Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Last week, the American Statistical Society released a report on "Value Added Models" that attempt to assess the effectiveness of teachers. The report would appear to be a word of caution to current policies that rely heavily on students' standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Rather than misstate the report, I offer its own bullet point summary:
The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models, and designed experiments for
improving the quality of education.
• VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to
develop the models and interpret their results.
• Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a
discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are
particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.
o VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure
potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.
o VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative –
attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in
o Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a
different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to
evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.
• VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes
aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to
individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find
that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the
majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level
conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences
that reduce quality.
Friday, March 28, 2014
A new report by the Civil Rights Project finds that New York “has the most segregated schools in the country.” Weighing the state down is New York City, “home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.” This was not always the case, says the report. “Forty years ago, school desegregation was a serious component of the state’s education policy, as a result of community pressure and legal cases.” But “[a]round the time of Reagan’s administration, the state moved away from desegregation efforts and instead focused on other practices and policies like accountability systems, school choice, and charter schools.” Today, those policies, particularly school choice, “are exacerbating racial isolation as demographics continue to change.”
The report takes an interesting new tactic on the question of high performing minority schools, the idea of which drives the charter school movement. The Civil Rights Project writes: “Can separate be equal, yes. If measured by test scores, a few resegregated schools show high performance." This point is one that often breaks down discussions about integration, even within the minority community, because some believe that integration policy is a statement that minority schools cannot be successful. Thus, the Civil Rights Project allows that they can (even if inconsistently) and moves on to more important points. It writes, "even if equality can be reached between racially isolated schools, students may never achieve the skills and abilities required to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.” Moreover, 60 years of research demonstrates that integrated schools produce greater academic achievement, higher future earnings, better health outcomes for minority students, reduced racial prejudice, and greater interracial communication skills.
The report argues that school segregation is not inevitable in New York. In fact, the conditions are ripe for integration. There is “a growing diversity of student enrollment in schools and school districts across the state and main metropolitan areas, particularly in urban schools.” Education policy has simply failed to tap into it, instead allowing segregation to persist, if not increase.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Janet Hyde et al. have completed a new meta-analysis of single sex education research, The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis, which was published in the Psychological Bulletin last month. To date, it is the largest and most comprehensive study of its type. Hyde states: "We looked at 184 studies, representing the testing of 1.6 million students in grades K-12 from 21 nations, for outcomes related to science and mathematics performance, educational attitudes and aspirations, self-concept and gender stereotyping. From these, we selected 57 studies that corrected for factors like parental education and economics, which are known to benefit children's school performance." They found that most of schools' claims on behalf of single-sex education are not supported by the research:
- "One claim of single-sex schooling advocates is that, for girls, it will improve math-science performance because they are not mixed with boys who, it's claimed, dominate the classroom. But there is not any advantage, if you look at the controlled studies."
- "The claim that boys do better verbally in single-sex schooling, because they get squelched in a coed setting, did not hold up. And the claim has been made that girls will develop a better self-concept, but again there is no evidence for that."
- "There has been some thinking that this would help ethnic minority boys, but we did not find enough studies covering that topic."
They found the research more consistently showed the harms of single sex-education. "There is a mountain of research in social psychology showing that segregation by race or gender feeds stereotypes, and that's not what we want. The adult world is an integrated world, in the workplace and in the family, and the best thing we can do is provide that environment for children in school as we prepare them for adulthood."
These findings spell legal trouble for the 500 or more districts currently operating some form of single sex education. Supreme Court precedent and federal regulations requite single sex education to be supported by an important government interest. One would be remedying past discrimination, the other improving educational outcomes. Most schools claim the latter, which this study undermines. Nonetheless, a recent story in the Atlantic reports that single sex education has been making somewhat of a comeback. It explores the heated politics on both sides of the issue.
Monday, March 10, 2014
The National Center on Education Statistics has released Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 2012-13. Based on survey responses the report found that
53 percent of public schools needed to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount for schools needing to spend money was about $4.5 million per school. Among schools needing to spend, the cost estimate was based on the best professional judgment of the survey respondent in 57 percent of the schools; on facilities inspection(s)/assessment(s) performed within the last 3 years by licensed professionals in 44 percent of the schools; and on a capital improvement/facilities master plan, schedule, or budget in 42 percent of the schools.
