K-12 Education

  • Good Schools IV / Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act To Advance the Good Schools Agenda

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    In addition to shoring up decimated education budgets, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a possible funding source for state and local education reform efforts. This seminar examines what the law really says and the sorts of projects it might fund to: improve teacher quality, develop effective curriculum, improve the achievement of low-performing students, develop useful assessments, etc.

  • Good Schools II / Developing the Teaching Corps We Need

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    This seminar series is part of an effort to build a network of union leaders, district superintendents, and researchers to work collaboratively on improving public education through a focus on teaching.

  • What Do We Really Know About High School Dropout Rates & What Can Be Done To Improve Them?

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    The reliability of the data on high school dropout and graduation rates and the best way to calculate them have recently become the subject of intense debate, often generating more heat than light. What are the hidden assumptions and implications behind the dueling methodologies? What can we say with some certainty about how many students leave school prior to graduation, when, and why? And, more importantly, what do we really know about the policies and programs that are most effective in preventing dropouts and promoting school success?

  • Performance-Based Pay in Public Education

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    Across the country, policymakers are promoting or implementing plans to encourage excellent teaching by linking some portion of teachers’ pay to their performance or to the performance of their schools or students. While these proposals have generated a lot of heated discussion, most of the debate has centered around issues of theory or politics, not efficacy. What is the empirical evidence on the effects of performance-based pay plans, in general? In the public sector? In education? And what can research and experience tell us about the factors that make the implementation of some plans more or less successful?

  • Background Knowledge & Reading Proficiency

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    Research has demonstrated that students’ vocabulary and background knowledge are vital to reading comprehension, and that poor children and struggling readers are disproportionately disadvantaged by this fact. What are the implications of these findings for improving curriculum and instruction at the elementary and secondary levels? And how do schools impart this knowledge to students who don’t read well enough to acquire it from the written word?

  • Improving the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

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    Despite the continuing “math wars” debates, there is an emerging consensus on the need for U.S. math teachers to improve both their content and pedagogical knowledge. Key researchers (who were selected using an informal peer review process) have been asked to provide an overview on recent research about what mathematics teachers ned to know and be able to do to improve the performance of all students.

  • Reading Disabilities, Reading Difficulties & School-Based Interventions that Work

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    The importance of early reading success to later educational achievement has now become common wisdom. Federal agencies, state governments, and individual schools and districts across the country have initiated programs to improve beginning reading instruction, including strategies to identify struggling readers as early as possible. But what comes next? Once a reading problem is detected, can it actually be averted? And, if so, with what “treatment”? In recent years, neuroscientists and reading researchers have pursued a preventive model of reading instruction that could also be wildly successful. What does this research tell us about what goes on in the brain of a struggling reader, before and after intervention? And how can schools and districts translate this research into classroom materials and strategies that really work to prevent reading failure?

  • Bridging the Gap Between State Standards and Classroom Achievement: A Forum

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    Unless states step in to help turn standards into the tools that schools need, the promise of standards-based reform will be lost. That was the message of a March 2002 national forum for state educators, policymakers, teacher unionists, and business leaders on the challenges of curriculum and professional development to meaningful standards-based reform. The event was cosponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and Achieve, Inc.

  • Interpreting Effect Sizes In Education Research

    Interpreting “effect sizes” is one of the trickier checkpoints on the road between research and policy. Effect sizes, put simply, are statistics measuring the size of the association between two variables of interest, often controlling for other variables that may influence that relationship. For example, a research study may report that participating in a tutoring program was associated with a 0.10 standard deviation increase in math test scores, even controlling for other factors, such as student poverty, grade level, etc.

    But what does that mean, exactly? Is 0.10 standard deviations a large effect or a small effect? This is not a simple question, even for trained researchers, and answering it inevitably entails a great deal of subjective human judgment. Matthew Kraft has an excellent little working paper that pulls together some general guidelines and a proposed framework for interpreting effect sizes in education. 

    Before discussing the paper, though, we need to mention what may be one of the biggest problems with the interpretation of effect sizes in education policy debates: They are often ignored completely.

  • The Offline Implications Of The Research About Online Charter Schools

    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.

