Thanks to Chad Aldeman and Leslie Kan for looking after the place while I was gone. Their posts are all below. I hope you got a taste of the pension issue, which is fascinating to work on because it’s complicated substantively and politically and the top-line answers “just go to 401ks” or “just fund the pensions and leave them alone” don’t actually work in practice. You can keep up with all of it via short blog posts, long analyses, and everything in between at Teacherpensions.org.
Motoko Rich has a big “teacher shortage” article out in The Times. Chad looked at part of that issue here the other day. And Sara Mead does today. It’s one of those where the aggregate data generally masks the real tale (and makes it an evergreen story). We don’t have a generalized teacher shortage – in fact there is a surplus in many parts of the country. Rather, there are specific shortages based on areas of expertise (languages, hard sciences, special education) and geographic shortages causing acute issues in some communities. That was true before, during, and after the last recession. It’s also why in its early days Teach For America wasn’t replacing teachers in the communities it operated in, it was replacing non-teachers. That’s started to change as the organization has grown and entered into different arrangements with school districts (pdf).
Also in The Times, New York’s new teacher test survives legal scrutiny.
It’s easy to demagogue giving student aid to prisoners but it is good policy on a few levels, not least of all the human one. And anyone who thinks education benefits will entice people to commit crimes or reward them hasn’t spent much time in an actual prison or with actual offenders.
While we’re on the subject of legal scrutiny and prison Ed Week writes up the Chaka Fattah indictment in Pennsylvania given his education involvement in Congress, but there is a more direct education angle to the case.
In general I think there are two kinds of policy research that add value. One is research that shows new things and can change how we think about things. The other is work that documents an issue that is generally understood but has not been really explained in a data rich way. TNTP excels at the latter. People understood that urban school district HR was broken or teacher evaluations were non-existent but it was detailed TNTP work that really galvanized action and improvement on these issues. Their new report on teacher development will hopefully have the same impact. Few people labor under the impression that teacher PD is useful to teachers – least of all the teachers who have to endure it – but it remains a multibillion dollar sinkhole.
So charter schools in Los Angeles are, on average, producing significant gains there compared to other schools (pdf). How much? About the equivalent of 50 extra days of school in reading and 79 days in math each year. That’s based on the CREDO analysis. Yet having more of them is really controversial and hard (for the adults, who get a lot of play in this article).
Sightly simplified and generalized here’s how the testing ecosystem plays out in practice: States put out specs for assessment programs that are generally unworkable in their entirety. Then they choose the testing company that is going to do the least bad job trying to meet the unworkable specs. When the testing copany predictably fails to do a good job the state often has little recourse because the penalty structure varies and in some states there are restrictions on damages beyond actual costs (which are generally low even if the impact is high). And states know that it’s generally not in their interest to fire the testing company because they already picked the one that would do the least bad job (firing your first choice to hire your second or third choice usually doesn’t make a lot of sense and you can’t just change assessment systems on a dime anyway). In addition, there aren’t that many companies to start with. The big for-and non-profit providers can be counted on barely more than a hand (and it’s not where the big money in publishing or assessment is anyway). So, it’s nice that Pearson is making a gesture like this one in Minnesota after some errors but it’s not where the action is. If testing critics were really serious about getting better test quality (rather than, say, no tests or no accountability) they’d be demanding real accountability for corporations doing business with states. That might help dissuade companies from entering into contracts with unattainable goals or fines that are just a cost of doing business and allow state officials to actually hold someone accountable when things go wrong. (They might also support more investment in new companies to help disrupt the industry some and bring in new players but don’t hold your breath. And “better capital markets” isn’t much of a rallying cry anyway). Otherwise, though, this is mostly a shell game.
Sara Mead unpacks the new Head Start regulations in this smart analysis. A still youthful Andy Smarick hangs out with the youthful innovators.