Author Archives: Ashley LiBetti

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.

– – –

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.

If the Decision is Obvious, You’re Not Doing It Right

I’m a big supporter of charter schools as pre-k providers. I have a daily Google alert for “(pre-k OR prekindergarten) AND charter.” No one else really writes about charter schools and pre-k, so usually this Google alert sends me news about when and where a charter school is going to accept pre-k applications. Good information for parents, but not blog fodder.

Sometimes though, it’s exciting news. Like when Success Academy had a showdown over pre-k with Mayor de Blasio. Or yesterday, when my Google alert told me that a New Jersey charter school — the John P. Holland Charter School in Paterson — wasn’t allowed to open a pre-k program.

Often, charter schools’ pre-k applications are rejected for bureaucratic or logistical reasons, and in response I make the case again for policy reforms that get rid of those barriers. It’s all very clean because quality isn’t a consideration, and my support for charter pre-k remains unchallenged.

But this New Jersey situation is different — and much messier. It’s also a good time to remind everyone that supporting charter pre-k programs doesn’t mean blindly supporting all charters. Not all charter schools are high performing, and not all charters should offer pre-k. But in making decisions about what proposals to support and when, context is important.  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

Three More Ways to Address Silicon Valley’s Preschool Problem

Silicon Valley has a preschool problem. According to reports released this morning from the Urban Institute, low-income children in the region, particularly children of immigrants, are far less likely to enroll in high-quality preschool programs than their higher income peers. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, only 26 percent of low-income 3-year-olds and 61 percent of low-income 4-year-olds attend preschool, compared to, respectively, 52 percent and 74 percent of higher income children of the same age.

View post on imgur.com

Given the extensive research on the positive effects of high-quality early education on low-income and low-income immigrant children, the low enrollment in Silicon Valley is concerning. Through interviews with dozens of stakeholders, the reports’ authors examine the barriers to preschool enrollment, and parse out the barriers that affect all low-income families, and those that are unique to low-income immigrant families. The authors then make recommendations for addressing each barrier.

The research is comprehensive, and the recommendations are solid. But I’m proposing three more ways to to increase low-income immigrant families’ preschool enrollment. Continue reading

Don’t Ask if Head Start “Works” – That’s Not the Right Question

Head Start is an $8.5 billion federal program, which means everyone loves asking if it “works.” But that’s a useless question.

We know Head Start produces positive outcomes. There’s a substantial body of evidence showing that Head Start improves children’s learning at school entry. Other research shows that Head Start children are more likely to graduate high school and have better adult outcomes than children who did not. And a growing body of research shows that high-quality preschool programs can produce long-lasting gains in children’s school and life outcomes.

But critics of Head Start cite the same studies I just did to make the opposite argument. They have valid points. Not every Head Start program is high quality, for example, so some programs don’t produce these positive gains for students. And the Head Start Impact Study showed that Head Start’s positive effect on test scores fades as children enter the elementary grades.

Both critics and proponents of Head Start are right – which is why the “Does it work?” question is so useless. We already know the answer, and it’s not a clean yes or no. Taken all together, the available evidence shows that Head Start is a valuable program that can get better. Given, instead of asking if Head Start works, we should be asking a better question: How can policymakers and practitioners make Head Start better for children and families?

That’s the question Sara Mead and I – along with Results for America, the Volcker Alliance, and the National Head Start Association – try to answer in our new report, Moneyball for Head Start. We worked with these organizations to develop a vision for improving Head Start outcomes through data, evidence, and evaluation.

Specifically, we call on local grantees, federal policymakers, the research community, and the philanthropic sector to reimagine Head Start’s continuous improvement efforts.

Local grantees: All Head Start grantees need systems of data collection and analysis that support data-informed, evidence-based continuous improvement, leading to better results for children and families.

Federal oversight: The Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, needs a stronger accountability and performance measurement system. This would allows federal officials to identify and disseminate effective practices of high-performing grantees, identify and intervene in low-performing grantees, and support continuous improvement across Head Start as a whole.

Research and evaluation: Federal policymakers and the philanthropic sector need to support research that builds the knowledge base of what works in Head Start and informs changes in program design and policies. This will require increasing funding for Head Start research, demonstration, and evaluation from less than 0.25 percent of total federal appropriations to 1 percent, and those funds should focus on research that builds knowledge to help grantees improve their quality and outcomes.

Philanthropy and the private sector: The philanthropic sector, universities and other research institutions, and the private sector should help build grantee capacity and support the development, evaluation, and dissemination of promising practices.

Fully realizing this vision will require a multi-year commitment. There are steps, however, that Congress and the administration can take to make progress towards these goals. In the paper, we propose several recommendations for federal policy. Taken together, these actions can support Head Start grantees in using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve results for children and families.