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March 27, 2015

One in six chance you won’t get funding for child care

In an issue report authored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), federal child care subsidies were vastly underused in fiscal year 2011. The report found that of the population of children eligible (i.e., 14.3 million in 2011), 83 percent did not receive federal assistance. That translates into just shy of 12 million children (11.8 million) who did not receive financial support to attend child care. In terms of state assistance, the numbers and percentages are only slightly better. Of the 8.4 million children who were eligible to receive child care subsidies under state rules (which can be, and often are, more restrictive than the federal eligibility parameters), only 29% did so (i.e., 71% or 5.96 million children did not receive child care subsidies).

The numbers can continue to be shocking. Here are some other trends reported within the ASPE brief. First, analyses reveal that amongst children from families between 150% and 199% of the federal poverty limit (for 2011), 96% of these families were not served.

Another finding from the 2011 data reveals that the older the child, the less likely they were to receive a subsidy. Moreover, children ages 10 to 12 were more than four times as likely to not receive child care subsidies compared to children ages 0 to 5. This was also true for 6- to 9-year-olds, who were half as likely to have received a child care subsidy compared to those younger (yet still twice as likely as the 10- to 12-year-olds)!

Provided as an appendix to the report, some background information is provided on this sample of children and their families. Included in this table, are the numbers of families with parents employed for 20 or more hours a month and you can compare this across age ranges. Looking at the total sample, 84% of all eligible families fell into the highest category of employment yet, of this same sample of working families, only 1 in 5 of them received child care subsidies.

Although we would not expect that the same 84% of working eligible families is the same group as the families who did not receive any child care assistance, but clearly there is a big disconnect somewhere in the system. One would suspect that the families who are working as much as possible would be those that need child care (let alone financial assistance for it) the most. Moreover, children (and families) living in poverty are already more likely to face enormous obstacles and as positioned for in our “Changing Demographics of the United States and their Schools” article, these children can especially benefit from programs such as preschool and participation can lead to fewer behavior problems and reduce the likelihood of school expulsion later in their academic career. This misalignment of need and services is unsettling and will be something that we should continue to monitor for change. – David Ferrier






March 18, 2015

Put teacher data in the hands of those who know how to use It

While every parent wants as much information as possible to do what is best for their child, it doesn’t mean that parents have the right to their child’s teacher’s evaluation data. That information should only be used by administrators to support the continuous improvement of their teachers and make more informed decisions on which teachers are best suited to teach which students. As I argue in Trends in Teacher Evaluations, this is the best way teacher evaluation systems can improve the effectiveness of all teachers. On the other hand, providing individual teacher evaluation data to parents, as one parent in Virginia is going to court over, will likely lead to a pitchfork mentality where parents will demand their child be placed in the highest rated teacher’s class and that low performing teachers be fired without any context on what the evaluation results actually mean.

Such rush to judgments on evaluating talent happens all too often by those only looking at the short-term gains. Sports provides the most vivid examples of this phenomena. One of the best examples is when the Boston Red Sox brought up Dustin Pedroia to play second base in 2007. But Pedroia’s numbers were downright awful the first month of the season and fans wanted him replaced. However, the manager kept playing him despite the bad numbers because his experience showed him that Padroia would someday become a very good player. And the manager was right; Padroia went on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2007 and the American League’s MVP award the next. This illustrates how data is most effective in the hands of those who not only know how to use the data correctly but will use the data for the best possible outcomes in the long-term.

This isn’t to say that parents shouldn’t have any information about the quality of those teaching their children. They certainly should. The question is what information should be provided to parents. This is a question states and districts are still struggling with. Some states provide aggregate teacher effectiveness data by school while others notify parents that their child is being taught by a teacher rated as ineffective for multiple years in a row. There is no right answer to what information parents should have but it is clear just handing parents a teacher’s evaluation data would do more harm than good.

A far more effective strategy, would be for parents, teachers and policymakers to come together to find the best solution for all involved. Together they can come to an agreement on what not only is best for individual students in the short-term but what will allow for what is best for all students in the long-term.  – Jim Hull

Filed under: Data,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: , — Jim Hull @ 11:29 am





October 28, 2014

Building a better reporting system

As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.

The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.

The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:

  • First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
  • Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
  • State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
  • Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.

While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. — Patte Barth

Filed under: CPE,Data,Parents,School boards,teachers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 3:43 pm





January 21, 2014

Expanding school choice: An education revolution or diversion?

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) was speaking recently at the release of the Brookings Institution’s latest report on Education Choice and Competition. Calling these policies “an education revolution,” the House leader baldly stated, “school choice is the surest way to break [the] vicious cycle of poverty.”

Not “a solid education.”  School choice.

The Brookings’ report ranks 100 large districts on their school choice policies. Their report came out in advance of National School Choice Week whose organizers boast 5,500 scheduled events across the country beginning January 26, 2014. Both share a goal to drum up more support for funneling tax dollars into educational options — whether they be charters, magnets, private, or virtual schools.  The rationale is that a free marketplace will force schools to innovate in order to compete for students. Popular schools will equate with “good schools” and unpopular ones will close. And thus, in Brookings words, we will raise “the quality of the product.”

Unfortunately, that’s one mighty big assumption.

Most choice advocates defend their position by pointing to successful charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. Others extol the promise of virtual learning. What they all provide, for the most part, is anecdote, intuition and belief. When they do cite data, it basically shows that choice policies work in some places with some students some of the time.  Truth is, the evidence is much spottier than the champions for choice would have us believe.

Charter schools, for example, are the most studied “choice” reform.  Charter schools are public schools that have certain requirements waived so they can try out new ideas.  There is much to commend successful charters and what they are learning about effective practices. But according to a 2013 study from Stanford researchers, these are the exception. Only one in four charter schools outperforms its traditional public school counterpart in reading. About one in five performs significantly worse. In math, it’s nearly one in three.

The quality of research on voucher programs is notoriously uneven and often contradictory. Nonetheless, there seems to be general agreement that vouchers may have had a modest impact on some low-income and minority youth in some urban districts. But the findings are inconclusive as to their effect overall.  And the general efficacy of virtual schools is a big unknown, largely because districts lack the infrastructure to sufficiently track student performance in online environments.

Ironically, the Brookings report card itself illustrates the disconnect between choice policies on one hand and student performance on the other.  One does not necessarily follow the other.

Only three districts earned A’s on Brookings choice and competition rankings:  Louisiana’s Recovery District, Orleans Parish and New York City. Along with its Brookings “A,” Orleans Parish earned an “A” on Louisiana’s report card for district performance.  Yet the state gave the Recovery District an F. New York City’s A- from Brookings bears little relation to its math scores on NAEP, a national assessment. The city’s scores were at the average for large cities, and below average in terms of gains over the last decade.

Then there’s the low end of the rankings. Atlanta was given an “F” by Brookings. Yet the city boasts fourth-graders who perform above the national “large city” average in reading and posted more than twice the gains their peers made nationwide.  Charlotte, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, are among the highest performing urban districts in both math and reading. Brookings gave them a C and D respectively.

see full data tables

 

So what does this tell us? That high-achieving, high-gaining districts can have “choice and competition” or not. Either way, it shows it’s a mistake to claim, as Rep. Cantor does, that choice is “the surest way to break the cycle of poverty.”

Contrary to popular perception, public schools have been steadily improving over the last twenty years. Math performance and graduation rates, in particular, are at all-time highs. Neither are public schools the monolithic creature some of the choice advocates make them out to be. Many districts across the country already offer alternatives in the form of charter and magnet schools, and continue to diversify instructional programs in traditional neighborhood schools, too. But parents and students need assurance that the choices they are offered are good ones, something choice for choice’s sake has not done, as the research shows.

In addition, it’s one thing to offer alternatives. It’s quite another to encourage public schools to compete with each other for students which could send the wrong messages. We need only look to our colleges and universities who, in their race to attract students, build football teams and state-of-the-art facilities at the expense of investments in teaching.  I really doubt that’s the kind of marketplace we want to create for public schools.

Far from an education revolution, the political attention given choice and competition is diverting us from the hard work of making sure public schools prepare every child for their next steps after graduation.  This means continuing to invest in those things that an abundance of evidence shows consistently work  — access to high-quality pre-kindergarten, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum and individualized instruction for students. It also means learning from successful schools — including schools of choice — about what works with different students in which situations, and bringing those practices to scale.  When we get that right, districts will earn the grades that really matter.

 






September 6, 2013

The public and public schools in four charts

It’s September and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for competing polls about what Americans think about public education.  True to form, with all the asking — and in some cases, prodding — anyone can sift through the results and find support for their own agendas.  Like charter schools? We’ve got that covered. Don’t want school choice? We have that, too.  Here is my attempt to dig a little deeper into recent polls to uncover what the public is really telling us underneath the numbers.

