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Education Policy

  • 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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  • We Need To Reassess School Discipline

    Written on November 2, 2018

    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).

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  • Perkins And The Benefits Of Collaboration

    Written on October 22, 2018

    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."

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  • Why Teacher Evaluation Reform Is Not A Failure

    Written on August 23, 2018

    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.

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  • What Do Schools Fostering A Teacher “Growth Mindset” Look Like?

    Written on January 31, 2018

    Our guest authors today are Stefanie Reinhorn, Susan Moore Johnson, and Nicole Simon. Reinhorn is an independent consultant working with school systems on Instructional Rounds and school improvement.  Johnson is the Jerome T Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Simon is a director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. The authors are researchers at The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard Graduate School of Education. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    Carol Dweck’s theories about motivation and development have become mainstream in schools since her book, Mindset, was published in 2006.  It is common to hear administrators, teachers, parents, and even students talk about helping young learners adopt a “growth mindset” --expecting and embracing the idea of developing knowledge and skills over time, rather than assuming individuals are born with fixed abilities.  Yet, school leaders and teachers scarcely talk about how to adopt a growth mindset for themselves—one that assumes that educators, not only the students they teach, can improve with support and practice. Many teachers find it hard to imagine working in a school with a professional culture designed to cultivate their development, rather than one in which their effectiveness is judged and addressed with rewards and sanctions.  However, these schools do exist.

    In our research (see herehere and here*), we selected and studied six high-performing, high-poverty urban schools so that we could understand how these schools were beating the odds. Specifically, we wondered what they did to attract and develop teachers, and how teachers experienced working there. These schools, all located in one Massachusetts city, included: one traditional district school; two district turnaround schools; two state charter schools; and one charter-sponsored restart school. Based on interviews with 142 teachers and administrators, we concluded that all six schools fostered and supported a “growth mindset” for their educators.

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  • Three Questions Underlying The Debate About School Choice And Segregation

    Written on January 11, 2018

    The question of school choice and segregation has been a common recurring theme in education policy over the past 5-10 years (most recently in response to this Associated Press story).

    Critics claim that school choice, specifically charter schools and private school vouchers, exacerbate segregation by income and especially race and ethnicity, primarily because more motivated parents with greater resources will exercise choice. Choice supporters, on the other hand, counter-argue that regular public schools are highly segregated due to the lack of choice (i.e., due to school assignment based on residence), and that school choice, which severs that tie, might lead to greater integration.

    Given the proliferation of charter schools (and, to a lesser extent, vouchers) over the past 20 years, this is clearly an important debate. Yet the issue of choice and segregation entails three major underlying empirical questions that are sometimes blurred. It may be useful to discuss them briefly.

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  • A Closer Look At Our Report On Public And Private School Segregation In DC

    Written on November 6, 2017

    Last week, we released our research brief on segregation by race and ethnicity in the District of Columbia. The analysis is unique insofar as it includes regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools, thus providing a comprehensive look at segregation in our nation’s capital.

    Private schools serve only about 17 percent of D.C.’s students, but almost 60 percent of its white students. This means that any analysis of segregation in D.C. that excludes private schools may be missing a pretty big part of the picture. Our brief includes estimates of segregation, using different types of measures, within the private and public sectors (including D.C.’s large charter school sector). Unsurprisingly, we find high levels of segregation in both sectors, using multiple race and ethnicity comparisons. Yet, while segregation in both sectors is extensive, it is not substantially higher in one or the other.

    But one of our most interesting findings, which we’d like to discuss here, is that between 25-40 percent of total citywide segregation is actually found between the public and private sectors. This is not a particularly intuitive finding to interpret, so a quick explanation may be useful.

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  • The Theory And Practice Of School Closures

    Written on September 13, 2017

    The idea of closing “low performing schools” has undeniable appeal, at least in theory. The basic notion is that some schools are so dysfunctional that they cannot be saved and may be doing irreparable harm to their students every day they are open. Thus, it is argued, closing such schools and sending their students elsewhere is the best option – even if students end up in “average” schools, proponents argue, they will be better off.

    Such closures are very controversial, however, and for good reason. For one thing, given adequate time and resources, schools may improve – i.e., there are less drastic interventions that might be equally (or more) effective as a way to help students. Moreover, closing a school represents a disruption in students’ lives (and often, by the way, to the larger community). In this sense, any closure must offer cumulative positive effects sufficient to offset an initial negative effect. Much depends on how and why schools are identified for closure, and the quality of the schools that displaced students attend. In practice, then, closure is a fairly risky policy, both educationally and (perhaps especially) politically. This disconnect between the appeal of theoretical school closures and the actual risks, in practice, may help explain why U.S. educational policy has been designed such that many schools operate at some risk of closure, but relatively few ever end up shutting their doors.

    Despite the always contentious debates about the risks and merits of closing “low performing schools,” there has not been a tremendous amount of strong evidence about effects (in part because such closures have been somewhat rare). A new report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) helps fill the gap, using a very large dataset to examine the test-based impact of school closures (among other things). The results speak directly to the closure debate, in both specific and general terms, but interpreting them is complicated by the fact that this analysis evaluates what is at best a policy done poorly.

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  • Where Do Achievement Gaps Come From?

    Written on August 10, 2017

    For almost two decades now, educational accountability policy in the U.S. has included a focus on the performance of student subgroups, such as those defined by race and ethnicity, income, or special education status. The (very sensible) logic behind this focus is the simple fact that aggregate performance measures, whether at the state-, district-, or school levels, often mask large gaps between subgroups.

    Yet one of the unintended consequences of this subgroup focus has been confusion among both policymakers and the public as to how to interpret and use subgroup indicators in formal school accountability systems, particularly when those indicators are expressed as simple “achievement gaps” or “gap closing” measures. This is not only because achievement gaps can narrow for undesirable reasons and widen for desirable reasons, but also because many gaps exist prior to entry into the school (or district). If, for instance, a large Hispanic/White achievement gap for a given cohort exists at the start of kindergarten, it is misleading and potentially damaging to hold a school accountable for the persistence of that gap in later grades – particularly in cases where public policy has failed to provide the extra resources and supports that might help lower-performing students make accelerated achievement gains every year. In addition, the coarseness of current educational variables, particularly those usually used as income proxies, limits the detail and utility of some subgroup measures.

    A helpful and timely little analysis by David Figlio and Krzystof Karbownik, published by the Brookings Institution, addresses some of these issues, and the findings have clear policy implications.

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