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Education Policy

  • The Structure Of School Segregation In The D.C. Metro Area

    Written on December 12, 2019

    A few weeks ago, the Shanker Institute published an analysis of segregation by race and ethnicity in D.C. metro area schools (including D.C. proper, Alexandria City, Arlington and Fairfax County in Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland). 

    The report, written with my co-author Bilan Jama, presents multiple measures to characterize segregation within each of these six districts and across the entire metro area, but it also focuses on segregation between districts. This is a very important distinction for understanding segregation, particularly in large metropolitan areas. Put simply, students may be systematically sorted into schools within each district (e.g., white students may be concentrated in some schools while African American students are concentrated into others), but they might also be sorted between districts (e.g., some districts may serve mostly black, white, Asian or Latino students, while others serve very few such students). Both of these factors affect the racial and ethnic composition of schools, and so both contribute to or attenuate segregation in the metro area as a whole.

    The D.C. metro area is an excellent context for this kind of analysis because it is so racially and ethnically diverse, with relatively strong representation of white (26.5 percent), black (34.7), Hispanic (27.2), and Asian students (11.6). This diversity is the “raw material” for truly diverse schools. Unfortunately, we found this not to be the case, and the underlying reasons why are interesting.

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  • A Problem Hiding In Plain Sight

    Written on October 10, 2019

    Our guest author today is Natalie Wexler, an educational journalist who is a senior contributor to forbes.com and whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and other publications. This article is excerpted, with permission, from THE KNOWLEDGE GAP: The Hidden Cost of America’s Broken Education System—And How To Fix It.

    In 1987, two researchers in Wisconsin, Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie, constructed a miniature baseball field and installed it in an empty classroom in a junior high school. They peopled it with four-inch wooden baseball players arranged to simulate the beginning of a game. Then they brought in sixty-four seventh- and eighth-grade students who had been tested both for their general reading ability and their knowledge of baseball.

    The goal was to determine to what extent a child’s ability to understand a text depended on her prior knowledge of the topic. Recht and Leslie chose baseball because they figured lots of kids in junior high school who weren’t great readers nevertheless knew a fair amount about the subject. Each student was asked to read a text describing half an inning of a fictional baseball game and move the wooden figures around the board to reenact the action described.

    Churniak swings and hits a slow bouncing ball towards the shortstop, the passage began. Haley comes in, fields it, and throws to first, but too late. Churniak is on first with a single, Johnson stayed on third. The next batter is Whitcomb, the Cougars’ left-fielder.

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  • The False Choice Of Growth Versus Proficiency

    Written on October 1, 2019

    Tennessee is considering changing its school accountability system such that schools have the choice of having their test-based performance judged by either status (how highly students score) or growth (how much progress students make over the course of the year). In other words, if schools do poorly on one measure, they are judged by the other (apparently, Texas already has a similar system in place).

    As we’ve discussed here many times in the past, status measures, such as proficiency rates, are poor measures of school performance, since some students, particularly those living in poverty, enter their schools far behind their more affluent peers. As a result, schools serving larger proportions of poor students will exhibit lower scores and proficiency rates, even if they are very effective in compelling progress from their students. That is why growth models, which focus on individual student gains on over time, are a superior measure of school performance per se.

    This so-called “growth versus proficiency” debate has resurfaced several times over the years, and it was particularly prevalent during the time when states were submitting proposals for their accountability systems during reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The policy that came out of these discussions was generally promising, as many states moved at least somewhat toward weighting growth model estimates more heavily. 

    At the same time, however, it is important to mention that the “growth versus proficiency” debate sometimes implies that states must choose between these two types of indicators. This is misleading. And the Tennessee proposal is a very interesting context for discussing this, since they are essentially using these two types of measures interchangeably. The reality, of course, is that both types of measures transmit valuable but different information, and both have a potentially useful role to play in accountability systems.

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  • The Challenge For Business: Improve Education

    Written on September 12, 2019

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward. He formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.

    America's political climate is, in a word, toxic. The left and the right, which usually agree on nothing, seem to agree on one thing: animosity toward the sins of the private sector.

