? Past performance.
We’ve built an entire policy set around the things we know don’t work.
These are the hard truths. And acting on those truths is even harder.
Many of you are grappling with state budget cuts. Should we make decisions about staff reductions based on teacher tenure, or teacher quality? Should we prioritize small classes, or excellent teachers?
These are tough questions, but there is only one right answer: we have to retain effective teachers, and we have to get them in front of students.
Anything else wouldn’t be putting students first.
IV. Clear, consistent standards
But effective teachers need effective content.
As you know, today all of your states have different academic standards. After all, as a nation we believe in local control. But these standards vary widely in content and in quality.
So imagine a migrant family moving to a new state for work and finding out that their child – who was ahead of the class where they came from – was now behind because the new state had more rigorous standards.
Or, worse, what if the expectations in the new state were far lower?
This is the reality for millions of parents and students.
In many places, standards don’t match with what colleges and careers require – never mind what other states require. They don’t help teachers craft a meaningful curriculum.
Inconsistent standards are especially problematic for English Language Learners and migrant students, who need continuity in learning – as all students do – but also continuity in language exposure and instruction to gain mastery.
That’s why we need clear, consistent standards that make sense to students, parents and teachers. Standards that can be mastered with the time and resources available to schools.
Great standards aren’t a laundry list of everything we think students should learn.
They’re evidence-based guidelines outlining what is essential for a student to know at each grade level.
But historically, standards have not been written by experts on the basis of sound evidence. They’ve been written by committees on the basis of internal politics.
Some of you may have been in these sessions. You’ve seen what happens. You may have contributed positive ideas. But the end result is this: we have standards based on what the adults wanted – and not what the kids needed.
Fortunately, leaders in 48 states – including many of you – decided that it was time to work with parents, teachers, and education experts to craft next generation standards. And we’ve been proud to support this work.
These draft standards are aligned with career and work expectations. They build upon the best of the current state standards. They’re informed by top-performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in a global economy. And they’re based on evidence and research.
As of today, twelve states have agreed to adopt these standards.
I understand that there may be anxiety about how clear consistent standards would work for English Language Learners.
And I know the Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education -- which the Gates Foundation is also proud to support -- expressed concern that the current draft standards do not have any specific standards for English Language Development.
I hear those concerns.
ELL experts were involved in the drafting of the standards, providing technical expertise and feedback. I believe that English Language Learners are among the first students to benefit from a clear set of standards that focus their learning.
And this is a work in process. The standards create an opportunity to develop a revised set of English Language Development standards that are aligned with the core standards. As a member of the Campaign for High School Equity, NALEO helped review these standards, and I hope you will help make sure they’re implemented correctly.
V. Conclusion/effective teaching
Good standards help us determine what students need to know – and then measure whether they’ve learned it.
And they are the foundation from which we can really start evaluating – fairly and consistently – what constitutes effective teaching. Because standards and effective teaching are two sides of the same coin.
There’s a lot of debate in education. But there’s also one indisputable fact: teachers matter more to student learning than anything else inside a school.
Clear, consistent standards help teachers do their job better.
And those two things, together, are what change the game for kids.
So, before I hand it over to this distinguished panel – I’d end with this message:
We need to get more people involved in advocating for a better education for Latino students.
And we need to help parents understand how they can get involved and demand equal opportunity for their children.
That’s why the Gates Foundation has partnered with Univision, under the leadership of the visionary Ivelisse Estrada – who is here today and sits on NALEO’s board - on a 5-year campaign that will advance the cause of education. Through public service announcements and other programming geared towards Latino families, Univision will focus on the importance of parents helping to ensure their children complete high school and go on to college.
It’s a campaign aptly named “es el momento,” and I’d like to share one of the PSAs.
It’s a powerful vision of what is possible.
And nobody has bridged that gap between vision and reality more than the leaders of NALEO.
The daughter of your founder, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard once said, “My father believed that education was the single greatest gift we could pass on to our children, because an education, as he would say, ‘can never be taken away from you.”
He was right. But for too long, we’ve been giving our kids an IOU.
As a nation, we can do better than this. And as a community leader, NALEO can demand – through your votes and your voices -- the high standards, the strong curricula, and the great teaching required to see that we do.
Es el momento.