Monday, April 24, 2017


We found some interesting articles from around the internet for your reading enjoyment. Most of these have been referenced elsewhere by bloggers - Peter Greene at Curmudgucation, the Atlantic, and others.

More on Secretary of Education Devos

Rolling Stone Magazine recently forayed into the education arena, profiling Betsy Devos in a recent article by Janet Reitman. Betsy Devos' Holy War is an interesting portrayal of the new Secretary of Education. This article covers much of the same ground as The Red Queen from Edushyster author Jennifer Berkshire. Reitman writes:

'(But) criticisms of the new secretary of education, based on her poor knowledge of and lack of support for public schools, arguably miss the point. "Public education is the biggest opportunity for those who believe they have to save souls," says Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher of the religious right's impact on policy. "If you're looking at the merger of free-market ideology and the religious right, that is the plum to be picked."'

Economic growth in the United States: A tale of two countries

On the Washington Center for Equitable Growth website, there's a fascinating analysis of economic growth since the early 60's by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, who write:

"It’s a tale of two countries. For the 117 million U.S. adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong. And this stagnation of national income accruing at the bottom is not due to population aging. Quite the contrary: For the bottom half of the working-age population (adults below 65), income has actually fallen. In the bottom half of the distribution, only the income of the elderly is rising."

Pre-kindergarten vs. full-day kindergarten

One of the discussions that has taken place around the statehouse and among superintendents is with regard to whether pre-k programs are more effective than full-day kindergarten. Fortunately, there's a 2011 study (this is the link to the summary) by Jim Hull from the Center for Public Education that gives us information about the impact of the two programs.

The study indicates that both pre-k and full day kindergarten programs have a positive effect on student achievement. However, 

"Students who attend pre-k and half-day kindergarten are more likely to have higher reading skills by the third grade than students who attend full-day kindergarten alone. "

Here's the link to the full study.

Gary Rubinstein's Blog

If you have not had a chance to check out Rubinstein's blog, and you enjoy statistical treatments of school data, you should give it a read. Rubinstein has made a habit of debunking "miracle schools", which are schools which have suddenly shown incredible growth in achievement, and are often celebrated as successfully battling the odds.

In his most recent post, Rubinstein examines the data about the Eagle County School District in Colorado, which was celebrated by Bill Gates in 2013.

The Call to End Teacher Tenure

Here is an article by Diane Ravitch, noted educational historian, about Checker Finn's call for the end of teacher tenure. Ravitch states her opinion on Finn's position, and explains why teacher tenure is different from the practice in many colleges around the country.

Ravitch differentiates the concept of teacher "tenure" (actually called "continuing contract status"), which provides additional due process rights for teachers beginning with their fourth annual contract, from tenure, which comes with additional protections, typically at the college or university level.

Leaders, Character, and Policy

Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) wrote a thoughtful piece about administrators and policy last week that is worth a read. From his post:

"A good manager in any business or institution really has just one job-- to create conditions in which her people can do their best work. If it's raining, a good manager is out there holding an umbrella over the front-line worker; not yelling at that worker for being wet.

It's important to have an administrator who has classroom experience, who knows the regulations, who has a broad understanding of education, and all the other things search committees look for. But one of the most critical issues is character.

At this point in my career, I've worked for many administrators, and I don't remember the various policy decisions and implementations nearly as well as I remember whether they were decent people or not."

Sunday, April 9, 2017


One way to understand the effort a district puts into class size is to compare general fund per-pupil expenditures compared with average student teacher ratios. Districts in the state have different per-pupil expenditure amounts, depending on the amount of local support they receive in addition to state funding. These amounts do not include expenditures from school plant or bond funds, which are typically used for maintenance and repairs or for construction of buildings.

District Efforts with Student-Teacher Ratios

We conducted this analysis using data from the State Department of Education from the 2014-15 school year. We used district financial summaries to calculate the number of elementary and secondary full-time equivalent (FTE) positions by districts with over 100 FTE, and compared with general fund per pupil expenditures (GFPPE).

The analysis did not produce average class size figures. The elementary and secondary FTE include a number of positions that did not provide direct instruction in the regular classroom - elementary reading specialists and elementary music teachers, for example. In fact, the analysis produced student-teacher ratios instead, but in general provided a stable comparison showing effort on the part of the district to control ratios.

We decided to omit data from the analysis  for two districts whose funding levels are much higher than the norm in Idaho - Blaine County and McCall-Donnelly. Idaho's average per-pupil general fund expenditures in 2014-15 were $6302. Blaine County's GFPPE were $17,174 and McCall's were $12,426. Average student-teacher ratio (STR) in the two districts were 12.7 and 13.6, respectively - very low, as you might expect.

For the remainder of the districts, we ran a scattergram comparing the two factors which allowed us to assess the average student-teacher ratio efforts of these districts considering their PPE. The results are interesting.

It's important to understand that the chart shows STR and expenditures compared to the Idaho average; we made no attempt herein to compare to other states.

PPE and student-teacher ratios are negatively correlated (about -.7), as you might expect. In general. higher PPE districts have lower student-teacher ratios.

  • Sandpoint (LPO), Boise, Lewiston, and Moscow all have low STR and high PPE. 
  • Weiser and Caldwell, with low PPE compared with the state average, have surprisingly low STR, below the state average.
  • Vallivue and Preston have the highest STR among the districts in the comparison.
  • West Ada, and Nampa's average STR are higher than Kuna and Post Falls, which have comparable general fund expenditures.
So that's a broad brush picture of how districts use funding to deal with student teacher ratios. It's important because class size is viewed as an important factor in student success in most studies. Here's an entire website devoted to the research on class size.

Next - the third part of this series - how districts pay teachers considering the funding they have.