Friday, October 4, 2013
South Carolina Appleseed just released its report on teacher and student dropouts in the state. It begins with an alarming assessment from Education Week: "Public high schools in South Carolina graduate on 61.7 percent of their students. This is 12 percent less than the national average and 26 percent less than the state's federally-defined graduation performance goal." The report attributes the state's dropout problem to its harsh approach to student discipline. State statutes, for instance, include standards that authorize the expulsion of students based on vague and relatively minor misbehavior. The report's proposed solutions are directed at parents, school officials and employees, and the state legislature. As to the legislature, the report recommends:
The legislature must repeal or significantly amend the “Disturbing Schools” statute to remove the current catch-all wording that permits the arrest of students for any number of typical misbehaviors, including “acting obnoxiously.”
The legislature must amend state law so that school boards do not have the discretion to expel a student for vague infractions, such as “gross misbehavior,” “persistent disobedience” or “other acts as determined by local school authorities.”
School districts should be required to disaggregate and report data by school on suspensions, expulsions and criminal charges against students. This information should include the duration of each exclusion from school and the reason for the discipline. Districts also should be required to report the number of students readmitted to school after the end of their punishment.
The report is South Carolina specific, but these recommendations would be good medicine for most other states as well. It also includes a good overview of the current research on positive behavioral interventions and supports.
More Districts Offer Free School Meals to Students and Must Find New Ways to Count Low-Income Students
School districts around the country are making free school breakfasts and lunches available to all students in a continuing rollout of changes to eligibility requirements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA eliminated the requirement for family income-eligibility surveys for free and reduced-price meals for the 2013-2014 school year. (No link to the USDA’s website is available because of the federal government shutdown.) In a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center said that “[m]ore than 2,200 high-poverty schools serving nearly 1 million children in seven states — one in ten children across these states — operated under community eligibility during the 2012-2013 school year.” Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a “community eligibility option” allows schools in high-poverty areas to offer breakfast and lunch free to all students at no charge. On Wednesday, official from the Dallas Independent School District called the move “a wonderful benefit” as it will help ensure that students are not hungry during the school day and eliminate the paperwork that districts have to complete for meals eligibility. However, eliminating eligibility surveys does have a downside—districts used free- and reduced-price lunch data to Title I aid and measure accountability testing under No Child Left Behind Act for schools that serve low-income students. In a 2002 “Dear Colleague” letter, the ED approved of using school lunch program data to disaggregate student assessment scores, for “student eligibility for supplemental educational services, and under certain circumstances, in prioritizing opportunities for public school choice.” Now that the USDA surveys are no longer required, districts will have to find new ways to identify low-income students for those purposes. The ED offered guidance for districts to gather data in a 2012 policy letter here.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Priscilla Wohlstetter, Joanna Smith, and Caitlin C. Farrell have published In Choices and Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective (Harvard Education Press, 2013). The book analyzes more than 400 journal articles and think-tank papers regarding charter school innovation, student performance, accountability outcomes, competition and more.
Cribbing from the press release:
On student achievement, which Wohlstetter calls the “lightning-rod issue,” she says “the-big finding that continues to hold up in state after state” is that “charter schools are over-represented at both the higher and lower ends of student achievement.” Which raises the policy question: “Why are we not replicating schools at the high end, and why are authorizers not closing down schools at the low end?”
On the question of how charter schools use their autonomy, the answer seems to be: not much and not terribly well.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The UNC Center for Civil Rights has launched a multi-year Inclusion Project Project, "which is dedicated to understanding, documenting, and addressing the persistent and related impacts of the legacy of residential segregation." It will analyze the effects of residential segregation on public education, municipal underbounding, and environmental racism. The Center's first report, The State of Exclusion, is now available. In addition to housing opportunity and environmental hazard exposure, the report offers a sophisticated empirical analysis of each of North Carolina's communities and shows the disparities in access to racially integrated schools, middle income schools and high performing schools.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
By a new era, I do not mean a forward looking or an improved era. I mean an era the state has not seen in decades. I mean an era that resembles the days before Brown v. Board of Education. LaJuana's post this morning contained a lot of news on Alabama, but the piece that struck me the most was the enormous decline in support for its schools and the push to amend its constitution in a not so good way.
My comparison to pre-Brown days is not meant to suggest that Alabama wishes to resegregate its schools--although I doubt race is irrelevant to the moves afoot in the state. It is a comparison to stark educational deprivation and inequality. The level of educational defunding in Alabama is mind-boggling and threatens to push the poorest and neediest schools--if not the entire state--into a class of their own, whose deprivations cannot be rivaled anywhere else in the country. On top of that, many wish to strip children of their constitutional right to education, something unheard of and unspeakable in this country for some time.
