The Pitch Perfect edition

Standardized tests, rural education reforms, social mobility, and teacher turnover.   

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Lucinda Gray, Soheyla Taie, and Isaiah O’Rear, “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years: Results From the First Through Fifth Waves of the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study,” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (April 2015).
Michelle:         Hello, this is your host Michelle Learner of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the education Gadfly show and online at and now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Anna Kendrick of Ed Reform Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa:             Thank you. Thank you. That's quite the aspirational title, Michelle. Please do not ask me to sing for your own sake.

Michelle:         Oh we're going to. We're going to get acapella in here.

Alyssa:             Should we do the cups?

Michelle:         Yes.

Alyssa:             Michelle, you're as excited as I am I take it about the release next week of Pitch Perfect 2?

Michelle:         It's true. I do feel we have to explain this to the podcast listeners.

Alyssa:             I think it's probably deserving of some background.

Michelle:         Pitch Perfect 1 came out. Not very popular in the theaters, but it's a cult classic and I actually did say to my husband, I get to be a fan of a real cult classic for the first time.

Alyssa:             Not a Wet Hot American summer fan or anything?

Michelle:         Yes, no. None of that, but the second one is coming out next week. I am ready. I was actually working out at the gym listening to the Pitch Perfect 1 soundtrack and the preview for Pitch Perfect 2 came on and I felt like it was just one of those moments where the world comes together.

Alyssa:             Where just everything aligns, yes.

Michelle:         Exactly. We're very excited, but we also don't sing here mostly because my parents told me I could be anything that I wanted to when I grew up except for a singer.

Alyssa:             We dance. We do not sing.

Michelle:         We do dance. I almost forgot about that. Maybe one day soon we'll get together and do another music video. Dancing only.

Alyssa:             Dancing only.

Michelle:         On that note. Ellen let's play parting the Gadfly.

Ellen:               On Sunday, John Oliver used a segment of his HBO show Last Week Tonight to criticize standardized testing. Thoughts?

Michelle:         I feel like a lot of people have talked about this, but we're going to add onto the bandwagon here and do our take. First, a few facts that I think we must go over.

Alyssa:             The facts.

Michelle:         John Oliver is funny.

Alyssa:             John Oliver is hilarious.

Michelle:         He's hilarious, and I knew at some point he would take about education reform. I thought it would either be that all the failing schools in cities have been failing forever and no matter what the unions want they're still failing. More money, [crosstalk 00:02:31].

Alyssa:             They could have cited out school closure report in that case.

Michelle:         That would have made my day.

Alyssa:             I could have gone home.

Michelle:         I mean, if John Oliver cites a Fordham study I'm going home or it was going to be standardized testing unfortunately.

Alyssa:             Standardized testing it was.

Michelle:         Here are a few things, school videos music videos are strange. I mean I know we just talked about our music videos, but I was a little freaked out and I know you guys.

Alyssa:             Yes, would you like me to tell that.

Michelle:         I would.

Alyssa:             When I was teaching I had kindergartners and we had to go to the test prep rally just like everyone else to let the kids know that this exciting thing was in their future, which when you're five is like half of your lifetime away literally, but it was coming down the pike. We got there and the song that they made up, I think it was to Black and Yellow. The eighth graders were in charge. It was spring of 2012. It was an entirely different time. It was just so much that we ended up having to leave because some of the questions I was getting from the five year olds led me to realize this was not something I wanted to discuss with their parent's on the phone later that night. We actually had to leave our test prep rally before they got to the dancing teachers part, but I heard that happened.

Michelle:         All right, so I'm just going to say the school music videos are a little weird.

Alyssa:             They are, yes.

Michelle:         Pearson and other testing companies they have been a problem forever. Everyone in the Ed Reform world knows this. Robert has been right on the drumbeat and I think the talking pineapple example shows-

Alyssa:             That has been around for a long time.

Michelle:         Has it? I'd never heard of it.

Alyssa:             I think so. It's been definitely at least a year.

Michelle:         I mean, Robert has been talking and writing and opining and many other things about how you have to have reading passages that are based on information that all kids have access to and that's why they should be knowledge based. Oliver's French kid impression is my favorite thing, period.

Alyssa:             I mean most of his impressions are my favorite thing, period, but that one was something definitely very special.

Michelle:         My big critique of the segment is that he strings together a lot of different things-

Alyssa:             So many strange arguments-

Michelle:         That aren't necessarily connected. We've got Common Core. We've got the assessments linked. We've got NTLB. We've got Pearson and other testing companies. We've got teacher evaluation.

Alyssa:             All in the same chain of effect.

Michelle:         What do you think he got right, and what did he get wrong?

Alyssa:             I think he definitely pointed out a lot of problems with implementation and things that if you've been in the ed reform space you've know about of a long time. I noticed he didn't say ... He made a comment about the CCSS logo, but he never said that-

Michelle:         Which will never be looked at the same way again.

Alyssa:             Yes, but he never said this idea of common high standards is bad. I think it fact he said it was in theory a good idea, but the devil's always in the details, and when tests and evaluations and assessments are not measuring what the kids need to know and not measuring it well then we have problems. We've talked a lot about whether or not testing should be used in teachers evaluations. That's been something that we've been discussing for a very long time and so I think he was generally not wrong about a lot of things I just don't think he strung it together in a very effective way, and whenever comedians take on an issue that I care about and I know a lot about I'm like I spend my all my day doing education reform and then they come out with these out-of-left-field to me opinions, I wonder if he was also wrong on the NCAA and all these other issues.

Michelle:         That would be the biggest crisis if he was wrong on college basketball.

Alyssa:             What if all these other things that I've listened to him on and be like yeah you know I've agreed. He did a great segment last year. It’s probably his segment that I think about the most. Whether or not all these scholarship dollars from like the Miss America Beauty Pageants are actually reaching students. We'll get to there. Then he made what I felt are really great points and then to me it always calls into question how much should we be using no comedians for our news, and it's something that I think our generation in particular does quite a bit of.

Michelle:         I'm just the practical person who says, yes John Oliver got a lot of this wrong and yes some people don't like that comedians are the ones delivering news, but that is also the reality. We, people who are interested in policy no matter if its education or anything else have to be cognizant of this.

Alyssa:             Yes. He points out that we have ... and there are things that we're aware of, but there are things that need to be fixed and there are things that we need to work on. We're working on them.

Michelle:         Sadly, we can't spend the entire pod cast or our entire day talking about John Oliver.

Alyssa:             Much as we would like.

Michelle:         Let's go to question number two.  Ellen?

Ellen:               A recent New York Times article argues that the place of birth significantly effects lifetime earnings. Are you convinced and if so what does it mean for education?

Alyssa:             This was kind of a follow-up based on Raj Chetty's earlier research and he came out with another report looking at just the effects of place on upward mobility for students. He found some really interesting results. I thought there are obviously some neighborhoods where kids have much better outcomes than in other neighborhoods. He also found that neighborhoods have a much bigger impact on young boys than they do on young girls, which I thought was a very interesting finding.

Michelle:         On that finding, Baltimore of course is pointed out as one of places where it is the hardest to get out of poverty. What I found interesting there is a few months ago for work I read the "Long Shadow" which followed 800 kids in Baltimore over 20 or 30 years I forget now. What it found was that the black children did not do as well as the white children. The people who fared the best were white men and then white women and then black men and actually black women fared the worst because they were often ... They didn't have a partner that could help them economically

Alyssa:             Trust and help them out.

Michelle:         Then they often had children that they had to take care of and so they suffered the most. I found that it was interesting that this study ... I don't think that it contradicts. It's just a different-

Alyssa:             Prism. Yes. I did find essentially the findings came down to look there are like five things, low segregation, lower inequality, better schools, lower crime, and higher rates of marriage and long-term partnership that do lead to an area creating upward mobility for its students and having an impact on rich kids in the area and having an impact on the poor kids in the area and they're not necessarily the area that we think. Fairfax county did really, really well on the findings. I will point out that my home county where I was born, DuPage County Illinois had the best rates of any county in the study so [mic drop 00:09:30].

