The presidential edition

Jeb Bush, Arizona’s citizenship test, the State of the Union Address, and the SAT scores of teachers.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Hamilton Lankford, et al., "Who Enters Teaching? Encouraging Evidence That the Status of Teaching Is Improving," Educational Researcher, Vol. 43 No. 9 (December 2014).


Alyssa:             Hello this is your host Alyssa Schwenk 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 Anthony Fox of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:            The last man standing?

Alyssa:             The person whom at the end of the day we would all trust to completely restart the Education Reform Movement should we all be in the Capitol when it's attacked by aliens, and everyone dies.

Robert:            You're going to have to explain the reference.

Alyssa:             As I think most of our listeners know, the State of the Union-

Robert:            Wait, as in none of them know.

Alyssa:             ... as most of them, we are talking to some of DC’s best and brightest wonks, most of them I hope were watching the State of the Union last night-

Robert:            You just called me stupid didn’t you?

Alyssa:             You're from New York you're not in the DC. Okay, so last night was the State of the Union and anytime that the President and most of the line of secession is together the Secret Service insists that somebody stay behind at an undisclosed physically secure location. So that in the event that there is a massive terrorist attack, or the Capitol gets Independence Day-ed, there is somebody to restart the government.

Robert:            Continuance of government right.

Alyssa:             Last night it was Anthony Fox the Secretary of Transportation. It's one of my favorite parlor games in the week leading up to the State of the Union, like, “Who’s he going leave behind? Does this mean anything about what policy announcements the President might make that night?” So you are that person that I would trust to restart the entire movement. How do you feel about that honor?

Robert:            I feel like I fooled another one.

Alyssa:             I think you're selling yourself short there, Robert.

Robert:            Well, thank you Alyssa.

Alyssa:             On that note let’s play Pardon the Gadfly.

Ellen:               In President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night he said nothing about K-12 education, was this a missed opportunity?

Alyssa:             Robert, what do you think?

Robert:            Were we expecting him to say anything about K-12? He’s on this community college kick; he talked about that ad nauseam.

Alyssa:             That's true, I do think though given that the ESEA hearing started this morning, people were expecting a little bit more of a mention. I personally think it was a good move on his part not to mention it. It's in front of Congress right now, Arne Duncan said his piece, it's time to let Congress work out the nuts and bolts and then proceed from there.

Robert:            Fair enough. I like Frank Bruni’s column in the New York Times today where he kind of cast come cold water in. This is confirmation bias because I'm not a big fan of the community college gambit either. But Bruni writes that, “It's awfully late in the game.” What he means by that is, it's not it's late in the Obama Administration’s game to talk about community college; it's late in the academic lives of students to be concerned about free community college.

His point, and this is something we've talked about a lot on this podcast, is that we shouldn't take our eye off the ball on K12. I've come to think of what's going on in education now as a bar bell, we're focusing on the weights at both ends, but not in the middle. Everything’s all about universal Pre-K on one end, college on the other, who’s paying attention to what connects those two things?

Alyssa:             That's true, I do think though implicitly for the community college plan to work, we do need good K12 education. The community college plan I feel rests a lot on students being prepared.

Robert:            Sure.

Alyssa:             And if community college is going to work, and I hope that it does. I think it is a good path to the middle class, I think it, at least in the community I grew up with, offered a lot of opportunities for kids who wouldn't necessarily have continued their education. But if it's going to work we do need good K12s.

Robert:            Sure, it's hard to bash community colleges, we all love them. I don’t have this data in front of me, but from the top of my head guess what the three year graduation rate is for community colleges for first time students?

Alyssa:             I'll be optimistic with fifty percent.

Robert:            Guess lower.

Alyssa:             Twenty.

Robert:            Guess lower.

Alyssa:             Oh gosh.

Robert:            That's all right, you're in the ballpark.

Alyssa:             Okay.

Robert:            I think it was like eighteen or nineteen percent of first time community college students graduating within three years. Now, guess what percentage of those students require remediation?

Alyssa:             Oh that's-

Robert:            Stick with your original guess.

Alyssa:             Fifty.

Robert:            Fifty percent, that says we've got a problem and it's not a community college problem-

Alyssa:             It's a K12.

Robert:            ... it's a K12 problem.

Alyssa:             Yeah. All right well second question, Ellen?

Ellen:               The New Yorker published a profile of possible Presidential nominee Jeb Bush, but discussed his support for “for-profit” education and the Common Core. How will these issues affect a potential campaign?

Alyssa:             First off I love that we're still saying “possible” Presidential nominee. I think you know if he was perhaps in the Capitol when it got Independence Day’ed he wouldn't be a Presidential nominee. Otherwise I do think he’s running. What about you Robert?

Robert:            I hadn’t heard? He’s running?

Alyssa:             The New Yorker thinks he is.

Robert:            I guess he is then.

Alyssa:             If the New Yorker thinks is, I guess he is. In this profile it discusses, obviously it's the New Yorker it's a very long profile-

Robert:            It's always long.

Alyssa:             Oh, so long.

Robert:            Yeah, they get paid by the word there.

Alyssa:             Well this writer made out well on this piece then. It discusses his history in Florida, his run for Governor, and particularly his involvement in education both in the charter sector, and now more recently with Common Core. It raises the possibility that both of those things might harm his Presidential campaign.

Robert:            Yeah, it's an interesting question. I guess the conventional wisdom is that if you're going to be a Republican nominee, or want to be the Republican nominee, “Thou shalt disavow Common Core.” We've seen Bobby Jindal flip flop on this-

Alyssa:             Wait, he’s running for President too?

Robert:            Have you not heard?

Alyssa:             Haven’t seen it in the New Yorker yet.

Robert:            There was an interesting ... Let’s assume that the conventional wisdom is that you have to be anti-Common Core. There was an interesting article, I don’t remember where it was, but John Kasich in Ohio came out and said, “Look all of the anti-Common Core stuff is hysteria.” Call me a foolish optimist, I'd like to think that at some point grownups are going to stand up and say, “Look, we need higher standards; the political opportunism that has surrounded the opposition to Common Core on the GOP side has just got to stop.” Now tell me why I'm wrong?

Alyssa:             Tell ... Why does it have to stop?

Robert:            No, tell me that I'm wrong that it's not going to stop, and Common Core will be fatal for a Bush candidacy?

Alyssa:             I do think particularly getting through the primaries it's going to be tough, given the action that we've seen at the state level. That being said the article seemed to think that the for-profit charter schools that he was involved with seeding-

Robert:            That's different.

Alyssa:             ... could be a bigger detriment to his campaign. I would actually say that Common Core I think is a tougher road for most of the people who are going to be voting in the primaries.

Robert:            Yeah, it's hard for me to separate this out because I talk and write about Common Core a lot and I find myself saying the same thing over, and over again, that once people understand what Common Core says, their opposition softens. Once they understand that it's not a Federal takeover that there's a difference between curriculum and standards and there was a Bush quote in the article where he talks about local control.

But it does require a bit of a leap of faith that people are going follow you through that logic chain. I'd like to think that this is not fatal to a Bush candidacy. I am a little bit more concerned honestly about the for-profit charter stuff. Look, I'm a big charter guy; some of the results from for-profit charters have been not good. There's just something that makes you uncomfortable about conflating-

Alyssa:             That's fair.

Robert:            ... the profit motive and education, it just kind of goes against the grain. There's also a quote in the article where Bush says, and I'm paraphrasing, he doesn’t really care if somebody makes a buck, as long as their kids are getting a good outcome. And that's fair, but that strikes me as more likely to be demagogued than Common Core.

Alyssa:             That's true. I do think though, at the end of the day, Bush has for over a decade now been very authentic on the issue of education. He absolutely cares about it. His dad, his brother, we're kind of the politics guys; he’s more of the policy guy. I think when starts to campaign “officially” we're going to see kind of a different Bush than we've seen from his dad and his brother. So I think it will be interesting.

Robert:            Yeah, but if you're in favor of choice and charters, and I think those are red meat issues for the GOP, he’s your guy.

Alyssa:             Yeah, well we will see. Ellen third question?

Ellen:               Robert, you just wrote an editorial about Arizona’s new Citizenship Test. Should other states follow suit?

Alyssa:             All right, bring it Pondiscio.

Robert:            Yes.

Alyssa:             That's it?

Robert:            Any other questions? Come on Alyssa, this is not a heavy lift. Have you seen the Citizenship Test?

Alyssa:             I have, I actually looked at a couple of the questions last night. They were fairly-

Robert:            Did you strain your brain? Was it hard to remember why there are fifty stars on the flag? Did you have to really dig deep to remember who your Senator is? Or who the President is? Is this a heavy lift?

Alyssa:             Well, since I live in DC I do not have a Senator, but that is an issue for another day.

Robert:            Okay.

Alyssa:             I agree that the test is something that all students-

Robert:            Ridiculously simple?

Alyssa:             ... could and should know. But I don’t believe that adding another multiple choice test to the education-

Robert:            Alyssa ...

Alyssa:             ... requirements for graduation-

Robert:            Alyssa ...

Alyssa:             ... will necessarily make kids more engaged citizens, which is ostensibly the end.

Robert:            I don’t even know how to respond to this. This is so not a heavy lift. Here’s an interesting story, before I was with Fordham I worked for the I worked for the Core Knowledge Foundation, and I met a teach at a charter school, a Core Knowledge school in North Carolina who herself was taking the Citizenship Test. She turned it into an activity with her students; I think she was a second grade teacher. Out of one hundred questions on the Citizenship Test, guess how many come up in the Core Knowledge sequence by second grade?

Alyssa:             Forty?

Robert:            Seventy-five.

Alyssa:             Okay.

Robert:            This is second grade stuff. Come on this is not a heavy lift. If kids in Arizona, or elsewhere, can't do this it's a national embarrassment. In fact, here's a bit of data for you Xavier University a few years ago reported that 97.5 percent, virtually everybody, would be citizens who take the test pass it. What's the ratio of American citizens who ... And the way this works by the way, there's a hundred questions, you get asked ten, if you get six right you pass, 97.5 percent of would be citizens do it. What percentage of Americans, native born, can do the same?

Alyssa:             Two out of three.

Robert:            Exactly right, two out of three, and if you raise the threshold to seven out of ten, still low, and then will how many pass?

Alyssa:             From Americans?

Robert:            Yes, native born.

Alyssa:             One out of two.

Robert:            Fifty percent, that's humiliating.

Alyssa:             I agr-

Robert:            You’re a cab driver who just became a citizen and knows more about our government than you do.

Alyssa:             Do I think that kids should know that? Yes. Do I think it needs to be tied to their graduation? No. Same way that I don’t think you should be asked for your driver’s license when you go to vote, or what all the county judges in your state are when you go to register. Would I like-

Robert:            I am so comfortable-

Alyssa:             ... people to know-

Robert:            ... with you being wrong.

Alyssa:             … this? Yes. All right well I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this point then.

Robert:            We're agreeing that you're wrong.

Alyssa:             We're agreeing to disagree.

Robert:            If you insist.

Alyssa:             All right, well that's all of the time that we have today for Pardon the Gadfly-

Robert:            And for Alyssa being wrong.

Alyssa:             ... up next Amber’s Research Minute. All right today on Amber’s Research Minute we have Dara Zeehandelaar filling in for Amber. Welcome to the show Dara.

Dara:               Thank you.

Alyssa:             Earlier we were talking about the designated survivor of the State of the Union so I guess my first question is: did you watch the State of the Union last night?

Dara:               I did and I also just learned about the designated survivor thing-

Alyssa:             Isn’t it the-

Dara:               ... this morning.

Alyssa:             Isn’t it the coolest part about the State of the Union?

Dara:               But who was it?

Alyssa:             It was Anthony Fox, who was the Secretary of Transportation. Which I think makes a lot of sense. In the last couple years, it's been the Energy Secretary, it's been the Agricultural Secretary, if you're going to have to restart a government from scratch the things you need are roads, food, and an energy source. I actually think it's kind of brilliant.

Robert:            Was Arne Duncan ever the designated survivor?

Alyssa:             No, and the Secretary of Education has only been the designated survivor once in 1989-

Robert:            Fascinating.

Alyssa:             ... according to Wikipedia.

Dara:               I just figured they would draw straws about who does have to go. Who can stay at home on the couch?

Alyssa:             Who’s in sweatpants-

Dara:               ... stay home.

Alyssa:             Who’s in sweatpants-

Robert:            My couch is a convenient location.

Alyssa:             Who’s in sweatpants eating some popcorn? Yeah, all right what do you have for us today?

Dara:               Today we have an article from Educational Researcher called, “Who Enters Teaching: Encouraging evidence that the status of teaching is improving.” From the all-star team of: Lankford, Loeb, McEachin, Miller and Wyckoff. It explores changes in the New York State teaching workforce since the 1990s after the State implemented a number of policies to improve the quality of its new teachers.

Briefly those policies: beginning in 1998, the State increased the general and content specific course work requirements needed for certification, and upped the number of hours of required field experience. It also eliminated Ad Hoc alternative certification pathways, like transcript review in favor of alternative pathways with formal requirements and it discontinued emergency and temporary licenses.

The authors ask, “After these changes to State policy what happened to the new teaching workforce?” Their data set combined SAT scores of individuals who completed certification and those who got hired combine their SAT scores with their personnel files. In total they looked at about two hundred and twenty thousand individuals received their certification and of those a hundred and fifty-two thousand who were hired between 1985 and 2010.

