November 1, 2019

Friday Fish Pic–The Petrilli Family Is All About That Growth

Seven years ago, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli was mocked featured on here for the, um, rather small fish that he and his sons caught.

Well, no more! Mike took his son and some friends out on the Potomac recently and caught the giant catfish below. He says he had help this time, but we’ll still praise him for showing remarkable growth in his fishing skills.

For more edu-fish pics, click here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

#EduFridayFive: A Conversation on Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry with Christine Pitts

Last month a team of researchers published a new working paper looking at how the academic skills of entering kindergartners has changed over time. I reached out to one of the co-authors, Christine Pitts, a Research Scientist and Policy Advisor at NWEA, to answer five short questions about the project. Read her answers below:

How would you describe this project in 200 words or less?

Research shows that early math and reading skills are a strong predictor of future achievement. So, it is not surprising that state and local policymakers often use early childhood initiatives, albeit usually disjointed from K12 systems, to improve learning outcomes. Today, we are challenged because the most recent wave of nationally representative data on academic readiness at school entry, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), was collected during the 2010-11 school year. However, there has been a myriad of changes in U.S. policy and society since then that likely affected children and the contexts attributing to their achievement upon kindergarten entry. The findings in this study provide initial evidence of trends in student’s academic achievement at school entry since the end of the ECLS-K dataset. While the findings are mixed and require additional exploration, there are three big takeaways:

  1. Kids entering kindergarten after 2014 performed slightly worse on math and reading standardized assessments than those who entered kindergarten during or before 2014.
  2. Racial/ ethnic and school poverty achievement gaps at school entry narrowed significantly, but modestly, from 2010-2017; with the most narrowing occurring in recent years.
  3. There was no relationship between district preschool enrollment and trends in achievement at school entry across time.

What would most people miss about this project if they only read the headline? 

While the findings of this study are powerful because they show an illustrative view of students’ academic trends over the last decade, we are aware that this is one descriptive slice of a broader, more comprehensive set of student outcomes with a host of related factors. Our hope is that after readers digest the big takeaways from this work, namely that kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but inequalities by race/ethnicity and poverty have decreased, they will be asking questions like why, how, and what does this mean? As such, we are interested in braiding this line of inquiry with other pragmatic research agendas informing education leaders across the nation. We want our research and policy colleagues to see these findings as an invitation to partner on future studies where we can investigate the contexts and mechanisms underlying these downward trends and what this means for policymakers setting up the next decade of incoming kindergartners in America.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Early childhood is an incredibly important developmental period, but due to few well-developed measures of skills before and at school entry, it is hard to systematically examine how well different early childhood experiences prepare students for K12 achievement. My children each attended different preschool settings (e.g. in-home, private). Now that my oldest two are taking standardized assessments in the K12 system, we can see some of the differences in their academic development that may be attributable to their different preschool experiences. It is obvious to me from these data and my own experience in research and evaluation that our schools require standardized measures of early learning development to evaluate the impact of different early childhood experiences. But, during this past legislative session in Oregon a bill was introduced, the Too Young to Test bill, that aimed to remove all standardized assessments before third grade. This bill illuminated the common misconception and over-generalization that tests are always bad. Concurrently, we were discussing the utility of interim data collected at the beginning of kindergarten throughout the school year well into students’ elementary and middle school years for exploring broad trends on student achievement at school entry. It was clear that this study may provide an example about the need for high-quality measures of skills that span the ages of school entry and beyond.

What would a smart critic say about it, and how would you respond? 

Two explicit critiques have come up since presenting this study to our peer network. First, folks challenge us on the topic of testing early learners, especially upon their first experiences with the K-12 system. While there are a lot of important early skills that we did not examine, like self-regulation and social skills, the measure we used does a pretty good job of accommodating early learners through warm-up questions, audio instructions, and a visual interface designed to engage the youngest students. The other central criticism is that we have a non-random sample of the U.S. population that changed over time. Each year the cohort grew in size and became more racially/ ethnically diverse. We used a weighting procedure to (a) correct for the non-random sampling of those using our test and (b) yearly national proportions in school racial/ethnic breakdown, urbanicity, FRPL, and district socioeconomic measures. It is important to understand that even if our sample does not perfectly mirror the national population of US kindergarteners, it reflects a substantial portion of US kindergarteners, approximately one in every 10 kindergarten students between 2014 and 2017.

Other than this project, what are you most excited about right now?

