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

Edujob: Vice President of Impact and External Relations at redefinED atlanta

redefinED atlanta has just launched a search for a Vice President of Impact and External Relations who will work to more firmly establish redefinED as a trusted leader and champion for public school quality in Atlanta.

From the JD:

The Vice President of Impact and External Relations position represents an exciting opportunity to join a mission-driven, committed and high-functioning team, and be part of a thriving organization and community of dedicated stakeholders who are acting with urgency to realize equity and excellence in education.

 Guided by a set of core values, and energized by the impact and learning associated with its first three years’ work, redefinED atlanta’s team is driven, poised for growth. redefinED is eager to extend its coalition building to further organize and activate families and communities, and cultivate philanthropic, civic and business leaders to raise their voices and leverage financial resources in order to increase access to high quality public education in Atlanta.

Click here to apply or nominate! 

Thoughts on Recent Edu-Reads

A typical teacher pension formula multiplies some factor (usually around 2 percent) times the employee’s salary and years of experience. It might look like this:

Pension = 2 percent X salary X years of experience

In the education context, we know that high-poverty schools tend to employ teachers with lower salaries and fewer years of experience. Pensions literally multiply those problems together. Max Marchitello explains and gives an example from West Virginia.

Technically speaking, Ohio school districts aren’t contributing toward teacher retirement benefits.

Tomas Monarrez, Brian Kisida, and Matthew M. Chingos have new work out on the intersection of charter schools and school segregation. They find that charters do contribute to segregation, a bit, but charters are not the primary driver and there’s wide variation across states and geographies. Here’s the Matt Barnum write-up or the Education Next version from the authors.

Even as someone with concerns about private school choice programs, I was reluctant to tout research showing that private school choice programs seemed to have a negative effect on student achievement in states like Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana. I wondered if those results were driven more by alignment issues than quality ones. That is, it may be the case that private schools were no better or worse than public schools, but public schools were simply more focused on preparing students to pass state achievement tests. The Urban Institute is out with a new study this week supporting this theory. They found that private school choice programs in Florida and Milwaukee improved college enrollment and graduation rates (although not in Washington, D.C.). Personally, I think the debate over private schools comes down to a values question rather than being resolved by purely objective outcomes data.

Cara Jackson on how teacher residency programs can improve the diversity of our teacher workforce.

For-profit colleges have “got a friend in Trump.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

The TEACH Grant Program Is a Mess

The TEACH Grant program is a mess. It was never a great idea to give college kids annual grants of $4,000 a year in the hopes that they’ll become teachers. It was worse that Congress attached a four-year, all-or-nothing commitment to those grants and, if students failed to live up to those promises, to convert those grants into loans.

I admit I’m biased here. I was part of a team calling for an end to TEACH Grants way back in a  2009 paper, and while I was in the Obama Administration I worked on a regulation to at least limit the scope of TEACH Grants to high-quality programs in high-need subject areas. Those efforts ultimately failed. We’re now more than a decade into the program, and it’s hard to call it anything less than a big, giant mess.

The TEACH Grant program offers prospective teachers up to $4,000 a year in exchange for committing to teach for four years in a high-need subject in a low-income school. If recipients fail to fulfill that commitment within eight years of graduation, their entire balance converts to a loan, with interest going back to the time they received the money. In theory, TEACH Grants may have sounded like a good idea, but in practice they have too many logistical snares to work well.

First is their complexity. We do have a problem recruiting teachers to serve in low-income schools, and we do have chronic shortages in high-demand fields. It’s also true that teachers take on higher debt loads than other professionals, especially to acquire Master’s degrees, and there’s evidence to suggest these high debt loads are a barrier to entry particularly for black and Hispanic candidates.

But at the time Congress created the TEACH Grant program in 2007, we already had separate federal teacher loan forgiveness programs for Stafford and Perkins loans, and in the same bill that we got TEACH Grants, they also created Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income-Based Repayment. Each of these programs have slightly different eligibility rules and service requirements, some of which conflict with each other. TEACH Grants only added to that complexity.

