Tag Archives: education data

Questions for Betsy DeVos Inspired by Education Outcomes in Michigan

Tonight is Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of Education. Because DeVos doesn’t have a track record as a government official or leader within the public school or higher education system, as most of her predecessors do, analysts are looking at her role as a funder, GOP donor, and board member of education organizations to understand what she might do as Secretary. This scrutiny has drawn particular attention to DeVos’ engagement in education advocacy and political causes in Michigan, where her donations and advocacy have touched many major education policy decisions over the past 20 years.

In many ways, the education system in Michigan is a microcosm of the challenges and opportunities facing the broader U.S. education system — and the next Secretary of Education. In both Michigan and the U.S. as a whole, there are large, persistent achievement gaps for disadvantaged student groups; rural, suburban, and urban schools with unique (sometimes competing) needs; and a long history of hotly debated education reforms that have had mixed success. To help analysts, journalists, policymakers, and practitioners make sense of the education landscape in the Wolverine State — and what it suggests about the perspective and positions DeVos would bring to the role of Secretary — Bellwether has compiled a comprehensive fact base about the education policy landscape in Michigan that we will release next week after the Inauguration.

In the meantime, here are a few Michigan fast-facts to know as you watch tonight’s hearing:

Demographics of Michigan K-12 students by race/ethnicity, family income. Source: MISchoolData.org

Demographics of Michigan K-12 students by race/ethnicity and family income. Source: MISchoolData.org

  • There are over 1.5 million students in Michigan and nearly half of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunch; more than 33 percent are students of color.
  • Michigan ranks 41st in 4th grade reading performance in the U.S. and 42nd in 4th grade math.
  • 35 percent of Michigan 11th grade students are college-ready according to the SAT; there are substantial gaps in college-readiness rates among black, Hispanic, English language learner, and low-income students.
  • Michigan has one of the nation’s largest charter sectors, with 10 percent of students enrolled in charter schools, about 300 charter schools, and over 40 charter authorizers.
  • Over 70 percent of Michigan charter schools are operated by for-profit education service providers.
  • Detroit is the lowest performing urban school district in the country.
  • Detroit charter schools generally outperform Detroit Public Schools, but there are still concerns about the overall quality of the sector.

Given the above facts, here are a few questions we’d like DeVos to answer at tonight’s confirmation hearing:

  • What should be the role of the federal government in addressing longstanding achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, like those that exist in Michigan?
  • As you know, Detroit students have struggled academically and gone through numerous failed reform efforts over several decades. Given your work in Detroit, what turnaround strategies would the Department of Education encourage for chronically low-performing school districts?
  • What did you learn from advocating for expanded school choice measures in Michigan and how might you enact those measures at the federal level as Secretary of Education?
  • The presence of multiple charter school authorizers in Michigan has decentralized charter responsibility in the state. What quality-control and accountability measures are necessary for charter school authorizers? What should be the federal role in setting that bar?
  • What has your experience and observation of school choice and school turnaround efforts in Michigan taught you about potential strategies for improving low-performing schools? How would those lessons be applied to this spring’s review of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans?

Betsy DeVos’ hearing begins at 5pm and can be watched here. Check back here tomorrow for a recap of major events (and anything about Michigan education that needs a fact check).

To read our other coverage of Betsy DeVos, click here.

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

Don’t Hold Preparation Programs Accountable for Inputs – But Outcomes Aren’t Much Better

Chad Aldeman and I released two papers on teacher preparation this morning. Both papers look at efforts to improve the quality of educator preparation programs and, consequently, future educators. il_570xN.836150536_3mo4

Some background context: to date, states have tried to affect teacher preparation in one of two ways. Continue reading

So Charters Should Offer Pre-K… But Can They?

As Sara wrote yesterday, we recently completed an analysis of state policies that affect charter/pre-k collaboration. In the analysis, we tried to figure out what a charter school would need to do and know in order to access state pre-k funds. So in each state, we ask: Can charter schools offer state-funded pre-k? What’s the process for doing so? How many charter schools serve preschoolers? We used this information to rank states based on how hospitable an environment they offer for charter schools seeking to serve preschoolers.

There are a few states where it’s relatively easy for charters to offer pre-k. Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma top our list, with Wisconsin and Texas close behind. In these states, charter schools are one option in a network of diverse pre-k providers.

But in a majority of states, charter schools face numerous barriers to offering pre-k. Lots of these barriers are common across states, while others are unique to a given state. For example, low pre-k funding (less than 75 percent of what charters receive to serve K-12 students) creates a disincentive to offering pre-k in 22 states (and affects all potential providers, not just charter schools).

Nine states prohibit charters from offering pre-k at all. In some of these states, the charter legislation limits – intentionally or unintentionally – the ages or grades that a charter school can serve. Ohio’s legislation says charter schools can only admit students between the ages of five and twenty-two; Arizona’s says a charter school must provide instruction for “at least a kindergarten program or any grade between grades one and twelve.” In other states, such as North Carolina, the charter and pre-k law aren’t explicit, but the state interprets that to mean charters can’t serve preschoolers.

In many states, different pre-k programs, state offices, or administrations have different rules. Charter schools in Connecticut can’t access funds through the School Readiness Program, the primary state-funded pre-k program, but if their charter includes pre-k, they receive state per-pupil funding for preschoolers just as they do for K-12 students. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration recently cancelled a charter school’s pre-k program, saying state law prohibits charter schools from offering pre-k and the school was only allowed to offer pre-k due to an “oversight in the chartering process during the previous administration.” In Georgia, the agency that administers the state pre-k program explicitly allows charter schools to apply for pre-k funding, but the state charter office won’t allow it.

Despite these barriers, at least one charter school in most states has “made it work,” figuring out a way to serve preschoolers, even if without state funding. In states like Georgia and Arizona, some charters serve preschoolers through an “affiliated program” – a separate (usually nonprofit) entity that is affiliated with the school. Up until recently, this was the only way charter schools in New York could serve preschoolers. Other charter schools fund pre-k services through philanthropy, tuition, Title I funds, or their general operating revenues. Sometimes the solution creates more problems, however, which is why we believe the best route is to enble charter schools to offer pre-k. Most states have a lot of work to do.


Note: We don’t rank all states – only those with charter laws and state-funded pre-k programs – and we intentionally only look at charter access to state funding for pre-k. Our full methodology is in Appendix A here.

The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

Continue reading