Well, to be honest, I used to be an elementary school teacher and fall-time always makes me come alive with so many exciting changes. My kids are getting older and facing new challenges in school, ballots come out and we get to vote on exciting local initiatives, and it is noteworthy that we are embarking on a new strategic vision for our policy and advocacy work at NWEA. Our efforts will align key organizational priorities around equity and evidence-based policy. For example, I have the privilege of working strategically with our research team to explore how policy mechanisms can be highlighted within the research evidence that they promote through academic channels. For the current study, we crafted a research brief with key next steps for policymakers who are trying to evaluate the mechanisms underlying these descriptive trends at school entry. Other areas under study in our research department include summer learning loss and measuring social and emotional skill development, each lending themselves nicely to relevant national policy discussions. I encourage anyone interested to take a look at our research centers and explore research briefs on a variety of other topics.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 31, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Interested in autonomous district schools that enjoy the flexibility and innovation of charters, while remaining in their local district? My Bellwether colleagues Mary Wells and Tresha Francis Ward created a toolkit for that.

Of the 11 million children with working moms, more than half spend more time in family childcare than any other setting. Sara Mead profiles a new report from All Our Kin looking at the conditions needed to help family childcare providers (and the kids they serve) thrive.

Cara Jackson on the conditions in which it makes sense to conduct an experimental study on students.

Daniel DiSalvo cites some of our work at to note that most teachers in the Chicago strike will never benefit from the pension system that’s wreaking havoc on the district’s finances.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 30, 2019

Overall Education Spending Is Up, but It’s Not Going Toward Instruction

With regards to the new NAEP scores out this week, I see a lot of commentators saying things like, “NAEP scores went down even as school spending went up.” As I wrote back in June, it is true that education spending is up nationally over the last decade in real, per pupil terms. Based on the most recent data, national education spending rose by 5.4 percent over this time period. (The spending data is a bit behind the NAEP data, so the most recent “decade” in either data set don’t match up perfectly.)

But wait. While overall education spending is up, spending on instructional costs like salaries and wages for teachers went down by 0.3 percent. Again, these are in real, inflation adjusted dollars spent per pupil.

What’s the main reason for the discrepancy? Benefit costs. Over the same time period, benefit costs for things like employee pension and health care benefits rose by 23.5 percent, in real terms. As I wrote in June, “Most of these cost increases are due to paying down pension debts or changes in accounting rules on retiree health benefits.”

In other words, not all school spending is equal, and spending on under-funded employee benefit plans may not translate into the same student achievement gains as spending in other areas.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Posted on Oct 30, 2019 @ 8:30pm

Our Schools Have Lost Focus on the Lowest-Performers

The new NAEP results are out. Here’s your overall summary: They’re mostly bad, with noticeable declines in reading over the last two years.

What stood out to me was the fact that we’ve lost our focus on the lowest-performing students. Zooming out to look at the last 10 years by performance level, here are the changes in 4th grade reading scores:

10th percentile: -7

25th percentile: -2

50th percentile: +2

75th percentile: +3

90th percentile: +2

And here’s the same thing for 8th grade reading:

10th percentile: -6

25th percentile: -3

50th percentile: -1

75th percentile: +1

90th percentile: +4

Here’s the same trend for 4th grade math:

10th percentile: -3

25th percentile: -1

50th percentile: +1

75th percentile: +2

90th percentile: +5

And for 8th grade math:

10th percentile: -5

25th percentile: -4

50th percentile: -2

75th percentile: +1

90th percentile: +4

This didn’t use to be true. In the 1990s and 2000s, we saw some signs of gap-closing or at least broad and shared gains. The 2010s are the opposite; it was a pretty flat decade in terms of overall achievement, with higher-performing students making some gains and pulling further away from their peers.

Back to work.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 29, 2019

What Causes Teachers to Leave?

A new meta-analysis synthesizes the findings from 120 research papers on the causes of teacher attrition and retention. Contrary to popular opinion, perhaps, they find that measuring and acting on differences in teacher quality does not lead to decreased morale or higher attrition rates:

Being evaluated, even for accountability purposes, does not necessarily increase teacher attrition; in fact, the odds of attrition for teachers who are assessed are somewhat smaller than those who are not. In terms of teacher effectiveness, higher quality teachers are less likely to exit than lower quality teachers, and there is evidence that teachers in the lowest quartile or quintile of value-added scores are more likely to leave teaching. Relatedly, teachers in merit pay programs are less likely to leave teaching than those who are not.