The second problem is related to targeting, and this is the tricky part of loan forgiveness programs generally. How do you induce people to become teachers who otherwise would not? A study on a Florida loan forgiveness program found it did “work” in the sense that it did induce some teachers into the profession, but it was not the most cost-effective way to do that.

In the TEACH Grant context, most of the TEACH Grant recipients are not fulfilling their commitment. It’s hard to argue the program is inducing many people to become teachers, or at least doing that job efficiently.

Third, once you get teachers into the profession, loan forgiveness programs have to follow them over time and make sure anyone who fails to live up to their commitments pays back the money. That’s a logistical nightmare, and, as NPR has reported, thousands of teachers met their commitments but had their grants converted anyway. Those teachers went through years of stress–we’re talking gray hairs and lost teeth–all for processing errors, paperwork mistakes, or deadlines that were sometimes missed by only a couple days. NPR reporters Chris Arnold and Cory Turner deserve a Pulitzer for staying with this story, and their reporting has helped out thousands of TEACH Grant recipients who did not deserve to have their grants converted into loans.

But finally, we have all the people who simply don’t fulfill their TEACH Grant commitments, which is two-thirds of all program participants. According to a follow-up study released last year, 39 percent of participants who had their grants converted to loans were teaching but not in a qualifying position (meaning they weren’t teaching a high-need subject or in a low-income school) and 33 percent were not teaching or never completed their degree or certificate. Separately, another 32 percent said they didn’t understand the terms of the grant and others didn’t follow the necessary steps to prove they were fulfilling the grant’s terms.

That’s why I prefer more direct policies. If you want to boost the supply of new teachers, make it easier to become a teacher, stop requiring them to get useless Master’s degrees, and raise teacher salaries. There’s no paperwork or tracking involved in raising salaries, and it allows teachers to decide how they want to spend their compensation, whether that’s on loan forgiveness or something else.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

Several people have sent me Alia Wong’s piece for The Atlantic on “The Financial Calamity That Is the Teaching Profession.” After reading it, I couldn’t help but conclude that Wong was trying to weave too many different things together into one broader narrative. In a relatively short piece, she touches on the problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, costly Master’s degree programs, the multiple and conflicting teacher loan forgiveness programs, the crappy 403b plans many teachers are sold, rising housing costs, and teachers moonlighting as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts.

In the process of trying to connect all these dots, Wong’s piece lost a lot of nuance. As an example, to support the point about teachers taking on second jobs, Wong cites a article to claim that teachers are “five times more likely than the average full-time worker to also have a part-time job.” That’s a gross overstatement, caused by Vox cherry-picking two different survey results. This Brookings piece does a better job of making an apples-to-apples comparison using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS data finds that 14 percent of teachers work a second job, compared to 11 percent of non-teachers. That’s a 3 percentage point gap, or a 30 percent difference. A 30 percent gap is not nothing, but it’s a far cry from the “5 times” figure calculated by Vox and repeated by Wong.

I don’t mean to diminish the real struggles teaches are facing, but most of the factors Wong cites apply at least in some degree to non-teachers as well. Those factors also have very different causes and solutions, and it would have been nice to unpack exactly how and why teachers are and are not different from non-teachers.

Speaking of how education is different than other industries, check out this piece on the trucking industry. In contrast to the fear over autonomous cars, the trucking industry is facing a massive worker shortage. Wages have been flat, and companies are starting to respond with hiring incentives and other bonuses, although, as the article notes, workers are not experiencing those in the same way their employers are describing them. Lots of edu-implications on things like training, expectations, and employer responses to worker shortages.

Here’s what Bellwether staff have been up to.

Everything you wanted to know about buses and the school transportation industry.

The Trump Administration is proposing a regulation that they estimate would take food stamps away from about 3 million people. This Twitter thread from Rebecca Vallas goes into the details and how it would affect schools and students.

