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Archive for the ‘The national stage’ Category

NCLB tutoring expensive, ineffective

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Holly Yettick is a doctoral student in the Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice program at the School of Education at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

How much achievement does $6 million-worth of tutoring buy? Not as much as you might think.

A report submitted to the Colorado Department of Education in June received little attention at the time but is now relevant as Obama pushes for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. In the report, contract evaluators for the Colorado Department of Education concluded:  “Across all analyses, few significant differences were found” between the achievement of Colorado students who received “supplemental educational services” (tutoring mandated by No Child Left Behind) and a comparable group of students who did not.

Other highlights of the report:

  • Depending on which group provided the tutoring, costs varied widely, from $20 to $89 per hour. (The average cost was $42 per hour or $1,123 per child in federal Title 1 funds.)
  • Success records also varied widely, but the majority of tutors were basically placebos in that their students performed almost identically to a comparison group of peers who were not tutored.
  • Tutoring disproportionately benefitted those with fewer challenges. Native English speakers made greater gains in math than a comparison group of similar students who did not receive tutoring. English learners did not. Students who were not in special education made greater reading gains than a comparison group that received no tutoring. Special needs students did not.

“Supplemental educational services” are available to low-income students attending schools that miss making “Adequate Yearly Progress” for three years in a row. These optional sessions take place outside of school hours. Although the students who received the tutoring were enrolled in 15 different Colorado districts, more than three quarters came from Denver Public Schools.  These services cost about $6 million in Colorado. Nationwide, the program serves half a million students and costs about $2 billion per year.

Nationwide, supplemental educational services are provided by a range of groups including for-profit companies, non-profits and school districts themselves. One thing that surprised me given the cost of the tutoring is that tutors are apparently not required to have four-year college degrees.

In Colorado, more than half of the 4,858 students served in 2008-09 (the most recent year for which data is available) got tutored by three for-profit companies: Tutor Train, (25%) Club Z! (20%) and Learn it Systems (10%). Yet a 2010 research synthesis conducted by The Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University found that tutoring provided by school districts cost less than commercial tutoring and produced better results.

While certainly discouraging, Colorado’s tutoring results are not unique. The Old Dominion research synthesis found that supplemental educational services had very small effects on reading and math achievement. By contrast, the Comprehensive School Reform program that has mainly been eliminated by recent reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB’s official name) produced much stronger results at a much lower cost.

Considering NCLB’s emphasis on accountability for schools, it is also disturbing that the Old Dominion researchers concluded that:

Despite mounting evidence that SES is far less effective than previous Title I policies, we are not aware of a single instance in which a provider has been removed from an approved state list on the basis of failing to demonstrate positive effects on student achievement.

Under Obama’s blueprint for reauthorizing NCLB, supplemental educational services would be optional. Based on the research, I think that this is a good idea. If a specific tutoring provider is getting results, by all means, keep it on. But mandated tutoring was a good idea that just did not demonstrate good results.

Popularity: 31% [?]

A reform agenda for 2011

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Robert Reichardt is director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, School of Public Affairs, at the University of Colorado at Denver.

The drumbeat for school reform will continue through 2011 as we figure out what it means to run an education system defined by standards and accountability.  With this in mind here is my Colorado-centric education reform agenda for 2011.

Federal Agenda: The vehicle for federal efforts will shift from Race to the Top to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.  A key NCLB priority is starting over on the definition of Highly Qualified teachers.  At a minimum Highly Qualified should not include certification. There is no doubt that teachers need training and content knowledge to be effective, however the current Highly Qualified system is too focused on inputs and puts too much power over hiring in the hands of state and district administrators.

The new NCLB should provide a system of waivers from the Highly Qualified requirements, immediately releasing very effective districts and schools from all Highly Qualified requirements and giving the same authority to less effective districts if they meet certain performance goals over time.  A second NCLB goal is to make Adequate Yearly Progress similar to Colorado’s accreditation system with a mixed model of both a value-added or growth models, mixed with status measures.

A third federal priority is not NCLB related, but about pensions.  We know we have a funding crisis for our public pensions.  But, pensions also contribute to human capital problems.  Too many educators stick with teaching to reach the large pay-off of the defined benefit plan.  A solution to this problem is to switch our pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans (such as 401ks).  However, this switch could only happen with a large revolving loan fund that would sustain the current defined benefit obligations as people began to build up the their 401k plans.  The federal government should help with this switch by creating this revolving loan fund.

