History and the right to pee

In WIGS, an online mockumentary series, children tell historical re-enactors that the First Amendment guarantees the right to pee. and insist “James Madison” can’t be president, “because you’re not black.”


Teen wins $250K for film on relativity

A movie explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity won a $250,000 college scholarship for Ryan Chester, a Ohio 12th grader, reports the Washington Post.

Chester also won $100,000 for a new science lab at his school in the Cleveland suburbs, North Royalton High, and $50,000 for his physics teacher, Richard Nestoff.

“This is awesome,” Chester, 18, said in an interview. “Before, I was worried about graduating with debt, and I don’t have to worry about that now.”

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge asked young people between ages 13 and 18 to create short videos that communicated a big idea in science.

Google’s Sergey Brin, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs created Breakthrough Prizes to reward achievement in physics, life sciences and mathematics.

Learning English — pronto

The fall issue of Education Next is out, including my article on what’s changed in how schools are educating students who aren’t proficient in English.

Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability measures and the college-for-all movement, educators nationwide have raised expectations for children from immigrant families.

More ELLs are learning in English, as old-style bilingual ed fades away. However, “dual immersion” bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents.

There’s a greater sense of urgency about getting kids to proficiency in elementary school.

Study: Teachers bargain, students lose

Teachers’ collective bargaining rights correlate with lower employment and earnings for students later in adult life, concludes a study by Michael F. Lovenheim and Alexander Willén in Education Next.
They compared student outcomes in states that enacted a duty-to-bargain law to outcomes in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

There was no effect on the amount of schooling students completed.

However, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.” Those educated in duty-to-bargain states were less likely to be employed and those with jobs were more likely to work in low-skilled occupations.

Why? They’re not sure.

Perhaps collective bargaining has made it more difficult for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers or to allocate teachers among schools. Or perhaps the political influence of teachers unions at the state level has interfered with efforts to improve school quality.

More than 60 percent of U.S. teachers work under a union contract, but some states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan,  Indiana and Tennessee, have moved to restrict teachers’ bargaining rights.

Dallas isn’t a Wobegon for teachers

Dallas is not Lake Wobegon, reports the National Council on Teacher Quality. The district’s new evaluation system did not declare that nearly all teachers are satisfactory.

Among the system’s seven possible teacher effectiveness ratings, about a third of the district’s 11,000 teachers were assigned to one of the three lowest. Around 40 percent received a middle-of-the-road rating. Only 22 percent received one of the highest three ratings.

Turnover was typical for an urban district and the lowest-rated teachers were the most likely to quit. “Only a small percentage of higher performing teachers chose to leave.”

Most districts use four or five ratings categories. Using seven allowed “for more fine-grained distinctions among teachers,” observes NCTQ.

The district also field-tested a rubric that measures a teacher’s performance across nearly 20 different performance indicators.

School leaders conduct at least 10 spot observations –10 to 15 minute drop-ins — per year to provide teachers with instructional feedback.

An “Exemplary” teacher now earns a minimum of $74,000, compared to $56,000 for a teacher rated “Proficient 1.”

Clinton claims ‘no evidence’ for value-added

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by both major teachers' unions. Photo: AP

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by both major teachers’ unions. Photo: AP

Hillary Clinton is “saying everything teachers unions want to hear,” writes Lauren Camera on U.S. News.

“I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes,” she told New Hampshire teachers. “There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence.”

Is she right on the “no evidence claim? asks Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

There have been a number of empirical studies showing that value-added measures, which are based on test scores, do pick up on differences in teacher performance.

Whether value-added measures should be used to evaluate or pay teachers is another question, Sawchuk writes. In addition to “technical challenges,” there is a risk of encouraging test prep and ignoring all the non-tested things that make up a good education.

Research on whether performance pay improves learning is mixed.

One recent study of a federal initiative showed a small effect in reading, but that stands in notable contrast to other studies that have found virtually no effects.

He concludes that Clinton “glossed over” what studies say about teacher effectiveness. 

Training first, then a bachelor’s

Training-based pathways to a bachelor’s degree would enable students to learn, earn and then — when and if they’re ready — learn and earn some more, writes Mary Alice McCarthy in Flipping the Paradigm.

Some colleges now offer “upside-down degrees.” Students complete two years of technical training before taking general education courses.

Others are developing  “applied” bachelor’s degrees that build on students’ technical expertise.

More than 80 percent of community college students want a bachelor’s degree, but only 25 percent transfer to a four-year institution. The transfer pathway is “full of potholes,” says Brian Mitchell, chair of Edvance Foundation.

College pays — for some, not all

College pays — on average — but your results may vary, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. That last part is important: College doesn’t pay for the poorly prepared, who are unlikely to earn a degree.

The college wage premium has risen sharply in the last 30 years for U.S. males, concludes a working paper. However, there’s a much larger gap between high-earning and low-earning graduates.

“More people start college than did in 1985,” writes McArdle. “It’s just that they don’t finish.”

Dropping out may be a sensible decision for low-tier students who are likely to end up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Why borrow to be a barista?

While we’d like to think of enrolling in college as a guaranteed route to a stable, well-paying job, in reality it’s more like a lottery ticket. There are good jobs out there that are available only to folks with a college diploma. But not everyone with a college diploma gets one. You can also end up underemployed.

. . . Of course, it’s not exactly like a lottery ticket, because the distribution of the rewards isn’t random. Not every college graduate is entered in the “investment banker” or “Silicon Valley software engineer” draws.

According to this model, “the gains from pushing marginal students into college are likely to be small, for both the students and for society,” McArdle concludes.

People who’ve had trouble learning — and getting their work done — in high school occasionally bloom in college. But not very often.

Los Angeles explores all-charter district

Los Angeles Unified is exploring conversion to an all-charter school district, but the school board’s real goal seems to be gaining more autonomy to compete with expanding charters, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who's proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who’s proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

“It’s not fair that the current system provides autonomies to the charter schools and not to traditional public schools,” board member Monica Ratliff said.

Charter schools will have space for half the district’s students, if the Broad Foundation’s eight-year expansion plan becomes a reality.

Converting the huge district to charters would require state approval and the support of a majority of teachers.

Richard Vladovic, another board member, said the chances of L.A. Unified becoming an all-charter district were “slim and none.”

RAND: Personalized learning leads to progress

Gates-RAND ContinuedProgress-ChartIn schools using technology to personalize learning, students made greater academic progress than a control group, according to a RAND study for the Gates Foundation.

Students with the lowest prior achievement made the greatest gains in reading and math.

Researchers followed 11,000 students attending 62 K-12 charter and district schools.

Teachers and administrators are using data generated by personalized learning tools to adapt their teaching, according to the study, notes edSurge. The most successful schools use data to group students and give students the opportunity to discuss their data with their teachers. They also create spaces for personalized learning.

Charter schools using personalized learning saw strong effects, but district schools, a much smaller part of the sample, did not, Neerav Kingsland points out. Was it personalized learning — or just highly effective charter schools? I think that’s a valid point.