The Game of Thrones edition

Student data privacy, Jeb Bush’s education record, questions about curriculum, and the positive effects of working mothers.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Xiaodong Fan, Hanming Fang, and Simen Markussen, "Mothers' Employment and Children's Educational Gender Gap," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21183 (May 2015).

Robert:                       Hello, this is your host Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Ford Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show, and online at Now please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Jon Snow of ed reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:                    Yeah, so that's from Game of Thrones ...

Robert:                       It is.

Brandon:                    ... Which I don't watch.

Robert:                       You know, I don't watch it either. But there's one thing I know about Game of Thrones.

Brandon:                    Tons of people die on it?

Robert:                       Everyone, it's like Shakespeare.

Brandon:                    Very, very violent.

Robert:                       Right. There's two types of characters, those who have been killed and those who will be killed. At least I gather that. My daughter made me watch this one scene of this guy, God, literally ripping a guy's head apart with his bare hands. That was all I needed to see of Game of Thrones.

Brandon:                    Yeah, I've heard about that scene and my wife doesn't really like violence that's that graphic. So we haven't watched it and it would just be a big lift to start watching it by myself in the small amount of free time I have without my wife or without being at work.

Robert:                       Maybe you and me, will, after the podcast, maybe we'll start binge watching it on Netflix, what do you say?

Brandon:                    Is it like, seven seasons in?

Robert:                       I don't know but it's like seven seasons I'm not going to watch.

Brandon:                    So like, three hundred hours of shows?

Robert:                       We got time, let's do this. Okay, that's all the time we have for the podcast. Here we go, time to play Pardon the Gadfly. Take it away, Dominique.

Dominique:               Question one: The New York Times published an article on Saturday that argued against legislation that would effectively prevent research from using student data. Thoughts?

Robert:                       Thoughts ... The Luddites have taken over. That was the same era ... No, that was after Games of Thrones, the Luddites, they're the ones that destroyed all the machinery. They shouldn't make fun, but there's legitimate reasons, but you first, Brandon, what do you think of this?

Brandon:                    Like anything, I think there are pros and cons, so we have to see what the benefits are of keeping this information and providing it to people who actually want to use it in a legitimate way to improve education.

Robert:                       To use their powers for good, not evil.

Brandon:                    Right. I think that there are great benefits to using this information in a legitimate and safe way ...

Robert:                       Sure.

Brandon:                    And let me underline the word safe, because the other part of it to kind of minimize the cons, that is, the kind of infringement on privacy, you have to provide certain protections for this information. The article in New York Times talks about this researcher, everything that she's done, the data is on a secure server and there is no identifying information at all. If a researcher were to break these rules there are both potential civil and criminal consequences.

Robert:                       What you're saying, and the writer in the piece from the Times, by the way, was from your Alma mater, Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan.

Brandon:                    Go Blue!

Robert:                       There you go. Now, you're making the argument that she's making that there should be strong protections to keep sensitive data private.

Brandon:                    Sure.

Robert:                       But here's my question: Do we already have that and if not, where is all this angst about student data coming from?

Brandon:                    I think there are protections there but I think online security is an ever-evolving battle.

Robert:                       It is, and look, every time people are nervous about this they come by it honestly. If you think about it every time we hear about data privacy in the news it's bad news. It's WikiLeaks, it's the NSA it's hackers, it's credit card fraud so while I'm deeply concerned that these kinds of measures could cost researchers the access that they need to valuable data to move the field forward, I can't sit here and pretend I'm surprised at the level of parental anxiety about this. Every time you hear about data being stored, like Game of Thrones, this ends badly.

Brandon:                    Sure, but what we're talking about now are people who are breaking laws and what the author is arguing against is laws that will make it more difficult for a researcher to use this information to better education. So they are following laws. What we're concerned about are people breaking laws so more laws don't really seem to solve that problem. So you essentially have two options. You have one, which is where you don't store information at all, and I think that's unrealistic and I'm not sure it's wise, or you do your best to protect it and create rules so that the people who do use it, use it in a smart and productive way.

                                    And I think that's essentially where we're at and we should continue those who secure it as that technology becomes available and advancements in security occur.

Robert:                       Agreed, but I don't think you can not be concerned about this. Data and testing the data from testing is to education research what rocks are to geologists, what tissue samples are to biologists. If we don't have that we do not move forward.

Brandon:                    Sure.

