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  • The Story Behind The Story: Social Capital And The Vista Unified School District

    by Devin Vodicka on August 19, 2015

    Our guest author today is Devin Vodicka, superintendent of Vista Unified, a California school district serving over 22,000 students that was recently accepted into the League of Innovative Schools. Dr. Vodicka participates in numerous state and national leadership groups, including the Superintendents Technical Working Group of the U.S. Education Department .

    Transforming a school district is challenging and complex work, often requiring shifts in paradigms, historical perspective, and maintaining or improving performance. Here, I’d like to share how we approached change at Vista Unified School District (VUSD) and to describe the significant transformation we’ve been undergoing, driven by data, focused on relationships, and based in deep partnerships. Although Vista has been hard at work over many years, this particular chapter starts in July of 2012 when I was hired.  

    When I became superintendent, the district was facing numerous challenges: Declining enrollment, financial difficulties, strained labor relations, significant turnover in the management ranks, and unresolved lawsuits were all areas in need of attention. The school board charged me and my team with transforming the district, which serves large numbers of linguistically, culturally, and economically diverse students. While there is still significant room for improvement, much has changed in the past three years, generally trending in a positive direction. Below is the story of how we did it.

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  • Recent Evidence On Teacher Experience And Productivity

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 12, 2015

    The idea that teachers’ test-based productivity does not improve after their first few years in the classroom is, it is fair to say, the “conventional wisdom” among many in the education reform arena. It has been repeated endlessly, and used to advocate forcefully for recent changes in teacher personnel policies, such as those regarding compensation, transfers, and layoffs. 

    Following a few other, recent analyses (e.g., Harris and Sass 2011Wiswall 2013; Ladd and Sorensen 2013), a new working paper by researchers John Papay and Matthew Kraft examines this claim about the relationship between experience and (test-based) performance. In this case, the authors compare the various approaches with which the productivity returns to experience have been estimated in the literature, and put forth a new one. The paper did receive some attention, and will hopefully have some impact on the policy debate, as well as on the production of future work on this topic.

    It might nevertheless be worthwhile to take a closer look at the “nuts and bolts” of this study, both because it is interesting (at least in my opinion) and policy relevant, and also because it illustrates some important lessons regarding the relationship between research and policy, specifically the fact that what we think we know is not always as straightforward as it appears.

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  • The Magic Of Multiple Measures

    by Cara Jackson on August 6, 2015

    Our guest author today is Cara Jackson, Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation at the Urban Teacher Center.

    Teacher evaluation has become a contentious issue in U.S.  Some observers see the primary purpose of these reforms as the identification and removal of ineffective teachers; the popular media as well as politicians and education reform advocates have all played a role in the framing of teacher evaluation as such.  But, while removal of ineffective teachers was a criterion under Race to the Top, so too was the creation of evaluation systems to be used for teacher development and support.

    I think most people would agree that teacher development and improvement should be the primary purpose, as argued here.  Some empirical evidence supports the efficacy of evaluation for this purpose (see here).  And given the sheer number of teachers we need, declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs, and the difficulty disadvantaged schools have retaining teachers, school principals are probably none too enthusiastic about dismissing teachers, as discussed here.

    Of course, to achieve the ambitious goal of improving teaching practice, an evaluation system must be implemented well.  Fans of Harry Potter might remember when Dolores Umbridge from the Ministry of Magic takes over as High Inquisitor at Hogwarts and conducted “inspections” of Hogwart’s teachers in Book 5 of J.K. Rowling’s series.  These inspections pretty much demonstrate how not to approach classroom observations: she dictates the timing, fails to provide any of indication of what aspects of teaching practice she will be evaluating, interrupts lessons with pointed questions and comments, and evidently does no pre- or post-conferencing with the teachers. 

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  • Is There A Pension Crisis?

    by David Cay Johnston on July 28, 2015

    Our guest author today is David Cay Johnston, a distinguished visiting lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law and a former Pulitzer prize-winning financial reporter at The New York Times. This article is adapted from his remarks to an ASI-sponsored conversation on the topic in March, which also included remarks from Chad Aldeman, Teresa Ghilarducci, and Dan Pedrotty. A video of this event can be found here.

    So the question is whether there is a pension crisis. The answer is yes, absolutely. It’s just not the one that politicians always talk about.

