August 15, 2019

#EduFridayFive: The Collaborative for Student Success on Assessment HQ

Earlier this week the Collaborative for Student Success* released Assessment HQ, a new go-to resource for information on state assessments, including data and results from those assessments over time. To learn more about the project, I posed the #EduFridayFive questions to the Collaborative team. Read their answers below:

How would you describe this project in 200 words or less? 

The Collaborative for Student Success launched Assessment HQ to help build greater understanding about the role annual assessments play and how they are being used to advance educational equity and improvement in student achievement across the country. Don’t get us wrong, no one is saying annual assessments are perfect. However, they are an important tool to help educators and policymakers monitor the progress of all students in gaining the knowledge and skills they need over time. They are particularly important for those students who are most vulnerable or who historically have been underserved by education systems. We set out to create one place where individuals can find state-by-state student proficiency data, original commentary, resources, and state/national news all in an easy to navigate format.

What would most people miss about this project if they only read the headline? 

A lot of data is gathered from K-12 assessments, but sometimes it is not easy to access or it may not be clear what the data says. For the first time, student proficiency data for more than half of the states across the country is publicly available online, and in one location, for anyone to view and use. Assessment HQ highlights state-reported student performance results for grades 3-8, in mathematics and English language arts (ELA). The new site also allows users to see trends in student proficiency in individual states and observe the performance of student groups, like African American and Hispanic students. Only by exploring trend data on these students can we ensure they are making real progress.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Outside of the education policy community, it has largely gone unnoticed that the assessment landscape is constantly changing—with states adjusting vendors, new proficiency calculations, and debates on proper accountability. That constant change is often not in the best interest of students or educators. We’re hopeful that this platform will help cut through much of the uncertainty around tests by offering a clean, consolidated look at actual state-reported information. Let’s face it, tests are an easy punching bag. This site can contribute to a more informed dialogue around assessments and work to avoid situations where the politically expedient choice comes before what’s best for our students. 

What would a smart critic say about it, and how would you respond? 

Student proficiency data is one moment in time. It cannot – and should not – be used in isolation when viewing the work being done to help students succeed. Through the original commentary provided by Dale Chu on the Testing 1-2-3 blog, resources from state and national partners, as well as news coverage, we strive to provide the background information and nuance about the factors that contribute to assessment choices and results. We have assembled available state assessment data based on those states that have kept the same test in place for four years. We only needed three years to show a trend, but we set a higher bar for ourselves. With the goal of improving student success for every child, we must make sure that assessments are aligned to high standards, are informative to parents and policymakers, comparable, meaningful, and actionable.

Other than this project, what are you most excited about right now?

The Top Gun sequel…it’s been too long since Maverick did his thing!

Seriously though, the Collaborative has always been focused on its role as a nonpartisan player that is dedicated to ensuring that students are held to high standards and have the resources and supports necessary for their success. Funding and resources are a perennial topic in education and we’re currently very interested in the move states are making to report out per pupil spending at the school level vs. just at the district level. This provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act hasn’t received a ton of coverage, but it’s a significant step forward in understanding how education dollars are being spent. Also, we’re following the development of needs-assessments as states develop Career and Technical Education plans in coordination with local and regional business leaders.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

*Disclosure: The Collaborative is a client of Bellwether’s, although not on this project. 


Thoughts on Latest Edu-News

Newark will no longer pay teachers based on their evaluation ratings and will instead pay teachers solely based on their experience and credentials. This runs counter to the overwhelming finding from the research literature that advanced degrees have little to no effect on student outcomes.

The city will also be making its teacher salaries even more back-loaded. Over the life of the four-year contract, Newark will boost salaries for new teachers by 4.7 percent, while increasing back-end salaries by 6.1 percent. By my read of the union’s materials, the district will ALSO pay longevity bonuses that kick in at 15, 20, 25, and 30 years of experience. I suspect those longevity bonuses are unlikely to have any noticeable effect on retention rates, and my hunch is that Newark’s teacher turnover problems are primarily driven by early-career exits. In other words, Newark is shifting from a pay structure that rewarded good teaching to one that ignores performance and shifts money away from the biggest problem areas. So, not great!

This is a good New York Times piece about states requiring students to fill out the FAFSA in order to graduate. I’ve long been a fan of mandatory FAFSA, and I think the Times piece actually under-sells it. It’s not just that there’s a correlation between FAFSA completion and college attendance; it’s that completing the FAFSA seems to cause more students to attempt college, perhaps because they’re made more aware of the financial aid for which they would qualify. For a number of equity concerns, my idea was to require FAFSA completion in order for a student to participate in a graduation ceremony, not withhold the diploma itself, but states seem to have been careful to design “opt-out” policies to get around those problems. I especially like how Louisiana state chief John White talks in the article about switching the default to everyone should fill out a FAFSA.

