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June 8, 2017

How do high performing education systems in other countries prepare and develop their teachers?

Earlier this week, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released its report, Empowered Educators, which examined international research on teacher professional development and preparation.  Lead by renowned education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, the research team reviewed systems in Finland, Singapore, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Alberta and Ontario in Canada, and Shanghai as guides for exceptional examples for empowering teachers.  After reviewing all the systems, there were four common elements:

1. Solid Base in Technical and Pedagogical Knowledge

In Finland, teacher candidates are required to complete a degree in at least one academic subject.  Then they continue onto a graduate level program where they learn pedagogic methods to teach their subject to K-12 aged students.  Darling-Hammond also noted that in some of these systems that were studied, the number of teacher certification programs is significantly lower than the U.S. model, emphasizing quality over quantity.  In Finland, there are only 8 programs that are housed in research universities and in Singapore there is just one.

2.  Teachers are Researchers

Teachers in Singapore are required to conduct research every year in their schools.  Teachers work in groups on a research projects that are then presented to the universities.  Many of the research projects are published in academic journals and top teacher researchers receive awards for their work.  In Shanghai, classroom teachers are also required to do research in their schools which often gets published.  In both systems teachers are given ample time in their school day to work on their projects, resulting in less time devoted to classroom instruction compared to the average American teacher.

3. Mentoring

In Finland, teacher candidates spend a large part of their university teacher preparation programs in model schools.  These schools are tied to the university and are staffed with very skilled master teachers that coach and model research based teaching practices.  In some cases, mentoring programs are extended to the first and second year teachers to continue to help them better their teaching practice.

4. Career Ladders

Shanghai and Singapore have created formal career ladders for teacher to advance through the profession.  Teachers each have an individual plan based on their long-term aspirations of continuing in the classroom, becoming an administrator or a becoming a policy leader.  These systems recognize that relevant professional development looks different for each level of teacher on the career ladder, and can tailor the sessions so that they have the biggest impact.  The formal labels recognize excellent teachers by labeling the top level as master teachers, and give classroom teachers a title to aspire towards.

All the systems studied implemented these four basic principles in some form.  They took research based ideas and manipulated them to fit within their local context.  The policies may not be able to be explicitly copied from one country or state to another due to the vast cultural and contextual differences, but the sharing of successful ideas can create a generally more informed policy.   Now the question is, how can the United States use these ideas to take our teachers to the next level?

 






June 1, 2017

Does a four-day school week sacrifice learning in the interest of a balanced budget? Part I: Slim savings

The four-day schedule is not an entirely novel idea—first used in the 1930s, the system gained popularity in the 1970s as surging oil prices drove districts to seek alternative solutions to cut their growing transportation budgets. More recently, shifts in the definition of instructional time by many states toward instructional hours rather than instructional days has opened the door to the resurgence of the four-day week. This change grants districts the flexibility to implement a calendar with fewer, longer school days, generally adding about 45 minutes on to the end of the school day.

In the wake of the Great Recession, states continue to make deep cuts to education budgets, leaving already struggling communities to find innovative solutions. Today, about 150 districts in 21 states have adopted the calendar. A potential cost saver like the four-day week can be appealing under tight budgetary circumstances, but how much money does a four-day week really save? Does the four-day week hold up as a viable option for districts struggling with tight budgets?

2017-06-01_11-35-57Proponents of the four-day school week foresee significant savings, particularly in the areas of transportation, food service, and building operations. By eliminating these costs from one whole day of the usual five-day school week, districts predict a 20% savings in each area. However, each of these areas individually makes up a relatively small portion of a district’s overall budget. Cutting transportation completely for one day of the week, a commonly indicated source of potential savings in rural districts, leads to only a 0.85% savings to the overall budget.

The largest portion of the budget (approximately 60.82% on average) is dedicated to instruction, primarily made up of teacher salaries and benefits, which are not affected by a move to a four-day schedule. Despite the initial inclination of many proponents, teachers continue to provide the same number of instructional hours and thus receive the same salary and benefits. The largest portion of the budget, then, is not impacted by a shift to a four-day week.

In fact, estimates suggest that a four-day week brings a maximum potential savings of only about 5.43% to the overall district budget. Most districts that have already made the shift have seen much lower savings. A study out of Oklahoma, a state that has been making national headlines for its controversial use of the four-day week, recently found no evidence that districts that switched saved money at all.

While budgetary considerations have been the primary driver of the four-day week’s recent spike in popularity, these suggested savings appear to be unfounded. Despite these limited savings, districts continue to shift to a four-day schedule. What impact might this change have on students and staff? What considerations must districts weigh before making the change? Next week, we will examine the potential academic effects of changing to a four-day week.






May 8, 2017

Black and Latino parents express their views on education

School choice advocates seemed surprised earlier this year when the NAACP called for a moratorium on new charter schools. The need for school choice, according to many advocates, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, stems from lack of choices and underperformance of public schools for low-income students and students of color. However, a new survey by the civil rights group The Leadership Conference asks black and Latino parents about their views on education. Instead of education advocates and policymakers presupposing that all parents want is choice, we should stop and listen to them.

Parents want changes that would provide fair opportunities to their students. Most of their criticism is centered around race-based inequalities in funding and resources, as well as biased treatment of their students. Some parents may use school choice to attain greater equality, but until every school provides a high-quality education, providing options alone isn’t enough.

The Leadership Conference surveyed 600 black parents and 600 Latino parents across the U.S., all with children ages 5-18. The margin of error for each group is 4 percent. In addition to ensuring that our education system hears the voices of all groups of parents, this survey is particularly important because it helps peel back the layers on why black and Latino students often lag behind in educational attainment. They also make up nearly half of the student population.

Surveyed parents overwhelmingly felt that schools in black and Latino communities received less funding than schools in white neighborhoods. Research from EdBuild, an organization that studies education funding, would back up that sentiment. Black parents whose children attended majority white schools were more likely to rate their school as excellent than parents of students at majority-black schools (61 versus 14 percent). If funding tends to follow white students, then minority students at majority-white schools would also benefit from better supported schools. Socioeconomic status may also play a role in this perception; black and Latino students are far more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students.

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Parents also cite racism and bias as contributors to their children receiving an inferior education. When their children had mostly white teachers, parents were more likely to believe that U.S. schools weren’t really trying to educate black/Latino students. This aligns with recent research that shows that black students are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to aspire to college if they had at least one black teacher in upper elementary school. While the mechanisms for the research findings are unclear, it is apparent that black and Latino parents feel that schools aren’t giving their children an equitable education.

Parents also shared what they feel will improve their schools: high-quality teachers, access to educational resources and technology, and high expectations for their students. They also care about extracurricular activities and after-school programs. In an open-ended question, nearly half of respondents cited good teachers as the most important characteristic to make a great school, placing it far above the number who cited a core/general curriculum or safe and nurturing environment. Eighty-nine percent of black parents and 81 percent of Latino parents wished that their children were challenged more.

All of these sentiments have been backed up in importance by research. High-quality teachers are paramount to students’ learning. Strong learning materials support great teaching by ensuring that students are prepared for college and careers. Students with same-race teachers tend to have higher performance. Schools receive inequitable funding, with poor and minority students typically concentrated in schools with fewer resources.

And yet, many policy-makers and education advocates have spent the last couple of years debating the merits of school choice. It seems that we’re missing the more important policy questions. Charters perform at about the same level as district schools, and large voucher programs actually have worse achievement results for students. So, instead of trying to create new systems, maybe we should focus on what really matters; just ask the parents.






April 28, 2017

New federal study of DC voucher program shows academic decline

A new federal analysis of the District of Columbia’s voucher program has found that students who transferred to private schools posted similar and, in some cases, worse scores than their peers who remained in public schools.

The findings appear to be the first time the Institute of Education Sciences (the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education) has noted that voucher recipients performed worse on some academic measures than DC public school pupils in general.

It comes on the heels of new research on Louisiana and Ohio’s statewide voucher programs, which showed precipitous declines in test scores between students who took advantage of the voucher and transferred to a private school and similar students who stayed in public schools.

Created by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2004, the Opportunity Scholarship Program was intended to provide low-income families in the District of Columbia with tuition subsidies to attend private schools. Reauthorized in 2011 as the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, it was the first and remains the only federally-funded voucher program in the U.S.

Ongoing evaluation of SOAR was a key feature of the 2004 and 2011 bill, hence IES has conducted numerous studies in the past that looked at student outcomes, parent satisfaction and general characteristics of the participants. But this is the first time researchers have observed a sharp difference between the test scores of SOAR participants and non-participants. Before we get to the specifics, some background: the study’s sample included students who applied to the program in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and were either offered or not offered a scholarship; the difference between the two on a variety of measures was studied one year after SOAR students transferred to private schools.

Among the report’s highlights:

  • Math scores dropped, on average, 7.3 percentile points for voucher recipients compared to students who applied but had not been selected for the program.
  • Reading scores dropped among elementary students (7.1 percentile points) who participated in SOAR compared to those who did not, but there was little discernible difference at the secondary level between these two groups.
  • Students who transferred from low performing schools (the very students the program is intended to help) saw no significant gain on their test scores one year after transferring to private school.
  • Meanwhile, voucher participants who had not transferred from schools designated as “in need of improvement” saw their math scores drop, on average, 14.1 percentile points and their reading scores by 11.3 percentile points compared to students who were in public schools.

