K-12 Education

  • Is There A Pension Crisis?

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    Elected officials seeking to diminish the pensions of public sector employees have argued that they are responding to a fiscal crisis. Is this crisis real or contrived? March 11, noon-2.
  • Fulfilling The Promise Of a Quality Education for All: 21st Century Career & Technical Education

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    This New York City conference (co-sponsored with the UFT) was designed to allow participants to share their expertise in CTE policy, practice, and research, as well as to deepen their understanding of how quality CTE can serve to expand the educational and career horizons of all students. Participants also considered a statement of recommendations on what needs to be done to develop and support quality CTE programs in U.S. education.

  • Fairness & Effectiveness in School Discipline

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    How do we teach discipline and maintain order, while protecting against the effects of persistent, unconscious biases? How do we ensure that schools are warm, welcoming, fair, and effective in the treatment of all students? Watch the video.

  • A Diverse Teacher Force

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    There is concern that, as the U.S. population and student body is growing more racially and ethically diverse, the teacher workforce does not yet reflect this diversity. In fact, diversity should go beyond having more black and brown teachers in front of students. Diversity is also about equipping all teachers (regardless of race) to work with heterogeneous classrooms and diverse schools. Watch the video.

  • How Do We Get Experienced, Accomplished Teachers Into High Need Schools?

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    From a variety of different perspectives, our panel will address two vital questions: What are the systemic causes of this mismatch of educational resources and educational need? What policies could be adopted to remedy this mismatch, and attract experienced, accomplished teachers into schools with high educational need? Watch the Conversation.

  • The Role Of States In Teacher Pay Gaps

    We recently published a research brief looking at gaps in pay between teachers and comparable non-teacher professionals. These gaps are sometimes called “teaching penalties.” The brief draws on data from the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID), a collection of school finance and resource allocation measures published by the Shanker Institute and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. 

    The first part of the brief presents our estimates of teaching penalties, by state, for young (age 25) and veteran (age 55) teachers. We find that the gaps between teachers and similar non-teacher professionals range between 5-10 percent in states like Pennsylvania and Montana to 35-40 percent in Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado (the latter three are all states in which there were recent major teacher strikes). To be clear, these estimates do not include benefits, although our rough calculations (discussed in the brief) suggest that the inclusion of benefits would not come close to closing these gaps in most states.

    Our primary focus, however, is on the relationship between these teaching penalties and states’ school finance systems. 

    Specifically, we find a significant relationship between the size of the penalties and adjusted state K-12 spending. In other words, states that spend more exhibit smaller gaps. We find a similar relationship between the penalties and states’ fiscal effort, which measures how much of their total “economic capacity” they spend on K-12 education – i.e., states that put forth more “effort” tend to have smaller gaps.

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

    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.

  • Charter Schools And Teacher Diversity

    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.

  • Does College Matter? Of Course

    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.

  • Federal Educational Investments Are Essential

    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.

  • Dispatches From The Nexus Of Boring And Important

    School finance is one of those education policy topics located at the extreme ends of the important continuum as well as the boring continuum. On the one hand, school funding is relevant to virtually all major education policy decisions at the state-, district-, and school levels - at least in the background, but usually in the foreground. And the finance research literature is increasingly clear that there is a causal relationship between increased and/or progressive funding and better student outcomes (e.g., Jackson 2018Baker 2016).

    And yet, on the other hand, school finance is probably among the least sexy topics in our public education discourse, in part because the money behind policies is never as exciting as the policies themselves, but also because finance research is complicated and esoteric, and reading the research sometimes feels like reading audited financial statements.

    Yesterday, the Shanker Institute, in collaboration with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber from Rutgers, released a new report and public dataset on school finance in the U.S. 

    It's still not sexy. Just to make sure, we called it the School Finance Indicators Database.

    But we did try to make it more accessible and useful to the general public than the typical finance fare. The report presents key findings from the database, specifically state-by-state results on three “core” indicators: fiscal effort, adequacy, and progressivity. We feel that these three indicators provide a pretty good summary of states’ school finance systems. Rather than going through the report’s findings, here are a few things to keep in mind when reading it.

  • Finding Common Ground In Civics Education

    The following post is based on remarks by Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, delivered March 13, 2019 at the ASI conversation, "Civic Education: Is There Common Ground?"

    Ever since the mid-19th century, when the United States adopted a system of universal and free public education in the form of “common schools,” we have debated what should be taught in our schools and how we should teach it. The controversies over the Common Core are only the most recent chapter in a large volume of what one historian of American education has described as the “education wars.” In a democratic and pluralist society, such debate is both inevitable and necessary. Education is the process by which we enculturate and socialize our youth. What we teach and how we teach it is a statement on who we believe we, as a people, are and how we came to that identity. And, perhaps even more importantly, it is an affirmation of who we aspire to be as a people. Education is our declaration on what we believe it means to be an American.

    While language arts, mathematics and science all involve different and important aspects of American identity, no subject is more central to American identity than social studies and history, and in particular, than civics. In the United States, civics is education into citizenship in a republic founded on the ideal of rule by its citizens, the ‘we the people’ that announces itself as the ultimate author of the American constitution in its very first words. So civics goes directly to the heart of who is and is not a citizen of the United States, and what rights and duties American citizens possess. It goes directly to the question of the power of ordinary citizens — rather than elites — in determining both how we rule and how we are ruled. It should be a matter of no surprise, then, that the fiercest contests over the content and method of American education have taken place in civics, social studies and history. Our ability to find common ground in the teaching of civics cannot be separated from our ability to find common ground on what it means to be an American — both as a matter of history and as a matter of aspiration — or from our ability to find common ground in how we understand American democracy itself and what we want American democracy to be.

  • 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.