Author Archives: Chad Aldeman

Media: “Kamala Harris’s Flawed Proposal to Help Teachers Could Make Problem Worse” in The Hill

Last month, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a plan for a federal-state partnership to boost teacher salaries. In a new op-ed for The Hill, I write that Harris’ proposal relies on flawed data on teacher pay and ignores the real factors holding teacher salaries back — namely, the rapidly rising costs of teacher benefits like pensions and health care:

Of course, teachers can’t use their health care or pension plans to pay their mortgage or buy groceries, but total compensation is still the only apples-to-apples way to analyze across sectors — especially because deferred compensation through pensions is such a fundamental aspect of teacher compensation today.

Failing to accurately account for pensions and health care obscures the extent to which these costs are crowding out resources for teacher pay. To give one example from Sen. Harris’s home state, in Los Angeles, where teachers recently went on strike, spending on teacher salaries increased 24 percent over the past decade, whereas health care and pensions increased 138 percent. Overall compensation is rising even if teachers don’t see it in their paychecks or the supports they receive in their classrooms.

While Harris’ proposal is well-meaning, it would not address the root causes for why teacher salaries have been flat for so long. Without more meaningful attempts to control benefit costs, teachers are likely to see a growing disconnect between their take-home pay and their total compensation package.

Boston’s Education System Is a Microcosm for the Country

My colleagues Bonnie O’Keefe, Melissa Steel King, and I have a new report out this week looking at recent educational trends in Boston Public Schools (BPS). Even if you’re not from Boston, Boston’s educational outcomes are on a similar trajectory as the nation as a whole. We write:

In general, Boston’s performance on standardized tests has tracked the national trends since the early 2000s, but Boston made faster progress when the nation as a whole was improving, and Boston’s slowdown in the past five years has been more pronounced. Furthermore, while Boston continues to outperform many other large urban districts, some peer cities have instituted reforms…that have contributed to more rapid progress in recent years compared to BPS. Meanwhile, BPS has struggled to make a dent in persistent racial and ethnic disparities in test scores and graduation rates. Without the launch of new and innovative initiatives to improve equity and address stagnating achievement trends, BPS could be at risk of losing its status as a national leader in pre-K-12 education.

Speaking personally, I found writing the report to be a sobering exercise. BPS was certainly busy over the last ten years — including big changes to teacher hiring practices, an expansion of pre-K, and a change to how it funds its schools, among other things — and yet student achievement scores didn’t budge. Worse, some initiatives, like a re-designed school assignment system, led to increased racial segregation and may have contributed to declines in achievement for black and Hispanic students. Meanwhile, other efforts, such as plans to deal with Boston’s aging school facilities and to create a unified school application process, have struggled to get off the ground amidst political battles and public pushback.

Boston’s education system is unique in its particulars, but the broader story is similar to what’s going on in the rest of the country. And Boston, like the rest of the country, is now at an inflection point. Boston is currently searching for its fifth superintendent in 10 years, so it will be critical for that leader to articulate a clear vision forward. While we don’t claim to have answers, we hope our report is useful to leaders in Boston and elsewhere to diagnose current trends and give some historical explanations of what happened and why. (You can also watch a live discussion of this report here.) Like Boston, the country is becoming more diverse, and any future gains will depend on how well schools are able to provide educational services to our most disadvantaged students.

Media: “The L.A. District May Owe $13.6 Billion for Health Care & Pensions — and the Strike Made Things Worse. Obamacare Is a Way Out” in The 74

The recent teacher strike in Los Angeles was mainly over policy issues like charter schools, class sizes, and other school support staff. But the agreement largely punted on lingering financial questions like what to do about the school district’s $13.6 billion unfunded obligation for retiree health benefits.

In The 74, I argue that the district should look to the Obamacare markets as one way to focus their spending on the workers who need it the most:

This is where the federal Affordable Care Act comes in. Obamacare provides subsidies on a sliding scale to individuals to purchase health insurance, regardless of age; in 2018, a two-member household earning less than $65,840, or 400 percent of the federal poverty level, would qualify for assistance. If we assume that retirees have no income sources other than their pension (teachers in California do not have Social Security), publicly available data suggest that 87 percent of LAUSD retirees could qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

As I note in the piece, there is some precedence for this. In the 1980s, LAUSD began requiring retirees over age 65 to apply for Medicare benefits, making the district benefits more of a perk than a standalone offering. Districts like LAUSD could now do the same thing with the Obamacare markets and retirees under age 65.

Are Teacher Preparation Programs Interchangeable Widgets? An Interview With Paul T. von Hippel

Earlier this spring, Education Next published an article by Paul T. von Hippel and Laura Bellows questioning whether it was possible to distinguish one teacher preparation program from another in terms of their contributions to student learning. Looking at data from six states, von Hippel and Bellows found that the vast majority of programs were virtually indistinguishable from each other, at least in terms of how well they prepare future teachers to boost student scores in math and reading.

Paul T. von Hippel

Much of the national conversation around teacher preparation focuses on crafting minimum standards around who can become a teacher. States have imposed a variety of rules on candidates and the programs that seek to license them, with the goal of ensuring that all new teachers are ready to succeed on their first day in the classroom. Von Hippel and Bellows’ work challenges the very assumptions underlying these efforts. If states cannot tell preparation programs apart from one another, their rules are mere barriers for would-be candidates rather than meaningful markers of quality. Worse, if we can’t define which programs produce better teachers, we’re left in the dark about how to improve new teachers.

To probe deeper into these issues, we reached out to von Hippel, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Bellwether: Can you start off by describing your work on teacher preparation? What compelled you to do the work, and what did you find?

von Hippel: It started with a 2010 contract that some colleagues and I at the University of Texas had with the Texas Education Agency. Our contract was to develop a pilot report card for the nearly 100 teacher preparation programs in the state of Texas. The idea was to come up with a teacher value-added model and then aggregate teacher value-added to the program level. We would then figure out which programs were producing better and worse teachers in the state, with the idea that the state would at a minimum provide feedback, encourage programs that were producing effective teachers and ideally expand them, and, in extreme cases, shut down programs that were producing a lot of ineffective teachers. Continue reading

The NBA Playoffs, Match-Ups, and Teacher Fit: An Interview with Steve Glazerman

The NBA Finals wrapped up on Friday, but they offered a nice reminder about the importance of how employees fit within an organization and context. Players who looked like All-Stars in one round of the playoffs became unplayable in the next due to match-up problems. In other cases, players who washed out in other contexts were suddenly relevant again.

Victor Oladipo

photo of Victor Oladipo via Flickr user Keith Allison

On a recent podcast, Malcolm Gladwell used the NBA playoffs as an entry point to talk about worker fit. Gladwell gave the example of NBA player Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was the second pick in the 2013 draft, made the All-Rookie team his first year, and then…didn’t quite live up to his perceived potential. He was traded once but didn’t mesh well with his new teammates, and then he was traded again, this time to the Indiana Pacers. Suddenly he looked like a different player. He made the All-Star team this year and almost took down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Gladwell’s point is that we should think much more carefully about employee fit. A successful worker somewhere may not be successful everywhere. Individuals are dependent on their teammates and organizational supports; context matters.

Steve Glazerman

How much does fit matter for teachers? Is it as important in schools as it seems to be in basketball? To learn more, we reached out to Steve Glazerman, a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research. We talked to him at the end of last month, just as the NBA Finals were starting. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.  

Chad Aldeman: You helped lead an evaluation of a federal program called the Talent Transfer Initiative. Can you tell us about what the program tried to do, whether it was successful, and what we can learn from it? Continue reading