Friday, June 8, 2018

THIS AND THAT FOR JUNE

There's a lot to catch up on in education, economics, and demographic info from around the web. Here are some of the articles that caught our eye in the past few weeks.

Teacher Uprisings Explained

The Numbers that Explain Why Teachers are in Revolt, by Robert Gebeloff, comes from the NY Times' Upshot Research Blog. In the article uses data to show how funding practices across the country have led to the statewide teacher job actions in a number of states. 

Gebeloff writes: "But while the protests are spreading this year, the underlying conflict between public school employees and policymakers has roots in decisions made during the last recession, when  states and local districts short of cash curtailed education spending for the first time in decades."

Can't They Just Move?

In another Upshot article, Emily Badger explains why many people who struggle financially don't just up and move to another community where rent is more affordable. Here's a selection from her article, "Why Don’t People Who Can’t Afford Housing Just Move Where It’s Cheaper?" :

"People who struggle financially often have valuable social networks — family to help with child care, acquaintances who know of jobs. The prospect of dropping into, say, Oklahoma or Georgia would mean doing without the good income and the social support. Those intangible connections that keep people in places with bad economies also keep people in booming regions where the rent is too high."

Still More Bad News About Vouchers

The newest evaluation of a voucher program comes from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Evaluation in the form of an analysis of the Washington, D.C. voucher program (called the Opportunity Scholarship Program). The federally funded program provided scholarships for low-income students to attend a private school.

Though the research team, headed by Mark Dynarski, found that voucher recipients and their parents had a positive perception of school safety after two years in the program, they also found that:

"The OSP had a statistically significant negative impact on mathematics achievement after
two years. Mathematics scores were lower for students two years after they applied to the OSP (by 8.0 percentile points for students offered a scholarship and 10.0 percentile points for students who used their scholarship), compared with students who applied but were not selected for the scholarship. Reading scores were lower (by 3.0 and 3.8 percentile points, respectively) but the differences were not statistically significant..."

Demographic Changes by County

Kim Parker writes in the Pew Research Center blog about demographic changes in the United States, and provides an interactive map  that allows you to search for counties across the country and view comparative data. There's also an excellent article that summarizes the changes. From the article:



A Forgotten but Important Desegregation Case

In the Atlantic, William Stancil writes about Green v. New Kent County, the lawsuit that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and established the basis for many of the most famous busing conflicts of the 1970's. His article, entitled The Radical Supreme Court Decision That America Forgot provides an interesting look at the decision and its ramifications.






Friday, May 18, 2018

WHAT'S IN A SURVEY QUESTION?

Last month, several Boise School District Trustees attended the Boise Chamber of Commerce 2018 Leadership Conference in Sun Valley. A couple of Board members went to a presentation by Boise State University personnel in which they showcased their latest survey (December 2017, 1000 respondents, +-3.1% error margin) results. Here's one of the slides the BSU folks used with respect to preparation:


Wow, not good at all. 29.3% of statewide respondents categorized college preparation efforts as "excellent" or "good". The percentage of "excellent/good" responses for the Boise Metro area was even lower, at 29.0%.

Interestingly, BSU's survey used "fair" as a category, and fully 39% of respondents chose that category for the college prep question. What does "fair" mean to you? Decent? Okay? We aren't sure it's an appropriate category, or that it should be grouped with "poor". But maybe that's just splitting hairs.

However, in the run-up to the 2016 bond measure, we did some polling (300 parents + 300 voters, +- 5.6% margin of error)) in the community with the help of a professional polling group. When they asked a similar question, the results looked very different:


So in this poll the choices are better differentiated. "Very well" was the top choice, "Pretty well" was next. And the two choices associated with "dissatisfaction" were "not too well" and "not at all well".

When the choice of "don't know" is included in the data, 68% of those surveyed chose one of the two "positive" choice. When we factored out the "don't know" responses, the percentage choosing the two "positive" choices rose to 85%.

Admittedly, this poll question asks about "preparing students for a career", so it's a bit less focused than the BSU question on furthering their education". However the difference in response patterns is stark.

However, it's tough to know which of the polls was a more accurate reflection of patron/citizen feeling, since the results differed so dramatically. Perhaps the wisest course, especially considering the accuracy (or lack thereof) of recent state and national polls is to regard polling data with healthy skepticism!