  • Unsustainable Trends In Teacher Debt And Teacher Pay

    Higher education is often presented as the sure pathway towards upward social mobility. However, the idea that higher education is for all has been slowly fading away. The combination of soaring tuition costs and student loan debt has placed higher education beyond the grasp of many Americans. 

    Although this issue is typically framed in terms of undergraduate student debt, the problem is no less pronounced for many graduate students, particularly those pursuing master’s degrees (e.g., MBA, MFA) and advanced professional degrees (e.g., MD, JD, PhD, etc.).

    Educators are no exception. Roughly half of public school teachers have master’s degrees (NCES). Some employers provide assistance with tuition, but many teachers pay part or all of the costs themselves. Many job opportunities outside of education are attracting young graduates, burdened with high student debt, through student loan benefit programs. These programs may have the employer contribute additional money on top of their salary to repay the loan. That said, most teachers who go for their master’s degree do incur debt as a result, which in many cases is added to debt accumulated during their undergraduate studies.

    And the amount of debt that teachers take on has been rising, at the same time that teacher pay has fallen further and further behind that of similarly-educated professionals.

  • Update On Teacher Diversity Data: Good News, Bad News, And Strange News

    A couple of months ago, we released a report on the collection and availability of teacher race and ethnicity data, based on our late 2017 survey of all 51 state education agencies (SEAs) in the U.S. We asked them two simple questions: 1) Do you collect data (school- or district-level) on teacher race and ethnicity; and 2) Do you make the data public, and how (i.e., by request or on your website)?

    Our findings, in brief, were that the majority of states both collected and made public school- and district-level data on teacher diversity, but that six states did not collect the data all, and another four states collect the data but do not make them available to the public.

    Since the publication of that report, we’ve come across significant information/updates pertaining to three states, which we would like to note briefly. We might characterize these three updates as good news, bad news, and strange news.

  • We Need To Reassess School Discipline

    It has been widely documented that, in American schools, students of color are disproportionately punished for nonviolent behaviors, and are targeted for exclusionary discipline within schools more often than their white peers. Exclusionary discipline is defined as students being removed from their learning environment, whether by in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion. 

    In a national study, Sullivan et al. (2013) found that “Black students were more than twice as likely as White students to be suspended, whereas Hispanic and Native American students were 10 and 20 percent more likely to be suspended.” Out of all the racial minority groups, Asians had the lowest suspension rates across the board. Across all the racial groups, “males were twice as likely as female students to be suspended, and Black males had the highest rates of all subgroups.”

    One reason that students of color are at a performance disadvantage to their White counterparts is because, put simply, they are being removed from the classroom much more often. This is true nationally, but it seems to be a particularly pronounced issue in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Center for Public Integrity released a 2015 study demonstrating that schools in Virginia “referred students to law enforcement agencies at a rate nearly three times the national rate” (Ferriss, 2015). According to the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia’s Black student population, which is 23 percent of all students, received 59 percent of short-term arrests and 43 percent of expulsions (Lum, 2018).

  • Perkins And The Benefits Of Collaboration

    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 this year.

    This July, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, after a dozen years of inaction, unanimously passed legislation to update the Federal Career and Technical Education law. By doing so, Congress increased funding for Career and Technical Education to nearly $1.3 billion in the coming year. The law is called the Perkins Act, named after a former member of Congress. It can go a long way toward addressing America’s skills crisis and providing many of our young people with real economic opportunity. Given the contentious Washington climate, broad bipartisan support for Perkins—including strong private sector, labor union and education backing—is truly noteworthy. But as we consider how this happened, it brings to mind another action that took place more than 80 years ago involving another Perkins: Frances Perkins.

    On the 25th anniversary of Social Security, Frances Perkins, America's first cabinet member to be a woman, said "It would not have happened without IBM." Many who saw her on film were surprised. President Roosevelt was usually critical of the private sector. What had IBM to do with Social Security? Actually a lot. After the bill to establish Social Security was signed, the Labor Department under Perkins had to implement it. She sought outside help to design an implementation plan, yet everyone she approached said it would take years. When she approached Tom Watson Sr., IBM's CEO, she got a different answer. His team of engineers told him it might be possible to implement it sooner, but it would require the investment of several million dollars (about a hundred million in today’s dollars) to create what they called a "collator."

