November 12, 2019

Latest Edu-News

The Bellwether Policy and Evaluation team is starting the search for paid summer interns. Please send good candidates our way!

Robert Kelchen and Zhuoyao Liu find that the release of gainful employment data led some low-performing for-profit colleges and programs to close.

The new Denver School Board tilts the membership balance toward teachers’ union issues for the first time in years. Read Lynne Graziano on what that means for the city.

Anne Wicks on a new tool designed to help education leaders implement their vision and adopt research-based interventions.

I’m all for better reading instruction, and the declines in NAEP reading scores are certainly troubling. But is there any evidence that the recent NAEP declines were caused by some recent change in reading instruction? If so, what was it? As I’ve written in the past, we have a decent research base on how students learn to read, but we’ve been unsuccessful so far at translating that knowledge base into actual teaching.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


November 11, 2019

November 6, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Six years ago, California shifted its school funding approach from categorical funding targeted to specific programs and populations, to a flexible approach granting districts significant autonomy in how they served English learners, youth in foster care, and students from low-income households. A new state audit concludes, “In general, we determined that the State’s approach… has not ensured that funding is benefiting students as intended.”

California is also considering making FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement.

Senator Kamala Harris is introducing a bill this week to help expand before- and after-school programs at 500 low-income schools. Other candidates have similar proposals, but it’s a good idea to address a real need for working parents.

Aaron Churchill looks at Ohio’s progress compared to its long-term goals. So far, the state is mostly meeting its goals in English language arts, but it’s already behind in math, and it’s rate of growth will need to pick up markedly to meet its long-term goals.

This new study by Briana Ballis and Katelyn Heath found HUGE negative effects of special education enrollment targets in Texas. But Matt Barnum has an important caution about how to interpret those results:

But Ballis and Heath identify another potential cause. Texas policy at the time allowed students with disabilities to graduate high school without having passed an exit exam. That meant losing a special education label also raised the bar for earning a high school diploma. And since since finishing high school is a precondition to college enrollment, higher graduation standards could affect college enrollment, too.

Ballis and Heath found some evidence that points to the higher graduation bar being the main culprit. Students who lost their special education status didn’t see test scores fall, attendance rates decline, or their likelihood of repeating a grade increase. That’s surprising: if the loss of services translated to immediate academic struggles, you would expect to see changes in those metrics [emphasis added].

That doesn’t mean the harmful effects of the cap aren’t real. Those students really did have much lower odds of graduating. But the results don’t clearly show what effect the special education services were having.

Speaking of tales of caution, Mike Antonucci has a rundown of the what changed before and after the Chicago teacher strike.

“The nation is stuck with a bad deal on teacher salaries: salaries insufficient to attract new teachers who can fuel improved schools and yet not even high enough to satisfy current teachers.” Eric Hanushek on how we might strike a better deal on teacher pay.

And did you know counselor quality matters?

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

In Education, What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Scale?”

Nearly three decades after it was founded, Teach For America is placing thousands of new teachers in school districts all across the country? Is TFA sustainable? Is it “scalable?”

Twenty-five years after KIPP started as a tiny experiment in Houston, Texas, it now serves nearly 100,000 students. If it were considered a standalone school district, KIPP would rank in the top 50 largest districts in the country. Is KIPP sustainable? Will it scale?

When I hear people in education ask whether a given program or intervention can “scale,” I think some people mean the question literally, such as whether the program can serve more students or expand to a new location. But once a program expands and replicates itself successfully, the questions should be about how fast the program will grow and for how long.

At some point the question of “scale” starts to sound bizarre. Can TFA scale? Can KIPP scale? Well, they already have! Will they keep up the same rate of growing in perpetuity? Well, no, they haven’t, and they won’t. But if our definition of “scale” means that a program has to keep growing to eventually cover “everybody,” then we have no real definition at all. 

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

November 4, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Alex Spurrier on the important edu-election happening in Denver tomorrow.

Here’s an interesting read from the St. Louis Fed on the demographics of wealth. It looks at income and wealth by race and education level. One finding: Households led by college-education white families are pulling away from everyone else, even similarly educated black and Hispanic families.

LAUSD was planning to release student growth data to families. The district already ran the numbers and was planning to release the results soon, but a move by the school board may block the data from ever coming out. Paige Kowalski and Seth Litt have the details on the growth measure, or see Bonnie O’Keefe on the bigger picture.

The Alliance for Excellent Education has the details on the Fast Track To and Through College Act, a bill to allow academically prepared high school students to take college-level work free-of-charge during their senior year of high school. It would build off earlier work by Michael Dannenberg and Anne Hyslop.

Speaking of advanced coursework, a new study on early algebra in California middle schools  finds that, “women, students of color, and English-Language Learners benefit disproportionately from access to accelerated coursework.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman


Stress Test

Andy here. Chad’s on a terrific roll here and he’ll continue blogging and I’m going to ease back in. We’re also kicking around some ideas for the blog. In the meantime I will post some, too, from time to time.

Today I wanted to share this article I read over the weekend about kids and sports. Getting harder to find officials who want to deal with obnoxious – or in some cases dangerous – parents.  This is not a new problem but it’s a sign of the times.

One of my daughters plays ice hockey and last season we got a league-wide note from one of the leagues she plays in about parent conduct at games. There was a list of behavior that at first reading seemed to be just (extreme) examples of the kind of thing not to do, my wife and I had not seen any of those episodes at games. Upon closer reading we saw it was a list of actual events during the season to that point. And some of them were pretty off the wall – or in one case on the wall, a parent climbing onto the boards to swear at a referee over the plexiglass.

Like many I am concerned that kids are too stressed today and mental health is an under appreciated – and under supported – issue for youth. But, perhaps in our rush to find various culprits, tests, homework, schools, social media, and so forth we overlook the broader and less quantifiable one in plain sight: culture.

November 1, 2019

Friday Fish Pic–The Petrilli Family Is All About That Growth

Seven years ago, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli was mocked featured on here for the, um, rather small fish that he and his sons caught.

Well, no more! Mike took his son and some friends out on the Potomac recently and caught the giant catfish below. He says he had help this time, but we’ll still praise him for showing remarkable growth in his fishing skills.

For more edu-fish pics, click here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

#EduFridayFive: A Conversation on Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry with Christine Pitts

Last month a team of researchers published a new working paper looking at how the academic skills of entering kindergartners has changed over time. I reached out to one of the co-authors, Christine Pitts, a Research Scientist and Policy Advisor at NWEA, to answer five short questions about the project. Read her answers below:

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

Research shows that early math and reading skills are a strong predictor of future achievement. So, it is not surprising that state and local policymakers often use early childhood initiatives, albeit usually disjointed from K12 systems, to improve learning outcomes. Today, we are challenged because the most recent wave of nationally representative data on academic readiness at school entry, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), was collected during the 2010-11 school year. However, there has been a myriad of changes in U.S. policy and society since then that likely affected children and the contexts attributing to their achievement upon kindergarten entry. The findings in this study provide initial evidence of trends in student’s academic achievement at school entry since the end of the ECLS-K dataset. While the findings are mixed and require additional exploration, there are three big takeaways:

  1. Kids entering kindergarten after 2014 performed slightly worse on math and reading standardized assessments than those who entered kindergarten during or before 2014.
  2. Racial/ ethnic and school poverty achievement gaps at school entry narrowed significantly, but modestly, from 2010-2017; with the most narrowing occurring in recent years.
  3. There was no relationship between district preschool enrollment and trends in achievement at school entry across time.

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

While the findings of this study are powerful because they show an illustrative view of students’ academic trends over the last decade, we are aware that this is one descriptive slice of a broader, more comprehensive set of student outcomes with a host of related factors. Our hope is that after readers digest the big takeaways from this work, namely that kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but inequalities by race/ethnicity and poverty have decreased, they will be asking questions like why, how, and what does this mean? As such, we are interested in braiding this line of inquiry with other pragmatic research agendas informing education leaders across the nation. We want our research and policy colleagues to see these findings as an invitation to partner on future studies where we can investigate the contexts and mechanisms underlying these downward trends and what this means for policymakers setting up the next decade of incoming kindergartners in America.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Early childhood is an incredibly important developmental period, but due to few well-developed measures of skills before and at school entry, it is hard to systematically examine how well different early childhood experiences prepare students for K12 achievement. My children each attended different preschool settings (e.g. in-home, private). Now that my oldest two are taking standardized assessments in the K12 system, we can see some of the differences in their academic development that may be attributable to their different preschool experiences. It is obvious to me from these data and my own experience in research and evaluation that our schools require standardized measures of early learning development to evaluate the impact of different early childhood experiences. But, during this past legislative session in Oregon a bill was introduced, the Too Young to Test bill, that aimed to remove all standardized assessments before third grade. This bill illuminated the common misconception and over-generalization that tests are always bad. Concurrently, we were discussing the utility of interim data collected at the beginning of kindergarten throughout the school year well into students’ elementary and middle school years for exploring broad trends on student achievement at school entry. It was clear that this study may provide an example about the need for high-quality measures of skills that span the ages of school entry and beyond.

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

Two explicit critiques have come up since presenting this study to our peer network. First, folks challenge us on the topic of testing early learners, especially upon their first experiences with the K-12 system. While there are a lot of important early skills that we did not examine, like self-regulation and social skills, the measure we used does a pretty good job of accommodating early learners through warm-up questions, audio instructions, and a visual interface designed to engage the youngest students. The other central criticism is that we have a non-random sample of the U.S. population that changed over time. Each year the cohort grew in size and became more racially/ ethnically diverse. We used a weighting procedure to (a) correct for the non-random sampling of those using our test and (b) yearly national proportions in school racial/ethnic breakdown, urbanicity, FRPL, and district socioeconomic measures. It is important to understand that even if our sample does not perfectly mirror the national population of US kindergarteners, it reflects a substantial portion of US kindergarteners, approximately one in every 10 kindergarten students between 2014 and 2017.

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

Well, to be honest, I used to be an elementary school teacher and fall-time always makes me come alive with so many exciting changes. My kids are getting older and facing new challenges in school, ballots come out and we get to vote on exciting local initiatives, and it is noteworthy that we are embarking on a new strategic vision for our policy and advocacy work at NWEA. Our efforts will align key organizational priorities around equity and evidence-based policy. For example, I have the privilege of working strategically with our research team to explore how policy mechanisms can be highlighted within the research evidence that they promote through academic channels. For the current study, we crafted a research brief with key next steps for policymakers who are trying to evaluate the mechanisms underlying these descriptive trends at school entry. Other areas under study in our research department include summer learning loss and measuring social and emotional skill development, each lending themselves nicely to relevant national policy discussions. I encourage anyone interested to take a look at our research centers and explore research briefs on a variety of other topics.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 31, 2019

Latest Edu-Reads

Interested in autonomous district schools that enjoy the flexibility and innovation of charters, while remaining in their local district? My Bellwether colleagues Mary Wells and Tresha Francis Ward created a toolkit for that.

Of the 11 million children with working moms, more than half spend more time in family childcare than any other setting. Sara Mead profiles a new report from All Our Kin looking at the conditions needed to help family childcare providers (and the kids they serve) thrive.

Cara Jackson on the conditions in which it makes sense to conduct an experimental study on students.

Daniel DiSalvo cites some of our work at to note that most teachers in the Chicago strike will never benefit from the pension system that’s wreaking havoc on the district’s finances.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

October 30, 2019

Overall Education Spending Is Up, but It’s Not Going Toward Instruction

With regards to the new NAEP scores out this week, I see a lot of commentators saying things like, “NAEP scores went down even as school spending went up.” As I wrote back in June, it is true that education spending is up nationally over the last decade in real, per pupil terms. Based on the most recent data, national education spending rose by 5.4 percent over this time period. (The spending data is a bit behind the NAEP data, so the most recent “decade” in either data set don’t match up perfectly.)

But wait. While overall education spending is up, spending on instructional costs like salaries and wages for teachers went down by 0.3 percent. Again, these are in real, inflation adjusted dollars spent per pupil.

What’s the main reason for the discrepancy? Benefit costs. Over the same time period, benefit costs for things like employee pension and health care benefits rose by 23.5 percent, in real terms. As I wrote in June, “Most of these cost increases are due to paying down pension debts or changes in accounting rules on retiree health benefits.”

In other words, not all school spending is equal, and spending on under-funded employee benefit plans may not translate into the same student achievement gains as spending in other areas.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Posted on Oct 30, 2019 @ 8:30pm