THE DISAPPEARING STUDENTS

Last week, Idaho Education News did a story entitled "It's a First-Class Finish for  Charter's First Class"about the graduating class at North Idaho Stem Charter Academy, a school in Rathdrum, Idaho.  Seems that, among its first graduating class of 7 students, all have been accepted to and will attend college. One each will attend Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Idaho State University, the University of California - Berkeley, and two will head to North Idaho College. Very impressive results for these 7 students.

However, a little digging into enrollment patterns revealed that, when this class was in the 7th grade, there were 30 students enrolled. That means that 23 of the charter's Class of 2018 (77%) left the school before graduation. And that pattern appears to be continuing for the Classes of 2019 and 2020.





The folks at Idaho Ed News indicated that NISC is a "difficult school" and thus has a high attrition rate.  But public schools are charged with serving all students, providing a thorough and adequate education for each and every one, and differentiating instruction where it's needed.   There are a number of schools in the state of Idaho, including nearby Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, that do just that. If the school chooses not to serve all students, it's really a private school.

Terry Ryan, Executive Director of BLUUM, the charter advocacy organization, echoed what IEN staff said and also gave this explanation: "some of these students...want more extracurricular activities, especially competitive sports, than these schools are able to offer."

That's a fair explanation that makes sense. Lakeland High School offers music, arts, Career-Technical education coursework, a variety of sports and activities, clubs, Advanced Placement and other accelerated offerings, and a number of electives for students. 

There are many other charter schools in the state that see the same sort of enrollment loss as classes move toward graduation.




A Comprehensive Curriculum

It is true that school districts of some size have more flexibility to offer a variety of classes than do charter schools. So you'd expect some high school students who want more than the "specialty" of the charter (arts, "harbor method", STEM, International Baccalaureate, for example) to move back to the local district for that flexibility.

However, some districts provide a "comprehensive liberal arts curriculum" down into the elementary grades.  For example, Boise District students participate in choir from the earliest days of elementary school, and band and orchestra begin in the 5th grade. If parents choose an alternative such as a charter, their students may miss out on the best music instruction in the northwest. 

Differentiation in math begins in elementary school, as well. Many 5th and 6th graders are enrolled in accelerated math curricula, taught either at the junior high school or in their elementary school. This coursework puts students on the path for Advanced Placement Statistics and Calculus courses, which often satisfy key college entry criteria. In science, as well, acceleration begins in junior high, and can lead to AP Physics C coursework in Electricity and Magnetism, for example.

There are many choices available for parents and children in education these days. Choosing wisely involves investigating the opportunities and the drawbacks that may come with those opportunities.







Wednesday, May 9, 2018

ADVANCED PLACEMENT 
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION

Since we are immersed in Advanced Placement testing in the Boise District, we thought it might be interesting to do a little research on the demographics of test-takers in the District. Following are some of our findings.

Grade Level Distribution of Test-takers is Changing

A couple of years ago we wrote that more sophomores are taking Advanced Placement exams. That pattern is continuing.


As you can see, many more sophomores are taking exams now than have in the past.  The number of sophomores participating in AP testing has increased by over 250%.

As a share of total exams, here's the distribution by grade level in 2012:




Now note how much it changes by 2017:





The percentage of sophomores taking exams almost doubled in six years. Why? Well, mostly because all four comprehensive high schools have opened up additional sections of the two courses most often taken by 10th graders - AP Human Geography (280 exams in 2017) and AP World History (276) - because the two courses are so popular.

Note too that the percentage of exams taken by 9th graders has also grown - this is primarily due to sections of AP Human Geography being offered at North and Hillside Junior High.

The most popular AP exams are those which are the highest level of a required course. For example, AP English Language and Composition (607 test-takers in 2017) satisfies the junior English requirement, and AP Literature and Composition (366) does the same for the senior English requirement. AP U.S. History (315) satisfies a Social Studies requirement, and AP Government (276) satisfies another. 

Gender

More Boise District females (54% of participants) took AP exams overall in 2017 than did males (46%). Females also took 52% of the AP exams given in 2017. This pattern is similar to that of the national AP program.

Among the 16 exams with more than 100 participants, more males participated than females in only 5 exams - Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Chemistry, Physics 1, and Computer Science Principles. The widest participation margins were in Computer Science Principles, for which 70% of the participants were male and Psychology, for which 66% of the participants were female.

65% of exams taken by male students were scored at the level of "3" or above, a "passing" score. 61% of the exams taken by females received a "passing" score.

Ethnicity

Over 98% of 2017 exams were taken by students who identified as one of the three ethnic groups in the chart below.  78% of exams were taken by white students (includes middle eastern students), while white students represent 77% of the high school population. 11.6% of exams were taken by Asian/Pacific Islander students (5.5% of the population), and 8.4% were taken by Hispanic/Latino students (10.5% pf the population). Less than 1% of exams were taken by Black students, though they represent about 4% of the population, and a significant number are refugee students.




Boise's passing percentages compared with the nation are interesting. Our Asian/Pacific Islander students' passing percentage is about 5% lower than the national percentage, while the percentage for our white students is about the same as the nation. However, while there's a passing percentage gap for Hispanic/Latino students compared with the Total, their overall passing percentage if 11% higher than in the nation as a whole.


























Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THIS AND THAT FOR MARCH

Here are several interesting articles around the web in the last month that you might enjoy:

More Voucher Research - and It's All Bad

If you have not heard, House Bill 590, the "scholarship" bill that would have ushered in vouchers to the state of Idaho, was held in the Senate Education Committee. Every education stakeholder with the exception of the Charter School Network and Bluum
(essentially the same organization operating under the Albertson Foundation umbrella) opposed the bill, including the Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Education Association, and the Idaho Board of Education.

In some form, this bill will likely be back, no matter how bad an idea it represents. But two new articles cast further aspersions on the idea of vouchers. "Congressional legislation seeks to fund school vouchers for military families — despite major opposition from military families" was featured in Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post. Remember that vouchers for military children were part of Idaho's failed attempt in HB 590.

A new summary of the failure of vouchers around the country comes from the Center for American Progress, and is titled "The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers". The article, by Ulrich Boser, Meg Benner, and Erin Roth, highlights the negative impacts of vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and then adds in the Washington D.C. program's failures. The authors make this remarkable statement:

"How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine. Indeed, according to the analysis conducted by the authors of this report, the use of school vouchers—which provide families with public dollars to spend on private schools—is equivalent to missing out on more than one-third of a year of classroom learning."

The Upshot: Aging America, Reach of Racism for Black Boys

In "Why Outer Suburbs in the East and Midwest Have Stopped Booming, NY Times Upshot contributor Robert Gebeloff paints a picture of how increasing numbers of suburbs are aging and seeing more deaths than births.

“It is one of the biggest puzzles of my career as a demographer,” said Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who has studied the various components of population change for years.  “Each year when new data comes out, I expect to see a significant uptick in births, but I have yet to see it.”

It's interesting to note that we have focused a few times on stagnant kindergarten numbers statewide that have led to stalled overall enrollment.

The Statesman carried this article , but if you missed it, "Extensive Data Shows Punishing
Reach of Racism for Black Boys" is fascinating. Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce, and Kevin Quealy write about the results of a wide-ranging and groundbreaking study led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty. The study itself covers considerably more ground than does the New York Times article, and is definitely worth a read.

From the study summary:

"Among those who grow up in families with comparable incomes, black men grow
up to earn substantially less than the white men. In contrast, black women earn
slightly more than white women conditional on parent income. Moreover, there is

little or no gap in wage rates or hours of work between black and white women."

Generational Analysis from Pew

The Pew Research Center publishes some excellent demographic research. "How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago" , by Richard Fry, is a great example. Fry provides information about work habits, education, marital status, service in the military, and urban-rural living status.

For example, here's a screenshot of an interactive chart in the article. You can see that this shot is of ethnic distributins for the generations in 2017. There are a number of other comparisons to view, as well.



Op-Ed on School Choice

Natalie Hopkinson is a Professor at Howard University, and a resident of the District of Columbia. In this HuffPost op-ed entitled "School Choice’ Is A Lie That Harms Us All", she writes about her personal struggle with choice and avoiding D.C public schools, and the realization she has come to about education in America.

She pulls no punches:

"Parents and policymakers need to overcome the collective amnesia that has taken root in our society about the long, sordid story of school choice. So many of the choices that we make, personally and collectively, are about running away from this history. At some point, instead of fleeing and hunting for the next shiny scheme, we have to stay and conquer the inequities and disadvantages that have continued to accumulate in this country.  


If we think we can all outrun it, I have some bad news."







Monday, February 26, 2018

EVIDENCE RELATED TO VOUCHERS 
AND TAX CREDIT SCHEMES


Last week, Representative Vander Woude from Nampa introduced into the House Education Committee House Bill 590, the Guided Education Management Act. The bill proposes setting up a "scholarship fund" by which contributions may be made to a non-profit for the purpose of providing for education needs just about anywhere other than in a public school.  