Specifically on the question of evaluations and merit pay, they write:

Moreover, contrary to some concerns about the negative effects of teacher evaluations and accountability (Darling-Hammond, 2013; Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2012), we do not find that performance evaluations necessarily increase teacher attrition. The extant empirical evidence suggests that when teachers are evaluated and their measures of effectiveness are available to them, this does not increase attrition, but in fact, it may provide teachers with some sense of empowerment and the possibility of growth and improvement since they can observe where they are effective and where they are not, leading to a decrease in attrition (Boyd et al., 2008; Feng, 2010). Furthermore, even when teacher evaluations are being used for accountability, bonuses, or pay raises, we observe that teachers are less, not more, likely to leave teaching. Relatedly, we also have evidence that evaluation and accountability may improve the teacher workforce by keeping the most effective teachers and removing the most ineffective teachers. In short, evaluation and accountability may be perceived more positively by teachers and can have positive effects for teachers than have been recognized. We note this does not mean that there are not any negative consequences or warranted concerns about teacher evaluation and accountability, but rather as a policy tool, there may indeed be merit to evaluation and accountability.

Read the whole meta-analysis here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 28, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Phillip Burgoyne-Allen on the intersection of public school choice and public transportation.

Yesterday I wrote about how states set their college attainment goals without looking at historical data on their recent progress. That’s not unique to higher ed. Andrew Ujifusa follows up on a few states starting to realize they are not close to achieving the “ambitious” goals they set under ESSA.

“Many juvenile-justice schools do not even offer the courses that a student needs to complete his or her freshman year of high school, and Native American youth are among the most poorly served in these facilities.” That’s Max Marchitello and Diana Cournoyer in a Hechinger Report op-ed.

This Kate Walsh essay is worth your time. It looks at the noticeable drop in attention to teacher quality issues–indeed, she found a search on the terms “teacher quality” and “teacher evaluation” revealed about a 75 percent drop in press coverage in the last five years. Still, Walsh ends with an optimistic tone, noting, “No matter how daunting change can be, when something’s founded on unassailable evidence and speaks to shared values of justice, fairness, and equity, it generally finds a way.”

Kevin Carey sees a lot of smoke but no fire from Elizabeth Warren’s education plan, at least on accountability. I think he’s right on the policy specifics–although I might be more alarmed than Carey is about the smoke Warren is creating, and why exactly she’s sounding the alarm. (And, unlike Warren’s words on accountability, her charter school proposals could do real harm if enacted.)

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  

Edu-Job: Director of Talent Operations at Bellwether Education Partners

Bellwether is hiring! Specifically, we’re looking for someone to become our Director of Talent Operations. From the job description:

The Director of Talent Operations will lead Bellwether’s talent recruitment processes and priorities, providing support for talent development and implementation of new talent processes. This instrumental new role will be a part of our small internal Human Capital team and offers candidates a tremendous opportunity to develop strategic talent management skills as Bellwether grows….

In that context, the Director of Talent Operations’ primary responsibilities and duties will be to support the expansion of current hiring practices while driving the development and implementation of new systems and practices aligned with Bellwether’s talent priorities — most especially, supporting Bellwether’s goal to attract, retain, and develop a diverse, joyful, and inclusive team.

We are committed to building a diverse team and strongly encourage individuals from all backgrounds to apply. If you know someone who might be interested, please share the job description and encourage them to apply or reach out for more info.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  

October 27, 2019

College Attainment Gains By State

Last month, I wrote about how college attainment rates are climbing nationally. But what about individual states?

In fact, every state has rising college attainment rates. A report over the summer by Ithaka S+R found that every state increased its college attainment rate from 2005-2017, led by especially strong gains in Maine, Iowa, and Indiana. The graph below shows the gains by state. (Click on the graph to see the larger image, or, better yet, go read the original report.)

Many states have set goals for future attainment rates, but, to put it mildly, those goals have been set without consulting historical trends. The state attainment goals–say, 60 percent of adults with a college degree by the year 2025–have tended to cluster right around the 60 or 70 percent mark, regardless of how close the state is to reaching those targets already. If states wanted to be smarter about how they set their targets going forward, they should be looking backward at their own recent progress and adjusting accordingly.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  

Posted on Oct 27, 2019 @ 9:19pm

October 25, 2019