Charters & Choice

As my Bellwether colleague (and D.C. Public Charter School Board member) Sara Mead wrote last week, new information on the performance of the Washington, D.C. charter school sector is extremely encouraging. And while the strong and improving achievement scores are terrific news for kids and families in the city, they also offer even more reason to believe that chartering—if done smartly—can replace the district system for delivering public education in America’s cities.

First, the basics and headlines: For several years now, PCSB, the only active charter authorizer in the nation’s capital, has made public the results of its “performance management framework.” This school-assessment tool provides a comprehensive set of information about schools in PCSB’s portfolio. And, more than ever, that information should give us all cheer.

Each school is rated across a number of indicators (and all of that data is accessible), but it is also placed in one of three categories, with “Tier 1” reserved for schools that are excelling and “Tier 3” for schools performing well below expectations.

In 2014, nearly 12,500 students attended twenty-two Tier-1 schools; that was a 9 percent increase over 2013 in the number of students enrolled in outstanding charters. As PCSB notes in its press release, these schools are located throughout the city, and their racial and income demographics reflect the city as a whole. In fact, eight of the top ten scoring schools...

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Flanner House Elementary, an Indianapolis charter school, closed just weeks into the 2014–15 school year by a vote of its board (under heavy pressure from the mayor’s office, which was the school’s sponsor) after an investigation revealed widespread cheating on tests in previous years. This seems like a prudent course of action, given the information known and despite the havoc it wreaked on the lives of its students. A protracted closure process would have been far worse for them.

The most striking thing about this story is the praise received by the mayor’s office in the wake of the closure decision. As reported in Education Week

[The Indianapolis mayor's office]…assigned charter-office employees to communicate with parents on a biweekly basis.

"We had a tracker that listed when we called families, the nature of that communication, next steps that we agreed to, and then we worked with those families to meet their needs," which included buying school supplies and new uniforms, Mr. Brown said.

The mayor's office also hosted two enrollment fairs where parents could talk with leaders from nearly 30 schools and could enroll their children on the spot.

"What we saw is that we had a lot of angry families at first that, over time, came to really value the support we gave them, to the point that we had multiple families call our office and say, 'We are so thankful that you made this decision,' " said Mr. Brown. "We didn't feel...

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From its inception in 1996 with one unusual school in Chicago, the Cristo Rey education model set out to honor its Catholic roots while simultaneously embracing a new way of preparing economically disadvantaged high school students for future success—not an easy balancing act to pull off. A new report from the Lexington Institute profiles the Cristo Rey model and also looks at how its newest school in San Jose is using an innovative blended-learning approach to move the existing model forward. The success of the network to date has been tremendous. Today, Cristo Rey is a nationwide network of twenty-eight private schools serving 9,000 students, including one school in each of Ohio’s three largest cities. Ninety-six percent of network students are minority (largely Hispanic) and 100 percent are economically disadvantaged (defined as families earning less than 75 percent of the national median income). Each student's family contributes an average of $1,000 toward tuition. Employers in the school's corporate work-study program provide most of the balance needed to cover operations. The work-study model requires students to work at least one day a week in the community while keeping up with rigorous high school coursework; in lieu of wages, companies donate money to the schools. (More than 2,000 employers invested upwards of $44 million in the Cristo Rey Network of schools in 2013–14.) Cristo Rey’s school day and year are extended, including a summer preparatory program to get students up to speed on both academic and work life. The results are...

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Can a state’s charter school sector improve over time? Yes, finds this new study of Texas charter schools. Using student data collected from 2001 to 2011, a period of explosive charter school growth in Texas, researchers examined trends in the charter-quality distribution, as measured by value-added results on math and reading test scores. They discovered that in the early- to mid-2000s, charter-sector quality fell considerably short of district quality. But by 2011, the charter-quality distribution improved, converging to virtual parity with district quality. The magnitude of the quality shift in Texas charters, note the researchers, is large and substantial (0.11 and 0.20 standard deviations in math and reading, respectively). What is the source of the quality improvement? The main reason is strikingly straightforward: Lower value-added charter schools tended to shutter over time, while higher value-added schools entered the sector. Meanwhile, schools that remained open throughout the whole period also demonstrated improvement over time. The researchers next peel back the layers of the sector-improvement onion. They discover three contributing factors: First, Texas charters have attracted students of higher achievement levels (i.e., positive “selection”), possibly leading to positive peer effects captured in the value-added results. Second, charters have experienced less student turnover as the sector has matured. Third, the analysts find evidence that the growth of schools classified as “no-excuses” charters has propelled overall sector quality. The policy takeaways for Ohio are twofold: One, it takes time for high-quality schools to edge low-quality ones out of the school marketplace. (And authorizers...

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Earlier this year, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) published its annual report on charter quality. Their analysis makes an interesting observation: The school-quality distribution across California charters forms a “u-shaped curve.” In contrast, however, when I look at Ohio charters, a different quality distribution emerges. Instead of u-shaped curve, Ohio has a rectangular-looking distribution. So while California charters are more likely to be very high or low quality, Ohio charters seem to be more evenly distributed across the quality spectrum. The shape of the quality “curves” suggests different policy strategies might be needed to lift overall sector quality in Ohio compared to California.

Let us first look at the school-quality data. Chart 1 displays the distribution of charter quality in California, as reported by CCSA. Its analysis uses school-level test and demographic data, along with statistical methods, to calculate a school-quality measure (“predicted API”). The analysis is somewhat akin to the “value-added” analysis used in Ohio, though also cruder since it employs school not student-level data.[1] The analysis divides the quality spectrum into twenty equal intervals and reports the percentage of charters falling into each interval.

