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.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
In Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I raised the problem of some districts' continuing financial viability with the growth of charter schools (along with several other issues). I don't suggest that charters are a per se threat to public schools, but focus on the paradigm cases of a small rural district that operates one middle school and one high school. Opening one charter school can jeopardize the fiscal stability of the district and create dilemmas of conscious for families. The same type of problem can occur in large school districts, but the growth of charters has to been rather significant.
A new report by Moody's indicates that some districts have already reached this point and others may do so in the future:
The dramatic rise in charter school enrollments over the past decade is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas. . . . Charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already show a degree of underlying economic and demographic stress. . . .
"While the vast majority of traditional public districts are managing through the rise of charter schools without a negative credit impact, a small but growing number face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.". . .
Charter schools can pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs, says Moody's. As some of these districts trim costs to balance out declining revenues, cuts in programs and services will further drive students to seek alternative institutions including charter schools.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Edsource.org recently released an interactive website that allows users to compare various major education metrics against one another (per pupil expenditures, teach salaries, student-to-teacher ratios, NAEP scores, etc.). It also compares the states against one another on scatter-plots and line graphs. Users can also track changes in the data across four decades. It is an incredibly powerful and efficient tool for those looking for basic data calculations and comparisons. It may be the most user friendly I have seen. For that reason, I am sure students will love it.
With that said, some of the underlying data calculations are relatively simplistic and do not fully account for geographic costs, student need, and other relavant local factors (although there is a per-capita income versus local spending chart). In this respect, the data can be misleading to the average observer. The most sophisticated analysis of school funding continues to be the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education's reports. Edsource.org, however, covers broader categories of data and, thus, using the ELC/RGSE reports in conjunction with this website could be helpful.
Friday, the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University-Newark jointly released two reports on school segregation in New Jersey. The first by the Civil Rights Project tracks racial imbalance in New Jersey's schools from 1989 to 2010, finding increasing levels of imbalance over time. The second report by the Institute on Education Law focuses on the most heavily segregated schools in the state. It finds several urban areas in the state with schools that "enroll virtually no white students but have a high concentration of poor children." These schools, however, "are located in close proximity to overwhelmingly white suburban school districts with virtually no poor students."
This second report, unlike many of the past, goes one step further to analyze the legal implications of this hyper segregation, arguing that it violates the state's constitution. New Jersey's education clause is one of the strongest in the nation and has been used in the Abbott v. Burke litigation to ensure one of if not the highest funded and most progressive school finance formulas in the country. Less tested is the state constitution's prohibition on segregation. For years, scholars have suggested that New Jersey would make a good state to replicate the strategy of Sheff v. O'Neill, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that its state constitution prohibited school segregation, even where the segregation was unintentional.
These two reports should turn up the heat on the state by focusing on it specifically and suggesting a legal battle may be coming.
Monday, October 7, 2013
This summer Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang released a study through the National Bureau of Economic Research that analyzes the effect that high stakes testing has had on graduation rates, employment and incarceration. The study found that high stakes testing had a negative effect on graduation, but that the effect was minimal and potential only transitory during the period of high stakes testing implementation. The study found no effect on employment outcomes. The major finding of the study was "a robust adverse effect of standards-based exams on the institutionalization rate." High stakes exams "increase incarceration" by "about 12.5 percent." The National Education Association and the Congressional Black Caucus are also pressing this line of argument as a critique of current federal policy and the school-house-to-prison pipeline. Also of concern is the fact that low test scores are now also being used to create "parent triggers," whereby parents can transfer their children out of a school, which tends to adversely affect the school and community they leave.
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.