December 20, 2019

Holiday Edu-Reads

This Wall Street Journal story is worth your time. Financial companies buy their way into teachers lounges with offers of free food or other perks, only to sell teachers on expensive, fee-laded 403(b) plans. Meanwhile, state and national teachers unions are willing middlemen who get kickbacks from these deals. Lest you don’t trust the Wall Street Journal, here’s a similar story from The New York Times and many more horror stories from the nonprofit 403bwise.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is this ProPublica story from New Jersey, where health plans for school employees cover the full cost of out-of-network expenses. The results are what you might expect:

In recent months, teachers across New Jersey have been protesting, even striking, for higher wages and more affordable benefits. Meanwhile, a state analysis shows, the glut of out-of-network payments has consumed hundreds of millions of dollars in the past four years. That’s money that experts say could have helped fund the teachers’ demands. And New Jersey residents are also pitching in to pay the bills: Homeowners in the towns where the schools are located are chipping in through higher property taxes.

Health care costs can be controlled with more aggressive oversight. Here’s a story about a Boston union and how they did it:

It required union members to make a trade-off that many, at first, found unpalatable — giving up access to some of the city’s best known, and most expensive, hospitals.

In return, however, workers not only kept their insurance premiums under control, they saved so much money that housekeepers like Rajae Nouira saw their hourly pay increase from $16.98 to $23.60 in five years, a 39% jump.

 

Evan Coughenour is not Catholic, but he has a growing appreciation for Catholic schools.

Tresha Ward has some tips for principals on how to lead autonomous schools, and how that’s different than leading any other school.

Elizabeth Ross and Kelli Lakis look at licensure rules for teachers crossing state lines.

The FAFSA is about to be simplified, here’s Evie Blad on what that means for students and Lamar Alexander’s favorite prop.

Matt Chingos surveys the landscape on free college proposals and explains why, “A plan that simply pays whatever colleges are charging would bail out states like Vermont at the expense of states like Wyoming — and encourage states to raise tuition to capture more federal money.”

EdSource has a deep dive, with a cool map, into community college transfer rates in California. About 40 percent of community college students in California eventually transfer to the state’s university systems, but those rates vary widely based on geography.

Nat Malkus is worried about screen time for kids. As a parent, I wish my kids’ school would send them home with some homework this holiday season. Or at least extra library books. Instead, all I got was a reminder of my kids’ login for online learning platforms so they could spend their break with MORE screen time. No thanks…

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Posted on Dec 20, 2019 @ 11:16am

December 18, 2019

Latest Edu-News

The edTPA is “a high-stakes assessment that’s expensive, discriminates against people of color, is vulnerable to cheating, and forces schools to teach to the test.” That’s Mike Antonucci summarizing this article by Madeline Will about new research on edTPA… Oh, and the edTPA is also not a great predictor of teacher effectiveness. But other than that…

Justin Trinidad interviews Felicia Butts, the Director of Teacher Residencies at Chicago Public Schools, about their bilingual teacher residency program.

When a traditional school district is losing the competition for students to… other traditional school districts. It’s weird how the word “charter” doesn’t appear in the piece at all!

“whether they’re GreatSchools’ ratings, state ratings, or anything else, let’s make them as accurate and nuanced as possible—but let’s also focus on ensuring they are truly useful and accessible to all families.” That’s David Keeling from EdNavigator about how the families they work with interact with school ratings.

Here’s your regular reminder that colleges determine what “college-ready” means.

A new study finds that housing vouchers boosted math and reading scores in New York City.

Billions of dollars are at stake. There will be only one champion. I’m talking, of course, about the FAFSA Fast Break challenge.

After multiple pauses, Congress has finally agreed to kill the “Cadillac Tax” on high-cost health care plans. This was one of the key funding provisions of the original Affordable Care Act. As I noted back in July, the Cadillac Tax was meant to address a particularly bad incentive baked into our tax policies:

I’d rather Americans didn’t have our health care benefits tied to our employers at all, but we’ve created a particularly weird incentive by not taxing employer spending on health care. That creates a system where the people using health care have little reason to help control health care costs. And, in the long run, employers spend more and more on benefits at the expense of salaries and wages. That’s bad for efficiency, bad for budgets, and, ultimately, bad for workers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

 


December 17, 2019

The Case For Student Growth

I have a new column up at The 74 making the case for why we should measure student growth. It may be easier to judge school quality based on the students who are enrolled there, but that will likely present a misleading view of the school’s actual contributions to student learning:

The only way out of this conundrum is for states and districts to take the lead in measuring student growth rates and embedding them in a more prominent way in school rating systems. For example, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C., has run the numbers on what its “STAR” accountability system would look like both with and without growth. It concludes:

“…schools at the lower end of the STAR rating distribution tend to benefit from the inclusion of growth metrics, whereas schools at the upper end of the STAR rating distribution would tend to benefit from the exclusion of growth metrics.”

That is, the D.C. school ratings would have the same problems as the real estate agents on Long Island and the reformers in Newark if they didn’t include student growth. The D.C. example is a reminder that if we don’t measure student growth, we’ll have the wrong definition of school quality. Worse, we’ll favor student populations that are already doing well, while harshly judging schools that actually help students learn the most.

Read the rest here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


December 16, 2019


December 15, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

I missed it earlier, but this paper by E. Jason Baron is an important addition to the school funding debate. In Wisconsin, districts have to hold separate bond referenda if they want to raise operational spending (for things like instruction and supports) or capital spending (for school facilities). This allowed Baron to conclude that bond referenda focused on operational spending led to higher teacher pay and higher retention rates, not to mention increases in test scores and postsecondary enrollment. In contrast, however, the referenda focused on facilities were unrelated to changes in student outcomes. As I warned when the latest NAEP results came out, not all school spending is equal. And just because we’re spending more money on education in general, that doesn’t mean it’s going toward the things that actually produce gains for students.

Here’s a conversation between Bonnie O’Keefe, Brandon Lewis, and Jenn Schiess on school performance frameworks and the Chalkbeat story on GreatSchools’ ratings.

A report from Morgan Polikoff and Jennifer Dean finds that the materials on lesson-sharing websites Teachers Pay Teachers, ReadThinkWrite, and Share My Lesson are often weak and pitched below grade-level of the targeted students.

The WSJ reports on an open secret in the 403(b) world: Teachers are being targeted by predatory financial companies, and their school district employers are at best willing collaborators in these schemes.

Can we improve the standardized testing process by providing better, more tailored information to parents and teachers? EdNavigator tried a cool experiment of mailing “packets” of information (plus McDonald’s gift cards!) to high-performing Louisiana students. Read about their results here.

College graduation rates rose 6.6 percentage points from the entering class of 2006 to entrants in 2013, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

Speaking of boosting college completions, check out this story from Erica Bruenlin at the Colorado Sun. About 35 percent of Colorado’s public high school juniors and seniors were enrolled in college-level courses in 2017-18, up from 19 percent in 2012. Moreover, about 2,700 high school students completed some form of postsecondary credential in 2018, up 37 percent from the year prior.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


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


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