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October 12, 2017

Survey says: How Americans feel about public schools and school choice

Between May and September, four organizations released the results from their surveys asking Americans about K-12 education policies.  The four surveys by NORC/AP, Education Next, PDK and the American Teachers Federation (AFT), polled different participants but all asked questions about people’s opinion of public education, charter schools and vouchers.  The NORC/AP and PDK poll gathered their data from a random sample of American households.  The AFT and Education Next surveys both gathered data from parents and the Education Next also included teachers.  The data from the surveys agreed on certain issues, like the quality of public schools, but the questions about vouchers and charter schools showed people’s difference of opinion and lack of information about these issues.  This is an attempt to point out areas where these surveys agreed and disagreed to shed light on the public’s broader opinion about public schools and education policies. However, one overarching theme emerges—Americans, overall, like the idea of choice but still look to their local neighborhood schools as their first choice.

Grading Public Schools

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All four polls indicate that Americans have conflicting opinions about public schools.  They report having a low opinion of public schools when asked about their overall quality from a national level, but then highly rate their local public schools.  These results have been consistent since the 1970s in the PDK poll.

PollChart2

 

Another consistent finding is the particularly high rating public school parents give for the public school where their child attends.  In 2017, 15% of public school parents gave their local public school an “A” in the PDK poll, which is the highest percentage in 20 years.  This year, at least 65% of parents in all four surveys praised their neighborhood public schools by giving them an “A” or “B” rating, or noting that they are of good or excellent quality.  The Education Next poll was the only one that collected responses specifically from teachers.  Teachers opinions mirrored the parents rating in the poll, showing a higher opinion for local public schools than public schools on a national level.  Overall, people are satisfied with their local public schools and the people who are most involved in public schools, parents and teachers, have the highest opinion of these institutions.

Charter Schools

PollChart3

Public opinion about charter schools is less definitive between the three different polls, PDK, NORC/AP and AFT, but basically shows how support shifts when questions are asked differently.  According to the NORC/AP survey, more participants support opening more charter schools compared to those who are opposed.  The Education Next and AFT polls show a different side of the argument.  The Education Next poll doesn’t show a big difference between the number of people that are for and against setting up more charter schools.  But the gap between support and opposition widens slightly when parents and teachers are polled.  Forty percent of teachers support opening more charter schools, but 51% oppose the idea. Teachers represent the biggest gap on this question and the only group that reported more opposing than supporting charter schools.

The data from the AFT survey paint a much different picture, and is likely a result of the wording. Unlike EdNext and AP/NORC who both asked about support for charter schools generally, AFT asked about respondents in terms of spending. AFT found that only 32% of public school parents approve of reducing spending on regular public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools.

The questions in the Education Next and NORC/AP poll also include a brief definition of a charter school, whereas the AFT question does not. Education Next and NORC/AP indicate that many people still do not have a strong opinion one way or the other on charter schools, with over a quarter of respondents neither supporting nor opposing the formation of charter schools.  This suggests that policymakers need to do a better job of educating the public about charter schools and their policy implications.

Vouchers

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PollChart4.5

The polling data also show discrepancies on the issue of vouchers, which again is a likely result of different wording.  The Education Next poll showed a higher percentage of overall respondents supporting vouchers for all students, as well as, for low-income families specifically.  More parents in this survey also supported vouchers for all students and for low-income students.  Teachers were the only group with a majority opposing both types of vouchers.  The NORC/AP survey also showed greater support than opposition towards vouchers.  This was true for survey participants overall as well as for African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians.  However, the results from the AFT and PDK poll show the opposite when the question involves spending money on either public schools or vouchers. Eighty-six percent of public school parents in the AFT poll agreed that a higher priority should be paid towards investing in neighborhood public schools over vouchers. In PDK, 52% opposed using public dollars to help children attend private school. When given an option of using funds only on public schools or using some to help students attend any school “public, private or religious,” 61% of respondents wanted all the dollars to stay in the public domain.

Similar to the questions about charter schools, the wording of the questions about vouchers can have an effect on the responses.  In the surveys that had more support for vouchers, all of the questions mentioned the word “choice”, which suggests that people support the idea of choice for choice sake.  However, the questions in the polls that had a majority opposed clearly indicated the separation between spending money on public schools or vouchers.

It is clear that people like their public schools.  This is not new.  The majority of people have ranked their public schools highly for more than three decades.  The results around different types of school choice are less one-sided, but even those numbers may be misleading by the public’s lack of awareness about the implications of policies concerning choice.  For example, the NORC/AP survey data continued to show more people supporting charter schools and voucher programs, but that may not be the case.  The researchers report that the majority of parents want to keep their children in school in their own neighborhood with 67% of Americans saying “preference should be given to children living in a school’s catchment, with children living outside that area given a lower chance of admission.”  This shows that most people still rely on their neighborhood public schools and want them to be of high quality.