  • Weaning Educational Research Off Of Steroids

    Our guest authors today are Hunter Gehlbach and Carly D. Robinson. Gehlbach is an associate professor of education and associate dean at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, as well as Director of Research at Panorama Education. Robinson is a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

    Few people confuse academics with elite athletes. As a species, academics are rarely noted for their blinding speed, raw power, or outrageously low resting heart rates. Nobody wants to see a calendar of scantily clad professors. Unfortunately, recent years have surfaced one commonality between these two groups—a commonality no academic will embrace. And one with huge implications for educational policymakers’ and practitioners’ professional lives.

    In the same way that a 37 year-old Barry Bonds did not really break the single-season home run record—he relied on performance-enhancing drugs—a substantial amount of educational research has undergone similar “performance enhancements” that make the results too good to be true.

    To understand, the crux of the issue, we invite readers to wade into the weeds (only a little!), to see what research “on steroids” looks like and why it matters. By doing so, we hope to reveal possibilities for how educational practitioners and policymakers can collaborate with researchers to correct the problem and avoid making practice and policy decisions based on flawed research.

  • The Teacher Diversity Data Landscape

    This week, the Albert Shanker Institute released a new research brief, authored by myself and Klarissa Cervantes. It summarizes what we found when we contacted all 51 state education agencies (including the District of Columbia) and asked whether data on teacher race and ethnicity was being collected, and whether and how it was made available to the public. This survey was begun in late 2017 and completed in early 2018.

    The primary reason behind this project is the growing body of research to suggest that all students, and especially students of color, benefit from a teaching force that reflects the diverse society in which they must learn to live, work and prosper. ASI’s previous work has also documented that a great many districts should turn their attention to recruiting and retaining more teachers of color (see our 2015 report). Data are a basic requirement for achieving this goal – without data, states and districts are unable to gauge the extent of their diversity problem, target support and intervention to address that problem, and monitor the effects of those efforts. Unfortunately, the federal government does not require that states collect teacher race and ethnicity data, which means the responsbility falls to individual states. Moreover, statewide data are often insufficient – teacher diversity can vary widely within and between districts. Policymakers, administrators, and the public need detailed data (at least district-by-district and preferably school-by-school), which should be collected annually and be made easily available.

    The results of our survey are generally encouraging. The vast majority of state education agencies (SEAs), 45 out of 51, report that they collect at least district-by-district data on teacher race and ethnicity (and all but two of these 45 collect school-by-school data). This is good news (and, frankly, better results than we anticipated). There are, however, areas of serious concern.

  • Why Teacher Evaluation Reform Is Not A Failure

    The RAND Corporation recently released an important report on the impact of the Gates Foundation’s “Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching” (IPET) initiative. IPET was a very thorough and well-funded attempt to improve teaching quality in schools in three districts and four charter management organizations (CMOs). The initiative was multi-faceted, but its centerpiece was the implementation of multi-measure teacher evaluation systems and the linking of ratings from those systems to professional development and high stakes personnel decisions, including compensation, tenure, and dismissal. This policy, particularly the inclusion in teacher evaluations of test-based productivity measures (e.g., value-added scores), has been among the most controversial issues in education policy throughout the past 10 years.

    The report is extremely rich and there's a lot of interesting findings in there, so I would encourage everyone to read it themselves (at least the executive summary), but the headline finding was that the IPET had no discernible effect on student outcomes, namely test scores and graduation rates, in the districts that participated, vis-à-vis similar districts that did not. Given that IPET was so thoroughly designed and implemented, and that it was well-funded, it can potentially be viewed as a "best case scenario" test of the type of evaluation reform that most states have enacted. Accordingly, critics of these reforms, who typically focus their opposition on the high stakes use of evaluation measures, particularly value-added and other test-based measures, in these evaluations, have portrayed the findings as vindication of their opposition. 

    This reaction has merit. The most important reason why is that evaluation reform was portrayed by advocates as a means to immediate and drastic improvements in student outcomes. This promise was misguided from the outset, and evaluation reform opponents are (and were) correct in pointing this out. At the same time, however, it would be wise not to dismiss evaluation reform as a whole, for several reasons, a few of which are discussed below.