Michelle:         Really.

Alyssa:             Really, I just did that.

Michelle:         Okay. On that note, no. I think the study is super fascinating, and props to Up Shot for displaying it-

Alyssa:             Covering it so well.

Michelle:         In such a facilitating way, and I think a way that people spent more time looking at the info-graphic and reading the article than they otherwise might. Props to them. Nothing in here is that surprising. One of the things that was in my mind was we hear over and over again how voters are segregating themselves, and I just think that across issues housing, ed reform, whatever it's not a good idea when different people whatever those differences are, are not living together, not communicating or never running into each other. I think that is how we are going to run into more and more of these problems and these issues.

                        Andy Smarick emailed about this to me and I just feel that he should get a little bit of credit. What he said was that these are really tricky results and new findings, but what turns out is that good schools, married parents, small income gaps are all good. Something for all political stripes to like. He has a point there, but I also think it's going to be really difficult to change this reality.

Alyssa:             Behaviors, and housing patterns, and it's a hard road to reverse.

Michelle:         Absolutely. Okay on that note, Ellen question number three.

Ellen:               A new Education Next article argues that better charter schools and career in technical education would improve education in rural America. Do you agree?

Michelle:         Well before I go there, I'm going to assume that really everyone saw the John Oliver clip, and a lot of people probably saw the Upshot article and this research. I'm going to guess that this one people might have missed. Read this article. It's highly recommended.

Alyssa:             Highly recommended.

Michelle:         Rural education I think is not only critical and falling behind, but it's not addressed by ed reform and given the stats that the article mentioned are sobering and worth mentioning. One-fifth of students live in rural areas, and we can't just ignore one-fifth of our students. One in four rural kids live in poverty, and of the fifty counties with the highest child poverty rates, forty-eight of them are rural. Don't ask me which of the two are urban because I didn't look it up. We need to stop ... I think this is the perfect argument that we can't have one size fits all. That we do need local because what is easy in urban America to fix or to have a solution for doesn't translate to the rural. You're from a rural place.

Alyssa:             Yes, I'm from rural America. Real America. Whatever we want to call it. Yes, I grew up after I moved out of DuPage county I grew up and spent most of my childhood in a small town in Iowa, and a lot of the problems that we have been able to fix at scale in large cities are not problems that we are able to fix necessarily in smaller areas. I did Teach for America and when I was asked which cities I would like to go to D.C. was my first choice for a lot of reasons, and I didn't preference anything in rural America because I didn't necessarily want to live in a rural area.

Michelle:         Even education aside, had you even not done the TFA route you'd live in an urban area. You were not going to stay in Iowa.

Alyssa:             Yes, and I mean he talks, Stan Fishman the author of the article, talks a lot about the rural brain drain, and when you're from a rural area and you're doing well in school and you're taking advantage of opportunities and you have good grades and you have parents who want you to do well and succeed in life it's very hard for your parents to say, please come back to this town even they've been there, even if they have this life here because they look around and even if you know you live where I live like Minneapolis and Chicago are not that far away and they have such a plethora of opportunities. It kind of perpetuates this cycle. There was a really great book a couple of years ago called, "Hollowing out the Middle" that really addressed that and that really resonated with my experiences growing up in rural America.

                        You know there are these scale issues and capacity issues and how do you not only ... And talent issues ... And how do you not only just give kids the good education, but how do you support teachers? Things like digital learning definitely do hold a lot of promise. Online charter schools. When I was in ninth grade I was not impressed with the US history course that I was taking and the teacher actually told my mother she could probably do well in a college class. I teach in the college. My mom's like okay I think maybe then we need to get her into a harder class, but there wasn't one so we found like an AP online academy and I took that.

Michelle:         Not to now tell your entire childhood on the podcast, but your senior year you also took almost all online courses.

Alyssa:             Yes, I was taking about ... I was taking two classes in the school. I was then also taking bio 2 because I didn't want to take physics because I was scared. I'm sorry STEM. Then I was taking everything else online to earn some cred with colleges that I was applying to not even the college credit, but just showing that I was a competitive applicant.

Michelle:         I think that this article really lays out the issues and one of the most shocking things in the article is how the two federal grant programs that are sort of either targeted or heavily applied to by rural areas don't really even help the rural areas. They don't address all of these issues and-

Alyssa:             Applying for a grant is hard work and if they don't have that capacity.

Michelle:         Do you know something about that?

Alyssa:             I can talk a little bit about that, but that's for another time.

Michelle:         Even when I was active with the DC Young Education professionals in DC, which is obviously an urban thing. The blog post that got that got the most attention. The blog post that lead to re-posting other places were all about rural education and what do we do. How can we have charter schools when even your public school could be many, many miles away. I think we would be wise, for the whole ed reform movement to really pay attention to rural education for two reason. One being way more important than the other. The first, these kids. Then many steps behind that at least a thousand is many of the politicians who do not support ed reform or charter school or choice are rural legislators of both parties because they don't see our current reforms that are being presented as helpful to their constituencies and if we want to make change happen we A have to make sure that all kids have options and I'm not referring to choice in this instance I'm saying ed reforms, and B that they can actually help these kids.

Alyssa:             I think that really making sure that whatever options we are presenting align not only for the kids who do want to like me leave and go to college two-year or four-year, but then also for the kids who want to stay and maybe have a career. Like that's something that the rural areas are really well positioned to address and we do have to for their own sake and for their economies sake to create viable partnerships so those economies can continue to regenerate.

Michelle:         Absolutely. Okay that's all the time we have for parting the Gadfly. Thank you Ellen. Up next is everyone's favorite Amber's research minute.

                        Welcome to the show David.

David:              Glad to be here Michelle.

Michelle:         Notice I did not say Amber's name. Filling in for Amber today is David Griffith. It's his first time on the podcast.

Alyssa:             Very first podcast.

Michelle:         Welcome.

David:              Thank you.

Michelle:         We still call it Amber's research minute even though you're covering it.

David:              That's okay.

Michelle:         Before we get to research, which may or may not be important. Are you a Pitch Perfect fan?

Alyssa:             Most important question you'll be asked all week.

David:              Um, I am. Guilty.

Michelle:         Yes.

Alyssa:             Good.

Michelle:         I knew you fit into Fordham.

David:              I'm excited for the sequel too.

Alyssa:             There was somebody on staff they sent out a little email when the trailer came out. Somebody emailed me back, I'm sorry I really don't get it. He or she shall remain nameless, but-

Michelle:         Victoria Sears?

Alyssa:             Actually, yes. I wasn't going to throw her under a bus, but if you're putting her there I'll just-

Michelle:         She's actually is a singer so.

Alyssa:             She does acapella or did acapella.

Michelle:         That aside, David what do you have for us today?

David:              Okay, thanks Michelle. Today, we have a new report from the Institute of Education of Sciences entitled, "Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years" which was prepared by Lucinda Gray and Soheyla Taie of Westat and Isaiah O’Rear of the National Center for Education Statistics. The report presents new data from a national survey of teachers which is part of something called, The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study which is exactly what it sounds like. A longitudinal study of public school teachers who began teaching sometime between 2007-2008 and 2011-2012. What do these new data reveal about teacher mobility and attrition?

                        Well, there are a lot of findings, but let's just talk about a few that stand out. First, during their second year seventy-four percent of beginning teachers taught in the same school as the previous year, sixteen percent taught in a different school and ten percent were not teaching at all. By year five, seventeen percent of teachers had left teaching. Second, the percentage of beginning teachers who continued to teach after the first year varied by first year salary level. Surprise, surprise. For example, ninety-seven percent of beginning teachers whose first year base salary was $40,000 or more were still teaching in year two of the study whereas only eighty-seven percent of those with a first year salary less than $40,000 taught for a second year.