Robert:            Hm, I'm in that data set. I was certified in Newark then.

Dara:               Well then this will be particularly interesting to you. Remember that you're in 1998 was when they started implementing the new requirements. First prior to 1998/1999 the data show that the average academic abilities of new teachers was low, and consistently falling.

After 1999 SAT scores of both the certified group, and those who were hired improved substantially. With the biggest improvements for the group that was actually hired, for example between ’99 and 2010, the share of entrance drawn from the bottom third of SAT test takers decreased by seven percent. And the share of the top third of SAT scores increased by thirteen percent.

Robert:            Not bad.

Dara:               The improvements among New York City teachers were larger and occur earlier than throughout the rest of the State. For example in 1999 forty-three percent of new, New York City teachers came from the bottom third of SAT scores-

Robert:            Yeah, I may be in there.

Dara:               ... By 2010 that number dropped to twenty-four percent. This is particularly interesting because New York City is home of the New York Teaching Fellows which is a formal alternative certification program-

Alyssa:             You're in that one too.

Robert:            Yep, that was my program.

Dara:               Improvements total the new teaching workforce are also more pronounced for teachers in hard to staff subjects, compared to elementary and non-hard to staff secondary subjects. Improvements are more pronounced for schools that enroll more poor students, and for entering minority teachers compared to white and Asian teachers.

Remember improvements occurred throughout the State not just in New York City, in all subjects at both rich and poor schools, and for teachers of all ethnicities. The authors rule out that the trends are the result in changes in the labor market, and conclude that the changes to the workforce are really likely due to the State policies. Of course the jury is still out on whether teacher SAT scores are related to student achievement at all. But as a proxy for the changing qualifications of the workforce SAT scores do show a varied market improvement in the past fifteen years.

Robert:            But they haven’t tied that to student outcomes obviously yet?

Dara:               No.

Robert:            Which is what this is really all about?

Dara:               Yes.

Alyssa:             Right.

Dara:               That is correct, and a very big caveat and I think there has been a lot of work with very mixed findings. Usually showing no relationship between SAT scores and other things like undergraduate institutions selectivity with student outcomes, but they also acknowledge there are so many intervening steps between all of those things, that you can't rule it out either.

Robert:            The one thing that surprises, and I was a New York City Teaching Fellow during this timeframe, but what surprises me about this a little bit is I have to confess, and I'm not a genius, but I found the certification exams to be baby simple. Almost as easy as the Citizenship Test.

Alyssa:             Oof, burn.

Dara:               The idea is that you don’t use those scores on the certification exams. Instead you use SAT scores which are much more universal. The author’s more broad argument which I didn’t go into here as I presented the findings is that by increasing the selectivity of the teaching workforce you get better candidates.

Which is counter to the argument that raising barriers to entry, and that's what these policies did the policies raised barriers to entry, and the counter argument is that that dissuades good people from entering. They say, “I'm going to go make more money somewhere else. My opportunity cost here is way too high. I'm going to go do something else.” The author’s argue that is not the case with these policies.

Alyssa:             Very interesting. You mentioned that it had happened during the introduction of New York Teaching Fellows, but did they go into at all about the recruiting tactics, or ...

Dara:               No, this was a very high level quantitative analysis and so there have been other studies that look at the compared different alternative certification programs. They look at Teach for America; they separate that out from other alternative certification programs. They separate that out from Teaching Fellows; this is not one of those studies.

Robert:            Right, and those are fairly small groups, you're talking about this is a Statewide setting not a Citywide?

Dara:               Right.

Robert:            So those programs would be impactful-

Alyssa:             Targeted.

Robert:            ... for those areas but maybe not Statewide?

Alyssa:             Right.

Dara:               And they didn’t identify how teachers got their credential they just said whether they were certified, whether they got hired. Then the piece about the New York City gains, one of the hypotheses that that might be attributed to, is the introduction of the Teaching Fellows Program in place the Ad Hoc alternative certification, and the elimination of the emergency credentials.

Robert:            Yeah, this will be interesting to watch long-term because if I'm not mistaken, New York State has raised the bar yet again in the last year or two. I believe, from memory, the figure is like forty percent of new teachers are now being denied certification so ostensibly that bar will get higher still which makes for a good long-term data set.

Dara:               Hopefully we'll continue to attract the best rather than increasing barriers to entry of those people.

Robert:            Here, here.

Alyssa:             Very interesting. Well that's all the time we have for this week’s Education Gadfly Show, till next week ...

Robert:            I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Alyssa:             And I'm Alyssa Schwenk for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Male:               The Education Gadfly Show is a production of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington DC, for more information visit us online at