When CCSA mapped the quality of California charters, it found a disproportionate number of schools at tails of the distribution. For example, 15 percent of charters fell within the top-five percent of all public schools statewide along its quality measure. At the other end, 9 percent of charters were rated in the bottom-five percent of all schools. (If...

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The facility arrangements of one Ohio charter school recently came under fire in a Columbus Dispatch exposé. An investigation discovered that roughly half of the school’s budget was dedicated to rental payments, potentially shortchanging teaching and learning. But this episode isn’t an isolated case; many Buckeye charters have struggled to secure adequate facilities. How can Ohio policymakers and school leaders better ensure that charters have the facilities they need at a reasonable cost? First, they should consult this new report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which contains a wealth of information on charter-school facilities funding from both private and public sources. The report includes descriptions of the key nonprofits in charter-facilities financing, including the Charter School Growth Fund, Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and LISC. These nonprofits—twenty in all—have provided an impressive $2 billion in direct financing for charter facilities (e.g., loans and grants). When it comes to state support for charter facilities, Ohio has been woefully stingy. The state provided, for the first time in 2013, per-pupil funding to support the facility costs of brick-and-mortar charters (up to $100 per-pupil). But other jurisdictions are far less tightfisted. For example, Washington, D.C., Arizona, and Minnesota provide more than $1,000 per-pupil for facilities; four other states provide between $250 and $1,000 per pupil. To make matters worse, Ohio has not appropriated any funds to support its charter school loan program and provides no charter-facilities grants. Again, other jurisdictions do much...

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The enlightenment edition - October 15, 2014

Civil rights, Christopher Columbus, D.C. school spending, and teacher prep.

Amber's Research Minute

"Teacher Preparation Policies and Their Effects on Student Achievement," by Gary T. Henry, et al., The Association for Education Finance and Policy (2014).

Transcript

Michelle:       Hello, this is your host, Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my cohost, the Alicia Florrick of education reform, Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa:           Oh wow. That was such an honor.

Michelle:       I knew you'd love that. I knew it.

Alyssa:           I mean it is kind of our topic of conversation every Monday or Tuesday whenever we get around to watching The Good Wife which airs on Sunday …

Michelle:       Let's be honest, it's never Monday morning because I can't stay up till 10 o'clock at night on Sunday so it's Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday.

Alyssa:           Yeah. Usually, not on football season, I can watch it on Sunday. But on football season, forget about it.

Michelle:       Yeah. Football just ruins The Good Wife for me. I think we should move football to another day and this is the big policy I'm going to be pushing this year.

Alyssa:           Oh good to know but I mean if they were up to, I think, the two of us, television would end by 9 PM every night. We would have to stay up till 11.

Michelle:       That would be fantastic. I think we should promote that but in the meantime let's get back to Ed reform. Ellen, what do you have for us?

Ellen:              Fordham’s own Mike Petrelli recently argued that over the last six years, the Department of Education has been too involved in civil rights. Do you agree?

Michelle:       This is based on a special Op Ed that Mike had in NRO’s education week that they just had this weekend. Robert Pendisi on our team also had one on common core but basically, Mike takes another aim at the Secretary of Education. Alyssa, what's your take?

Alyssa:           Mike gave two examples in the piece of areas in which he believes that Arne Duncan has used the Office of Civil Rights to overreach over local control on several issues and the first, I agree with and the second, I do not.

Michelle:       Oh, I think we might be opposite here.

Alyssa:           Ooh, okay which one do you agree with Mike on?

Michelle:       I agree on the AP testing.

Alyssa:           So do I.

Michelle:       Oh see, I thought that was second in the article.

Alyssa:           I guess it was okay. Well one of the points I agree with and one that I do not.

Michelle:       Here's how we should solve the AP problem. Basically Mike is calling out the department because they are pushing for more minority students to be in AP classes which obviously is a good thing but the on the ground reality is that we're just going to be pushing more students into AP courses who aren't ready for AP course week. The goal should be putting more minority kids in AP courses and having the pass rate of AP courses staying the same. That way, we’re not incentivizing schools to just put kids in the classes they're not prepared for but we are incentivizing schools to get more students prepared and putting them in these AP courses.

Alyssa:           Yeah. I do worry very much about the unintended consequences of pushing unprepared kids into AP whether or not that's colleges deciding AP no longer accounts for college credit which is really important when you're a student who tuition is a big barrier for entry. I also think it's an opportunity for schools to do things like maybe course share or take online courses so kids who are in schools were not … There’s not 30 kids who are ready for AP but there's maybe 5 can still take those classes and have those opportunities. I think there's an opportunity there but the way that the office is being used, I'm a little concerned about.

Michelle:       Now, one thing that I did in … or that happened in my high school once upon a time when I was a young, young high school student was they just offered courses and then at the end of the course, you could opt in to taking the AP exam. There was an AP US history on top of US history. It was just history class and if at the end of the year, you felt prepared to take the AP exam, you could opt in to taking it which was an interesting model. I don't know how if that's necessarily possible in public schools. I did go to a private school and it was pretty small so it was easy. There wasn’t the scale issue that's one interesting thing that might be a good policy recommendation.

Alyssa:           Yeah, that would definitely I think be a solution.

Michelle:       We're not even going to talk about school discipline, sorry Mike. We're just going to go question number 2.