States are leading the “free college” push, and Democratic candidates for President are promoting to take the policy national. Frankly, I find this David Deming proposal the simplest, most persuasive argument I’ve read about how and why the feds should get involved. Kevin Carey outlines a similar, more detailed version for The Washington Monthly that would cut out the middleman (states).

Brandon Lewis is in Education Week on the importance of assessment literacy for teachers.

And finally, a call for partners: Over the past two years, Bellwether has been supporting the work of public agencies to improve education outcomes for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways. Those disruptions include, but are not limited to: an experience with homelessness, a placement in foster care, an incarceration, or an early unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

We are now inviting a new cohort of leaders to submit a preliminary letter of interest to engage in an 18-month planning process to improve the ways in which local, regional, and state agencies communicate and collaborate across their historical silos to better meet the needs of youth and families who experience significant disruptions to their educational and life pathways.

Letters of interest are due September 30. More information about the opportunity, including application instructions and additional deadlines, can be found in this call for applications.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

What the Education Sector Can Learn from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

The literature on teacher development is depressing. In study after study, researchers have found that teachers tend to make large improvements in their first few years on the job, but then their growth slows. There’s some interesting work looking at how far the growth period extends, on what measures it manifests, and whether it applies to all teachers equally, but the basic finding holds.

The question is: Why do we see this pattern, and how can we help veteran teachers continue to improve their practice?

I thought of this question recently while reading the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Here is them describing this same phenomenon in tennis players, doctors, and nurses:

After their internships and residencies, some doctors get a fellowship to continue on with even more specialized training, but that is the end of their official supervised training. Once new doctors have reached this stage, they go to work as full-fledged physicians with the assumption that they’ve developed all the skills they need to treat patients effectively.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should, for it is very similar to the pattern I described in chapter 1 when explaining how one might learn to play tennis: take some tennis lessons, develop enough skill to play the game competently, and then set aside the intense training that characterized the original learning period. As I noted, most people assume that as you continue to play tennis and accumulate all those hours of “practice,” you will inevitably get better, but the reality is different: as we’ve seen, people generally don’t get much better just by playing the game itself, and, sometimes, the’ll actually be worse.

This similarity between doctors and recreational tennis players was shown in 2005 when a group of researchers at Harvard Medical School published an extensive review of research looking at how the quality of care that doctors provide changes over time. If years of practice make physicians better, then the quality of care they give should increase as they amass more experience. But just the opposite was true. In almost every one of the five dozen studies included in the review, doctors’ performance grew worse over time or, at best, stayed about the same. The older doctors knew less and did worse in terms of providing appropriate care than doctors with far fewer years of experience, and researchers concluded that it was likely the older doctors’ patients fared worse because of it. Only two of the sixty-two studies had found doctors to have gotten better with experience. Another study of decision-making accuracy in more than ten thousand clinicians found that additional professional experience had only a very small benefit.

Not surprisingly, the same thing is true for nurses as well. Careful studies have shown that very experienced nurses do not, on average, provide any better care than nurses who are only a few years out of nursing school.

Most forms of professional development are passive, but instead we should be thinking more about ways to boost active, deliberate practice. Here’s Ericsoon and Pool again:

Some of the most compelling research on the effectiveness of continuing professional education for physicians has been done by Dave Davis, a doctor and educational scientist at the University of Toronto. In a very influential study, Davis and a group of colleagues examined a wide-ranging group of educational “interventions,” by which they meant courses, conferences, and other meetings, lectures, and symposia, taking part in medical rounds, and pretty much anything else whose goal was to increase doctors’ knowledge and improve their performance. The most effective interventions, Davis found, were those that had some interactive component — role-play, discussion groups, case solving, hands-on-training, and the like. Such activities actually did improve both the doctors’ performance and their patients’ outcomes, although the overall improvement was small. By contrast, the least effective activities were “didactic” interventions–that is, those educational activities that essentially consisted of doctors listening to a lecture–which, sadly enough, are by far the most common types of activities in continuing medical education. Davis concluded that this sort of passive listening to lectures had no significant effect at all on either doctors’ performance or on how well their patients fared.