                        Third, teachers who started teaching with a master's degree weren't anymore likely to to continue teaching than teachers who started with just a bachelors degree. Fourth, beginning teachers were more likely to continue teaching if there were assigned a first year mentor. Finally, the percentage of teachers who left the profession who did so involuntarily ranged from twenty percent to thirty-six percent depending on the year. Similarly of the teachers who switched schools between their first and second years, twenty-one percent did so involuntary. however, among the teachers who switched schools between their fourth and fifth years, forty percent switched involuntarily.

                        So what should be make of all of this? Well the report confirms several things that we already know. Many, many beginning teachers leave the school they are working at in their first five years either because they moved to a new school or because they leave the profession entirely. Most teachers who leave the profession do so voluntarily because they're dissatisfied. If we want to keep more of these teachers this study suggests there are a couple of ways to do this.

                        We could pay them more or we could assign them mentors in their first year of teaching, which seems like common sense given that more than half of the teachers who leave the profession do so after their first year. However, making teachers get a master's degree before they start teaching isn't likely to help. Finally, one statistic that stood out to me was that forty percent of fifth year teachers who changed schools did so involuntarily. I think it's worth asking how many of these folks are good teachers who were laid off and how many are bad teachers who are just being shuffled from one school to another, but unfortunately this report doesn't tell us that.

Michelle:         Wow, there's a lot to unpack there.

David:              Yes.

Michelle:         I can see Alyssa scribbling notes.

Alyssa:             I’m scribbling my notes trying to catch all these numbers.

Michelle:         Alyssa, what's your big takeaway as a former teacher? You switched in your teaching career.

Alyssa:             Because of the earthquake my school closed, but I was kept within the same charter network. My administration changed. My building changed, classroom changed et cetera. Not sure I would necessarily fall into this study, but the finding to me didn't surprise me. It's definitely in line with the kind of research I've seen, my experiences. I have a lot of friends who are now entering or are about to end their fifth year of teaching and why they've left schools or why they transferred schools definitely jives with what these findings are.

David:              Yes, I agree. I'm one of those first year teachers who left after one year of teaching. I did not have a mentor. I could definitely have used one.

Alyssa:             Oh yes.

Michelle:         I think the mentor option seems like one of these reform, like why aren't we doing this?

Alyssa:             Low hanging fruit.

Michelle:         Low hanging fruit. In critical, in fact it doesn't matter what you're doing professionally teaching or not. First job you've got a lot to learn. I can't imaging the first year of teaching you're alone. You're in a classroom it's very overwhelming no matter what. How can we not have mentors this just seem like ... not low hanging fruit. This is fruit already on the ground.

Alyssa:             That easy to pick up

David:              I think the last thing I would say is that this study doesn't really highlight or get at the fact that there's a great deal of variation from school to school. These are just macro-level national statistics, but of course we all know that this problem is much, much worse at some school than at others.

Michelle:         That's for sure.

Alyssa:             Nothing super surprising stands out. I would love to know a little bit more about why teachers are leaving involuntarily if this is them being excessed because of school trends because they are victims of last-in first-out or if this is they're being fired for performance reasons.

David:              I suspect that data exists somewhere, but they didn't choose to highlight it.

Michelle:         Yes, and i would actually imagine that it's both. Right? I image they are just saying all teachers who left the classroom fit into the study. It could be budgetary issues. It could be low attendance or low number of students per grade. All of that. Who knows, but David excellent “Amber's research minute.”

David:              Thank you so much.

Alyssa:             You survived the two of us.

David:              I survived both of you yes. As I do every day.

Michelle:         Ouch.

Alyssa:             Well.

David:              Okay later guys.

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

Alyssa:             I'm Alyssa Schwenk.

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