January 23, 2015

For Education, It’s More of the Same

Basic RGB

In Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon doubled down on the same education initiatives that have gotten us nowhere—increased funding, mandated standards, accountability tests, strong tenure laws, smaller class sizes, increased teacher salaries. This has been the strategy for the past 20 years, and it hasn’t worked.

Since 1992, per-pupil spending in Missouri has increased nearly 40 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Missouri has had state-imposed learning standards since 1993. We’ve participated in No Child Left Behind mandated testing for more than a decade. Teachers are given an indefinite contract after five years, making it difficult to remove even an ineffective teacher. In 2014, there were approximately 13 students to every one teacher. The average teacher’s salary is nearing $50,000, with a 14.5 percent match on retirement contributions and benefits that far surpass private-sector counterparts.

More of the same is not going to propel Missouri forward.

Allowing charter schools to enroll students across district boundaries, creating opportunity scholarships, reducing mandates—these are the types of policies that will create an ever-improving educational market. These are the types of changes we need.

If we truly believe that “education is the key to the economic future of our state,” as the governor suggested, then we need to re-think our policies and re-imagine what it means to have a quality public education system. Mandating, taxing, and spending will not get us to the schools that we need. We need policies that enable school leaders to be change agents who empower parents with educational options.

January 15, 2015

Missouri Ranks 33rd on New Quality Counts Report

c-minus

As they do at the beginning of every year, Education Week released their “Quality Counts” state report cards. Once again, Missouri ranks in the middle of the pack, 33rd overall with a C- grade. For regular readers of the Show-Me Daily blog, this should come as no surprise. Missouri has been stuck in the middle for years.

Why is Missouri perpetually in the middle when it comes to academic rankings? After all, we are several years into an initiative launched by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to get Missouri into the top 10 by 2020. This initiative has spawned changes at nearly every stage of education, from pre-kindergarten to teacher preparation. One could argue that these changes just haven’t had time to take root, and once they do, Missouri students will be making academic gains like gangbusters. I doubt it.

Missouri is not likely to make significant improvements, because Missouri’s education policies are predicated on getting things right—if we get certification right, teachers will get better; if we get standards right, instruction will improve; if we get accountability tests right, achievement will rise. The list could go on and on. The problem is that we don’t know the “right” way to do these things for every child and every teacher in every school, and we never will. Until our education policies shift from a “getting things right” mentality to one that fosters continuous improvement, we should not expect marketable differences in outcomes.

How do we do this? Andy Smarick outlines a nice plan in his book, The Urban School System of the Future. He starts with a somewhat controversial but true premise, “The traditional urban public school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed. It must be replaced.” Smarick goes on to substantiate this claim and offer a solution, creating an educational market where new schools regularly open and bad schools regularly close. This is how improvement happens in every other sector.

Smarick’s proposal would require substantial legislative changes, but here are two easy places for Missouri to start moving in the right direction.

  1. Allow charter schools to enroll students across district boundaries.
  2. Expand options for students by establishing an Equal Opportunity Scholarship program.

These changes themselves will not get us anywhere near what The Urban School System of the Future outlined. They will, however, begin moving Missouri toward that system of continuous improvement.

January 9, 2015

Should Missouri Use an A Through F System to Grade Public Schools?

restaurant-ratings-abc-1031

The practice of grading organizations using an A through F grading scale has been utilized by many types of industries. This legislative session, elected officials will decide if the system is right for Missouri’s public schools. Senate Bill 28 “requires the State Board of Education to develop a simplified annual school report card for each school attendance center using a letter grade of A to F.”

To understand Missouri’s current accountability system, the MSIP-5, a parent must first have access to the Internet. The Comprehensive Guide can be located using the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website. Navigating the site is notoriously difficult, especially for a first-time user. Once the document is found, the parent must read through 104 pages of confusing tables and formulas just to, hopefully, understand the accreditation process on page 56.

The table below shows Missouri’s accreditation scheme. Although there are only four categories, words like “partially accredited” are not intuitively associated with the word “underperforming,” as the letters C and D are.

accreditation

To gain a different perspective, imagine if restaurants were evaluated using the MSIP-5—“How about dinner at Barcelona in Clayton? It got an APR of 73; oh, but its MPI was Floor.” Simply saying the restaurant has three and half stars on YELP indicates the restaurant is good, but perhaps some have had a not-so-good experience.

Our familiarity with letter grades, stars, and even “$$” provides us with simple indications of the type of service we should expect to receive. States such as Florida, Oklahoma, and Indiana have developed similar A through F school grading schemes. Some criticisms state that the systems are “oversimplified” or “have arbitrary cutoffs.” With any system, including the MSIP-5, there may be questionable cutoff points.

