The Harbaugh edition

Education on the campaign trail, an appetite for gifted schooling, racial opinion gaps on testing, and how teacher expectations vary by race.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt, and Nicholas Papageorge, "Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations," Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Working Paper 231 (July 2015).


Mike:              Hello this is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at Now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Jim Harbaugh of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:        Man, those are big shoes.

Mike:              Hey man, we have high expectations here and it gives us an excuse for us to say, "Go Blue."

Brandon:        Yes.

Mike:              Because Brandon and I both had graduated from the best university in the country, the University of Michigan, whose football program at least is about to make a great comeback.

Brandon:        Yes, they are. They're going to improve and go back to their story, the story of achievement.

Mike:              Everyone knows that I'm a big believer in looking at growth and not just proficiency, at the very least we do expect to see growth this season. We're not sure if we're going to get all the way to the high achievement in Harbaugh's first season but watch out baby, we're coming. We're back.

Brandon:        Soon enough. Soon enough.

Mike:              We are back. It is football season again. It's back to school season. The newspapers and the internets are jam-packed with all kinds of education happenings and we will try to talk about some of the more interesting ones. Let's go ahead and let's play Pardon the Gadfly. Clara, get us started.

Clara:              Did the 74 million at summit make clear which of the six teams the presidential candidates are going to champion on the campaign trail?

Mike:              First of all, let's be clear, 74 million and also the American ... What is it?

Brandon:        American Federation for Children.

Mike:              American Federation for Children, that's right.

Brandon:        I think of "of" but it's for.

Mike:              For Children, that was the other sponsor. What an amazing day, big credit to those two groups for getting these candidates to show up and talk about education for 45 minutes each. I don't know that anybody's gotten to do that on any topic and it was a lot of fun and very interesting.

                        Well, Brandon look, they all talked a whole lot about school choice. That's not a surprise given that these were Republicans, given the hosts. They also talked a lot about evolving federal control and education back to the states and to local control, again not a big surprise.

Brandon:        No.

Mike:              But what else? I guess the question is are ... Those two teams certainly worked with the Republican primary electorate, I'm not so sure that they're going to be enough for a general election.

Brandon:        A few of them talked about how they should use, how the president should use his or her influence which falls in line with their local control, but that the president should have his or her policy set and try to influence states to follow those. I think if they communicated in that way then that will be effective.

Mike:              That's right. That is what Republicans can say, is they can say, "We're going to use our bully pulpit” and they can talk about education reforms they support without necessarily getting nailed down and what exactly they would do as president to promote them. For example on school choice, Jeb Bush did get wonky and talked to some about Title 1 Portability as something that he would try to do as President, but most of them just talked about how they love charter schools and they love voucher programs and I think that's fine.

                        We put out something last week, our six education themes for 2016 and we heard some of them mentioned by the candidates. Again, certainly we had one on school choice, that one was mentioned quite a bit and very excited that Carly Fiorina went on a long rant about civics education and how we are ignoring the civic mission of public schools. That's one of our themes as well. That's right we've got a clip of that up on our website. Bobby Jindal made a brief reference to school discipline and that's something that we think is an obvious item for these guys to be talking about, especially the Obama administration's war on school discipline, as I would call it.

                        Upward mobility and other important themes, we certainly heard Jeb Bush talked about that. We've heard John Kasich talked about, in particular career in technical education as a means to upward mobility. Marco Rubio is very strong in that as well but that still leaves at least one item, one or two items off the list. One was just making the overall point that education reform is working. I'd like to hear that more from the governors. The other one a good segue to our next topic, gifted education. None of them talked about the needs of high-achieving kids.

Brandon:        Really haven't in the recent past if ever.

Mike:              If ever, with that segue, Clara topic number two.

Clara:              Brandon, your recent Wall Street Journal op-ed with Chester Finn on the Failure of American Gifted Education received a lot of attention. Do you think there's an unquenched appetite for this argument?

Mike:              Are we calling him Chester all of a sudden now? Checker, baby! Checker! Just teasing. Yes, Brandon congrats the Wall Street Journal op-ed last week. You and Checker.

Brandon:        Thank you. Super exciting, really, really crazy.

Mike:              You got to go on and do a video, a show with them as well.

Brandon:        Scary but fun.

