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August 21, 2014

Common core support drops, local control rules, and other public opinion trends

Back to school season means it’s also time for the yearly ritual of gauging American attitudes about their public schools. Two major surveys released this week once again show that the public says its local schools are great even though they think U.S. schools overall are in the tank (a mathematical impossibility, by the way). The surveys also highlight some inconsistencies in public thinking as well as widespread acceptance of misinformation, particularly regarding the common core. So let’s start there.

First, what a difference a year makes! The 46th annual PDK/Gallup poll registered a big increase in public awareness about the Common Core State Standards between 2013 and 2014. Last year, only 38 percent said they had heard of them. This year, awareness has more than doubled to 81 percent. But that wasn’t the only shift. Of those who knew about the Common Core in 2013 a majority liked them, but that pendulum swung, too. Now according to PDK, only 33 percent support the new standards while a full 60 percent are opposed.

A new poll from Education Next shows the same downward trend in public support for Common Core as PDK, although EN shows that a majority are still favorable: 53 percent of the public supported them in 2014 compared to 65 percent the year before. EN teased out attitudes by party affiliation and found that Democrats were more far more likely to support Common Core than Republicans — 65 to 43 percent, respectively. Still, even among Republicans, support is significantly higher than PDK reported.

EN also conducted a small randomized experiment. They asked the same question about Common Core standards to one half of the survey pool, except they eliminated the words “Common Core” in the brackets below:

As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use [the Common Core, which are] standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of these [the Common Core] standards in your state?

Now it gets interesting. When the words “Common Core” are eliminated, public support rises from 53 to 68 percent. Moreover, Republicans approved of the non-Common Core statement at the same rate as Democrats. The conflicting poll results could suggest that the Common Core critics are winning the media war. As EN puts it, the words themselves may have become “toxic.” As further evidence, the poll found that the majority of the public believed statements about the Common Core that were not true, such as the federal government requires states to use the Common Core. Yet these beliefs have entered into the information stream and are affecting public attitudes.

Of course, it’s also possible that we are seeing a sea change in attitudes. The EN survey raises an issue that should be of major concern: teacher support for the Common Core declined the most. In 2013, a full three-quarters of the teachers polled were in favor of the Common Core. In just one year their support plummeted to slightly less than half (46 percent). One has to wonder if teachers are expressing their frustration with inadequate implementation support. If this is the case, state and district policymakers should pay close attention.

On other topics, the public continues to view public schooling as a mostly local concern, according to PDK. The majority of the public — 56 percent — say local school boards should have the “greatest influence in deciding what is taught in public schools,” followed by 28 percent who say the state should, and only 15 percent who say the federal government should. In addition, to know public schools is to love them. Consistent with results of the last 20 years, the public gives public schools nationally poor grades, but grade their local schools highly. In 2014, 50 percent of the public and 67 percent of public school parents gave their local schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ compared to 17 percent who gave the nation’s schools high grades. However, this represents a slight drop from 2013 overall.

Both PDK and EN found that the public continues to like the idea of charter schools. But the polls conflict over voucher support. PDK reported that nearly two-thirds of the public opposed vouchers, while EN showed that about half support vouchers for students in “failing public schools” and even for “universal vouchers.” Surprisingly, only a third told EN they would support vouchers for low-income families.

As always, polls can be useful in understanding what the public is thinking. But this year’s polling seems to further cast a light on winners and losers in communicating their messages. – Patte Barth

June 11, 2014

CPE’s latest report explores mayoral involvement in urban schools

CPE_MayoralControl_Slider Few would disagree that the future prosperity of cities are linked to the current performance of schools. It’s no doubt what has compelled many a mayor to take control of city schools, especially ones that are troubled and low performing. But do urban schools benefit under a mayoral governance model? Is student achievement higher in urban systems led by school boards or city mayors? What happens to community involvement in either arrangement? These were the questions CPE set out to discover in its latest report, Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup. As you can likely tell from the title, we concluded more could be achieved if the two offices worked together than apart. To find out how we got there, though, you’ll have to read the report.

September 11, 2013

Education reform and the march on Washington

UnknownThe March on Washington played a pivotal role in transforming hearts, minds and laws during the civil rights movement. Protesting racial inequalities, 250,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and helped create the necessary political pressure to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. While it is certainly true that people from all economic and ethnic groups joined the march, education leaders must not forget that it was heavily comprised of the movement’s key disadvantaged population: African Americans. Other movements, including women’s rights, rigid smoking regulations and strict drunk driving laws, also had substantial input from people that the issue harmed most. This is a critical trend because it captures the notion that social movements need intense participation from those within marginalized populations and those outside of it. If there is a movement to close the achievement gap and improve public education systems then past events should encourage education leaders to include academically disadvantaged families.

Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone and Promise Neighborhoods embrace the inclusion and empowerment of underperforming communities. In addition to providing a variety of social services, these initiatives teach parents from low achieving communities how to prepare their newborns for pre-school and continue to guide parents throughout their children’s k-12 careers. Both programs were also designed, in part, by Geoffrey Canada, a prominent education reformer who hails from struggling public schools in the Bronx, NY.