Ultimately, an A through F grading scale would allow parents a better understanding of what a school offers, turning them into more effective consumers of educational services.

 

 

November 17, 2014

Ideas for Kansas City Schools: Pay Teachers More Sooner

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) is seeking input from parents, school staff, and the community about how it might regain and sustain full accreditation and retain and attract students. To that end, it is forming a School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) and has been seeking applicants to serve in that capacity. Previously, we shared some ideas for strengthening administration and staff. Today, we’d like to suggest at least one change to Kansas City’s teacher pay schedule: pay teachers more sooner.

As it stands, the pay schedule for Kansas City teachers starts low and provides only modest increases in the initial years. Largest pay increases come at the end of a career, in a manner to maximize pension value. As my colleague James Shuls has argued in previous posts, this is a disincentive for new and effective teachers to stay on. Dane Stangler and Aaron North of the Kauffman Foundation wrote in a March 2014 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Because most of the pension value accrues in the final years of an educator’s career, the typical new teacher in Kansas City or St. Louis does not benefit from the current system. Based on our research, we estimate the likelihood that a traditional public school teacher in St. Louis stays in the profession long enough to earn the maximum pension benefit to be about 4 percent. In other words, 96 percent of teachers in St. Louis will leave prior to reaching the full benefit and the percentage is comparable in Kansas City (approximately 3 percent).

As a result, new teachers are less likely to stay on. According to the Show-Me Institute’s Michael Podgursky, “After eight years, roughly 70 percent of teachers remain on the job. The eight-year survival rates in STL and KC are far lower, ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent.”

Podgursky’s paper urges more transparency and,

Given the relatively small share of new teachers in Kansas City or Saint Louis who can expect to complete an entire career in either district, as a strategic recruiting tool it makes more sense to raise front-end salaries, 

rather than “generous end-of-career retirement benefits.”

Certainly, there are many reasons why teachers in Kansas City and Saint Louis are much more likely to leave, and creating a more fair pension system will not solve all of them. But one thing we can do in Kansas City is to let new teachers know they are valued early on in their careers and that we want them to stay on.

November 14, 2014

Vail Lifted from Teacher Collective Bargaining Negotiations in Colorado

Colorado voters said YES to Proposition 104 last week at a ratio of 7 to 3. The ballot initiative will open collective bargaining negotiations between teachers’ unions and school boards to the public. Supporters say the new law will bring transparency to local government, allowing parents and taxpayers a look into what teachers’ unions ask for during negotiations.

Should Missouri pursue similar reform?

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Many existing agreements can be viewed on Show-Me Sunshine. Here are just a few of the hundreds of items teachers and school boards have bargained for:

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Sick days
  • Student behavior
  • Parent communication
  • Amount of time a parent may spend in the classroom
  • Paid release days for union activity
  • Hiring policies

Parents may not be aware of the restrictiveness of some of these contracts. A study by USC Associate Professor Katharine Strunk found that in school districts with more union power school boards had less flexibility in decision making. This is unnerving, as school board members are elected by citizens; teachers’ unions are not.

Perhaps if Missouri’s Sunshine Law was expanded to include collective negotiations, school boards would be less likely to give in to cumbersome demands in the presence of taxpayers and parents. In the absence of a collaborative policy, this would bring parents and taxpayers a step closer to having a place at the bargaining table.

October 30, 2014

Our Take on Amendment 3

There’s been a lot of talk about Amendment 3, which limits teacher contracts to three years and ties evaluations to personnel decisions. Some arguments against Amendment 3 are rational, evidence-based, and well thought out; others are not. In this post, we present our analysis of several arguments that have been made regarding Amendment 3. We conclude with some final thoughts on the matter.

(1) Amendment 3 will mandate more standardized tests.

Analysis: False.

Here’s what the ballot language says:

The majority of such evaluation system shall be based upon quantifiable student performance data as measured by objective criteria.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch claims:

. . . the worst thing about Amendment 3 is that it imposes an untested experiment on all local school districts in the state, requiring them to devise a new standardized test for students that becomes the primary evaluation tool for teachers. Don’t our children take enough standardized tests these days?

This is a tremendous overstatement. With the state tests that students already take and the multitude of internal assessments that districts already administer, there is no need for additional tests under this amendment. Moreover, there are other types of performance data, such as districtwide common assessments, which could fit within the Amendment 3 language.

(2) Amendment 3 takes away local control.

