Tag Archives: state education policy

When Soundbites are Technically True but Terribly Misleading [UPDATED]

UPDATE [May 20, 2016, 10:29 a.m.]: On May 18, Governor Wolf vetoed the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.

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Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a bill, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, which would base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority. The bill isn’t going any further, because Governor Wolf pledged to veto it, but that hasn’t stopped proponents and opponents from dropping not-quite-accurate-but-very-quotable soundbites.

Sen. Dave Reed says that the current seniority-based policy “forces schools and districts to lay off teachers based solely on date of hire,” and that the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would give districts the ability to “hire and keep the best teachers.”

But Wythe Keever, a Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman, says the bill would do the exact opposite: “Experience in education has been demonstrated through years of research to have a correlation with students’ academic achievement.”

So…which is it? Would this bill help or hurt the teaching force?

The answer is both and neither. Reed and Keever’s comments are technically true, but also terribly misleading.

Despite what Sen. Reed suggests, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act wouldn’t ensure that only the best teachers stay in the classroom. In 2013-14, only 1.8 percent of Pennsylvania teachers—220 teachers in all—were rated unsatisfactory. This bill could allow districts to fire every unsatisfactory teacher, and yet the overall teaching force would remain largely the same.

Wythe Keever isn’t right, either. On average, teachers with decades of experience are better than teachers with no experience, but they’re only slightly better than teachers with a handful of years of experience. And there’s significant variation within and across every experience level. That’s a very different conclusion than what he—and the current layoff policy—suggests, which is that more experienced teachers are always better than less experienced teachers.

Indignant soundbites are much more fun than the full truth, but as I’ve said before, context and nuance are crucial for any real policy decision.

“High-Stakes” Tests are Hard to Find

young students working at computersThis spring, in schools across the country, standardized testing season is in full swing, and opponents are once again crying out against “high-stakes testing.” But that phrase can be misleading. In many states the stakes are much lower than you might think for students, teachers, and schools, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while.

Student consequences tied to tests are fairly low or nonexistent in most states. Graduation requirements and grade promotion policies tied to tests vary greatly between states and most have more holes than Swiss cheese. As of 2012, half of states had some sort of exit exam as a graduation requirement, but almost all these states had exceptions and alternate routes to a diploma if students didn’t pass the exam on the first try. Tying grade promotion to tests is less common, though some states have emulated Florida’s 3rd grade reading retention policy.  Now, just as tests become more rigorous, states are rolling back their graduation and promotion requirements tied to those tests, or offering even more flexibility if requirements are technically still in effect:

  • California eliminated graduation requirements tied to their exit exam in fall 2015.
  • Arizona repealed graduation requirements tied to testing in spring 2015 prior to administering the new AzMERIT tests.
  • Georgia waived their grade promotion requirement tied to new tests in grades three, five, and eight for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Ohio created new safe harbor policies this school year, which, among other things, prevents schools from using test results in grade promotion or retention until 2017-18 (except in the case of third grade reading tests).
  • New Jersey has had exit exams since 1982, but students can now fulfill the requirement using multiple exams, including the SAT, ACT and PARCC, and a proposed bill would pause the requirement altogether until 2021.

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How One NOLA Charter School Is Shifting the Dialogue on Discipline

USNewsMost of the news you’ve heard about charter schools and discipline has been bad. Very bad. But one school in New Orleans is moving in a different direction with a focus on restorative justice. I spoke with Beth Hawkins about it for this column in U.S. News and World Report, published on Friday.  

Restorative justice practices – approaches to conflict and misbehavior that focus on relationships rather than punishment – are taking hold across the country, but schools continue to struggle with implementation. The phrase “restorative justice” itself is losing meaning: it’s becoming easy to forget that the “restore” part refers to a conflict among people and the need to repair a social harm inflicted on a relationship or community. It’s interactive and dynamic and it depends on the investment of everyone involved.  

In a true restorative justice education space, what looks like a behavior problem has a culture solution. It is unequivocally not about following a new protocol, having students fill out different forms, or renaming the detention room. It requires changing the way that every person in the building relates to one another – students and adults. And doing it in schools means doing it in spaces that host some of our most complex social dynamics: racism, sexism, classism, historical segregation, gentrification, and more.

To be very explicit about it: school discipline is a racial justice issue, and restorative justice is civil rights work. It is deeply personal, often uncomfortable, and implicates both history and power. And if you are the one with history and power on your side, these are all things that are never easy. They shouldn’t be. If it were easy, it would mean you weren’t fully engaged in the authentic self-inquiry necessary to move the work forward.

“Uncomfortable” is an intersection, not a stop sign. You’re right to think that hot feeling under your ribs is your cue that something is wrong, but what you do with that next is where the work begins. We need to prepare our practitioners to be uncomfortable, to retrain them to see that as a sign that they’re doing something right, and then give them the skills to respond to their own discomfort with empathy, kindness, and humility.

Five Finance Tips for States on School Funding

If my Google alerts are any indication, 2016 is a hot year for state school finance (first time “hot” and “school finance” have been used in a sentence together?). Kansas hit the news dramatically with the court imposing a June 30 deadline to fix its school funding system or schools will not open next fall. Some of this year’s other sizzling school finance stories include:

  • A handful of states are in court on charges of inequitable or inadequate funding or both, including California and Texas, with Texas expecting a high court decision soon that could require somewhere between $0 and $10 billion new dollars per year for public schools.
  • The Washington legislature is racking up $100,000 a day in legal fees for failing to address a 2012 ruling.
  • Michigan may increase spending flexibility to facilitate technology purchases.
  • Nebraska’s governor wants to cap school spending and school board taxing authority.
  • Colorado’s legislature is rigorously studying its school funding system, laying the groundwork for future action.
  • Arizona will soon implement a wonky but consequential shift in the way it counts students and is pondering big changes to public education revenue streams.

While funding alone cannot guarantee great outcomes, unstable, inadequate, or poorly-designed funding systems fail to create a solid foundation on which great things can be built.  

As these states (and all states) deal with these big funding questions, here are five things to consider:

1. Equity should drive the framework for state funding systems.

Allocating school funding and establishing and holding schools accountable for learning standards are two primary functions of states as the guarantors of the right to education. The ability of all schools to deliver on that guarantee depends on the equitable distribution of resources supporting them. Most, if not all, state funding systems are fundamentally geared to address equity, but those gears get sticky when policymakers add elements aimed at addressing other priorities, often for political expediency. Legislators must always keep their eye on the ball. (Hint: Equity is the ball.)
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In Some States, Pre-K Providers That Have the Money, Keep the Money, and That’s a Problem

Charter schools should offer pre-k. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can’t. One reason they can’t: Policies in ten states privilege existing pre-k providers. When these states allocate pre-k funding, they allocate funding first to providers that are currently serving children, leaving little — if any — funding for charter schools that aren’t existing providers, which many aren’t. So the providers that have the money, keep the money. Continue reading