Latest Edu-Reads

My Bellwether colleagues are launching an early childhood newsletter. You should sign up!

Here’s Nisha Smales on the complex pathways early childhood educators take into the classroom.

Rising teacher pension costs are eating into expenditures on teacher salaries. Primarily, this seems to be about reductions in staffing rather than outright cuts to individual salaries.

The 13th annual CALDER conference has some interesting new research papers. I’m especially partial to this Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, and Mavzuna Turaeva study on between- and within-school segregation in North Carolina.

EdSource on dual enrollment gaps in California.

I’m (very!) late to it, but this Nat Malkus report on the evolution of career and technical education is fascinating. For example, check out Table 6 on the changes in CTE concentrators by gender.

“In Mississippi, nearly 33,000 students — almost all of them African American — attend a school district rated as failing, like Holmes. White students account for less than 5 percent of enrollment in these districts, according to a Hechinger Report analysis of state data.” That’s Bracey Harris taking a deep dive on academic segregation in Mississippi.

USA Today takes a look at private placements for public school students with a disability. They find, “In California, Massachusetts and New York, for instance, the share of white students in private placement exceeds the share in public special education by about 10 percentage points. And in both California and Massachusetts, low-income students with disabilities were only half as likely to receive a private placement as their wealthier special education peers.”

John Arnold has a reminder on the long-term trends in childhood poverty rates:

“Hand-washing is one of the most important tools in public health. It can keep kids from getting the flu, prevent the spread of disease and keep infections at bay.” That’s from this old NPR story about a doctor who championed hand-washing before his time.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

Howard Blume and Sonali Kohli look back on what’s happened in the wake of last year’s teacher strike in Los Angeles.

Educators for Excellence surveyed teachers on their opinions on pay, the profession, and performance.

Phyllis W. Jordan on the risks of including surveys in formal accountability systems.

Alex Spurrier on Blaine Amendments and why the Supreme Court may rule against them.

EdBuild identifies the 50 most segregating school district boundaries.

Nick Allen on helping low-income students succeed in postsecondary education by focusing on “match” and “fit.”

“Most predictions on the future of work suggest sustaining employment will depend on workers’ abilities to master new skills on the job. Short-term training programs tend to develop specialized skills, which may get an individual a job in the near term, but not necessarily include the foundational competencies that can affect income mobility — where it counts — on the job.” That’s Jim Jacobs on the pitfalls of short-term training programs.

Andy Rotherham on whether we’re asking textbooks to do too much on their own.

Buried in this Chicago Sun-Times dive into the Chicago Teachers Union finances is this sentence:

Asked about the union’s political activities, Jennifer Johnson, the CTU’s chief of staff, says the CTU’s work is “inherently political.” But she notes that members can decide whether their dues go to the union’s PACs.

Um, isn’t Johnson totally giving up on the unions’ argument in the 2018 Janus case? If all teachers union work is inherently political, as Johnson seems to admit here, then the court made the correct decision in Janus.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office has an update on school district budgets, student enrollment, and staffing:

Overall Teacher Workforce Has Been Increasing. School districts had about 295,000 full‑time equivalent (FTE) teachers in 2018‑19, an increase of about 18,000 (6.4 percent) over the 2013‑14 level. Coupled with the effects of declining student attendance, the statewide student‑to‑teacher ratio, in turn, has been dropping over the past several years. In 2018‑19, it stood at about 21:1—comparable to the level prior to the Great Recession. Similarly, by 2018‑19, the statewide student‑to‑administrator ratio (237:1) had dropped below pre‑recession levels. Given the return of staffing levels to pre‑recession levels, coupled with declining student attendance, the pressure to hire additional teachers and reduce class sizes is likely to subside over the coming years. 

The LAO recommends that California use one-time budget surplus money to pay down pension and healthcare obligations, while the Governor’s office has other ideas. John Fensterwald digs into that dynamic.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

The 13th annual CALDER conference is coming up in February. The agenda is here. It’s open to all who can make it in D.C. (plus free breakfast and lunch!), or there’s a webinar option for those who prefer to follow along remotely.

EdTrust has an important report looking at what’s driving inequities in access to advanced courses. They find that Black and Hispanic students perform well when given opportunities, but a lack of seats, and inequitable distribution in those seats, deny them equal opportunities. The report also comes with a nifty data tool to see how your state is doing.

Rachel Canter talks to Jennifer Schiess on the educational progress in Mississippi.

Mike Antonucci looks at how California school districts, “are approaching financial crisis even as California increased education expenditures by extraordinary amounts — about 50 percent in the last five years.”