Moreover, 5 to 17 percent of the schools "were rated as unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory" in terms of environmental factors. As NPR put it, our school buildings are in no better shape than our bridges.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I have to admit to not keeping up with research on class size in recent years. A decade ago or so, I was under the impression that social science had reached a consensus that teacher quality mattered more than class size and that, with a high quality teacher, class size did not matter much at all. The only caveat, I thought, was that at-risk students did see some benefit from class-size reduction, even if others did not. Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters' Executive Director, offers a strong retort. Below is a summary of her rebuttal of the 7 myths about class size reduction.
1. Myth: Class size is an unproven or ineffective reform.
She points to the conclusion of the Institute of Education Sciences at the United States Department of Education that
class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments -- the "gold standard" of research. (The other three reforms are one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades first through third; life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics -- and not one of the policies that the corporate reformers are pushing. )
2. Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.
The most comprehensive study of classroom size was in Tennessee. A recent reanalysis of the data in that study found that
for the control group of students who were in the "larger" classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.
Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.
3. Myth: Large scale programs such as class size reduction in California didn't work.
She indicates that control groups in California were hard to find because the entire state reduced class size, but every controlled study of California did find significant gains for students in smaller classes.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
A new report by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the Legal Aid Justice Center show racial disparities in school suspension in Virginia and that reformed threat assessment standards used in 35 schools reduced that racial discipline gap. Zero-tolerance school discipline policies have come under scrutiny for many reasons, prominently because across the board, black students get suspended at up to twice the rates of white students and because suspensions consistently correlate with “disengagement, truancy, poor academic performance, and ultimately, dropping out of school.” (Curry & Lovegrove, 2012). Zero tolerance policies eliminate judgment calls, but also allow little room for common sense appraisals of misbehavior, so students have been suspended for yelling, “firing” a gun with their fingers, and bringing plastic knives to school.
To reduce the negative educational outcomes of school suspensions, UVA’s Curry School of Education created the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines. The Guidelines were modeled on the Secret Service’s methods to assess when a person actually poses a threat (as opposed to having made one). With the caveat that the school’s faculty also authored the standards, the study finds that schools using the Virginia Guidelines have lower rates of school suspensions, including a smaller racial discipline gap among black males. The study notes:
Schools implementing threat assessment had smaller racial disparities in their long-term suspension rates; and
Threat assessment was associated with lower rates out-of-school suspension overall: 15%fewer students receiving short-term suspensions & 25%fewer students receiving long-term suspensions for schools using threat assessment.
For more, click the image or read the study here.
Monday, December 16, 2013
The recent PISA results (Programme for International Student Assessment) show no statistical difference between boys and girls in math or science in the United States. That finding knocks another leg out from under the rationale for single sex education, even though some other assessments like NAEP and AP exams have shown differences in recent years. The explanation for the differening results between the assessments is unclear. But where girls have underperformed, Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, attributes it to a differential "mindset" about their ability to perform well on the assessment. That is consistent with the PISA report, which found that "[E]ven when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they tend to report less perseverance, less openness to problem-solving, less intrinsic and instrumental motivation to learn mathematics, less self-belief in their ability to learn mathematics and more anxiety about mathematics than boys, on average; they are also more likely than boys to attribute failure in mathematics to themselves rather than to external factors."
A differential mindset is not, as one might assume, a reason to separate boys and girls, particularly if that mindset is a product of social inputs. More bluntly, boys' and girls' different mindsets appear to be a function of the social stereotypes that they internalize, not innate differeces. Is the point of single sex education to unravel those stereotypes or is it a concession to the notion that there are innate differences underlying stereotypes? The PISA results strongly challenge the innate differences explanation and I am unaware of single sex programs systematically focusing on eliminating stereotypes. In fact, single sex education would seem to be no better suited to eliminate gender stereotypes than racially isolated schools are to eliminate racial stereotypes.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Following up on Aaron Taylor's post last Wednesday about the economics of higher education admissions, an article in last week's The Atlantic, The Federal Student Aid Program Is Breaking Its Promise to the Poor, highlights Aaron's concerns that wealth can be a "proxy for merit in higher education admissions." The subtitle to the Atlantic article sums up the point: "[s]tudents from households with more than $100,000 in income received more federal aid in recent years than those from households with less than $20,000 in income." According to NCES data, in 2007-2008, students from households with more than $100,000 in income received $8,470 in federal aid versus the $8,060 received by students fom households with less than $20,000 in income. While those numbers may be no news flash to educators in higher ed, the article notes how far the federal student aid program has drifted from President Lydon Johnson's aim in the Higher Education Act of 1965 to help lower income students attend college. Today, colleges use federal student aid to get the new desireables: students that can pay most of their own way and are attracted by scholarships that will allow them to graduate debt-free. As Aaron noted, for many institutions, "merit" aid is given to those with the ability to pay for a slightly reduced tuition. Federal student aid is perversely used in some cases to disincentivize lower income students from enrolling. One way is an admission procedure called admit/deny, which is, an executive at an enrollment firm says, "when you give someone a financial-aid package that is so rotten that you hope they get the message, ‘Don’t come.’”
The Atlantic article is informed by a report (pictured left) by the New American Foundation called Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind. The report in PDF is here.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Progressive and Conservative Groups Align Around Equal Access to Teachers, While Dept. of Education Goes the Other Way
The Center for American Progress has released a new report, Giving Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers, that fits in well with much of the conversation coming from other outlets over the past week or two. The report offers a summary of why access to excellent teachers is so important, emphasizing that:
Excellent teachers—those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress—produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students. On average, children with excellent teachers make approximately three times the progress of children who are taught by teachers in the bottom 20 percent to 25 percent. Students who start behind their peers need this level of growth consistently—not just in one out of four classes—to close persistent achievement gaps. Students in the middle of the academic-achievement continuum need it to exceed average growth rates and leap ahead to meet rising global standards.
The report is skeptical of current policies' approach to expanding access to excellent teachers. Current policies "focus intently . . . on boosting the number of excellent teachers in America’s schools" by "recruiting more high achievers into the teaching profession, creating incentives for better teachers to stay in teaching and teach less-advantaged children, and dismissing the least-effective teachers." But the report concludes that these policies are insufficient in the short term to expand access for the majority of students who need it. Thus, the report offers four proposals through which the federal government could expand access immediately:
1. Structure competitive grants to induce districts and states to shift to transformative school designs that reach more students with excellent teachers and the teams that these teachers lead. Incentivize innovation by awarding funds to districts and states with strong, sustainable plans to transform staffing models in ways that dramatically expand access to excellent teaching and make the teaching profession substantially more attractive.
2. Reorient existing formula grants to encourage transition to new classroom models that extend the reach of great teachers, both directly and through leading teaching teams. Dramatically improve student outcomes by putting excellent teachers in charge of the learning of all students in financially sustainable ways. By teaching more students directly and leading teams toward excellence, great teachers could take responsibility for all students, not just a fraction of them.
3. Create a focal point for federal research and development efforts. Spur rapid progress by gathering and disseminating evidence on policies and practices that extend the reach of excellent teachers, directly and through team leadership, and accelerate development of best-in-class digital tools.
4. Create and enforce a new civil right to excellent teachers, fueling all districts and states—not just the winners of competitive grants—to make the changes needed to reach all students with excellent teachers and their teams.
Notable in these recommendations is the alignment and misalignment with recent studies and developments. The report's first recommendation is strikingly similar to the one growing out the Fordham Institute's recent study, Right Sizing Classrooms, that advocates expanding classroom enrollments for strong teachers and shrinking them for weaker ones. For those who follow the politics of these organizations, the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress do not exactly see eye-to-eye. That they seem to agree on this point is worth noting.
All four of the report's recommendations, and the fourth in particular, run contrary to the Department of Education's announcement last week that it was dropping the requirement of access to effective teachers from the NCLB waiver process. As noted in my post on the change, the Department is acting contrary to existing statutory requirements, a substantial body of research, and the pleas of civil rights advocates. Rather than moving backward on access to excellent teachers, the Center for American Progress's new report proposes that this access be statutorily guaranteed as a civil right because it is so fundamental to educational opportunity.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The typical discussion about classroom size is about whether to make them smaller for disadvantaged students. A new study by the Fordham Institute asks a slightly different question and suggests a different approach: within a single school, would it help to assign more students to the best teachers and fewer to the weaker teachers. The premise of this question is consistent with prior literature that suggested that, generally, the quality of the teacher matters more the the number of students in the class (although that conclusion does not necessarily follow in regard to the most disadvantaged students). The Fordham Institutes's study concludes that schools can, in fact, maximize achievement and more efficiently marshall their resources by assigning strong teachers to larger classrooms, rather than assigning the same number of students to every teacher's classroom.
One unanswered question is what the teachers think about this.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
One of the reasons why integration is a powerful tool for improving educational outcomes is that it creates equal access to resources. In a racially and socio-economically stratified education system, the stubborn reality is that the "haves" will almost always out compete the "have-nots" for the best teachers and the "haves" will resist equity policies that interfere with their ability to out compete. These realities are what make the new study from the Department of Education's Institute for Educational Science on teacher transfers so interesting. It was able to answer the question of "what if we could get the best teachers to teach in the neediest schools." Prior programs have be relatively ineffective in getting high quality teachers to transfer or seek jobs in high need districts. Some studies have found that the cost of incentivizing teachers was prohibitively high.