Mike:              This article is getting a huge amount of coverage. You are one of the most popular articles on the Wall Street Journal site, tons of shares on Facebook and Twitter, what is this? Have you tapped a nerve here? If so, why aren't the presidential contenders trying to tap the same nerve about the needs of high-achieving kids?

Brandon:        I think it did. When you look at our article compared to other op-eds that came out around the same time we got the most coverage it seemed, the most shares, the most comments. We also had an NPR write-up and interview that Anya Kamenetz, I'm probably saying that name wrong, she interviewed Dr. Finn there and that got way more comments than her articles in the last couple of months. People talk about it a lot. I'm actually a little surprised but it makes sense if you think about it. There really isn't any reason to not do this. As we've talked about in our book, there are essentially two good reasons for educating these kids, one is that it's better for our country, our economy, and then the other one is that it's just fair.

Mike:              Right.

Brandon:        Especially for kids who already have it tough.

Mike:              Nobody should have to go to school and not learn anything because they are told, "Well, you'll do fine regardless. We're going to focus on these other kids who need more help." Now look, the cynic is going to say, "Well, of course these Wall Street Journal readers care about this. They all believe, you know these rich people reading the Wall Street Journal, rich and white, they all believe that their own kids are gifted and talented."

Brandon:        We are though.

Mike:              The same thing that they're liberal but they also think that their kids ... These tend to be people who are very well-educated and they probably do have quite a few kids who are gifted and talented, and by the way, who are being poorly served by many of our schools. You have tapped into a network, an organized network of people out there who worry about the education for their own kids and are excited when somebody else is paying attention.

Brandon:        Sure.

Mike:              But look, as you say in the book and as some of these articles get at, the kids who are most overlooked are not the wealthy high achievers, though they certainly I think could be much better served by our education system but it's the low income high achievers.

Brandon:        Quite by far.

Mike:              These are the kids who go to school by and large in high poverty schools, the schools that are most at risk of getting an F in a state ranking. They get those F's mostly because their peers are not meeting the proficiency levels on state tests. The educators in those schools understandably feel like, "Hey, we got to put all our effort on the kids below proficiency and the kids who are struggling." That means the kids who are gifted or high-achieving, however you want to say it, in those high poverty schools get very little attention. If they were sitting in a leafy suburbs somewhere they probably would get more attention and there'd more pressure to serve them, and that is a serious problem.

                        That means that we are losing out this whole pipeline of low income kids, minority kids who could be going to college, in selective colleges they'd be going into, are professions who could be leaders in our society, etc., etc. and we're losing them before they even get to high school. Because they are not getting access to gifted programs. They are not getting access to advanced classes. They don't get a chance to sit and be in a classroom with other high achievers where they can act smart and they can be pushed as hard as they can go and push fast. Again, all things that tend to happen were often in selected private schools or in the affluent suburbs.

Brandon:        When you have all those facts it's hard to argue with that's what it should be.

Mike:              Well, there are people out there who do it and you see it and it's subtle and it's even ... Look, on the reform side a lot of debate this week about New Orleans and what's happened after the 10 years, and whether there's these two systems.

                        I noticed some reporting about how there are still some selective magnet schools in New Orleans that there have been for a long time, selective admissions. Reformers just very casually criticize these schools as, "These are elitist schools. They're not serving everybody. They are hurting the cost of equity." What the? By law these are rich kids in New Orleans going to these schools. Rich kids in New Orleans go to private schools. These are poor kids who have academic promise, why do we think they don't deserve our attention and to be priorities? Drives us crazy.

Brandon:        Hopefully we can change that conversation.

Mike:              All right, Clara topic number three.

Clara:              The 2015 PDK/Gallup Poll results have revealed a divide between the opinions of white and minority parents when it comes to testing, standards, and common core. Why would Black and Hispanic parents be less likely to support something like the Opt-out Movement?

Mike:              You know Brandon, this is a very interesting development for somebody of my age, I can now remember when back in the 80's and even in the 90's there were still significant opposition to testing among minorities and among many of the traditional civil rights groups. That was why Checker's famous quote that always gets recycled that, "The problem with national testing is that Conservatives hate National and Liberals hate testing." Minorities as important block among Liberals were definitely in.

                        The worry was back in the day that test like the SAT were seen as barriers to advancement of minorities, that they looked at those achievement gaps and said, "Well, the test must be biased." Now suddenly though, there's been this big shift where they view test, at least test used to hold schools accountable and teachers accountable, as an important civil rights tool. Is that what's happening here?

Brandon:        It's obviously a kind of impossible to say exactly why there is this racial split but it seems like one of the possible or likely reasons for it is that these parents understand that these tests are important for the improvement of the education of their kids, a lot more so than the other groups. If they are aware of that then ... We have a colleague here on staff, who has talked about this and used it as an argument against opting out. That if these parents continued to do this who tend to be more affluent, this opting out harms these kids for whom the tests are meant.

Mike:              They harm the kids because we lose the access to information about how their schools are performing, and that information has been a powerful weapon in school improvement which I certainly buy. But you also see, we found this in the survey we did a couple of years ago, what parents want and we asked parents, really in a market research survey kind of way to tell us what they wanted from their schools. There was overwhelming agreement among all parents that they wanted strong basics, and they wanted character development, and they wanted strong math and science. All the normal things but then once you get past that there were some niches that came out of that.

                        It was true that minority parents were more likely to be test score hawks and be interested in seeing high test scores, again for the reasons you explained, Brandon, that they can't for granted that the school serving their kids is necessarily are getting high achievement.

                        You did see this block of parents who tended to be more affluent, tended to be more white, tended to be more liberal, that was a little bit, shall we say crunchier. Then we call them I think expressionists, very interested in art education for example. Again, that's fine but you do see these differences every ... Going way back decades you see these studies that show that when you have a system of school choice there is this group of sort of crunchy, liberal white parents that wants something kind of crunchy and liberal for their kids, and the testing thing doesn't seem to fit with that mold.

                        My own view is the best way to handle this is through school choice. Give those parents what they want. Allow them to have schools where they can have schools that have a less focus on the tests. They still got to take the test but if that school wants to ignore the test, do no test prep, don't worry about what the score say, that's fine. The answer is not to get rid of testing for everybody or to sabotage a system that is helping, especially foreign minority kids make tremendous progress over the last 20 years.

                        All right, that is all the time we've got for this week on Pardon the Gadfly. Now it's time for everyone's favorite Amber's Research Minute.

                        Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber:           Thank you, Mike.

Mike:              Brandon and I are excited for the football season with our Michigan Wolverines. Who do you root? You root for ...

Amber:           Redskins even though it's really horrible to be a Redskins fan but RG3 I'm trying not to give up on you but it is tough.

Brandon:        Didn't he just get hurt? I feel like somebody told me that.

Mike:              He got a concussion.

Amber:           He's like the most injury prone guy ever.

Mike:              Didn't he also say he thought he was the best quarterback in the NFL?

Brandon:        I think he did say something like that.

Mike:              An opinion shared by ...

Brandon:        Nobody.

Mike:              Nobody.

Amber:           I like him cause he's humble. I think I missed that in the press.

Mike:              Maybe that was after he had the concussion that he said that maybe.

Brandon:        It was the last couple weeks, I think.

Amber:           It's over. I know he was booed the other day when we had that pre-games.

Brandon:        Getting booed at a pre-game.

Mike:              Let's face it the Redskins, they are cursed until they get rid of that bigoted name of theirs, Amber.

Amber:           Come on. We're not even going there.

Mike:              All right, what you got for us on education?

Amber:           All right, we've got a new working paper out by American University Public Policy Professor, that's tough, Seth Gershenson. I'm saying it because he's one of our EEPS. I'm giving a warm kudos.

Mike:              Yes, I love it.

Amber:           He examines whether a match of students and teachers by race has any effect on teacher expectations of students. For instance he looks at the impact of white teachers teaching black students versus white students and every possible race combination you can think of.

                        He uses nationally represented survey data from ELS 2002 which is Education Longitudinal Study. He's looking at US students who were in 10th grade in 2002 and two teachers, the students 10th grade math teacher and English teacher reported their expectations for each student's educational attainment, specifically whether they expected that student to complete less than high school, high school, on up to achieving more than a four year degree. There were over 16,000 student teacher matches and included all ton of demographic data about both the student and the teacher.

                        I'm going to give you just a little bit about the design because this is like a big deal they're finding and you want to say, "Is this for real or not?" They looked at ... Let's think about this, differences could be random if for instance they were just based on teachers unique interactions with that student, but if you keep seeing these differences systematically played out again and again and again relative to the demographic match, then you could suggest that teacher's beliefs could at least be partly explained by that child's demographics.

