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September 11, 2014

Chamber of Commerce grades states on their educational effectiveness

Report-Card The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation once again is grading each state on their educational effectiveness based on 11 indicators in their most recent Leaders and Laggards report card. However, if you’re looking to find out which state is this year’s valedictorian you won’t find it in this report card. Unlike student report cards, the Chamber didn’t calculate a composite GPA. Reason likely being the Chamber wanted to keep the focus on where state’s can improve in each of the 11 areas graded which would have likely been overshadowed by an overall ranking of states. For this, I applaud the Chamber as the report card should be viewed as a tool for continuous improvement not as a final evaluation.

Although each of the indicators has their limitations, they provide some context as to how each state compares to other states in a wide range of areas. As our Data First site highlights, there is no single measure that can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of our public schools and all measures have their limitations. Understanding these limitations is key to using any measure to evaluate our public schools.

Keep in mind, however, that not everyone has the same definition of effectiveness when it comes to our public schools. While we all may agree that the main objective of our public schools is to improve student achievement, others may argue that schools should also turn out good citizens or creative thinkers while others may argue an effective school is one that keeps children out of harms way. These are all valid characteristics of an effective school but it shows that effectiveness is really based on the values of the individual doing the evaluating.

And the Chamber’s report card is no different. While they utilized 11 indicators, these indicators align with the values of the Chamber and what they believe constitutes an effective school which may not align to the beliefs of you or me. That is important to keep in mind as you read the Chamber’s report card. As the report card likely doesn’t include all the indicators you would use to evaluate the effectiveness of your public schools.

So, just because your state may not have earned high grades on the Chamber’s report card, your state may have earned straight A’s on yours. – Jim Hull

 

The Findings

 

All states improved their academic performance between 2005 and 2013 but the improvement varied greatly by state

  • Hawaii, Washington, DC, and Maryland made the greatest gains during this time period by improving their NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores by 13, 12, and 10 respectively. Such gains are roughly equivalent to about a year’s worth more of learning.
  • On the other hand, South Carolina, Michigan, and South Dakota made the least amount of gains over this same time period by improving their scores by 1.5, 1.0 and .25 points respectively.
  • Half or more of 4th graders in just six states scored at or above the NAEP proficient achievement level on the 2013 math assessment.
    • In no state did at least half the students reach the NAEP proficient achievement level on either the 4th or 8th grade reading assessments.
    • Massachusetts was the only state where at least half (54 percent) of 8th graders reached the NAEP proficiency level in math.

States vary widely in the return on their education investment

  • Utah, Colorado, and Idaho received the most bang for their buck as they spend fewer dollars per NAEP score point when taking into consideration the differences in the cost of living.
  • On the other end of the ROI spectrum, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Delaware saw low NAEP performance along with high costs.
  • Yet, simply keeping costs down didn’t necessarily equate to higher ROI grades. For example, both Wyoming and Mississippi received F’s in their return on investment yet Mississippi ($9,330) spent over $7,000 less per student than Wyoming ($16,594).

The college readiness of most high school graduates is lagging

  • On average 20 percent of graduates passed at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam.
    • No state did more than 30 percent of graduates pass at least one AP exam while in high school.
    • Maryland and Connecticut had the highest pass rates at 29 percent followed by Virginia at 28 percent.
    • Louisiana and Mississippi had the lowest pass rates at 5 and 4 percent respectively.
  • In those states with high pass rates provide both the access and the preparation to succeed in college-level courses.

Few students are receiving preparation for STEM related fields

  • Less than 10 percent of graduates passed an AP STEM exam nationwide.
  • Massachusetts had the highest pass rate of AP STEM exams at 16 percent followed by Maryland and Connecticut with 15.8 and 15.4 percent passing respectively.
  • Nine states had STEM AP exam pass rates of less than 5 percent with Louisiana and Mississippi achieving the lowest pass rates at 1.9 and 1.2 percent respectively.

Parental choice varies by state

  • Washington, DC has the largest market share for schools of choice—in terms of charter schools and voucher programs—which is by far the largest share of any state. The state with the next highest market share is Louisiana at 22.9 percent.
  • Wyoming has the smallest market share at just 2.5 percent
  • However, larger market shares didn’t necessarily lead to higher grades in parental options.
    • Indiana received an A despite the fact they only have 4.5 percent market share for schools of choice.
    • Maryland received a F while having a 15.9 market share for schools of choice.

 

States can identify good teachers; they just can’t get enough of them

  • The recent reforms to teacher evaluation system appeared to have improved the states’ ability to identify teacher quality, retain effective teachers, and exit ineffective ones.
  • However, states are still struggling with preparing good teachers and expanding the pool of teachers through alternative certification programs.

Unfunded state pensions threaten public education

  • The inability of some states to fund their pension liabilities threatens their ability to fund all types of public services like education.
  • Connecticut, Kentucky, and Illinois are three states that have contributed less than half of what they should to keep their funds solvent.
  • On the other hand, Washington, North Carolina, and South Dakota have funded their programs at the required levels.
Filed under: NAEP,Public education,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 12:33 pm





September 9, 2014

Myths About Teacher Evaluations

While teacher evaluations haven’t garnered as much media attention as the Common Core, in the education world it has been nearly as controversial. And just like the Common Core there are a number of myths about teacher evaluations that impede important discussions on how evaluations can best be used to improve student performance. Even this insightful EdWeek essay by a Philadelphia high school math teacher included some popular myths such as:

            Value-added systems provide precise percentile rankings of teachers

While value-added models certainly can provide percentile rankings of teachers this is typically not the case. The objective of most value-added measures is not to create rankings—which wouldn’t be very precise—but to determine if a teacher is more or less effective than an average teacher. Value-added measures cannot, should not, and typically are not used to rank teachers from best to worst in any teacher evaluation system.

The impact of a given teacher on student performance is too small to accurately quantify

Because there are a number of factors besides teachers that impact students’ test scores, this is exactly the reason why value-added measures should be used. It is the only quantifiable measure that even attempts to isolate the impact of the teacher from other factors that influence student achievement. As this video shows, teachers have a tremendous impact on the academic success of their students.

The differences between schools are too great to accurately quantify

It is true that large differences between schools have an impact on teacher effectiveness which is why high quality value-added models are designed to minimize the impact of such differences. A good value-added model will compare teachers within the same school or similar schools to control for the differences between schools. These controls are not perfect but they provide a more accurate assessment of how a teacher would perform in a typical school.

Teachers are blindly fired due to flawed data that doesn’t provide context

While the other three myths had some nuggets of truth, this one is totally untrue. As I found in my Trends in Teacher Evaluation report, no state relies solely on value-added (or any one measure of student achievement) for more than half of a teacher’s overall evaluation. Even in states where half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on measures of student achievement, most of these states require that multiple measures of student achievement be used, such as student learning objectives, formative assessments and teacher developed exams.

Furthermore, in just about every state evaluation system, the lowest-performing teachers are provided additional professional development, mentoring, or other assistance to help improve their performance. Only if the teacher fails to improve after multiple years of low performance do they become eligible to be fired. And in most states the district still has the final say on whether a teacher is fired or not. So while teacher evaluation systems are used to identify low-performing teachers, it is still up to district leaders in most states to determine what to do with that information. – Jim Hull

Filed under: CPE,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 2:32 pm





September 5, 2014

CPE’s Newest Intern

Hello, my name is Courtney Spetko. I am the new intern at the Center for Public Education and will soon start posting weekly blogs here on The EDifer, so I thought I would introduce myself. I am currently a senior at The George Washington University pursuing a degree in Economics and Political Science.

I initially became interested in education policy during my freshman year of college when I started tutoring for an afterschool program in southeast Washington, D.C.  I quickly learned that public schools in D.C. are drastically different than the schools I attended in a New Jersey suburb. It was disheartening to hear from students that their teachers had quit within the first few months of the school year and that they were then without a qualified permanent math teacher. I used this personal experience as inspiration for a research paper for my Labor Economics last semester. In this paper, I researched the differences between charter and traditional public school teachers in Washington, D.C. and their characteristics, including turnover rates, academic backgrounds, and salary.

In addition to my tutoring and class experience, I worked at a non-profit over the summer that aims to fix the achievement gap and end summer learning loss by implementing an enrichment program for low achieving students. I also have interned for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, where I provided assistance for their various research projects. I am especially excited to begin my internship with The Center to learn more about the public education system across the United States and to understand how education policy is used to confront the current challenges that students, teachers, administrators, and school boards face.

Filed under: CPE — Courtney Spetko @ 2:10 pm





August 28, 2014

Success of new teacher evaluation systems in districts’ hands

In just the past few years just about every state has revamped how their teachers are evaluated. In 2010 the vast majority of teachers were evaluated by being observed for 45 minutes every couple years. Now, most teachers are evaluated annually based on multiple measures of their effectiveness. Although these new comprehensive evaluation systems have the opportunity to significantly impact the overall quality of our nation’s teachers, a new report from Bellwether Education Partners shows that they are still in need of improvement.

While these new evaluation systems are superior to previous evaluation systems, the report points out there is still room for improvement and provide five major findings with lessons for policymakers:

  1. Districts are starting to differentiate between poor, fair, and great educator performance, rather than treating all teachers as interchangeable widgets.
  2. Schools are using higher-quality classroom observation rubrics to provide teachers with better, timelier feedback.
  3. Despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings.
  4. Districts have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—meaning that evaluation systems within the same state may look very different from one another.
  5. Districts continue to ignore performance when making decisions about teacher hiring, compensation, tenure, and dismissal.

 

As you can see “district” is explicitly mentioned in four of the five lessons and the fifth lesson about classroom observations typically falls under the domain of districts as well. This pretty much means the success or failure of these new evaluation systems depends in large part on our nation’s school boards as they are the policymakers at the district level.  As the report points out, even in states that mandate the use of a statewide evaluation system school districts have significant discretion over how their teachers are evaluated.

As I argue in our report Trends in Teacher Evaluations it is imperative that districts have flexibility in how they evaluate their teachers. And it is good to see that this is the case, as the Bellwether report stated, “Evaluation reform has not meant the end of local discretion.”

While flexibility is necessary, districts also need support too. Few districts have the resources and expertise to implement an accurate and effective teacher evaluation system on their own. Districts need support from their states to help them align these new evaluation systems to the unique needs of their district.

While responsibility for designing teacher evaluation systems was originally placed on states, this new report clearly shows that these new teacher evaluation systems will only be successful if school boards are provided the resources not only to implement these evaluation systems but also to provide professional development opportunities that are aligned with the results of each teacher’s evaluation. Without proper support for districts, teacher evaluations are unlikely to have much of an impact on the quality of our nation’s teachers. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 10:37 am





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






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