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Education Policy

  • New Research Report: Are U.S. Schools Inefficient?

    Written on June 7, 2016

    At one point or another we’ve all heard some version of the following talking points: 1) “Spending on U.S. education has doubled or triped over the past few decades, but performance has remained basically flat; or 2) “The U.S. spends more on education than virtually any other nation and yet still gets worse results.” If you pay attention, you will hear one or both of these statements frequently, coming from everyone from corporate CEOs to presidential candidates.

    The purpose of both of these statements is to argue that U.S. education is inefficient - that is, gets very little bang for the buck – and that spending more money will not help.

    Now, granted, these sorts of pseudo-empirical talking points almost always omit important nuances yet, in some cases, they can still provide important information. But, putting aside the actual relative efficiency of U.S. schools, these particular statements about U.S. education spending and performance are so rife with oversimplification that they fail to provide much if any useful insight into U.S. educational efficiency or policy that affects it. Our new report, written by Rutgers University Professor Bruce D. Baker and Rutgers Ph.D. student Mark Weber, explains why and how this is the case. Baker and Weber’s approach is first to discuss why the typical presentations of spending and outcome data, particularly those comparing nations, are wholly unsuitable for the purpose of evaluating U.S. educational efficiency vis-à-vis that of other nations. They then go on to present a more refined analysis of the data by adjusting for student characteristics, inputs such as class size, and other factors. Their conclusions will most likely be unsatisfying for all “sides” of the education debate.

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  • New Research Brief: Teacher Segregation In Los Angeles And New York City

    Written on May 5, 2016

    The current attention being given to the state of teacher diversity, including ASI’s recent report on the subject, is based on the idea that teacher diversity is a resource that profits everyone, and that policymakers and administrators should try to increase this resource. We agree.

    There is already a fair amount of research to indicate the significance and potential implications of teacher diversity (e.g., Dee 2004; Gershenson et al., 2015; Mueller et al. 1999). It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the benefits of diversity, like those of any resource, are dependent not just on how much is available, but also how it is distributed across schools and districts.

    Unfortunately, research on the distribution of teacher diversity or teacher segregation has, thus far, been virtually non-existent. A new ASI research brief begins to help fill this void. The brief, written with my colleagues Matt Di Carlo and Esther Quintero, presents a descriptive analysis of teacher segregation within the two largest school districts in the nation – Los Angeles and New York City. We find that teachers in these two districts, while quite diverse overall, relative to the U.S. teacher workforce as a whole, are rather segregated across schools by race and ethnicity, according to multiple different measures of segregation. In other words, teachers tend to work in schools with disproportionate numbers of colleagues of their own race and/or ethnicity.

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  • Charter Schools And Longer Term Student Outcomes

    Written on April 28, 2016

    An important article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management presents results from one of the published analyses to look at the long term impact of attending charter schools.

    The authors, Kevin Booker, Tim Sass, Brian Gill, and Ron Zimmer, replicate part of their earlier analysis of charter schools in Florida and Chicago (Booker et al. 2011), which found that students attending charter high schools had a substantially higher chance of graduation and college enrollment (relative to students that attended charter middle schools but regular public high schools). For this more recent paper, they extend the previous analysis, including the addition of two very important, longer term outcomes – college persistence and labor market earnings.

    The limitations of test scores, the current coin of the realm, are well known; similarly, outcomes such as graduation may fail to capture meaningful skills. This paper is among the first to extend the charter school effects literature, which has long relied almost exclusively on test scores, into the longer term postsecondary and even adulthood realms, representing a huge step forward for this body of evidence. It is a development that is likely to become more and more common, as longitudinal data hopefully become available from other locations. And this particular paper, in addition to its obvious importance for the charter school literature, also carries some implications regarding the use of test-based outcomes in education policy evaluation.

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  • The Civic Power Of Unions And The Anti-Union Political Agenda

    Written on April 21, 2016

    This is the second of two posts on the political dimensions of the Friedrichs case. The first post can be read here.

    Before Justice Scalia’s sudden death, it appeared that, through the Friedrichs case, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority would succeed in imposing “right to work” status on public sector working people across the nation. As discussed in a previous post, there were signs that this conservative bloc was looking to deliver its decision in time to sideline the four largest public employee unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – from the 2016 elections. Not coincidentally, these are also the unions that have the strongest political operations in the American labor. If Scalia had not died and these intentions were realized, what would have been the impact on the 2016 election and beyond?