Instead of asking “does Head Start work,” Ashley LiBetti says we should be asking which strategies worked, for what population of children, and under what circumstances. Dale Chu asks similar questions about school turnarounds. In a thoughtful essay, he offers three conditions under which school turnarounds might be more likely to work.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


August 14, 2019

Latest Edu-reads

Today is the 84th anniversary of the Social Security Act. Most people don’t know that the original Act excluded state and local government workers, and it was only later that states were allowed to opt in. Even today, there are still 15 states plus the District of Columbia that do not provide teachers with Social Security coverage. That has implications and consequences for about 1.2 million teachers, not to mention their spouses and children and the plan itself. Read more here.

How can we reconfigure schools and re-design teacher staffing roles to “extend the reach” of great teachers? That’s the subject of my new interview with Stephanie Dean. We talk about her work at Opportunity Culture and how they are working with school districts to identify multi-classroom teacher leaders, build teacher leadership capacity, and ensure more students have access to great teaching. They’re up to 25 districts in 9 states, growing rapidly, and showing some positive results. Read it here.

For Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum writes about four new studies all finding evidence that more money boosts educational outcomes, particularly for low-income students.

“Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US. In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” That is from an older Brookings piece (from 2017), but it was new to me. The graphs starting on page 45 are especially interesting.

As I’ve noted before, there are more Americans who have dropped out of college than who have dropped out of high school. David Kirp talks about his new book, The College Dropout Scandal, and what we can do about it, with Scott Jaschik.

Elizabeth Warren as a teacher.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 6, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

“The mantra of “all kids can learn” is, in fact, a way of upending the racism and classism that undergirds the educational system. If we didn’t have racism or classism, we wouldn’t need to declare this at all.” That’s Heather Harding on racial equity and justice in school reform efforts.

Ashley LiBetti suggests that New Mexico should look to para-professional and educational assistants as a way to diversify its teacher workforce.

This new research on Chicago’s exam schools runs almost exactly opposite to the public debate about them.

Neil Campbell and Abby Quirk look at student mobility and backfilling in charter and traditional public schools in Washington, D.C. schools.

“…the average community college student who successfully transfers to a public four-year institution loses an average of 20 percent of their credits. This loss of credits is equivalent to almost an entire semester of credits and would delay the student’s time to graduate.” That’s John Mullane on what we know about transfer students in higher ed.

Finally, is anyone else confused about the recent stories in The 74 and Chalkbeat about Democratic proposals to increase federal spending on K-12 education? The federal Title I program has its flaws, but on the whole it’s a moderately progressive investment that awards more money to schools with higher concentrations of poor students. As my colleague Max Marchitello has noted, doubling or tripling Title I would instantly provide more money to low-income students. The Title I program is composed of four distinct formulas, and if we were even moderately careful about which of the four formulas the money went through, we could make federal dollars even more targeted, while simultaneously encouraging states to make their formulas more progressive as well. More money is by no means a panacea, but given the latest research on school funding, boosting Title I seems like a no-brainer to me.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


August 5, 2019

The Case for Billionaire Philanthropy (in Education Reform)

Like other nonprofit sectors, the education reform space is tearing itself apart over whether it should take money from billionaires. There are all sorts of questions mixed up here, including which billionaires, how they earned their money, and how long ago it was, not to mention existential questions about how we feel about whether there should be any billionaires at all.

This essay by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex captures my thoughts on the matter. For education reform in particular, this is the point that I find myself coming back to:

Two of the billionaires whose philanthropy I most respect, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna, have done a lot of work on the criminal justice reform. The organizations they fund determined that many innocent people are languishing in jail for months because they don’t have enough money to pay bail; others are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because they have to get out of jail in time to get to work or care for their children, even if it gives them a criminal record. They funded a short-term effort to help these people afford bail, and a long-term effort to reform the bail system. One of the charities they donate to, The Bronx Freedom Fund, found that 92% of suspects without bail assistance will plead guilty and get a criminal record. But if given enough bail assistance to make it to trial, over half would have all charges dropped. This is exactly the kind of fighting-mass-incarceration and stopping-the-cycle-of-poverty work everyone says we need, and it works really well. I have donated to this charity myself, but obviously I can only give a tiny fraction of what Moskovitz and Tuna manage.

