Weighing the waivers

Mike sat down with Fordham’s new school choice czar, Adam Emerson, to question just how flexible ESEA flexibility turned out to be and to ponder Obama’s abandonment of the D.C. voucher program. Amber looks at a new study on how much value principals add while Chris learns that they sometimes need to bob and weave when handing out teacher evaluations.

Amber's Research Minute

Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Springfield, MA teacher punches vice principal during evaluation

This new paper by edu-economist extraordinaire Eric Hanushek
and colleagues adds empirical clout to the “conventional wisdom” that principal
quality—and principal turnover—matters for student performance. (This paper
debuted at a recent CALDER conference that was chockablock
with important
education research
.) Using administrative data, analysts observed over
7,000 principals from 1995 to 2001 in Texas.
They first estimate principals’ contributions by tracking student-learning
gains during each leader’s tenure at a given school, controlling for other
school-level factors. (They attempt to control for years of experience by
limiting one of their analyses to principals with three years under their belts.)
According to their most conservative estimates, having a principal in the top
16 percent of the distribution will lead the average student to learn 0.05
standard deviations more than he or she would in a school with an average
principal. For comparison, studies suggest that teacher effects are about twice
this size, though importantly, the learning effects due to a strong principal
apply to all students in the school, not just an individual classroom.
Meaning the aggregate impact of having an effective principal...

Every time I see a “poverty and education” story I think of
the famous line from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “The poor you will
always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” 

So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy. 

Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.

I sat through an hour meeting of our small school district’s
budget committee last week, most of it devoted to bemoaning our fate as a “poor
district” (over 60 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price
lunch, the standard definition of “poor” for schools) in these recessionary
times. State aid has been nearly flat and the Governor punched through a two
percent local property tax cap. Woe is us. There goes sports. Not mentioned was
the fact that we spend over $22,000 per student! 

has been hitting the poverty gong for some time, most recently in Cleveland, where, she
says, “the level of urban decay is alarming.” I was just in Cleveland...

The Shanker Institute's Matt Di Carlo had a great post last week breaking down a recent study by
economist Brian Jacob on how principals fire (or don't fire) teachers in
Chicago Public Schools. The news that firings correlate with lower
effectiveness is nice to hear. But the headline is that, given more
flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody:

Given more
flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody.
Jacob found that, despite the new policy allowing principals
to dismiss probationary teachers at will, a rather high proportion of them
didn’t do so. During each year between 2004-05 and 2006-07, principals in
around 30-40 percent of Chicago
schools chose not to dismiss a single probationary teacher. Further, this
phenomenon was not at all limited to “high-performing” and/or low-poverty
schools, where one might expect to find a stable, well-trained teaching force.
For instance, in 2005, 35 percent of the “lowest-performing” schools (the
bottom 25 percent) chose not to dismiss any probationary teachers, as compared
with 54 percent of the school with the highest absolute achievement levels (the
proportions were similar when school performance...

Awaiting waivers

While waiting for the ESEA waiver announcement, Mike and Janie get to look at the week’s more entertaining edu-news, from trials for tardiness to a pot problem in the Rockies. Amber talks pensions and Chris wonders if “walking it off” isn’t always the best idea.

Amber's Research Minute

Pension-Induced Rigidites in the Labor Market for School Leaders

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Suit: Boy falls, teacher says crawl back to Skokie school

The bold move by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in unveiling his “Plan for
Transforming Schools” is a significant step forward for Cleveland, its schools,
and, most importantly, its children. The Jackson Plan has the potential to make
Cleveland one
of the nation’s school reform leaders.

In time, it would help all of Cleveland’s
schools to better provide the high quality education that every child in the
city deserves. By focusing laser-like on school performance, regardless of
school type (district and charter alike), it would reward and encourage the
expansion and replication of great schools while putting much needed pressure
on those schools that don’t (district and charter alike) to improve or get lost.

Sal Khan at Web 2.0 Summit
 Mayor Jackson's plan offers Cleveland a chance to put children's interests first.
Photo by Joshua Rothhaas.

The Jackson Plan’s sense of urgency is well warranted. Despite laudable
school reform efforts in Cleveland
over the years...

Through the din of cheering, back-patting, and high-fiving
from school-choice advocates over their legislative
successes in 2011
, it’s been hard to hear about states’ recent
improvements to teacher policy
. This fifth edition of the National Council
on Teacher Quality’s report on state teacher-quality policies lends a megaphone
to this cause. (And at more than 8,000 pages—150 pages or more per state—it’s quite the
hefty and detailed
megaphone.) It finds that twenty-eight jurisdictions have improved (on NCTQ’s
) over the past two years. Indiana clocked the greatest gains,
followed by Minnesota and Michigan. Of the states that improved, twenty-four
now consider student achievement as part of teacher evals (up from fifteen in
2009). Thirteen states can now dismiss teachers because of classroom
ineffectiveness and twelve states weigh teacher effectiveness—not just
seniority—in rewarding tenure. In 2009, the highest grade issued was a middling
C (to Florida). This report sees NCTQ’s first B-level grades ever issued:
Top-ranking Florida earned a straight B, while Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and
Tennessee each garnered B-minuses. Mostly good news, but there is yet more to
be done. Even...

Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public
schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many
charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter
schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A
glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to
remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did
not participate in the state plan. In
2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain
employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state
teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to
remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the
Treasury Department approved.

Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that
they can participate in state and local pension plans?

The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it
worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a
plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury

One of Mike’s failed predictions
for 2011
– that Michelle Rhee would embrace paycheck protection as part of
her ed reform agenda – is still a worthy idea for StudentsFirst and other
education advocacy organizations in 2012. These laws require members of teacher
unions to give their express consent for the union to use their dues to make
political contributions.

Teachers do not speak with one voice on
political issues, even when it comes to K-12 policy. The “new normal” of tough
budgets exposes how the incentives of newer teachers differ from more
experienced ones, and new organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (which just
opened an LA
) fight for a political voice for them that is independent of the
union establishment. Last election, the Ohio Education Association actually attacked
the husband
of one its members in vicious television ads, using the
teacher’s own dues to finance them.

Teacher unions are among the most
powerful political actors in America on a wide range of issues (just ask Terry Moe,
, or Mike...

As the tide of education accountability ebbs from federal
shores and rolls back out to state seas, states are in a position to reboot,
retool, and reimagine their current accountability models. This Education
Sector paper from independent analyst Craig Jerald offers a novel suggestion:
Model new accountability systems after the Brits’s long-running
school-inspection program. The specifics of the program have been tinkered with
since its inception, but its tenets remain the same. School ratings (given on a
five-point scale) are based upon site-visit reports by trained professionals
using a multi-dimensional metric. (Next year, those measures will be: student
achievement, quality of teaching, students’ behavior and health, and leadership
and management of the school.) Schools are told—explicitly—what they’re doing
right and wrong, and are given tangible recommendations for improvement. And
transparency is key—with all school evaluations made public online within
fifteen days of site visit. Jerald is right to call for a more robust, and
accessible, accountability system. And this British model (implemented in a
union-friendly nation) is worth states’ consideration. But there’s still one