    To grasp the full impact of a negative Friedrichs decision, had the conservative justices been successful in their plans, it is necessary to gauge the effect that public employee unions have on the political activism of their members. Ironically, insight into this question can be gleaned from an essay that exhibits a critical attitude toward public sector unions and collective bargaining, Patrick Flavin’s and Michael Hartney’s “When Government Subsidizes Its Own: Collective Bargaining Laws as Agents of Political Mobilization.”1 (Hereafter, F&H.) While not without analytical flaws, a number of which will be discussed below, F&H contributes to the literature with a new way of measuring the effect of teacher unions on teacher political activism and engagement, above and beyond voting. (Teachers have always voted at consistently high rates, with over 90 percent turnout in presidential elections and over 80 percent in mid-term elections.) Consequently, F&H places in relief the union contribution to member political activism that was targeted by the SCOTUS conservatives.

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  • Changing The Narrative: Leveraging Education Policy To Address Segregation

    Written on April 19, 2016

    Our guest authors today are Jennifer Jellison Holme, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Kara S. Finnigan, Associate Professor at the University of Rochester. Holme and Finnigan have published several articles and briefs on the issue of school integration, focusing on regional policy solutions to address segregation and inequality, and the link between segregation and low-performing schools. Recent publications include articles in Teachers College Record and Educational Law and Policy Review as well as a research brief for the National Coalition on School Diversity. This is the second in a series on this topic.

    In our first post on this topic, we likened the education policy approach to low-performing schools to what happens when you ignore a decaying tooth: when you treat the symptoms (e.g., low achievement, high dropout rates) without addressing the root causes (e.g., racial and economic segregation), the underlying problem not only will persist, but is likely to worsen. In that post, we used demographic maps to show what this looked like in Milwaukee, illustrating how the approaches pursued by policymakers over several decades do not seem to have significantly improved achievement for students across the system, while patterns economic and racial segregation have worsened.

    In this blog post, we outline a set of strategies based on our research that seek to address these issues through specific education policy leverage points: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and two federal grants programs (Stronger Together and the Magnet School Assistance Program).

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  • Getting Serious About Measuring Collaborative Teacher Practice

    Written on April 8, 2016

    Our guest author today is Nathan D. Jones, an assistant professor of special education at Boston University. His research focuses on teacher quality, teacher development, and school improvement. Dr. Jones previously worked as a middle school special education teacher in the Mississippi Delta. In this column, he introduces a new Albert Shanker Institute publication, which was written with colleagues Elizabeth Bettini and Mary Brownell.

    The current policy landscape presents a dilemma. Teacher evaluation has dominated recent state and local reform efforts, resulting in broad changes in teacher evaluation systems nationwide. The reforms have spawned countless research studies on whether emerging evaluation systems use measures that are reliable and valid, whether they result in changes in how teachers are rated, what happens to teachers who receive particularly high or low ratings, and whether the net results of these changes have had an effect on student learning.

    At the same time,  there has been increasing enthusiasm about the promise of teacher collaboration (see here and here), spurred in part by new empirical evidence linking teacher collaboration to student outcomes (see Goddard et al., 2007; Ronfeldt, 2015; Sun, Grissom, & Loeb, 2016). When teachers work together, such as when they jointly analyze student achievement data (Gallimore et al., 2009; Saunders, Gollenberg, & Gallimore, 2009) or when high-performing teachers are matched with low-performing peers (Papay, Taylor, Tyler, & Laski, 2016), students have shown substantially better growth on standardized tests.

    This new work adds to a long line of descriptive research on the importance of colleagues and other social aspects of the school organization.  Research has documented that informal relationships with colleagues play an important role in promoting positive teacher outcomes, such as planned and actual retention decisions (e.g., Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Pogodzisnki, Youngs, & Frank, 2013; Youngs, Pogodzinski, Grogan, & Perrone, 2015). Further, a number of initiatives aimed at improving teacher learning – e.g., professional learning communities (Giles & Hargreaves, 2006) and lesson study (Lewis, Perry, & Murrata, 2006) – rely on teachers planning instruction collaboratively.

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  • The Hidden Power Of Our Social Worlds

    Written on April 6, 2016

    In July 2014 the Albert Shanker Institute began a blog series on the “social side” of education reform. The collection, which includes contributions from established and emerging scholars, attempts to shine a light on new research arguing for the centrality of the social dimension in educational improvement. This blog post serves as the preface of a new ASI publication featuring six of the most important blog posts from this series. The publication is now available for download here. ASI is holding a research and policy conference on this theme Friday April 8th.

    Whatever level of teacher human capital schools acquire through hiring can subsequently be developed through formal and informal professional interactions. As teachers join together to solve problems and learn from one another, the school’s instructional capacity becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

    This quote from Harvard professor Susan Moore Johnson (p. 20 of this volume) may make perfect sense to you. Our systems and organizations, however, are largely structured around individualistic values. As such, a primary goal is to optimize and reward performance at the individual level. So, while some of us (perhaps many of us) might agree that a team’s capacity can exceed the sum of individual members’ capacity, we generally have a difficult time translating that knowledge into action – e.g., rewarding individual behaviors that enhance team dynamics. Part of the problem is that there’s still a lot to learn about how teamwork and collaboration are properly measured.

    No matter how challenging, understanding the social dynamics that underpin our work organizations seems particularly timely given the interdependent nature of the modern workplace. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more” over the past two decades. At many companies, the article notes, “more than three quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.”

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  • Evaluating The Results Of New Teacher Evaluation Systems

    Written on March 24, 2016

    A new working paper by researchers Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour presents a useful summary of teacher evaluation results in 19 states, all of which designed and implemented new evaluation systems at some point over the past five years. As with previous evaluation results, the headline result of this paper is that only a small proportion of teachers (2-5 percent) were given the low, “below proficiency” ratings under the new systems, and the vast majority of teachers continue to be rated as satisfactory or better.

    Kraft and Gilmour present their results in the context of the “Widget Effect,” a well-known 2009 report by the New Teacher Project showing that the overwhelming majority of teachers in the 12 districts for which they had data received “satisfactory” ratings. The more recent results from Kraft and Gilmour indicate that this hasn’t changed much due to the adoption of new evaluation systems, or, at least, not enough to satisfy some policymakers and commentators who read the paper.

    The paper also presents a set of findings from surveys of and interviews with observers (e.g., principals). These are in many respects more interesting and important results from a research and policy perspective, but let’s nevertheless focus a bit on the findings on the distribution of teachers across rating categories, as they caused a bit of a stir. I have several comments to make about them, but will concentrate on three in particular (all of which, by the way, pertain not to the paper’s discussion, which is cautious and thorough, but rather to some of the reaction to it in our education policy discourse).

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  • Teachers And Professional Collaboration: How Sweden Has Become The ABBA Of Educational Change

    Written on March 2, 2016

    Our guest author today is Andy Hargreaves, the Brennan Chair in Education at Boston College. He is the coauthor of Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, which won the 2015 Grawemeyer Award for the idea in education most likely to have the most effect on practice worldwide. He is also the 2016 recipient of the Horace Mann League’s Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award. An extended version of this column originally appeared in Pedagogiska Magasinet, the Swedish teachers’ magazine in February 2016.

    In the 1960s and 70s, Sweden’s economic productivity and social engineering were the envy of democrats all over the world. The nation’s comprehensive schools were an inspiration for public education reformers in the United Kingdom and many other nations too. In Sweden, market prosperity and the collective good went side by side. It was a country where, like the nations’ classic pop group, Abba, people banded and bonded together really well.

    In the 90s, however, Sweden entered an age of what political scientists call free-market neo-liberalism, and educational reform was at the leading edge of it. In some ways moving ahead of the US trend, Sweden introduced large numbers of competitive “free schools”, funded with public money but no longer regulated by their school districts. Hedge fund companies were the largest single group of owners of these schools. Sweden’s society and its schools were, in the titles of two of Abba’s songs, now driven by a “Winner Takes it All” culture of “Money, Money, Money!” Between 2003 and 2012, Sweden experienced the greatest deterioration in PISA scores out of all OECD countries who were performing above average in 2003. Despite the country's proud and internationally admired egalitarian tradition, its achievement gaps have been widening faster than in any other country.

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  • Student Sorting And Teacher Classroom Observations

    Written on February 25, 2016

    Although value added and other growth models tend to be the focus of debates surrounding new teacher evaluation systems, the widely known but frequently unacknowledged reality is that most teachers don’t teach in the tested grades and subjects, and won’t even receive these test-based scores. The quality and impact of the new systems therefore will depend heavily upon the quality and impact of other measures, primarily classroom observations.

    These systems have been in use for decades, and yet, until recently, relatively little is known about their properties, such as their association with student and teacher characteristics, and there are, as yet, only a handful of studies of their impact on teachers’ performance (e.g., Taylor and Tyler 2012). The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, conducted a few years ago, was a huge step forward in this area, though at the time it was perhaps underappreciated the degree to which MET’s contribution was not just in the (very important) reports it produced, but also in its having collected an extensive dataset for researchers to use going forward. A new paper, just published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, is among the many analyses that have and will use MET data to address important questions surrounding teacher evaluation.

    The authors, Rachel Garrett and Matthew Steinberg, look at classroom observation scores, specifically those from Charlotte Danielson’s widely employed Framework for Teaching (FFT) protocol. These results are yet another example of how observation scores share most of the widely-cited (statistical) criticisms of value added scores, most notably their sensitivity to which students are assigned to teachers.

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