July 25, 2016

What Hillary Clinton Gets Wrong About Teacher Compensation

Read more live coverage of #EDlection2016 via Bellwether and The 74’s Convention Live Blog.

When it comes to K-12 education policy, Hillary Clinton is campaigning on platitudes, and a favorite topic for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is teacher compensation. Clinton has proclaimed on several occasions that teacher pay should be raised. The talking point makes her popular with  teachers unions, but it’s misleading. Across-the-board base salary pay raises for teachers are not financially feasible for most school districts, nor is the idea considered strategic policy.

Low and stagnant teacher pay is alarming, but simply and hastily raising teacher salaries across the board will not solve the problem. Instead, districts should use teacher compensation as a lever to attract, retain, and support a high-performing teaching force, and they need to do this in a financially sustainable way. Base salary increases may be part of the solution, but districts also need to consider other key components of teacher compensation including teacher effectiveness, the speed of salary growth, bonuses and rewards, incentives for hard-to-staff schools and positions, and so on.

The balancing act isn’t easy. The best solution is to use data to make decisions about teacher compensation — a practice most school districts do not employ. As a new Bellwether Education Partners resource called The Learning Landscape explains, the structure of most teacher salary schedules does not align with the evidence of teacher performance. For example, research shows that teachers improve greatly in their first few years of teaching and then their performance levels off, however very few districts use this data to make decisions about teacher compensation to retain top-performing new teachers.

FireShot Capture 161 - Teacher Effecti_ - http___www.thelearninglandscape.org_teacher-effectiveness_

As the above charts shows, while teachers on average rapidly grow in their effectiveness in the first five years of teaching, they do not see substantial pay raises until about one decade into their careers. To retain effective new teachers, a district might consider increasing how quickly those teachers receive large pay raises. A district might not have the funds to use this data-driven compensation strategy if it raised all teachers’ salaries.

This is not to mention other data-driven and research-based teacher compensation strategies such as raising teachers’ compensation as they take on leadership roles within their school communities.

Most districts have a long way before they implement these kinds of strategic compensation designs. The vast majority of school districts implement a compensation structure that treats all teachers the same, regardless of performance, skill, or responsibility. In fact, as The Learning Landscape details, in 2012 only 11 percent of districts used pay incentives to reward teachers for excellent performance.

However, if districts follow Hillary Clinton’s suggestion to raise all teachers’ salaries, data-driven teacher compensation strategies of any kind will not be possible in most places. Perhaps Clinton has something more strategic in mind when she talks about teacher pay, but voters will not know if she continues to speak in generalities when it comes to issues of K-12 education.  


July 22, 2016

The 2016 Republican Party Platform Guts Title IX Enforcement for Victims of Sexual Assault

https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform/The 2016 Republican Party Platform pays special attention to the ways in which Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting gender discrimination in schools, has been used to protect transgender students and victims of sexual assault. The platform deems both uses unacceptable. It frames the protections for sexual assault victims as an extraordinary overreach when, in fact, it simply closes a historical loophole by making explicit an expectation that sexual assault must be treated just like any of the other bad acts that might happen on a college campus.

Sexual assault is a unique type of crime in that engaging in sex acts is normal, frequent, and rarely criminal — it’s only the context and circumstances that tell us whether a criminal assault was committed. The singular thing that distinguishes sex from sexual assault is consent. And consent isn’t just about what one person knew, believed, felt, or chose, it’s also about how those things are communicated to someone else. Consent is explicit, but proving consent (or an absence of it) isn’t always straightforward, and conducting an investigation that is necessarily deeply intrusive can be frustrated by the poor recollections that can follow alcohol and drug use by perpetrators, victims, and witnesses.

It’s one thing to argue that universities need specialized training or staff to conduct investigations and impose consequences well; it’s a very different thing to take the position (like the one on page 35 of the Republican party platform) that they shouldn’t be held accountable for doing it at all:

“The Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted before it further muddles this complex issue and prevents the proper authorities from investigating and prosecuting sexual assault effectively with due process.”

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Serving Disconnected Youth in a Dispersed School System

What happens to homeless and disconnected youth in a decentralized system of schools? This is a question that must be top of mind as charter school enrollment climbs and school systems become increasingly decentralized in cities across the country. (For an in-depth look at data on charter schools, see a new Bellwether resource, the Learning Landscape.) To some extent, education leaders have begun to grapple with the challenges of meeting all students’ needs when the district is no longer the only provider of education. Services like special education and policies like discipline — once in the sole purview of the district — have had to be reimagined to ensure equality and fairness across a decentralized system of schools.

In the same way, the systems and policies in place to support homeless and other disconnected youth must be reimagined to ensure students’ needs are identified and met.

