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.

How do you pay teachers $125,000 a year without busting the budget?

Monday I reported that The Equity Project’s plan to pay teachers $125,000 a year has produced remarkable student gains. Today I’ll combine information from Mathematica’s report with other data to give you an idea how TEP manages high salaries without busting the budget.

First thing–comparable teacher salaries in New York outside TEP are around $75,000. (Salaries are high in New York. Of course, New York is an expensive place to live.) So TEP teachers earn roughly two-thirds more than their counterparts.

Here are the cost-saving biggies:

  1. TEP classes are 15 percent larger than classes in typical middle schools in New York, about 31 students versus 27. This means TEP hires fewer teachers per student.
  2. Teachers work longer hours than elsewhere. TEP teachers take care of most of the administrative duties in the school. The assistant principal is a teacher wearing a second hat. Other teachers wear second hats as specialists in math or language or special ed coordinator. Attendance, lunch, and parent involvement are all handled by teachers. Handling extended-day activities is part of regular teaching duties.
  3. While TEP contributes to insurance coverage and a retirement plan, benefits are a notably lower fraction of compensation than would be seen in most schools. TEP benefits cost in the range of 8 to 13 of salary. In the typical school, benefits are 35 percent of salaries. (More like 42 percent in New York state.)

TEP uses a few other tweaks. Teachers aren’t paid extra for professional development activities (most of which are done in-house). Educational consultants aren’t hired. Teachers who mentor other teachers also teach full loads.

TEP does not fund raise to support operating expenses, although they do have a capital campaign in hopes of getting a building to get themselves out of portable classrooms. Contributions and private grants amount to $75 per student.

In sum, TEP has produced a financially scalable model.

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Would paying teachers $125,000 a year get results?

In Profit of Education I wrote,

One charter school, The Equity Project (TEP) in New York City, plans to raise base teacher salaries to $125,000 plus $25,000 bonuses–all without increasing spending one dime.

Now some four years later, we learn that TEP is indeed paying teachers 125 grand a year plus bonuses (the bonuses being typically smaller than $25,000.)

So did it do the kids any good?

A new report by Mathematica makes it clear that the answer is yes! Students at TEP outperformed similar students by a lot. Here’s the picture generated by the report’s authors.

TEP from MathematicaAfter the full four years in TEP, students progressed over than a year and a half more than similar students in math. The extra gains in language arts and science were more modest, but still very noticeable.

If you are a suspicious type (as you should be), let me give you some answers to questions that are popping into your head about now.

TEP students are almost all Hispanic or black. 90 percent are on free lunch. Students were admitted by lottery. Attrition of students was about the same as in similar, nearby schools (actually, slightly lower). TEP expelled and/or suspended exactly zero students. The fraction of special education students was the same as in nearby schools. TEP students performed a touch below the level of students in nearby schools before they started TEP.

In other words, TEP’s success appears to be very real. The one possible caveat is that students did apply to TEP, so it’s possible that they come from more motivated families–despite the data showing that TEP students were comparable to other students in the area.

The magic in all this is that TEP pulled this off on pretty much the same budget that all other schools have. Wednesday I’ll talk about how they pulled off this neat trick. Friday I’ll talk about some things that didn’t go perfectly.

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Math illiteracy, here and there

I’ve made a little bar chart of math literacy levels for 15 year-olds. 6 is higher than 1, so we’d like to see big bars on the right side of the graph.

math literacy

Compare first the U.S. (red) to the other industrialized countries (green). We’re noticeably higher on the left and somewhat lower on the right. This is bad.

Next, look at the states. Florida performs way below the U.S. average while Massachusetts beats out the OECD by a lot. Obviously, one element is that Massachusetts is a wealthy state and Florida is relatively poor. Mind you, Connecticut (not shown) under performs Massachusetts despite being slightly wealthier.

Still, I wonder whether Florida and other low performing states have something to learn from Massachusetts and Connecticut. For that matter, maybe the U.S. as a whole has something to learn from the countries we compete with.

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Math pays outside teaching, not for teachers though

Teachers get paid for experience and credentials, but not for specific skills. Patrick Walsh explains that outside of K-12 education, both math and verbal skills get rewarded…but math skills get rewarded more. Unsurprisingly, people with more math skills are drawn away from teaching into other professions.

How big is the pay gap? Walsh computes the effect on the difference between teacher versus nonteacher salaries for a one standard deviation (about 90 point) increase in SAT scores. Here’s a quick summary

Effect
4 years post graduation 10 years post graduation
math $1500~$2000 $3000~$3800
verbal $300 1300

You can see why teachers with good math skills are especially likely to be drawn into another career. And note that the incentive to bail increases as people move along in their careers.

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Teacher skills: math versus verbal

Patrick Walsh has taken data from Baccalaureate and Beyond to look at math versus verbal skills for teachers versus nonteachers. Next time I’ll talk about his results on how the teacher/nonteacher salary gap is different for people really good at math as compared to the gap for people with really good verbal skills. Today I just want to share Walsh’s picture documenting that the skill gap exists.

Walsh

The top panel shows the distribution of verbal skills according to the SAT for teachers versus nonteachers. Teachers have lower SAT scores, but the difference isn’t enormous. The bottom panel illustrates that the math gap is larger. Note the big difference starting roughly around 600 on the math SAT.

Part of what’s happening is that teachers with really good math skills are more likely to be tempted away from teaching than are teachers with really good verbal skills. (Think the big math gap explains some of the difficulty we have preparing American students for science and technology fields maybe?) Here’s a little table based on Walsh’s numbers

Nonteacher-teacher SAT gap
4 years post graduation 10 years post graduation
verbal 31 38
math 41 57

Between 4 years and 10 years out, the verbal SAT gap jumps 10 points. But the math gap jumps 19.

Next time, some evidence from Walsh that it’s the salary gap that causes the difference.

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Engineers

If I may depart from K-12 briefly, here’s a graph comparing the fraction of college degrees given in engineering in the U.S. versus other industrialized economies.

engineering degreesThe U.S. produces a lower fraction of bachelor’s degrees in engineering than any other OECD country. Surely, this can not be a good thing.

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Ability tracking versus double-dose instruction: A tradeoff?

Kalena Cortes and Joshua Goodman describe a Chicago Public Schools policy change in which low-performing (below median) high-school freshman math students were given a daily double dose of algebra. As a side effect of the policy, weak students were much more tracked together. We’d expect the double-dose to improve math learning, but might peer effects from being tracked together with other weak students counter-act the benefits?

Here’s the authors’ picture of how tracking changed. The vertical axis gives the average performance in a ninth grade class measured by eighth grade ability. The horizontal axis is the students’ own eighth grade performance. If tracking was perfect, we’d see a 45 degree line. If there was no tracking, the line would be horizontal at the 50 percentile line. The red dots are before the policy change–kids were pretty tightly tracked. After the policy change (blue dots), low performing kids were more likely to be assigned with other low performing kids and vice versa for high performing kids. So tracking really did increase, although my reading of the graph is that the change wasn’t huge because tracking was already pretty strong.

Cortes and Goodman

Did the double-dosed students improve in math, despite being grouped with low-performing peers? Indeed they did. The double-dosed students algebra grades went up by 0.22 grade points (about a quarter of the way between a D and a C). What’s more the effect persisted into the next two grades as well. In fact, for the students who had started not too far below average there was even an increase in high school graduation rates.

 

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Do limited English students hurt native students’ performance?

No.

Well, actually the answer according to Timothy Diette and Ruth Uwaifo Oyelere is: yes, but only for some groups students and only a little bit. I interpret their estimate of the effect on native students of having large numbers of limited English speakers as being so small that we might as well call it zero.

Classes with large numbers of limited English (LE) speakers probably don’t do as well as other classes, but that’s because LE students disproportionately locate in underperforming schools. (Their parents aren’t exactly wealthy.) The question is whether increased numbers of LE students cause a change in outcomes for non-LE students. What Diette and Uwaifo Oyelere do is look at the LE proportion within a grade within a school in a particular year. This largely eliminates the effect of LE students disproportionately ending up in weak schools.

The authors’ specific finding is that there is statistically significant evidence of more LE students causing lower test scores for male students and black students, but not for white students and female students. However, the effect sizes are trivial. A 1 percentage point increase in the fraction of LE students leads to test score drops on the order of 0.0007 standard deviations…which is too small for anyone to care about.

So the answer to the question posed in the title is “no.”

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College readiness

A huge amount of noise is made everywhere in the country about the notion that high schools should prepare students for college. The plain fact is that states vary enormously in the fraction of high school students who proceed to a four-year college in the year after graduation.

I’ve put together some (imperfect) numbers from the Schools and Staffing survey. The number for each state is the average across high schools of each school’s fraction of graduates who go on to a four-year college. The low points are California and Washington, where fewer than a quarter of students go right on to a four-year school. The high performer is Colorado, where nearly two-thirds of students go on.

Going to CollegePart of what is going on here is that California and Washington have decided to put money into community colleges instead of four-year schools. (Both do have strong community college systems.) But, of course, going to community college isn’t the same as going directly to a four-year school. For some students it’s better…for many, it’s not.

Moreover, much of the difference across states has little to do with 2- versus 4-year schools. The truth is “college-readiness” varies enormously across the states.

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Gifted education?

Does gifted education work? That is, do students in gifted and talented programs do better than they would if they were in regular classes. Of course gifted and talented students do better…presumably they’re gifted and talented. But do GT programs add anything extra?

According to Is Gifted Education a Bright Idea? the answer is mostly no, at least not in the large program the authors were able to evaluate. In this program, students are accepted into the district’s GT program by accumulating a certain number of points on several criteria. We can reasonably assume that students just below the cutoff are just about as talented as students just above the cutoff. The authors measured students ability in a way that doesn’t perfectly predict GT program acceptance, but you can see in this first figure that it comes pretty close.

Bui 1

Students on to the right of the cutoff mostly get in; those to the left mostly don’t.

If the GT program makes a difference, we should see a jump in performance for those just to the right of the gap. Here’s the authors’ picture.

Bui 2

No visible break at all. Apparently, participation in this GT program just doesn’t much matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

I admit to being surprised.

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  1. Carrie says:

    But doesn’t that make an assumption that the only thing that matters is ‘performance’? In my GT program, the content of what we learned was considerably different – much more use of primary materials, much more assuming we could handle material that hadn’t been pre-digested for us. The emphasis was on critical thinking, not performance. We had special teachers, who were selected on the basis of their own ability, and who migrated between the small handful of GT programmes, rather than being tied to one school. My objection to it at the time (and still) was that I didn’t think it was right that I was getting such a better education when my colleagues in the lower streams were stuck with the bad old textbooks that assumed they were thick and ignorant…

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