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October 9, 2015

Concern Over the High School Preparation of Non-College Goers

Parents, employers and students alike feel high schools are not adequately preparing their graduates for success in the workforce according to the results of a recent survey from Achieve. While more than 8 in 10 parents are at least somewhat satisfied with the job their child’s high school did preparing them for success after high school, high schools are not held in such high regard when it comes to preparing graduates for the workforce in particular.

In fact, fewer than half (45 percent) of parents of non-college goers feel high school prepared their child for the workforce. Moreover, just 56 percent of both non-college goers and employers feel high schools do at least a very good job preparing their graduates for the workforce. Although non-college goers and employers have a more positive view than parents on this question, a large portion of all three groups do not feel high schools are doing an adequate job.

Why is this the case? There is no clear answer but it could be that high schools are focusing more on preparing their students for college than the workforce. This is evident by the finding that high schools do a better job providing parents information on what courses their child needs to get into college than providing them information related to workforce preparation.

Parents may not feel high schools are doing an adequate job preparing non-college goers for the workforce because they feel their child isn’t taking the courses their child needs to have success in the workforce. In fact, a majority of parents believe requiring higher level math and science courses, such as Algebra 2 and biology, is needed to prepare their child, whether going to college or not. As my Path Least Taken II report found, these higher level math and science courses don’t just improve the chances a student will get into and succeed in college, they also increase the chances non-college goers will find success in the workforce. Unfortunately, few non-college goers complete such high-level courses according my original Path Least Taken report. On the other hand, the same report found that nearly all college-goers took them.

Maybe parents are onto something. If all students did in fact take high level math and science courses they would not only be prepared for college they would be prepared for the workforce as well. Of course, there is more to being college and career ready than completing Algebra 2 and biology but it is a big step towards ensuring all students graduate college and career ready. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Career Readiness,college,Course taking,CPE,High school,research — Jim Hull @ 10:27 am

October 1, 2015

Diversifying the teaching force

We know many of the qualities that define “good” teachers: subject matter knowledge, credentials, experience, and impact on learning. But according to a growing body of research, this list is incomplete without also assuring the teaching staff resembles the demographic make up of the students they serve. Let’s just say, we have a long way to go.

Our current public-school enrollment is very close to being majority-minority. In 2011-12, 51 percent of public K-12 students were white down from 59 percent 10 years before. In contrast, 82 percent of their teachers were white (see chart). In American cities, where students of color comprise a two-thirds majority, 71 percent of their teachers were white.  A full three-quarters were female.


Across the country, districts are facing teacher shortages, especially in key areas like special education and mathematics. The additional effort to increase the diversity of their staff may seem like making an already difficult job even harder. In its recent report on the subject, the Albert Shanker Institute acknowledged as much, stating that “our first priority must be to ensure that every student has the benefit of being taught by skilled, knowledgeable and caring teachers – of whatever race and ethnicity.” Nonetheless, they further maintain that diversity “should be a factor, and an important one at that.” This is especially so for the education of minority students.

Among the reasons cited by the Shanker Institute authors is that teachers who share a cultural experience with their students are better able to motivate and inspire them, and are less likely to “confuse cultural difference with cultural or intellectual disadvantage.”  The authors also refer to research suggesting that a demographic match between teachers and students improves students’ academic performance.

Evidence for this latter statement received a big boost earlier this year by researchers Anna Egalite, Brain Kisida and Marcus Winters who analyzed the relationship of what they call “own-race teachers” to student achievement. The authors had access to a huge database enabling them to link 92,000 Florida teachers to 3 million students over a seven year period. They tracked the performance of individual students while in classrooms with different teachers by race and ethnicity over several grades, and compared the impact of same-race to different-race assignments. In this way they have produced perhaps the most rigorous study to date of the effect of minority teachers on minority student achievement.

Here’s what they found: students perform higher in math and reading when they are assigned to teachers of the same race. The overall results are small, but statistically significant. There are differences by race, however. The performance of black, white and Asian students were significantly positive in math, but the effects were highest for black and Asian students.

Hispanic students were the exception. For this group of students, having an Hispanic teacher actually produced a negative effect. The researchers conjectured that this finding could be due to limitations in the data. They explain, the Florida Hispanic population is quite large and culturally diverse, including self-described Caribbeans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans. Grouping them into one ethnicity could therefore be masking important differences among them.

As virtually every researcher does, Egalite and her team call for more research to better understand the relationship between teachers and students by race. But for us lay people, the evidence is pretty clear that school districts should pay attention to recruiting a teaching force that is demographically representative of the community alongside their professional qualities.


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Demographics,teachers — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 12:42 pm

September 29, 2015

A different view on the achievement gap

For nearly a quarter of a century education policy has focused on closing the achievement gap between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. During this time period there have been numerous studies focused on quantifying such gaps and identifying the causes in the hopes that such findings will enable policymakers to make informed decisions about policies to narrow such gaps. Yet, the impact of the racial composition of schools on the achievement gap has not garnered much attention from researchers.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sheds new light on this important topic. Specifically, the report asks the question:  Does the percent of black students enrolled in a school impact the achievement gap between black and white students?  Sounds like a straightforward question but the answer is far from clear as you will see. Specifically the report found:

  • White students attend school with few black students.
    • White students attend schools whose enrollment is typically 9 percent black
    • Black student attend schools whose enrollment is typically 48 percent black
  • Schools with the densest enrollment of black students—schools whose enrollment is between 60 and 100 percent black—were mostly likely to be found in the south and in large cities.
  • Both black and white 8th grade students who were enrolled in high black student density schools scored lower on the NAEP math assessment than those enrolled in low black density schools- 0 to 20 percent black enrollment.
    • The achievement gap between black and white students did not significantly differ depending on the black student density of the school.
  • Gaps narrowed between black and white students when researchers took into account the student’s socioeconomic status, and other student, teacher, and school characteristics but large gaps still remained.
  • Gaps were largest in the highest black student density schools than the lowest black student density schools even when taking other student and school characteristics into account.
  • The black/white achievement gap has more to do with differences within schools than differences between them.

So what exactly do these finding tell us? For one, they tell us that even though Brown v Board of Education was decided over 60 years ago black students still tend to go to school with mostly black students and white students tend to go to school with mostly white students. Second, even though math scores for both white and black students tend to decrease as the proportion of black students in schools increase, the achievement gap remains basically the same. Third, when comparing similar students attending similar schools the achievement gap widens as the share of black students enrolled in a school increases. Finally, although differences between schools, such as funding, contribute to the achievement gap, differences within a school contribute more to perpetuating gaps.

What does this mean for policymakers? There are no clear answers but focusing on desegregating schools would be a step in the right direction, although it isn’t nearly enough to close achievement gaps. The same can be said about ensuring there is an equitable distribution of funding and quality teachers among schools. While important, this report shows that such resources should be distributed more equitably within a school to improve the performance of its black students and close achievement gaps.

The report doesn’t provide clear cut answers on how to close the achievement gap, but it does provide ample evidence that students, both black and white, who attend schools that predominately enroll black students are not receiving the same education as their peers that attend schools who enroll mostly white students. In addition, no matter the racial makeup of the school, black students are not achieving the same level as their white peers. How resources are distributed within the school can go a long ways to narrow that gap. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Demographics,equity,NAEP,research — Jim Hull @ 2:44 pm

September 21, 2015

School boards as charter school authorizers

The issue of charter schools got thrust back into the spotlight with the recent court decision from Washington State that ruled the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. I’m not going get into the particulars of the case but the decision highlights the fine line between the public’s right to determine how their tax dollars are spent and accommodating a parent’s desire to choose a school that is right for their child.

Many states walk this fine line by allowing for the creation of charter schools that any parent can choose to send their child to while making sure the charter schools are authorized by the local school board to oversee but not run the schools. In such a setup, all parents have a choice about where to send their child to school and taxpayers still have a voice in holding charter schools accountable.

Yet, there are some proponents of charter schools who argue the school boards should not authorize charter schools. For example, in its annual state charter school policy rankings, the Center for Education Reform gives credit to states when they allow agencies or institutions other than local school boards to authorize charter schools .  The CER is certainly not alone. I’ve written about similar criticisms in the past here and here.

As I wrote earlier, such critics didn’t have any actual evidence to back up their argument against school board as authorizers. I pointed to the fact that while critics constantly claimed school boards were reluctant to allow charter schools into their districts, school boards actually had a higher acceptance rate than other authorizers such as state boards of education and independent state charter boards. In the years since, not much has changed. The most recent data from the National Association for Charter School Authorizers  showed that school boards had the second highest approval rate out of the five authorizing types. Moreover, only two other authorizing types had higher closure rates as well. As I argued previously, if school boards were so threatened by charter schools why are they more likely to approve a new charter school’s application and less likely to close them?

But one piece of data I didn’t have at the time was whether charter schools authorized by school boards were more effective than charter schools authorized by other agencies such as independent charter school boards. That data simply wasn’t available at the time. However, this past June the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO) published a report that for the first time examined the impact of authorizer type on student outcomes. Keep in mind, the report is far from definitive. It is based on only one state, Texas, where 88 percent of the charter schools are authorized by the state board of education while the remaining 12 percent were authorized by school boards. While not conclusive, this report nonetheless provides additional evidence as to the effectiveness of school boards as authorizers.

Specifically, the report found school board authorized charter schools outperformed those authorized by the state board in both math and reading every year between 2009 and 2013. In some years students who attended charter schools made nearly a year’s more worth of learning than similar students who had attended charter schools authorized by the state board of education. So these were no small differences.

While the recent report doesn’t prove that school boards are more effective charter school authorizers than other agencies, it is one more piece of evidence to refute the claims from critics who believe school boards are holding charter schools back and shouldn’t be allowed to authorize charter schools. Such critics like to use anecdotes to back up their claims but school boards can use data to back up theirs just as effective authorizers are expected to do. – Jim Hull


Filed under: Charter Schools,school organization — Jim Hull @ 8:51 am

September 16, 2015

Budgets, data and honest conversation

Balancing school budgets in a time of shortfalls is a thankless job. Whatever gets cut will nonetheless have its champions, many of whom are willing to let their unhappiness known. Really loud. But one of the nation’s largest school districts is meeting this challenge with a new app that gives the community a channel for telling school leaders exactly what expenditures they want preserved. The hitch – users keep their preferred items only by eliminating others.  In this way, the app delivers an object lesson in how really tough these decisions are.

Fairfax County school district in Virginia serves nearly 190,000 students with an annual budget of $2.6 billion. Despite the community’s affluence, enrollments are rising faster than revenues, and the district is facing a $50-100 million deficit. An earlier citizen task force was charged with recommending ways to close this gap. After reviewing the data, the task force suggested, among other things, eliminating high school sports and band. To say the proposal was not well received is to state the obvious. And the public howls and teeth-gnashing have yet to subside.

So what’s a broke district to do? Give the data to the community. Fairfax released this web-based budget tool to the public this week as a means to call the question: In order to keep [your priority here], what do we get rid of? Users are able to choose from more than 80 budget items to cut in seven categories: “school staffing and schedules,” “instructional programs,” “nonacademic programs,” “instructional support,” “other support,” “employee compensation” and “new or increased fees.”  Each item has a dollar figure attached and the goal is to reduce the budget by $50 million.

I happen to be a Fairfax resident so I was happy to test-drive this web tool. The first thing that struck me was the near absence of low-hanging fruit. All of the big ticket items hurt, mostly because the savings come from reduction in staff or valuable instruction time. Increase elementary class size by one student: $12.9 million. Reduce daily course offerings in high school from seven to six: $25 million. Reduce kindergarten from full-day to half-day: $39 million. Yikes! Given these choices, I could see why eliminating high school sports at nearly $9 million could start to look like a lesser evil.

On the other hand, items that seemed to do the least damage to the educational mission also saved a relative pittance. Raise student parking fees by $50: $300,000.  Reduce district cable TV offerings: $100,000. Increase community use fees: $70,000. Clearly, the nickel-and-dime strategy was not going to get me close to $50 million.

In the end, I came within the 10 percent margin of hitting the target (while keeping high school sports) and I submitted my preferences. But I’ll be honest. They include some choices that I do not feel the least bit happy about. And that’s the point. In 2010, CPE published a report on the impact of the recession on school budgets across the country. The title, Cutting to the Bone, pretty much tells the story. The current Fairfax deficit represents only 2 percent of its yearly budget. But after years of cost-cutting, there’s no fat left to trim.

Clearly, if I were a school board member, I would want to know more about the impact of these programs and policies before making any final decisions. But presenting the data on their cost and what the dollars buy – as this tool does — is a really good way to educate the community about the challenge and engage them in an honest conversation about how they can best serve their students, especially when revenues run short. — Patte Barth

Filed under: Data,funding,Public education — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 10:11 am

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