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Education Policy

  • Education Must Be Part Of Our Coronavirus Response

    Written on March 19, 2020

    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.

    Americans are doing their best to cope with coronavirus and the disruption and healthcare emergency it has caused in all of our lives. We are in the midst of a crisis we have not experienced over many generations. The impact on our economy will be cataclysmic, affecting all Americans in all states and territories. Millions of jobs are at risk, along with savings and retirements. But as horrific as this event is (and it is clearly not over), a coordinated response and massive spending from local, state, and federal governments can help to mitigate the disaster and speed recovery. Whether it takes months or years, we will experience a recovery. And while the economic disruption will last for a very long time, the educational disruption is likely to last much longer. A generation of America's children have seen their educations thrown into chaos and we will need a response equal to, and perhaps greater than, what our governments are now doing.

    With little time for preparation or planning, just months before the end of the school year, schools across the nation were abruptly forced to close. While some parents are attempting to continue their children's learning opportunities at home, the vast majority of American children are receiving little to no educational support. School districts across the nation have also started to deliver some hastily produced classes online, but families at the bottom of the economic system often have no access to technology or internet access, making the challenge almost impossible. In addition, most other educational entities have been closed: public libraries, museums, after-school programs, and not-for-profit social services agencies, etc., leaving impoverished families with few viable options, even for public access to online schooling. 

    When our schools reopen, as they ultimately will, and the economic and health crises have begun to improve, our schools will still need a focused, sustained, and elevated national response, and it must have the support of all Americans and every segment of society. The 2020-21 school year will be a test for our nation.

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  • How Non-Zero Tolerance Policies Better Support Our Students: Part II

    Written on May 10, 2021

    As I discussed in a previous post, one of the most controversial approaches to school discipline in the U.S. is the use of zero-tolerance policies. These policies include exclusionary practices, such as office referrals and suspension, which remove students from their classroom and isolate them from the school community. Zero tolerance policies in schools have been shown to have a detrimental effect on all students, particularly Black and Brown students. Skiba et al (2011), for instance, wrote about how these punitive methods cause students to miss critical instructional time and feel less connected to their teachers and peers. 

    Zero tolerance policies are embedded in high-stakes accountability structures. As White (2020) states, these policies overly focus on student behavior and the idea that individual hard work is the best way to promote high test scores. They do not foster a sense of community- and relationship- building. While policymakers had positive intentions in promoting a more rigorous and equalitarian experience for students—laying out each infraction and punishment with the intention of applying discipline uniformly across student groups—that is not what has happened. According to the aforementioned research, Black and Brown students were still punished more harshly for the same infractions than were their peers. Thus, the negative consequences of these policies have far outweighed the benefits. 

    Many schools are implementing alternative methods of discipline that stress the importance of taking proactive measures to reduce exclusionary practices. In the previous post, I focused on the importance of restorative justice policies as a strong strategy to support children and their development. But there are also multiple alternative models that have been shown to be effective among students of varying ages and demographics. These models focus on relationship development, and staff training, which I will discuss below. Specifically, the three other models include: School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS), Monarch Room, and Inclusive Skill-Building Learning Approach (ISLA). In short, the idea that zero tolerance is the only approach is unsupportable.

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  • The Great Divergence In State Education Spending

    Written on May 5, 2021

    When we talk about K-12 education spending inequality, we're usually talking about differences in resources between high- and low-poverty districts within states. But spending levels also vary between states, and that too matters for overall spending inequality in the U.S. How has this changed over the past 25 years? In other words, does K-12 spending vary more between states than it did a quarter century ago?

    Let’s take a look at one simple way to visualize this trend. In the graph below, each blue circle is a state, and there one set of 51 states (including D.C.) for each year between 1993 and 2018 (the horizontal axis). On the vertical axis is total current spending in each state, predicted for a district in each state with a 10 percent Census child poverty rate (the graph is very similar regardless of poverty level). These spending levels also control for regional wage variation, district size, and population density, all of which affect the “value of the education dollar.” This allows for a better comparison between states (e.g., it costs more, on average, to hire teachers in Connecticut than in Alabama). The red plus signs within each year represent the unweighted average spending level across all states. These data are from the School Finance Indicators Database.

