August 23, 2019

Weekend Edu-Reads

“…a report by Grantmakers for Education released earlier this year, revealed a precipitous decline in the areas of education funding that were dominant across the prior decade. Grants for issues related to the academic core of schooling—teacher quality, accountability, standards and assessment, for example— all saw deep cuts.” That’s from this excellent piece by Celine Coggins on the state of edu-philanthropy.

A new study out of Texas finds that more years of schooling is related to higher earnings, even for people who don’t complete a college degree and ultimately drop out.

Check out the video here about Bellwether’s work to end the fragmentation of supports for high-need students in Utah.

Care about teacher shortages? Read Phillip Burgoyne-Allen on the school bus driver shortage, and what districts can do about it.

Tom Toch interviews Brian Pick about curriculum and instruction in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

I got a chuckle out of a tweet from Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella asking why pension plans chase after active investments rather than being passive investors. But then I looked up the asset allocations for the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) and found that 17.1 percent of their money was invested in hedge funds, 16.5 percent in private equity, and another 17 percent in commodities and real estate. Those are, ahem, not exactly passive investments!

This long New Yorker piece on “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” came out earlier this year, but I strongly recommend it. It’s a fascinating story of geology, paleontology, and history.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


“Free” Health Care Benefits Are Not Free

Democrats are backing away from their health care proposals after pushback from unions. If you ever needed a good example of the principal-agent problem in our health care system, this is it:

One speaker at a labor town hall in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday told Mr. Sanders that he was concerned about losing the coverage he received as a United Automobile Workers member. “You want to put us on a socialized health care and get taxed more for it while we get it for free, basically, from our employers,” the man said.

No, no, no. As an employee, you’re not getting your health care “for free.” If your employer is covering the cost of your health care, that means they have less money to pay you and your colleagues. It’s true that there are tax implications to consider, because we have decided not to tax $1 of in-kind health care contributions the same as we do $1 of income. But there’s no magic here, the money has to come from somewhere.

Worse, if your employer is “paying” for all of your health care expenses, that doesn’t give you much of an incentive to control costs. The health care industry is all too willing to suggest more (and more expensive) products and services. Meanwhile, employers have less and less money to pay in base salaries. Employees may experience this system as “free,” but it’s certainly costing them in the end.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Posted on Aug 23, 2019 @ 3:12pm

August 20, 2019

Latest Edu-News

Juvenile justice schools are intended to be places of rehabilitation, but we lack even basic data about how many students are enrolled there, let alone how those students are doing. Plus, as Hailly Korman, Max Marchitello, and Alexander Brand show in this new deck, the data we do have suggests those students lack access to courses they would need to graduate.

A new CREDO study finds that Denver students, especially black and Hispanic students, are making much faster gains than their peers throughout the rest of the state of Colorado.

Similarly, schools in New Orleans improved much faster than the rest of Louisiana from about 2006 through 2013, and a new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans finds that essentially all of the improvements were, “due to the state regularly closing or taking over low-performing schools and opening new higher performing charters.”

Katrina Boone on the power of culture-based education for Native students.

The latest Education Next survey results are out. It’s a well-done longitudinal survey with lots of findings to unpack, on things as varied as school spending, teacher pay, different forms of school choice, etc.

Only 6 schools districts have applied for the Student-Centered Funding Pilot created under ESSA, and only one, Puerto Rico, has been approved to implement it this school year.

Finland update.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


August 15, 2019

#EduFridayFive: The Collaborative for Student Success on Assessment HQ

Earlier this week the Collaborative for Student Success* released Assessment HQ, a new go-to resource for information on state assessments, including data and results from those assessments over time. To learn more about the project, I posed the #EduFridayFive questions to the Collaborative team. Read their answers below:

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

The Collaborative for Student Success launched Assessment HQ to help build greater understanding about the role annual assessments play and how they are being used to advance educational equity and improvement in student achievement across the country. Don’t get us wrong, no one is saying annual assessments are perfect. However, they are an important tool to help educators and policymakers monitor the progress of all students in gaining the knowledge and skills they need over time. They are particularly important for those students who are most vulnerable or who historically have been underserved by education systems. We set out to create one place where individuals can find state-by-state student proficiency data, original commentary, resources, and state/national news all in an easy to navigate format.

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

A lot of data is gathered from K-12 assessments, but sometimes it is not easy to access or it may not be clear what the data says. For the first time, student proficiency data for more than half of the states across the country is publicly available online, and in one location, for anyone to view and use. Assessment HQ highlights state-reported student performance results for grades 3-8, in mathematics and English language arts (ELA). The new site also allows users to see trends in student proficiency in individual states and observe the performance of student groups, like African American and Hispanic students. Only by exploring trend data on these students can we ensure they are making real progress.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Outside of the education policy community, it has largely gone unnoticed that the assessment landscape is constantly changing—with states adjusting vendors, new proficiency calculations, and debates on proper accountability. That constant change is often not in the best interest of students or educators. We’re hopeful that this platform will help cut through much of the uncertainty around tests by offering a clean, consolidated look at actual state-reported information. Let’s face it, tests are an easy punching bag. This site can contribute to a more informed dialogue around assessments and work to avoid situations where the politically expedient choice comes before what’s best for our students. 

