OECD: U.S. lags in college completion

Fifty-two percent of U.S. students who start postsecondary education go on to graduate, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2013. The OECD average graduation rate is 70 percent with Japan leading the pack at 90 percent.

On average, OECD countries employ one teacher for every 14 students in upper-secondary school. Portugal hires one teacher for every eight students, while “Mexico breaks the scales at 28″ students per teacher, notes Education Gadfly.

CRPE: Small classes have high costs

The benefits of small classes — more individual attention, less teacher stress — may not outweigh the costs in dollars and teacher quality, concludes The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes, a state-by-state analysis by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education. Call sizes in 2011-12 were slightly smaller than in 1999-2000, countering “the common and mistaken belief — spurred on by knee-jerk sensationalism and politicking — that class sizes are ‘skyrocketing’,” writes Education Gadfly.

The authors demonstrate that increasing the nation’s average class size by just two students could free up $15.7 billion—enough to raise average teacher salary by $5,000 per teacher, provide a laptop for every student, or lengthen the school day in the poorest quintile of schools.

Limiting K-3 class size to 14 to 17 students in high-poverty elementary schools showed lasting benefits, especially for blacks, in the Tennessee STAR study. (Some argue all the benefits accrued in kindergarten and first grade.)

Inspired by STAR, California paid all elementary schools $1 billion-plus a year to lower class sizes to 20 in K-3.  Suburban schools were able to hire competent teachers for the new classes. Urban schools with hard-to-teach kids filled classrooms with less-qualified candidates, a follow-up study found. The study found no evidence smaller classes improved student achievement. Because of the very high costs, schools spent less on other needs, including maintenance, teacher training, libraries and technology. Music, art, sports and special ed lost space on campuses. (I’ve seen schools cover their playing fields with portable classrooms.)

“Very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have significant long-term effects on student achievement . . . in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds,” write Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst and Matthew Chingos. But is it the best use of education dollars?  ”One careful analysis of several educational interventions found CSR to be the least cost effective of those studied.”

Only one good school?

West Philadelphia parents are demanding spots in their neighborhood’s K-8 school, which now uses a lottery instead of first come, first enrolled. Penn Alexander, which is supported by Penn, is an excellent school, writes the Philadelphia Daily News. “Why hasn’t the district done more to replicate . . . success?

“In a large system, your shining examples cannot just be islands unto themselves,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Philadelphia School Partnership. ”They need to be part of the effort to create more schools like their own.”

Since it opened in September 2001, PAS has attracted middle-class families to West Philadelphia, helped to increase home prices in its catchment area by tens of thousands of dollars and established a strong community in an area once plagued by crime.

Other popular schools in the city typically have strong parental involvement and partnerships with outside cultural organizations and businesses.

Penn Alexander caps class size at 18 children in kindergarten and 24 in other grade levels. It receives $1,330 extra per student, up to $700,000, from the university. The Graduate School of Education supplies student teachers and offers training to experienced teachers. ”But the money alone does not make it a great school,” Gleason said. “It helps. By itself, it doesn’t change anything.”

Education-minded families have been moving to the Spruce Hill neighborhood to send their kids to Penn Alexander, sending property values soaring, reports the Daily News. Plan Philly estimates a house inside the school’s boundaries fetches $50,000 to $100,000 more than one a block away.

Needed: More ideologues, less kumbaya

“Can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. No, answers Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. School reformers and traditionalists have different ideas on “what’s best for kids.”  Ideas matter.

A Teach for America alum, he criticizes TFA President Wendy Kopp for writing, “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as locked in an ideological battle and focus on doing everything in our power to give students today the education they deserve.”

. . . Kopp seems to create a dichotomy between ideologues –those “locked in an ideological battle” – on the one hand, and those who want to do what’s best for kids, on the other. In actuality, ideologues not only want what’s best for kids, they actually have ideas – some good, some bad – for how to achieve results. Reformers emphasize school choice, parental empowerment, and teacher quality; traditionalists focus on class size, early-childhood education, and wrap-around services.

It seems to me that part of the problem in education is not too many, but rather, too few ideologues.

Traditionalist Diane Ravitch and union leader Karen Lewis have engaged in increasingly vicious attacks, writes Barnum. Reformers have employed “harmful and distasteful rhetoric.”  He favors “discussing ideas over demeaning people.”

At times, compromise may be necessary Barnum concedes. But not always. An “uncompromising, ideological vision of change to our education system may, in fact, be what’s best for kids.”

Obama ad: Romney agrees with Duncan on class size

President Obama’s new ad hit accuses challenger Mitt Romney of believing class size doesn’t matter:  ”Some of our children’s greater experiences have been in smaller classrooms … but Mitt Romney says class sizes don’t matter, and he supports Paul Ryan’s budget, which could cut education by 20 percent,” the ad says.

Romney never said class size doesn’t matter, reports CNN.

Talking to a group of Philadelphia teachers  in May, Romney said, “If you had a class size of five, that would be terrific. If you have a class size of 50, that would be impossible.”

But Romney cited a McKinsey Global Institute Study that showed sometimes schools with small classes fail and sometimes schools with big classes succeed. Therefore, he said, class size should not be given excessive weight in efforts to improve schools.

Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, agrees.  Class size might matter up to third grade, but “but in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size,”  Duncan said in 2010. “In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.”

Romney’s K-12 education plan ”contains some interesting ideas and some problematic ones,” writes Matthew Yglesias, who also notes that Duncan and Romney agree on class size.

At “the very Obama-friendly Center for American Progress,” where Yglesias used to work, the education team also holds the Romney-Duncan position:

It’s not that “class size doesn’t matter” exactly. It’s that at most plausible margins, it makes more sense to invest money in hiring and retaining the most effective teachers rather than in simply adding more teachers. The fact that Obama agrees with Romney about this is presumably why Obama’s education policies have focused on investing money in teacher quality rather than in maximizing the number of teachers.

Romney’s “budget won’t leave much money for anything,” including K-12 education, writes Yglesias.

How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.

 

 

How to pay (some) teachers more

By redesigning teachers’ roles to “extend the reach of excellent teachers,” we can pay excellent teachers up to 130 percent more without increasing class sizes and within current budgets, concludes the Opportunity Culture initiative.

“In 2007-08, states spent $14.8 billion on pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees, which—time and again—have proven to be entirely unrelated to instructional effectiveness,” concludes The Sheepskin Effect.

 

Teachers are less satisfied

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs, but parents are more engaged with their children’s schools, according to the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today).

 

Not surprisingly, more teachers say their job is not secure. Two-thirds of teachers reported layoffs in their schools; three-quarters said there were budget cuts in the last year. Sixty-three percent said average class size has increased in their school.

Parent involvement has increased since it was first surveyed.  Sixty-four percent of students say they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, compared to 40 percent in 1988.

Best ed schools make a difference

Students’ progress can be linked to where their teachers trained, concludes a study of Washington state education schools Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.

“Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.

Overall, only a small percentage of the differences in teacher effectiveness were linked to education schools, but the best programs were much better than the worst. The effects outweighed smaller class sizes or teacher experience. “Hiring a teacher from the best training program could be equivalent to shrinking a class by five to 10 students,” AP reports.

National Center on Teacher Quality is working with U.S. News and World Report to evaluate and rank all 1,400 education schools in the country. NCTQ’s Transparency Central lists all the letters from teacher preparation programs objecting to the review.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has urged members not to participate in the “fundamentally flawed” project, reports Teacher Beat.

(The AACTE letter)  also calls the review an “outrage,” a “cause for alarm,” and NCTQ’s tactics “unprofessional.”

If education schools refuse to cooperate, NCTQ will file Freedom of Information Act requests to see course syllabi and hire students collect and submit documents.

Texas schools outperform Chicago

Don’t mess with Texas’ schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed Texas schools have “really struggled” under Gov. Rick Perry, now a GOP candidate for president. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said in a TV interview, adding he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders “substantially outperformed” students in Chicago, the district Duncan ran before going to Washington, notes Andrew Rotherham in Time. The Texas high school graduation rate of 73 percent is slightly below the national average, but way above Chicago’s 56 percent graduation rate.

Overall, Texas scores are “right around the national averages” in reading and math on  NAEP, despite educating many immigrant students with poorly educated, non-English-speaking parents.  ACT reports Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness.

Duncan’s response to Rotherham:

“Texas has challenges. The record speaks for itself. Lots of other states have challenges too. But there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done in Texas and a lot of children who need a chance to get a great education.”

The statement is meaningless: All states have challenges that require hard work. The question is whether Texas is shirking.

Duncan’s claim of “massive increases in class size in Texas” is untrue, responds the Dallas Morning News. Primary classes, capped at 22 students, have remained stable. Secondary classes in core subjects are getting smaller.

. . . secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.

In an e-mail to Duncan, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott added:

– Texas is ranked 13th in Ed Week’s Quality Counts report. Quality Counts gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in “Transitions and Alignment” of the Texas system with college and career readiness. . .

– The Texas class of 2011 posted a record-high math score on the ACT college entrance exam. The Texas average math score was 21.5 and was higher than the national average of 21.1. ACT scores from 2007 to 2011 showed increases in all four subjects.

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders aced the 2009 NAEP science exam, Scott wrote. In eighth grade, black Texans were first in the nation compared to other blacks, white Texans tied with whites in high-scoring Massachusetts and Hispanics ranked eighth.

Perry has resisted Race To the Top, so perhaps Duncan’s antipathy is all about education policy. But it looks as though the education secretary is playing presidential politics. That’s not the way to build bipartisan consensus.