After accounting for inflation, the Center on Budget Priorities Report reveals a $1,200 decline in per pupil expenditures in Alabama between fiscal years 2008 and 2014. To put this number in local perspective, it amounts to a 20% decline in funding in Alabama. In other words, 1 out of 5 education dollars in the state is gone, or the money for 1 out of 5 children has vanished. To put this number in national perspective, in 2006, the Education Trust reported a national funding gap between the highest and lowest poverty districts of $1,300 per pupil. So in comparison, Alabama's funding shortfall turns the entire state into a similarly underfunded subclass. No matter where a student lives in the state, he or she might reasonably be treated as a poverty class that trails the rest of the nation. Moreover, these cuts come on top of the fact that Alabama already had one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the nation, and distributed those funds among school districts in one of the most regressive ways in the nation. See School Funding Fairness Report. In short, awful is getting much worse in Alabama. In a high poverty, regressively funded school district in a state with an educational system in a subclass of its own, a new era of educational deprivation not seen in decades is a serious risk.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Mathematica Report on Teach for America: More Effective Math Teachers or a Case of "Irrational Exuberance"?
The conversation about Teach for America (TFA) has been reignited by a new study by Mathematica Policy Research last week, which concludes that TFA teachers were more effective in teaching secondary math than their peers who entered teaching from traditional routes or from alternative teaching programs. The study focused on secondary math because this it is an area experiencing teacher shortages. Mathematica evaluated the effectiveness of Teach for America and Teaching Fellows (an alternative teaching fellowship program) teachers and found that “[o]n average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers,” an impact “equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.” The study found no significant difference between Teaching Fellows and traditional teachers in secondary math assessments. The report, The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Programs, was sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, and is available here.
Below is Mathematica's video presentation of the study's findings:
Monday, September 16, 2013
Last week, I posted on a law enforcement organization's support for pre-k as a way to reduce crime and save money. This week, the Alliance for Excellent Education has released a report that looks at the other side of education: high school graduation rates. The report offers extensive details of the current costs of crime and how a five percent increase in the male graduation rate would affect those costs. According to the report, the nation could save as much as $18.5 billion in annual crime costs and generate an additional $1.2 billion in tax revenues (from workers who would otherwise be involved in crime or jail).
Of course, the benefits extend beyond money and include a reduction in the number of victims of crime. Per year, the report estimates 59,000 fewer assaults, 17,000 fewer burglaries, 37,000 fewer larcenies, 31,000 fewer vehicle thefts, 4,000 fewer rapes, and 1,500 fewer robberies. Missing from the report is an exact indication of how much it would cost to increase the graduation rate by 5 percent, but the report's comparisons between the per pupil costs of education and the costs of crime argue the cost of increasing graduation rates would only be a fraction of our current crime costs.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Connecticut Department of Education has released a report comparing the performance of Hartford city students who are enrolled in a magnet school or surburban school to the performance of those who remain in their local school. "The data indicate that Hartford-resident students enrolled in choice programming opportunities perform at higher levels than those who are enrolled in the city public schools," said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education. In fact, the differences are quite stark. As the CT Mirror explains,
[I]n a typical fifth grade Hartford classroom of 25 students last school year, 12 students were not proficient in reading. In a magnet school run by the Capitol Region Education Council with students from all over the region, just two of the 25 students from Hartford were not proficient.
The option to transfer to a suburban school or apply to a magnet school stems from the seminal case Sheff v. O'Neill (1996), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Hartford's racially isolated schools violate those students' right to an equal education under the state constitution. This new report by the state is the first to examine the achievement affects of the program. After seeing the data, Martha Stone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, was emboldened. “I challenge the state to show any other mechanism that is closing the achievement gap as quickly,” said Stone. “The state should be looking at regional solutions if we really want to solve the problem in a robust way.”
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
A new and robust study of 20 years of data from Australia--The Myth of Markets in School Education--concludes that its schools do not operate as markets. The conclusion/assertion rests on two major factual findings: most public schools do not face any real competition because there are no competitors; and the connection between school autonomy and student performance is weak. I am sure that opponents and supporters of school choice, charters, and the like will seize on or discount this report in the coming days. In the end, I am not sure how much it can tell us about our own system.