We see similar results on the effects of current teacher professional development programs. Additional courses or lectures seem to have no effect on student learning.

So what should we do instead? This is really the essence of Peak:

From the perspective of deliberate practice, the problem is obvious: attending lectures, minicourses, and the like offers little or no feedback and little or no chance to try something new, make mistakes, correct the mistakes, and gradually develop a new skill. It’s as if amateur tennis players tried to improve by reading articles in tennis magazines and watching the occasional YouTube video; they may believe they are learning something, but it’s not going to help their tennis game much. Furthermore, in the online interactive approaches to continuing medical education, it is very difficult to mimic the sorts of complex situations that doctors and nurses encounter in their everyday practice.

Maybe this sounds like an obvious conclusion, but if we want to help teachers improve we need to create environments that mimic the complex situations they face in their classrooms everyday, and we have to continue challenging teachers to improve after their first few years on the job. We’ve seen this in promising studies on teacher teams, coaching, and leadership roles. What all of these interventions have in common is that they carve out time for one-to-one feedback on the actual situations teachers face day-to-day in their classrooms. The feedback is timely, unique to each teacher, and part of a regular day. Too much teacher professional development today is the opposite of these things, and we shouldn’t expect better results until we are more deliberate about the learning opportunities we provide our teachers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Weekend Edu-Reads

Hotel California? Mike Antonucci tracks down the laborious process it would take for a California teacher to drop out of their union.

“Centralizing and decentralizing education governance is a popular American pastime.” Jason Weeby on the latest machinations in Chicago.

Bonnie O’Keefe in Governing on state innovations in assessment policy.

Conor Williams goes inside Washington, DC’s pre-k program.

AEI and Third Way map out the common ground on accountability in higher education.

This McKinsey report on robots  the future of work is interesting and has some important implications for equity, politics, and the education sector.

Do Georgia’s K-12 teachers deserve the same retirement choices as their peers in higher ed? I say yes.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Introducing #EduFridayFive: A Conversation on the State of Assessments with Bonnie O’Keefe

I’m pleased to introduce a new recurring feature today, an education-focused “Friday Five.” We’ve created a standard set of five questions, and we’ll ask guests to briefly respond, in their own words, about their work. The goal is to hear from interesting people across education who are leading new initiatives or research projects. You’ll see us using this format occasionally here on Eduwonk and at Bellwether’s group blog Ahead of the Heard.

For the series launch, I reached out to Bellwether Associate Partner Bonnie O’Keefe. Bonnie is the co-author, along with Bellwether Analyst Brandon Lewis, on a new paper about the future of state assessments. State assessment policy is at a critical juncture, and the national conversation has not yet caught up to some of the innovations playing out in the states. You’ll have to read the full paper to understand the whole picture, but what follows are Bonnie’s answers to the Friday Five:

Bonnie O'Keefe

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

There are lots of opportunities available to states to improve and innovate their assessments under current federal law, but states don’t seem to be taking them. We look at the reasons why, and lift up some examples of states moving in interesting directions around assessment. We focus in on four areas in particular:

  1. Interim assessments for accountability
  2. Formative assessments to support instruction
  3. Shared item banks and new collaborations among states
  4. Social studies and science assessments

There are a few states starting to think outside the box on assessment, and a larger group making more subtle moves under the radar. But some states are at risk of backsliding on assessment quality because tests have become so politically toxic. We argue that investment in assessment is still important and valuable. States should work towards a well-rounded system of assessments (not just one test) that can support accountability, equity, and transparency, and also support teachers in real and useful ways.

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

One, innovation in testing isn’t just about technology. There are some exciting examples that use technology to make tests faster, more accurate, or more engaging. But there are also examples where states are innovating away from technology and towards interactive or longer-term tasks created, administered, and graded by teachers.

Two, we’re not just talking about end of year reading and math tests. I was especially interested in exploring facets of state work on assessment that fall outside what federal law mandates. We highlight science, social studies, and formative assessment for instruction. But, you could also include things like early childhood and K-2 assessments, or assessments for English learners.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Many of the ideas we highlight in this brief get talked about at assessment conferences. But to someone involved in education policy who doesn’t specialize in assessment, especially policymakers, testing might just seem like a complicated, controversial chore. Why would you want to invest money and time in testing? I thought it was important to make the counterargument to that line of thinking, and delve into some ways that innovation and improvement are available and valuable for states right now.

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

If someone comes in dead set against testing of any kind, I doubt this paper will sway them, but I hope it provides some nuanced insight into what innovative tests can look like, and why it is worth improving tests, rather than eliminating them.

I could anticipate other critics saying that states shouldn’t expand their role in testing, should stick only to what is mandated, and leave everything else to local decision-makers. My response is that we’ve seen states do only the bare minimum, and what happens is basically a waste of time and money. Students and teachers still have to spend their time on tests, but they’re less useful and lower quality, and they don’t help anyone improve. It’s worthwhile to be more ambitious and innovative in order to make assessments a positive force in schools.

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

In life, I’m excited for summertime adventures in the Finger Lakes (I’m based in Rochester, NY).

In education policy, I’m in the middle of a research project on local school performance frameworks that I’m very excited to share this fall. So, if anyone reading knows of work happening in their district to create or revise a school performance framework, they should send me an email!

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Education News

“Enrolling in a Boston charter school doubles the likelihood that students lose their special education or English Language Learner status, but exposes students to a high-performing general education program that includes high intensity tutoring, data driven instruction, and increased instructional time. The positive effects extend to college: charters nearly double the likelihood that English Language Learners enroll in four-year colleges and quadruple the likelihood that special education students graduate from two-year college.” That’s from this new working paper from Elizabeth Setren.

Jason Weeby has five lessons about designing effective convenings.

Read Max Marchitello on how teacher pension plans exacerbate salary differences across districts. The comparisons of teachers in Santa Clara versus Oakland, CA are particularly eye-opening.

Two interesting data briefs on early-career teachers in North Carolina public schools from Kevin Bastian and EdNC. See this one on placement rates by preparation program, subject area, and race/ ethnicity of the teacher candidates. And this one on early-career performance and retention.

Are colleges of education really cash cows? NCTQ’s Amber Moorer digs into some new data suggesting it might be time to retire that myth.

And if you liked The Lion King, you should probably read this.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Edu-Reads and ? FISH PICS! ?

The California charter bill has become more reasonable with Governor Newsom’s intervention. There’s a huge swath of middle ground upon which both the CTA and CCSA can plant their victory flags. Let’s hope they find it. (Sidenote: The bill amendments replaces gendered pronouns with gender-neutral ones ?.)

Newark Public Schools used to look a lot like Providence Public Schools today. Alex Spurrier takes us down I-95 to some lessons for Little Rhody’s big problem.

Camden has a long way to go, but a new Stanford CREDO study shows progress primarily among their charter and Renaissance Schools. You can read about the strategy that sparked their improvement here. Check out all of CREDO’s city studies here.

New Orleans achievement has stalled/dipped.

EdBuild is closing its doors but not giving up the fight for equitable education funding. Few organizations have successfully made such complex issues comprehensible.


Little Bankert, five-year-old daughter of Bellwether’s own Lina Bankert hauled in a massive lake trout from Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, Michigan! It was her first time fishing!!

Our fish don’t stack up, but here’s yours truly and my father-in-law Xavier Gaudard with our trophies pulled from Lake Charlevoix, Michigan this morning. It was not our first time fishing. Maybe Little Bankert can show us how it’s done.

– Guest post by Jason Weeby