Is Ed Reform Tripping with a Testing High?

August 27, 2014

Marty West and colleagues have an incredibly important study described in Education Next this week.  It’s based on a piece published earlier this year in Psychological Science, a leading psychology journal, but the Ed Next version is probably easier for ed reform folks to access and grasp.

At its heart, the study applies well-established concepts from cognitive psychology to the field of education policy, with potentially unsettling results.  Intelligence, or cognitive ability, can be divided into two types: crystallized knowledge and fluid cognitive skills.  Crystallized knowledge is all of the stuff you know — facts, math formulae, vocabulary, etc… Fluid cognitive skills are the ability to think quickly, keep things in memory, and solve new problems.  The two are closely connected, but there are important distinctions between the two types.

West and his colleagues collected data from more than 1,300 8th graders in Boston, including some of the city’s famously high-performing charter schools to see how these schools affected both types of cognitive ability.  The bottom line is that schools believed to be high-performing are dramatically improving students’ crystallized knowledge, as measured by standardized tests, but have basically no effect on fluid cognitive skills.  That is, Boston’s successful charter schools appear to be able to get students to know more stuff but do not improve their ability to think quickly, keep things in memory, or solve new problems.

Perhaps we should be happy with the test score gains and untroubled by the lack of improvement in fluid cognitive skills.  Chetty et al suggest that test score gains are predictive of later success in life, so who cares about those other skills?  Maybe.  But maybe the students in Chetty experienced improvements in both crystallized knowledge and fluid skills, but he only has measures of the former.  It could still be the case that both types were essential for success.

There are worrisome signs that graduates from schools like KIPP are struggling in college despite impressive test score improvement in K-12.  Perhaps the mis-match between improved crystallized knowledge and stagnant fluid skills cannot produce sustained success.  Perhaps these products of successful ed reform know more of the high school curriculum but are unable to do things, like think quickly and solve new problems, that are important for later life accomplishment.  E.D Hirsch and his followers have been convinced that gains in crystallized knowledge would translate into improved fluid skills, but that appears not to be the case — at least not in these model charter schools in Boston.  

If fluid skills really matter, ed reform is in a serious pickle.  First, we almost exclusively measure crystallized knowledge with our reliance on standardized tests.  If anything, we appear to be increasingly emphasizing (and measuring) crystallized knowledge to the exclusion of fluid skills.  So even when we manage to produce test score gains, we are more likely to neglect fluid skills.  

Second, no one really knows how to improve fluid skills in a school setting.  There are some laboratory experiments that have successfully altered fluid skills, but those effects are often fleeting and have never been replicated in a school environment.  It’s taken us decades to devise some effective strategies for improving test scores.  It may take us decades more to devise strategies for schools to affect fluid skills, even if we start caring about and measuring those outcomes.

Educational success probably requires addressing student needs and abilities on multiple dimensions.  Large, technocratic systems built around standardized test results have a hard time focusing on more than the one dimension of test scores.  The research by West, et al suggests that not all dimensions of academic progress necessarily move in sync.  The unattended dimension of fluid skills may spoil the progress on the attended dimension of crystallized knowledge by undermining later-life success.


Alaska on top (for now) while the Euro Zone, Alabama, Britain and Mississippi bring up the rear

August 27, 2014

GDP

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Readers of a certain age will recall the days when European films got over 10% of the American box office. I recall being told that this was the thing to do, but being fairly consistently disappointed with the products. European governments are apparently willing to subsidize bad films on an ongoing basis, but I was not. Eventually the American public also found better ways to spend their entertainment dollars, and European film-going shrank in America.

It looks to me like the devotion of some Americans to European economic policies deserve the same fate. Even our versions of small population/big oil territories (Alaska and North Dakota) beat the stuffing out of their version (Norway). Germany is the economic titan of Europe but finds itself sandwiched between Montana and Arizona. Move an American state with a large population and high-end GDP per capita to Europe (say New York or Texas) and there would be a new sheriff in town.

Read the WaPo for more.  Someone explain to me again why the PISA rankings would look so much different than the economic rankings. Don’t bother trying to say that there is poverty in Alabama but none in the Euro zone because I’m not buying it. The last per student spending rankings I saw had Alaska (the top state at GDP per head) at $18,000 per year per kid and NAEP says 42% of the 4th graders score below basic in reading. It would be a great idea to concentrate on getting bigger bang for the buck because, ahem, well…


Bustin’ Makes Butcher Feel Good

August 24, 2014

ghostbusters butcher

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So if the above picture looks like a sloppy attempt at photo editing by someone goofing around with a program for the first time, it is only because it is in fact just such an attempt.