Analysis: Both true and false.

If we were moving from a neutral system to an Amendment 3 system, it would be a loss of local control. Of course, we are not moving from a neutral system. Current Missouri tenure laws grant teachers a permanent contract after five years within the same school district and prescribe the exact steps that districts must undertake to remove a tenured teacher. This is a clear loss of local control. Amendment 3 would remove these centrally imposed mandates and would also remove the disastrous “Last in, first out” provision.

Under an Amendment 3 system, contracts would be capped at three years. Amendment 3 would also mandate that districts make staffing decisions based on teacher evaluations. A majority of such evaluations must be based on student performance data. Aside from this provision, districts would largely get to shape their evaluations.

(3) If there is a problem with the new system, Amendment 3 would make it difficult to change policies in the future.

Analysis: True.

How much of a teacher’s evaluation is tied to quantitative data should not be in the state constitution. Ideally, policies such as this would be determined as close to home as possible. That is, authority to determine contract length and evaluation practices should be devolved to the local school district or set in state regulations that could be changed when necessary. Even statutory changes would be preferable to a constitutional change.

Final thoughts:

Proponents argue that Amendment 3 will lead to better teacher evaluations and more recognition for great teachers. Ultimately, they hope this will create an improved teacher workforce. There is just one fundamental problem with that argument—when it comes to teacher quality, we have what is known as a principal-agent problem. That is, we as citizens (the principal) want great teachers in our schools and we hire school administrators (the agent) to make sure this happens. If the agent does not do his or her job, there is little we can do about it. Ultimately, we are dependent upon the school administrator for hiring the right people, evaluating them effectively, and retaining the most effective teachers. If a school administrator lacks the will to remove low-performing teachers, there is little that parents can do about it. Amendment 3 does not change our fundamental principal-agent problem. It may remove tenure restrictions, but if school administrators lack the will, then nothing will change.

The only way to change this dynamic is through greater school choice. With school choice, a parent does not have to depend on an administrator to remove an ineffective teacher. The parent can simply choose to go somewhere else. This places pressure on school administrators to take a more active role in managing the teacher workforce. School choice is the answer to our principal-agent problem. School choice is the answer for improving the overall quality of the teacher workforce.

James Shuls contributed to this post.

October 23, 2014

An Idea for Kansas City Schools: Give Principals Power

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) is seeking input from parents, school staff, and the community about how it might regain and sustain full accreditation and retain and attract students. To that end, it is forming a School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) and has been seeking applicants to serve in that capacity. We have a few ideas we’d like to share about strengthening administration and staff, rewarding teachers, and empowering parents.

First, it is noteworthy that the stated purpose of the advisory committee is seemingly small ball. Their email soliciting participation asks only,

What’s it going to take for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) to regain full accreditation? What’s it going to take for your school to regain/sustain full accreditation? How can we retain and attract students?

In other words, “What do we have to do to provide the minimal state-required level of service?” We’re also suspect that they are looking toward parents and the community for ideas when there is an entire industry of specialists who have researched, written, and talked about what to do to improve schools. We at the Show-Me Institute have our own suggestions, and they aim at rebuilding world-class education in Kansas City. All our ideas have a common theme: Move power away from centralized school districts and toward students and parents.

For his 2003 book Making Schools Work, UCLA Professor and Author William G. Ouchi studied more than 200 schools in six cities and found that a school’s educational success may be most directly affected by how it is managed. The way to increase successful management, he argues, is to give schools more control over their own budget.

While schools may boast large budgets, Ouchi’s research uncovered that very little of it is controlled by the principal or the school itself. In one anecdote, he relates that a Los Angeles principal said her school had a budget of $21 million but added, “It doesn’t really matter because I only control $32,000.” Ouchi’s further research indicated that in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago the local schools only controlled 6.1 percent, 6.7 percent, and 19.1 percent of the budget, respectively.

In school districts that have seen tremendous improvements in their urban school performances, such as Seattle, Houston, and Edmonton, Canada, the percentage of the budget controlled by the local schools was 91.7, 79.3, and 58.6, respectively. This should be no surprise. Administrators, teachers, and parents at the school are best able to identify and address the specific needs of their students.

Here in Kansas City, better school management means moving the power of the purse away from the top-down centralized control at 12th and McGee streets and out to the principals at Paseo, Lincoln Prep, and elsewhere. Ouchi offers this warning to parents:

Control goes with the money. If your superintendent smiles, invites your group into his office, and tells you that he agrees with you and that he’s going to roll out a new school-based decision-making program that includes parent involvement—smile sweetly and ask him who will control the school’s budget. Don’t let him off the hook. Don’t let him think that you can be so easily fooled.