    Contrary to that you hear about on TV, in market economics, defined benefit pensions are the second most efficient way to provide for income in old age. The most effective way would be a national program that spreads risks to everyone. The least efficient way to do it is through defined contribution plans.

    There is abundant evidence for this. Defined contribution plans work very well, but only as supplements for prosperous people such as me and my wife, who is a public charity CEO, they are not at all effective for most people. That’s be because defined contribution plans violate specialization, one of the most basic tenets of market economics as taught to us by Adam Smith, the man who first explained market economics.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Policymaking And Innovation

    by Shanker Institute Staff on July 23, 2015

    In this piece, which was published in the New York Times on December 24, 1995, Al Shanker uses a creative analogy to argue that policies require experimentation and refinement before they are brought to scale, and that some reformers mistake this process for rigidity and "stifling innovation."

    A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times food section ran an article about a French bread that you can make with a food processor (November 22, 1995). The article claimed that the baguette was as delicious as the kind you buy in a good bakery. I was skeptical. I have made bread for my family and friends for a number of years, and I know that a good French loaf is a real accomplishment. I had no trouble believing that the bread would be quick and easy. But delicious? Nevertheless, I tried the recipe for Thanksgiving. It was terrific!

    Though making the bread was as painless as the article said, the process by which Charles van Over, a chef and restaurateur, arrived at the recipe was anything but simple. Van Over experimented over a period of several years in order to get a bread with the best possible texture, flavor, and crust - and a recipe that could be made with predictable results by other cooks. It occurred to me as I read the article that there might be some lessons for school reformers in van Over's systematic efforts to perfect his recipe for a food processor baguette.

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  • Research On Teacher Evaluation Metrics: The Weaponization Of Correlations

    by Cara Jackson on July 21, 2015

    Our guest author today is Cara Jackson, Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation at the Urban Teacher Center.

    In recent years, many districts have implemented multiple-measure teacher evaluation systems, partly in response to federal pressure from No Child Left Behind waivers and incentives from the Race to the Top grant program. These systems have not been without controversy, largely owing to the perception – not entirely unfounded - that such systems might be used to penalize teachers.  One ongoing controversy in the field of teacher evaluation is whether these measures are sufficiently reliable and valid to be used for high-stakes decisions, such as dismissal or tenure.  That is a topic that deserves considerably more attention than a single post; here, I discuss just one of the issues that arises when investigating validity.

     The diagram below is a visualization of a multiple-measure evaluation system, one that combines information on teaching practice (e.g. ratings from a classroom observation rubric) with student achievement-based measures (e.g. value-added or student growth percentiles) and student surveys.  The system need not be limited to three components; the point is simply that classroom observations are not the sole means of evaluating teachers.   

    In validating the various components of an evaluation system, researchers often examine their correlation with other components.  To the extent that each component is an attempt to capture something about the teacher’s underlying effectiveness, it’s reasonable to expect that different measurements taken of the same teacher will be positively related.  For example, we might examine whether ratings from a classroom observation rubric are positively correlated with value-added.

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  • Fighting For Fairness For U.S. Domestic Workers

    by Ly Le on July 17, 2015

    On September 17, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the Home Care Final Rule, which extends the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime protections to domestic workers who provide home care assistance to the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled. The Home Care Final Rule is essential to improving the lives of two million domestic workers who, unlike other U.S. workers, are in many states not protected by the FLSA regarding minimum wage, overtime, sick leave, and vacation. Domestic work differs from other jobs in that the work takes place inside other people’s homes, which often puts domestic workers’ wellbeing at the mercy of their employers.

    The exclusion of domestic workers from the FLSA was a concession to Southern politicians in the early 1900’s. It had left many homecare aides vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment by their employers. The rule was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015. However, lawsuits filed by homecare corporations have hindered the change and served as an excuse for states to postpone implementation. For example, in Home Care Association of America v. Weil, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon vacated the portion of the Rule that prevents third-party home care providers from using the companionship services exemption, and later vacated the revised definition of companionship services.

    As of July 2015, only five states have passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: New York; Hawaii; California; Massachusetts; and Oregon. New York was the first state to pass the law (in July 2010) after six years of efforts by domestic workers, unions, employers, clergy and community organizations. The bill was introduced in two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, but has yet to be passed.

