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December 7, 2016

PISA scores remain stagnant for U.S. students

The results of the latest PISA or the Program for International Student Assessment are in and as usual, we have an interpretation of the highlights for you.

If you recall, PISA is designed to assess not just students’ academic knowledge but their application of that knowledge and is administered to 15-year-olds across the globe every three years by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in coordination with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each iteration of the PISA has a different focus and the 2015 version honed in on science, though it also tested math and reading proficiency among the roughly half-million teens who participated in this round. So, how did American students stack up?

In short, our performance was average in reading and science and below average in math, compared to the 35 other OECD member countries.  Specifically, the U.S. ranked 19th in science, 20th in reading and 31st in math. But PISA was administered in countries beyond OECD members and among that total group of 70 countries and education systems (some regions of China are assessed as separate systems), U.S. teens ranked 25th in science, 22nd in reading, and 40th in math.  Since 2012, scores were basically the same in science and reading, but dropped 11 points in math.

PISA Science

Before you get too upset over our less-than-stellar performance, though, there are a few things to take into account.  First, scores overall have fluctuated in all three subjects.  Some of the top performers such as South Korea and Finland have seen 20-30 point drops in math test scores from 2003 to 2015 at the same time that the U.S. saw a 13 point drop.  Are half of the countries really declining in performance, or could it be a change in the test, or a change in how the test corresponds with what and how material is taught in schools?

Second, the U.S. has seen a large set of reforms over the last several years, which have disrupted the education system.  Like many systems, a disruption may cause a temporary drop in performance, but eventually stabilize.  Many teachers are still adjusting to teaching the Common Core Standards and/or Next Generation Science Standards; the 2008 recession caused shocks in funding levels that we’re still recovering from; many school systems received waivers from No Child Left Behind which substantially change state- and school-level policies.  And, in case you want to blame Common Core for lower math scores, keep in mind that not all test-takers live in states that have adopted the Common Core, and even if they do, some have only learned under the new standards for a year or two.  Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA test for the OECD, predicts that the Common Core Standards will eventually yield positive results for the U.S., but that we must be patient.

Demographics

Student scores are correlated to some degree with student poverty and the concentration of poverty in some schools.  Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to perform poorly than advantaged students.  Schools with fewer than 25 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch (about half of all students nationwide are eligible) would be 2nd in science, 1st in reading, and 11th in math out of all 70 countries.  At the other end of the spectrum, schools with at least 75 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 44th in science, 42nd in reading, and 47th in math.  Compared only to OECD countries, high-poverty schools would only beat four countries in science, four countries in reading, and five in math.

Score differences for different races in the U.S. show similar disparities.

How individual student groups would rank compared to the 70 education systems tested:

Science Reading Math
White 5th 4th 20th
Black 49th 44th 51st
Hispanic 40th 37th 44th
Asian 8th 2nd 20th
Mixed Race 19th 20th 38th

 

Equity

Despite the disparities in opportunity for low-income students, the number of low-income students who performed better than expected increased by 12 percentage points since 2006, to 32 percent.  The amount of variation attributable to poverty decreased from 17 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2015, meaning that poverty became less of a determining factor in how a student performed.

Funding

America is one of the largest spenders on education, as we should be, given our high per capita income.  Many have bemoaned that we should be outscoring other nations based on our higher spending levels, but the reality is that high levels of childhood poverty and inequitable spending often counteract the amount of money put into the system.  For more info on this, see our previous blogpost.






September 7, 2016

Do we get what we pay for?

The U.S. spends more to educate its students than most of the other 35 countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), yet by some measures we don’t seem to get much benefit from our expenditures.  Is this a fair accusation?

Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, on behalf of the Albert Shanker Institute, posit that it’s not.  When you take into account America’s high per-capita GDP, high child-poverty rate, and expenses that school systems in other OECD member countries don’t have to cover in the same way (employee health care, pensions, and disability, not to mention school sports), maybe we’re not doing so poorly, after all.

If you define school efficiency as being the best production (we’ll examine this using the results from PISA, which are international assessments administered by OECD) then based on the amount of money spent, we aren’t too far below the average (For per-pupil spending of about $12,000, we should have slightly higher PISA scores, if we had average efficiency.)

Efficiency1

When you take per-capita GDP into account, we’re pretty close to where we should be on spending levels (if you draw a best-fit line through the dots, we would be close to that line).

Efficiency2

When you take our high child-poverty rate into account, our PISA scores look pretty stellar (given how far above the line we are).  Obviously, this excuse is still frustrating, as we also need to address why we have so many children in relative poverty.