The McKinney-Vento Act Captureoutlines the services homeless students are entitled to, including requiring each local education agency (LEA) to have a homeless liaison on staff, in charge of identifying homeless youth and liaising with outside agencies such as homeless shelters or mental health services. Though this model has its challenges, it does streamline districts’ advocacy efforts for homeless youth. In a traditional district, one person is in charge of coordinating with all necessary agencies to ensure that a homeless child’s needs are met. In cities where the majority of school-aged students attend the local school district, this means that those agencies are generally working with a single person to meet the needs of the majority of homeless students in the city.

But in cities with large numbers of charter schools, there could be dozens of liaisons — from numerous CMOs, independent charter schools, and the district — reaching out to the same limited number of service agencies in an attempt to secure services for their homeless students. The increased burden of coordination across many schools could lead to a decline in the quality of services.

It is imperative that education leaders and policymakers plan carefully and thoughtfully to ensure that homeless and disconnected youth are not lost in the shuffle. There is also real opportunity for new thinking around these issues: The autonomy and flexibility of the charter sector gives leaders a chance to fully reimagine the relationship between schools and service providers, cutting through silos and pioneering new ways for schools to identify homeless and other disconnected students and ensure there are supports are in place to help them do well.


July 21, 2016

Candidates Think We Can’t Handle the Complex Truth About Education

The Learning Landscape

We need a nuanced education conversation based on data, not polarizing rhetoric. That’s why we built this new resource: www.thelearninglandscape.org/

Depending on whom you ask, charter schools represent either the best of things or the worst of things in the modern education system. This binary hero-villain dialogue plays out time and again among education advocates. It’s so pervasive that it even managed to infiltrate a presidential election that has otherwise been light on K-12 education talk.

Bernie Sanders declared his support for public charter schools, but not private ones in a CNN town hall event last March — belying a fundamental confusion about what charter schools actually are. Last year Hillary Clinton disparaged charter schools with a blanket statement suggesting that they reject serving students who are the “hardest to teach.” And while decrying the federal footprint in education, Donald Trump said he wants more charter schools because “they work, and they work very well.”

The primary flaw with all of these statements is that each one lacks nuance and ignores what is true, what we know, and what we don’t know about charter schools. After all, one of the hallmarks of political campaigns is the reduction of complex issues to simple binaries. Candidates harp on divisive issues and ask voters to pick a side — for or against, good or bad. While this strategy makes for rousing stump, it misleads and under-informs voters about critical policy issues.

Sanders’ confusion about whether charter schools are public or private schools is not uncommon, but it’s easy to clear up. Charter schools are public schools. They are publicly-funded, and they provide education free of charge. The confusion arises because they are often operated by private organizations (a mix of non-profit and for-profit). Some of these private organizations are very good at running schools that achieve amazing outcomes with kids. Some of them are not as good.

Similarly, by painting all charter schools with the same brush, either negatively or positively, both Clinton and Trump ignore the complex reality of what we know about charter schools. (Clinton, I should note, told the NEA convention earlier this month that we should seek to learn from the many good charter schools – that common sense statement drew boos from the crowd).

In practice, who is served best and most often by charter schools varies significantly from state to state and city to city. And the overall quality of charter schools varies, too. In some cities, like Washington DC, charter schools produce an average of 101 days of additional learning in math compared to the surrounding district schools. That’s a tremendous difference. But in Fort Worth, Texas, charter schools underperform district schools on average.

Attempting to define the whole notion of charter schools as either good or bad encourages us to continue to focus on the existential question of whether we should have charter schools at all. And that is simply the wrong question. Continue reading


July 20, 2016

Are Bad Online Charter Schools the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Online charter schools are getting a lot of bad press recently. While their critics cheer the bad news, we might consider whether this actually signals broader problems within public education. The persistent failures of these schools aren’t just failures in accountability — they could point to larger ills in the education ecosystem.

Here are just three state-level online charter school stories from the past few weeks:

  • Canari_jaune_lipochrome_intensifK12 Inc.*, which manages a network of online schools enrolling 13,000 students in California, will pay $8.5 million to the state and forgo $160 million to settle claims it misrepresented student achievement, financial records, and more. Organizational finances and governance are also under scrutiny.
  • In Aurora, Colorado, the local school board attempted to end the district’s relationship with HOPE Online Learning Centers due to persistently low achievement, but the district was overruled by the state because “we have to give these parents options,” and “now’s not the right time” for accountability.
  • Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which enrolls 15,000 Ohio students and ranks among the worst performing schools in the state, lost a recent attempt in court to stop a state audit of their actual online attendance last year. The audit will check if student learning hours match up to what ECOT billed the state.

Add these stories to the results of a recent CREDO study, which found overwhelmingly negative learning effects in online charters the opposite of positive learning trends in charters overall. Even charter advocates know something has gone very wrong in the world of online charters: a “National Call to Action” from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN called out “well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual public charter schools.”

Almost everyone agrees that authorizers and regulators should do a better job holding virtual schools accountable for results and protecting taxpayer funds from fraud and mismanagement. But when schools of choice with bad learning outcomes continue to grow, they are a canary in the coal mine, alerting us that things have gone awry in the school system as a whole: Continue reading