“One of the most consistent findings in education research” is that Master’s degrees don’t make people better teachers. And yet we continue to reward teachers for earning Master’s degrees. Grace Gedye asks why, and Ben Miller looks at implications for the debt burdens we’re placing on teachers. And remember, these same useless Master’s degrees are also distorting the teacher “wage gap” data that get tossed around ad nauseam.

Taylor Swaak dives into a new report showing that 41 percent of New York City schools don’t represent their neighboring district’s student demographics.

A new policy brief by Melanie Rucinski and Joshua Goodman finds, “the lack of diversity in Massachusetts’ teacher workforce largely stems from early stages of the teacher development pipeline. Licensure exam takers and passers are substantially less diverse than the college-enrolled population, but among those who pass the exam there are few racial differences in rates of initial teaching employment or retention.” Listen to Rucinski talk about the paper on the latest Education Next podcast.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

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

American Schools Are Not Resegregating

Let’s start with a math problem. Say you have ten marbles. Eight are red and two are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles, what are the chances you’ll draw the two blue ones?

Now let’s say you have ten marbles, but this time five are red and five are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles again, what are the chances you’ll draw two blue ones this time?

The answer to the second question is ten times higher than the first (2/9 versus 1/45). By changing the composition of the problem by a little bit, the odds have changed dramatically.

This is roughly what’s happening in American schools. In 1968, eight out of ten students were white, and two out of ten were non-white. By 2012, the share of white students had fallen to about five in ten.

While students are not marbles, we’re facing the same basic math problem when we talk about school segregation. On the surface, American schools today appear to be more segregated than ever. The chance that a black or Hispanic student will attend a school with students of their same race has increased significantly, but that’s due to the composition of our society, not sorting. Once you take into account changes in student demographics, American schools are actually less segregated than in the past.

There’s a body of academic research documenting this phenomenon. But perhaps it helps to see it visually. The graph at right comes from a piece by Steven Rivkin for Education Next, documenting the decline in what’s called the “dissimilarity index.” As Rivkin explains it, the dissimilarity index measures, “the percentage of blacks who would need to change schools if blacks and whites were to attend each school in the same percentage as their percentage of public school enrollment.” Across the country, the dissimilarity index has not improved all that much at the district level, but at the school level it’s fallen from 81 percent in 1968 to 66 percent in 2012.

Most of these gains occurred in the 1970s, and the gains have been smaller since then. But remember, these gains are on top of America’s growing diversity. American society has become more diverse, and our schools have integrated even faster.

I’d like to see even more integration, for lots of reasons. There are real benefits to integration efforts, but we should be careful to diagnose our problems accurately, avoid distorting the data, and be wary of universal solutions. As our country gets more diverse over time, it’s going to look like segregation is getting worse. But we have to go deeper to understand what’s really happening.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Absolute Versus Relative School Segregation

“Everyone knows” school segregation is getting worse, right? Well, no. That narrative has been fueled by a partial misread of the data.

It is true that absolute measures of school segregation are getting worse, but that’s mainly due to our diversifying country. In relative terms–how racially isolated are our schools compared to the underlying student population–segregation has not been nearly as dramatic. Here’s Brian Kisida and Olivia Piontek in a new piece over at Education Next:

In contrast, relative measures of segregation take into account the underlying composition of students, making them more comparable across locations and over time. They are also conceptually different in that they measure how evenly a given population of students is distributed across an entire school system. This makes intuitive sense, as segregation implies that some students are segregated from other students—relative to some underlying pool of students a school could enroll.

This issue with measuring segregation is well-known in the academic community, and there is ample scholarly evidence using relative measures of segregation that adjust for the underlying composition of students in school systems. Using these more sophisticated relative measures, such as the dissimilarity index and the variance-ratio index, examinations of trends find that segregation has been flat or modestly decreased over the past 20 years. In summary, massive resegregation is not occurring, and students are roughly just as evenly distributed across school systems as they were 20 years ago.

To be clear, segregation and racial isolation are serious problems in America and far more common than they should be, and efforts to shed a light on these problems are commendable. At every point in time between the Brown decision in 1954 and 2019, millions of American children have been educated in separate and unequal schools. This is an outrage that demands serious attention and action. But as we devise strategies and search for solutions, it is imperative that we are motivated by a complete picture of the problem we are trying to address. Segregation is a serious enough problem that it shouldn’t need to be worsening to be alarming. It’s bad enough as is.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman