Virtual School Meanderings

May 22, 2017

News From The NEPC: Closing Low-Performing Schools Is A Failing Reform Strategy

From the inbox late last week…

Closing schools to improve student achievement is, at best, a “high-risk/low-gain” strategy.
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Closing Low-Performing Schools is a Failing Reform Strategy

Key Takeaway: Closing schools to improve student achievement is, at best, a “high-risk/low-gain” strategy.

Contact:

William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net
Gail L. Sunderman: (443) 932-1934, gsunderm@umd.edu

BOULDER, CO (May 18, 2017) – Federal and state school accountability policies have used standardized test results to shine a spotlight on low-performing schools. A remedy offered to “turn around” low-performance in school districts is the option to close the doors of the low-performing schools and send students elsewhere.

School Closure as a Strategy to Remedy Low Performance, authored by Gail L. Sunderman of the University of Maryland, and Erin Coghlan and Rick Mintrop of the University of California, Berkeley, investigates whether closing schools and transferring students for the purpose of remedying low performance is an effective option for educational decision makers to pursue.

Closing schools in response to low student performance is based on the premise that by closing low-performing schools and sending students to better-performing ones, student achievement will improve. The higher-performing schools, it is reasoned, will give transfer students access to higher-quality peer and teacher networks, which in turn will have a beneficial effect on academic outcomes. Moreover, it is argued that the threat of closure may motivate low-performing schools (and their districts) to improve.

To investigate this logic of closing schools to improve student performance, the authors drew on relevant peer-reviewed research and well-designed policy reports to answer four questions:

  1. How often do school closings occur and for what reasons?
  2. What is the impact on students of closing schools for reasons of performance?
  3. What is the impact of closing schools on the public school system in which closure has taken place?
  4. What is the impact of school closures on students of various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and on local communities and neighborhoods?

Based on their analysis of the relevant available evidence the authors offer the following recommendations:

  • Even though school closures have dramatically increased, jurisdictions largely shun the option of “closure and transfer” in the context of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Policy and district actors should treat the infrequency of this turnaround option as a caution.
  • School closures have at best weak and decidedly mixed benefits; at worst they have detrimental repercussions for students if districts do not ensure that seats at higher- performing schools are available for transfer students. In districts where such assignments are in short or uncertain supply, “closure and transfer” is a decidedly undesirable option.
  • School closures seem to be a challenge for transferred students in non-academic terms for at least one or two years. While school closures are not advisable for a school of any grade span, they are especially inadvisable for middle school students because of the shorter grade span of such schools.
  • The available evidence on the effects of school closings for their local system offers a cautionary note. There are costs associated with closing buildings and transferring teachers and students, which reduce the available resources for the remaining schools. Moreover, in cases where teachers are not rehired under closure-and-restart models, there may be broader implications for the diversity of the teaching workforce. Closing schools to consolidate district finances or because of declining enrollments may be inevitable at times, but closing solely for performance has unanticipated consequences that local and state decision makers should be aware of.
  • School closures are often accompanied by political conflict. Closures tend to differentially affect low-income communities and communities of color that are politically disempowered, and closures may work against the demand of local actors for more investment in their local institutions.

In conclusion, school closure as a strategy for remedying student achievement in low-performing schools is at best a high-risk/low-gain strategy that fails to hold promise with respect to either increasing student achievement or promoting the non-cognitive well-being of students. The strategy invites political conflict and incurs hidden costs for both districts and local communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color that are differentially affected by school closings. It stands to reason that in many, if not most, instances, students, parents, local communities, district and state policymakers may be better off investing in persistently low-performing schools rather than closing them.

Find School Closure as a Strategy to Remedy Low Performance, by Gail L. Sunderman, Erin Coghlan and Rick Mintrop, at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/closures

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (greatlakescenter.org).

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2017 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

May 10, 2017

News from the NEPC: Examination of New York City Charter School Success Misses the Mark

From yesterday’s inbox…

Report’s use of data and analysis is inadequate to address the question of cream-skimming.
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Examination of New York City Charter School Success Misses the Mark

Key Review Takeaway: Report’s use of data and analysis is inadequate to address the question of cream-skimming.