The bill specifies that students who enroll using the GEM Act shall be from one of four groups:

  1. students who meet the federal free/reduced lunch criteria
  2. students with a disability
  3. at-risk youth
  4. youth whose parents are active-duty military or who were active-duty and were killed in the line of duty.
The Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, and Idaho Education Association recently published a position paper opposing the establishment of voucher or tax credit programs in Idaho, under the headline Private School Vouchers are Wrong for Idaho. Chief among the reasons the authors cited for their opposition were:

  1. Idaho is already 49th in spending for education, and can't afford any further erosion of its support for public education
  2. We need to wait until we see the effect of the new 529 rules in federal tax code, which allow for tax credits for contributions for k-12 private schools
  3. Many requirements for public schools are not applied to private schools:
    1. they admit who they want to admit
    2. they typically do not provide meals, transportation, or special education services, which are hallmarks of equity for students
    3. though the tax credit bill would primarily affect enrollment in urban districts where private schools are located, the consequential tax revenue loss would affect rural districts as well.
THE LUNA LAWS REVISITED


This proposal reminds us a bit of the run-up to the Luna Laws. Here are two of the main issues with the proposal:

  1. Voucher programs don't work, just as Pay for Performance and Replacing Teachers with Computers, two of the Luna Laws, were contrived reform mechanisms with no research backing.
  2. If Arizona is any example, the voucher proposal could tear apart the coalition that's been working to improve education since 2011. 
Let's examine these issues a bit more in detail.

Voucher Programs don't work

What we sometimes miss in emotional debates is the research supporting or disputing the merits of the proposed reform. There have been some major research studies done on voucher programs around the nation. The conclusion is that vouchers typically lead to lower achievement among the students that use them to attend private schools.

INDIANA has the largest voucher program in the country, initiated by Governor Mitch Daniels, and continued and expanded by Governor Mike Pence. The state’s program requires that schools which accept voucher students administer standardized assessments, so it was possible for researchers to analyze results. In a large study of academic effects, researchers found that In mathematics, voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading”  (results summarized in a New York Times article).

LOUISIANA implemented a voucher program known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program for students at or below 250% of the federal poverty line in 2011-12. A study by the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans  and another by the Brookings Institute's Mark Dynarski found that students who used the vouchers to enroll in private schools experienced a net loss in achievement over the first two years of the program, though performance improved somewhat in the second year.

OHIO’S voucher program, known as EdChoice, was studied by researchers from the Thomas B.Fordham Foundation, a conservative group that promotes school choice. The researchers found that scores improved for students eligible for the voucher program, but not for those who actually used vouchers to attend private schools.

MILWAUKEE'S voucher program is the oldest in the country. Charlie May reports in Salon about the results of a  Wall Street Journal analysis of the data (sorry, the whole story is behind a paywall) which sparked the article's title, "Milwaukee proves that private school vouchers don’t make much of a difference".

With the research largely showing lower achievement for voucher recipients, it's hard to understand why this type of choice is considered a good idea.

The Post Luna Laws Coalition - Will it Break Apart?

Arizona is kind of a mess right now. A tax credit bill remarkably similar to Idaho's proposal passed there last year, and now voucher proponents in the legislature and the Governor's office want to expand it. But an organization known as Save our Schools Arizona  collected over 110, 000 signatures to defer proposed legislation to a ballot measure. The Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey,  noted that he does not plan to play "small ball" on his voucher program to a Koch sponsored gathering in California in January.  Is this ringing a bell for those of you who were here in 2011? 

Since the repeal of the Luna Laws in 2012, parties from across the spectrum have forged a coalition which has supported public education. The K-12 Task Force, commissioned by Governor Otter, made a number of recommendations, many of which have been implemented. Among the achievements have been:


  1. Monumental Career Ladder legislation which has increased salaries while holding districts accountable for teacher evaluations.
  2. Leadership stipends that have made a huge difference in the ability of districts to compensate employees for extra duties involving governance of schools.
  3. Advanced Opportunities programs for students to take college coursework while in high school, whether it be Advanced Placement or Dual Credit.
  4. Fostering educator involvement in committees sponsored by the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education.
  5. Strengthening of support for Career Technical Education programs around the state.
There are many other achievements, along with a lot more work to be done. We have yet to find the answers to Idaho's low Go On rate, for example. But stakeholders are working together to find solutions, something that was not happening only a few years ago. 

