September 20, 2019


September 17, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

In a new piece for The 74, I argue we know a fair amount about how students learn to read, but much less about how to deliver reading instruction. That’s an important distinction and has implications for how we think about fixing the problem. I conclude:

Another lesson might be that reforms focusing on individual teachers aren’t the right lever to change reading instruction. It seems at least plausible that improving the instructional materials schools use to teach reading might be more effective than trying to shift the opinions and lesson plans of millions of individual classroom teachers.

On that front, this new deck from Bellwether synthesizes a broad body of research on the science of learning and takes a deep dive into what it would take to put that research into practice. I can’t do it justice here, so please go read it.

This Jill Barshay piece on critical thinking skills strikes a similar chord. People don’t just think critically; they have to think critically about something.

Teacher residency programs face unique financial and programmatic challenges. Read how Bellwether supported Kansas City Teacher Residency through a strategic planning process.

There’s a cottage industry of think pieces about a coming “retirement security crisis,” but the truth is that as a group the elderly are doing comparatively well. In contrast, Matt Bruenig writes that, “when looking at disposable income, children are the largest group of poor people in the country.”

Paul Tough on the welders versus philosophers debate. He writes, “The [welder] salaries that make headlines in The Wall Street Journal are somewhere between rare and apocryphal.”

A new study on the Tennessee pre-k expansion found important differences across participants, concluding that, “Among children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, those who took up an experimental assignment to attend preK scored over half a standard deviation higher on average than the control group in third grade. In contrast, preK enrollment had, if anything, a negative effect on third-grade reading achievement among children living in low-poverty neighborhoods.”

Sarah Whiting reflects on pledges as a way to extend internal practices around diversity, equity and inclusion.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  


September 12, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Bellwether has a cool new micro-site on rural charter schools. It profiles four successful rural charter schools that are outperforming state and local averages while serving students who are economically diverse. Check out RuralCharterSchools.org and then read Kelly Robson on what drives their success.

These are some impressive growth trends in AP Computer Science test-taking among females and underrepresented minorities.

EdNavigator reminds us that school closures can be disruptive, but there are also things schools and districts can do to make that transition as successful as possible. With supports in place in New Orleans, “93 percent of students from closing schools with D-F letter grades landed in a new school that was at least one letter grade better, and 66 percent gained seats in a school two letter grades better.”

The Washington Post has a big new piece out today about how our schools are diversifying. Yes, diversifying, you read that correctly. I think this runs counter to the conventional narrative, but they find that, “In 2017, 10.8 million children attended highly integrated public schools, up from 5.9 million in 1995, an 83 percent increase that stems largely from rising diversity outside metropolitan areas.” This over a period when total student enrollment rose just 6 percent. The WaPo also created a handy tool to look up your district.

This new study on Chicago’s selective high schools may surprise some people, particularly the finding that winning a spot at a selective high school may harm disadvantaged students, because it means those students won’t go to a charter school run by the Noble network. The “control” group attending the open-enrollment Noble charters outperformed the “treatment” of going to the selective exam schools.

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data from the BLS are out. The topline finding is that job openings and quit rates are rising across the entire American economy. This is true for education as well, but keep in mind that public K-12 education consistently has lower turnover rates than other sectors in our economy. I’ve circled and added an arrow to the light blue line in the BLS graph comparing industries over time (click on the image to see it larger): 

Tucked into this Washington Post piece on the changing demographics of new hires is an interesting stat on apprenticeships: “Companies and labor unions have also stepped up their outreach to minorities and have their own training programs. Labor Department figures show employers started 3,229 new apprenticeship programs last year — almost double the rate in 2016. Part of the jump may be due to companies feeling the need to grow talent from within and the Trump administration’s push to formally register apprenticeship programs.”

Sue Dynarski argues that taking out a student loan is better than dropping out of college. She writes, “Fully half of community colleges never offer loans…apparently because the schools are concerned that students will get themselves into financial trouble…. But the new evidence strongly suggests that such policies are harming students. Loans provide critical funds for paying tuition, meeting living expenses and buying school supplies. Discouraging students from taking out loans — without providing financial alternatives — harms their ability to progress through college.”

Don’t miss Kris Amundson on how Virginia can support first-generation students applying to college.

A randomized control trial of early college high schools found strong results, according to a new AIR study. Participating students had college completion rates about 12 percent points higher than the control group and, critically, they also earned those credentials earlier, giving participants a headstart into the workforce.

Who knew there was an actual scientific why reason school buses are yellow?

