December 10, 2019

The Every Student Succeeds Act Turns Four

The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed four years ago today. How is it working so far? Well, I agree with Anne Hyslop’s answer, given as part of a round-up at The 74:

“If your main priority under ESSA was to empower states to make decisions, I think you would say yes, ESSA is working,” said Anne Hyslop, assistant director of policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group dedicated to improving outcomes for underserved students.

But for those who instead elevate the law’s much-vaunted civil rights guardrails, “I think the answer would be no, it is not working. That just shows what you prioritize in terms of what the law was doing,” she said.

For more, EdWeek has perspectives from classroom teachers and principals to superintendents and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

For anyone in D.C., Education Week and the Collaborative for Student Success are hosting a live discussion today with lunch and a reception.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


December 9, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Check out FAFSA completion rates by poverty rate in your state, via this cool tool by Bill DeBaun for the National College Access Network. In my home state of Virginia, for example, students in the highest-poverty schools have FAFSA completion rates that are about 15 percentage points lower than in the lowest-poverty schools. That is, the students who could benefit from the FAFSA the most are the least likely to complete it. Check out how your state looks.

99 percent of public community colleges use standardized tests to determine which students are ready for college-level math, and 98 percent do so in reading and writing, finds a new survey by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness.

Mike Antonucci finds that the number of people working in education employed by local governments increased by 8.5 percent last year. That’s not all teachers, but the public education system as a whole is growing much faster than student enrollment.

Do teachers value all forms of compensation equally? I have an interview up today with Barbara Biasi, a Yale economist with a recent paper looking at what happened in the wake of Wisconsin’s Act 10. That bill cut teacher take-home pay (by increasing pension contributions) and made it illegal for districts to negotiate over salary schedules, leading districts to introduce new forms of performance pay. It also led to a wave of teacher retirements, but Biasi was able to exploit variation in the timing of the policy changes to analyze whether the salary or pension changes were most responsible. Perhaps not surprisingly, she found that even late-career teachers were much more sensitive to salary changes than they were to pension changes. While this was an instance where the state was trimming spending, it provides another piece of evidence that teachers value $1 in salary spending much more than they do $1 in benefit spending.

I also have a new column up today for The 74 about New York City’s teacher retirement plans. The city automatically enrolls all new teachers in a defined benefit pension plan with all the typical problems–it’s under-funded, back-loaded, and has a 10-year vesting requirement (which would be illegal in the private sector). Meanwhile, the city also offers teachers a voluntary retirement plan which could offer the city a path forward for a more fiscally responsible, portable benefit for workers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


December 6, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Education Week has a big new report on reading instruction. For example, here’s Liana Loewus on how reading is really being taught in schools:

Our new survey showed that 75 percent of teachers working with early readers teach three-cueing, an approach that tells students to take a guess when they come to a word they don’t know by using context, picture, and other clues, with only some attention to the letters.

Similarly, more than a quarter of teachers said they tell emerging readers that the first thing they should do when they come to a word they don’t know while reading is look at the pictures—even before they try to sound it out.

And Sarah Schwartz looks at the evidence behind and, in many cases, missing from popular reading programs.

Bellwether has a new deck out this week on rural schooling in America.

Dale Chu has an interesting look at the intersection of finance, choice, and accountability reforms in Indiana.

David Kirp writes, “The goal is not to lure high-schoolers into college with zero tuition, it’s to assure that those who do enroll graduate.”

James Shuls wants to ask what people mean when they say charter schools should be held to the “same standards” as traditional public schools.

As I warned earlier this week, we should be careful about ascribing Mississippi’s rising NAEP scores to any one thing. Here’s Todd Collins on Mississippi’s student retention policies.

Finally, this Matt Barnum and Gabrielle LeMarr LeMee Chalkbeat piece on GreatSchools.org is a must-read. It’s sparking a lot of debate over whether it’s better to share information that might not be perfect, or whether imperfect information will inevitably lead to imperfect decisions.

I don’t have a particular dog in that fight. I respect GreatSchools’ incredible reach–43 million annual site visitors!–and think the organization deserves praise for attempting to improve their ratings over time. The remaining flaws in their rankings–they’re still highly correlated with student demographic factors–are often true in other rating systems as well. Moreover, I’d much rather have a free rating system that’s open to all (and which is working to improve and reach all audiences) than no information at all. GreatSchools is waaaay better than relying on word-of-mouth or other snap judgments of the “best” schools in a neighborhood. We’ve seen what that looks like, even in today’s world, and it isn’t pretty.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Posted on Dec 6, 2019 @ 10:54am

December 4, 2019

Be Wary of Edu-Tourism!

Yesterday I noted that Finland is seeing declines in reading, math, and science achievement. For anyone unfamiliar with education policy debates in the U.S., you might wonder why I was paying special attention to a Nordic nation with a population about the size of South Carolina.

