Study: Charters do more with less

Public charter schools produce similar or higher test scores with much less money, concludes a productivity analysis by researchers at the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. Overall, charters are 40 to 41 percent more cost effective in reading and math compared to traditional public schools, the study concluded.cover-productivity-of-charters

The return on investment is almost 3 percent higher if a student spends one year in a public charter school and a 19 percent higher if a student spends half of their K-12 education (6.5 years) in a charter school.

Researchers analyzed National Assessment of Education Progress reading and math scores and data from CREDO studies. They controlled for students’ poverty and special education status.

Walton Family Foundation, which supports school choice, funded the study, but did not play any role in designing it, researchers say.

Massachusetts has some of the most effective charter schools in the nation, especially in Boston, yet the state Senate refused to raise the cap on charter seats, writes Jim Stergios in the Boston Herald. It’s like the old segregationists standing in the schoolhouse door, he writes.

Update: The productivity comparison is unfair because charters educate fewer English Learners and special ed students, who generate more funding, responds the National School Boards Association.  In addition, “traditional public schools are much more likely than charter schools to provide costly services such as transportation and extracurricular activities such as athletics, band, theater, and civic clubs.”

How productive is your district?

How well does your local school district spend its money? The Center for American Progress has ranked the educational productivity of more than 7,000 school districts.

Productivity ratings are adjusted for factors including “cost-of-living differences and higher concentrations of low-income, non-English-speaking, and special education students,” according to the report.

Few states and districts track “the bang . . . for their education buck,” writes analyst Ulrich Boser.

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Analysts also looked at “twin” districts with similar students but different spending levels and results.

Of the more than 400 twin districts studied, we found the higher-spending twin spent on average $1,600 more per student to educate similar groups of students to similar achievement levels. . . . We also found a number of districts that spent equal amounts of money, had the same demographics, but ended up with different levels of student achievement.

Another report analyzes the nation’s most financially disadvantaged districts.

Study: Achievement doesn’t rise with spending

There’s no connection between education spending and student outcomes, according to State Education Trends over the past 40 years, an analysis by Cato’s Andrew Coulson.

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Spending has nearly tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars and the number of school employees has almost doubled since 1970. However, reading, math and science scores have been “stagnant” for 17-year-olds, writes Coulson. “In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances — advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning.”

U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“In math, reading and problem solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. Respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

Funding ‘phantom students’

Many states fund phantom students, sucking up education dollars and reducing districts’ incentive to improve productivity, according to an Education Next article by Marguerite Roza, who runs the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown and Jon Fullerton, executive director of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Declining enrollment — especially if it’s caused by charter competition — is a primary cause of phantom funding. The students are gone, but the dollars remain.

During charter negotiations, many states promised school districts they’d be protected financially if students left for charter schools. “Double funding” can be costly.

In Connecticut, districts receive revenues based on the enrollments of students living in their region, regardless of whether those students attend the district schools or attend charters (or technical schools).

. . . In Massachusetts, charter school students take with them the per-pupil net school spending (state and local) from their sending districts. To soften the blow to sending-district finances, Massachusetts provides a partial tuition reimbursement for up to six years after the district starts paying charter school tuition. When a district incurs new tuition costs, the state reimburses the district for 100 percent of the cost in the first year and 25 percent of the tuition cost for the next five years. Thus, the state essentially provides districts with 225 percent of a year’s tuition for each full-time equivalent student lost!

There’s little “incentive to improve services in an effort to retain more students,” they conclude. “When students leave a district to attend a charter school, the district may see an increase in per-student revenues.”

Some states also subsidize small districts. California is very generous to small districts, undercutting any incentive to merge for greater efficiency.

Compare college costs: $3,300 vs. $32,000

A Missouri community college is taking on for-profit competitors with an ad campaign that urges students to do the math: It costs $3,300 for a year at Ozarks Tech vs. $32,000 at Bryan College, a Christian for-profit. The cheaper for-profits in the area cost $14,000.

Texas universities are offering bachelor’s degrees for $10,000 or less to well-prepared students with clear goals. But it’s more of a scholarship for students than a productivity campaign, so far.

Chubb: Get serious about high-quality teachers

Today’s teachers “don’t come close to meeting the academic standards being set for students” writes John Chubb in The Best Teachers in the World.

A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall. The most generous estimate of the aptitude of new U.S. teachers recently estimated SAT scores of 515 in critical reading (formerly verbal) and 506 in math, or 1021 overall.

Once on the job, teachers rarely are held accountable for their students’ performance, Chubb writes. And “by international standards teachers are not highly compensated in the United States—at least one factor that determines the quality of individuals attracted to a profession and willing to stick with it.” In short, “U.S. education policy is not serious about high-quality teachers.”

The U.S. needs to recruit high achievers to teaching and give them “work that is less menial and more expert, less prescribed and more responsible,” Chubb writes. Using technology to improve productivity would make it possible to raise pay to attract top talent.

 Teaching is not an art, to which some are born and others are not. It is an intellectually demanding endeavor that can and should be guided by research-based practice. Teachers should be trained, both before they take charge of a classroom and thereafter. They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that predominate today.

Finally, high-quality teaching requires high-quality principals, who “create the working conditions that help determine whether great teachers remain.”

Chubb’s new book is The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them and How We Could.

 

Greene: We don’t need more teachers

“Hiring more teachers won’t improve student achievement,” writes Jay Greene in the Wall Street Journal. “It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.”

In 1970, public schools employed one teacher for every 22.3 students, according to federal data. In 2012, we have one teacher for every 15.2 students. Math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, writes Greene. High-school graduation rates are stuck at 75 percent.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios.

Unlike every other enterprise, public schools have not invested in productivity-enhancing technology, Greene writes. Outside the monopoly, charter schools such as Rocketship Academy in California and Carpe Diem in Arizona are using computers to provide individualized instruction while “teachers are primarily tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers.”

While Gov. Romney would leave education policy to state and local governments, President Obama proposes a billion-dollar “master teacher corps” with a goal of producing 100,0000 additional math and science teachers in the next 10 years. It’s “a Solyndra-like solution,” writes Greene. The federal government would pick the “winning” reform strategy.

Spending skyrockets, scores don’t

While spending per-student has “taken off like a moonshot ,” SAT “scores have stayed the same or declined, reports Neal McCluskey at Cato @ Liberty. The fact that more students are taking the SAT doesn’t account for “the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores,” especially as National Assessment of Education Progress scores also have flatlined.

Conservatives are incoherent on federal education policy, McCluskey adds, criticizing Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute for their analysis of federal micromanaging. An addiction to spending federal money and a love of ”standards and accountability” leads to “a great big refuse heap of squandered money, red tape, educational stagnation, and political failure.” Yet Hess and Kelly don’t call for the feds to get out of education policy.

Fordham: Spend smarter on special ed

Spending more on special ed simply may not do much for kids,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly, citing Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education, a new Fordham report by Nate Levenson. By emulating the staffing levels and practices of efficient districts, the high-spending districts could save $10 billion — and improve quality, according to the report.

Special Education

Special education has been “downright hostile” to “innovation, efficiency, or productivity boosters, writes Finn. It “remains fixated on inputs, ratios, and services,” rather than student outcomes.

. . .  the same basic dysfunctions that ail general education afflict special education too: middling (or worse) teacher quality; an inclination to throw “more people” at any problem; a reluctance to look at cost-effectiveness; a crazy quilt of governance and decision-making authorities; a tendency to add rather than replace or redirect; and a full-on fear of results-based accountability. Yet the fates (as well as the budgets) of general and special education are joined. In many schools, the latter is the place to stick the kids who have been failed by the former—a major cause of the sky-high special-education-identification rates in many states and districts.

. . . To its discredit, federal law bars the teams that develop Individualized Education Programs for disabled pupils from considering the cost of the interventions and services that they are recommending.

Improve general education so fewer kids end up in special ed, Levenson urges. If special ed is necessary, design cost-effective interventions. Above all, end maintenance-of-effort requirements that assume students are being served if dollars are being spent, regardless of whether the money is being used to help students learn.