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

Student proficiency data is one moment in time. It cannot – and should not – be used in isolation when viewing the work being done to help students succeed. Through the original commentary provided by Dale Chu on the Testing 1-2-3 blog, resources from state and national partners, as well as news coverage, we strive to provide the background information and nuance about the factors that contribute to assessment choices and results. We have assembled available state assessment data based on those states that have kept the same test in place for four years. We only needed three years to show a trend, but we set a higher bar for ourselves. With the goal of improving student success for every child, we must make sure that assessments are aligned to high standards, are informative to parents and policymakers, comparable, meaningful, and actionable.

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

The Top Gun sequel…it’s been too long since Maverick did his thing!

Seriously though, the Collaborative has always been focused on its role as a nonpartisan player that is dedicated to ensuring that students are held to high standards and have the resources and supports necessary for their success. Funding and resources are a perennial topic in education and we’re currently very interested in the move states are making to report out per pupil spending at the school level vs. just at the district level. This provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act hasn’t received a ton of coverage, but it’s a significant step forward in understanding how education dollars are being spent. Also, we’re following the development of needs-assessments as states develop Career and Technical Education plans in coordination with local and regional business leaders.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

*Disclosure: The Collaborative is a client of Bellwether’s, although not on this project. 


Thoughts on Latest Edu-News

Newark will no longer pay teachers based on their evaluation ratings and will instead pay teachers solely based on their experience and credentials. This runs counter to the overwhelming finding from the research literature that advanced degrees have little to no effect on student outcomes.

The city will also be making its teacher salaries even more back-loaded. Over the life of the four-year contract, Newark will boost salaries for new teachers by 4.7 percent, while increasing back-end salaries by 6.1 percent. By my read of the union’s materials, the district will ALSO pay longevity bonuses that kick in at 15, 20, 25, and 30 years of experience. I suspect those longevity bonuses are unlikely to have any noticeable effect on retention rates, and my hunch is that Newark’s teacher turnover problems are primarily driven by early-career exits. In other words, Newark is shifting from a pay structure that rewarded good teaching to one that ignores performance and shifts money away from the biggest problem areas. So, not great!

This is a good New York Times piece about states requiring students to fill out the FAFSA in order to graduate. I’ve long been a fan of mandatory FAFSA, and I think the Times piece actually under-sells it. It’s not just that there’s a correlation between FAFSA completion and college attendance; it’s that completing the FAFSA seems to cause more students to attempt college, perhaps because they’re made more aware of the financial aid for which they would qualify. For a number of equity concerns, my idea was to require FAFSA completion in order for a student to participate in a graduation ceremony, not withhold the diploma itself, but states seem to have been careful to design “opt-out” policies to get around those problems. I especially like how Louisiana state chief John White talks in the article about switching the default to everyone should fill out a FAFSA.

Instead of asking “does Head Start work,” Ashley LiBetti says we should be asking which strategies worked, for what population of children, and under what circumstances. Dale Chu asks similar questions about school turnarounds. In a thoughtful essay, he offers three conditions under which school turnarounds might be more likely to work.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


August 14, 2019

Latest Edu-reads

Today is the 84th anniversary of the Social Security Act. Most people don’t know that the original Act excluded state and local government workers, and it was only later that states were allowed to opt in. Even today, there are still 15 states plus the District of Columbia that do not provide teachers with Social Security coverage. That has implications and consequences for about 1.2 million teachers, not to mention their spouses and children and the plan itself. Read more here.

How can we reconfigure schools and re-design teacher staffing roles to “extend the reach” of great teachers? That’s the subject of my new interview with Stephanie Dean. We talk about her work at Opportunity Culture and how they are working with school districts to identify multi-classroom teacher leaders, build teacher leadership capacity, and ensure more students have access to great teaching. They’re up to 25 districts in 9 states, growing rapidly, and showing some positive results. Read it here.

For Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum writes about four new studies all finding evidence that more money boosts educational outcomes, particularly for low-income students.

“Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US. In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” That is from an older Brookings piece (from 2017), but it was new to me. The graphs starting on page 45 are especially interesting.

As I’ve noted before, there are more Americans who have dropped out of college than who have dropped out of high school. David Kirp talks about his new book, The College Dropout Scandal, and what we can do about it, with Scott Jaschik.

Elizabeth Warren as a teacher.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 6, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

“The mantra of “all kids can learn” is, in fact, a way of upending the racism and classism that undergirds the educational system. If we didn’t have racism or classism, we wouldn’t need to declare this at all.” That’s Heather Harding on racial equity and justice in school reform efforts.

Ashley LiBetti suggests that New Mexico should look to para-professional and educational assistants as a way to diversify its teacher workforce.

This new research on Chicago’s exam schools runs almost exactly opposite to the public debate about them.

Neil Campbell and Abby Quirk look at student mobility and backfilling in charter and traditional public schools in Washington, D.C. schools.

