Latest Edu-Reads

“…ignoring the stop arm of a school bus is incredibly dangerous because children often cross the street as they are entering or exiting the bus.” That’s Alex Spurrier on school bus safety.

Lisette Partelow on what to make of the decline in teacher preparation enrollment.

Doug Webber has a cool tool to compare lifetime earnings by college major.

This Kalyn Belsha article for Chalkbeat is a sobering reminder of the fecklessness in our education sector. The Trump Administration killed off a $12 million competitive grant program to support school integration efforts out of spite and instead spread that money to undefined state school improvement efforts. That does not sound like a good use of money.

But the districts also didn’t follow through! Belsha leads with the example of the Austin, TX school district, which outlined a detailed case for why they needed to integrate their school district and how they planned to do it. But when the program was canceled they let those plans dropt. They were in line to win $1.5 million, which is peanuts to a school district the size of Austin. The Austin schools budget was about $1.4 billion that same year, so we’re talking about 0.1 percent of their budget. Austin was by no means the only district to drop their integration efforts, but there’s a lesson here when even tiny sums of money would have changed district behavior, and it says something about the importance of competitive grants to spur action…

The latest PISA results are out and they are not good… for Finland! The OECD described their trajectory as “steadily negative” and found declines in reading, math, and science. Worse, they concluded that Finland’s decline in reading and science “was particularly noticeable amongst the lowest-achieving students.”

The trends here in the United States are nothing to brag about either–they’re mainly flat over time–but we’re holding steady in a middle pack alongside Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

This is a lovely personal essay on overconfidence by Jason Zweig. Coming from a rural background in 1977, Advanced Placement tests played a role in teaching Zweig a helpful lesson in humility.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Latest Edu-Reads

Bellwether has a cool new micro-site on rural charter schools. It profiles four successful rural charter schools that are outperforming state and local averages while serving students who are economically diverse. Check out and then read Kelly Robson on what drives their success.

These are some impressive growth trends in AP Computer Science test-taking among females and underrepresented minorities.

EdNavigator reminds us that school closures can be disruptive, but there are also things schools and districts can do to make that transition as successful as possible. With supports in place in New Orleans, “93 percent of students from closing schools with D-F letter grades landed in a new school that was at least one letter grade better, and 66 percent gained seats in a school two letter grades better.”

The Washington Post has a big new piece out today about how our schools are diversifying. Yes, diversifying, you read that correctly. I think this runs counter to the conventional narrative, but they find that, “In 2017, 10.8 million children attended highly integrated public schools, up from 5.9 million in 1995, an 83 percent increase that stems largely from rising diversity outside metropolitan areas.” This over a period when total student enrollment rose just 6 percent. The WaPo also created a handy tool to look up your district.

This new study on Chicago’s selective high schools may surprise some people, particularly the finding that winning a spot at a selective high school may harm disadvantaged students, because it means those students won’t go to a charter school run by the Noble network. The “control” group attending the open-enrollment Noble charters outperformed the “treatment” of going to the selective exam schools.

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data from the BLS are out. The topline finding is that job openings and quit rates are rising across the entire American economy. This is true for education as well, but keep in mind that public K-12 education consistently has lower turnover rates than other sectors in our economy. I’ve circled and added an arrow to the light blue line in the BLS graph comparing industries over time (click on the image to see it larger): 

Tucked into this Washington Post piece on the changing demographics of new hires is an interesting stat on apprenticeships: “Companies and labor unions have also stepped up their outreach to minorities and have their own training programs. Labor Department figures show employers started 3,229 new apprenticeship programs last year — almost double the rate in 2016. Part of the jump may be due to companies feeling the need to grow talent from within and the Trump administration’s push to formally register apprenticeship programs.”

Sue Dynarski argues that taking out a student loan is better than dropping out of college. She writes, “Fully half of community colleges never offer loans…apparently because the schools are concerned that students will get themselves into financial trouble…. But the new evidence strongly suggests that such policies are harming students. Loans provide critical funds for paying tuition, meeting living expenses and buying school supplies. Discouraging students from taking out loans — without providing financial alternatives — harms their ability to progress through college.”

Don’t miss Kris Amundson on how Virginia can support first-generation students applying to college.

A randomized control trial of early college high schools found strong results, according to a new AIR study. Participating students had college completion rates about 12 percent points higher than the control group and, critically, they also earned those credentials earlier, giving participants a headstart into the workforce.

Who knew there was an actual scientific why reason school buses are yellow?

Agnes Callard writes a defense of playing the devil’s advocate… and when and how to do it well.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman  

Weekend Edu-Reads

Caprice Young is a must-read on the new reality facing California charter schools.

Robin Lake bakes a bread metaphor into this piece on school districts and charter schools. It turns out that recipes involving living organisms can be hard to follow. She concludes, “let districts be districts, when they work. But when they don’t, try something else.”

Aaron Churchill has a new report on college readiness in Ohio. He looks at ACT scores, dual enrollment, AP, and industry credentials overall across the state, by county, and by race. While all of these indicators are trending upward across the state, the black-white gap remains large:

Dolly Parton is awesome. And so is this D.C. program she’s involved with that sends free books to kids under 5.

Phillip Burgoyne-Allen says, “Do the electric!” Bus, that is.

How tax policy gave us White Claw and other hard seltzers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

If you have kids hopping on a bright yellow bus this month, I encourage you to check out Bellwether’s latest work on school buses.

I’ll be talking pensions and health care costs at this October event on education budgets hosted by AEI and Fordham. I’m biased, but it looks like a great line-up of panelists.

“…US births in 2018 totaled just 3,788,235, the lowest annual number of births in 32 years…” That’s part of this detailed look at U.S. Census projections. Schools will start to feel the effects of these trends in a couple years.

In the college remediation space, there was lots of hope for California’s Early Assessment Program (EAP), which provides information to 11th graders about whether they would need remediation at Cal State universities. If students score above a certain threshold on the EAP, they are automatically exempt from remedial classes. If they score below the threshold, they are encouraged to take additional coursework in 12th grade. In theory, it’s a nice way to provide earlier, actionable information to students, and a preliminary study of one CSU institution found that the EAP program reduced the need for remediation by 6.2 percentage points in English and 4.3 percentage points in math. However, a new, larger study found smaller effects across all 23 CSU institutions. The authors estimate that the EAP program leads to 1,200-1,400 fewer students placed in remedial math or remedial English annually. However, the effects seem to be driven by providing students just above the threshold an exemption from remedial courses. This testing effect appears to be more powerful than the informational aspect of the program.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about Success Academy this fall thanks to Robert Pondiscio’s forthcoming book* on the New York charter school network. In the meantime, check out this news: Every single student at Success Academy Flatbush passed state reading and math tests last year, a feat achieved by only two other NYC schools since 2013. Robert Bellafiore suggests Democratic presidential candidates should spend more time in schools like this.

This blog post by David Evans is a short, accessible entry point to Matt Kraft’s important work on interpreting effect sizes. As someone who straddles the education research and policy worlds, for me it was a helpful reminder of just how hard it is to “dramatically” move the needle in education. Education reform is a long game that will require lots of incremental improvements rather than one magic pill. Funders and ideologues looking for a quick fix are likely to be disappointed.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

*Disclosure: I got my hands on an advance copy of the book and am about 50 pages in. It’s good so far! I’ll share more thoughts after I finish.

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 the Pennsylvania Treasurer account asking why pension plans chase after active investments rather than being passive investors. While current Treasurer Joe Torsella has used his power to transition other state funds to index-based investments, and the Pennsylvania Treasurer does not control the investments made by the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), Pennsylvania teachers are investing 17.1 percent of their money 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

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