Governance

Checker Finn, chagrined at the lack of attention to gifted education in the U.S., has decided to study what other nations do. His initial assessment is that we’re not the only one giving high-ability kids minimal thought. Such a strange, unfortunate phenomenon.

With the failure of SIG, we need a Plan B ASAP for kids in failing schools. I’ve long argued for a massive new schools strategy. (More on this to come in an upcoming blog post.) If you’re likeminded or intrigued by the idea of the starting-fresh approach, check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ ESEA-reauthorization recommendations. This is a blueprint for Plan B.

I think single-purpose chartering bodies are the future. In fact, I think all public schools (and all private schools participating in voucher or tax-credit programs) should have performance contracts with them (more on this in an upcoming AEI paper). NACSA has a terrific short policy brief on such independent chartering boards. Check it out.

If you follow the increasing use of Value-Added Measures (VAMs) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) in state-, district-, school-, and teacher-accountability systems, read this very good new Mathematica working paper. There’s high correlation between the two, but there are important differences in how teacher ratings shake out based on differences in student populations. Important and fascinating implications.

Ten years ago, TNTP released its first report, Missed Opportunities, which I vividly remember reading in disbelief—urban districts were...

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For a decade, the nonprofit Institute for Innovation in Public Choice (IIPSC) has helped the cities of New York, Boston, Denver, and New Orleans bring order to the Wild West of school choice, using the one-two punch of economic theory and custom software. To match students with seats in public schools—either district or charter—the IIPSC builds algorithms that employ three kinds of data: the schools that families want their kids to attend, the number of available seats in every grade at each school, and each schools’ admissions rules. Newly flush with a $1.2 million grant from the Dell Foundation, the IIPSC plans to expand into Philadelphia, Washington, and possibly Detroit. Hat tip!

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed priorities for a new competitive grant program for charter school support organizations, to come from the annual “national activities fund.” These priorities highlight what the Department deems to be the “key policy issues facing charter schools on a national scale,” and they include gaining efficiency through economies of scale, improving accountability, providing quality education to students with disabilities an English language learners, and supporting personalized technology-enabled learning. While these are important policies at the surface level, it is unclear what the long-term implications and unintended consequences may be of focusing grant making solely on the bigger charter entities and whether smaller, unaffiliated charter schools will realize any benefits.

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a big speech on inequality, in which he brought up...

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The Grand European Engagement

Michelle, freshly returned from a trip to Madrid and Prague (with an extra piece of jewelry on her hand), chats with Mike about special education, career and technical education, and pension reform. Amber reviews an obscure cross-sectional Dutch analysis on the multicollinearity inherent in the study of the learning habits of three- to five-year-old children of blacksmiths—just kidding! It’s PISA week, baby.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Mathematics, Science, and Reading Literacy in an International Context: First Look at PISA 2012 by Dana Kelly et al., (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, December 2013).

In its release of SIG data, the U.S. Department of Education only provided comparisons between SIG schools and statewide averages. As I mentioned in Friday’s post, that’s not exactly a revealing comparison since SIG schools are, by definition, extremely low-performing and have much more room for improvement than the average school in the state.

Since Secretary Duncan visited New Jersey for the data release, we decided to do a quick New Jersey analysis of our own—something we thought might be edifying. We compared the performance of SIG schools to the performance of schools that applied for SIG (and were eligible) but didn’t receive awards. In other words, we compared schools that were similarly low performing at the start, while one set received the intervention and the other did not. We looked at math scores and focused on schools with an eighth grade (high schools take a much different test in New Jersey).

As you can see, at least based on a quick analysis of one state’s data, it’s hard to make the case that this massive program had a transformative influence on the state’s most troubled schools. There’s just not all that much difference in the changes between schools that were SIG-eligible but lost and schools that were SIG-eligible and won. And we certainly don’t see any major turnarounds.

The Department’s research arm is going to do a more sophisticated analysis along...

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This study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues examines whether the restrictiveness of a district’s bargaining contract is influenced by “spillover” from contracts in a nearby community. In other words, do district contracts resemble one another simply because districts are close to one another? The theory is that district agreements might come to mimic each other, since nearby districts compete for teachers and there may be an impulse to codify working conditions. Analysts examined CBAs in 270 public school districts in Washington State and coded 633 provisions. First, they found that districts within fifty miles of one another have similar levels of restrictiveness. More importantly, they also found that bargaining structures influence consistency of bargaining provisions. Specifically, both management and labor have structures in place that provide, among other services, bargaining support for multiple districts and multiple local affiliates. Districts have what are called Educational Service Districts (or ESD’s), and the union has Uniservs. Analysts found that districts within the same ESD or same Uniserv have similar levels of restrictiveness—as do districts that share both an ESD and Uniserv. Further, they are the primary influencer in determining bargaining outcomes—i.e., they are the driver for what we previously thought was the impact of geographic distance. Why is this important? Knowing the channels by which CBA’s influence one another is one way in which bargaining reforms—or setbacks—can be spread more quickly. Since these district and union structures appear to serve as conduits for replication of provisions, perhaps they should also be the objects of reformers’...

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The sharp-shooters edition

Michelle and Dara discuss class sizes, the new Youth CareerConnect program, and why the DOJ is backing away from its attack on Louisana’s school-voucher program. Amber gets wonky with cross-district effects on teacher-bargaining contracts.

Amber's Research Minute

My End of the Bargain: Are There Cross-District Effects in Teacher Contract Provisions?, by Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery, and Roddy Theobald, CEDR Working Paper 2012-2.2 (Seattle, WA: Center for Education Data and Research, 2012).

The Obama administration, certain that it knows the “right thing to do,” boldly overturns decades of policy and institutes its own vision of a brave new world. Gradually, it becomes clear that toying around with longstanding policies and practices produces all kinds of unintended consequences, creating policy potholes, causing implementation snags, and stirring up lots of political hornets nests. The administration is then forced to bob and weave with explanations for what’s gone wrong, while attempting an oscillating variety of micro policy fixes to patch up a growing number of cracks.

Obamacare or the Common Core–ESEA waivers gambit?

If you’ve been following the news, you know that Obamacare may go down, even according to the New York Times, as this administration’s "Katrina response"—a government debacle of epic proportions.

But we have an increasing number of examples that the Department of Education’s hubris on standards, testing, and accountability—really the core of the last 20 years of state and federal education policy—has also caused quite a mess that might get worse before it gets better.

Not surprisingly, it’s starting to appear that the Department is making things up as it goes along (Politics K-12 calls it “flying by the seat of its pants”), making decisions, realizing their folly, and then changing course.

If you like your new federal education policies, you can keep them. . .until you can’t.

Take, for example, the letter the...

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Traversing the Teacher-Evaluation Terrain

Traversing the Teacher-Evaluation Terrain

How are teacher-evaluation policies shaping up across the fifty states and Washington, D.C.? Are these policies building strong structures that will lead to academic success? Or are statewide evaluations the latest Rube Goldberg invention, with too much complexity and too little of the local flexibility that would allow for continuous improvement in teaching? Which states are leading the way and which are just checking off the policy box for an NCLB waiver?
 
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council on Teacher Quality, and School Improvement Network for a double feature on the latest teacher-evaluation research and a lively discussion about the best way forward on teacher-evaluation reform.

Louisiana State Superintendent John White continues to impress. Check out this really interesting attempt to create new options for the state’s kids—it’s called the Call to Action. Educators and a range of organizations get the chance to submit proposals in a number of areas—charters, nonpublic, leadership development, early childhood, and more. It’s totally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of this.

I’ve worked for five different government bodies now. Those experiences, I think, have grounded me, helping me understand how to actually get things done instead of just talking about pie-in-the-sky ideas. So I was a bit surprised to be cast as an unrealistic ideologue in this post by CRPE’s Robin Lake. But maybe I have bad self awareness—you make the call! Either way, Robin and Paul Hill continue to deserve enormous credit for their groundbreaking ideas about public education delivery and their dogged work to implement them.

There’s a new, interesting research paper out called “Student Achievement within a Portfolio Management Model: Early Results from New Orleans.” If you follow NOLA developments and/or the broader discussions about portfolio districts and TUSSotF, you’ll find it worthwhile. You’ll learn more about the general landscape of schools (district vs. RSD; direct-run vs. charter) as well as the differences in performance. I was surprised to see such positive results from the district’s schools—heck, there’s an RSD because Orleans Parish was so dysfunctional. But after checking in with a NOLA expert,...

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One of the most important and interesting questions I get about my book, The Urban School System of the Future, is whether I think its analysis and recommendations apply to non-urban districts. Though my thinking on this is still developing, my current response is as follows: When it comes to suburban districts, yes, much, but not all, is applicable; rural districts, however, are a different story (more on this in the weeks to come).

If you’re interested in the subject of reform in different contexts, you might want to read AEI’s recent report about Douglas County, an affluent district outside of Denver. It tells the story of a school board and district leadership, in an attempt to move their district from good to great, embracing a right-leaning agenda and some of the initiatives traditionally associated with reforming struggling urban districts, including improved teacher-evaluation systems, new educator-salary programs, and expanded parental choice. The choice aspect of the paper is especially interesting—the district has been resourceful in its use of the state charter law.

But the other reason to read the report is that the politics of the Douglas reform effort are intense. Though this Politico article on the topic is tendentious (a few paragraphs in, it’s clear the reforms aren’t going to get a sympathetic treatment), you’ll find a number of very interesting facts, themes, and questions, including the propriety of disclosing who funds such reports (for example, my organization, Bellwether Education Partners, always discloses relevant relationships—you can...

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