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January 27, 2017

7 reasons why school choice ≠ school reform

I attended an event this week on Race, Poverty, and School Reform, and I was surprised to hear almost every panelist discuss choice as the best way to reform schools. Research doesn’t support their claims, however.  While choice is great and helps parents find programs and schools that best fit their children’s needs, it is not the panacea to all challenges in education.  Choice doesn’t always have to be outside of the traditional public school system, either.  Finally, choice is not reform in that parental choice of school doesn’t always result in better outcomes for their students.

  1. About 87 percent of America’s school-age children are in public schools, including the five percent in charter schools. We’ve spent decades creating systems to serve students, and those aren’t likely to go away soon. So, if we want to improve outcomes for students today, we have to work within that system.

 

  1. Traditional school districts offer many students choices. Thirty-seven percent of all parents reported having choices within their local public schools in 2012. This includes magnet schools, charters (both district-run and others), and districts offering flexible attendance zones or transfers.  Many districts offer specialized schools and programs such as dual-language immersion, STEM, or the arts.

 

  1. Charter schools aren’t necessarily better than traditional public schools. CREDO found that only about a quarter of charter schools outperform their local counterparts, while in reading, 19 percent of charters perform worse than their local traditional school, and 31 percent perform worse in math. Granted, charters in urban settings and those that serve students in poverty do tend to outperform their local counterparts, but part of this is due to poorly performing traditional public schools in these regions.  Even with this growth, most poor and urban students in charters are not catching up with their more advantaged peers.  And, while the overall average is positive, traditional schools outperformed charters in about one-third of the cities studied.  So, while charters may be a good option for some, they are not across-the-board saviors for student achievement.

School Choice 1

  1. School choice in any form (school districts, charter, and vouchers) can make segregation worse, which has negative impacts on students’ achievement and life outcomes. While there are some charters that are intentionally diverse, only four states (Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina) have state laws that require charter schools to reflect the makeup of their local traditional public schools to some degree. Very few public school districts utilize controlled choice models that aim to balance parental choice with diverse school populations.  Research also shows that parents tend to choose schools schools based on school location and demographics that match their own .

 

  1. Private schools aren’t necessarily better than traditional schools, either. Results are hard to measure, as most programs don’t require private schools to participate in state tests. High school graduation rates are generally higher, but that may also be due to admissions-based cream-skimming and/or relaxed graduation requirements (this is just speculation, echoed from other researchers).  While some programs have shown positive results (New York, DC), others have harmed student achievement.  Students in the Louisiana voucher program dropped significantly in achievement, dropping 16 percentile points in math and eight in reading.  Some studies have shown that private schools perform worse than public schools if demographic factors are accounted for.

    Impact of Louisiana Voucher Program on Student Achievement after 2 years

School Choice 2

 

  1. School choice in the form of public school vouchers doesn’t always serve every student. Very few voucher programs require private school providers to adhere to IDEA laws for special education students (outside of programs that cater specifically to special education students), and no states require participating schools to address the needs of English language learners. Voucher laws allow private schools to adhere to their admission criteria, which encourages more schools to participate.  However, these criteria often discriminate against students based on their religion and sexual orientation (only Maine and Vermont prohibit religious schools from participating).  Some private schools may also have extra fees for sports or other programs, which may exclude low-income families from participating in the program.  Few voucher programs provide transportation, which may also be limiting.

 

  1. Full-time virtual schools, which serve about 180,000 students nationwide, have been shown to grossly underperform other forms of schools. Only two percent of virtual schools outperformed their traditional public school counterpart in reading, and zero percent had better results in math. CREDO estimates that attending a virtual school is the equivalent of not attending school at all for a year in math, and of losing 72 days of instruction in reading.

School Choice 3

School choice can be great for some families and some students.  However, the reality is that just because parents choose schools doesn’t mean that that school will do better for student achievement overall.  While some education reformers are pushing for increased school choice as a way to improve education, the research just doesn’t support this notion, at least not in the current framework.  What we should be doing is learning from high-performing schools in every sector (traditional, charter, and private) to replicate effective administrative and instructional practices.  While competition itself may someday push schools to improve, that doesn’t help today’s students, and there’s no guarantee that competition makes schools better, anyway.  Today’s students deserve true reform based on evidence, not ideology, so that they receive the best education possible.






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






October 28, 2015

School choice + objective information = Real choice

image001 (2)Giving parents and students the ability to choose their school is promoted by supporters as the key to improving American education overall. On the surface, the idea has great appeal. Who, after all, opposes having choices?

Indeed, both Republican and Democratic policymakers have embraced school choice in various forms that range from opening up alternatives within the public school system to providing taxpayer dollars to students to take to private schools. But for all the rhetoric, does school choice live up to its supporters’ claims?

The Center for Public Education strove to get to the bottom of these questions in our newest analysis which we’ve titled quite simply, School Choice: What the research says. This handy at-a-glance overview of school choice in all its permutations, describes each of the alternatives, provides a quick look at related state policies, calculates the proportion of the school-aged population it serves and, most importantly, distills what the research says about its impact on student achievement.

It’s a comprehensive and unbiased look at one of the most frequently touted strategies among school reformers. Because what we’ve learned is that choice, in and of itself, is not an effective strategy. It’s just a catchphrase.






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





April 9, 2015

Expanding Learning Time: What you need to know

Deciding to increase the time students spend in school is no easy decision. Although a number of districts across the country have done so in recent years, no two districts did it in the same way. That’s because each district had differing reasons for making such a decision. Furthermore, each district had to make the decision within their own local context. As each district has their own political and resource challenges the must be considered when determining if and how to expand learning time.

Making such a decision can be daunting for school leaders. However, a recent report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) provides valuable information to those considering expanding learning time in their district. For example, the report notes that there are a variety of approaches to expanding learning time such as increasing the school day or year. But learning time can also be expanded by reducing the amount of non-instructional time and adding time for teacher activities that improve instruction. Each approach has its strengths and challenges which CEP details in case studies of 17 low-performing schools across 11 districts.

These case studies confirmed expanding learning time is no easy task but does has its rewards. However, expanding learning time is also quite expensive so district leaders must way the costs with the potential benefits of expanding learning time. The Center for Public Education’s (CPE) Making Time report is a resource for district leaders that provides an overview of what research says about the benefits of the differing approaches to increasing learning time. By considering the likely costs and benefits of expanding learning time district leaders can make a more informed decision on how to best utilize their limited resources to improve student outcomes – Jim Hull






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