I relied primarily on three national polls published over the last three months: Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup (PDK/Gallup, September 2013), Associated Press-NORC (AP/NORC, August 2013) and the American Federation of Teachers/Hart Research Associates (AFT/Hart, July 2013).  PDK and AFT are associations representing educators. Their reports should therefore be read with that lens in mind. Nonetheless, all three are associated with reputable pollsters giving them a level of credibility lacking in some other surveys conducted by interest groups. The PDK/Gallup has the longest history. Their recent poll was the partnership’s 45th release.

One of the most powerful findings comes from the AFT/Hart poll of public school parents. By a large margin, these parents look to public schools as the most vital institution contributing to the nation’s and their community’s future — far more than religious institutions, businesses, military or law enforcement (Chart 1). This shows that parents don’t just count on local schools to educate their own child. They want to see all public schools succeed in order to assure there is a healthy, vibrant society waiting when their child graduates and enters adult life.

poll.chart1

This leads to the question, how well do public schools live up to these expectations? All three polls asked some version of “What do you think of American public schools?”  PDK/Gallup has asked this for several years, and the results have consistently shown that Americans are of two, contradictory minds. That is, the public reports a low opinion of public schools overall, but believes their local schools do a good job.  Obviously, both cannot be true.

The 2013 polls show the same ambivalence. When asked by PDK/Gallup to grade the nation’s schools, only 18 percent of the general public gave them an A or B. In contrast, 53 percent thought their local schools deserved these high grades. Interestingly, this represents a 6 percentage point increase since 1993. Public school parents were even more admiring; 71 percent gave their child’s school an A or B.

These findings are reflected in the AP/NORC poll of parents: only 38 percent rated U.S. public schools “excellent or good” compared to 64 percent who thought the same of their local elementary public schools (54 percent viewed local public secondary schools this highly). Note that the AP/NORC poll includes parents of both private and public school children.  About two-thirds of public school parents told the AFT/Hart pollsters they were very or fairly satisfied (see Chart 2).

poll2a

Despite lingering doubts about the quality of public education nationally, these polls show that to know local public schools is to love them.  In addition to rating them highly, parents think that their child’s schooling is more rigorous than the education they had received (see Chart 3).

poll3a

The picture gets more complicated when the topic turns to charter schools. But even here, one sees support for public schools. PDK/Gallup and AFT/Hart included several questions specifically about charters and choice. The PDK/Gallup was the most straightforward (see Chart 4). When asked if they favor or oppose charter schools, the general public favored charters by a ratio of 68 to 29 percent. A similar proportion said they would support opening charter schools in their district. A slight majority (52 percent) further thought public charter schools provided a better education.

AFT/Hart took another approach by presenting the questions as either/or propositions. Perhaps for this reason, the responses were more subtle. Public school parents were asked what they wanted more: good neighborhood schools or more choices of schools for their children. They overwhelmingly preferred neighborhood schools, 68 to 24 percent. They were also asked which approach would be a better way to improve education more generally: ensuring access to a good public school in the community, or opening more charter schools and providing more vouchers. Again, the local school won out, 77 to 20 percent.

It’s worth noting that the response to the last question was likely influenced by including vouchers — an idea that the public rejected by large margins in the PDK/Gallup poll. Even so, given the choice for themselves, it seems as though the public, and particularly parents, will prefer the neighborhood public school.

poll4

There is more reason to believe that what parents really want are good neighborhood schools. Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation recently conducted focus groups of parents to better understand their views of accountability and reform policies. The report, Will it be on the test?, explores a range of strategies, including parents’ views on charter schools and choice. While the authors, like PDK/Gallup, found general support for charters and choice, they also sensed frustration among parents who would prefer to see the same energy go toward improving traditional schools. They write:

[M]any parents seem to see sending their children to better schools elsewhere as a fallback solution, rather than their first choice. The better solution, any of them seem to say, would be to improve the quality of the neighborhood public schools in their own communities.

We agree.  We think charter schools can be effective laboratories for innovation, and would like to see the lessons of high-performing charters transfer to traditional schools. On the other hand, charter schools are not a reform strategy. Research shows that the high performers are the exception, not the rule. More, then, is no guarantee of better.

We also know that parents aren’t clamoring for more charter schools. These latest polls show that while the American public supports the idea of choice in principle, when it comes to their child and their community, their preferred choice is still the neighborhood school.

 






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