 

 

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,School Choice — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 2:33 pm





October 5, 2017

Chronic absenteeism: Missing class and missing learning

In a report out last week from FutureEd at Georgetown University, chronic absenteeism was highlighted as a key factor in the student achievement puzzle. The issue’s growing prominence may be due in part to its inclusion as a non-academic indicator in the majority of states’ ESSA plans. While there is wide agreement that missing school may have a negative impact on student achievement, there is less understanding of what causes chronic absenteeism and how to combat it.

Generally, the term “chronic absenteeism” refers to a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or approximately 18 school days. States including chronic absenteeism in their ESSA plans tend to utilize this standard definition, however, in its 2016 report on the issue , ED set the limit instead at 15 absences per school year.

Under this definition, ED found that approximately 13% of students in the country are chronically absent. Note that not all of these students were truant­–these absences may have been excused or unexcused. While truancy focuses solely on unexcused absences, measures of chronic absenteeism incorporate student absences for any reason to  emphasize the importance of all missed classroom time, no matter the reason.

Those attending elementary and middle schools have much lower rates of chronic absenteeism, while about one in four high schools has an extreme level of chronic absence, with over 30% of students absent more than 10% of the school year. At the middle school and high school level, chronic absenteeism may look different: a student may repeatedly skip a particular class or arrive to school late. While elementary students may be less likely to become chronically absent overall, they may be impacted by transportation, work, and lifestyle changes that effect the person that they depend on for transportation.  At any age, certain students may be more likely to become chronically absent: black students and those with disabilities are most likely to struggle with chronic absences. Asian students and English language learners are significantly less likely to be chronically absent.

No matter the personal characteristics of the student, determining a reason for chronic absenteeism and intervening is crucial to preserving a student’s learning. Chronic absenteeism has been found to be a strong predictor of later academic troubles. For example, experiencing chronic absenteeism as early as sixth-grade has been tied to an increased chance of dropping out of high school. In the early elementary years, being chronically absent can impede a child’s literacy development. This may have long-lasting effects, as a child who does not learn to read fluently by third-grade is more likely to continue to struggle academically throughout their schooling.

Given the serious long-term consequences of chronic absenteeism, school leaders are always looking for new approaches. When searching for and implementing solutions, however, it must be understood that chronic absenteeism may be only a symptom of a more complex issue. Students dealing with situations like poverty or chronic health conditions are not likely to respond to a punishment-based approach to chronic absenteeism. Instead, tackling the issue of chronic absenteeism will likely involve the identification and management of challenges personal to each student’s home and school environment.

A number of programs attempt to aid schools with this process, but few have yet developed a strong evidence base. Some programs, like the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System  and Check and Connect have shown promising results through systems that intervene early and pair attendance monitoring with support for students.  For all students, early identification is critical to implementing changes and recovering lost learning. Utilizing an attendance system that defines chronic absenteeism by the percent of school missed rather than number of days missed can help identify chronically absent students early on, allowing time to make changes and implement supports, rather than awaiting an end-of-year count of absences that may allow a student to miss a significant amount of learning in a school year.

Now that chronic absenteeism has been included in the majority of states’ ESSA plans, there is an increasing importance placed on understanding its complex causes and effects. Mitigating high rates of chronic absenteeism will be a complex task, requiring that school leaders examine the unique challenges facing every student. However difficult, reducing chronic absenteeism is ensures that students benefit from a full school year’s learning.

Filed under: CPE,ESSA — Tags: , , , , — Megan Lavalley @ 10:59 am





September 19, 2017

New report details history of school vouchers in US

The Center For American Progress (CAP) recently released a report on the history of vouchers in the United States, a reform strategy that has garnered renewed interest in the Trump Administration, despite it’s murky origins and outcomes.

Image result for prince edward county protest

The report begins by referencing a 1951 strike organized by black high school students in Virginia’s Prince Edward County who were lobbying for a new school with improved facilities and resources. The students were convinced, with the help of lawyers and the NAACP, to sue the district for segregation. Their story was a classic example of the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that allowed racial segregation to flourish even after the abolishment of slavery and it was cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.  After the Supreme Court ruled that public schools had to integrate black students, many districts found ways to get around the verdict. Prince Edward was one of the most extreme examples of the lengths some communities went to avoid adhering to the law.

The county decided to drastically decrease public education spending to the minimum $150,000 and shut down all public schools in 1959. The closure lasted for five years.  Officials thought if public schools weren’t open, they couldn’t be integrated. During this five year period the state offered tuition grants, specifically for white students, to attend schools in neighboring counties.  The white residents of Prince Edward also came together and built a private school, Prince Edward Academy, that was only for white students.  Between 1959 and 1964 some black families sent their children to schools outside of county lines or even outside of the state to live with relatives, but most were forced to go five years without any kind of formal education.  The tuition grants were specifically designed to sustain the idea of segregation in Prince Edward County and the entire state of Virginia where public money was being used to help only a handful of students.

Today, vouchers still do not help most students achieve a quality education.  There are 49 million public school students but there are not 49 million vouchers to be offered. While current voucher programs do not segregate students by race in such an obvious way as those of the past, many still see segregation as an unintended consequence.  Public schools have legislation attached to them to address racially isolated schools but vouchers do not have the same civil rights legislation attached to their policies.  The research on vouchers today suggest that, in general, more vouchers are associated with more segregation in national and international studies.

The consequence of increased segregation from vouchers directly opposes the current beliefs about school diversity.  In the recent PDK poll on the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, 70% of the parents surveyed would prefer sending their children to a racially diverse school.  The data shows that the majority of public opinion has drastically changed regarding integration in schools, so it is time for our policies to reflect this transformation by learning from episodes like the one in Prince Edward County and moving forward.






September 14, 2017

New research: High-stakes tests influence teacher assignment decisions, impacting long-term student achievement

A new study released last month raises potential concerns about the ways in which teacher assignment decisions may impact student achievement. The study, which included data from the Miami-Dade County Public School district between 2003-2012, examined whether less-effective teachers were assigned to untested grades, and how those assignments affect students’ long-term academic achievement.

Previous studies have found that principals do take into account students’ academic growth when making decisions about teacher grade level assignments. One major factor in this decision is student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. Additionally, there has been evidence that less-effective teachers are more likely to be re-assigned to a low-stakes, untested classroom for the following school year. To further clarify whether teachers are re-assigned based on test scores, researchers measured the effect that a teacher has on students’ test score growth year over year. (Low-stakes tests given across the M-DCPS district were used to measure academic growth at the K-2 level.) They then examined the relationship between student test score growth and teacher grade level assignment in the following school year.

Researchers found that highly effective teachers in grades K-2, grades in which students are not subject to state tests, were more likely to be reassigned to grades three to five —tested, high-stakes grades— in the following school year. In contrast, highly effective teachers in third through fifth grades were unlikely to be reassigned to an untested grade. However, their lower-performing peers those third, fourth and fifth-grade teachers whose students made the least progress were more likely to be assigned to an untested K-2 grade in the following year. Researchers believe that by reassigning less-effective teachers out of tested grades, principals hope to improve student test scores over the short term. But what are the long-term consequences of concentrating the least-effective teachers in the “low-stakes” grades?

Though high-stakes standardized testing at the elementary level is focused in grades three through five, foundational skills learned in grades K-2, such as basic math and early literacy, drive success at all levels. After finding that lower-performing teachers are more likely to be reassigned to an untested grade, the researchers examined the effect that the resulting concentration of less-effective K-2 teachers could have on a student’s long-term achievement. Second graders taught by a teacher who had recently been reassigned from a tested grade had significantly lower gains in both literacy and math than their peers taught by teachers who had not been reassigned. Crucially, these effects carried into the following school year: a student taught by a recently reassigned teacher in second grade would also have lower third grade scores than their peers, reflecting a gap equivalent to having been taught by a first-year teacher during the second grade.

Clustering the least-effective teachers in untested grades— particularly K-2, where foundational skills like reading are taught— may have long-term consequences for student learning. Researchers have found that despite these lower gains for students over the long term, principals tend to focus on short-term staffing needs, and concentrate the highest-performing teachers in high-stakes, tested grades. These findings should raise questions for any district: How are student test scores used in staffing decisions, and how do those decisions affect student learning long term?






September 12, 2017

CPE busts myth of one-size-fits-all public school in new report

In a room packed with Congressional staff members, media, and policymakers today, the Center for Public Education released its latest report, Busting the Myth of One-Size-Fits-All Public Education. The study is an original analysis of federal survey data that aims to learn what educational opportunities and options exist in public schools. This was done, of course, against the backdrop of school choice, two words that have dominated discourse on public education lately, despite being somewhat vague and misunderstood among the general public.

For instance, did you know that school choice (i.e. a variety of programs and offerings) are in abundant supply in your very own public school? That’s what we discovered in digging into the latest survey data administered by the National Center on Education Statistics, which queried not only public school staff but private school staff on the types of programs that exist in their schools. While the data was limited in many areas, we were able to arrive at some fairly substantial findings:

• Public high schools offer more educational and extracurricular options for students including the arts, Advanced Placement, gifted or honors classes, and distance learning opportunities than private schools.

• Public schools are more likely to offer afterschool child care and tutoring or enrichment activities.

• School counselors play a key role in students’ learning and care: Eighty percent of public schools have at least one part-time counselor compared to only 32 percent of private schools.

• The vast majority of public high schools offer access to hands-on college experience with almost all (98 percent) offering career preparation.

And there are other intriguing discoveries to be found in our report, but if there is one thing we hope you takeaway from our study it’s that school choice and public schools are not mutually exclusive. In fact, students are more likely to find more opportunities to chart their own learning path in public schools than in private schools. And we know this based on the data available. Remember data is key to making informed decisions.






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