Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

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 16, 2017

Welcome CPE’s summer intern!

Hello, my name is Megan Lavalley, and I am very excited to be joining CPE as a summer intern. I look forward to contributing to and building upon the team’s valuable research on public education.

As a former teacher and graduate of the University of North Carolina’s School of Education, public schools are near to my heart. The needs of students, teachers, and school communities have been the driving focus for much of my current graduate coursework in Public Policy.

I have both taught and volunteered with students in a variety of situations—English Language Learners in urban north Texas; students experiencing homelessness in Fairfax County, Virginia; academically gifted students in suburban North Carolina—and have come to recognize that no two communities are alike. The issues facing each school will be just as unique as the makeup of its student population.

With this understanding of the differences reflected in our school communities, I aim to find areas of commonality. I hope to provide analysis that recognizes the unique needs of all students and points to policy considerations relevant to all public schools.

Filed under: CPE — Megan Lavalley @ 12:58 pm





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.

BlackLatino

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.






April 24, 2017

Early childhood investments seem to be paying off

Children are entering kindergarten with stronger math and literacy skills, a recent report shows. These gains seem to be due to investments in improving the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart. Stark gaps still persist between students based on race and socioeconomic status, though all groups have made progress. Behavioral outcomes did not show improvement, and some measures actually declined. The report compares kindergarteners from 1998 to those in 2010.

Researchers said that the gains amount to about 17% of what the average kindergartener learns in math and reading. Schools should take notice and adjust their curricula to ensure that all students are receiving rigorous instruction that builds on what they already know so that such gains are not lost.

EarlyChildhood

Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Black students saw the greatest improvements, with an increase of 12% to 25% of students deemed “high proficiency” and a drop from 69% to 54% of students deemed “low proficiency. Hispanic students saw an improvement of 10% to 18% of students who were “high proficiency” and a 10 percentage-point drop in students who were “low proficiency.” In comparison, white students saw a 9% gain in “high proficiency” and 8% drop in “low proficiency.” The achievement gap across K-12 education is largely present before students even step foot in a school, so reducing these differences between students should ultimately result in more equitable outcomes later in life, as well.

EarlyChildhood2

Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Students haven’t necessarily been participating in preschool at higher rates, but the authors point to improvements in the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart, as possible reasons for the gains. Other studies have documented improvement in activities that parents do with their children, such as reading at home or visiting zoos and museums.

While academic indicators showed improvement, behavioral outcomes did not enjoy such gains. Students were rated at similar levels as before in self-control and interpersonal behavior, but had worse outcomes in approaches to learning, which includes “children’s eagerness to learn, along with their ability to work independently, persist in completing tasks, and pay attention.” While the cause for this is uncertain, the authors point to an increase in seat work and a decrease in play-based activities for kindergarteners as a possible cause for the teacher-assessed rating change. Others have shown concern that children are losing the opportunity for self-selected activities, which promote a love of learning and social skills.

We applaud the work done by thousands of parents and early childhood educators to prepare students for school. We should continue to make investments in children, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to grow academically in the most developmentally appropriate way possible. We should also capitalize on the gains made in the early years by ensuring that they continue to grow throughout their K-12 education.

Filed under: CPE,Early Childhood,Play,Pre-k,preschool,SEL — Tags: , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 12:21 pm





« Newer PostsOlder Posts »
RSS Feed