State agenda: Our state policy system is overloaded with major reforms:  New standards, new teacher effectiveness systems, new approaches to turning around low performing schools, new accountability systems, and new connections between early childhood, K-12 and higher education. All this during a funding crisis and a search for a new commissioner.

Without the benefit of Race to the Top funds we need to prioritize our reform efforts. State leadership needs to establish a clear, shared understanding of how each of these reforms fit together with realistic and logical implementation timing.

We need to make sure the foundation to all of our reforms, the new common core standards, are done right.  If we don’t make sure teachers and schools are able to select and use classroom materials that are aligned with the new standards, then the rest of our reforms will be built on a house of sand. We won’t know whether our new measures of performance and accountability are measuring poor performance or simply teaching the wrong curriculum.

So we need to push forward with the plans contained in our Race to the Top application to build capacity to identify, create, verify, and share aligned class, course, and subject materials.

A second priority is reworking the framework for our new teacher effectiveness system as laid out in SB 191.  As I have blogged earlier, the current framework depends on student growth measures that don’t exist.  We need to use the existing growth measures as a way to hold systems accountable.

A third priority is education finance.  Our state is going to face significant financial pressure over the next five years.  The fact that 16 of 23 mill levy overrides passed in the November elections suggests to me that communities are willing to support their schools.  If we are faced with a choice of cutting overall K-12 funding or asking communities to pick up more of the tab, I think we need to create more opportunities for communities to support their schools.

This agenda is all part of getting standards based reform right. This is not a partisan agenda, but can easily be derailed by partisan politics.  In the end, our education system needs to have aligned curriculum and assessments, be able to allocate resources towards effectiveness and need, and have effective and nuanced accountability systems.

We have made a lot of impressive progress.  This agenda would be very different if we did not have the choice and charter options we already have in Colorado.  I am confident we can continue to move in the right direction.

Popularity: 6% [?]

2010 top education stories

Monday, January 10th, 2011

One of the whimsical pleasures in a New Year are the end-of-year lists.  These are often more for amusement than instruction, but do a reasonable job of measuring the sentiment of the previous twelve months.  So, in contrast to Van’s somewhat parochial approach to the Best of 2010 in ed reform, here is a different take on the top 10 education stories from 2010.

I chose it out of various options because I think it’s a more interesting list than most, both appropriately wonky (National Education Technology Plan) and topical (Rhee).  However I was drawn to some of the more unconventional choices:

At #5 is the Apple iPad, as a precursor to the way children, especially younger kids, will change their learning through the use of educational software and mobile devices.  Add to that this story in the New York Times about schools purchasing iPads and other devices.

I’m personally mixed – technology, like any tool, can be used well or poorly and is never a replacement for quality teaching — but in the hands of a supportive environment, I’m intrigued by the potential. And anyone who has seen a young child (like my three-year-old) use the touch screen and intuitive interface on an iPad (well before he can adapt to a keyboard and mouse) should recognize that the long-term implications here are considerable.

Numbers 6 (National Traditional Media Presence) and 7 (Entrepreneurship and New Media) are also outside the realm of much conventional thought.

The former notes that for many of (what’s left) of traditional media, education stories have assumed a more central role.  I would obviously extend that to the prominence of new sources (like EdNews Colorado) which are more than worthy substitutes for some of the holes left by the implosion of print media.

The latter notes the amount of entrepreneurial activity in education, with companies like Edmodo and venture-capital backed LearnBoost (on whose blog this list appeared) — both which bear watching. In fact, there has been a significant boost in venture capital investment in start-up companies in education — over 30 deals announced in 2010 alone, including companies like Moonshot, MyEdu, Zinch, Knewton, Everfi, Altius, and Denver’s own TopSchool.

One of the more interesting developments over the past decade in education is the rise of new ideas and services from outside traditional providers — everything from Teach for America, to charter schools, to Revolution Foods — and the marriage of this interest in services with technology and entrepreneurs holds a world of promise.

Postscript: another EOY list of Andrew Rotherham’s 11 education activists to watch for 2011, including Colorado’s Senator Bennet, Stand for Children (which has a terrific Colorado chapter) founder Jonah Edelman, and Revolution Food founders Richmond and Tobey.

Popularity: 7% [?]


Monday, November 15th, 2010

This article from The Atlantic paints a grim picture of how even top-performing U.S. kids suffer in international education comparisons. A study by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek (a number of you will discount him because he had the temerity to appear in that propaganda reel “Waiting for Superman”) found that

even…relatively privileged students do not compete favorably with average students in other well-off countries. On a percentage basis, New York state has fewer high performers among white kids than Poland has among kids overall. In Illinois, the percentage of kids with a college-educated parent who are highly skilled at math is lower than the percentage of such kids among all students in Iceland, France, Estonia, and Sweden.

There is much more here, and none of it will make you feel optimistic. Read it and weep.

I’m growing accustomed to people contorting themselves to defend the quality of education in this country. They will find any reason — the tests are bad, our kids are so diverse, so poor — to explain away bad results. This study is devastating.

By the way, the comment thread that follows the article on the magazine’s website has some interesting stuff in it, including some forceful refutations of Hanushek’s methodology.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Are liberal arts pricing themselves out of existence?

Friday, October 15th, 2010

An engaging piece which both decries the diminishing attraction of a liberal arts education and yet lays some responsibility for the shift at the very universities for whom liberal arts are the foundational core.  The money shot:

It has by now become received wisdom: college students today are less interested in traditional subjects, and have become more professionally oriented. They’ve voted with their feet, choosing business, pre-med, and engineering majors over German, art history, or comparative literature. [...] By raising the cost of education to stratospheric levels, we oblige students to seek a higher return on their investment. It is this sort of economic calculation, I suggest, and not some alleged generational change, that is driving students in droves towards preprofessional degrees.

I was an undergraduate philosophy major at a liberal arts college.  I believe strongly in the value of a liberal arts education. But I am increasingly appalled at how we price this experience out of the range of first-generation college students and low-income families. It is not the outstanding student who will receive a full scholarship that suffers the most; it is the marginal student for whom a high-quality education and the exploration inherent in a liberal arts model is an even more important determination of future success.

There is considerable irony if the much decried drive away from liberal arts to more practical studies such as business is partly due to the former’s inability to address the implications of its pricing model. This irony does not diminish the damage.

Popularity: 2% [?]

DFER, teachers’ unions and elections

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, though yesterday’s defeat of Adrian Fenty in DC   may provide a timely example, as part of Alan’s concern about “backlash.”

In a nutshell:   How concerned are DFER-types about how a split on education issues affects the Democratic party’s chances in close elections, if the teachers unions don’t strongly support Democratic candidates with DFER leanings?  If so, what can/should be done?

In some ways, this issue really first popped up at the pre-DNC event at the Denver Art Museum, when Al Sharpton and an array of reform minded superintendents and mayors, largely from the east coast, started to publicly state that the teachers unions were a big part of the problem in education.  This opened up what had previously been a quiet, but growing, internal fissure in the Democratic party.

Since then, in my view, the DFER agenda has rested uneasily next to the Broader, Bolder (BB) agenda for ed reform in the Democratic party.  (And, EdNews‘ opinion and commentary section has largely followed the DFER line, though certainly with diverse specific opinions).  And, the Obama administration has largely followed the DFER approach, through R2T, and other programs, while also trying to not alienate the BB and union agenda.

I view the DFER agenda as being pro-charter and pro-choice, a focus upon measurable student achievement gains, more accountability for schools and leaders based upon this evidence, more rigorous teacher evaluation, and probably greater autonomy at the school level.  Apart from public vouchers for private schools, it doesn’t differ greatly with the mainstream Republican party agenda for ed reform of the past decade.

The BB perspective – schools can’t truly improve until a range of wider societal conditions improve – would focus more government resources on combating concentrated urban poverty, poor health services for lower income families, limited pre-school opportunities, pre-natal care, etc., in addition to more resources in schools.

My sense is that most DFERs believe that the BB agenda too easily excuses the schools, since some, especially charters, have demonstrated success even in the face of these societal challenges, and that fixing the BB agenda may be even harder than fixing our schools, though most DFERs would probably also support more government programs in health, nutrition, early childhood, housing integration, etc.

What I wonder about is I what I’ll call the Democratic SABE (Shared Agenda Beyond Education) – do DFER’s think the Democratic party can win enough elections to implement these government programs beyond education, if the teachers unions support is not strong ?

While unionized workers in America’s private sector have decline from 25-30 percent post-WWII to less than 10 percent today, public sector unions, and especially teachers unions remain strong political forces.  They can raise money (as per the $600,000 from CEA against Prop 60, 61, 101), put lots of boots on the ground for ground campaigns, mobilize members who vote, etc.  Can the Democrats do well electorally without strong union support?

Wherever ones comes down on this divide, it creates a fascinating political dynamic in the Democratic party.  It may be true that the teachers unions have “nowhere to go” in a spatial electoral sense – they seem unlikely to become more Republican in their leanings.  But, they can decide to not turn out, not build campaigns for candidates, promote primary challenges from the left, etc.

Republicans should like this, and could hope to gain politically from these fissures.

Perhaps the SABE can still pull DFERs and BBs together in most elections.  Perhaps the unions can change, internally, and adapt more of a DFER like agenda.

Where do people think this is heading?

Popularity: 3% [?]

State beats Ivy

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

As a continuation of the discussion of the value of a college education comes the revelation that many companies are more actively recruiting and hiring students from state schools than from the Ivies. And, as the article notes, the underlying economics are thus:

College tuition has outpaced Americans’ ability to pay it, The Economist reported earlier this month. Median household incomes are 6.5 times what they were 40 years ago, but the cost of attending a state school is 15 times higher for in-state students and 24 times for out-of-state students. The cost for private colleges rose by roughly the same rate or less, but that tuition remains out of reach for many families. One year at a private four-year university averaged $35,636 in 2009-10, according to the College Board. In-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions averaged far less, at $7,020, while out-of state averaged $18,548.

Equally as interesting is the results of a study that shows school selectivity has little impact on a student’s future earnings. Now that is not to say that there are no other differences, but it does beg the question: if one school costs a lot more than the other, and does not make any difference in one’s ability to pay back the cost of attending, well maybe — in the immortal words of Joel Goodson after his interview at Princeton – “Looks Like State U.”

Popularity: 2% [?]

More than a backlash?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

A few items from this morning’s news:

  • Adrian Fenty loses the Democratic mayoral primary in D.C., spelling likely doom for schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
  • Hundreds of angry L.A. teachers stage a protest outside the Los Angeles Times building, decrying release of a “value-added” database of teacher performance.
  • Bill Perkins, a strongly anti-charter school New York state senator, cruises to a landslide primary victory in his Harlem district.

A friend who works full-time on education reform issues told me last week, his voice full of confidence, that the strong push-back against Obama-Duncan reforms is nothing more than the desperate flailing of a mortally wounded beast. “They know they’re losing,” he said.

I’m not so sure. This is starting to look more like the pendulum swinging back in what I view as the wrong direction. My biggest issue with these latest developments is that while it is good to see unions and “reform” critics full of passion and energy, most of it is negatively charged. I’m still waiting to hear specific, affirmative plans for what they would put in place instead of the proposed reforms we’ve been debating and pushing over the last several years.

I have heard a lot about what is wrong with our current direction. Some of the criticism strikes me as legitimate. Now let’s hear some specifics suggestions about what to do instead. And by specific suggestions I do not mean vague platitudes couched in angry rhetoric.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Small schools math mistake

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

While it’s true that in education, the topic of math and probability is often viewed as an annoying impediment to passionate opinion, for anyone interested in using data to draw conclusions — and perhaps informing opinion — I highly recommend this post. An excerpt:

Did Bill Gates waste a billion dollars because he failed to understand the formula for the standard deviation of the mean?  Howard Wainer makes the case in the entertaining Picturing the Uncertain World (first chapter with the Gates story free here). The Gates Foundation certainly spent a lot of money, along with many others, pushing for smaller schools and a lot of the push came because people jumped to the wrong conclusion when they discovered that the smallest schools were consistently among the best performing schools.

Personally, I think the education debate has fundamentally shifted from the question of SHOULD we use data (to measure student growth, school quality, educator effectiveness, and other topics) to HOW do we use data. If you are of the former opinion, this is certainly not for you.  But anyone interested in the latter should take a look, as this is an instructive example of a well-intentioned mistake.

And human fallibility being what it is, the ability and willingness to learn from our mistakes — math and all — is a pretty good shorthand for what most folks consider progress.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Loco control

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Defeat often begets a scapegoat.  In the wake of the twice-short Colorado application to R2T, this has now solidified: the judges were “perplexed by local control” which led to a lack of objectivity. This is a familiar refrain — them pointy-headed Eastern elites jest don’t git the way things work out West, what wid our frontier sensibilities ‘n all.  So local control is the Western value we refuse to sacrifice to appease these high-fallutin fiscal brutes.

Except I think it would be prudent to entertain, at least briefly, one small possibility:

Um… What if they are right?

Colorado has 178 independent school districts, and the differences in size are staggering.  Using CDE data (Fall 2008), let’s look closer at these 178 districts that contain over 800,000 students:

  • The average district has 4,560 students.  But because there are a few large districts and a lot of small ones, a better metric is median district size, which is just 603 students.
  • The largest district has over 85,885 students, the smallest has just 54.
  • 106 (60 percent) of districts have fewer than 1,000 students. 79 districts (44 percent) have fewer than 500 students.
  • The largest 10 districts combined house 56 percent of total students.  The smallest 100 districts combined house 4 percent.

Now, say what you want about Eastern elitism and impenetrable Western values, but these numbers show a control system that is loco, not local. When the median school district contains just 600 students — the same size as many urban schools, it’s not local — it’s microscopic. We are, after all, the United States, not Cities, nor Towns.  But for school districts, we somehow ended up with micro control — the Districts of Individual Buildings (and not very large ones at that). Is it really so wrong to dock points in a competitive competition for this system?

The most lucid discussion on R2t and local control was from Robert Reichardt who makes several excellent points and highlights a central contradiction. Reichardt writes that Colorado “can’t draw that straight line of authority from the Colorado Department of Education to classrooms” and this bumps up against the pervasive belief that ”top-down command and control is the way for states to get things done in school system.” This, in turn, discriminates against Colorado’s local control system which is a “tight-accountability, loose-compliance model.”

But I don’t buy it: R2T was geared to move many districts away from command and control systems, and favored “tight-loose” models (for example, charter school expansion). Moreover, Colorado is clearly a national leader with the Innovation Schools Act which provides school-level autonomy within a broader system of district accountability.  So the conventional defense — that it is the reviewers judgment, not our system which is at fault — rings hollow.

There are, of course, plenty of ways to have a “tight-loose” system, but when a super-majority of 60 percent of  school districts have 1,000 students or fewer and combine for fewer than 5 percent of Colorado’s student population, I think it fails a basic logic test, and I don’t need to blame a complicated judging system. That two of five judges took off significant points for this actually makes sense to me.  Colorado’s single largest school district has more students than the combined population of the 136 smallest districts.  So forget the technical arguments for a minute, and let’s admit that our district arrangement is nuts.

Now I’m expecting (and encourage) some worthwhile discussion here, and I am certainly no fan of large school bureaucracies, but I have yet to encounter a single person who, given the choice, would set up Colorado’s system of local districts in the same way.

Yes, local control has somehow become a given in Colorado, and any change seems off the table of discussion  – not because it has merit, but simply due to the same old education demon of politics. Maybe in the wake of the R2T decision we should take a hard look at what the Western value of local control could mean, instead of what it is. Because schools districts of 600 students it ain’t.

And Colorado already has an interesting model – the Charter School Institute (CSI) which is not counted among the traditional 178 districts, but governs 19 schools and 5,728 students in various regions across the State.  CSI has a different organizing factor: It is the district for numerous charter schools, regardless of location. As a district, it groups its schools by their governance structure (charter), not by location.

Because the idea that geography is the primary defining characteristic of any organization has been in decline for almost 15 years, yet it remains the single way we define school districts.  What would happen if we instead, like CSI, organized school districts around something other than geography?  Could we not have a single governing body for the 79 school jurisdictions with 500 students or fewer (which would comprise a total of 19,000 students)?  Could we not have one for schools receiving increased autonomy under the Innovation Schools Act (which might even encourage more to do so)?

For many of the 41 middle-sized districts with between 1,000 and 5,000 students, should we consider school districts that encompass factors other than geography — whether it is instructional emphasis, grade levels, or something else?  This would not be mandated — schools could have the choice of belonging to their geographic district, or finding a district model that would provide better services and support.

For my guess is that many of those 79 jurisdictions with 500 or fewer students actually have a lot in common, and might benefit from not creating 79 versions of many similar things.  In fact, I bet most of the smaller districts have more in common than many of the schools clustered within larger districts (for example, what does the selective-admissions, 10 percent FRL, Denver School of the Arts high school have in common with open-enrollment, 95 percent FRL Cheltenham Elementary?).

Perhaps the R2T decision offers one of those moments where we can look at a legacy system with new eyes. If we were to preserve the idea of a “tight-loose” system, could we have a more sensible method of local (not micro) control districts structured around something other than geography is one thought.  Any others?

8/31: Paul Teske’s posting from almost two years ago deserves more prominent placement than his comment below. It’s a good read, and one wonders why this obvious issue was somewhat glossed over during R2T.

Popularity: 4% [?]

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