The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

The U.S. spends more per capita on education than every other country in the OECD except Switzerland. Yet teacher salaries are relatively low, especially for early-career teachers, students underperform their OECD peers on international tests, and college students feel their K-12 education was inadequate preparation for higher ed. The solution to all these problems may just be to pay teachers more money, especially in salary rather than expensive fringe benefits.

Our education system has developed an obsession with remediation.

Our education system has developed an obsession with remediation, both for students and teachers. Youngsters fall behind quickly (or start behind) and start an endless round of pull-out instruction, reading groups, remedial courses, and tutoring early. For educators, districts have now beefed up the payroll with instructional coaches, teacher aides, and other paraprofessionals who bring (costly) support and advice but wield little authority. This addiction to support is unhealthy—every dollar spend on remediation and extraneous personnel could be going to pay front-line teachers more.

We released a policy brief yesterday that goes deeper on these points, How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar. Public Impact has also weighed in on the importance of high-quality, well-compensated teaching with a...

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

This study by Harvard researchers Tom Hehir and colleagues cracks the lid on special education in Massachusetts—which holds the distinction (perhaps dubious) of the second-highest identification rate in the U.S, with more than 17 percent of students eligible for special education services. Analysts examined both demographic and test-score data at the district, school, and student levels in roughly 300 Bay State districts and offer gobs of interesting findings—each well presented and nicely summarized. For example: Categories with the most subjective diagnoses (specific learning disabilities and communication or other health impairments) are by far the most prevalent (and are likely overdiagnosed). What’s more, low-income students are more frequently identified as having these “high incidence” disabilities than wealthier youngsters. This is particularly true for low-income pupils in high-income districts. More blacks and Latinos than whites are eligible for special-education services, but these differences mostly disappear when analysts control for socioeconomic status and other demographic characteristics. Student achievement for the Bay State’s special-needs population is better than the national NAEP average for such kids, though much of this effect can likely be attributed to MA’s high identification rates—meaning students with less...

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

The dictum states: Teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor for student achievement. The corollary goes: It’s hard to staff low-income schools with high-bar teachers. Thus: Students who need the strongest teachers often do not get them. This recent Institute of Education Sciences report, using data from seven large urban districts that participated in its two-year Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), analyzes whether school districts can incentivize top-tier teachers to transfer into chronically low-performing schools. TTI recruited districts’ top 20 percent of elementary and middle school teachers (based on two years of value-added scores). It offered each potential participant $20,000 in added pay (awarded over the course of two years) if he or she transferred to and remained in an identified low-performing school. (Retention bonuses of $10,000 were also awarded to upper-echelon teachers already in low-performing schools.) Most eligible teachers did not apply to participate in the TTI program. Of this group, 29 percent cited their lack of confidence in teaching in a low-performing school as reason not to transfer. A quarter stated that $20,000 was not a large enough incentive. Still, the 24 percent who...

I am pretty good at math. Unsurprisingly, the story about why I am good at math has a lot to do with a few exceptional teachers I had growing up in a small coal-mining town in Illinois.

One in particular was Mr. Nagrodski, my high-school math team coach, who seemed to conjure talented mathematicians out of thin air. In the late 80s, he pushed for a major acceleration in the junior-high math curriculum in our district so that more kids were ready for tough math classes in high school. He convinced the district to let him teach those tough math classes, which hadn't been offered before he arrived. As a result, his teams won state math competitions year after year after year—and not incidentally, turned out far more talented students of mathematics than anyone would have guessed could come from a little town of four thousand. (Among many other accolades, Mr. Nagrodski, was profiled in Fortune magazine back in 1991 as one of “25 Who Help the U.S. Win.")

By the time I was a middle schooler gearing up for Mr. Nagrodski's infamously difficult math team practices, roughly half of my class of 75 or so kids had been identified as...

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Photo by Alberto G.

Direct from America’s cheating capital comes an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article describing suspicious test score patterns in lots of districts around the country. According to the analysts, who looked at scores from 69,000 schools, 196 districts had swings so extreme that the odds of them occurring by chance alone were less than one in a thousand. While the newspaper acknowledged that its analysis is not proof of cheating, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote that it should trigger a thorough review. The union boss’s support of transparency on this issue is heartening: Wide-spread cheating undermines the foundations of standards-based reform and further investigation is indeed warranted. Accountability based on objective measures of student knowledge demands that those measures be accurate and trustworthy, else myriad efforts that rely on a clear understanding of performance—merit pay, tenure reform, VAM—are damned. But, of course, those are things that Van Roekel and his crew abhor, so he spoiled his message about cheating by also bemoaning the “corruptive influence high-stakes tests have...

A recent piece in the American Journalism Review ripped mainstream education journalism, especially the televised variety, for fostering a false sense of crisis. It contains a shred of truth. “The sky is falling!” is no longer a fair assessment of American education, as witness modest gains on NAEP and high-school graduation rates. But the author, hell bent to attack “reform,” doesn’t appear willing to give reform any credit for any of that, either.

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled ed school objections to the National Council on Teacher Quality's ongoing efforts to appraise America's teacher preparation programs. The more attention their resistance to transparency gets the better: It just makes more obvious how self-serving their complaints on this issue are.

A new poll shows Cleveland residents support Mayor Frank Jackson's school reform plan. Here’s hoping that leaders in Cleveland and across Ohio will keep in mind that it's the community, not special interests, that should be driving the education agenda.

Reformers bemoan specific bureaucratic hurdles to improving schools, but perhaps the real issue is American education’s basic tendency...