Robert:                       But that said, I would hope that we would ... I think those of us who are in the reform game as it were, owe it to parents to be more explicit and clear about how uses of these data benefit all kids, including theirs. It just won't do to say, "Get over it."

Brandon:                    Agreed.

Robert:                       Dominique, question two.

Dominique:               Jeff Bush announced yesterday that he's running for President. How does he measure up to other candidates on education?

Robert:                       I thought we already knew he was running, right? This is not big news.

Brandon:                    It's his formal announcement.

Robert:                       There you go, it's his formal announcement. Well Brandon, you have been doing incredible due diligence, pouring over the published statements of every candidate as they announce, Jeff Bush being the least. I'm guessing, correctly if I'm wrong, of all the candidates you've examined his track record has to be the deepest and widest on education.

Brandon:                    Yeah. When he was at the helm of Florida he instituted a bunch of ed reforms, things like school choice and standards, tax scholarships, and then when he left, he founded one of the most influential ed reform non-profits out there, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He's been doing this stuff for a very long time.

Robert:                       So if you're an education reform voter, he's your guy.

Brandon:                    I guess it depends on if you agree with his ideas, right? If you like the common core ...

Robert:                       Oh, there's that.

Brandon:                    And you're a Republican, then he's essentially the only choice if that's a deciding issue for you. If you don't, then it seems like one of the other, I think there are now twelve with Trump having announced.

Robert:                       Only twelve?

Brandon:                    Twelve Republicans in the race so it seems like if you were very, very against common core then you would go with one of the other eleven.

Robert:                       Hmm. It's Jeb against the field and if common core is your issue then you're going with the field. But I guess my question is to what degree common core will be an issue, and 2016 is still a very long way away.

Brandon:                    I would be surprised if common core were the deciding issue in the Presidential race.

Robert:                       Look, education is never the deciding issue in the race, is it? It's our issue, but come on.

Brandon:                    I'm not that old so I haven't been through that many elections so you might be a better judge of that.

Robert:                       I saw what you did there, Brandon.

Brandon:                    But I'll trust you. Obviously, the race itself will end up deciding what the biggest issue is, and I guess it's possible that it's the common core but probably not.

Robert:                       I'm kind of with you. I would love if we would have this great, deep national debate and education was the defining issue and the deciding issue in 2016. I think it will be a lot more discussed in the primaries than the general, but I would be very surprised if common core at the end of the end of the day either helped him or hurt him.

Brandon:                    Sure.

Robert:                       I think there's a lot of other things that voters are concerned about, it would be great if our issues were theirs but there's a lot of stuff going on.

Brandon:                    I think you're right.

Robert:                       There you go. Question three, Dominique.

Dominique:               This one's for you, Robert. You wrote an editorial last week on which you called on districts to publicly release their information about their curricula. Why should districts comply?

Robert:                       Boy, this is a piece with the data story we were talking about earlier, right? This to me is just an enduring mystery. If you think about it, in our test driven, accountability mad, data focused age, we measure everything about schools. We can tell you where teachers went to ed school, we can tell you their SAT scores before they got in, we can tell you the value added scores of twenty-five fourth graders in any school. Here's my question: How come it's impossible, and I mean almost literally impossible to find out what curricula a school is using to teach say, math or English language arts. This strikes me as being not a difficult thing to find out, a deeply important thing to know.

                                    I always like to point out the report by Russ Whitehurst and Matt Chingos over at Brookings a few years ago that discovered that effect sizes of curriculum were even bigger than some of the things we obsess over in ed reform. Things like class size and teacher quality and chartering and whatnot, so if we know curriculum is so important and could be potentially so important in moving the needle, why are we not mandating that districts report what curricula they're using? This is my challenge to parents all the time. Do you know what math curriculum your school is using? I'll bet you don't. The difference that the parent has over a researcher benefit is that if the parent wants to know they can just look in their kid's backpack. If you're a researcher, good luck trying to find out what the curriculum is in the school.

                                    This issue became an issue last week when Charles Sahm of the Manhattan Institute released a report. He had a very simple research question. He wanted to find out what curricula New York City schools were using to implement common core. There had been two different recommendations on the ELA curricula. This is going back to the Bloomberg era, and the only way he could find out was not by looking up on the State or city web site, he had to send a questionnaire electronic to every single school in New York City. That's lunacy.

Brandon:                    Yeah, it seems totally absurd. To better define this for people who aren't in education all the time, what exactly do you mean by curriculum?

Robert:                       I should not take for granted that people understand the difference. We talk about standards all the time and I'm always the guy who says, well look, standards are important but standards are important insofar as they influence curriculum choices.