This new study overcomes the incentive problem and founds impressive results. A pilot program in 10 districts across 7 states identified "[t]he highest-performing teachers in each district—those who ranked in roughly the top 20 percent within their subject and grade span in terms of raising student achievement year after year (an approach known as value added)," and offered them "$20,000, paid in installments over a two-year period, if they transferred into and remained in designated schools that had low average test scores."
The major findings from the study were:
• The transfer incentive successfully attracted high value-added teachers to fill targeted vacancies. Almost 9 out of 10 targeted vacancies (88 percent) were filled by the high-performing teachers who had been identified as candidates eligible for the transfer intervention. To achieve those results, a large pool of high-performing teachers was identified (1,514) relative to the number of vacancies filled (81). The majority of candidates did not attend an information session (68 percent) or complete an online application to participate in the transfer intervention (78 percent).
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on test scores (math and reading) in targeted elementary classrooms. These impacts were positive in each of the two years after transfer, between 0.10 and 0.25 standard deviations relative to each student’s state norms. This is equivalent to moving up each student by 4 to 10 percentile points relative to all students in their state. In middle schools, we did not find evidence of impacts on student achievement. When we combined the elementary and middle school data, the overall impacts were positive and statistically significant for math in year 1 and year 2, and for reading only in year 2. Our calculations suggest that this transfer incentive intervention in elementary schools would save approximately $13,000 per grade per school compared with the cost of class-size reduction aimed at generating the same size impacts. However, overall cost-effectiveness can vary, depending on a number of factors, such as what happens after the last installments of the incentive are paid out after the second year. We also found there was significant variation in impacts across districts.
• The transfer incentive had a positive impact on teacher-retention rates during the payout period; retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred was similar to their counterparts in the fall immediately after the last payout. We followed teachers during both the period when they were receiving bonus payments and afterward. Retention rates were significantly higher during the payout period—93 versus 70 percent. After the payments stopped, the difference between cumulative retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred
A recent survey of 282 colleges and 44 college administrators found that 67% of students experienced harassment on campus and 61% witnessed another student being harassed. Those students reported that the harassment had significant effects on their education. Forty-six percent said harassment caused disappointment with college experience. Twenty percent said harassment interfered with their concentration in class. And 23% said harassment caused them to miss class and other campus activities. Only 17% of students, however, actually reported the harassment to a college officials. Fifty-five percent of college administrators cite the cause of the low reporting rates as begin poor reporting and enforcement mechanism.
The survery is not nearly as nuanced as the ones conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), but its results are largely consistent with the AAUW's last report in 2005, Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus. As some may recall, reports of this sort were important in prompting the Supreme Court to extend Title IX liability to schools for on-campus harassment. Those cases, however, addressed elementary and secondary schools. Given the different and decentralized context of college campuses, the problem of higher education harassment does not easily mess with the rules developed for elementary and secondar schools. These persistently high numbers in college suggest a different approach is necessary (not that the problem has been solved in elementary and secondary schools).
Friday, November 8, 2013
A new report by the Altarum Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Business Case for Racial Equity, details the economic impact of racial inequality and the benefits of advancing racial equity, particularly given the evolving demography of our nation. It argues, based on economic and social science studies, that increasing racial equity would benefit businesses, government, and the overall economy. It focuses on housing, education, health and criminal justice as the primary areas of inequality that need to be addressed. In education, the report posits that school integration, pre-k education, and high expectations for minority students would produce significant benefits. The arguments and research in regard to each of these education proposals are not new, but the report, unlike most, does bring these three distinct educational reforms together into a single argument about the economy.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
In a brief released today, Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center, emphasizes what I have argued in several posts regarding the litigation over Louisiana's voucher program: the politics of vouchers are attempting to run roughshod over the basic constitutional doctrines of school desegregation. In a far more detailed way than I could through blog posts, Welner's brief details how this litigation got transformed into "Much Ado about Politics." The brief's introduction:
explains that Louisiana Gov. Jindal and other opponents either misunderstand or misrepresent the actions of the US Department of Justice, which is attempting to bring Louisiana’s voucher program within the scope of existing law and to avoid predictable harm to children that would occur if their racial isolation were increased. Research evidence does not support claims that vouchers advance educational or civil rights. The evidence does, however, establish that racial isolation is harmful to children and to society. Such racial isolation was not acceptable when Freedom of Choice plans were first proposed in the 1960’s, and it is no more acceptable today. Whereas the goal 45 years ago was to maintain segregation, the goal today is to forcefully push aside concerns about segregation. Neither goal is consistent with core American values.