    It's remarkable how American businesses are now portrayed as a major cause of many of our society’s ills: income inequality,the looming skills gap, education’s failure to prepare workers for the jobs of the future, and a shredded social safety net. That's the main reason that many prominent American business leaders of the Business Roundtable spoke out last week about businesses’ need to make a commitment to all stakeholders, not just their shareholders. It’s a necessary step, in my view. The new awakening, which many companies have already been embarking upon, demonstrates a willingness not to just placate their shareholders but recognize a corporation's responsibility to the broader community, a stable environment, improved schools and their employees. This is an imperative for communities but also for the business bottom line.

    What, exactly, is a responsible company?

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  • The Progressive School Funding Option

    Written on September 4, 2019

    One of the more striking findings in our recent report presenting data from the School Finance Indicators Database concerns funding progressivity, or fairness. A state’s finance system is considered progressive (or fair) to the degree districts serving higher-needs students (e.g., lower-income students) receive more funding than districts serving lower-needs students.

    The graph below is taken directly from our report (my co-authors are Bruce Baker and Mark Weber), and it provides a rough illustration of progressivity in the U.S. as a whole. The numbers in the graph are state and local per pupil revenue by district poverty quintile. They are not dollar amounts because they are centered around the average for each district’s labor market to make them more comparable. If funding were progressive, the bars in the graph would slope upward left-to-right, since it would indicate that higher poverty districts receive more revenue than lower poverty districts. Regressive funding, in contrast, would be characterized by a downward right-to-left slope. Instead, what we find is that the bars are virtually flat – that is, higher-poverty districts receive no more or less state and local revenue than lower-poverty districts. Moreover, this has been the case for 20 years.

    I would reiterate that this is just an approximation of the national average. But it is consistent with what you see if you examine the situation state-by-state – there are a handful of truly progressive states and a few that are truly regressive, but most states are basically flat. It is also consistent with other analyses that use alternative methods (e.g., Chingos and Blagg 2017).

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  • It Was Never About The Buses: Personal And Political Reflections On “Forced Busing”

    Written on July 11, 2019

    White protestor attacks African-American passerby with American flag at a 1976 ‘anti-busing’ rally in Boston. (Photo credit: NPR)

    I have only a few distinct childhood memories of hearing someone utter the racial slur “N*****.” To be honest, I do not doubt that there were more incidents than those I now remember, but some instances were so stark and hateful, so soul wrenching, that I could not forget them, even as the passage of time has come to be counted in decades.

    One of my earliest recollections dates back to the fall of 1964, in my 6th grade class at St. Matthias Elementary School. The nun who taught the class had us research that year’s presidential election, and each of us had to decide which of the major party candidates – Johnson or Goldwater – we would support. During the ensuing class discussion, a fellow student announced that she supported Goldwater, as he would keep “the Niggers from being bused into our neighborhood schools.” Even as an eleven year old, I was stunned that this racial slur was used openly in a school dedicated to educating students in the values of the Catholic faith, and that the reaction of the nun teaching our class was to mollify, rather than admonish.

    St. Matthias was located in Ridgewood, a neighborhood on New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens border. In those days, Ridgewood was far to the right, a home to many who had been Nazi sympathizers and American Firsters during the 1930s and to others who had fled Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.[i] It was the anchor of the only assembly district in all of New York City to vote for Goldwater in 1964, and I was one of just two students in my large 6th grade class to support Johnson.

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  • Charter Schools And Teacher Diversity

    Written on June 27, 2019

    new study of North Carolina public schools finds that black students in charter schools are more likely to have black teachers than their regular public school counterparts, and that the positive effect of “teacher/student racial match” on the test scores of black students is more pronounced in charter than in regular public schools.

    Like most good analyses of charter and regular public schools, this report, written by economist Seth Gershenson and published by the Fordham Institute, is an opportunity to learn from the comparison between the charter and regular public school sectors. For instance, the fact that the “match effect,” which is fairly well-established in the literature (e.g., Dee 2005), is stronger in charter schools is fascinating, though a well-informed discussion of the reasons why this may be the case is well outside of my rather modest wheelhouse (there are some possibilities mentioned in the paper’s conclusion). 

    I’d actually like to focus briefly on the first finding – that teacher/student racial match is more common for black charter school students. This is the descriptive and arguably less interesting part of the analysis, but it struck me because, like the paper's main finding about the magnitude of the "match effect," it too raises policy-relevant questions, in this case about why teacher diversity might vary between sectors.

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  • Does College Matter? Of Course

    Written on June 19, 2019

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia Universities. At Duke, he also serves as Innovator in Residence. He previously served as Deputy Schools Chancellor for New York City and is President Emeritus of the IBM Foundation and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors.

    Over the last 35 years, since the release of A Nation At Risk, the nation has focused on the need for school reform and used high school graduation rates as the single most important benchmark for measuring educational success. This is somewhat ironic, given that high school attendance in the U.S. was not made mandatory until the end of the Second World War. Before that, virtually every state had a requirement for school attendance from grade one through grade eight, but high school attendance, just like college attendance now, was strictly voluntary. Of course, in the first half of the 20th century, significant numbers of  well paying jobs in manufacturing and other areas of work only required an eighth grade education. Beginning in the 1970s and into 1984 and over the following three decades, the number of good jobs with competitive wages that were available to those who had only completed eighth grade began a precipitous decline. For many years, it has been clear that a high school diploma or higher is absolutely essential to achieving a pathway to a middle class life. America's response to the challenge of raising the percentage of high school graduates was far from perfect, but with exceptions, we have seen a steady increase in high school graduation rates in most though not all states. Beginning in the early years of the 21st Century, however, changes in the U.S. economy have made it crystal clear that high school diplomas, while still extremely important, are not enough to enable most Americans to achieve the “middle-class dream.”

    In this light, the recent report, "Building a Grad Nation," is an important read. It documents the progress that the nation has made in higher high school graduation rates—the overall high school graduation rate showed an increase from 79 percent in 2011 to close to 85 percent by 2017. This statistic represents an increase of 3.5 million U.S. students who graduated from high school instead of dropping out over the last 15 years.

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  • Federal Educational Investments Are Essential

    Written on April 22, 2019

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, a professor of Public Policy at both Duke and Columbia University. He is a former deputy chancellor of schools in New York City, former president of the IBM Foundation, a trustee of the State University of New York, and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s board of directors. His book, The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward, was published last year.

    The Trump Administration’s recent education budget proposal got a lot of attention for trying to eliminate all federal support for the Special Olympics. In response to bipartisan opposition to this foolish proposal, the cut was restored. This is good news, but the bigger story of the Administration’s proposed cuts to educational programs—and their impact on the most critical issues facing the nation—got lost in what appeared to be a positive result. The cut to the Special Olympics was misguided, but hardly unique. The overall cuts represent 12 percent of the education budget, or approximately $7 billion.

    Among the most misguided cuts are those that would negatively affect college affordability, including reductions in student aid programs such as College Work Study, as well reduced funding for teacher professional development. As with the Special Olympics, there are advocates on both sides of the aisle who are likely to fight hard to reverse these cuts, but reversing the cuts would only represent a modest victory. They would not solve the underlying problems exemplified by the cuts.

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  • The Offline Implications Of The Research About Online Charter Schools

    Written on February 27, 2019

    It’s rare to find an educational intervention with as unambiguous a research track record as online charter schools. Now, to be clear, it’s not a large body of research by any stretch, its conclusions may change in time, and the online charter sub-sector remains relatively small and concentrated in a few states. For now, though, the results seem incredibly bad (Zimmer et al. 2009Woodworth et al. 2015). In virtually every state where these schools have been studied, across virtually all student subgroups, and in both reading and math, the estimated impact of online charter schools on student testing performance is negative and large in magnitude.

    Predictably, and not without justification, those who oppose charter schools in general are particularly vehement when it comes to online charter schools – they should, according to many of these folks, be closed down, even outlawed. Charter school supporters, on the other hand, tend to acknowledge the negative results (to their credit) but make less drastic suggestions, such as greater oversight, including selective closure, and stricter authorizing practices.

    Regardless of your opinion on what to do about online charter schools’ poor (test-based) results, they are truly an interesting phenomenon for a few reasons.

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