Filed under: Education
“Data analysis is so trendy these days that Brad Pitt is getting millions of people to sit through a movie about quantitative methodology.” – Andrew Rotherham
Rotherham argues that quantitative education analysis fails for three reasons: poor data quality, lack of common definitions, and little respect for evidence. While his article mostly applies to using quantitative methods to evaluate teachers, his arguments can also be applied to the larger questions of education policy and reform.
First, poor data quality. Rotherham notes that the data quality in education is poor because of the limited use of education data, the differing standards for the collection of data across the states, and the lack of transparency. Yes, the educational system is not very transparent – or at least it wasn’t before NCLB was enacted. Yes, there is a lack of data on how to correctly evaluate teachers. And yes, data is used very sparing in the educational policy sector (kind of). Still, it is wrong to argue that the data quality overall is poor. In fact ,one of the US Department of Education’s main functions in the collection of data. This data collection – at the state, national, and district levels – expanded drastically since the implementation of NCLB. Heck, AYP is all about data. I don’t think that the educational system lacks data – it’s certainly out there, the issue is that we don’t have enough of it. The other issue is that, like many social science fields, it’s often difficult to quantify the variables that we’re dealing with. That gets to Rotherham’s second point – lack of common definitions.
Without common definitions of “good teacher,” “proficient,” or “graduation standard” (hell, even 4-year graduation rate), it’s extremely difficult to quantify variables. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be done and that certainly doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done.
Finally, Rotherham points to little respect for evidence. Education policy is inherently political. When the big wigs in DC, at the state house, or in the school committee don’t listen to the results of your quantitative study, they’re not just doing it to disregard the methodology, they’re doing it because they have their own political agenda. When all of the evidence points to how extended learning time helps students learn more in school, how do you think the teachers’ unions can disregard this without completely disregarding the evidence. Yet, as political science and science more generally have shown, people can disregard your results, but that shouldn’t stop the research.
So break out STATA and R everyone. Let’s quantify education policy!
Filed under: Education
The Senate – Senators Enzi and Harkin – are making the rounds of their draft ESEA bill.
The bill is receiving high remarks from the Department of Education:
“A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform,” he said in a statement. “This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach.” – Secty Duncan
But scorn from civil rights groups that worry that the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Here’s my cursory view:
Student learning: The draft ESEA bill takes some of the steps needed in order to re-distribute the priorities of No Child Left Behind and put the focus back onto student learning, rather than endless testing and memorization. This is mostly achieved through the elimination of the 2013-2014 deadline for “all proficient”.
AYP: While most people can agree that the AYP structure was flawed (students cannot all be deemed proficient when tests are based on a bell curve), eliminating it completely and replacing it with the nebulous “continuous improvement.” In order to close achievement gaps, it is essential that achievement and improvement data be tracked for all students and subgroups. If a school “continuously improves” as a whole, but its poor students are doing worse, is this okay under the new bill? Strict accountability for all students and subgroups is necessary to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students are prepared for college.
Codifying Obama Programs: The Obama education programs – Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods will all be codified. This is great – it means that once the Democrats lose the White House (and therefore top control over the Department of Education), these programs will remain, unless their funding is cut, of course.
Teacher Evaluation: The bill will requires states to develop new teacher evaluation systems. If this leads to distinct developments in teacher evaluation systems (value-added, etc.), this would be great. But, due to teachers’ unions, it’s highly unlike to have this much effect.
Interventions in Schools: Under the new bill, states would decide how to intervene in schools. This makes sense – education power is an inherent state right. However, one of the purposes behind NCLB and the Common Core Standards was to ensure that all states are holding their schools to high standards. The one worry under this specification is that states will allow schools to fall through the cracks – although under the current structure NCLB, states already are allowed to choose how they intervene and they’re able to set their own standards for AYP, so maybe it’s not that bad. The new law would also require the identification of the lowest 5% of schools and dropout factories and provide for more intensive interventions. This makes sense – so long as the interventions discussed are more intense than what are currently in place (or else this provision of the bill just reflects what is currently in place).
So the overall view – changes being made are necessary to adapt NCLB to the reality that the federal government does not have absolute power in education and to allow for some leeway for schools in terms of AYP and proficiency. However, the bill should not lax the standards by which to judge states, districts, schools, and students. High standards are necessary in order to ensure that every school is able to provide every child with a quality education. The reality is, we just can’t put so much pressure on this kids to perform on tests – that’s not learning anyway!
Filed under: Boston
I’ve prefaced my Pipeline Fellowship before, but here’s a little more info on what I’m up to:
I’m currently researching education policy in the Boston Public Schools. Sounds broad – and it certainly is. BPS has the terrible habit of most bureaucracies of remaking the wheel over and over. Since the school reform movement took hold in the city decades ago, there have been three year plans, five year plans, etc. etc. My basic goal is to develop an understanding of how these policies have taken shape over time – what’s the current policy now (harder to distill than you may think), what has been implemented before and done well / what has failed, and what still needs to be done (a lot in my opinion).
One of my large goals for this fellowship is to develop connections and support from the various non-profits, government organizations, businesses, and think tanks working on education policy in Boston.
I’m sure BPS school policy will dictate where my explorations go – right now Boston is trying a lot of new things: a district partnership with charter schools (announced in late September), brand new schools being opened and others being reorganized under No Child Left Behind, and the creation of a Promise Neighborhood (Boston calls it the Circle of Promise – broader than the Promise Neighborhood program supported by the Obama administration). Recent articles have also pointed to BPS taking another look at their programs for English Language Learners (ELLs) and their support system for closing the achievement gap.
That’s the question Matt Yglesias asks in this Atlantic article.
My interest in education policy focuses on civl rights, segregation, urban education, and general school reform, so this struck me:
Poor kids, in other words, aren’t just stuck in low-performing school districts as some kind of coincidence. They live in them because that’s where it’s cheap to live.
After litigating equity funding…
- Urban schools are still vastly underfunded when compared to their suburban counterparts – even though many urban districts do receive more in educational funding at the state and national level (suburban schools tend to receive more funding from their town tax base, so state fund equalize the funding between districts and federal money (Title I mostly) helps aid the poor students that are more likely to attend urban schools in greater numbers than suburban schools.
- Urban schools simply have more needs than their suburban counterparts because their children are coming to school less advantaged than their suburban peers. Think about it – Billy from Andover started Kindergarten after having gone to a high-quality day care since he was a baby and attending pre-school since age 3. His parents have enrolled him in child swim lessons, mommy and me play sessions, and t-ball. They read books to him every night and engage him in all of those little child learning fads. Johnny from Roxbury is starting Kindergarten after having been home with his older siblings for the past five years. His parents have tried to provide all that they could for him, but they’re struggling to to keep jobs, pay the rent, and put food on the table. Billy is going to come to school with more knowledge off the bat than Johnny simply because of differences in socioeconomic status.
- So yes, urban schools need more because the socioeconomic makeup of these schools is drastically different than most of their suburban counterparts. Urban schools provide more social services, food, healthcare, psychological counseling, mentoring, and tutoring than their suburban counterparts because the families that attend these schools cannot provide these services themselves. And these services cost more.
- Do these urban kids deserve these services – absolutely, because every child in the nation deserves a high-quality education. But, in the end, the urban schools after having spent their money just to provide their students with food, clothes, school supplies, counseling, and tutoring, are left cutting gym class, remaining in crumbling buildings, and cutting out art and music programs (never mind science labs and field trips). The urban schools are still left lacking.
Yet, as it is often said, money will not solve all of our educational problems. Charter schools traditionally operate on smaller budgets than their public school counterparts in the same districts (because most charter schools have to pay for their facilities, whereas PS 102′s school does not have to pay taxes or rent for their building). And some charters are posting impressive results. Charter schools have shown that much can be done with only a little – but that “much” comes from the excessive dedication of the staff, teachers, parents, community, and students. At the way charters are moving, their model is not quite replicable at a large-scale.
Back to the point, urban schools suffer most of their defects because they are fighting an uphill battle against poverty, drugs, crime, and a system that punishes the underclass. This exemplifies “the civil rights issue of our generation” and something needs to be done.
However, Yglesias leaves a qualifier and some food for thought at the end: “If urban neighborhood schools improve, will poor families actually be able to attend them, or will educational progress be a further driver of gentrification and displacement? “