The full brief is available here.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
On valuing education, he says this stereotype is an assumption based on less parental involvement at the school building itself by low-income families, but he points out that the inability to be at school is caused by job, transportation, and other barriers poor families face, not a lack of interest. He says there is no information to infer that they actually value education less. The laziness stereotype is easily debunked by the fact that many poor families work more hours and jobs than other families. They just make less money. On substance abuse, he says data shows that wealthier families actually have a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse than poor families. They, of course, also have more money with which to indulge.
The linguistic deficient, however, was the most interesting. He does not contest that lower income parents may have less formal vocabularies, which also manifests itself in their children’s oral communication. He does contest that they are less complex or necessarily eqaute to ignorance. He points to evidence that indicates oral vocabularies are not as closely linked to reading and writing vocabularies as one might think. In short, a child’s oral linguistics are not a limit on their ability to learn to read. This makes sense because, after all, reading is new to all kids, regardless of how well they might speak. Gorski acknowledges that low-income students do tend to start school with fewer reading skills than other students, but he argues this is a function of difference in access to quality pre-k educational opportunities, not necessarily their parents’ communication skills. His debunking of the bad parent stereotype is largely intertwined with the previous four points.
So why are these stereotypes so prevalent and where do they come from? Part of it, he says, is our
Friday, October 25, 2013
• Encouraging innovation, such as giving priority to multi-district charters that seek to serve a socio-economically and racially diverse student body, or that address the needs English language learners or students at-risk of dropping out
• Ensuring that charter schools are not impeding access, through means explicit or subtle, to any and all students who are eligible to enroll, including very low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
• Requiring public transparency in the lottery process; in maintaining waiting lists and documenting transfers and attrition; in adhering to state and federal due process in student discipline matters; and by disclosure of annual budgets, including funds and other support received from private sources.
Their full statement is available after the jump.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Earlier this summer, I posted on a law enforcement analysis of why we should put more money into pre-k education as well a report by the Alliance for Education on the broader fiscal impacts of graduation rates. The Alliance has now turned its report into an interactive tool that allows viewers to parse out the effects based on local tax revenues, federal tax revenues, lost income, gross domestic product, home sales, jobs etc. The national effect of increasing our graduation rate to 90% would be to generate an additional $1.3 billion in federal tax revenues and $661 million in state an local taxes off of an additional $8.1 million in additional earnings by the graduates. I would assume, however, that those numbers would compound over time as the previous year's graduates stay in the market and are followed by new cohorts each year. It is not clear whether that effect is already cooked into the Alliance's data. If not, it needs to be. Regardless, the harder question is how much it would cost to increase our graduation rates to 90%. Right now, the federal government spends about $15 billion on primary and secondary schools (excluding the one time Race to the Top grants). Thus, the assumed additional tax gains would cover only about a 10% increase in federal education spending, although based on law enforcement's report, we might be able to double federal spending on education if we accounted for the savings we would generate from lowered crime and incarceration rates. But again, is that enough? Based on my rough sense of costing out studies performed in various states, that would probably get us close. A national costing-out study performed by DOE would certainly help close that knowledge gap.
The value/fun of this new tool, however, may be its local uses at the state and city level. I found that South Carolina is missing out on $18 million in taxes and the city of Columbia $3.5 million (based on $194 million and $37 million in additional incomes, respectively). Those sound like big numbers at the local level, although South Carolina's are proportionally bigger than many other states given how low our current graduation rates are.
Below is a picture taken of a Standord CREDO presentation. I have tried to find the underlying report on CREDO's website, but maybe it is still in the works. (If anyone knows better, please contact me). My interpretation of the slide is that, contrary to common beliefs, legal restrictions on charter schools are not necessarily a cause of slowed growth. For instance, the first row indicates that charter school growth is the slowest in states that never had a cap on them to begin with. And the greatest growth is in places where there has always been a cap. Similar patterns pop up in the other rows. One might surmise then that restrictions on charter schools serve as political lightening rods, against which charter advocates react and which potentially causes greater growth. Let's hope a report is forthcoming that provides more clarity.
