Friday, March 27, 2015
Public Advocates Group Calls for More Transparency and Financial Oversight of California's Charter Schools
Although California law allows its county superintendents to request an "extraordinary audit" of charter schools, a California group argues in a new report that the current law does not provide enough protection against charter school fraud or mismanagement. The Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, estimates in Risking Public Money: California Charter School Fraud, that California could lose more than $100 million to charter school fraud if the state does not reform its oversight of those schools. Below are excerpts from the report's executive summary:
California is home to the largest number of charter schools in the country, with over 1100 schools providing instruction to over half a million students. In the 2013-14 school year, California charter schools received more than $3 billion in public funding. Despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, California has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements and monitoring by oversight bodies, including chartering entities, county superintendents and the State Controller, no oversight body regularly conducts audits. ...
In this report we describe three fundamental flaws with California’s oversight of charter schools:
Oversight depends heavily on self-reporting by charter schools or by whistleblowers. California’s oversight agencies rely almost entirely on audits paid for by charter operators and complaints from whistleblowers. Both methods are important to uncover fraud; however, neither is a systematic approach to fraud detection, nor are they effective in fraud prevention.
General auditing techniques alone do not uncover fraud. The audits commissioned by the charter schools use general auditing techniques rather than techniques specifically designed to detect and uncover fraud. The current processes may expose inaccuracies or inefficiencies; however, without audits targeted at uncovering financial fraud, state and local agencies will rarely be able to detect fraud without a whistleblower.
Oversight bodies lack adequate staffing to detect and eliminate fraud. In California, the vast majority of charter schools are authorized by local school districts that lack adequate staffing to monitor charter schools and ferret out fraud. Staff members who are responsible for oversight often juggle competing obligations that make it difficult to focus on oversight and identify signs of potential fraud and abuse.
Risking Public Money is available here.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Nearly 3.5 million public school students were suspended out of school at least once in 2011-12.12. That is more than one student suspended for every public school teacher in America. This means that more students were suspended in grades K-12 than were enrolled as high school seniors. To put this in perspective, the number of students suspended in just one school year could fill all of the stadium seats for nearly all the Super Bowls ever played—(the first 45). Moreover, recent estimates are that one in three students will be suspended at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade (Shollenberger, 2015).
If we ignore the discipline gap, we will be unable to close the achievement gap. Of the 3.5 million students who were suspended in 2011-12, 1.55 million were suspended at least twice. Given that the average suspension is conservatively put at 3.5 days, we estimate that U.S. public school children lost nearly 18 million days of instruction in just one school year because of exclusionary discipline. Loss of classroom instruction time damages student performance. For example, one recent study (Attendance Works, 2014) found that missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and that they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students (Marchbanks, 2015), as well as for society as a whole (Losen, 2015).
Monday, February 16, 2015
The Schott Foundation has released its 5th edition of the 50-State Report on Public Education and Black Males. Explaining this focus, John Jackson remarks:
While all lives matter, we cannot ignore the fact that, as this reports once again reveals, Black male students were at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates in 35 of the 48 states and the District of Columbia where estimates could be projected for the 2012-2013 school year (Latino males are at the bottom in the other 13 states). This fact provides clear evidence of a systemic problem impacting Black males rather than a problem with Black males. Simply stated, while most will say Black lives matter and are important, the four-year graduation results in this report indicate that most states and localities operate at best, and have created at worse, climates that often don’t foster healthy living and learning environments for Black males.
It is widely accepted in policy and administration that you measure what matters. Yet, as we highlight in this report, in most states and localities it is easier to find data on the incarceration rates of Black males than their high school graduation rates, or any other data that reinforces Black males’ positive attributes.
But he also adds:
although this report historically focuses on Black males (and state level data on Latino males), we highlight in each edition the systemic disparities that are identifiable by race, ethnicity or socio-economic status impact all.
A summary of the findings indicates:
Black males graduated at the highest rates in Maine, Idaho, Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey — each with estimated graduation rates of over 75%. The majority of the states with the top ten highest Black male graduation rates have smaller than average Black male enrollment. New Jersey and Tennessee were the only two states with significant Black male enrollments to have over a 70% Black male graduation rate.
[S]ates with the lowest estimated graduation rate for Black males [include] Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Nebraska, the District of Columbia and Nevada, each at 55% or less.
With over a 25-percentage point gap respectively, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Nevada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have some of the largest gaps between the Black male graduation rate and the White male graduation rates. The majority of the states with the largest gaps are in the Midwest region of the country.
The the full report and supporting materials here.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Last week California’s Attorney General’s office released a report, In School + On Track 2014, discussing high rates of absenteeism in the state’s elementary schools. Contributing factors in the problem of absenteeism, the report notes, are poverty and racial disparities in school discipline. Almost 90% of the elementary students with the most severe attendance problems—those who miss 36 days or more of school per year—are estimated to be low-income. Further, the report notes that racial differences in discipline start early: African American children account for over 40% of all preschool students suspended at least once, although they represent only 18% of preschool enrollment. The Attorney General’s report contains the following key findings:
High mobility students are at greater risk in California given the current lack of statewide infrastructure for tracking attendance. … [S]tudents’ attendance histories are not readily available to a receiving school when a student moves into a new district. Instead, records stay in local siloes, with no modern system to integrate and share information. The lack of information on students’ previous attendance patterns severely hampers prevention and early intervention efforts for students with historically poor attendance, including those the Local Control Funding Formula is expressly designed to assist.
The attendance crisis disproportionately affects disadvantaged students—from higher rates of attendance to greater numbers of missed days of school due to suspensions.
District Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) do not reflect many of the increased efforts districts report making to improve attendance since 2013, and do not reflect the LCFF’s intent for districts to prioritize attendance and chronic absence.
Read In School and On Track 2014 here.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
The Education Trust has released The State of Education for African American Students for 2014. It finds widespread opportunity gaps deprive African Americans of many of the school resources and experiences that contribute to academic success. This gap causes African American students’ performance to continue to fall far behind that of white students. The issue manifests itself not only in the lack of courses and experiences available to African American students (fifteen percent of African American high school student attend schools that do not offer any AP courses in the math, English, science, or social studies), but also in the disproportionate way such opportunities are taken away. For instance, African American students are far more likely to be removed from the classroom for extended periods through suspension and expulsion. The report also notes variances across jurisdictions. While “[n]o state is performing as well as it should be African American students . . . wide variations in performance across states show that what states do matters.” Even within states, the variations between different school districts can be drastic, with certain schools “educating African American students to high levels of achievement” and other districts falling short.
The report is not all bad news. It acknowledges progress. In the last twenty years, the number of
Thursday, May 22, 2014
As we remember Mendez v. Westminster, a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education, the UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles released a report this week finding that California students are more racially segregated than ever. The report lists its key findings as
- California has had an extremely dramatic increase in the segregation of Latinos, who on average attended schools that were 54 percent white in 1970, but now attend schools that are 84 percent nonwhite.
- In 1993, black and Latino students were in schools with 52% and 58% poor children, respectively, and no racial/ethnic group attended schools of overwhelming poverty, on average; by 2012, blacks, on average, attended a school that was two-thirds poor children and Latinos a school more than 70% poor.
- Black and Latino students attend schools that on average have more than two-thirds poor students, while whites and Asians typically attend schools with a majority of middle-class students.
- The typical black student in California today attends a school with more than 2.5 times as many Latinos as blacks, thus making them a minority within a school dominated by another disadvantaged group.
- Latino and African-African-American students are isolated in schools with lower graduation rates, less availability of college preparatory courses, the overuse of suspensions and the number of experienced teachers. By contrast, almost half of Asian American students and about 40% of white students attend schools that rank in the top 20% of Academic Performance Index test scores.
- The most segregated of the state’s twenty largest school districts are Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino Unified and Fontana Unified (near San Bernardino). School districts that are among the most integrated and diverse are in the Sacramento area and Clovis, in the Fresno area.
- The authors point to these less segregated school districts in California, and stress their value to policymakers seeking models for other communities. The report details a half-century of desegregation research showing the major costs of segregation and the variety of benefits of schools that are attended by all races.
Read Segregating California’s Future: Inequality and its Alternative 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education here.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
America's Promise Alliance at Tufts University has released a new study on students who do not complete high school, Don't Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation. Other than in the title and the introduction, the report does not use the word dropouts. In its interview of 200 students and survey results from 3,000 more, it found that these students do not think of themselves as dropouts. The "term does not describe their experience of leaving school. Second, most of the interview participants and survey respondents had returned to school or re-engagement programs to complete their education."
Overall, the study made four major findings:
• Clusters of factors, rather than one event or cause, lead young people away from school. Young people disengage from school because of clusters of factors that affect their lives. There is no single cause driving most students to leave school, nor is there a uniform profile of students who leave school before graduation. Young people who ultimately reengage also do so because of multiple influences.
• Toxic environments. Young people who leave high school are likely to be growing up in harsh environments. That is, they describe surviving violence, being exposed to violence, being affected by adverse health events in their families, or experiencing school climates and policies that are unsafe, unsupportive or disrespectful.
• Yearning for supportive connections. Connectedness to others is both a risk factor and a protective factor for disengaging from school. The nature of relationships with parents, other family members, teachers, counselors, and peers can lead young people toward or away from school.
• Resilience, in need of more support and guidance to thrive. Young people who left school typically bounced back from difficult circumstances. Our data suggest that this resilience is a necessary quality for day-to-day coping, but insufficient by itself for longer-term positive development (what we call reaching up”). In order to thrive, young people require consistent support from people and places that combine caring connections with the capacity to help them navigate around obstacles.
Friday, May 16, 2014
The Advancement Project, which represents a coalition of education and civil rights groups, filed three civil rights complaints this week under Title VI alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey, Chicago, and New Orleans. The complaints challenge the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color. The Advancement Project complaints were filed on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities). In a release about the filings, the Advancement Project stated:
- In Chicago, 50 public schools were closed during the last school year alone. These closures targeted African-American communities, with Black students accounting for only 43 percent of all Chicago students but making up 87 percent of the students affected by the closures.
- With the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
- Newark’s public schools have been under state control since 1995, with no local control or community accountability for nearly 20 years. As a result, Newark communities are powerless to stop New Jersey’s plan to close neighborhood schools – many of which are generational schools that fathers and grandmothers of current schoolchildren had attended years before.
Journey for Justice also released a companion report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Cribbed from its description: the report looks at "the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them."
Friday, April 18, 2014
The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) released its report yesterday concluding that the “young people placed in the juvenile justice system-predominately minority males incarcerated for minor offenses-are receiving a substandard education.” The report, Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems, Steve Suitts, SEF vice president and author of the study, says that the 70,000 students in the juvenile justice system leave “in worse shape than when they entered, struggling to return to school or get their lives back on track." The report makes the recommendations listed below. Read Just Learning here.
To ensure that youth leaving the juvenile justice system have the skills and education they need to reenter school, find jobs, and become productive members of society, the report urges that states:
- Re-organize programs so that they are designed and operated to advance the teaching and learning of students.
- Set and apply the same educational standards that exist for all students in a state to the schools and educational programs in the juvenile justice system.
- Establish effective and timely methods of testing and reporting on the educational status and progress of every child and youth in the juvenile justice system.
- Develop and implement an individual educational plan and learning strategy-including special education, developmental services, academic motivation and persistence, and meta-cognition-to guide the instruction and services of every student in the juvenile justice system.
- Establish systems of coordination and cooperation to provide a seamless transition of students from and back into public schools.
- Create and maintain data systems to measure institutional and system-wide educational progress and identify areas in need of improvement.
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