If Moskovitz and Tuna’s money instead flowed to the government, would it accomplish the same goal in some kind of more democratic, more publically-guided way? No. It would go to locking these people up, paying for more prosecutors to trick them into pleading guilty, more prison guards to abuse and harass them. The government already spends $100 billion – seven times Tuna and Moskovitz’s combined fortunes – on maintaining the carceral state each year. This utterly dwarfs any trickle of money it spends on undoing the harms of the carceral state, even supposing such a trickle exists. Kicking Tuna and Moskovitz out of the picture isn’t going to cause bail reform to happen in some civically-responsible manner. It’s just going to ensure that all the money goes to making the problem worse, instead of the overwhelming majority going to making the problem worse but a tiny amount also going to making it better.

In full disclosure, the Bellwether team’s work to improve America’s educational system would not be possible without the investments of billionaires and the foundations they created. So I’m biased, but if we didn’t have philanthropy in education, I think we’d just get more of the same. If you’re dissatisfied with the results of our current education system, if you think it can do better, if you think our educational system should be more equitable or more efficient, or both, philanthropy can help provide the external resources for change.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Aug 5, 2019 @ 11:56am

August 1, 2019

Busy, Busy Bellwether

My Bellwether colleagues have been busy putting out some awesome new content recently. Some highlights:

Julie Squire, Melissa Steel King, and Justin Trinidad have a new deck on private schools and the “microschool” movement. Justin takes a deeper look at two low-cost private school models, Cristo Ray and Build UP.

Ashley LiBetti has advice for what would be the nation’s largest teacher residency program, and interviews Kathy Glazer, the President of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), which is bringing the apprenticeship model to early childhood.

Jennifer Schiess argues that North Carolina lawmakers missed an opportunity to increase their investment in early childhood education.

Bonnie O’Keefe and Brandon Lewis write about four ways states can improve their assessments.

And in conversations about juvenile justice facilities, Max Marchitello wishes we spent more time talking about the educational services provided to students in those facilities.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


July 29, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

This is hard to stomach: “The Trump administration determined that more than 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals under a proposed overhaul to the food stamp program…”

Madeline Will takes a long look at the two competing accreditors for teacher preparation programs. I suppose it’s not great that programs can now shop around for an accreditor that gives them the answer they want that is more aligned with their needs, but I’m also not convinced accreditation is the right lever to pull if we’re trying to improve the quality of new teachers.

You already know what I think of loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Kevin Carey walks through the history of all the various programs and requirements. Warning: It may make your head hurt, but it’s a helpful reminder of just how complicated these all are.

Earlier this month the House voted 419-6 in favor of repealing the “Cadillac Tax” on expensive employer-provided health care plans. It would still need to pass the Senate, but that large majority shows just where the politics stand right now. Meanwhile, health care wonks of all political stripes are trying to push back. Frankly, I’m with the wonks on this one. I’d rather Americans didn’t have our health care benefits tied to our employers at all, but we’ve created a particularly weird incentive by not taxing employer spending on health care. That creates a system where the people using health care have little reason to help control health care costs. And, in the long run, employers spend more and more on benefits at the expense of salaries and wages. That’s bad for efficiency, bad for budgets, and, ultimately, bad for workers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


Edujob: Vice President of Impact and External Relations at redefinED atlanta

redefinED atlanta has just launched a search for a Vice President of Impact and External Relations who will work to more firmly establish redefinED as a trusted leader and champion for public school quality in Atlanta.

From the JD:

The Vice President of Impact and External Relations position represents an exciting opportunity to join a mission-driven, committed and high-functioning team, and be part of a thriving organization and community of dedicated stakeholders who are acting with urgency to realize equity and excellence in education.

 Guided by a set of core values, and energized by the impact and learning associated with its first three years’ work, redefinED atlanta’s team is driven, poised for growth. redefinED is eager to extend its coalition building to further organize and activate families and communities, and cultivate philanthropic, civic and business leaders to raise their voices and leverage financial resources in order to increase access to high quality public education in Atlanta.

Click here to apply or nominate! 


July 24, 2019

Thoughts on Recent Edu-Reads

A typical teacher pension formula multiplies some factor (usually around 2 percent) times the employee’s salary and years of experience. It might look like this:

Pension = 2 percent X salary X years of experience

In the education context, we know that high-poverty schools tend to employ teachers with lower salaries and fewer years of experience. Pensions literally multiply those problems together. Max Marchitello explains and gives an example from West Virginia.

Technically speaking, Ohio school districts aren’t contributing toward teacher retirement benefits.

Tomas Monarrez, Brian Kisida, and Matthew M. Chingos have new work out on the intersection of charter schools and school segregation. They find that charters do contribute to segregation, a bit, but charters are not the primary driver and there’s wide variation across states and geographies. Here’s the Matt Barnum write-up or the Education Next version from the authors.

Even as someone with concerns about private school choice programs, I was reluctant to tout research showing that private school choice programs seemed to have a negative effect on student achievement in states like Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana. I wondered if those results were driven more by alignment issues than quality ones. That is, it may be the case that private schools were no better or worse than public schools, but public schools were simply more focused on preparing students to pass state achievement tests. The Urban Institute is out with a new study this week supporting this theory. They found that private school choice programs in Florida and Milwaukee improved college enrollment and graduation rates (although not in Washington, D.C.). Personally, I think the debate over private schools comes down to a values question rather than being resolved by purely objective outcomes data.

Cara Jackson on how teacher residency programs can improve the diversity of our teacher workforce.

For-profit colleges have “got a friend in Trump.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


The TEACH Grant Program Is a Mess

The TEACH Grant program is a mess. It was never a great idea to give college kids annual grants of $4,000 a year in the hopes that they’ll become teachers. It was worse that Congress attached a four-year, all-or-nothing commitment to those grants and, if students failed to live up to those promises, to convert those grants into loans.

I admit I’m biased here. I was part of a team calling for an end to TEACH Grants way back in a  2009 paper, and while I was in the Obama Administration I worked on a regulation to at least limit the scope of TEACH Grants to high-quality programs in high-need subject areas. Those efforts ultimately failed. We’re now more than a decade into the program, and it’s hard to call it anything less than a big, giant mess.

The TEACH Grant program offers prospective teachers up to $4,000 a year in exchange for committing to teach for four years in a high-need subject in a low-income school. If recipients fail to fulfill that commitment within eight years of graduation, their entire balance converts to a loan, with interest going back to the time they received the money. In theory, TEACH Grants may have sounded like a good idea, but in practice they have too many logistical snares to work well.

First is their complexity. We do have a problem recruiting teachers to serve in low-income schools, and we do have chronic shortages in high-demand fields. It’s also true that teachers take on higher debt loads than other professionals, especially to acquire Master’s degrees, and there’s evidence to suggest these high debt loads are a barrier to entry particularly for black and Hispanic candidates.

But at the time Congress created the TEACH Grant program in 2007, we already had separate federal teacher loan forgiveness programs for Stafford and Perkins loans, and in the same bill that we got TEACH Grants, they also created Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income-Based Repayment. Each of these programs have slightly different eligibility rules and service requirements, some of which conflict with each other. TEACH Grants only added to that complexity.

The second problem is related to targeting, and this is the tricky part of loan forgiveness programs generally. How do you induce people to become teachers who otherwise would not? A study on a Florida loan forgiveness program found it did “work” in the sense that it did induce some teachers into the profession, but it was not the most cost-effective way to do that.

In the TEACH Grant context, most of the TEACH Grant recipients are not fulfilling their commitment. It’s hard to argue the program is inducing many people to become teachers, or at least doing that job efficiently.

Third, once you get teachers into the profession, loan forgiveness programs have to follow them over time and make sure anyone who fails to live up to their commitments pays back the money. That’s a logistical nightmare, and, as NPR has reported, thousands of teachers met their commitments but had their grants converted anyway. Those teachers went through years of stress–we’re talking gray hairs and lost teeth–all for processing errors, paperwork mistakes, or deadlines that were sometimes missed by only a couple days. NPR reporters Chris Arnold and Cory Turner deserve a Pulitzer for staying with this story, and their reporting has helped out thousands of TEACH Grant recipients who did not deserve to have their grants converted into loans.

But finally, we have all the people who simply don’t fulfill their TEACH Grant commitments, which is two-thirds of all program participants. According to a follow-up study released last year, 39 percent of participants who had their grants converted to loans were teaching but not in a qualifying position (meaning they weren’t teaching a high-need subject or in a low-income school) and 33 percent were not teaching or never completed their degree or certificate. Separately, another 32 percent said they didn’t understand the terms of the grant and others didn’t follow the necessary steps to prove they were fulfilling the grant’s terms.

That’s why I prefer more direct policies. If you want to boost the supply of new teachers, make it easier to become a teacher, stop requiring them to get useless Master’s degrees, and raise teacher salaries. There’s no paperwork or tracking involved in raising salaries, and it allows teachers to decide how they want to spend their compensation, whether that’s on loan forgiveness or something else.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman