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  • Recovering One Of The Midwest’s Best Ideas

    Written on February 13, 2014

    * Reprinted here in the Washington Post

    Our guest author today is Dr. Conor P. Williams, a proud product of Michigan’s public schools, and currently a Senior Researcher in the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative. Follow him on Twitter: @conorpwilliams

    President Obama sent a veritable drawerful of his cabinet to Detroit last fall (and Vice President Joe Biden led a similar visit last month). While the Tigers were headed for the postseason, the big shots weren’t in town for a glimpse of quality baseball. Attorney General Eric Holder, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were in the Motor City to brainstorm with state and local leaders on ways to use federal resources to spark -- and hopefully speed -- Detroit’s economic recovery.

    While there are flickers of economic revival in the city, it’s hard to imagine that this conversation was wide-ranging enough to break the spiral. Is there an easy long-term recovery to be found in Detroit—or are its considerable problems the product of a fatally flawed economic development plan? There’s ample evidence for the latter.

    Changing the city’s course will require much more than budgetary tweaks. It’s going to take a comprehensive rethinking of the area’s approach to education and economic opportunities. It’s going to require starting with the youngest Detroiters—and building a lasting foundation for economic growth.

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  • Matching Up Teacher Value-Added Between Different Tests

    Written on February 11, 2014

    The U.S. Department of Education has released a very short, readable report on the comparability of value-added estimates using two different tests in Indiana – one of them norm-referenced (the Measures of Academic Progress test, or MAP), and the other criterion-referenced (the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus, or ISTEP+, which is also the state’s official test for NCLB purposes).

    The research design here is straightforward – fourth and fifth grade students in 46 schools across 10 districts in Indiana took both tests, their teachers’ value-added scores were calculated, and the scores were compared. Since both sets of scores were based on the same students and teachers, this is allows a direct comparison of how teachers’ value-added estimates compare between these two tests. The results are not surprising, and they square with similar prior studies (see here, here, here, for example): The estimates based on the two tests are moderately correlated. Depending on the grade/subject, they are between 0.4 and 0.7. If you’re not used to interpreting correlation coefficients, consider that only around one-third of teachers were in the same quintile (fifth) on both tests, and another 40 or so percent were one quintile higher or lower. So, most teachers were within a quartile, about a quarter of teachers moved two or more quintiles, and a small percentage moved from top to bottom or vice-versa.

    Although, as mentioned above, these findings are in line with prior research, it is worth remembering why this “instability” occurs (and what can be done about it).

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  • Opportunity To Churn: Teacher Assignments Within New York City Schools

    Written on February 5, 2014

    Virtually all discussions of teacher turnover focuses on teachers leaving schools and/or the profession. However, a recent working paper by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, which was presented at this month’s CALDER conference, reaches a very interesting conclusion using data from New York City: There is actually more movement within NYC schools than between them.*

    Specifically, the authors show that, during the years for which they had data (1997-2002 and 2004-2010), over 50 percent of teachers in any given year exhibited some form of movement (including leaving the profession or switching schools), but two-thirds of these moves were within schools – i.e., teachers changing grades or subjects. Moreover, they find that these within-school moves, like those between-schools/professions, appear to have a negative impact on testing outcomes, one which is very modest but statistically discernible in both math and reading.

    There are a couple of interesting points related to these main findings.

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  • Is Selective Admission A School Improvement Plan?

    Written on January 23, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that parents and alumni of D.C.’s Dunbar High School have quietly been putting together a proposal to revitalize what the article calls "one of the District's worst performing schools."

    Those behind the proposal are not ready to speak about it publicly, and details are still very thin, but the Post article reports that it calls for greater flexibility in hiring, spending and other core policies. Moreover, the core of the plan – or at least its most drastic element - is to make Dunbar a selective high school, to which students must apply and be accepted, presumably based on testing results and other performance indicators (the story characterizes the proposal as a whole with the term “autonomy”). I will offer no opinion as to whether this conversion, if it is indeed submitted to the District for consideration, is a good idea. That will be up to administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.

    I am, however, a bit struck by two interrelated aspects of this story. The first is the unquestioned characterization of Dunbar as a “low performing” or “struggling” school. This fateful label appears to be based mostly on the school’s proficiency rates, which are indeed dismally low – 20 percent in math and 29 percent in reading.

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  • Extended School Time Proposals And Charter Schools

    Written on January 22, 2014

    One of the (many) education reform proposals that has received national attention over the past few years is “extended learning time” – that is, expanding the day and/or year to give students more time in school.

    Although how schools use the time they have with students, of course, is not necessarily more or less important than how much time they have with those students, the proposal to expand the school day/year may have merit, particularly for schools and districts serving larger proportions of students who need to catch up. I have noticed that one of the motivations for the extended time push is the (correct) observation that the charter school models that have proven effective (at least by the standard of test score gains) utilize extended time.

    On the one hand, this is a good example of what many (including myself) have long advocated – that the handful of successful charter school models can potentially provide a great deal of guidance for all schools, regardless of their governance structure. On the other hand, it is also important to bear in mind that many of the high-profile charter chains that receive national attention don’t just expand their school years by a few days or even a few weeks, as has been proposed in several states. In many cases, they extend it by months.