                        The case is made even stronger if you can rule out sorting, whereby for instance low ability math students might be routinely assigned to white math teachers. They do all these abracadabra in the methods and they're able to rule out systematic sorting because they've got some pretty robust demographic variables. The design is made even stronger when the teachers offer their assessment at the same point in time, which is what occurred here. It also builds on methodology that's been used in prior studies by other respected scholars. I really dug it in.

Mike:              All right.

Amber:           All right. All that to say -

Mike:              It is air tight.

Amber:           The key finding is that non-black teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than do black teachers when evaluating the same students. For instance when a black student is evaluated by a black teacher and a non-black teacher, the latter is about 30% less likely to expect that student to complete a four year degree than the black teacher, and the effects are larger for black male students and math teachers.

                        Then you look at all the other combinations, which they do, and they say, "When you look at the average effects across all students there are small differences relative to these racial mismatches so to speak, but these small effects are mostly driven by this much larger effect among black students which I just told you about.

                        I don't know, at the end they're interviewed and they've been posting this on Chalkboard and some other sites, and they basically say that these biases and expectations are generally unintentional and, "An artifact of how students categorize complex information." That point again to the need for a more diverse teaching staff.

Mike:              All right, let me get this right, basically you could argue that it is then the white math teachers who are the most pessimistic especially when it comes to black males students, or on the flip side it would be what? Black English teachers who are the most optimistic.

Amber:           That's right.

Mike:              That's right.

Amber:           Yes, indeed.

Mike:              Were they able to say, "We followed the kids to know sort of who is right."

Amber:           No following in the study, no following.

Mike:              Wouldn't that be interesting to see, like who was right about how far they ended up going?

Amber:           Yes, because somebody ... That's the assumption going in, that one of these teachers is wrong.

Mike:              Right, and we could test that empirically, right?

Amber:           Yes.

Brandon:        Wouldn't some of the low expectations be self-fulfilling though? Like if everyone has them and that's all these kids face then they're not going to go that far?

Amber:           That's another study.

Mike:              I know, absolutely, but what they're saying here is they go into one classroom and somebody has high expectations for them or hopes for them and another one is lower. Let's imagine that it cancels out. I don't know if it does but, no, that's absolutely right but it would be interesting if we actually, the study follows these kids that eventually you could see how far did they get and know then.

Amber:           That’s right.

Mike:              In other words you could say, "Look, are these white math teachers, in fact racially biased, overly pessimistic, too many low expectations," which they maybe. What if it turns out there that they were right? It couldn't be self-fulfilling but they also could be, they're maybe good at math and they know the probability, they've seen the statistics, they are willing to be realistic about ... They know that when it comes to college readiness and completion, it's the math stuff that matters. Overwhelmingly the kids ending up in remedial education is for math, it's not for English.

Amber:           That's right. You know what I think? They were very even-handed and fair about how they explained it. They didn't just throw up their hands and say, "Oh, reasons I'm going on." Obviously, it was carefully done. Now it's like, "Okay, but does this really matter? Does it play out?" There've been other studies that obviously try to get into that black box as well, but this study was just able to look at these expectations and feels relative to their long-term educational prospect of graduating for college.

Brandon:        Loved it, by the way, this methodology of saying have two teachers examining the same kids is really smart and thoughtful.

Amber:           Apparently this was a Thom Dee which I had missed. It's not the one that we probably know about whether if you have a black teacher you could do better. It's another one he did relative to discipline where he was able to look at two teachers, same thing, expectations relative to this kid was going to be a discipline problem or not.

Mike:              Interesting.

Amber:           The pathology's been around.

Mike:              All right, way to go, Seth, and a member of our Emerging Education Policies Scholars Program, an initiative of Fordham's and American Enterprise Institute. By the way, we will be opening up nominations for the next round shortly.

Amber:           We will be. Good plug.

Mike:              This is for folks who are about to get their PhD's or recently got their PhD's in Education Policy and want to learn how to just not write studies that will end up in journals that nobody reads.

Amber:           Right, because we saw this one in a blog post.

Mike:              That's right but also try to have an influence on the public policy discussions.

Amber:           Yes.

Mike:              All right, good plug for that. All right, thank you Amber, thank you Brandon, that is all the time we've got for this week, until next week.

Brandon:        I'm Brandon Wright.

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