“…the average community college student who successfully transfers to a public four-year institution loses an average of 20 percent of their credits. This loss of credits is equivalent to almost an entire semester of credits and would delay the student’s time to graduate.” That’s John Mullane on what we know about transfer students in higher ed.

Finally, is anyone else confused about the recent stories in The 74 and Chalkbeat about Democratic proposals to increase federal spending on K-12 education? The federal Title I program has its flaws, but on the whole it’s a moderately progressive investment that awards more money to schools with higher concentrations of poor students. As my colleague Max Marchitello has noted, doubling or tripling Title I would instantly provide more money to low-income students. The Title I program is composed of four distinct formulas, and if we were even moderately careful about which of the four formulas the money went through, we could make federal dollars even more targeted, while simultaneously encouraging states to make their formulas more progressive as well. More money is by no means a panacea, but given the latest research on school funding, boosting Title I seems like a no-brainer to me.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 5, 2019

The Case for Billionaire Philanthropy (in Education Reform)

Like other nonprofit sectors, the education reform space is tearing itself apart over whether it should take money from billionaires. There are all sorts of questions mixed up here, including which billionaires, how they earned their money, and how long ago it was, not to mention existential questions about how we feel about whether there should be any billionaires at all.

This essay by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex captures my thoughts on the matter. For education reform in particular, this is the point that I find myself coming back to:

Two of the billionaires whose philanthropy I most respect, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna, have done a lot of work on the criminal justice reform. The organizations they fund determined that many innocent people are languishing in jail for months because they don’t have enough money to pay bail; others are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because they have to get out of jail in time to get to work or care for their children, even if it gives them a criminal record. They funded a short-term effort to help these people afford bail, and a long-term effort to reform the bail system. One of the charities they donate to, The Bronx Freedom Fund, found that 92% of suspects without bail assistance will plead guilty and get a criminal record. But if given enough bail assistance to make it to trial, over half would have all charges dropped. This is exactly the kind of fighting-mass-incarceration and stopping-the-cycle-of-poverty work everyone says we need, and it works really well. I have donated to this charity myself, but obviously I can only give a tiny fraction of what Moskovitz and Tuna manage.

If Moskovitz and Tuna’s money instead flowed to the government, would it accomplish the same goal in some kind of more democratic, more publically-guided way? No. It would go to locking these people up, paying for more prosecutors to trick them into pleading guilty, more prison guards to abuse and harass them. The government already spends $100 billion – seven times Tuna and Moskovitz’s combined fortunes – on maintaining the carceral state each year. This utterly dwarfs any trickle of money it spends on undoing the harms of the carceral state, even supposing such a trickle exists. Kicking Tuna and Moskovitz out of the picture isn’t going to cause bail reform to happen in some civically-responsible manner. It’s just going to ensure that all the money goes to making the problem worse, instead of the overwhelming majority going to making the problem worse but a tiny amount also going to making it better.

In full disclosure, the Bellwether team’s work to improve America’s educational system would not be possible without the investments of billionaires and the foundations they created. So I’m biased, but if we didn’t have philanthropy in education, I think we’d just get more of the same. If you’re dissatisfied with the results of our current education system, if you think it can do better, if you think our educational system should be more equitable or more efficient, or both, philanthropy can help provide the external resources for change.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Aug 5, 2019 @ 11:56am

August 1, 2019

Busy, Busy Bellwether

My Bellwether colleagues have been busy putting out some awesome new content recently. Some highlights:

Julie Squire, Melissa Steel King, and Justin Trinidad have a new deck on private schools and the “microschool” movement. Justin takes a deeper look at two low-cost private school models, Cristo Ray and Build UP.

Ashley LiBetti has advice for what would be the nation’s largest teacher residency program, and interviews Kathy Glazer, the President of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), which is bringing the apprenticeship model to early childhood.

Jennifer Schiess argues that North Carolina lawmakers missed an opportunity to increase their investment in early childhood education.

Bonnie O’Keefe and Brandon Lewis write about four ways states can improve their assessments.

And in conversations about juvenile justice facilities, Max Marchitello wishes we spent more time talking about the educational services provided to students in those facilities.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


July 29, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

This is hard to stomach: “The Trump administration determined that more than 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals under a proposed overhaul to the food stamp program…”

Madeline Will takes a long look at the two competing accreditors for teacher preparation programs. I suppose it’s not great that programs can now shop around for an accreditor that gives them the answer they want that is more aligned with their needs, but I’m also not convinced accreditation is the right lever to pull if we’re trying to improve the quality of new teachers.

You already know what I think of loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Kevin Carey walks through the history of all the various programs and requirements. Warning: It may make your head hurt, but it’s a helpful reminder of just how complicated these all are.

Earlier this month the House voted 419-6 in favor of repealing the “Cadillac Tax” on expensive employer-provided health care plans. It would still need to pass the Senate, but that large majority shows just where the politics stand right now. Meanwhile, health care wonks of all political stripes are trying to push back. Frankly, I’m with the wonks on this one. 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