Although these organizations help incorporate disadvantaged families, other education sectors must continually improve their efforts. In particular, research suggests that school boards and districts are in a prime position to expand parental outreach. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Education shows that programs in Minnesota and West Virginia significantly improved parental involvement and student gains by merging innovative home activities with school practices. Inclusive and inventive initiatives like these cannot grow unless education leaders step to the plate and offer their support.

The bottom line is that the quantity and influence of education leaders from afflicted neighborhoods is far too low. Reformers are surely doomed to fight an uphill battle if they aren’t joined, even lead, by the communities they’re trying to help.

~Jordan Belton

May 18, 2012

Using test scores to evaluate teachers can work

Sometimes I agree with Jay Mathews and sometimes I don’t. Either way I always have the utmost respect for his opinion. The same is true when it comes to his recent blog on teacher evaluations where he argues that rating teachers based on test scores will never work. While I disagree with his conclusion, I do agree they will not work if teacher evaluations:

  • Are based on only one year of data (even if value-added measures are used).
  • Do not include multiple measures of teacher performance.
  • Scoring is not transparent.
  • Do not encourage teamwork.

As a matter of fact I make the same points in my Building a Better Evaluation System report.

Where I disagree with Jay is his implicit assumption that these are not part of most teacher evaluation systems. As matter of fact they are. Most teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores that I am aware of include each of these elements. Jay is correct to bemoan the fact that DC teacher’s are evaluated on only one year’s worth of value-added scores. I would much rather see those scores averaged over 2 or 3 years like many other evaluations system do. But a teacher’s individual value-added score is just one part of DC’s evaluation system. Teachers are still evaluated on their instructional techniques and abilities as well as their contribution to the school community, so multiple measures are used to evaluate teachers.

Furthermore, DC as well as many other districts use their evaluation systems to encourage teamwork by evaluating teachers on how well their school performed as a whole. By giving credit to all teachers when the school improves, that gives incentives for teachers to work as a team. So basing teacher evaluations on student test scores can actually encourage rather than discourage teamwork within a school.

Finally, I have to take issue with Jay’s comment “New value-added assessments in the District, New York and elsewhere carry a whiff of Stalinist economic planning: secretive measures immune to review or logic.” Of course he is referring to a lack a transparency. However, with just one quick Google search I found a DC document clearly defining how teachers are measured. In the document I found it clearly spelling out how teacher evaluation scores are calculated:

  • Individual value-added scores: 50%
    • Student test score improvement
  • Teaching and learning frame work: 35%
    • Observations and other qualitative measures of teacher abilities
  • Commitment to the school community: Up to 10%
  • School value-added scores: 5%
    • School’s test score improvement

Furthermore, the same document provided more detail into how each of the categories is calculated. Not exactly Stalinistic. Maybe there isn’t enough detail for Jay because it doesn’t provide the code used to calculate the value-added measures. But most non-statisticians wouldn’t have a clue what the code said anyway. That’s why DC had their value-added model examined by two well respected experts who have worked extensively with value-added models. Again, I don’t think Stalin would have asked for second or third opinions.

What Jay may not realize is that the lack of transparency may have less to do with the teacher evaluation system itself and how it was developed, but about who runs DC public schools. DC, or New York City for that matter, doesn’t have an elected school board, so DC residents likely didn’t have as much of a say in the development of the evaluation system as residents in districts run by elected school boards.

So my response to Jay is that teacher evaluations based on test scores can and do work but they have to be done right, including public input through their local school boards. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Growth Models,School boards,Teacher evaluation — Jim Hull @ 9:15 am

May 17, 2012

The Common Core: still a state initiative, not a federal one

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on backlash against the Common Core standards in its article, “School Standards Pushback.” Apparently some states, including South Carolina, are claiming that the voluntarily-adopted, state-developed, consensus-driven math and reading standards represent an unfair federal intrusion into local and state territory.

Excuse me?

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, these are some of the concerns: Adopting the standards could create a national curriculum that would dictate more controversial subjects like science. The standards won’t work to raise achievement and are weaker than they should be.

Excuse me again, but I fail to see how voluntary standards can somehow morph into a nationally-dictated curriculum. Especially when those standards were created through the states working together.

I also fail to see what stops local school boards, or states, from adopting additional standards that go beyond what is set in the Common Core, if they want to. Isn’t that what the name implies, anyway? A common core, not a common curriculum?

I firmly believe that local control helps produce the best student outcomes. Besides being an example of our democracy, having the community involved in its children’s education is often the best way to develop solutions that work. Local people understand local needs.

But anyone who’s spent as much time as I have looking at the huge variation between schools (for instance, the number of high schools that don’t even offer Algebra II) can’t help but feel that core standards, especially when developed by the states themselves, would be a useful benchmark for local communities to use.  Ignorance of what other schools can, and are, doing with similar students is detrimental to both students and their communities. 

So the use of these arguments both confuses and discourages me. Quite honestly, they simply seem to coincide with the reality of implementing the standards starting to hit. If that’s true, I’d rather these states bring up honest concerns about how to implement the standards well. Poorly-implemented standards will help no one. Hiding behind ignorance and calling it independence, however, won’t help anyone either. – Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: School boards,standards,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 10:30 am

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