Ellen:              Monday was Columbus Day, a celebration of a controversial often misunderstood figure. Should schools give students a more accurate picture of who Christopher Columbus really was?

Michelle:       I know, Alyssa and I disagree on this one so that's a good thing. I am for Christopher Columbus Day it might just be because I am part Italian. What can I say? But I'm for it. Alyssa?

Alyssa:           I think that there's a better use of students’ time than … I think on American history, we have a tendency to kind of lionize a lot of historical figures who have kind of unsavory pasts. Christopher Columbus, obviously chief among them. I don't think a great use of students’ time is to be out of school. I think they should be in school learning about these figures, learning about different aspects of American history and really debating and discussing these things.

There's definitely a lot of weak history curriculum out there and I think now is the time to push that and have a chance for students to learn about these figures instead of just playing or doing God knows what that day.

Michelle:       First, don't take away any of my federal holidays even though Fordham does work on Columbus Day.

Alyssa:           I was going to say we were the office bright and early yesterday.

Michelle:       So I'm all for that. Would I want to create a Columbus Day if it didn't exist? Probably not but I have 2 strong feelings on this. One, we can't judge yesterday’s historical figures based on today's morals. Now, obviously Christopher Columbus did some horrendous things, but by those standards, it wasn't that bad. I'm not saying what he did is okay, I'm just saying, when we teach this stuff in school and when we do have a good history curriculum which we should, we should say here's what Christopher Columbus did and yet all these drawbacks and horrible things that he did.

I think that it's just turned into a political fight as opposed to a constructive conversation of how we should actually deal with historical figures that don't live up to today standards and morals. Obviously, you already mentioned Thomas Jefferson owned slaves but pretty much everyone historically did not respect women as equal people, which we do today hopefully. That is a more important conversation than one day off at school and should it be Christopher Columbus Day or another day, I think that conversation’s a little [mute 00:06:17].

Alyssa:           Yeah. All right, Ellen question number three.

Ellen:              With Fordham's new Metro DC school spending explorer, Mike Petrelli and Matt Richmond note that Arlington and Fairfax counties are spending much more on their high poverty schools than Montgomery County which prides itself on its strong commitment to social justice and Prince George's County with high levels of students in poverty. What's going on here?

Michelle:       Before I get on my high horse that Virginia is totally more awesome than Maryland.

Alyssa:           I knew you were going to be saying that.

Michelle:       I know, I know. I'm a lifelong Virginian. Let me explain what this awesome project this. Basically, we had the3 question of how much do DC area schools spend per people at the school level. Obviously, we know that there's going to be spending differences between districts. What's interesting in that portion was that PG County in Maryland spends so much less than the other districts that we studied. But also perhaps more interesting is that within districts, the funding levels are different even if you look at schools that should be on par with one another.

You're can have 2 public elementary schools in the same district that receive vastly different funding levels or spending levels, excuse me, Dara would [chide 00:07:27] me for seeing funding instead of spending. That's what the project is. It's really awesome. I encourage folks to look at our interactive map, but to the question at hand, Mike and Matt took a look at how districts spend for their highest needs students, the highest poverty schools. What they found is that for extra spending for low income students, Arlington hit it up out of the park with 81% followed by Fairfax County with 34 while Montgomery County which prides itself as Ellen noted on being social mobility friendly, not so much in MPG County was with 2%. A few caveats there, school don’t necessarily have a lot of control on the spending. Most of it is teacher salaries. Arlington only actually had 2 high poverty schools while PG County had 50 high poverty schools. That's a lot of nuance here but it's certainly really interesting.

Alyssa:           Yeah. I feel like that kind of undercuts your Virginia is for everyone and Virginia is the best argument but as a DC person, I was particularly interested in the spending differences between DC charter schools and DC public schools and noted that DC charter schools spent a bit more per pupil and this is obviously taking out the discrepancies in building and construction funding which is a huge issue inside DC but DC charter schools are spending more per high poverty pupil than the DC public schools are even though DC charter schools have incredibly high student poverty in most of them.

In terms of Prince George's, I was not super surprised having been around DC for a while. I think there, it's just such a tax-based issue and it's so hard to build up the tax base whereas Arlington and Fairfax have kind of a more affluent population that they're working with in general. I think that PG County stories of concern to the local area because as more and more poor families are being kicked out of DC because of gentrification, they're going from perhaps … They're going from one school in DC that's pretty well-funded to a school that isn't as well-funded. That's of concern.

Of course, there's no direct correlation between funding and student performance so there's a lot of nuance here but I think it's important to look at this and one of the things that I find most interesting about the project in total is that state average, that district average that is touted doesn’t tell the story and this map I think will be an eye-opener for certainly the parent advocacy contingent in the area.

Michelle:       I'm sure Mike's going to just love that. But yeah no I think the map is super cool. I spend, when I was looking at the beta version, almost an hour I'd say just clicking in, clicking out seeing all of the different categories. It's a very cool project to check out.

Alyssa:           Being a local, I got to look at what my district in public high school would have been back when I was a young teenager. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Thank you Ellen. Up next is everyone’s favorite, Amber's Research Minute.

                        Welcome to the show Dara.

Dara:              Thank you.

Alyssa:           Bravo on your DC Spending Explorer Map out today.

Dara:              We'll call that a labor of love.

Female:         We’ll call it a labor of something.

Dara:              Labor of something. We are super excited that we're able to share this with everyone. It's been literally months and months and months of work doing the analyses, getting the website out the door so we're super excited.

Female:         What is your favorite take away from this project? On the data, not on the process.