Brandon:                    People confuse the two often.

Robert:                       Absolutely, they completely conflate the two. For example, when I was a teacher in the South Bronx, our math curriculum was every day math, our literacy curriculum was teacher's college reading and writing project.

Brandon:                    These are actually brands, essentially?

Robert:                       Yeah, call them brands I guess, or call them products, call them programs. Another reason this is important is from an accountability standpoint. I, full disclosure, I've never made a secret about this, I couldn't stand either of those programs, the math or the literacy programs, but this was what I was compelled to teach. Now, if you look at the results that I posted with my students, is it me as the teacher or is it the curriculum? The thing that frustrates me and has frustrated me for years, is we just see, those of us in education reform, absolutely incurious about this. All the matters is the teacher, it doesn't matter what program. Let me tell you, having taught these programs for a couple years, I would not want my performance evaluated on the strength of those curriculum. Give me a choice, I'm going to choose something different.

Brandon:                    So why do you think schools haven't made this information more public or public period?

Robert:                       I simply think I could be just wrong and naive about this, I think it's just simply a blind spot. I think just mainstream ed reform thinking is that it's the teacher, it's the governance model, curriculum is an afterthought. I just don't think that we in education, the field, we're just not that savvy consumers about these things.

Brandon:                    And final point, how do you think we can change this?

Robert:                       Morgan Polikoff of the University of Southern California, has been filing freedom and information act requests in four States trying to get the curriculum.

Brandon:                    Over three thousand, right?

Robert:                       Three thousand of them in four States. He raises the point, and I completely agree with, we already have any number of data capturing mechanisms, why not just mandate at a State level that schools have to report this in existing mechanism that they're almost certainly already performing.

Brandon:                    Okay.

Robert:                       So that's that. And that's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly.

                                    Next, here's Amber with the research minute.

                                    Hey Amber, how are you?

Amber:                       I'm great, how are you?

Robert:                       Good! Let me ask you a question: Does the name John Snow mean anything to you?

Amber:                       Jon Snow ... Oh no, I feel like I'm failing a quiz.

Robert:                       You kind of are.

Amber:                       No, it does not.

Robert:                       I referred to Brandon as the Jon Snow of ed reform, not even sure what I meant by that.

Amber:                       Okay.

Brandon:                    I'm not sure what he does on the actual show, Game of Thrones.

Robert:                       He does what all the characters do: He dies.

Brandon:                    He died. Like every other character on that show.

Amber:                       Oh, wow. How do you guys know this if you don't watch it?

Brandon:                    It's all over the news.

Amber:                       Twitter and stuff?

Brandon:                    It's the most talked about show in the world.

Robert:                       I describe this as the cultural equivalent of second hand smoke. You pick it up. You don't have to be ...

Amber:                       And you don't really want to sometimes and it's dangerous for you. We could keep carrying this metaphor, I guess.

Robert:                       Having seen the way people die on Game of Thrones, no, I would not wish that upon.

Amber:                       Is that good for kids? Is that one of these video games that's like, damaging ...

Brandon:                    I'm not sure it's a kid's show.

Amber:                       Oh, it's not a kids show. Okay, I got you.

Brandon:                    It is a very, very adult show.

Amber:                       It has one of those stickers on the front when you buy it.

Brandon:                    Perhaps the most adult show that's on popular television.

Amber:                       Oh, all right.

Brandon:                    It's on HBO.

Robert:                       Brandon and I are going to binge watch right after the podcast. Please join us.

Amber:                       I will not be doing that.

Brandon:                    For three hundred hours.

Robert:                       Amber, what you got for us this week?

Amber:                       We've got a new NBER study called "Mother's Employment and Children's Education Gender Gap." I know it sounds thrilling but it's actually interesting. It examines the impact of women's participation in the workforce on their child's college attainment. And let's use data from the Norway registry, so it's not here, which includes information on all children born in Norway between 1967 and 1993. That's about roughly seven hundred and twenty-five thousand males and six hundred and ninety thousand females, s that's a lot of kids. Then they match the child's data with data from their parents which describes among other things their parents' earnings history when their children were birthed and up to age seventeen. Zero to seventeen. Descriptive data show that the employment of mothers with young children, this is interesting, has increased form ten percent in 1967 to what do you think in 1993? Now you get a quiz.

Robert:                       What a great question. I'm going to guess forty percent.

Amber:                       Brandon, you got an answer? Don't be looking! Sixty-five percent in 1993.