Most obviously, it is from Australia and based on a different system, geography, and demography. Putting those differences aside, it seems to conceptualize different issues than the ones we often debate here. For instance, while many in the United States support school choice and charters on the premise that they will increase competition and reform the whole system, a major motivation of those policies in the United States is based on individual autonomy and exit strategies. Some would go further and claim that this global reform is just window dressing for policies really meant to undermine the traditional public system. Even short of this extreme claim, the effect on the education system as whole is a secondary concern for major school choice constituencies. For them, the primary motivation is to allow parents to choose/decide their children's educational fates. Thus, choice, charters, and vouchers are ends in an of themselves. If this is the case, the Australian study may address points that are potentially irrelevant to many here.
My quibble with the report itself is that it seems to equate operating like a market with operating like an effective and beneficent market. To the extent school autonomy and competition policies do not have a positive effect, the report concludes there is a market myth. In my article, Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I frame the problem slightly differently. Charters, vouchers, and choice necessarily create a market in the places where they exist. The question then is what effect--positive or negative--these policies have on education systems, whether it be global or local. My analysis, like the Australian report, finds little evidence of an effective and beneficent market, but, unlike the Australian report, finds a market of sorts anyway. This market, however, can operate to the detriment of public schools because public schools are premised on concepts of the public good that are antithetical to markets. That these policies have nonetheless gained so much traction in public policies is a testament to the fact that they resonate so deeply with those concerned about personal autonomy. It also highlights the importance of making moral, or pseudo-moral, claims in education, a point which I argue civil rights advocates need to remember here.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, National Women's Law Center, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council, just release their report on the United States’ Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report is titled, Still Segregated: How Race and Poverty Stymie the Right to Education ( Download Still_Segregated2013). This report is a follow up to an earlier report. The report focuses on three major points: 1) persistent racial and socioeconomic segregation, inequity and discrimination; 2) inadequate court responses to inequity; and 3) inadequate policy responses to inequity.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The Wall Street Journal ran a story Sunday on the rising costs of attending public school. Things that once were free are increasingly coming with a price tag, like bus transportation, extracurricular activities, athletics, music class, debate club. Well, one might say, those are all extra things that go beyond the basics of education. But many schools go beyond charging for optional activities. A school in Colorado charges for foreign language class, math class, and advanced placement class. Some schools charge for textbooks.
I would hope and assume that there are waivers for low-income students, but I am skeptical that this solves the problem. There is already a huge socio-economic and racial gap in terms of who participates in enriched academic programs like AP classes. Placing a pricetag only reinforces that gap. Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that these fees exist in states whose courts have held these children have a constitutional or fundamental right to education. The ACLU picked up on this idea in Michigan and brought suit to enjoin the fees. Fortunately, the district buckled before the beginning of the school year. Without concerted activism or litigation, however, few other districts seem poised to do the same.
Friday, September 6, 2013
A national law enforcement organization just released a report titled, “I’m the guy you pay later,” finding that President Obama’s proposed pre-kindergarten program would “reduce the number of people who are incarcerated nationwide by 200,000 every year and lead to $75 billion in cost savings over 10 years.” More than 1,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors also signed a letter urging Congress to enact the President’s program.
"[T]he federal cost of the preschool element of the proposal, $75 billion over 10 years, is only one-tenth of the $75 billion that is spent every year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons and local jails. The report also shows that implementing the proposal could save $75 billion over the next 10 years as a result of lowered costs for incarceration, thereby paying for the proposal’s federal costs."
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Two weeks ago, I posted on the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcome's (CREDO) new charter school study, which indicated that, on the whole, charter schools have shown improvement since 2009. The prior 2009 CREDO study, in contrast, had reached less than flattering findings regarding charters and had been a key source of evidence for charter opponents. I point this out because it meant that the new, marginally positive results were not coming from a charter school "cheer leader." On that basis, I gave the new findings special attention and the benefit of the doubt.
Those far more expert than myself in statistical methods, however, have dug into the report and begun to raise serious questions. In fact, the report is now drawing criticisms from all sides. Some charter school advocates will still charge that the report does not give charters enough credit and understates the gains they are making. In other word, the report may be positive news for charters, but not positive enough. Others charter advocates take a slightly different route and wildly exaggerate the study's findings. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools posted this news blurb:
Stanford University Study Finds Public Charters Better Serve Disadvantaged Student Populations
A study released by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that public charter school students in 27 states are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading while making significant gains in math.
Sorry, but the study does not exactly say that. It says charter schools in these states have shown more gain than traditional public schools, but charters were starting from a lower point. They have not, however, surpassed traditional public schools in achievement. The new CREDO study finds that, on the the whole, only 25% of charters outperform public schools in reading and only 29% outperform public schools in math.
One leading charter school proponent is neither overstating or applauding the report. Instead, it is calling the study into question in a way that undermines the entire study and deprives charters of any positive spin they might put on it. Jeanne Allen, director of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform, says that "[t]he way that CREDO has manipulated data and made conclusions about policy based on that data is absolutely 'uncredible.' " A news release on the Center's website adds:
The new CREDO report, an update of one previously issued in June 2009, is again extremely weak in its methodology and alarming in its conclusions. . . No matter how well-intentioned, the CREDO research is not charter school performance gospel . . . Similar to its failed 2009 effort, this CREDO study is based on stacking mounds of state education department data into an analytical process that is decidedly lacking in rigor.
This criticism from inside the charter school community is causing significant internal dissension, as reported by NPR.
The National Education Policy Center, a non-partisan academic research center at the University of Colorado, has also raised more pointed and serious questions that suggest the gains reported may not exist. In a release from yesterday, Andrew Maul & Abby McClelland offered this overall review:
The study finds a small positive effect of being in a charter school on reading scores and no impact on math scores; it presents these results as showing a relative improvement in average charter school quality since CREDO’s 2009 study. However, there are significant reasons for caution in interpreting the results. Some concerns are technical: the statistical technique used to compare charter students with “virtual twins” in traditional public schools remains insufficiently justified, and may not adequately control for “selection effects” (i.e., families selecting a charter school may be very different from those who do not). The estimation of “growth” (expressed in “days of learning”) is also insufficiently justified, and the regression models fail to correct for two important violations of statistical assumptions. However, even setting aside all concerns with the analytic methods, the study overall shows that less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrollment. With a very large sample size, nearly any effect will be statistically significant, but in practical terms these effects are so small as to be regarded, without hyperbole, as trivial.
More specifically, they point out that the study threw out 15% of charter school students from the study because it could not produce a "virtual twin" match in the regular public schools. These excluded students, however, had scores that were .43 standard deviations below other charter school students. In other words, many of the weakests charter school students were not even counted.
Second, (if I understand it correctly) the study's statistical model compared individual students in charter schools to individual students in public schools. Maul and McClelland seriously question this model, however, because it does not account for classroom variables. For instance, what if the charter school classroom had a higher average soci0-economic status than the public school classroom? If this were the case, any increased learning in the charter could easily be a result of the positive peer effects of the classroom demographics rather than the charter school's instructional method or structure.
Third, they point out that the CREDO study's "virtual twin" methodology does not account for error rate in students' standardized test scores. In other words, students with the same standardized test scores are not always similarly situated and, thus, statistical modeling is necessary to adjust for that. CREDO did not. Maul and McClelland's full review is available on the National Education Policy Center here.
Reports of this scale and importance will always generate criticism, but these criticisms seem to strike hard at the core of the report. If these criticisms are valid, one must wonder why CREDO made these leaps. Did it feel compelled to reach more favorable findings than in 2009? If so, why? Or was this just poor research design? Either way, this new study may be destined to live under a cloud of doubt, rather than become a definitive study like its 2009 counterpart.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
The number of students enrolled in Florida's voucher program grew by a stunning 27 percent this year. A new state department of education report on the program indicates:
In 2012-2013, Step Up For Students awarded a total of approximately $207 million in FTC scholarships to 51,075 students enrolled in 1,338 participating Florida private schools. The 51,075 students in 2012-2013 is an increase of 10,827 students over the 2011-2012 student total of 40,248 as reported in the June 2012 FTC Quarterly Report. This represents an enrollment increase of 27%. The 1,338 private schools participating in 2012-2013 represent an increase of 10% from the 1,216 private schools that participated during the 2011-2012 school year.
The growth appears to be a result not of students leaving the public school system, but of students who never entered the public school system. "Students enrolled in Kindergarten through Grade 3 make up approximately 53% of the scholarship recipients." The racial and ethnic participants in the program are 33 percent African-American students, 35 percent Hispanic students, 25 percent white and 7 percent other. Religious schools make up 82.5 percent of the voucher school recipients. All of these are interesting numbers given that the state supreme court in Bush v. Holmes, 919 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006), had struck down a previous verion of the state's voucher program as violating the state's constitutional duty to deliver a uniform and adequate public school system.
For more commentary on the report, see here.