So Arizona voters passed an initiative long ago that provided for inflation adjustments to K-12 spending. During the bubble years spending went up faster than inflation, but during the catastrophic collapse of the economy it went down less. The AZ school district non-profit industrial complex eventually sued to get the funding restored, and they recently won, sticking lawmakers with a $317,000,000 bill. Arizona is broke and unlikely to find that sort of change in the sofa, and requires a 2/3 vote of each chamber to raise taxes. So, what happens next?

The Goldwater Institute’s Jonathan Butcher went to the pages of the Arizona Republic to suggest a couple of ways to recoup the money. First- stop funding ghost students. Districts get paid on last year’s student count, charter schools on this year’s count. Ergo every time a child transfers from a district to a charter school the state pays for them twice for a year. This is a pure waste of money that will continue to grow with Arizona’s charter school sector. Butcher estimates this could gain the state $125m of the needed $317m. If I were Arizona’s higher education community I would jump on the Ghostbuster bandwagon because otherwise that $125m is likely to come out of higher education spending sooner rather than later.

Second Butcher proposes that some of the base funding for schools be conditioned on kids actually learning something. With half the high-schools in the state having 5% or less of the graduating Class of 2006 finish a Bachelor’s degree in six years, this sounds like a promising if tricky idea.  The taxpayers ought to be getting an ROI from Arizona public school spending dominated by student learning, not by mere babysitting.


Open Letter to David Plouffe: When Fighting an Entrenched Status-Quo, Don’t Stop at Transportation

August 20, 2014

(Guest Post by A.D. Motzen)

Dear Mr. Plouffe,

Congratulations on your new position as senior vice president of policy and strategy at one of my favorite companies, Uber.  Ever since I spent 35 minutes waiting for a cab outside of LaGuardia airport, I’ve become a dedicated Uber customer.

Before you get too settled in at your new office, however, I would like to offer you a position at my new start-up. I call it UberEd.

You were recently quoted as saying that you would work “to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation.”

Presumably you were hinting at the challenge you will face from an entrenched monopoly which doesn’t like competition. Rather than improve their product and meet the needs of their customers and employees, your adversaries will spend millions of dollars on political donations and lobbyists to ensure that laws and regulations will be written to keep out the competition.

But you and Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, apparently believe in transportation choice. While perhaps not a Constitutional right (yet), transportation is one of the most basic needs of every American citizen, especially for those who live or work in urban areas. By providing choices and flexibility you will be able to offer a better product that meets the needs of individual customers at a lower cost. Why, even the employees will be happier! Most importantly, even the competition – those dreaded yellow taxi unions – will ultimately be forced to compete and either lower their prices or improve their service.

My start-up is based on those same principles, so it should be a good fit with your philosophy. Rather than working “to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation,” my idea would ensure that parents and children are not denied their opportunity for choice in education. My motto would be “everyone’s private or public school.”

It’s a simple concept that was already Beta tested in more than a dozen states using “experiments” such as charters, vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and now education savings accounts. In all of those vehicles, parents have a choice on how to get their child from point A to point B – traditional public, charter, or private school.

Using UberEd, a parent can check which schooling options are available for their child simply by pressing a button on a smartphone. The name of the closest schools (or alternative program) come up on the screen and by clicking on the school icons, the parent can find out information about each option. Parents don’t have to worry about tuition bills as the app is set up so that the state funding allocated to that specific child would be credited to their spending account. Just tap the payment button and the school will get the money through a third-party without having any access to your personal bank account. If a parent wants a more expensive school they can always  choose UberEd Xtra and supplement the state-allocated funds with their own personal resources. Schools could be rated by a parent based on any number of criteria so that other UberEd users would know what to expect.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give up too much information just in case someone actually goes out and files a patent (I haven’t) and raises some venture capital before I do.

Uber was recently valued at $18 billion because it will completely redefine and improve transportation as we know it. UberEd (a.k.a. school choice) is radically changing education as we know it. Education is the uber-vehicle to a brighter future for our children. Isn’t that priceless?

But as you probably figured out by now, I can’t offer you a job just yet. Parents first need more states to actually allow school funding to follow the child. Maybe I’ll give you a call at that point and you and Mr. Kalanick can help me build that app.

In the meantime, I wish you all the luck in the world.

Together with millions of parents across the country, I am hoping that your arguments of opportunity and choice will prevail against the status quo. We are hoping that your former boss, President Obama, and elected officials across the country will take heed and be forced to choose a side.

Entrenched status quo or innovation, opportunity, and choice?

Choose one. Then tap on the UberEd app.

A. D.


Chicago Teachers Union President Declares Jay Was Right

August 15, 2014

(Guest post by James Shuls)

It wasn’t long ago that Jay and Marcus Winters asked the question, “How much are public school teachers paid?” Rather than compare the annual salary of teachers and workers in other professions, Jay and Marcus compared salary based on how many hours and weeks the workers actually put in on the job. Not surprisingly, public school teachers fared well when their relatively short work year was factored into the equation.

Of course, Jay and Marcus’ analysis was roundly criticized. You simply cannot claim that teachers are decently paid. The audacity!

Now it seems, an unlikely ally has taken up the Jay and Marcus mantle on teacher pay – Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Recently, it was announced that Lewis is considering a run for Mayor of Chicago. As with any political race, this led to a closer examination of Lewis’ finances. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Lewis makes more than $200,000 in combined compensation from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, where she serves as executive vice president. Here’s the good part:

When she first ran for CTU president four years ago, Lewis promised not to make more than the highest-paid teacher.

“How can you criticize [the CPS CEO] for making $230,000 a year during these hard times if you’re making so much more than your members?” she told the Chicago Reader then.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records show no teacher makes as much as Lewis’ $136,890 CTU base salary.

In an interview Tuesday, Lewis said she didn’t break her promise not to make more as union president than Chicago’s highest-paid teacher makes, saying her CTU salary is for working the full year, rather than a 39-week school year. (emphasis mine)

What Lewis is saying, is that teachers in Chicago are making the equivalent of $136,890 or more. They just work fewer weeks. Now, where have I heard that before?

It’s almost as if Karen Lewis is saying…

Karen Lewis

 

 

 

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and a Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute. Follow on Twitter @Shulsie


Kill Us Both, Mike

August 15, 2014

kill us both, spock

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m not sure what alternate universe this version of Mike Petrilli is visiting from. Here on Earth Prime, we already have all the tools we need to evaluate our schools using high standards. That was sort of the whole point of my article.

Wait, it gets better. The tools I used in my article compare the US to other countries, measuring how we’re doing against our global peers and competitors. That’s the kind of comparison we need most, for a variety of reasons. Common Core isn’t internationally benchmarked; its standards were cooked up in smoke-filled rooms by politicians and their cronies, not by education experts. So to the extent that political power forces us to pay more attention to CC and thus less attention to the tools we’re using now, we will know less than we did before about how we’re doing relative to other countries.

Beam me up, Jay, there’s no intelligent life down here.


Worse Than You Think

August 14, 2014

GIFSec.com

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The most recent OCPA Perspectives carries my article on how public schools in Oklahoma (like everywhere else!) are worse than people think. I discuss some of the reasons that might lie behind the persistent tendency of the public to think that schools in their own neighborhoods are fine, and it’s always somebody else’s school that has problems:

Local pride creates an irrational bias to think that “our” schools must be good. Even more, it’s because parents would feel guilty admitting they’re sending their kids to schools that aren’t as good as they ought to be…This problem is itself one reason it’s horribly perverse to give government a school monopoly. It makes us feel like we can’t admit the system is failing without being failures ourselves.

These problems may be exacerbated in Oklahoma because it’s a relatively white and rural state. Our cultural image of “failing schools” seems to have been set in stone way back in the 1980s with movies like “Lean on Me.” It’s only the poor, black, inner-city schools that fail. White schools don’t fail. Suburban and rural schools don’t fail…Education reformers, unfortunately, have spent decades reinforcing this prejudice. We’ve typically used only one measurement of what counts as success in education reform: reducing the “achievement gap” between white, suburban schools and minority, urban schools. The unconscious assumption is that if a school is white and suburban, it must be succeeding. That kind of school must represent the best that American education is capable of. But why? Because it’s white and suburban?

I cite data from the new Harvard study “Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children” and also data from the Global Report Card, put together by some guy I know. Check it out.


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