Efficiency3

What we can learn from this, however, is that some states do better than others.  States with high rates of child poverty also tend to have lower per-pupil spending, giving them less capacity to help the students who most need it.  We should look at what Massachusetts and New Jersey are doing with their dollars in comparison to Hawaii or West Virginia to determine education policies (though, of course, these states all have very different contexts).

Efficiency4

The other insight in this report is that the U.S. spends relatively less on teacher salaries than other countries.  So, if we were to address inefficiencies in our system, it would need to be on administration, buildings, and transportation.  Small schools, especially rural schools, are more expensive to run than schools in more densely populated areas due to increased per-pupil administrative and transportation costs.  Schools still need a principal and a custodian, whether there are 50 students or 500 students.  Charter schools and districts also tend to be less efficient, as they are typically smaller, incurring greater costs for administration.

Efficiency5

So, are we getting enough bang for our buck?  Maybe.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons — Tags: , , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 2:30 am





August 22, 2016

The “Soft” Side of Teacher Supply

Our last blog post talked about the “hard” side of teacher supply – the money.  However, we also alluded to non-monetary factors that are even more important in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers: respect, job satisfaction, and autonomy.  Very little research has focused on why individuals choose to become teachers, but we do have a plethora of information from teachers about why they choose to stay or leave the profession, which we can use to make assumptions about recruiting new teachers, as well.

A recent Center on Education Policy (CEP) survey highlights teachers’ views on why they entered the profession (mostly altruistic) and their greatest challenges (mostly policy-related).  Teachers, like most professionals, want to feel successful in their jobs (Moore Johnson & Birkeland, 2003), which is supported by evidence that teachers with higher value-added test scores are less likely to request transfers between schools (Boyd, et al., 2011).  35% of teachers who leave the profession cite dissatisfaction with their job as at least one of the reasons for leaving (Ingersoll & May, 2011).

How do we tap into teachers’ altruistic motives to create policies that may keep more high-quality teachers in the field?  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Help novice teachers be more successful. The National Center for Education Statistics found that beginning teachers were more likely to stay if they had a mentor, with 86% of teachers with mentors staying in teaching for five years, as compared with 71% without mentors.
  2. Give teachers time to collaborate and be creative by reducing the number of hours they are instructing students. Forty-nine percent of teachers in CEP’s survey reported that their day-to-day teaching would improve with additional planning time and 34% reported that additional collaboration time would help them in teaching. U.S. teachers spend significantly more time in the direct instruction of students than their peers in other countries:

    Hours

    Source: http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG2014-Indicator%20D4%20(eng).pdf

 

  1. Build effective systems around student discipline. Each student has unique behavioral needs, which must be addressed through individualized strategies. Students should not be allowed to disrupt their peers’ learning, nor should they be suspended for minor infractions.  Schools and principals need to support teachers and by providing behavioral supports, both positive and punitive.  Teachers in CEP’s survey reported “managing student behavior” as their greatest school-level challenge.
  2. Include teachers in decision-making. CEP’s teacher survey clearly showed that teachers do not feel that their opinions were taken into account by policy makers. Teachers are on the ground every day with students, and thus know more than any other level of decision maker how policies translate into practice.  Involving teachers in policy making may have better outcomes for students, as well as improved perceptions of teacher professionalism.

Teacher Decisions






August 15, 2016

The Supply and Demand of Teacher Pay

We know that teachers are the most important school-level factor that contributes to student achievement.  And we’ve all heard that teacher pay is low.  But how low is it, exactly?  And does that really affect the supply of people entering the teaching profession?

First and foremost, teachers don’t teach for the money.  A recent Center on Education Policy survey found that only 1% of teachers listed “earning potential” as a significant factor for entering the teaching field, compared with 68% of teachers who said they taught to “make a difference in students’ lives.”  However, the number of high school graduates who are interested in a career in education has dropped since 2010 to only 5%, according to ACT, despite an anticipated increase in demand for new teachers.

If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into teaching, though, improved salaries might help.  Teacher salaries lag 23% below those of all college graduates, and 17% below those of similar individuals, when comparing weekly salaries (some of this difference is explained by the gender gap – over 80% of teachers are female).  Even when accounting for additional compensation, such as pensions and insurance, teacher salaries are 11% less than their peers.  This is significantly different from the 1970s, at which point teachers actually earned more than the average of their peers.

Wage Gap

Other countries with successful education systems treat their teachers as professionals.  A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that these countries recruit teachers from the best and brightest students, often provide free university-level training, and give teachers the autonomy to make decisions that lead to their students’ success.  Teachers have career ladders in which they can mentor novice teachers and take leadership roles.  Teachers in these systems often earn similar salaries as accountants and engineers.

Even if we don’t like to admit it, higher-earning professions are often more respected and revered.  While the cause and effect in this scenario may be muddled, we assume that doctors deserve the pay they receive because they are smart and well-educated.  Could we also assume that smart people enter the medical profession because they know they will be well-compensated and challenged in their professional life?  Sure, they also want to help people be healthy, but I haven’t heard that argument come up in discussing doctors’ wages.

Teaching is not all about the money, but Economics 101 should have taught us that the world often boils down to supply and demand.  If we want to increase the supply of high-quality teachers, we also have to increase their pay and respect.  We need a system in which our teachers are well-trained, competent professionals for which they are fairly compensated so that our students are provided with the educations they deserve.






January 8, 2015

EdWeek’s Annual State of the States Report Card: How does your state compare?

Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2015, which included its State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors with an overall B average while the nation as a whole earned a C. Out of the three categories each state and the nation were graded on, the nation earned the highest marks in the Chance for Success Index with a grade of C-plus.  In the other two categories– School Finance and Student Achievement– the nation earned a C and C-minus respectively. Massachusetts earned the highest grade in both the Chance for Success Index as well as the student achievement categories while Wyoming took top honors in the School Finance category by earning a B-plus.

Massachusetts has consistently ranked among the top states for several years. Several other states have consistently ranked near the bottom. Such a contrast highlights the fact states differ significantly in the performance of their public schools. This is important to point out as most states that received high marks by EdWeek also compared favorably to high performing countries while states that received the lowest EdWeek grades typically scored below most industrialized countries. While these grades are not necessarily reflective of the effectiveness of each state’s public schools since they don’t take into account how much students improved their academic performance while in school, they do provide valuable information on how well their students are prepared to enter the global labor market upon graduation. EdWeek’s grades indicate that some students are more likely to be prepared than others simply due to the state they were born in. ­­

 

Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:

Composite Score

How well do states prepare their students for success?

  • U.S. public schools earned an overall grade of C.
    • The grade is an average of the nation’s Chance for Success, School Finance and Student Achievement grades.
  • No state earned an A but Massachusetts earned top honors by receiving a B. New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont also received B’s although they earned slightly lower average scores.
  • Wyoming earned a B-minus placing it among the top 10 for the first time in EdWeek’s rankings.
  • No states earned a failing grade but three states earned a D (Mississippi, New Mexico, and Nevada).
  • Thirty-one states earned grades between a C-minus and C-plus.

Chance for Success Index

What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)

  • Massachusetts ranked first for the eighth consecutive year by receiving an A-minus. New Hampshire also earned an A-minus while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus as they did a year ago.
    • This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
  • On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively once again.
  • The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2014.

School Finance

How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?

  • Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance as it has for the past couple of years.
  • Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A-minus to a B-plus but still received the highest grade of any state just as it has for seven consecutive years. However, seven states received a B-plus this year compared to just three last year.
  • On the other hand, 15 states earned a D-plus or lower with Idaho the only state to earn a failing grade.
  • States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
    • Vermont spent the most per pupil with $18,882 and Utah once again spent the least with $6,688.
  • States differ in how much of their taxable resources they spend on education.
    • West Virginia and Vermont spent the greatest proportion of their taxable resources on education at 5.1 percent
    • Conversely. North Carolina and North Dakota spent the least of their taxable recourses on education with 2.4 and 2.3 percent respectively.
  • States also differ in how much is spent between districts.
    • Alaska had the largest difference between the funding of their highest and lowest districts where districts at the 95th percentile in per pupil funding spent nearly $14,000 more than districts at the 5th percentile.
    • On the other hand, the disparity in Florida was less than $2,000.  On average, the disparity between high and low spending districts nationally was $4,559 per pupil.

K-12 Achievement Index

How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?

  • Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
    • The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
  • Massachusetts was once again top of its class just as it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
  • Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks compared to four states in 2012.
  • Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.

 

About Quality Counts

The nation and each state are graded in three categories (Chance for Success; K-12 Achievement; School Finance; Standards). However, new data is only available for the Chance for Success and School Finance categories.  Grades for the Student Achievement category are the same as last year because they are primarily based on NAEP results which are released every two years. Results from all three categories are combined to provide a composite grade in each state and the nation as a whole. — Jim Hull






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