While these findings aren’t as dramatic as Louisiana, where students saw a 27 percentile point drop in math one year after transferring to private schools, it’s yet another chink in the, let’s face it, drafty armor known as school choice.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having options. The problem is when one equates more options with better outcomes. This is not always the case, as this and other studies are showing.






March 13, 2017

Kentucky: School Choice for Whom?

The Kentucky House of Representatives has been busy with education policy recently.  In February, they passed House Bill 151, which would allow parents the choice of sending their child to the school closest to their house (as long as it is in the district in which they reside).  If approved by the Senate, H.B. 151 would have the potential to override school assignment boundaries throughout the state.  As reported by the Washington Post and The Century Foundation, H.B. 151 would also have the potential to dismantle a long-standing school integration plan in Jefferson County, which encompasses Louisville.

At face value, it seems reasonable that children be allowed to attend the school closest to their home, creating neighborhood schools.  Most traditional school assignment plans are designed around this concept, with school capacity and population density also playing a role.  The challenge, even for schools with traditional attendance zones, is that school zones could basically disappear if parents claim the right to attend the school closest to their zone.  In Lexington, for example, a student in the southern part of the Breckinridge ES zone (see below) may live closer to Liberty ES than some of the students in the Liberty ES zone, so students who previously would have attended Liberty ES may no longer have a place there (if Liberty ES reached capacity).  The bill has provisions so that students currently attending a particular school may not be displaced by other students, but incoming students, whether kindergarteners or families who just moved in, may not be afforded the same benefit as families who have been in the neighborhood longer.  This legislation has the potential to uproot many school districts’ carefully-crafted  and often-controversial assignment policies, creating uncertainty for families and challenges in assigning students to schools in a manner that accounts for multiple student and demographic factors.

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Perhaps the larger reason that this bill is garnering national attention is the effect that it will have on the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) district, which encompasses Louisville.  JCPS has a school integration plan that combines parental preference with balanced diversity.  Parents of elementary school students may choose between neighborhood schools in their geographic cluster or magnet schools that serve the entire district; 90 percent receive their first choice.  Middle and high school students are assigned to schools with boundaries designed to maximize diversity.  JCPS also offers district-wide magnet programs, which would not be affected by H.B. 151.  The district’s school assignments also try to minimize transportation time for students.  The result of this school assignment plan is that many students are not attending the school closest to home.  JCPS analyzed H.B. 151­­­ and concluded that half of their students do not attend the school closest to their home, which means that there is great potential for the shifting of students across schools in the future (current students would not be affected but we can assume that the results would be similar for future cohorts).  Only 38 percent of current middle school and 34 percent of current elementary school students live close enough to their current school to be assigned to it, if school assignments were made on proximity alone.

JCPS also analyzed the effect the bill would have on school diversity.  By their projections, the number of students attending high-poverty and/or high-minority schools (greater than 80 percent of students receiving free/reduced lunch or non-white students) could increase under H.B. 151.  The number of schools that fail to meet the district’s diversity goals, which are based on parental education, income, and race, could increase from 12 to 40.  Currently, all schools serve at least some highly disadvantaged students; under the new requirements, up to 45 schools may have zero of these students.  JCPS’s current plan provides choice, especially to low-income parents who often live in low-income neighborhoods, to attend schools that are diverse instead of segregated.  The new requirements could mean that schools in more affluent neighborhoods reach capacity with just neighborhood students, pushing out lower income students who would have transferred in under the current plan.  Such choices would not be surprising, given research from North Carolina and Washington, D.C. that shows that geographic proximity is highly important to parents in selecting a school.  This would essentially allow for a dual system of haves and have-nots.

We know that schools of concentrated poverty have a negative impact on student achievement.  A Stanford researcher even found that the most powerful factor correlated with the racial achievement gap is the disproportionate exposure of black and Latino students to students in poverty in their schools.  Neighborhood-based school assignments often have the effect of widening the gap between students of color and their white peers by creating more socioeconomically segregated schools.  Additionally, all students benefit from diverse schools through improved cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

Many school choice advocates say that choice is a way out of “failing schools” for low-income and minority students.  However, allowing parents to choose the school closest to them may exacerbate the school segregation already put in place by housing patterns.  It could also create uncertainty across the state as local districts would have to recreate school assignment policies.  Louisville has worked to create a system that provides for parental choice and diversity based on the needs and preferences of their local community; we would hate to see choice erode for the families who can’t afford to live near more affluent schools.






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