Robert:                       Basically, a generation.

Amber:                       That's pretty big deal, isn't it?

Robert:                       That really is.

Amber:                       Father's employment has remained fairly constant, about ninety-three percent which seemed kind of high to me.

Robert:                       Hard working country, Norway.

Amber:                       Controlling for various family and child demographics, they find that the mother's employment has a positive impact on their daughter's college attainment relative to the affect on the son's. Specifically, daughters are more likely than sons to have a college or higher degree by the age of twenty-five. Mother's with more female children are also more likely to be in the workplace after controlling for the total number of children.

                                    Lots to think about. I'm almost done.

                                    Interestingly, the father's employment also has a negative effect on boy's college attainment and a positive effect for the girls.

Robert:                       Hold on a second, this makes on one hand sense, on the other hand am I wrong about this, if moms have gone ... their workforce participation has gone from 10 percent to 65 percent, you're just seeing a society in general that is transitioning from a defined ... The man works, the woman stays at home to a two paycheck family which implies, does it not, a greater need for education. So this has nothing to do with the moms, this has to do with the cultural shift where women are entering the workforce in huge numbers, right?

Amber:                       Well, I think that one could propose that but this is an NBER study that was fairly rigorous and controlled for about a gazillion different things. But let me tell you about one thing that they hypothesize which is similar to what you hypothesize. Increased time with the son already resulted in higher marginal gains for him, so he already benefits from more time with the mom. It makes sense that if you decrease that time it's going to have a higher consequence for him as well, all right? And then for the daughter, the analysts reason that working mother provides a working role model which may have increased her expected return from schooling. So she's kind of seeing this, "Man, I can do this too, this is the direction I'd like to head." Anyway, that's the theory.

                                    Then they ended up with this long discussion of how all of these patterns help to explain the narrowing and the reversal of the education gender gap since the 1950's which is basically the difference in a college attainment between the males and the females. I think this is both encouraging and troubling at the same time because obviously we don't really know exactly what's happening here, even though they try to control for these many, many things. I think that it's a head-scratcher, we all have theories, right? Why would the impact on the daughters be more than the sons ... I think they draw a reasonable assumption that the boys automatically benefit from the increased time so they're going to lose out more but why is that? I don't know. I don't have kids so I can't even begin.

Brandon:                    It does definitely seem like a son has a different relationship with his father than with his mom and a daughter has a different one between her two parents, too and same with a parent, right? A mother has a different relationship with her daughter than her son and obviously this is anecdotal, I don't know that many parents but it seems to be the case. I don't know exactly why that is?

Robert:                       I still smell the cultural shift as much as an educational one but that's just one man's opinion.

Amber:                       What they say is let's bear this theory out, so now it's pretty much stabilized, the women's participation rates in the workplace, so I think what we're going to see in the next twenty-five years, if this is the right theory then we're not going to see the changes that we witnessed so far because that's stabilized and the other change is stabilized so I think we're ... This is a favorite topic, we've got a lot of studies that are really intrigued by the impact of the change of women's participation in the workforce since the 50's.

Robert:                       Stay tuned, we'll see you back here in twenty years and we'll have answers to those questions.

                                    Amber, before we let you go, and I'm going to completely put you on the spot, did you see Susan Dynarski's op-ed in the New York Times about education data and as a research person how concerned are you?

Amber:                       I have not read it but obviously I have been immersed in the question and think that we could easily go over board and I'm scared that if we aren't careful we're going to go over board ...

Brandon:                    Over board in what direction?

Amber:                       And I think there's some fear mongering about how these data are used that are probably untrue and they may be espoused by folks that have ulterior motives.

Brandon:                    Over board on the protection of the data?

Amber:                       Right! Because I think ...

Robert:                       Protecting it so much that you can't gather it anymore.

Amber:                       Right, and what people don't realize is that we already have some pretty tight protocols in place for making sure these data are secure, it's not like, I think the average parent might understand, might not understand that you don't get information on Sally Joe's fourth grade, you get student ID number 1188652.

Brandon:                    That is exactly what the article says.

Robert:                       Exactly. You're echoing my point which is that I don't think it will do for those of us who need this data to complain about it, we just need to do a better job at explaining it.

Amber:                       Yes, agreed.

Robert:                       And that is all the time we have for this week's Gadfly show. 'Till next week ...

Brandon:                    I'm Brandon Wright.

Robert:                       And I'm Robert Pondiscio for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.