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.

Return on investment

I mostly stick to the analysis of academic analysis, but www.payscale.com has a return on investment report that’s just too good to pass up. Payscale figures out what it costs to attend a particular college (net of financial aid). Then they figure out how much more a graduate of that college earns over the next 30 years as compared to someone without a degree. If you think of paying for college as an investment where the return is in the form of higher future salaries, you can compute the interest rate that a graduate effectively earns off her (or her parents’) investment.

What’s more, Payscale does this separately for different majors at different colleges. They have enough data to figure out the rate of return for education majors at 45 universities. Any guesses about whether being an ed major is a good financial investment? Do ed majors earn a noticeably high rate of return?

Guess what, Payscale only finds 17 schools at which the return is even positive.

So at the other 28 schools a student would be better off not going to college at all, at least financially!

And people wonder why it’s hard to get the enough of the best and brightest to become teachers…

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I don’t believe this one

Here are the government’s projections of public school (right axis) and private school (left axis) enrollment.

enrollment projections

Do you believe that private school enrollment is going to drop 20 percent from its year 2000 numbers? Nah, me either.

Any bets someone projected out trends and didn’t take account of private school enrollment falling temporarily due to the Great Recession?

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  1. Arthur McKee says:

    You may very well be right, but I do wonder about the trend line on number of parochial schools. I think (but do not know) that they provided the bulk of private school enrollments. But that model — depending on faculty who had taken vows of poverty — is no longer viable, and from what I have heard anecdotally a lot of parochial schools have closed for good. I don’t think vouchers have substantially inflected the curve upward.

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Disappointing news on TAP

The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) seems to be doing a lot of things right. TAP focuses on teacher excellence, on accountability, on multiple career paths, and on paying more to more effective teachers. That’s why this new evaluation of TAP by the Vanderbilt crew, “Estimated Effect of the Teacher Advancement Program,” is so disappointing. The researchers compared TAP test score gains to non-TAP schools. TAP seems to do better at the elementary school level, but in fact does worse than non-TAP schools in grades 6 through 10.

The complete story is a little more nuanced, in a way that’s well worth explaining. If you simply compare TAP and non-TAP schools, student test improvement does look better for the TAP schools. Unfortunately, the results seem to come from schools that can produce better test scores adopting TAP, rather than adopting TAP causing better test scores. The statistical problem is called “selection bias.” The researchers use three different methods to correct for selection. All three tell basically the same picture: positive effects in elementary school but negative effects at higher grades.

The authors are careful to point out limitations of the study. In particular, they had data on only 38 TAP schools. Caveats notwithstanding, strong positive results would have been a lot nicer.

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Unemployment by education level

Nothing in today’s post will be news to you, but maybe you can use the picture to shock someone. Less education means more unemployment.

It’s not surprising that people with low levels of education are more likely to wind up unemployed. Maybe it is surprising just how large the difference is. And especially how big the difference is during a bad recession.

The data for the picture comes from the Digest of Education Statistics and gives unemployment rates for 25 to 34 year-0lds. Do note that “high school” includes both GED recipients and holders of real diplomas.

unemployment rates by education

Remember that to be counted as unemployed they have to be looking for work. So we went through a three-year period in which one out of five dropouts in the 25-34 year age bracket who wanted work couldn’t find it. And things aren’t a whole lot better today.

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Teacher experience: general versus grade specific

My last post discussed work by Ben Ost showing that teachers switch grades a lot. Ost goes on to ask how much grade level experience matters. The answer is: quite a bit.

Everyone knows that more experienced teachers get better results (at least as measured by student test scores). The general evidence seems to be that learning on-the-job makes a big difference in the first three to five years, and levels off thereafter. What Ost shows is there are two different pieces that contribute to learning on-the-job, overall years of experience (what economists might call “general human capital”) and years of experience at a specific grade level (“specific human capital”). Here’s a synopsis of the findings.

  • In math, having one more year’s experience at the current grade level adds about an additional 50 percent to the effect of having one more year of general teaching experience.
  • In reading, grade level experience doesn’t seem to be important. On possible explanation is that reading goals in elementary school are generally consistent across grades while specific math topics change more from grade to grade.
  • The extra value of specific grade level experience fades out relatively quickly. So switching back to a grade after a different assignment for several years isn’t too different from starting all over again.

Ost’s work raises a bunch of policy questions. Teachers switch grades a lot. Would it be better if switching was discouraged? Even experienced teachers learn a lot in their first few years teaching a new grade. Is there something schools could do to help the transition move along more quickly? Given the huge amount of grade-switching that goes on, school districts should be thinking about these sorts of questions.

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Changing grades

Here’s an interesting factoid: teachers change the grade they teach fairly often.
Ben Ost has put together data on North Carolina primary school teachers. In this table that Ost created, the first column is the teacher’s grade this year. Moving across the row we see what fraction of teachers were teaching in a given grade the following year. For example, just over 80 percent of 4th grade teachers stick with 4th grade the following year. Five percent switch to 3rd grade and seven percent switch to 6th. Overall, about 15 to 20 percent of teachers switch grades in a given year.

Ost Table 2Ost also asks how many of a teacher’s years on the job are in the grade level currently being taught. In this next table, the leftmost column tells the total years on the job and the rows tell what fraction of teachers have had a given number of years in the current grade. For example, among teachers with five years total experience, 45 percent of the teachers have spent their entire career teaching at the current grade level. Just under 12 percent are teaching the current grade for the first time.

Ost Table 3Ost’s evidence demonstrates that many teachers move grades quite a bit. In the author’s words

…teachers switch grade assignments frequently within a school such that less than half remain in the same grade in their first five years.

Two notes on the data. First, the second table is restricted to teachers in their first school. So any switching was within a school, not part of changing schools. Second, teaching histories in the available data only goes back a limited number of years, so the tables exclude the most highly experienced teachers.

Next time: What Ost found about the effect on student outcomes of grade-specific versus overall teaching experience.

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Salaries by major

Prospective salaries aren’t the only reason for choosing a major in college, but I suspect pay matters–don’t you? And do you think students considering an education major can look forward to a nice salary?

I’ve made a little chart showing relative salaries by major. The data is from the Baccalaureate and Beyond study, looking at salaries for full-time workers 10 years after their 1993 college graduation. I’ve used regression analysis to control for college grades (which don’t matter) and SAT scores (which do). So think of the salaries comparing salaries across major for an average student, in other words excluding the effect of more able students going into some majors and less able students going into others.

salaries by majorBet you didn’t need my little red arrow to guess which major ends up with the short end of the stick.

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Guess who doesn’t get the good teachers

Would it shock you to hear that low-income students/minority students/lower-achieving students all get given weaker teachers on average? Probably not.

Dan Goldhaber and team have put together data documenting how the issues. (The data is for Washington State, but I expect the facts aren’t terribly different elsewhere.)

The overall result is depressingly as expected. What Goldhaber and coauthors add is two facts. First, it doesn’t matter whether you measure teacher quality by inputs or outputs. Second, the inequity exists in the distribution of teacher quality across districts and across schools within districts and across classes within schools.

Of course many disadvantaged students do get good teachers and some better-off students don’t. To take one example from the paper, under-represented minority (black/Hispanic/native American) fourth graders are about 4o percent more likely to get an inexperienced teacher than are other students. For this particular measure, most of the difference is between districts and relatively little comes about by classroom assignments within a school.

The authors also find that students on free-or-reduced lunch (FRL) get teachers who on average have one year less experience. In general, a year of experience is a big deal for new teachers but not so important once a teacher has a few years under her belt. In the chart below, taken from the authors’ paper, compare the blue line to the red line (students not on FRL to FRL students). At the high-experience end blue is higher than red, and vice versa at the low-experience end. What I find particularly interesting is that the gap at the high-experience end is relatively small. The big gap is at the novice end.

Teacher experience and FRL

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STEM and special ed teacher shortages

There’s a shortage of teachers prepared to teach in science and math and other technical fields and there’s a shortage of teachers with special education training. This has been true for decades and hasn’t gotten noticeably better.

In the private sector, if you can’t fill staff slots for particular specialties you offer to pay more money. Not so in public education. This too has been true for decades and hasn’t gotten noticeably better.

Here’s a picture from a recent paper by Dan Goldhaber’s shop. The data for “difficult-to-fill” comes from the Schools and Staffing Survey and is measured by responses from schools that vacancies were “very difficult” to fill or that the school “could not fill vacancy.” Not only are the blue and red bars high, they’ve been that way for a couple of decades.

Percent of difficult-to-fill teacher vacancies

STEM and SPED

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Is college for everyone?

Micheal Petrilli over at Education Gadfly blogged “College isn’t for everyone. Let’s stop pretending it is.” This is one of those statements that everyone agrees is true, but no one wants to hear said. Listeners are all too ready to read this sort of statement as code words for “give up on low-income/minority/under achieving/etc.” students–even when there’s no such intention.

The right message is that students need to work to be good at something. College is one path but it isn’t the only one. How about we honor every job where people work hard? In other words send a positive message to everyone about college, while sending positive messages about other career paths as well.

I wrote about this in my old newspaper column about 10 years ago. Here are some excerpts:

I recently listened in on a conversation between two savvy people. One was our remodeling contractor who, having demolished my kitchen down to the studs, assures me he knows exactly how to put it back together better than ever. The other was my wife, a labor economist interested in possible shortages of trained construction workers.

Our contractor instantly identified the bottleneck, and it wasn’t at all what I’d been expecting. In his experienced opinion, the problem is our failure to tell high-school kids that becoming a carpenter (electrician, plumber, etc.) is a path to a good living and a job that gets respect. … now is a good time to talk about both the good-living part and the respect part.

You don’t get rich being a carpenter, even with experience. But the living you make is just fine.

It’s the part about respect that needs attention. Apparently, many high-school kids hear a message that going to college is all that counts. Where did this screwy notion come from?

Every single … student should have the opportunity to go to college if they’re qualified. What’s more, we should encourage every high-school student to consider the college route. It’s especially important to advise students whose parents didn’t go to college. These “first generation” kids often don’t have the advantage of having someone who knows how the higher-education system works.

But encouraging kids to consider college has nothing at all to do with dissing the skilled-trade route. The paths are just different; one’s not somehow a higher calling than the other.

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