Dara:              Besides the fact that the way that schools account for the way that … The way that districts account for dollars spent is absolutely insane. I don't know if anyone has tried to actually read a school district expenditure report.

Female:         No.

Dara:              It's a bit nuts. That's why we did this project so you don't have to.

Michelle:       That's why we have researchers do this sort of thing.

Dara:              The biggest take-away I think is that there is predictable variation between districts. We know that districts spend the money that comes in so Montgomery County, lots of local funds, spends more per pupil than Prince George's County even though they're in the same state. They're receiving the same state revenue. That was predictable. What is really interesting is the variation between schools in the same district and that really is the result of district leaders making choices about what dollar goes to what school and so you can poke around on the website, click on each schools, see all their demographics and special education students and free and reduced lunch students and see how each schools spends its dollars.

Michelle:       Great. We won't have you research minute our own projects so what do you have for us today?

Dara:              Something completely different from that. Today, it's a study from this month's Association for Education Finance and Policy Journal from a team of researchers led by Gary Henry at Vanderbilt University. It asks a question that has already received a lot of attention in the past which is how does teacher preparation affect student achievement but this study is way more robust than any of the other research out there that examines similar questions.

One of the reasons is because of the way that it divided up teachers. Instead of lumping teachers into two groups, traditional versus alternative certification, instead it made many more nuanced comparisons which I’ll talk about in a second. The data consisted of over 22,000 North Carolina teachers in their first, second or third year of teaching and 1.18 million students.

To get the data, the authors use administrative data to get teacher characteristics, how long a teacher was teaching, how a teacher was prepared, characteristics of the school where they taught. They combined this with 5 years of student test score data. This is an incredible data set. The analysis used a value added model with school fixed effects. To answer the question how does teacher preparation affects student value added on state tests for eight combinations of grade levels and subjects. We've got Elementary Math, Elementary Reading, Middle School Math, Middle School Reading and High School Math, Science, English and Social Studies.

That was a big buildup. Here are the results. First, comparing teachers who were traditionally prepared to those who received alternative certification but not TFA. This is why this study is unique. First of all, it separated out alternative certification as in the day you step foot in the classroom, you don't have your full license. It separated those out from TFA. Traditionally prepared with non-TFA alternative certification, alternative entry teachers are significantly less effective than traditionally prepared teachers in Middle School Math and High School Math and Science but no different in any of the other subjects.

                        Second, traditionally prepared teachers compared to TFA teachers. TFA teachers are more effective in six of the eight categories, Elementary Math, Elementary Reading, Middle School Math, High School Math, Science and English. Third, comparing teachers prepared out of state versus those prepared in-state. Out-of-state teachers are less effective in Elementary Math and Reading and in High School Math.

Fourth, teachers who began teaching with a graduate degree or less effective in Middle School Math and Reading and more effective in High School Science than teachers who did not have a grad degree. Fifth and finally, no difference in any grade level or subject between in-state teachers who receive their certification at a private school versus a public school. One additional finding if that wasn't enough, the study confirmed previous research that showed that there is significant variation within different preparation categories. TFA teachers as a group first, second and third year TFA teachers more effective in 6 out of those 8 categories but within TFA teachers, there is significant variation.

Female:         That's fascinating. I'm excited about this. This is a cool study.

Dara:              I think so. Like I said, this is a question that has been asked a lot but because the researchers had such a enormous data set, they were able to make these much more nuanced categories for example not lumping together all alternatively certified teachers into one category.

Alyssa:           A few things based on what you said. Out-of-state prepared teachers performed worse … Or students performed worse than in-state? Does that go away with dare I say it, common core?

Michelle:       That was my question as well actually.

Dara:              I can only speculate because the student data, the five years of student data stopped with the 2009, 2010 school year. It's possible that if you have more … Teachers who are more familiar with the state standards and if the standards are common, that should theoretically be the case, then it is very possible that that variation could go away.

Michelle:       We'll see. Here's another question that I picked up. Exciting news on TFA or first up exciting news on TFA even though there are some variation when you look within TFA. It sounds like only in TFA were we seeing improvement in Reading and English which traditionally is so hard to get those scores up. What do we think could be the cause of that? I know again speculation.

Dara:              Right. I mean one of the things that's important to note is North Carolina is one of the original TFA focus areas. They have spent a very long time developing the infrastructure to train their teachers there. It's the same theoretical structure that the five or six week boot camp summer institute as you have with TFA everywhere else but because it is so well established in North Carolina, it's very possible that it's not just the way that TFA is recruiting its teacher but also because it's very well established, they know what they're doing.

One thing that the study didn't do is it didn't look beyond the third year of teaching. They would've had to go too far back in the data but the idea is that it's likely that preparation affects sort of fuss over once you get past the first couple of years, so take that as you will.

Michelle:       Alyssa, as a former TFAer, thoughts?

Alyssa:           I was very happy to hear that. I think I was doing a little bit of a happy dance right there. What was most interesting to me was that alternative certification teachers who were not TFA did not do so hot with Middle School Math and High School Math and Science which we know that those are traditionally hard subjects and those are areas where it's compelling to say this person is maybe a career changer or this person has a background in [STEM 00:18:55] subject. Let’s put them in front of the classroom. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that Dara.

Dara:              It's a constant tension between lowering the barriers to entry into the teaching profession because you have this hard staff grade levels and subjects so you lower the barriers to entry, how do you maintain quality control. This article, this study seems to speak to the fact that lowering barriers to entry via alternative certification and via allowing out-of-state teachers reciprocity with their credential is not a good thing because those teachers don't do as well.

However, it doesn't mean that you have to keep those barriers high, it just means that you need to have quality control either with entry or evaluation systems that allow for the removal of an ineffective teacher as soon as they prove themselves ineffective especially if the barriers to entry are low.

Michelle:       All right fascinating stuff. Thanks so much Dara.

Dara:              My pleasure.

Michelle:       That's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show. Till next week.

Alyssa:           I'm Alyssa Schwenk.

Michelle:       I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

The post season edition - October 8, 2014

Philly’s budget woes, NCLB waiver revocations, NYC school grades, and postsecondary education for the disadvantaged.

Amber's Research Minute

"Is It Worth It? Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes for the Disadvantaged," by Benjamin Backes, Harry J. Holzer, and Erin Dunlop Velez, CALDER (September 2014)

Transcript

Mike:              Hello, this is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Here at The Education Gadfly show, and online at edexcellence.net. Now please join me welcoming my co-host. The Kansas City Royals of education policy, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:           That could be bad news for us. Do you know why?

Mike:              Why is that?

Robert:           That means this could be a really long podcast.

Mike:              A really long day. I always love going into extra innings, all the time. But they win.

Robert:           They do. We'll try to get this done in nine.

Mike:              They are spunky, I like it. Interesting, the American League, both sweeps. As we do this podcast right now, the National League series each 2-1. That may be different by the time folks listen. What does this mean? It just means in my view that the National League is better.

Robert:           More competitive balance, perhaps?

Mike:              Maybe, that's it.

Robert:           It's hard to root against those Royals.

Mike:              Oh, but I will because I'm rooting for my Cardinals. So Go Cards. It's an exciting time.

                        You know? It's hard Robert, that every year, this time of year, us Cardinals fans have the Cardinals in the playoffs. I mean it's ...

Robert:           Oh yes.

Mike:              I feel bad for the other cities in the country sometimes.

Robert:           It stinks to be you.

Mike:              It's tough.

Robert:           I'm a Mets fan. I feel your pain.

Mike:              What is it that there's the whole meme on the internet about how people hate the St. Louis Cardinals now. What is that?

Robert:          

Robert:           Do you know why? Because the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs. If it weren't for the Yankees, the Cardinals would be the Yankees. They're the second most successful franchise in baseball.

Mike:              Oh my God, but we're not the Yankees. They don’t have the money of the Yankees. They certainly aren't in New York.

Robert:           Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft.

Mike:              Exactly. Okay. Let's get started with, "Pardon the Gadfly." Intern Ellen, take it away.

Ellen:              As a way to combat years of budget woes, Philadelphia freed up money this week by cancelling its teacher's contract. Is it fair to blame the state or the teachers for the district's near bankruptcy?

Mike:              This is the school reform commission. This is the commission appointed by what the state, and I believe, the Mayor had a role in this.

Robert:           Back in '98, or some such?

Mike:              It's been around a long time. They basically have said, "Look, we are tired of being on the brink of bankruptcy as we are every year recently. We are going to cancel this teacher contract because it's costing us too much money"

Mike:              "We're going to make teachers do things like pay some of the co-pays and premiums for their health insurance."

Robert:           Right. That's one way to rein in runaway health costs, I guess. I'm not sure this gets them away from the brink of bankruptcy. At least not for very long. It saved, what? 44 or 54 million dollars, I think?

Mike:              Here's the question Robert. The unions want to say that the state has been under funding Philadelphia schools, causing this crisis. You look at the numbers, I think the last numbers I saw was something like $12,000 per pupil. This is not exactly bottom basement spending here. Maybe not as high as some cities, but certainly not the lowest. What's your take on the situation in Philadelphia? Who's right here? Who's fault is it that every year they have a funding crisis?

Robert:           Wow, I'm not really sure. Because this feels to me like legal terra incognito. I'm not aware. Are you? Has this ever been done before? Just unilaterally cancelling a contract?

Mike:              The contract? I was asking a different question. Now they have, I believe they have the authority in the reform law to go ahead and cancel that contract.

Robert:           I'm not sure they do.

Mike:              Well, we'll find out. The bigger question is this, whose fault is it? When you look at the contract, and you look at the situation. Philly, you say, "Okay, they're spending a fair amount of money. Where is the money going?" Well guess what? They have a huge pension problem right?

Robert:           Yep.

Mike:              A huge hole in their pension system, so a huge amount of that money is going to shore up the pensions. Then you also look at the teacher pay, and the teacher benefits. You say for example, "Philadelphia teachers aren't paying much for their health care costs."  It seems reasonable today that "You know what? Like everybody else, you should have to pay some of these premiums."

Robert:           Yes, but they've been negotiating this for quite a while, right? They could not get the teachers to agree to this.

Mike:              Right.

Robert:           This feels to me like a little bit of an exercise in frustration. Maybe bad politics? I'm not sure. You’re point's well taken.

Mike:              You're such a softy. Robert, what are you? Come on! You're going to take the teacher's side on this one? Come on!

Robert:           It's complicated. We're going to say that a lot today, Mike It's complicated.

Mike:              Look, I understand. We want to pay our teachers well. They should have predictable salaries and benefits. We should also not be giving public employees a deal that nobody else gets. Which is basically saying., "We're going to have free health care. We're going to have incentives for you to limit your health care spending." This is a huge issue.

Robert:           I agree, but there's two sets of signatures on that contract.

Mike:              Exactly, and so this one side of this contract is saying, "You know what? We're getting a bad deal. Forget about it. My bad."

Robert:           "We changed our mind."

Mike:              "We changed our mind." Okay, topic number two.

Ellen:              Washington State has lost its NCLB waiver because its legislator refuses to tie teacher evaluations to student scores. Mike, You disagree with waiver revocations, and some are saying that you want to give states a free pass. Is that true?

Mike:              It is not true!

Robert:           Explain yourself Mr. Pachelli, I thought you quoted in the New York Times on this.

Mike:              I did. Look, I think Artie Duncan is way out on a limb here. I would love for Washington State to sue over this. I think they've got quite a case because where in the No Child Left Behind Act, does it say that if you want flexibility from the accountability provisions, you have to adopt a teacher evaluation system?

                        The words teacher evaluation are not in the No Child Left Behind Act. Because back in 2001, nobody was thinking about this. Right?

Robert:           Sure.

Mike:              So Arnie Duncan dreams up this new mandate, attaches it to the waivers. I don’t think there's any legal basis for that whatsoever. I also think it's terrible policy. To have states going thought this process of developing these teacher evaluations because they want to get this federal waiver. Not because they think it's a good idea. It's very predictable, what happens? Many states are doing it poorly.

                        That is causing a backlash to the idea of teacher evaluations. Which the idea is an okay idea. It's also causing a backlash to things like Common Core.

Robert:           Sure.

Mike:              I don’t see what Arnie Duncan is doing here. I think he's totally on the wrong side of this. I don’t want to give states a pass, Robert, or Ellen. They should still have to follow the law in terms of accountability. Arnie Duncan can say how much flexibility they're allowed to have around the accountability provisions of the law. That's fine. He is not allowed to dream up new mandates.

Robert:           Yes, I agree. On the other hand, I shouldn't say on the other hand. This is a little bit bizarre to me that Duncan is saying on the one hand that Washington broke its promise, and has to pay a price. Just a few weeks ago he was saying that the testing is sucking the life out of the room of schools.

Mike:              Yes.

Robert:           So there's very much of a mixed message coming from the administration on this.

Mike:              Robert, it's Orwellian.

Robert:           It kind of is.

Mike:              Here's people  who say, "We are out there saying the old No Child Left Behind system is broken. It's identifying now way too many schools in Washington State as failing." They don’t like the tutoring provisions. They're saying, "But we're going to make you do all of that stuff that we know isn’t working. Is arguably bad for kids. Because a bunch of state politicians wouldn’t do what we wanted them to do. “Talk about "Friendly fire." Explain that to teachers. Explain that to kids.

Robert:           Yes. It feels to me like Duncan is saying, "Look, I don't make the laws. I just enforce the laws." But wait a minute. You do make the laws in this instance.

Mike:              You do make the laws.

Robert:           It's kind of bizarre. What a mess. On the other hand, I feel like we're going to have this ...

Mike:              How many hands do you have?

Robert:           I have a lot of hands today. At least three. Then I'm going to borrow one of Ellen's.

                        I feel like we really need to settle once and for all the role of testing in Ed policy. Because we're just going to have these battles over and over again.

                        This is just another example of this complicated relationship that we have with testing. Does it do what we want? Do we need accountability? Is this the kind of accountability, once you start looking at testing that works for some things, not for others? It just gets so muddy.

                        I just wish once and for all as a field, we could settle out our relationship with testing.

Mike:              I like that pun, "Muddy."

Robert:           We were just talking about Washington State.

Mike:              Oh very good.

Robert:           That's a good one.

Mike:              Okay, topic number three, Ellen. Ellen, who now only has one hand. Very strange.

Robert:           Don’t try to clap with that one.

Mike:              All right.

Ellen:              New York City Schools will no longer receive letter grades after the city moved to a gentler system that's more description, than assessment. Does it matter?

Mike:              So Robert, this is the kinder gentler approach of Carmen Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio?  Is this okay? Do we care?

Robert:           We do care. But first, let's all join hands and sing a little bit of "Kumbaya", here, shall we? This is another one of those issues ...

Mike:              Why are we singing "Kumbaya?"

Robert:           Well, because we're replacing the hard and fast A through F grades, with a more,   call it what you will, "fuzzy", take on accountability and grading schools.

                        I have a complicated relationship with this, too. On the one hand, I want to spur greater parental involvement in schools, and the A through F grades are very helpful in that regard. It's clear, simple, easy to understand. On the other hand, I did it again. On the other hand, it's reductive, right?

Mike:              You really need to be that Indian God. What's his name?

Robert:           With all the arms. That's exactly right.

Mike:              Or an octopus.

Robert:           New York City, where I live and have taught, has a particularly buisenteen

                        way of evaluating schools. The thing that I've never quite liked, which you could argue is condescending even. Is they evaluate schools compared to their peer group. That makes perfect sense, on the one hand.

                        On the other hand, you could have an A school, that you're basically saying that it's an A school for poor kids.

Mike:              Right.

Robert:           As opposed to an A school on the Upper East Side, or Tribeca.

Mike:              Here's the fundamental confusion, I think. What is the purpose of these school grades?

Robert:           Right.

Mike:              If you're trying to provide feedback to a school so that it can improve itself, then a very comprehensive and somewhat complicated scoring system makes sense.

Robert:           Sure.

Mike:              You want to give them a lot of information back that the teacher's and maybe a parents council can sit around and say, "Okay, what can we do better next year" Very different than something that the typical parent can use.

Robert:           Right.

Mike:              Especially in this situation where they're choosing a school. Neroff Kings  made this point this week about in New Orleans, it's very important to have letter grades because it really is a Choice System. When you put the letter grades out there as a part of the application form, the enrollment form ...

Robert:           It changes behavior.

Mike:              It changes behavior, and parents will gravitate towards the better schools. And that makes sense. Part of this is about, "Look does Carmen Farina believe in a Choice System, or not?" If your assumption is that most kids are going to go to their neighborhood school and the goal then is to give feedback to those schools, so that they can have self-improvement, fine.

                        If you actually want transparency so parents can make choices, you've got to make a system that is transparent. That means having, I think, the letter grade is the most easily understood way, or something that parents can get their head around that basically says, "This school is quite good, and this school sucks."

Robert:           Right. Two things. One, it does end up when you’re looking at schools in affluent neighborhoods, you’re differentiating between good, better, and best. In low income neighborhoods, you're differentiating between bad, worse, and, "Oh my God."

Mike:              No, no. Hold on Robert. Not if you're looking at growth. If you’re looking at proficiency rates, yes.

Robert:           Here we go again.

Mike:              If you're looking at growth, there are some of those poorer schools that are doing great, and can use pro-growth.

Robert:           You know what I always say, "Growth matters most, until it doesn't."

Mike:              Ugh.

Robert:           Until they get out into the real world and they're not interested in how much you've grown. They're interested in how much you know.

Mike:              Well, but if we're judging schools, not individual kids, then growth is what matters. Especially at the elementary level.

Robert:           Fair enough. Let me make one other point, which I don’t think is getting enough play in this A through F thing in New York City. Carmen Farina, in her speech, rolling out the new system talked about what she wanted the system to encourage. She said, "A supportive environment that recognizes that social and emotional growth is as important as academic growth."

                        Like, woe, wait a minute. It's important. Is it as important? That's the problem with this report card. It can start to impose, does this sound familiar? Her values, Bill de Blasio's values on what you look for in schools, and grade them accordingly.

                        If she's looking for, and these are the things she says they're looking for, "Rigorous instruction." Is my definition the same as yours Chancellor? She’s looking for "Collaborative teachers and a culture of trust." Whatever that means.

                        I'm not sure that's what I necessarily what I want. I'm not saying those things are not important. But is that the thing that you're going to keep score by? Color me skeptical.

Mike:              I will color you skeptical. Is that an official crayon color? Can I find it in a box?

Robert:           It's the 65th color.

Mike:              Ah, excellent. Okay, that's all the time we've got for "Pardon the Gadfly". Now it's time for everyone's favorite. "Amber's Research Minute."  Welcome back to the show, Amber.

Amber:           Thank you. Mike.

Mike:              Have you been watching the baseball?

Amber:           Of course. I was at the game Saturday night. I left in the 15th inning.

Mike:              Oh, you're kidding me? You were there?

Amber:           I'm like, "I can’t deal with it anymore." 15th inning, and then we lost. It was nuts.

Mike:              I know. Were you freezing, too?

Amber:           Freezing.

Mike:              Yeah?

Amber:           Freezing, but man it was a great game. But I cannot believe we did not hang on to it. We had that one stinking run for inning after inning, after inning, after inning.

Mike:              Yes.

Amber:           Then, boom, we lost it. It was aggravating. But , we came back, woo-hoo. Good game. 

Mike:              Yes. So Amber, a National's fan. I love it.

Amber:           I am a National's fan.

Mike:              Woo. Okay. Well, what have you got for us this week?

Amber:           I have a new NBER paper called, "Is it worth it? Post-secondary education and labor market outcomes for the disadvantaged." You're going to like this one, Mike.

Mike:              Oh, I do like it. By the way, speaking of being a National's fan. Amber's also an MBER fan.

Amber:           I am. I always kind of gravitate to these things.

Mike:              You need a mascot of some sort. Don’t you think? Let me talk to Carolyn Hotsbie about that.

Amber:           Anyhoo, A List examined outcomes for disadvantaged kids. Post-secondary outcomes, like enrolling, and completing a degree. The Vocational certificate, and salary data after high school for 5 years after the student leaves his last educational institution. It's one of these rare longitudinal studies that we hardly ever get.

                        Al right. They used administrative data in Florida for two cohorts of students who number over 210,000. They graduated between 200 and 2002, so they were able to observe them for ten to twelve years.

Mike:              Wow.

Amber:           Post-secondary and labor market outcomes. Then a ton of data. Secondary, post-secondary school, earning, courses taken in high school, grades they got on those courses, GPA. The college data includes credit earned, major, degree attainment. I mean it was like a major data study.

Mike:              Yes.

Amber:           The control for demographics and prior achievement in high school, which you've got to do that. Two key results. Number one, gaps in secondary school achievement likely accounts for a large portion of the differences in post-secondary attainment and labor market outcomes between disadvantaged kids and those who aren't. Which is kind of ...

Mike:              It is a preparation gap.

Amber:           Yes, that's right.

Mike:              Basically, it kids who are not well prepared for college.

Amber:           Then it carries through. Right.

Mike:              Right, sure.

Amber:           Number two. Earnings for disadvantaged kids are hampered by low completion rates in post-secondary programs. Poor college performance, and not, this is the most interesting part to me. Not selecting high earning fields. Which we've seen this before.

                        Here's the part you're going to like. I'm sorry I'm plucking you! They found that Vocational certificates and Associates Degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing and security, are relatively high paying fields for disadvantaged students. As well as though who score in the bottom half of all high school achievers. Particularly young African American men, who see the greatest compensation in these fields.