Monday, October 21, 2013
The Southern Education Foundation's new report, A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and the Nation, is mind-boggling in its implications for the future of educational equity, educational quality, and integration. We have long known of the suburban-urban divide that stalled integration decades ago, as well as the flight of families with means to private schools. This new report shows that things have gotten worse, really worse. Throughout the south and much of the west, poor students are now the majority of enrolled students statewide. In Mississippi, an eye-popping 71% of public school students are poor. The north and midwest are still majority middle income, but only on a statewide basis. Thirty-eight of 50 states' city schools are majority poor.
This is a new phenomenon. It was not until 2007 that the south's schools become majority poor. The south and other states only crossed over into this territory as a result of enormous growth in poor students between 2001 and 2011. The south saw 33% growth in poor students, the west 31%, the midwest 40% and the northeast 21%. School funding has been woeful during this same period. As SEF's chart below reveals, the northeast is the only place where funding has kept pace with with the growth in the percentage of poor students (although this is not to say it has grown enough there either).
Based on these findings, I see four enormous problems. First, meaningful integration has become even less possible than before. If one accepts the dominant social science findings of the past several decades that attending a middle income school is a major predictor of success, these crucially import schools and districts are disappearing. In other words, there are fewer and fewer people with whom to integrate. Second, the political pressure against integration and for neighborhood schools is going to mount among those middle income families that remain. Although not often talked about, one of the key events in Wake County, North Carolina in the past few years was that it became majority poor. Thus, it is no surprise that this district, which had a long commitment to integration, has seen enormous tensions and took steps to undo integration. In short, Tea Partiers may have flamed the fire in Wake County, but tipping over into a majority poor district started the fire.
Third, funding for schools just became a lot more problematic because the important political base that would otherwise support it is no longer a majority. It has bled off into private schools and wants vouchers and tax breaks, both of which have seen rapid growth in just the past few years. Moreover, another significant chunk of middle income families has left or may leave for charter schools in hopes of isolating themselves at public expense. Either way, support for the traditional public school is in serious jeopardy.
Fourth, the public schools got dumped into a deep hole over the past decade. Most research indicates that poor children require 40% more funding than middle income children to receive an adequate education. Even if we assumed that 2001 levels of funding were adequate, the growth in funding since then has been insufficient to cover the cost of the additional poor children entering public school. But, of course, funding was not adequate in many, if not most, districts in 2001. Thus, school funding has gone from bad to awful.
I wish I could offer constructive thoughts on the way forward, but this report is just too much at the moment. It calls for nothing short of serious, crisis mode conversations about our commitment to public education that very few leaders are willing to have. After all, their constituents are already pursuing other options. A change of course will only occur if they take this report as seriously as I do.
Friday, October 18, 2013
New Pre-K Study Emphasizes Long-term Positive Effects on Graduation, Employment and Criminal Behavior
The Society for Research in Child Development just released its new report, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. The report does not offer any striking new findings, but it does an excellent job of presenting pre-k research in a very reader-friendly manner. Reader-friendliness, however, was not the enemy of nuance. The report focuses on specific studies and specific limitations. For instance, it indicates that, while pre-k produces impressive short-term academic improvements in math, literacy and language, studies often find the gains fading across time in later grades, at least as measured by standardized tests. This problem has been used by opponents to argue that pre-k is not a good investment. The report provides a powerful rejoinder.
First, the fact that initial gains do not always show up on later tests does not mean that the gains are lost. It may mean that the gains are not being properly measured. Later standardized tests may be testing student knowledge differently or later schools have moved to a different method of instruction and curriculum. Even if the tests were valid measures of learning, which many question, I would say that different methodologies and tests are both are highly possible explanations for the purported "fading of pre-k gains," particularly given the constant churn in tests and standards in recent decades.
Second, the hypothesis of the first point is strongly supported by the fact that students who were in pre-k programs do show significant educational and life outcomes on measures other than standardized tests:
We do not fully understand why the gains of pre-k appear to fade in later grades, but it programs also produced striking results for criminal behavior; fully 60-70% of the dollar-value of the benefits to society generated by Perry Preschool come from impacts in reducing criminal behavior. In Abecedarian, the Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education treatment group’s rate of felony convictions or incarceration by age 21 is fully one-third below that of the control group. Other effects included reductions in teen pregnancy in both studies for treatment group members and reductions in tobacco use for treatment group members in Abecedarian.
Added to this impressive criminal justice, pregnancy, and tobacco results are positive effects on high school graduation and employment after high school. The study also points out that, whatever might be said of pre-k in general, it has the strongest impact on the neediest students.