Remember, the author was chief of staff to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. He has academic credentials, but he has weathered political fights as well. And the Kansas City district appears to be doing exactly what he describes: They smile, invite people to discuss the district, but surrender none of the control that is necessary for success.

August 22, 2014

Education: A Brief History Of Federal Overreach

When Americans think of federal overreach in education, they might think of programs like Race to the Top, Common Core, or No Child Left Behind, but federal education interventions began long before the Age of Standardized Testing.

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted a series of welfare programs called the War on Poverty. One of these programs was Head Start, a program aimed at preparing low-income children for kindergarten.

Also under the umbrella of the War on Poverty, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was enacted in 1965. The purpose of ESEA was to start funding schools with federal money, but it forbade a national curriculum.

Under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, the Department of Education was founded in 1979. Just a few years later, in 1983, the American public was shocked by the findings of A Nation at Risk, a report issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education during President Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton left their mark on standards-based education in the 1990s with America 2000 (Bush) and Goals 2000 (Clinton).

In 2001, President George W. Bush reauthorized the ESEA under a new name, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education began awarding states with flexibility waivers from NCLB if they did things like adopt Common Core or evaluate teachers based on student achievement.

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_Act

In just 50 years, federal oversight in education has grown and evolved. On the anniversary of one of LBJ’s key initiatives, some are calling for even more government intervention to fix the inequalities that still plague the United States today.

But federal intervention will not solve Missouri’s education problems—just look at the results. Few would argue the education system in America is in good shape, or that every child is receiving a quality education. So why institute more government intervention?

If the past 50 years has taught us anything, it’s that Missouri needs to enter a new era of education reform, one in which choice and competition are embraced.

 

 

July 16, 2014

Kansas City Schools Adopt CEE-Trust, Sort Of

In January 2014, Joe Robertson, of the Kansas City Star, wrote the following about the CEE-Trust proposal for Kansas City public school reform to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

The plan caters to charter schools — public schools that operate independently of school districts. But they would not be charter schools. They would be accountable to the district’s Community School Office.

Funding would flow through the district, and the school operators would maintain high degrees of independence only as long as they met their performance agreements.

The central office would own and maintain the buildings, operate bus services for all the schools and coordinate a lottery-based enrollment process with a standard expulsion policy.

In a Feb. 8 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Don’t Embrace Experimental Overhaul,” the paper opposed the proposed reform:

Sustained board leadership has been a challenge for many charter schools in Kansas City. We also question whether a collection of independently run schools, some of which would enroll students through a lottery, would appeal to families looking at Kansas City as a place to live. Strong neighborhood schools in a stable district seem a more reliable option.

As for the latter question, we’ve already written about independently run schools attracting students. But on June 26, the same Star editorial board heralded the school district partnership with Academie Lafayette, writing:

An unprecedented agreement with the Academie Lafayette charter school shows an encouraging willingness to be innovative.

Plans call for the district and Academie Lafayette to start up a high school that would offer the rigorous international baccalaureate program. It would be housed at the Southwest Early College Campus at 6512 Wornall Road, and could open as early as the fall of 2015…

The move puts children and families first and represents a radical departure from the often tense relationships among traditional districts and the charter schools that states have set up as alternative public options.

The Star at first decries the “experimental overhaul” of CEE-Trust, but just months later champions “an unprecedented” “radical departure,” which seems to amount to exactly the same thing. They write that this new option “puts children and families first,” but in fact it only does so for children and families at one school. Why not everyone in the district? What is it about the children and families at Academie Lafayette that warrants special attention?

July 2, 2014

IFF Provides Map for “Quality” Charter Schools

iff widget

IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution based out of Chicago, released its latest widget last week. The widget is an interactive map, which allows St. Louisans to directly manipulate variable layers like educational attainment, non-English speakers, poverty, and age. The most stunning layer is zip code rank.

The zip code rank layer shows which St. Louis City zip codes have the most need for quality schools—the lighter the gray, the higher the need. Need is based on what IFF calls the service gap, or the difference between supply (capacity of districts designated as “Accredited” or “Accredited with Distinction”) and demand (students enrolled in district and charter schools). IFF found that St. Louis needs 18, 987 more seats in accredited schools to serve all of its K-12 students. IFF also found that 63 percent of the service gap was concentrated in six neighborhoods. With support from Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Kelvin Adams, the institution made a few recommendations, including: Encourage district partnerships with charter schools like KIPP.

This is a recommendation we support. Research points to the effectiveness of quality charter schools in urban areas, but simply saying “we need quality charter schools” isn’t enough.  The next step is to identify what a “quality charter school” is.  Harvard economist Roland Fryer points to five qualities: frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and relentless focus on academic achievement.  Schools like KIPP echo Fryer’s findings (KIPP teachers work Monday through Friday from 7:10 am to 5:00 pm and every other Saturday).

Studies like Fryer’s and real world examples like KIPP serve as a road map for building quality charter schools, but the path to quality education starts with parents.  Parents need the right tools to make the best choices for their children, and IFF’s interactive map is one of those tools.

July 1, 2014

What’s in a name?

Normandy rose

That which we call an unaccredited school by any other name would perform as well.  William Shakespeare spoke of roses, but his four-century-old logic applies to Normandy Schools Collaborative’s “nonaccredited” status.  The Missouri State Board of Education’s decision to give Normandy a “nonaccredited status” allowed the Board to take control of operations.  It essentially gave the district a do-over, but left many with questions concerning the legality of subsequent decisions:

  1. Can the Missouri State School Board set a tuition ceiling?
  2. Can receiving schools reject transfer students?
  3. Can Normandy prohibit new students from transferring?

These questions stem from the transfer law’s wording regarding unaccredited schools.   The law refers to a “district not accredited”.  According to the state board, Normandy’s new unclassified status of “nonaccredited” is somehow different than “unaccredited” (even though, non is Latin for not, non making this up).  Because of the new classification, schools like Francis Howell decided not to allow transfer students to return.   Using the same rationale, Normandy Schools Collaborative might not receive extra money from the 2015 state budget.  The additional funding is earmarked for intensive reading instruction and pre-K programs, programs meant to help low-performing, unaccredited schools like Normandy.

Normandy has a history of low-performance—low-achievement, high drop-out rates, and low college readiness.  If the goal of the state Board of Education is to give Normandy students access to high-performing, quality schools, calling the district by another name is not the answer.

June 26, 2014

Allowing Normandy Students To Return Makes Sense To The Head And The Heart

A Joint Statement From Adolphus M. Pruitt and James V. Shuls

In the fall of 2013, students from the unaccredited Normandy School District stepped out in faith. They placed their hope and trust in the hands of nearby schools, sometimes more than 20 miles away from home. Over the course of the past year, these students have overcome great obstacles to get to school in their search for better educational opportunities. Now, area school leaders have a decision to make. They can choose to honor the decisions and sacrifices of these students or they can choose to deny them access to the schools they have worked so hard to attend.

It seems clear what the decision should be.

Financially, the transfer program is a winning proposition for accredited school districts. In most cases, the transfer students – even with the lower $7,200 tuition rate that the State Board of Education set – bring more money to the district than a student moving into the district would generate. Schools are funded primarily through local property taxes and state appropriations. The local property taxes are essentially fixed, they don’t rise when one new student moves into an apartment complex, and the state provides every area school district less than $7,200 per student. Most, in fact, receive less than $2,000 per pupil from the state.

Furthermore, the $7,200 is more than enough to cover the marginal cost of an additional student. That is, it does not cost a district $7,200 to add one student to an existing classroom. As the schools have demonstrated over the past year, they have the capacity to accept and educate these students. Few have needed to hire additional teachers or faculty. They simply have been able to assimilate the students into the day-to-day operations of the school. For many schools, it simply has been business as usual.

This decision, however, is not just about the bottom line. It is a decision that has a direct impact on students themselves. We recognize that most educators enter the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of students. This is an opportunity to do just that.

Students transferring from the unaccredited Normandy School District are among the most disadvantaged students in the state. In Normandy, nearly half of the students will not graduate on time and among those who do, their future prospects are slim. With an average ACT score of 16.8, many of these students cannot even get into state colleges and universities.

Educators – teachers, principals, and superintendents – throughout the area have an opportunity to change these statistics for the transfer students. They have the opportunity to make a difference.

As representatives of the Saint Louis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank, it is not often that we find ourselves in complete agreement on an issue. On this, we stand in unity. Local school districts should reward the hard work and sacrifice of these students. Allowing them to return is a decision that makes sense to the head and to the heart.

Adolphus M. Pruitt is 1st vice president of the Missouri NAACP and president of the Saint Louis NAACP. James V. Shuls, Ph.D., is the director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute. 

Co-Signers

Joe Knodell – Executive Director, Missouri Education Reform Roundtable

Courtney Allen Curtis – Missouri State Representative (D – 73)

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