Mike:              Interesting.

Amber:           Financial returns in the humanities are relatively low compared to virtually all other fields.

Mike:              Shocking.

Amber:           We've heard this before.

Mike:              Yes.

Amber:           Specifically, those earning Vocational certificates in some of these areas, earn 30% more than high school grads. Those with Associates Degrees, roughly 35-40% more.

                        Finally, analysts recommend that public institutions do a better job partnering with industry. We've heard that awhile. And generating better career pathways, talked about that for a while. And that more high quality apprenticeships be made available for disadvantaged kids.

Mike:              I love it, love it, love it!

Amber:           I thought you would.

Robert:           Yes. How about counseling high school students to look at some of these fields?

Amber:           Yes. That's a [crosstalk 00:16:00].

Mike:              Oh, but Robert? That starts to sounds an awful lot like tracking.

Robert:           Ugh, of course it does.

Mike:              Are you going to start saying we're going to send the poor minority kids into those security fields, and the rich kids get to study the humanities?

Robert:           I don’t know. I'm remembering my father wanting me to take a television repair course, which he talked to me about on my way to college.

Amber:           Wow. Isn’t that something.

Mike:              Yeah.

Robert:           He wanted me to have a skill to fall back on.

Mike:              This is the heart of the issue. Now here you are Robert, well known supportive of Core Knowledge, which is heavy on humanities.

Robert:           Sure.

Mike:              So how do you square this? Are you a believer that all kids should go get that broad, rich, deep, large education K-12?

Robert:           Well sure, because it's not vocational. I mean that really pays benefits with language proficiency. That's one of the great misconceptions about a so-called Liberal Arts education. It doesn’t prepare you to major in Art History. It prepares you to have a big vocabulary, and to work well in whatever field you work in.

Mike:              All right. Would you say then that they need that in K-12, or let's say how about K-8? Then they can start doing something that's explicitly technical, vocational, in high school.

Robert:           Yes, you really want to have the tracking argument, don’t you?

Mike:              Yes I do!

Amber:           You say you're going to do both. Mike, you’re going to say one thing…

Mike:              Exactly. All right, you're going to do both. You've got to start, let's face it, at some point in high school, I think probably 9th or 10th grade.

Robert:           Sure.

Mike:              If you start getting kids on a more technical track, that is okay.

Robert:           I do think it's okay, as long as you're building a good solid common foundation. In K-5, or K-8.

Mike:              There it is.

Amber:           Right.

Amber:           By that age, kids are growing up faster than they used to. By 10th grade, you know doggone well whether you want to go to college or not. You've got some idea of what you’re interested in.

Mike:              Yeah.

Amber:           I don’t think it's completely unfair to start having those conversations with kids.

Robert:           Kids are going to have those thoughts regardless.

Amber:           Yes.

Mike:              Were they able to look at any of the common poverty traps? Like, "The reason that the kids were not completing, is because they have early pregnancy, or incarceration, or substance abuse?"

Amber:           No, they did not. But you know we're going to be looking at that question.

Mike:              I love it. I love it. By the way, these kinds of data that we can link all together is what makes a lot of people very nervous.

Amber:           Very nervous.

Mike:              They didn’t ask the kids, "Do you own or have a gun in the home?" Did they?

Amber:           No, they did not.

Mike:              They did not! Listen to that people. We don’t ask those questions to people. Okay? But it is very helpful to be able to do these studies where we find out ...

Robert:           You’re a brave man Mr. Pachelli.

Mike:              What happens from education to labor market. This is super important.

Robert:           It sure is.

Mike:              I'd also be curious to know about family formation stuff.

Amber:           Yes.

Mike:              Were these kids who ended up getting good jobs, were they then more likely to get married, etc.

Amber:           Yes.

Mike:              This is the kind of stuff that is very powerful.

Amber:           Many more questions to be asking, but yeah, we've got to keep doing these studies.

Robert:           This was a good study.

Mike:              You know what Amber? It was great.

Amber:           NBER.

Mike:              I love NBER almost as much as the Cardinals.

Amber:           I could have done this, or yet another Common Core survey. I mean, come on.

Mike:              Thanks you. All right guys. That’s all the time we've got for this week. Until next week ...

Robert:           I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:  And I'm Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. 

John A. Dues

 

John A. Dues is the Chief Learning Officer for United Schools Network in Columbus.
 

"There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children."

                                                                                                                       -Nelson Mandela

As a society, we are in need of some serious soul searching. There is an urgent need to support and create as many outstanding schools as possible as a part of a larger plan for improving life outcomes in Columbus’s most challenged neighborhoods. In Central Ohio, outcomes for kids that grow up just a few miles from each other can vary immensely. Drive east on Main Street from Miller Avenue in the Near East Side to Capital University in Bexley and in the span of two miles you will get a snapshot of the different worlds that exist within our city. Take that same drive on Central Avenue from Dana Avenue in Franklinton to Grandview and you will have a similar experience. 

Challenges facing our students

Over the last year, there have been a series of articles in the Columbus Dispatch that provide a lens into some of these troubled neighborhoods and the crises they face. Taken together, it starts to create a picture of the environment in which many children from neighborhoods like the Near East Side and Franklinton—neighborhoods where United Schools Network’s three schools are located—are living. These students come to school with needs that are far...

Categories: 

The Sopranos edition

Common Core reading wars, union endorsements of convicted felons, schools that encourage patriotism, and the health of the charter movement.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

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