This blog is an archive of the Ed Reform 101 project, designed to give policy makers and the public clear, concise information about education reform. There are five posts in the series, which are also presented in the "Pages" column. Fact sheets in .pdf format will also be available soon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 2013

Even kids who make it through high school and into college face hurdles. While the majority of Sci Academy’s graduates enrolled in four-year colleges in the fall of 2012, over 10 percent had either dropped out or transferred to junior colleges within six months of matriculating. (Marcovitz acknowledges that the school needs to both improve student attrition and help its graduates stay in college. Sci Academy recently appointed “college captains,” who will keep in touch with classmates and alert the school to any problems kids are having in college.)
Another fact that troubled Levey was student debt: the average Sci Academy student, if he or she completes college, will graduate with $22,000 to $27,000 in debt, according to Levey, even if the student is eligible for state or federal aid. Meanwhile, students who drop out will leave with thousands of dollars in loans. Says Levey: “A kid who is barely passing, but qualifies for a four-year college, who really doesn’t have any academic interests—why am I having them mark general studies on their college application, why? Or nursing or chemical engineering?”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 2013 Best Information

Dreambox Acquired: More Blended Charters Coming

Dreambox Acquired: More Blended Charters Coming
Reed Hastings and CSGF acquired Dreambox, a K-12 adaptive math platform, with the intention of creating more scalable and sustainable charter networks. Reed, a KIPP board member, has been on this war path for a year.
Rocketship, a high-performing elementary charter network in San Jose, uses online learning to stretch the day/year, improve performance, and drop a sufficient margin to at least partially fund growth.
Here’s a note from John Danner of Rocketship, with the news:
“Rocketeers, great news today. Reed Hastings and the Charter School Growth Fund have acquired Dreambox, a great adaptive learning engine company. I will be joining their board.

Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix

From health to pensions to education, the United States relies on private enterprise more than pretty much every other advanced, industrial nation to provide essential social services. The government pays Medicare Advantage plans to deliver health care to aging Americans. It provides a tax break to encourage employers to cover workers under 65.
Businesses devote almost 6 percent of the nation’s economic output to pay for health insurance for their employees. This amounts to nine times similar private spending on health benefits across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, on average. Private plans cover more than a third of pension benefits. The average for 30 countries in the O.E.C.D. is just over one-fifth.
We let the private sector handle tasks other countries would never dream of moving outside the government’s purview. Consider bail bondsmen and their rugged sidekicks, the bounty hunters.

Michelle Rhee's Failing Report Card

Rhee's report card gave schools a failing grade if teachers received a defined benefit pension (worse if it was backloaded). The school system gets an "A" in this category if teachers only had a 401(k) type defined contribution plan or a cash balance account.
Pensions are now and have historically been an important part of teachers' compensations. Teachers, like most public sector employees, are paid less in wagesthan workers in the private sector with comparable education and experience. They make up much of this gap with a better benefit package, including better pension benefits, than workers in the private sector receive.
Given this reality, it is difficult to see how students are helped if a school system replaces a defined benefit pension that guarantees teachers a specific level of income after they retire, with a defined contribution plan, where retirement income will depend on the teachers' investment success and the timing of the market. Since state governments don't have to care about the timing of market swings, only overall averages, assuming timing and investment risk is an important benefit that governments can provide their workers at essential zero cost. A defined benefit pension will make a job more attractive to workers than if the state gave teachers the same amount of money in the form of a contribution to a 401(k) account.

A Brash Hedge-Fund Manager Applies His Tactics to Philanthropy

A few years ago, Cheryl L. Dorsey was hosting a lunch for Echoing Green Foundation, the social-entrepreneurship fund she runs, when a man she had never met before approached her.
“If Echoing Green is as good as you say it is, I’ll commit $1-million and get involved,” she recalls him saying.
Not too long after, the then $2.6-million New York group had the money—and the man on its board.
That kind of move is quintessential William A. Ackman. The 44-year old hedge-fund manager is well known in the financial world for his brash brand of activist investing, by which he has amassed a fortune that Forbes magazine last year estimated at $700-million. (Mr. Ackman declined to confirm whether that is accurate.)
He’s not yet a familiar name in philanthropy—but that could change.
By many accounts, Mr. Ackman, who makes swift decisions and likes to nudge grantees to try new approaches and reach more people, wants his giving to achieve an audacious goal: changing the world.
Through a foundation they created in 2006, Mr. Ackman and his wife, Karen, plan to eventually give away most of their wealth. Last year, they donated $58-million to the Pershing Square Foundation, whose name reflects Mr. Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management, the hedge fund he started in 2004. The contribution, along with $1.3-million they gave to 50 other nonprofits, puts the Ackmans in the No. 17 spot on The Chronicle’s list of the most-generous donors.

Avoiding Bureaucracy

The foundation is awarding grants at that same fast clip, pledging $84.3-million so far.
Last fall, it hired a chief executive, Paul Bernstein, the former managing director of U.K. charity Absolute Return for Kids. He is charged with turning the organization into a more-professional operation while keeping it free of the sort of bureaucracy to which Mr. Ackman is allergic.
Mr. Ackman’s money, meanwhile, is behind high-profile efforts such as the attempts by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark to transform the city’s schools; a Facebook co-founder’s nonprofit-centric social-network, Jumo; and a collaboration among Harvard University, the global-health activist Paul Farmer’s charity, and a hospital system to improve health-care delivery in poor countries.
Mr. Ackman’s style might sometimes seem like self-interested grandstanding. In 2007, under scrutiny from regulators, he said he would donate any personal profits from his financial bet that the stock of the bond-insurer MBIA would fall.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

December 2012 Best Information


One literature documents a significant, black-white gap in average test scores, while another finds
a substantial narrowing of the gap during the 1980’s, and stagnation in convergence after. We use
two data sources – the Long Term Trends NAEP and AFQT scores for the universe of applicants to the
U.S. military between 1976 and 1991 – to show: 1) the 1980’s convergence is due to relative improvements
across successive cohorts of blacks born between 1963 and the early 1970’s and not a secular narrowing
in the gap over time; and 2) the across-cohort gains were concentrated among blacks in the South.
We then demonstrate that the timing and variation across states in the AFQT convergence closely
tracks racial convergence in measures of health and hospital access in the years immediately following
birth. We show that the AFQT convergence is highly correlated with post-neonatal mortality rates
and not with neonatal mortality and low birth weight rates, and that this result cannot be explained
by schooling desegregation and changes in family background. We conclude that investments in health
through increased access at very early ages have large, long-term effects on achievement, and that
the integration of hospitals during the 1960’s affected the test performance of black teenagers in the

Philip Kovacs: Teach For America Research Fails the Test

On the web page where Teach For America shares research, they boldly state: "A large and growing body of independent research shows that Teach For America corps members make as much of an impact on student achievement as veteran teachers." I will show this is an absurd claim simply by analyzing the reports made public on their "research" page. I will not look at or includeother research which shows that TFA has negative effects on student test scores in some places, as others have already done so.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November 2012 Best Information

Closing the achievement gap: Have we flat-lined?

My conclusion? There’s been no shrinkage in the test score gap between 2006 and 2012, a period in which many of Bloomberg and Klein’s reforms have begun to reach maturity. If the only purpose of their reforms were to close the achievement gap, this flat-lining would indicate that the reforms were dead on arrival.

Michele Rhee’s right turn

Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents. And Rhee’s above-the-fray bona fides have come under heavy fire as progressives and teachers unions increasingly cast the school reform movement, which has become virtually synonymous with Rhee’s name, as politically conservative and corporate-funded.

The Exhaustion of the American Teacher

Truth is, the problem with the American student is the American adult. Deadbeat dads, pushover moms, vulgar celebrities, self-interested politicians, depraved ministers, tax-sheltering CEOs, steroid-injecting athletes, benefit-collecting retirees who vote down school taxes, and yes, incompetent teachers—all take their turns conspiring to neglect the needs of the young in favor of the wants of the old. The line of malefactors stretches out before our children; they take turns dealing them drugs, unhealthy foods, skewed values messages, consumerist pap, emotional and physical and sexual traumas, racist messages of aspersion for their cultures, and countless other strains of vicious disregard. Nevertheless, many pundits and politicians are happy to train their rhetorical fire uniquely on the teachers, and the damnable hive-feast on the souls of our young continues unabated. We’re told not to worry because good teachers will simply overcome this American psychic cannibalism and drag our hurting children across the finish line ahead of the Finnish lions.
Yeah, right.

How Charter Schools Fleece Taxpayers

In her examination of Arizona’s 50 largest nonprofit charter schools and all of Arizona's nonprofit charter schools with assets exceeding $10 million, Ryman found “at least 17 contracts or arrangements, totaling more than $70 million over five years and involving about 40 school sites, in which money from the non-profit charter school went to for-profit or non-profit companies run by board members, executives or their relatives.” That says to me that in Arizona, at least, charter-school corruption isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And that’s just in the nonprofit charter schools. Documentation for the for-profit schools is not publicly available. What are the odds that charter-school proprietors operating in the dark are less inclined to enrich themselves at public expense?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ed Reform 101 Part 2 - Teachers

Everyone knows that teachers are important (even if politicians like Chris Christie don't always show it.). Everyone knows there are great teachers and bad teachers. Everyone knows that a teacher can change a child's life.

But some corporate "reformers" take this notion about the importance of the teacher way too far. They claim the teacher is the most important factor in determining students' success, ignoring the role privilege, poverty, and parents play in a child's life. And they foolishly believe figuring out who teaches well is a simple matter of test scores:it isn't.

One of the consequences of Christie's war on the NJEA is a false view of teachers and the processes used to evaluate them. If we are ever going to have a serious conversation about education in New Jersey, we need to get past the myths he perpetuates about teachers.

What you should know about teacher quality:

  • Teachers are important, but they are NOT the most important factor in student learning. 
  • Using test scores to evaluate teachers is extremely error-prone. 
  • Because of these errors, test scores should not be used to make decisions about hiring and paying teachers; even basing part of the decision on test scores is disastrous. 
  • The "three good teachers in a row" myth is exactly that: a myth. 
  • Far more than 17 teachers have left their New Jersey schools in the last decade due to incompetence.
  • Myth: Teachers are the MOST important factor in a student's growth and achievement.
    The Truth: While teachers are important, years of research confirms that teachers are not the most important factor in student learning.
    - About 60% of a student's achievement is explained by student and family characteristics; 20% pertains to school (with 10-15% being the teacher); 20% isunexplained (error). This has been confirmed in many studies.
    - The correlation between poverty and test scores is nearly perfect.
    Funding gaps can account for half of the difference in test scores.

    Myth: We can determine which teachers to fire or pay more by using standardized test scores.
    The Truth: The overwhelming consensus among researchers is that test scores should not be used in high-stakes decisions like firing and compensation.
    - There is a 35% chance a teacher will be misidentified as poor in any given year, and a 25% chance in two years. This is functionally the same as rolling dice.
    - Research organizations against the heavy use of test scores in high-stakes decisions include the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, ETS's Policy Information Center, the RAND Corporation, and the Economic Policy Institute (p.2).

    Myth: Well, if we only base 50% of a teacher's rating on test scores, that will be fine.
    The Truth: Using test scores for any significant portion of a teachers rating is biased and prone to enormous error.
    - A rating based on test scores will inevitably take on unwarranted importancecompared to other evaluation tools.
    - Only 10-20% of teachers can be feasibly evaluated by test scores; the other 80-90% teach subjects and grades that aren't subject to test score analysis.
    Myth: But using test scores to evaluate teachers is better than doing nothing! 

    The Truth: Using test scores to evaluate teachers will undoubtedly make our schools worse.
    - Evaluations of teachers based on test scores assumes students are assigned randomly to classrooms. Parents, teachers, and principals will not be able to have a say in which students to assign to which teachers.
    - Because of the high error rates, teachers will have strong cases to challenge terminations in court - even teachers who should be fired!
    Contract negotiations will be severely affected.

    Myth: Three good teachers in three consecutive years can erase all the deficits of a child who is behind in school.
    The Truth: The "three good teachers" myth is pure conjecture and has never been proved.
    - The assertion is made mostly based on projection of single-year differences; it is not based on any actual policy outcomes.
    - An analogy from Diane Ravitch:
    This is akin to saying that baseball teams should consist only of players who hit over .300 and pitchers who win at least twenty games every season; after all, such players exist, so why should not such teams exist. The fact that no such team exists should give pause to those who believe that almost every teacher in almost every school in almost every district might be a superstar if only school leaders could fire at will.

    Myth: Firing the "bottom" 5-10% of teachers would lead to big learning gains.
    The Truth: This is, again, pure conjecture with little evidence to support it.
    - There is no guarantee we could replace the "bottom" teachers with anyone better - especially when teacher salaries are in decline.
    - Due to the high unreliability of identifying the "bottom" teachers, this policy would certainly dismiss good teachers and retain bad ones.

    Myth: In New Jersey, only 17 teachers have been fired over the past 10 years.
    The Truth: Without question, many more teachers have been removed for incompetence.
    - This figure only includes tenured teachers dismissed in a formal tenure hearing.
    - "Hundreds of teachers who receive the first tenure charges resign..."
    - 40% of non-tenured teachers do not have their year-to-year contracts renewed,or voluntarily leave their schools; undoubtedly, many of these teachers realize they should not teach.

    ADDING [9/2/11]: Bruce Baker has recently posted about the problems with Student Growth Percentiles, part of the recently announced NJ Teacher Evaluation Pilot Program.

    For more information on teacher quality, we recommend:

  • Dr. Bruce Baker's School Finance 101 blog, especially his writings on Value-Added Teacher Evaluation. 
  • The Economic Policy Institute 
  • VAM: A Primer For Teachers
  • Part 1: Testing

    In the world of the corporate reformer, standardized testing drives everything.

    Judging teachers, principals, schools, and students; merit pay, tenure, and layoffs; allocating money; granting charters... it all starts with standardized testing. And it's an article of faith among the corporate "reform" set that standardized tests are fair, accurate, inexpensive, and good for students.

    The people who actually study this issue and work with children, however, know that nothing could be further from the truth.

    There is a place for standardized testing in New Jersey, but it is inappropriate to use standardized tests in high-stakes decisions that affect teachers and students. We can't measure a child's learning or a teacher's effectiveness when we put so much emphasis on secretive tests that are flawed in their construction, administration, and grading.

    Yet almost every proposal put forward by the corporate reformers relies heavily on children filling in bubbles on a sheet of paper. So let's start this series by taking apart the myths about standardized testing.

    What you should know about standardized testing:
    • Standardized tests are typically imprecise, unreliable, and biased against the poor and minorities. 
    • Too much emphasis on testing makes teachers focus only on what's tested and encourages cheating. 
    • Standardized tests are expensive, but they are graded by low-skilled, low-paid workers. 
    • Student test scores are a poor way to evaluate teachers. 
    and worst of all..
    • Too much standardized testing is bad for kids.

    Myth: Standardized tests are very accurate measures of student learning.
    The Truth: Standardized tests are incomplete and often inaccurate measures of learning.

    Myth: Standardized tests aren't biased; they treat all students equally.
    The Truth: Standardized tests are often biased and unfair.
    • As FairTest, a national testing research and advocacy group, points out: "The damage created by high-stakes testing compounds rather than ameliorates the huge inequities caused by poverty and continuing racism."
    • A Stanford University study shows that standardized tests unfairly reinforce stereotypes minority and female students have of their intellectual ability.

    Myth: Standardized tests don't change the way teachers teach.
    The Truth: Standardized tests lead to "drill-and-kill" teaching.

    Myth: Standardized tests are graded by well-trained professionals.
    The Truth: Tests are often graded by poorly trained and low-paid workers.

    Myth: Standardized tests are inexpensive, they don't drain dollars away from classrooms, and we have a good idea of what they cost.
    The truth: Standardized tests are expensive and NJ has never run a cost/benefit analysis to determine their worth.

    Myth: Cheating on standardized tests is a small problem that can be contained with a few extra measures.
    The Truth: Cheating on standardized tests is running rampant, and even a huge investment of money into test security won't stop it.

    Myth: Standardized tests are useful even for the youngest children.
    The Truth: Children under age eight should NOT take standardized tests.

    Myth: Standardized tests are an excellent way to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness.
    The Truth: Standardized tests are a terrible way to evaluate teachers. More on this later in this series.

    For more information on standardized tests, we recommend: