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  • Valuing Home Languages Sets The Foundation For Early Learning

    Written on March 17, 2014

    Our guest author today is Candis Grover, the Literacy & Spanish Content Manager at ReadyRosie.com, an online resource that models interactive oral language development activities that parents and caregivers of young children can do to encourage learning.

    Many advocates, policymakers, and researchers now recognize that a strong start requires more than just a year of pre-K. Research shows that promoting children’s success starts with helping parents recognize the importance of loving interactions and “conversations” with their babies.
    The above statement, which is taken from a recent report, Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession, emphasizes the role of parents as the earliest investors in the academic success of their children. This same report states that more than one in five of these families speaks a primary language other than English, and that this statistic could reach 40 percent by 2030. Despite the magnitude of these numbers, the Subprime Learning report asserts that the research on dual language learners has been largely ignored by those developing early childhood education policies and programs.
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  • When Checking Under The Hood Of Overall Test Score Increases, Use Multiple Tools

    Written on February 24, 2014

    When looking at changes in testing results between years, many people are (justifiably) interested in comparing those changes for different student subgroups, such as those defined by race/ethnicity or income (subsidized lunch eligibility). The basic idea is to see whether increases are shared between traditionally advantaged and disadvantaged groups (and, often, to monitor achievement gaps).

    Sometimes, people take this a step further by using the subgroup breakdowns as a crude check on whether cross-sectional score changes are due to changes in the sample of students taking the test. The logic is as follows: If the increases are found when comparing advantaged and more disadvantaged cohorts, then an overall increase cannot be attributed to a change in the backgrounds of students taking the test, as the subgroups exhibited the same pattern. (For reasons discussed here many times before, this is a severely limited approach.)

    Whether testing data are cross-sectional or longitudinal, these subgroup breakdowns are certainly important and necessary, but it's wise to keep in mind that standard variables, such as eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches (FRL), are imperfect proxies for student background (actually, FRL rates aren't even such a great proxy for income). In fact, one might reach different conclusions depending on which variables are chosen. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at results from the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) for the District of Columbia Public Schools between 2011 and 2013, in which there was a large overall score change that received a great deal of media attention, and break the changes down by different characteristics.

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  • Select Your Conclusions, Apply Data

    Written on February 19, 2014

    The recent release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the companion Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) was predictably exploited by advocates to argue for their policy preferences. This is a blatant misuse of the data for many reasons that I have discussed here many times before, and I will not repeat them.

    I do, however, want to very quickly illustrate the emptiness of this pseudo-empirical approach – finding cross-sectional cohort increases in states/districts that have recently acted policies you support, and then using the increases as evidence that the policies “work." For example, the recent TUDA results for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), where scores increased in all four grade/subject combinations, were immediately seized upon supporters of the reforms that have been enacted by DCPS as clear-cut evidence of the policy triumph. The celebrators included the usual advocates, but also DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (there was even a brief mention by President Obama in his State of The Union speech).

    My immediate reaction to this bad evidence was simple (though perhaps slightly juvenile) – find a district that had similar results under a different policy environment. It was, as usual, pretty easy: Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

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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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