But for those who do pay attention to American education politics, you probably weren’t fazed by the Finland coverage. After all, Finland’s education policies have been given an inordinate amount of attention since they scored near the top of international achievement tests about a decade ago. “What would Finland do?” prompted a cottage industry of commentators about how we could copy whatever it was that Finland was doing and then, as a result, improve our own results.

But this was sloppy thinking. As Pat Wolf pointed out in the tweet below, researchers call this “selection on the dependent variable.” That is, you can’t just look at what the high performers are doing and try to copy them. Making policy prescriptions that way can easily confuse correlation with causation, and you can’t tell what really caused an outcome just by looking at what activities were completed.

Put another way, were Finland’s results caused by their ethnically homogenous student body, their low teacher turnover and high bar to entry to the teaching profession, their school choice policies, their high-stakes standardized test given to high school seniors, their national curriculum, or something else? We don’t know! But that didn’t stop advocates from championing these ideas, or arguing that Finland was successful without some common reform ideas espoused here in the States.

I’m afraid we’re already starting to see this same “edu-tourism” in the wake of the recent NAEP results. Mississippi and DC stood out as two places that bucked the national trends, but it’s hard to say what caused those positive results. Instead of visiting those places and looking backward at what practices make them special, we should be consulting research on the specific policies those places have attempted. For example, we should pay much more attention to the empirical evidence on DCPS’ teacher evaluation program than on any policy prescriptions coming out of the NAEP results.

I don’t want to bash Finland, but I do hope Finland’s recent decline will serve as a cautionary tale. And no, I don’t mean trying to diagnose why Finland’s scores are now declining. That would be the exact same mistake but in the opposite direction! No, I mean that we should stop trying to identify policy prescriptions by blindly copying high performers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman



December 3, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

“…ignoring the stop arm of a school bus is incredibly dangerous because children often cross the street as they are entering or exiting the bus.” That’s Alex Spurrier on school bus safety.

Lisette Partelow on what to make of the decline in teacher preparation enrollment.

Doug Webber has a cool tool to compare lifetime earnings by college major.

This Kalyn Belsha article for Chalkbeat is a sobering reminder of the fecklessness in our education sector. The Trump Administration killed off a $12 million competitive grant program to support school integration efforts out of spite and instead spread that money to undefined state school improvement efforts. That does not sound like a good use of money.

But the districts also didn’t follow through! Belsha leads with the example of the Austin, TX school district, which outlined a detailed case for why they needed to integrate their school district and how they planned to do it. But when the program was canceled they let those plans dropt. They were in line to win $1.5 million, which is peanuts to a school district the size of Austin. The Austin schools budget was about $1.4 billion that same year, so we’re talking about 0.1 percent of their budget. Austin was by no means the only district to drop their integration efforts, but there’s a lesson here when even tiny sums of money would have changed district behavior, and it says something about the importance of competitive grants to spur action…

The latest PISA results are out and they are not good… for Finland! The OECD described their trajectory as “steadily negative” and found declines in reading, math, and science. Worse, they concluded that Finland’s decline in reading and science “was particularly noticeable amongst the lowest-achieving students.”

The trends here in the United States are nothing to brag about either–they’re mainly flat over time–but we’re holding steady in a middle pack alongside Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

This is a lovely personal essay on overconfidence by Jason Zweig. Coming from a rural background in 1977, Advanced Placement tests played a role in teaching Zweig a helpful lesson in humility.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


December 2, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Bellwether has two great posts today in honor of National Special Education Day. Lynne Graziano reflects on her sister-in-law’s educational experience without an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or social supports. Speaking of which, Sara Mead writes about the 460,000 students served in special education preschool.

Lina Bankert and Lauren Schwartze on how mergers among education nonprofits can improve student outcomes and save school districts money.

The Fordham Institute is hosting an event (with free food!) to discuss Checker Finn’s new book, Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement

Housing assistance programs that improve a child’s neighborhood can also have a long-term effect on voting rates.

Andy Rotherham interviews law professor Jack Coons, who litigated the Serrano v. Priest cases, which challenged California’s school funding structure.

While so many other places are turning away from teacher evaluation efforts, kudos to DCPS for sticking with theirs. A new study from Thomas Dee, Jessalynn James, and James Wyckoff finds those efforts are continuing to pay off:

The large effects we identify here suggest that rigorous teacher evaluation can be sustained over at least an eight-year period. We observe these effects across years, implying IMPACT has led to a cumulative improvement in teaching quality and student achievement. These gains benefit students who primarily come from nonwhite, low-income households.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Week Edu-Reads

Allison Crean-Davis interviews Diana Cournoyer, the Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association.

Bellwether was part of a group to win the contract for a National Comprehensive Center, with Westat (the lead grantee), RMC Research, and Academic Development. Read more about that work here.

Bellwether also has a new publication out via Pathway 2 Tomorrow highlighting our work on postsecondary access and success. Because higher education is primarily a regional issue, particularly for underserved students, there is a unique opportunity to bring together stakeholders from both the K-12 and postsecondary sides to amplify successes and address common challenges.

I’m behind in my reading, but this David Steiner piece on why rigorous curriculum stays on the shelf is worth your time. It’s hard to do it justice with just one quote, but this was my favorite passage:

…in the United States we have built a system that not only fails to support the sustained use of demanding curriculum—but actively produces powerful disincentives to its use. In what school of education are teachers prepared to teach powerful and demanding works of literature to students who are two or three grade levels below the level required to make real sense of those texts? (I know of none, but would like to be mistaken.) Is there a high-quality ELA curriculum that includes materials for teachers whose students are below grade level? In how many districts are principal evaluation tools supplemented by curriculum-specific rubrics? Beyond the quizzes and curriculum-embedded assessments, how many standalone interim assessments actually measure students’ knowledge of what their curriculum asks them to read? How many summative assessments do the same?

Doug Lemov has a good story about when hands-on learning works, and when it doesn’t.

Is Missouri’s teacher pension plan “good?” That depends on who’s asking the question.

Mike Antonucci contrasts two surveys, one suggesting that 9/10 teachers are planning to leave the profession immediately… and the other suggesting they’re planning to stay until retirement. Which is it? Rather than trying to parse out these survey responses, shouldn’t we just look at revealed preferences instead?

A reminder from Chalkbeat that “public” schools often screen their students: “To get into Columbia Secondary for sixth grade, the school considers state test scores, and students must take a school-created test, have good attendance records, and live or attend elementary school in the surrounding neighborhoods. (Across the city, about a quarter of middle schools similarly set their own competitive entrance criteria.)”

Speaking of charters, kudos to Erica Green and Eliza Shapiro for digging into the racial politics around charters and Democrats. I also appreciated that the authors mostly quoted parents and school leaders and stayed away from pontificating pundits. But, wow, this talking point from Elizabeth Warren’s team is totally off:

In addition to following the same state and federal accountability laws that every other school follows, charters also must compete for students, provide their own facilities, and face the risk of being shut down for poor performance. Do traditional public schools really want to compete on those terms?

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


November 21, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Mike Antonucci asks, if teachers unions are bargaining “for the common good,” what are the elected mayors and school boards on the other side of the table bargaining for?

A new paper finds that, “Social Security is the most equal form of retirement wealth and the most important source for most minority households,” and yet 40 percent of public school employees lack Social Security benefits.

“Just like an unpaid credit card balance that grows over time, the longer states delay paying off [their pension debt], the bigger the debt price tag becomes, consuming an ever-greater share of the finite pool of public dollars available for teachers and students.” Marguerite Roza quantifies the extent of that debt for California, Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont.

Julie Squire takes the high ground is glad to welcome Cory Booker back into the charter school tent (where he had been for most of his career!).

Speaking of zingers, Mike Petrilli notes that Montgomery County leaders talk a good game on equity, and yet the district, “doesn’t offer a single extra penny to teachers assigned to the district’s toughest schools — those serving large proportions of kids living in poverty who often come to school with unmet needs and below grade-level proficiency.”

Here’s an interesting report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on household debt and credit. Two big takeaways: At least in the last 15 years, student loan debt delinquency rates are higher and much less volatile than other types of debt:

Two, delinquency rates are tied to age. Per the first graph, that’s largely tied to student loans, but older Americans have the lowest delinquency rates while the youngest adults have much higher rates of default:

 

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


November 20, 2019

Do Charter Schools Harm Traditional Public Schools?

It seems logical that motivated families leaving traditional public schools in favor of charter schools or private schools would harm the traditional school system. But that’s not what the research says, at least so far.

The graph below comes from a new Mathematica brief looking at studies that measured the causal effect of school choice on traditional public schools. As the graph shows, 10 studies that met Mathematica’s evidence bar found no effects of charter schools on traditional schools, nine found positive effects, two studies reported mixed results, and three found negative effects.

The studies included here were mainly looking at the early-stage phase-in of charter schools in various districts, and it’s possible that the balance might tilt away from charters as they grow their market share. But the evidence thus far suggests that charters either have no effect or perhaps even a slightly positive effect on traditional public schools.

In a separate brief, Mathematica looked at the effects of school choice on racial and economic integration. They concluded, “Among the studies with charter schools, 2 studies found that charter schools increased integration, 5 found no effect on integration, and 3 found that they decreased integration. Most studies we reviewed that found effects on integration tended to report small effects.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman