Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Charter schools improving

Some of the more ideological education reforms have favored charter schools as something of a magical solution. Increase choice and the market will fix all problems. There is solid evidence that a small number of charter schools perform splendidly, however charter schools have proven not to be a panacea. Indeed, it looks like the average charter school has under-performed the average traditional public school.

Baude, Casey, Hanushek, and Rivken put forth the hypothesis that markets take some time to shake out, and that after a shaky start charter schools as a whole are improving. The authors put together value-added measures for a large number of Texas charter schools and compared their performance to Texan traditional public schools, with a focus on how that comparison has evolved over time. Here’s one picture (arrows added).

Charter School Improvement

In 2001, the distribution of charter school math outcomes had a big left shoulder. A lot of programs were under-performing traditional public schools. A decade later, a lot of those under-performers had either gotten their act together or closed. The 2011 distribution of charter school outcomes looks not much different from how traditional schools look.

Don’t misunderstand, charter schools aren’t wildly outperforming traditional schools in Texas. What’s happened is they’ve caught up. This doesn’t prove that “choice” and the market are magic. It does suggest that given time the market often fixes its failures.

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Does management matter in schools?

Economists don’t study management–which is to say we think management matters, we’re just not the experts on the details of how particular operations are best run. Some folks who are, Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen ran a survey of 1,800 high schools around the world where they asked principals the same kind of questions about management technique that have been used in other sectors.

One might question whether management issues are all that similar in the ed-biz and elsewhere. Here are four of the measures used:

Standardization of Instructional Planning Processes: school uses meaningful processes that allow pupils to learn over time

Personalization of Instruction and Learning: school incorporates teaching methods that ensure all pupils can master the learning objectives

Data-Driven Planning and Pupil Transitions: school uses assessment and easily available data to verify learning outcomes at critical stages

Adopting Educational Best Practices: school incorporates and shares teaching best practices and pupil strategies across classrooms accordingly.

To my admittedly non-expert eye, those sound like reasonable items to check. More to the point, there turns out to be a strong statistical relation between getting a good grade on management techniques and students performing well academically.

So it looks like improving management techniques might be a fruitful path for helping our schools. It is worth mentioning that, compared to other countries, American schools do relatively well according to the researchers’ rubric. However, the researchers also took those questions that overlapped different sectors and compared how schools did compared to hospitals and manufacturing. Here’s their picture (I have corrected a typo.)

Management

Schools have room for improvement compared to hospitals and manufacturing, as shown by the fact that the U.S. school curve is way off to the left.

By the way, the average principal earns between $90,000 and $100,000. What do suppose the average manager in a small hospital or factory earns?

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Value-added in Los Angeles

Several of my recent posts have been on a controversy among economists about whether value-added measures of teacher effectiveness are unbiased or not. Bacher-Hicks, Kane, and Staiger look at teachers who switch schools in Los Angeles and find that estimates made using data from the teacher’s originating school give unbiased predictions of outcomes in the receiving school. One more piece of evidence on the side of value-added- estimates-are-unbiased.

Interesting as this may be to (us) nerds, the authors also find a number of disturbing aspects about teacher quality in Los Angeles.

The consequences … of being assigned a top rather than a bottom quartile teacher in Los Angeles were nearly twice as large as in New York. … Teachers differ more in Los Angeles than in the New York, and the allocation of teacher effectiveness in Los Angeles seems to expand gaps in achievement by race/ethnicity and prior achievement, rather than close them.

…many teachers who are effective later in their careers struggle in their early years of teaching. …we find that minority and low-achieving students are more likely to be assigned to novice teachers in Los Angeles…in Los Angeles, the combination of experience effects and teacher effects (adjusted for experience) are nearly twice as large as the teacher effects alone.

LA is the nation’s second largest school district. It’s a tough, tough place to get things right. But NYC isn’t an easy place either. Should Los Angeles be asking what it can learn from New York?

m4s0n501
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Preparing teachers

Look at this picture, just look at it!

without pedagogical preparation

Richard Ingersoll and coauthors created this picture (except the red arrow, which is mine). So one out of five teachers begin their careers with no practice teaching…except for science teachers where it’s two out of five? Is this nuts, or what!

The researchers show that one way lousy preparation matters is in the how likely teachers are to leave teaching after a relatively short career. As they put it:

the amount of prior practice teaching that new teachers had undertaken was strongly related to their attrition. First-year teachers who had a semester (12 weeks or more) of practice teaching prior to their employment were over three times less likely to depart than those who had no practice teaching at all

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  1. Dulce says:

    That does sound like a fantastic corsue and is something I missed out on by going the alt cert route. That’s why I think these conversations can be so fruitful. Clearly there is no prep program that is doing everything perfectly, but we can pick and choose what worked best from each one and build a model path from there.

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Leaving teaching

Here’s a chart originally published in the Connecticut Mirror and re-published in EducationNext.

Those changing their job

There are other occupations with higher turnover rates, but maybe not other professions.

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More on teacher evaluation in Chicago

In February, I wrote about an academic article by  and  in which they reported on Chicago’s experiment in doing serious teacher evaluation. Steinberg and Sartain now have a semi-popular version of their work in EducationNext. The new version has a picture that’s worth looking at.

Steinberg Sartain EdNextThe authors show that the evaluation program had a quite large effect (on reading, maybe not on math) in “low-poverty” schools and essentially no effect in “high-poverty” schools.

Why did I put “low-poverty” in quotes? Note that 60 percent of students in these schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Nation-wide, half of students are eligible for the lunch program, so these “low-poverty” schools are still poorer than the average American school.

What’s going on? Here’s the authors’ speculation:

We suspect that this finding is the result of the unequal allocation of principals and teachers across schools as well as additional demands placed on teachers and principals in more disadvantaged schools, which may impede their abilities to implement these types of reforms.

There’s a lesson here. For reforms to work, even well-designed reforms, the teachers and principals who are the ground troops have to have both the ability and the resources to make needed changes. That’s especially tough in exactly those schools where the need for change is the greatest.

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CALDER on tenure

CALDER has a nice conversation on the effects of eliminating tenure in the wake of the Vergara. Good points are made, with an emphasis on shedding light rather than the all-too-common political posturing. A few of my favorite quotes:

Rick Hanushek:

Virtually every business in the country effectively has a tenure system for its employees.  It is not in any business’s interest to arbitrarily or capriciously fire employees…  Tenure in education has unfortunately gone beyond any sense of reasonable balance between employee security and the interests of children.  …[eliminating tenure] is unlikely to have a huge impact on the overall labor market for teachers.  … No matter what the replacement for the current system looks like, it will not involve large numbers of fired teachers or, put  another way, it will not involve very large changes in the risk to any individual.

While everybody finds it convenient to blame either the rules, the unions, or the contracts for any problems, district administrations and school boards are often complicit in not actively making personnel decisions.

Michael Hansen:

I see teacher perceptions as being another key variable in how these policies play out, because teachers will respond to what they perceive is a threat—or not—of unfairly losing their job….even a small rise in performance-based dismissals could have unforeseen chilling effects on the labor force if the messaging about it goes unchecked.

 Sunny Ladd:

Although weak tenuring and dismissal processes in some states, including most notably California, should indeed be improved, it is hard to make the case that removing tenure and other job protections is the route to a more productive teaching force.  If tenure were eliminated and job protections in the form of due process rights were substantially weakened, teaching would become a much riskier career choice that, at current salary levels, would be far less attractive to potentially strong teachers.

Instead, the path to a more productive teaching force would combine higher salaries and greater respect for teachers, along with good human resource policies.  Higher salaries and treating teachers as professionals would enable the sector to compete on a more level playing field with other sectors, such as law and business, for the best and the brightest college graduates.

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More on the American Statistical Association and value-added

Back in April I wrote about the American Statistical Association Statement on Using Value-Added Models. I wrote in part,

Some of what the ASA says sounds ever-so-sensible, but reflects a failure to understand statistical models.

Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff (CFR) released their own assessment of the ASA statement in May. They make me think I was too nice to the ASA. CFR’s main point is simple,

the … statement provided no references to the literature. Hence, it is unclear whether the ASA’s statement fully incorporates the results of recent research that addresses many of the concerns it raises.

CFR politely point out that the ASA statement somehow missed a good deal of published research…including some published by the ASA. CFR make it clear that the American Statistical Association should be embarrassed at having released a rather unscientific statement. (“Embarrassed” is my word, not CFR’s).

CFR, writing from the economist’s perspective, sum up the situation very clearly.

While there is no doubt that VA measures are not perfectly reliable, the question is how reliable they are relative to other potential methods of evaluation. … The fact that classroom observation and VAM are both imperfect measures underscores why educators and policymakers are likely to make better decisions if they are based on multiple measures of job performance rather than any stand-alone metric.

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Is value-added valuable?

Alert: half wonk, half not wonk.

Last week I wrote about a new piece by Jesse Rothstein. Rothstein continued the argument that he’s been putting forth that value-added measures misstate teachers’ true contributions because they inadequately adjust for students’ learning ability. In particular, Rothstein questioned the results in recent work by Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff. As a reminder, Rothstein found “evidence of moderate bias in VA scores.”

Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (CFR) have two new short pieces in which they argue against Rothstein’s criticisms. (Dan Goldhaber and Duncan Chaplin also show circumstances in which Rothstein’s method can cause false alarms.)

To oversimplify, Rothstein offers a “placebo test” in which he shows that measured teacher quality predicts prior student achievement. Since teacher quality can’t affect what a student learned in the past, the measures must still retain some element of a student’s past accomplishments. This is what value-added is intended to avoid and Rothstein offers this as evidence that the value-added adjustment is imperfect.

CFR respond that Rothstein’s test is picking up a mechanical artifact of the way value-added is constructed. The mechanical bias has two sources. The first source is that some teachers do switch grades and teach some of the same students for a second year. When this happens, the teacher’s ability really did have an effect on those students in the previous year. The second source of the artifact comes from the presence of noise in student test scores. CFR corrects for both issues and argues that the apparent failure of Rothstein’s placebo test disappears.

So here’s the half wonk part. Despite a serious professional disagreement, Rothstein and CFR share data and code with one another. Both sides are working hard to uncover the truth on a critically important issue in education research and education policy.

Now the not wonk half. No one thinks value-added measures are perfect. Parties interested in VAM for non-scientific reasons can be too quick to interpret “imperfect” as “not useful.” Neither CFR nor Rothstein think that VAM is perfect nor do they think that VAM is useless.

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Leftovers

ProfitofEducation is otherwise engaged today.

Thanksgiving

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