Is there potential for that coalition to break apart over the voucher issue? We think there is, and quite frankly, we are worried that this issue will provide the spark for another fracture in Idaho's education system. And we don't want to see that happen.






Monday, February 19, 2018

THE FOLLY OF RANKING SCHOOLS BASED ON TEST SCORES ALONE

Down at the Capitol, we sometimes hear from legislators about how schools are measuring up, using SBAC or SAT or even IRI scores. Recently, we heard that the Boise District had several "low-scoring" schools on the 2017 SBAC.

As the research has shown, results on assessments such as the SBAC correlate highly with poverty. In fact, one study showed that scores could be predicted accurately by rank ordering schools based on poverty.

So, what of the claims about "lowest-scoring" schools? Are they true? If so, what factors are involved?

We looked at the 10 lowest scoring schools on the 3rd grade SBAC in Reading and Math. Then we threw a bunch of them out because they were too small to yield reliable results. That's one problem with school rankings in Idaho - many of the schools are so small that the results may change dramatically even in one year.  

For example, Stone Elementary School , just north of the Utah border in Oneida County District, had the lowest average 3rd grade Reading SBAC score in the state. There are only 8 students in the school, which serves students in grades k-3. Almo Elementary, just north of the City of Rocks National Reserve in Cassia County, had the second-lowest average score. Almo had 12 students in 2017. You can see why their scores might be variable from year to year. Other schools that are not included because of small N include Meadows Valley, Grandview, Swan Valley, Lowman, Three Creek, and Arbon.

After purging the results from the smallest schools, we came up with lists of "low scorers", and looked at the characteristics of the schools. Here they are:





What do most of these schools have in common? Well, almost all have high percentages of low-income students, high percentages of Limited English students, or both. 

Students from low-income backgrounds can and do learn in school. Oftentimes, though, they enter school with a language deficit, and don't have some of the opportunities that help develop background knowledge essential for understanding complex concepts. For example, many of our low-income students may not have had the enrichment opportunities that other students have, so when a test question asks about golf greens or the Grand Canyon, they may not have a frame of reference for fully understanding the question. That's one of the reasons why the District offers opportunities like field trips and summer reading programs that build background knowledge, and it's a great argument for pre-k programs like we have at Whitney and Hawthorne.

Moreover, most of the schools on the list have high percentages of students with limited English skills. Locally, Jefferson, Taft and Garfield have large populations of refugee students, who typically will take up to seven years to fully learn the  oral and written English language and its abstractions (e.g., similes, metaphors, idioms, symbolism, etc.). These students are from many different countries, and they have provided a richness of diversity that has changed the culture of our schools for the better.

The fact is that very small percentages of Limited English students in Idaho pass the SBAC in either Math (19% at 3rd grade) or ELA (16%). The percentage is even smaller in Boise, where half of our LEP students are refugees. However, we expect that these students will continue to learn the language and will become contributing citizens in Boise. 

We'd match the instruction taking place in these schools with any in the state. Each has caring, compassionate staffs who go the extra mile for kids every day and provide excellent instruction. To label them as anything but successful is simply unfair. In fact, if you read this blog and are interested, contact us and we will be happy to take you on a tour of any of our schools. 

Will the students in these schools show growth? Absolutely. However, it's a fair question as to whether the SBAC can measure that growth, since average scores last year declined in all 14 of the SBAC Consortium states.

So, how about the characteristics of the highest scoring schools?







Well, that was predictable. None of the highest scoring schools had enough LEP students to report (the Idaho elementary average was 6%). All had relatively small percentages of low-income students (the Idaho elementary average was 54%). Collister also houses the Boise District's highly gifted (HG) program, and Sorenson is a Magnet school in Coeur d'Alene.

Now, we have excellent staffs at each of these schools, as well. We also have many supportive parents who devote hours of their time supporting their children and the schools. Further, the children have conversational and intellectual opportunities at home and in travel that give them a leg up on school readiness.

All of this goes to show that it's much more complicated than simply putting together a low-to-high list of school test scores and making a judgement. Many factors come into play when considering school quality. Whether your school is Jefferson or Roosevelt or Garfield or Collister, West or South or Fairmont or North, Borah or Capital or Boise or Timberline, your children will get a great education in the Boise School District.