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  • Recruiting And Retaining Educators Of Color

    Our guest authors today are Audra Watson, Travis Bristol, Terrenda White and Jose Vilson. Watson is Program Officer and Director of Mentoring and Induction Strategy at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Bristol is a Research and Policy Fellow at Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. White is Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist in New York City, NY

    On Thursday, May 7, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) co-sponsored an hour-long webinar, in which researchers, policy makers, and practitioners shared best practices and strategies for increasing the racial/ethnic diversity of the country’s teaching force.

    As discussed during the webinar, a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is important for several reasons. First, in this flat, or interconnected, world, our children need a diverse teaching force to prepare them to be global citizens. Second, teachers of color are positioned to serve as role models and cultural brokers for children of color, who account for 50.2 percent of all U.S. public school students (NCES, 2015). Despite this diverse student population, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American teachers comprise only 17.3% of all teachers (Ingersoll, Merrill & Stuckey, 2014). Third, several large-scale studies point to increased learning -- as measured by a standardized exam -- for students when they have a teacher of the same race (Dee, 2001; Egalite, Kisida,& Winters, 2015); Not discussed at the time, but equally important, is the fact that a diverse teaching force challenges the assumption that some of the qualities needed most by high-quality, effective teachers -- intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and deep content knowledge -- are difficult to find in large supply amongst individuals of color seeking to enter the teaching profession.

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  • Empower Teachers To Lead, Encourage Students To Be Curious

    by Ashim Shanker on July 9, 2015

    Our guest author today is Ashim Shanker, a former English Language Arts teacher in public schools in Tokyo, Japan. Ashim has a Master’s Degree in International Education Policy from Harvard University and is the author of three books, including Don’t Forget to Breathe. Follow him on Twitter at @ashimshanker.

    In the 11 years that I was a public school teacher in Japan, I came to view education as a holistic enterprise. Schools in Japan not only imbued students with relevant skills, but also nurtured within them the wherewithal to experience a sense of connection with the larger world, and the exploratory capacity to discover their place within it.

    In my language arts classes, I encouraged students to read about current events and human rights issues around the world. I asked them to make lists of the electronics they used, the garments they wore, and the food products they consumed on a daily basis. I then had them research where these products were made and under what labor conditions.

    The students gave presentations on child laborers and about modern-day slavery. They debated about government secrecy laws in Japan and cover-ups in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They read an essay on self-reliance by Emerson and excerpts on civil disobedience by Thoreau, and I asked them how these two activists might have felt about the actions of groups like Anonymous, or about whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. We discussed the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison experiment, exploring how obedience and situational role conformity might tip even those with the best of intentions toward acts of cruelty. We talked about bullying, and shared anecdotes of instances in which we might unintentionally have hurt others. There were opportunities for self-reflection, engagement, and character building—attributes that I would like to think foster the empathic foundations for better civic engagement and global citizenship.

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  • Measuring The Success Of Informal STEM Programs For Girls

    by Ly Le on July 7, 2015

    Despite substantial improvement over the past half decade, the gender pay gap still persists in the U.S. When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Fifty years later, in 2014, women earned 81 cents on the male dollar. One area on which educators and policymakers have focused to rectify the gender pay differential is encouraging young girls to go into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

    According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women account for half of the workforce in the U.S., but they are employed in less than 25 percent of STEM positions. Women in STEM fields earn 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM occupations, but women hold far fewer STEM undergraduate degrees than men, especially in engineering. And, perplexingly, even women with a STEM degree seem less inclined to work in STEM jobs; they are more likely than STEM-educated men to choose education or healthcare. The main explanations for these discrepancies include lack of female role models, discrimination against females at school and in the work place, and gender stereotypes (Hill et al. 2010).

    Informal STEM programs offer one potential means of improving female participation in these fields, with the “informal” meaning that the learning occurs in an out-of-school environment (Krishnamurthi and Rennie 2013). A program called Girls Inc. Operation SMART, for example, runs an initiative called Eureka!, which seeks to provide eighth grade girls with internship opportunities in math, science, and technology. The organization Techbridge offers Girls Go Techbridge, which holds learning activities, and a role model training program, which connects girls with volunteers who are passionate about motivating them to get involved in science, technology and engineering. Other initiatives include the National Science Partnership for Girl Scouts and Science Museums (NSP), Women in Natural Sciences (WINS), and Rural Girls in Science.

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