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  • Teacher Turnover In DCPS

    Written on January 15, 2014

    Teacher turnover – the rates at which teachers leave the profession and switch schools – is obviously a very important outcome in education. Although not all turnover is necessarily a “bad thing” – some teachers simply aren’t cut out for the job and leave voluntarily (or are fired) - unusually high turnover means that schools must replace large proportions of their workforces on an annual basis. This can have serious implications not only for the characteristics (e.g., experience) of schools’ teachers, but also for schools’ costs, cohesion and professional cultures.

    According to the most recent national data (which are a few years old), annual public school teacher turnover is around 16 percent, of which roughly half leave the profession (“leavers”), and half switch schools (“movers”). Both categories are equally important from the perspective of individual schools, since they must replace teachers regardless of where they go. In some subsets of schools and among certain groups of teachers, however, turnover is considerably higher. For instance, among teachers with between 1-3 years of experience, turnover is almost 23 percent. Contrary to popular opinion, though, the relationship between school poverty (i.e., free/reduced-price lunch rates) and turnover isn’t straightforward, at least at the national level. Although schools serving larger proportions of lower-income students have a larger percentage of “movers” every year, they have a considerably lower proportion of “leavers” (in part due to retirement).

    This national trend, of course, masks considerable inter-district variation. One example is the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

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  • Talk, Talk, Talk

    Written on January 9, 2014

    Our guest author today is Douglas Yeager, President of the Nancy M. and Douglas M. Yeager Family Foundation, a non-profit established in 2001 focused on programs delivering or supporting childhood development. This focus is based on Nancy Yeager's lifelong interest in and commitment to early childhood education. Her love of teaching inspired her family to establish the Foundation.

    Talk, talk, talk – odd as that may sound, a growing body of compelling research shows this to be a very effective strategy to reduce early language gaps among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. And, fortunately, it doesn’t cost a cent.

    If caring parents want their child to be ready for school (and for life after school), they should talk with that child at every opportunity. And, of course, it is also fundamental to listen and to respond appropriately. Conversations, after all, are two-way.

    That said, parents need to be the ones initiating the practice, persisting in it, and never giving up. It means so very much to children, and it pays off big-time. As my colleagues at the Shanker Institute like to say: “You don’t need a lot of money to give your child a head start; conversations and ideas cost nothing."

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  • Revisiting The Issue Of Charter Schools And Special Education Students

    Written on January 7, 2014

    One of the most common claims against charter schools is that they “push out” special education students. The basic idea is that charter operators, who are obsessed with being able to show strong test results and thus bolster their reputations and enrollment, subtlety or not-so-subtlety “counsel out” students with special education plans (or somehow discourage their enrollment).

    This is, of course, a serious issue, one that is addressed directly in a recent report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), which presents an analysis of data from a sample of New York City charter elementary schools (and compares them to regular public schools in the city). It is important to note that many of the primary results of this study, including those focused on the "pushing out" issue, cannot be used to draw any conclusions about charters across the nation. There were only 25 NYC charters included in that (lottery) analysis, all of them elementary schools, and these were not necessarily representative of the charter sector in the city, to say nothing of charters nationwide.

    That said, the report, written by Marcus Winters, finds, among other things, that charters enroll a smaller proportion of special education students than regular public schools (as is the case elsewhere), and that this is primarily because these students are less likely to apply for entrance to charters (in this case, in kindergarten) than their regular education peers. He also presents results suggesting that this gap actually grows in later grades, mostly because of charters being less likely to classify students as having special needs, and more likely to reclassify them as not having special needs once they have been put on a special education plan (whether or not these classifications and declassifications are appropriate is of course not examined in this report).

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  • In Opposition To Academic Boycotts

    Written on December 19, 2013

    Our guest author today is Rita Freedman, Acting Executive Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, and a recent retiree from the American Federation of Teachers.

    There is a growing, worldwide effort to ostracize Israel and to make it into a pariah state. (This despite the fact that Israel is still the only democratic country in the Middle East.)  A key ingredient of this campaign is the call to boycott, divest from and impose sanctions on Israel (known as BDS for boycott, divest, sanction).  Within the world of higher education, this takes the form of calls to boycott all Israeli academic institutions, sometimes including boycotting all Israeli scholars and researchers. The rationale is that this will somehow pressure Israel into an agreement with the Palestinians, one which will improve their lot and lead to an independent Palestinian state that exists adjacent to the State of Israel (although it is worth noting that some in the BDS movement envision a future without the existence of Israel).  

    Certainly, the goals of improving life for the Palestinian people, building their economy and supporting their democratic institutions – not to mention supporting the creation of an independent Palestine that is thriving and getting along peacefully with its Israeli neighbor – are entirely worthy. 

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  • More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood

    Written on December 16, 2013

    Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

    With all the chatter in 2013 (thanks in part to President Obama) about expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, I have high hopes for America’s children finally getting the strong foundation of knowledge and vocabulary they need to do well in—and enjoy—school.

    When children arrive in kindergarten with a broad vocabulary and a love of books, both of which come from being engaged in conversations with caregivers daily and being read to frequently, they are well prepared for learning to read and write. Just as important, their language comprehension makes learning through teacher read-alouds and conversations relatively easy. The narrower the children’s vocabulary and the fewer experiences they’ve had with books, the tougher the climb to come. Sadly, far too many children don’t make the climb; they mentally dropout in middle school, and are physically adrift soon thereafter.

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