Author Archives: Chad Aldeman

Media: “Nebraska should shift to this approach for teacher pensions” in The Omaha World-Herald

If COVID-19 causes an economic downturn anything like the last one, that means bad news for Nebraska’s teacher pension plan. In a new piece for The Omaha World-Herald, I argue that Nebraska leaders will face a tough choice. They can raise contribution rates and cut teacher benefits, like they did after the last recession, or they could extend a retirement plan the state already has in place for state employees to also cover its teachers. I suggest the latter:

In short, Nebraska is offering its state employees a better deal than it offers its public school teachers. Compared to teachers, state employees qualify for retirement benefits sooner, receive a higher employer contribution toward those benefits, and are better shielded from market downturns.

Rather than continuing to cut teacher benefits, Nebraska legislators should take this opportunity to extend its existing cash balance plan to teachers, and teachers should take this opportunity to demand better for themselves. 

Read the full piece here.

Media: “Teacher pension plans are getting riskier—and it could backfire on American schools” at the Brown Center Chalkboard

Teachers are relatively risk-averse compared to other professionals, but the pension plans covering 90 percent of teachers are taking substantial risks on their behalf. In fact, in a new piece for Brookings, I argue that risk-taking behavior by teacher pension plans has the potential to harm individual teachers and the teaching profession writ large:

The average teacher may not follow the bond markets very closely, and concepts like the risk premium taken on by their respective pension plan may feel abstract, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect the average teacher. When pension plans fail to hit their aggressive investment targets, that can create additional costs that trickle down to teachers.

You can read the entire piece at the Brown Center Chalkboard.

Media: “The Iowa Caucuses Steer Our National Priorities. But Iowa’s Education Policies Are Bad for the Nation — and for Iowa” in The 74

I grew up in Iowa. I attended public schools in Iowa.

So it pains me to say this, but the Iowa caucuses are bad for education policy. As I lay out in a new column at The 74, the policies favored by an unrepresentative sample of Iowans have an outside influence on our national politics. That has distorting effects, and not in a good way:

When it comes to certain policy areas, such as farming and agriculture, it’s easy to see how an unrepresentative sample of Iowans would result in policies that were unrepresentative of the rest of the country. Our national farm policies are at least partly shaped by the fact that our presidential candidates must kowtow every four years to local interest groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau, where my father worked when I was a kid.

The same applies to presidential contenders crafting their education policies, meaning an unrepresentative sample of Iowans play a quiet but powerful role in shaping our national educational debate. But are the education policies favored by Iowans any good? Are they worth spreading across the country?

The short answer is no. On education, Iowa is falling behind the rest of the country.

In terms of education policy, Iowa is an outlier, and not in a good way. It’s time to give other states a chance to take the lead. Read my piece here.

Media: “The 2010s May Be The Best Decade Ever in Terms of College Attainment” in The 74

I have a new piece out in The 74 this week on some good news in the education world:

College attainment rates rose just 1 or 2 percentage points per decade for the first half of the 20th century and only began to pick up in the 1970s. Although the most recent data only go through 2018, the 2010s have already seen a gain of 5.1 percentage points, more than the gains in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. If the 2010s ended anything like the decade began, it will easily be the best decade we’ve ever seen in terms of college attainment.

We just went through a decade of stagnant achievement scores, and ideally we’d see improvements in both achievement and attainment. Still, I argue it’s worth celebrating the attainment gains given their link to improved life outcomes for students.

Read the full piece here.

How Can We Extend the Reach of Great Teachers? A Q&A with Stephanie Dean on Opportunity Culture

How should we train teachers? How do we ensure that all students have access to great teaching?

Those questions are at the heart of many education policy debates. While it may be difficult to “raise the bar” on the teaching profession by erecting barriers to entry, recent studies show that teacher coaching and teamwork offer more promise as ways to help young teachers improve their practice and to create a real career ladder within the teaching profession.

Stephanie Dean

In order to find out more about how this work is going in schools, I reached out to Stephanie Dean, the vice president of strategic policy advising and a senior consulting manager at Public Impact. In that role, Dean is working with schools and districts to implement what they call “Opportunity Culture,” a way to re-organize schools into collaborative leadership teams.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about Opportunity Culture. What’s the theory behind it, and what are you hoping to accomplish?

Opportunity Culture schools create high-pay, high-impact teacher leader roles. The cornerstone role in Opportunity Culture schools is the multi-classroom leader. Districts and schools must begin with very careful selection and design. They are selecting candidates who produce greater-than-expected student growth, and they’re also looking for competencies that are needed to lead adults and students. That’s the selection side.

On the design side, a school team creates a staffing model and a schedule that ensures each multi-classroom leader — who continues to teach in some way — has time during the day to work intensively with a small team of teachers. This means time to analyze data, plan instruction with the team, observe and offer feedback, and model and co-teach. The staffing model keeps the team size small to ensure the multi-classroom leader is able to provide the level of high-impact leadership that’s needed. We’re talking about a team of 3-8 teachers, similar to the standard we see in other professions.

Two things happen in this type of school staffing design. First, the school gains a powerful group of instructional leaders. They’re powerful in the sense that a multi-classroom leader shares accountability for their team’s student learning outcomes. They know the students, they’re working with them in small groups, they’re analyzing data, and they’re in the classroom helping teachers. This model helps create a sense of “being in it together,” and ensures teachers on the team are getting relevant coaching every day to help move their practice along.

The second thing that happens in this model is that a career path emerges for teachers. Too often teachers are forced to leave the classroom to pursue advancement in their careers. We know many of those teachers would stay in classrooms if there were some way to advance.

Multi-classroom leadership means taking on an essential role in your school’s leadership team for a very large pay increase. A multi-classroom leader will see their influence spread to more teachers and students, and in return the average pay supplement they earn is $12,000. The range nationally (among Opportunity Culture schools) is from $6,000 to $23,000. Those stipends are funded out of existing school budgets, so they’re designed to last, creating a meaningful job and a meaningful pay increase. That changes the way the profession looks today and the way it looks to prospective teachers as well. Continue reading