Author Archives: Chad Aldeman

We Have to Say More About Teacher Evaluation Reforms Than Just “They Didn’t Work”

In a piece for Education Next released last month, I looked at the Obama-era push for better teacher evaluation systems. As states and cities turn the page on that particular set of reforms, I wanted to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the last eight years. In the piece, I nodded toward some of the successes of that effort but spent more time reflecting on what could have gone better. I focused on four major policy mistakes:

  1. A universal approach of trying to get all states and cities to pursue teacher evaluation reform efforts;
  2. A narrow definition that focused too much on the specific elements of evaluation systems without leaving room to accomplish the same goals in different ways;
  3. An emphasis on process over purpose, which paid too much attention to the evaluation systems themselves and not enough on the actual use of those systems;
  4. A collision in timing with the rollout of Common Core that proved politically and logistically challenging.

These failures do not invalidate the entire theory of action that teachers matter and that improving the policies around how school districts hire, evaluate, compensate, and train teachers could lead to better outcomes for students. Encouraging school districts to evaluate teachers and principals at least in part on student growth, and to make consequential decisions based on those determinations, was never going to be an easy shift. It required new policies, new systems, and better tools, not to mention changing a culture that treated teachers as interchangeable widgets. For all these reasons and more, we haven’t seen the widespread changes President Obama or his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, might have hoped for when they made teacher evaluation one of their signature policies.

Still, failing to change everything doesn’t mean we’ve learned nothing. There’s a growing body of evidence that evaluation reform can be a viable school improvement strategy for places that want to pursue it. In my piece I cited a randomized controlled trial of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which provided competitive grants for districts to revamp their evaluation and compensation systems. The study found that TIF led to gains equivalent to 10 percent of a year’s worth of learning in math and 11 percent in reading. There are other positive examples as well. Studies on evaluation reform efforts in Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have found that comprehensive evaluation systems can help identify teachers who need to improve their practice, nudge low-performing teachers out of the profession, and, ultimately, boost student achievement. To be sure, these cities all pursued different sets of reforms, but they had the common thread that they were all trying to identify and act on differences in teacher performance.

In total, these positive examples provide evidence in support of the underlying theory of action on teacher evaluation reforms. Rather than discarding this era and moving on, as states and advocates seem wont to do, we should learn from this massive effort: what worked and what didn’t work and why.

Should Public Charter Schools Be Allowed to Opt Out of State-run Teacher Pension Plans?

This post originally appeared on our sister site, TeacherPensions.org.

Should public charter schools be allowed to opt out of state-run teacher pension plans?

question-mark-1924516_1280There are strong arguments in favor of letting charter schools opt out. Most charter school teachers would be better off in more portable retirement plans. And charter schools tend to be new, so it might be unfair to ask them to pay off the debts of the old system.

Still, if charters are allowed to opt out, that puts added pressure on traditional school district budgets as they’re forced to take on proportionately larger shares of state pension legacy costs. As the charter sector has grown over time, and as pension debts eat up a larger and larger share of school spending, the charter school pension question has been bubbling up. It’s even played a small role in the debate over the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education.

As my colleagues Bonnie O’Keefe, Kaitlin Pennington, and Sara Mead noted earlier this week in their slide deck analyzing the education landscape in Michigan, DeVos’ home state of Michigan has one of the nation’s largest charter sectors, with more than 40 charter school authorizers and 10 percent of its students attending charter schools. Michigan’s charter school sector is also unique in that 71 percent of its charters are run by an Education Management Organization (EMO), which is a for-profit operator of public schools.

Although DeVos has been personally maligned for Michigan’s large for-profit charter sector, one thing that’s been missing from the debate is that Michigan’s EMOs are exempt from the state teacher pension fund. That means Michigan’s EMOs get to avoid paying a share of the state’s pension legacy costs, and in the process, they’re playing a small part in exacerbating the pension debt problem for all other Michigan public schools.

How big of a problem is this? In order to separate fact from fiction, here are six things to know about charter schools and teacher pensions nationwide, with Michigan as an example: Continue reading

Donald Trump Won. What Does That Mean for Education Policy?

Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. What does that mean for federal education policy? Here are my 11 reflections on what this
donald-j-trump-1342298_960_720means and predictions for what might happen:

  1. Expert opinion didn’t have a very good night. The polls were wrong, the political experts were wrong, and elite newspaper endorsements didn’t seem to affect the outcome. In some cases, voters outright rejected elite consensus. For an education example, the research on Boston charter schools is overwhelmingly positive, and yet Massachusetts voted down a ballot initiative that would have allowed them to expand. This isn’t just an education problem per se, but it does have troubling implications for the sector going forward.
  2. Our country has never been this politically divided across education levels. Donald Trump won non-college-educated voters by huge numbers even as Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to win college-educated voters in 50 years. If these trends continue, or even accelerate, and political party becomes further associated with education levels, that will turn education itself into a political exercise.
  3. Now that Trump is President-Elect, a lot of Democrats will wish we were still under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Even though many states were operating under waivers from NCLB, and a Trump Administration could have authored their own waivers, NCLB as an underlying law provided stronger protection for minorities and other subgroups of students than what’s now in place under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  4. As I’ve written before, the Trump transition team has tons of work to do. Given ESSA’s timelines, the new administration faces huge policy and logistical hurdles in their first six to eight months in office. They’ll need to review and approve every state’s accountability plan in that time.
  5. The Obama Administration’s regulations implementing ESSA are in trouble. Again given the timeline here, I don’t expect outright revocation for all of the draft rules, which would take time and formal processes, but I do expect informal “dear colleague” letters weakening the Obama proposals.
  6. In particular, the “supplement not supplant” rule was already on shaky political ground before the election. A Trump Administration is not likely to support it going forward.
  7. The Obama Administration’s legacy on higher education would take time to dismantle. Rules on gainful employment and teacher preparation are now final. For the Trump Administration to revoke either of those, it would take years of formal regulatory processes. If Republicans really want those gone, they’ll go after them through Congress.
  8. Existing grant awards (like the Teacher Incentive Fund or the Charter School Program) are safe. Congressional members will have an interest in funding continuation awards for those existing grants.
  9. Trump can’t do much unilaterally on #CommonCore or school choice. ESSA makes the federal role relatively impotent, no matter the president.
  10. We’re not getting any new money for education anytime soon. That means no federal expansion of pre-k and certainly not “free college.”
  11. I don’t expect a Republican-dominated Congress to take up any large education bills. Their focus will be on policy objectives like the Supreme Court vacancy, immigration, or Obamacare. I don’t think we’ll see a Perkins or Higher Education Act reauthorization, for example. There just isn’t political oxygen for those types of negotiations. Still, we may see some smaller things, like the DC voucher program perhaps, slipped into random must-pass bills.

For more on the Trump victory and the implications for education policy, check out posts from Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess.

Teacher Shortage? That Depends on Your Definitions of “Supply” and “Demand”

Teachers wanted signI published a blog post late last month questioning the numbers in a recent paper on teacher shortages from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI). After speaking with Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the report’s authors, and reading their written rebuttal, I have a clearer sense of what they did and why their numbers seemed off to me.

From what I can tell, our disagreement centers on their definition of the word “supply.” Their report says this:

In this report, we use a theoretical framework of supply and demand that defines a teacher shortage as an inadequate quantity of qualified individuals willing to offer their services under prevailing wages and conditions.

The last part is key. What they mean by “individuals willing to offer their services under prevailing wages” essentially means “people who will be hired as teachers.” They have no data on job applicants or anyone’s desire or willingness to teach. They do attempt to include people who delay entry into the teaching profession, but their assumptions lead them to exclude almost all of the people who train to become teachers who never land a teaching job.

This is a questionable definition, and it leads to some weird conclusions. Continue reading

Updated: There’s A Huge Flaw in the “Teacher Shortage” Data

Update: After speaking with the authors of the Learning Policy Institute report and reading their written rebuttal, I made some changes to the post below and have written a longer piece clarifying the issues here

Earlier this month the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report with the worrying title, “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.” Although initial coverage mainly took the report at face value, others have started to push back. The National Council of Teacher Quality’s Kate Walsh noted that teacher supply and demand levels look very different depending on state and subject. Mike Antonucci pointed out that we’ve heard the same “teacher shortage” cry before (by the same people), and it turned out to be very, very wrong. And Dan Goldhaber took the long view by pointing out that, contrary to the current narrative, we’ve ramped up teacher production significantly over the last few decades.

In fact, Goldhaber’s piece contains an important but subtle distinction about the LPI report. (Updated) Notably, LPI’s estimates for the total supply in a given year are so low that they nearly match just the number of people who complete a program in that year.  Continue reading