Agnes Callard writes a defense of playing the devil’s advocate… and when and how to do it well.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  

Posted on Sep 12, 2019 @ 6:17pm

September 9, 2019

Will Bachelor’s Degree Attainment Rates Keep Rising?

In 1950, 34.3 percent of American adults had a high school diploma or higher. Over the next 30 years, that percentage would double.

Today, about the same percentage of adults (34.2 percent) have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Will that percentage double over the next 30 years?

That may seem like a crazy question. College is different than high school, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we’ve decided to draw an arbitrary line at 12th grade. After that point, we expect individuals to pay for some or all of their education costs. That arbitrary distinction may be changing, albeit slowly.

But so far at least, high school and college attainment rates are following nearly the same path. The change in the high school attainment rate in the first half of the 1900s looks nearly identical to where we are today in terms of college attainment.

On a grand scale, the high school attainment rate looks like a pretty standard S-curve. After relatively modest gains in the 1910s and 1920s, growth rates started to accelerate in the 1970s and 80s before inevitably slowing down a bit since then:

If you look at only the left half of the high school attainment graph, that’s pretty much where we are in terms of bachelor’s degree attainment. Just like the early years for high school attainment, the growth in bachelor’s degree attainment was pretty slow for a long time but has picked up in recent decades. The data only go through 2017 so far, but in terms of college attainment gains, the 2010s are on track to be the best decade on record:

In fact, the early stages of the high school and college attainment trends look extremely similar. They’re just a couple generations apart. To show what this looks like, I overlaid the high school attainment rate from 1910-1960 versus the college attainment rate from 1975 to today, and the graph below is the result. The two have a correlation of 0.96, and the college attainment results (the red dots) are tightly hugging the blue trend line representing the change in high school attainment from a couple generations prior. 

As I wrote in 2015, the key question is what happens next. Do the college attainment rates stay on the linear trend they have been on, or do they start to look more like the S-curve path that high school attainment eventually followed?

There are a lot of factors that will answer that question. Mortality and immigration matter here, of course, but so do education policies. In the last half of the twentieth century, we created things like compulsory attendance laws, the GED, and the GI Bill to accelerate our attainment rates, to name just a few contributors. At the high school level, we got better at tracking enrollment and completion rates, and we eventually started holding high schools accountable for graduating their students.

All of these efforts are further behind at the higher education level. It’s an open question whether we’ll make the equivalent policy adjustments in higher education as we did in K-12, but the answers to that challenge matter both to the individuals graduating today and to our broader society going forward.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Sep 9, 2019 @ 4:52pm

September 6, 2019

A Fun Read on Statistics and Probability

This New Yorker piece on “What Statistics Can and Can’t Tell Us About Ourselves” is a fun read. It includes this gem about the dangers of too much disaggregation, from epidemiologist Richard Peto and his team studying the effects of aspirin:

By subdividing the big picture, he argued, you introduce all kinds of uncertainty into the results. For one thing, the smaller the size of the groups considered, the greater the chance of a fluke. It would be “scientifically stupid,” he observed, to draw conclusions on anything other than the big picture. The journal was insistent, so Peto relented. He resubmitted the paper with all the subgroups the referee had asked for, but with a sly addition. He also subdivided the results by astrological sign. It wasn’t that astrology was going to influence the impact of aspirin; it was that, just by chance, the number of people for whom aspirin works will be greater in some groups than in others. Sure enough, in the study, it appeared as though aspirin didn’t work for Libras and Geminis but halved your risk of death if you happened to be a Capricorn.

The article also touches on the problem of random events and how we interpret them:

Now, imagine I gave out fair coins to every person in the United States and asked everyone to complete the same test. Here’s the issue: even with a threshold of one in a million—even with everything perfectly fair and aboveboard—we would still expect around three hundred of these people to throw twenty heads in a row. If they were following [statistical significance tests], they’d have no choice but to conclude that they’d been given a trick coin. The fact is that, wherever you decide to set the threshold, if you repeat your experiment enough times, extremely unlikely outcomes are bound to arise eventually.

As a bonus, the piece also includes the line, “people are not well represented by the average. As the mathematician Ian Stewart points out in “Do Dice Play God?,” the average person has one breast and one testicle.”

Check out the full article here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


Weekend Edu-Reads

Caprice Young is a must-read on the new reality facing California charter schools.

Robin Lake bakes a bread metaphor into this piece on school districts and charter schools. It turns out that recipes involving living organisms can be hard to follow. She concludes, “let districts be districts, when they work. But when they don’t, try something else.”

Aaron Churchill has a new report on college readiness in Ohio. He looks at ACT scores, dual enrollment, AP, and industry credentials overall across the state, by county, and by race. While all of these indicators are trending upward across the state, the black-white gap remains large:

Dolly Parton is awesome. And so is this D.C. program she’s involved with that sends free books to kids under 5.

Phillip Burgoyne-Allen says, “Do the electric!” Bus, that is.

How tax policy gave us White Claw and other hard seltzers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


September 5, 2019

College Dropouts Outnumber K-12 Dropouts

Four years ago, I wrote about an eye-opening statistic: More American adults have dropped out of college than out of K-12 education. I recently updated the data, and the long-term trends are continuing:

In pure, raw numbers, college dropouts are now a bigger problem than high school dropouts*. As of 2017, there were almost 31 million college dropouts compared to 22.5 million Americans with less than a high school diploma. Over the last decade, the number of K-12 dropouts has fallen by over 5 million people, while the number of college dropouts has risen by nearly 3 million. As I predicted, this divergence will only accelerate as older generations with lower educational attainment rates are gradually replaced by new generations with higher attainment rates.

Last year I wrote about how this trend should shape the future work of education reformers. My conclusion at the time still stands:

We’ve had some success in boosting low-level basic skills and getting more students through K-12 education, but we need a different set of policy solutions, and a broader perspective, if we’re going to carry that progress through to higher-level skills and higher college completion rates. Finding those answers will matter both to the individuals in our education systems today and to our broader society going forward.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

*Note: “K-12 dropouts” here includes all Americans over age 25 who have less than a GED or high school diploma. “College dropouts” takes all Americans over age 25 who list “some college, no degree” as their highest level of educational attainment and subtracts out anyone over age 25 still enrolled in higher education seeking their first postsecondary credential or degree. 

Posted on Sep 5, 2019 @ 12:31pm

September 3, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads (and Edu-Listens)

Science advances one funeral at a time? That may sound morbid, but a new study finds evidence it may be true.

“Today’s average public school board member is a white male with a family income of over $100K a year.” That’s Beth Tek on the demographics of school board members.

There’s supposedly a retirement savings crisis in this country, and yet Gary Burtless reports that, “Census statistics show that the average real income of elderly households climbed 82 percent between 1979 and 2017 while the average income of households headed by someone younger than 65 increased just 37 percent.”

If you liked my short excerpt from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, I’ve got two (old but still good) podcast recommendations. I recently stumbled upon this episode of the Getting Smart podcast where Tom Vander Ark spoke with Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance Learning about the science of deliberate practice and what it means for education. Similarly, I enjoyed this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast with Doug Lemov, especially the examples of “tells” teachers use in the classroom, as well as ways to deliver professional development for adult colleagues.

Speaking of podcasts, I strongly recommend Emily Hanford’s deep dive into the research on how children learn to read. I’ll have more to say on it soon, but you can read the full thing yourself here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 30, 2019

Friday Fish Pic–A Two-Mouthed Trout

In honor of Andy’s Friday Fish Picture series, here’s a two-mouthed trout caught on Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border:

The full story of the mysterious two-mouthed trout is here via CBS News. H/t to EdBuild’s Rebecca Sibilia.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 29, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Texas is in the midst of redesigning remedial courses at the state’s colleges and universities. This Dallas Observer piece has a good overview of what they did and how it’s going. Here’s the key quote: “During the fall 2018 semester, the first after the new model went into effect, the state saw 10,000 more students pass their first college-level course than during the fall 2017 semester.”

This is a super cool data visualization tool on FAFSA completion rates from Ellie Bruecker. You can narrow in on certain geographic regions or search by school name and see how FAFSA completions are trending over time.

“UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison lie just 80 miles apart, but they might as well be on different planets when it comes to access and outcomes.” That’s from James Murphy in a new brief for Education Reform Now.

Florida has been a leader on teacher retirement policy, but I suggest a couple ways they could do even better.

“The key argument against exit exams—that they depress graduation rates—does not hold for [end-of-course exams].” That and more in this Fordham report on end-of-course exams.

Speaking of Fordham, I’ve enjoyed Mike Petrilli’s summer blog series on big-picture trends in education over the last 25 years. The whole thing is worth reading, but this paragraph from his series finale provides a nice summary:

The achievement of low-performing kids and children of color rose dramatically from the late 1990s until the Great Recession. That was mostly because of improving social and economic conditions for these children, but accountability reforms and increased spending played a role, as well. Over the last decade, that progress has mostly petered out. And the gains we made were, of course, not nearly enough, as they mostly meant getting more kids to a basic level of literacy and numeracy and walking across the high school graduation stage—nowhere near the goal of readiness for college, career, and citizenship that is the proper objective of our K–12 system.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman