Flypaper

Michael Podgursky

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a D.C. think tank aligned with teacher unions, has released yet another in a series of reports purporting to show that public school teachers are “underpaid.”

Many papers, articles, and reports have been written attempting to compare teacher to non-teacher compensation. Making such comparisons presents many challenges. Obviously, working conditions and hours of work differ (e.g., teachers have summers off and a shorter on-site workday), as do job security and the mix of salary and benefits.

However, in today’s economy, there is one very big difference that is not so visible to the naked eye but was cleverly pointed out in a study by Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs several years ago. The pension benefits for public school teachers (and most public employees) are far more generous than for private sector professionals. Moreover, the way that the U.S. Department of Labor measures those teacher pension benefits greatly understates this gap because the Labor Department underprices the teacher benefit.

The vast majority of private sector professionals have individual retirement savings accounts to which employers make a contribution. These are called “defined contribution accounts” and go by tax code names such as 401(k) or 403(b)....

Michael W. Kirst

I am glad that Finn agrees with my views on the limitations of a single number to report school status. Parents are used to student report cards that have several metrics and do not see the need to oversimplify their child’s performance with a single grade or number.

His comments on the new accountability system for California’s state law on school finance are, however, premature and uninformed. The document he refers to is a preliminary policy document not meant to be disseminated to the general public or parents. The document he cites is similar to the concept of an operating system of a new smart phone. The actual user interface (e.g., a phone) comes later. While California will act on the broad policy dimensions in September, the public reporting design will not appear until later. Some metrics will be top down from the state, but others will be locally designed using, for example, surveys vetted by the state.

However, this is a difficult task and will require continuous improvement. The California accountability law contains eight state priorities, twenty-two metrics, and thirteen subgroups. ESSA has many dimensions and subgroups as well, so some patience with the people charged with implementing...

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost calls for “learning-based” funding approach for e-schools

COLUMBUS (OH) – Today, Auditor of State Dave Yost opened a two-day charter summit by issuing a challenge to charter advocates and policy makers: Overhaul e-school funding. Specifically, Yost urged a major shift in the way the state pays e-schools—from funding based on enrollment and attendance to a modernized, competency-based funding model. This approach, already being piloted in a few states, would provide payments to e-schools when their students demonstrate learning rather than simply by awarding funding based on “time in a chair.”

“As Auditor Yost points out, online students can learn anytime, anywhere,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy. “Unfortunately, seat-time funding policies are not well-aligned to online learning. Competency-based funding would place the emphasis where it belongs—on student learning and mastery, rather than on whether a child is logged into a computer.”

Auditor Yost called on the legislature to rework the funding structure with the goal of producing an “educated citizen.” While putting forward several principles to guide the debate, Yost made clear to summit attendees that the experience and expertise of charter leaders would be needed in crafting...

Dave Yost

On August 11, 2016, Ohio’s elected state auditor delivered the following remarks during the opening of the Ohio Charter School Summit. His comments address the state’s well-documented struggles with online education head on and offer practical, learning-focused ideas for improving the sector.

We are here, very simply, because we care about educating our children and understand one very simple truth: not all children are the same. And here is a second truth that is like it: not all schools are the same.

Put another way, not all kids can learn in a given school, and not all schools will be able to teach a given child.

All the other arguments in favor of school choice—innovation, competition, efficiency—all of them are secondary to this one idea, that we owe to our children their best opportunity to learn. It is the first principle. School choice is not a policy option, it is the only logical conclusion—a conclusion that is proven and measured in the lives of these young people we met a few minutes ago, and many more like them.

Your work, your lives, and this conference are all about increasing the number of these shining stars in...

Charter school performance is a mixed bag: some charters outdo their neighborhood district schools, others show no difference, and some do worse. A new Mathematica meta-analysis attempts to identify the characteristics common to each of these groups. What, in other words, makes a high-performing charter schools so effective?

As author Phillip Gleason notes, it is difficult to carry out studies of this nature. Much of the data are based on observation, so determining causation is essentially impossible. Observation also takes time and costs money, which usually necessitates small sample sizes. And many of the “practices” being studied are abstract concepts, such as principal quality, that are difficult to measure quantitatively and objectively.

To mitigate these impediments, Gleason compiled seven studies that used different methods—including observational study, survey administration, and lottery-based designs (comparing students who won a spot via charter lotteries to those who did not)—to study charters schools around the country. The sample sizes in each of these studies range from twenty-nine to seventy-six schools.  

Three charter characteristics were found to be linked to high student achievement in many studies (therefore showing a ‘strong association,” according to Gleason—a term he never defines quantitatively): longer school days and/or school years; a...

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently reviewed one hundred of the nation’s pre-K teacher preparation programs, attempting to answer whether pre-K teacher candidates are being adequately prepared for effectiveness in their future jobs. The answer is, largely, no.

The programs spanned twenty-nine states that certify pre-K teachers, most of them offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They reviewed course requirements and descriptions, course syllabi, student teaching observation and evaluation forms, and other course materials required for degree completion.

The bottom line, reported NCTQ, is that most of the programs spend far too much of their limited time focusing on how to teach older children rather than on the specific training needed to teach three- and four-year-olds. Some specific findings are neatly summarized in the following slides from NCTQ:

NCTQ recommends, among other things, that states narrow their licensure to certify educators to no more than the years between pre-K and third grade, rather than treating pre-K as a part of a broader elementary teaching credential; that they encourage teacher preparation programs to offer either more specialized degrees or early childhood education as...

A new Education Next article examines the impact of New York City school closures on a variety of student outcomes, including graduation rates, attendance, and academic performance.

Analysts studied twenty-nine high school closures announced between 2003 and 2009, analyzing outcomes for over twenty thousand affected ninth graders in several groups: those who were just beginning their ninth-grade year when closure was announced (called the “phase-out” cohort); those who chose to stay after the closure announcement (the “phase-out” process allowed them to stay until their expected year of graduation); those who transferred elsewhere; and those rising ninth graders who were required to attend a different high school because of closure. The  schools in the treatment group slated for closure were, as you would expect, among the lowest-performing in the city. (Another group of high schools that exhibited both similar poor performance and similar low-achieving students served as the comparison group, although it was not clear why they weren’t slated for closure.)

Analysts first predicted the impact of the closure decision on graduation rates for the “phase-out” cohort. They found small but statistically insignificant differences, concluding that the phase-out process did not negatively impact graduation rates or make a clear impact on credits earned,...

June Ahn, Ph.D.

I had the great pleasure of working with Dara Zeehandelaar and the staff at the Fordham Institute on our recent report, Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools. The findings add to the emerging and disconcerting evidence that online charter schools are not serving students well. We found that students who enroll in Ohio’s e-schools tend to be the ones who need the most support and investment—having failed or struggled academically in brick-and-mortar schools—yet they’re faring even worse in these virtual classrooms than similar students in neighborhood schools.

Because of this, we ought to substantially limit the expansion of online charter schools and hold them accountable until they can show that they serve students effectively.

The question, then, is how to improve online learning through experimentation, iteration, and innovation while avoiding the major pitfalls that often plague new implementations of educational technology.

Here are two possible ways forward:

1. Understand that today’s implementation of online learning falls far short of what it takes to offer rich learning environments for children.

I lay out some similar arguments in an upcoming book chapter, but the short version is that new technological developments often allow us to do new things faster and...

While everyone is fixated on the Rio Olympics and the impressive start that U.S. athletes have made there, it’s worth a brief detour to the results of another summer competition—this one in Hong Kong—in which the American team dominated: the International Math Olympiad (IMO) for high-school students.

More than one hundred countries fielded teams at this year’s fifty-seventh annual competition, including most of those whose students surpass American teens when PISA and TIMSS assess math prowess. And yes, it’s true that Korea, China, and Singapore placed second, third, and fourth in this year’s IMO. But the six Olympians who represented the United States won gold. Nor was this a fluke. The American team came in first last year, too. In fact, with a single exception, it has placed in the IMO’s top five every year since 2000.

Selection for the U.S. team is, in its way, as rigorous as that for the Olympics, and it is conducted through a series of assessments and competitions organized by the Mathematics Association of America.

The six kids who represented the United States in Hong Kong last month are an interesting bunch: Five of them appear to be Asian-Americans, and four attend selective-admission high schools (three...

Keri Guilbault

Editor's note: This blog was first published as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post on August 7, 2016.

A profound injustice occurs when our schools fail to meet the needs of our most advanced students—and, in some cases, actively work against these learners and their parents—as Jay Mathews noted in his August 1 column, “She is a gifted young student, so why did educators doubt her ability?

Caitlyn Singam and her family had to overcome the obstinacy of teachers and administrators in Montgomery County who doubted Caitlyn’s brilliance and erected roadblocks to her being appropriately served. Unfortunately, gifted learners often suffer similar slights and all-out neglect, even in well-regarded districts like Montgomery County.

Under last year’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind, federal law explicitly authorizes school districts to use Title I funds to identify and serve gifted students and Title II funds to train teachers in working with such students. The law also enhances reporting on the progress of gifted students, and it supports research on identifying and serving gifted children from underrepresented populations in gifted education programs.

None of these provisions offers a panacea for decades of neglect and mistreatment, but they move us in...

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