    Our focus here is on the “spread” of states (blue circles) within each column (i.e., within each year). A larger spread, of course, represents greater variation (and, roughly speaking, more interstate inequality). The trend over time is a bit striking.

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  • The Uncertain Short-Term Future Of School Growth Models

    Written on April 20, 2021

    Over the past 20 years, public schools in the U.S. have come to rely more and more on standardized tests, and the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the flow of these data. This is hardly among the most important disruptions that teachers, parents, and students have endured over the past year or so. But one of the corollaries of skipping a year (or more) of testing is its implications for estimating growth models, which are statistical approaches for assessing the association between students' testing progress and those students' teachers, schools, or districts. 

    This type of information, used properly, is always potentially useful, but it may be particularly timely right now, as we seek to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected educational outcomes, and, perhaps, how those outcomes varied by different peri-pandemic approaches to schooling. This includes the extent to which there were meaningful differences by student subgroup (e.g., low-income students who may have had more issues with virtual schooling). 

    To be clear, the question of when states should resume testing should be evaluated based on what’s best for schools and students, and in my view this decision should not include consideration of any impact on accountability systems (the latest development is that states will not be allowed to cancel testing entirely but may be allowed to curtail it). In either case, though, the fate of growth models over the next couple of years is highly uncertain. The models rely on tracking student test scores over time, and so skipping a year (and maybe even more) is obviously a potential problem. A new working paper takes a first step toward assessing the short-term feasibility of growth estimates (specifically school and district scores). But this analysis also provides a good context for a deeper discussion of how we use (and sometimes misuse) testing data in education policy.

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  • School District Spending And Equal Educational Opportunity

    Written on March 31, 2021

    The fact that school districts vary widely in terms of funding is often lamented in our education policy debate. If you think about it, though, that’s not a bad thing by itself. In fact, in an ideal school funding system, we would expect to see differences between districts in their spending levels, even big differences, for the simple reason that the cost of educating students varies a great deal across districts (e.g., different student populations, variation in labor costs, etc.). 

    The key question is whether districts have the resources to meet their students’ needs. In other words, is school district spending adequate? In collaboration with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber from Rutgers University, we have just published a research brief and new public dataset that addresses this question for over 12,000 public school districts in the U.S.

    There is good news and bad news. The good news is that thousands of districts enjoy funding levels above and beyond our estimates of adequate levels, in some cases two or three times higher. The bad news is that these well-funded districts co-exist with thousands of other school systems, some located within driving distance or even in the next town over, where investment is so poorly aligned with need that funding levels are a fraction of estimated costs. To give a rough sense of the magnitude of the underfunding, if we add up all the negative funding gaps in these latter districts (not counting the districts with adequate funding), the total is $104 billion.

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  • Re-Imagining School Discipline: A Plea To Education Leaders

    Written on January 28, 2021

    In many large urban school districts, there are more security employees than counselors. In the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system, for example there is one security guard for every 147 students, while the counselor-to-student ratio is 1:217. In addition, based on 2015-16 data, Groeger et al. (2018) found that Black students in DCPS were 15 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers (nationally, Black students were four times more likely to be suspended). In short, many students are not getting the emotional and mental support they need as they go through our schools. Instead, as exemplified by these staffing ratios, too many students are affected by punitive, militaristic methods of discipline, which may not only have negative consequences for the students who are disciplined, but for their peers as well (Perry and Morris 2014).  

    A commonly used discipline approach, which used to be known as “zero tolerance,” was to discipline all students who didn’t follow the expected “rules.” Zero tolerance policies proliferated in public schools as a reform to help manage student behavior, using a “quick fix” method. Weaver and Swank (2020) define zero tolerance as “policies…[that] include exclusionary practices (i.e., office referral, suspension, expulsion) that involve the removal of the offender from the context of the incident and isolating the student from others involved and their school community.”

    Unfortunately, as Skiba et al. (2011) show, these policies have created negative experiences for students and have disproportionately affected Black and brown students. Because they are implemented for even minor infractions, such as dress code violations, these policies don’t work and can actually cause harm to our students. Zero tolerance policies were designed to create a method of tracking student behavior, but this militaristic approach did not set students up for future success. Instead, these policies increase suspensions and expulsions, and also contribute to reduced engagement, loss of instructional time, and heightened dropout rates (Jones 2018). We are not giving students the opportunities to fail in our presence.

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  • One Page Summaries Of Your State's School Finance System

    Written on November 12, 2020

    For the past few years, the Shanker Institute has been collaborating with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber of Rutgers University to publish the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID), a collection of finance and resource allocation measures for policymakers, journalists, parents, and the public. 

    The State Indicators Database (SID), the primary product of the SFID, is freely available to the public, but it includes about 125 variables. So, even if you know exactly the types of measures you are looking for, compiling the data for a state or a group of states might present a challenge. While we have tried to make the data accessible for non-researchers, we realize that it can still be difficult for a lot of people. 

    We have therefore just published 51 state school finance profiles (with help from ASI fellow Lauren Schneider), which pull together a digestible amount of information into one place for each state (and D.C.). You can download the profiles individually or as a group.

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  • How Much Segregation Is There Within Schools?

    Written on October 8, 2020

    Our national discourse on school segregation, whether income- or race-/ethnicity-based, tends to focus on the separation of students between schools within districts. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that the majority of desegregation efforts have been within-district efforts. Sometimes lost in this focus, however, is the importance of segregation between districts.

    This distinction can be confusing, so consider a large metro area with a central city district surrounded by a group of suburban districts. There may be extensive racial/ethnic segregation of students between schools within those districts, with students of color concentrated in some schools and their White peers concentrated in others. But total segregation across the entire metro area is also a function of segregation between districts - i.e., the degree to which students of certain races or ethnicities are concentrated in some districts and not others (e.g., students of color in the city, white students in the suburbs). In a sense, if we view diversity as a resource, there are multiple "chokepoints" at which that resource is distributed down to the next level—from states to metro areas to districts to schools—and this can exacerbate segregation.

    recent working paper provides one of relatively few pieces of recent evidence suggesting that, in addition to racial and ethnic segregation between districts and between schools within districts, there may be an additional important "layer": segregation within schools.

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  • Co-Teaching For Emerging Bilingual Learners: Theory And Practice

    Written on September 30, 2020

    Co-teaching is an education buzzword frequently used in the context of instruction for students with special needs or English Language Learners (ELLs). When implemented thoughtfully and intentionally, co-teaching can be highly effective at meeting the unique needs of all learners. In this post, I will focus on co-teaching for English Language Learners, to whom I will refer to as “Emerging Bilingual Learners (EBLs), a more accurate label that highlights the assets these learners bring to the classroom. 

    My argument, which is supported by research and my own professional experience, is that co-teaching is a particularly effective method for EBLs when one teacher is trained to meet the language needs of EBLs (and all learners) and the other focuses on grade level standards. Using co-teaching models, language is not the end goal, but rather a vehicle that enables EBLs to gain understanding of grade level content. The focus is not solely on the language that students are developing but rather on the academic content all students must acquire. This is important because it does not stigmatize students and it levels the playing field for each learner.

    Not only does this inclusive model of teaching focus on the assets of every child, but it provides a more diverse learning environment while building trusting relationships amongst students' peers and teachers. The co-teaching model can be instrumental to fostering a greater sense of community within the classroom. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) stresses the importance of instilling community pride into a classroom, where teachers and students have a reciprocal autonomous relationship. EBLs need to feel a deep sense of belonging in order to be willing to take risks and make mistakes.

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  • For Students, The "Good Ole Days" Are Not Good Enough

    Written on July 7, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Dr. John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity). 

    In America, the “good ole’ days,” meant prevalent systemic racism, a widening achievement gap, and scarce resources for our students and teachers. Rather than longing for “back to normal,” our public school system has the opportunity to once again move us forward towards creating a more equitable and just “new normal” for students, parents, and families. There are three common sense places where, post-COVID, we can give birth to a transformative “new normal”:

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