Contact:

BOULDER, CO (May 9, 2017) – In recent years, the nation has seen a debate regarding the effectiveness of charter schools and their impact on the larger school systems in which they operate. A recent Manhattan Institute report explores the question of whether or to what extent the performance of New York City (NYC) charter schools is explained by “cream-skimming,” or drawing a group of students from public schools who are disproportionately motivated and academically accomplished.

New York Charter Schools Outperform Traditional Selective Public Schools: More Evidence that Cream-Skimming is Not Driving Charters’ Success was reviewed by Sarah A. Cordes of Temple University.

The report compares the performance of NYC’s charter middle schools with a set of selective but non-charter public middle schools. Unlike most public schools, these NYC schools consider students’ prior performance before admitting them and therefore make an interesting comparison group for charters.

Findings presented in the report suggest that, controlling for student characteristics, charter schools perform no differently in English Language Arts and significantly better in math than the selective schools. Based on this, the report concludes that the performance of NYC charter schools cannot be explained by cream-skimming.

While on its face this conclusion may seem logical, Professor Cordes notes that the report suffers from two primary flaws. First, it assumes that selective school applicants are higher performing and more motivated than charter school applicants. This is an unfounded assumption because all students are required to apply to traditional middle schools in NYC, while applying to a charter school requires navigating an additional application process. Second, the report relies on a single year of data to make comparisons of inappropriate outcomes that do not capture individual student growth—an approach that does not address either the question of cream-skimming or charter school success.

Accordingly, as an examination of cream-skimming in charter schools, this report misses the mark. Professor Cordes writes, “Addressing the question of cream-skimming in NYC charter schools will require the use of longitudinal student-level data and much more rigorous methods.”

Find the review by Sarah A. Cordes at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-nyc-charters

Find New York Charter Schools Outperform Traditional Selective Public Schools: More Evidence that Cream-Skimming is Not Driving Charters’ Success, by Marcus A. Winters, published by the Manhattan Institute, at:
https://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/R-MW-0317.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2017 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

May 3, 2017

News from the NEPC: Report on Federal Policy Regarding Transgender Youth Ignores Transgender Youth

Note this new NEPC report.

Report lacks information and guidance for school officials and policymakers about how best to integrate and serve transgender students.
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Report on Federal Policy Regarding Transgender Youth Ignores Transgender Youth

Key Review Takeaway: Report lacks information and guidance for school officials and policymakers about how best to integrate and serve transgender students.

Contact:

BOULDER, CO (May 2, 2017) – Over the past two or three years, a great deal of attention has been given to transgender issues. In the United States, the transgender population includes an estimated 150,000 transgender youth. A Heritage Foundation report argues that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 does not require schools to protect these youth from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The report also fails to provide any insight into actual gender identity policies in schools.

Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do was reviewed by Robert Kim, who is a William T. Grant Distinguished Fellow at Rutgers University, and who was until recently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

The report criticizes the Obama Administration’s decision to enforce Title IX to protect transgender students, and it urges the Trump Administration and courts to take a very different approach, keeping gender identity protections for these students out of federal laws. Yet while transgender youth are at the center of this report on gender identity policy, these youth somehow go wholly unexamined by the authors.

The report never acknowledges or addresses: (a) legal developments that support the argument that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination; (b) the near-consensus within the medical, scientific, and educational communities concerning how transgender students should be treated; and (c) other research and literature shedding light on the appropriate care for and education of transgender youth. The review also explains that the report erroneously asserts that transgender-inclusive policies will embolden men to enter women’s facilities to assault or abuse them.

What is entirely missing from this report – and what policymakers and educators urgently need — is guidance in an area that may be new or unfamiliar to them. Fortunately, many states and districts have adopted positive gender-identity-related laws, policies, and practices that answer questions and serve as useful guidance for other jurisdictions about how to successfully integrate transgender students in schools.

The review concludes that the Heritage report is simply not a research-based document on establishing appropriate policies related to gender identity. It is merely an advocacy document urging a more limited interpretation of a key federal civil rights law while never engaging with the issues facing transgender youth.

Find the review by Robert Kim at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-gender

Find Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do, by Ryan Anderson and Melody Wood, published by the Heritage Foundation, at:
http://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2017-03/BG3201.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2017 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

April 26, 2017

News from the NEPC: Report Wrongly Claims to Provide Answers on Wisconsin School Choice Policies

From yesterday’s inbox…  Note the line below that reads: “the report attempts to use a methodology known as “fixed effects” to analyze test score data in districts outside Milwaukee, but such a methodology is not possible with the data described in the report.”

Insufficient data hinders report’s comparison of relative effectiveness across school sectors.
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Report Wrongly Claims to Provide Answers on Wisconsin School Choice Policies

Key Review Takeaway: Insufficient data hinders report’s comparison of relative effectiveness across school sectors.

Contact:

BOULDER, CO (April 25, 2017) – A recent report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty attempts to compare student test score performance for the 2015-16 school year across Wisconsin’s public schools, charter schools, and private schools participating in one of the state’s voucher programs. Though it highlights important patterns in student test score performance, the report’s limited analyses fail to provide answers as to the relative effectiveness of school choice policies.

Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin was reviewed by Benjamin Shear of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Comparing a single year’s test scores across school sectors that serve different student populations is inherently problematic. One fundamental problem of isolating variations in scores that might be attributed to school differences is that the analyses must adequately control for dissimilar student characteristics among those enrolled in the different schools. The report uses linear regression models that use school-level characteristics to attempt to adjust for these differences and make what the authors claim are “apples to apples” comparisons. Based on these analyses, the report concludes that choice and charter schools in Wisconsin are more effective than traditional public schools.

Unfortunately, the limited nature of available data undermines any such causal conclusions. The inadequate and small number of school-level variables included in the regression models are not able to control for important confounding variables, most notably prior student achievement. Further, the use of aggregate percent-proficient metrics masks variation in performance across grade levels and makes the results sensitive to the (arbitrary) location of the proficiency cut scores. The report’s description of methods and results also includes some troubling inconsistencies. For example the report attempts to use a methodology known as “fixed effects” to analyze test score data in districts outside Milwaukee, but such a methodology is not possible with the data described in the report.

Thus, concludes Professor Shear, while the report does present important descriptive statistics about test score performance in Wisconsin, it wrongly claims to provide answers for those interested in determining which schools or school choice policies in Wisconsin are most effective.

Find the review by Benjamin Shear at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-milwaukee-vouchers

Find Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, by Will Flanders, published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, at:
http://www.will-law.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/apples.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2017 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

April 25, 2017

News from the NEPC: NEPC Director Kevin Welner Honored With American Educational Research Association Award

From yesterday’s inbox…

2017 AERA Outstanding Public Communication of Education Research Award goes to NEPC Director Kevin Welner.
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NEPC Director Kevin Welner Honored With American Educational Research Association Award

Key Takeaway: 2017 AERA Outstanding Public Communication of Education Research Award goes to NEPC Director Kevin Welner.

Contact:

William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net

BOULDER, CO (April 24, 2017) – NEPC Director Kevin Welner has been awarded the 2017 American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Public Communication of Education Research Award. The award honors scholars exemplary in their capacity to communicate important education research to the public, including education communities. It recognizes a scholar who has demonstrated the capacity to deepen the public’s understanding and appreciation of the value of education research in civic decision-making.

Welner is a well-known interpreter of education research for general audiences. He appears regularly in the media, presents at public forums, and has authored numerous op-ed essays on education policy topics. His work has been showcased in the Washington Post “Answer Sheet” blog as well as on NPR’s “Here and Now.” In addition he was a keynote speaker at the White House Reach Higher conference “Beating the Odds: Successful Strategies from Schools & Youth Agencies that Build Ladders of Opportunity.”

After learning of his award, Welner commented, “The accomplishments this award recognizes rest on a foundation laid over the past two decades by many others. Alex Molnar’s work at the Center for Education Research Analysis and Innovation (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory (Arizona State University); Jeanne Oakes’s work at the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (UCLA); and Ken Howe’s work at the Education and Public Interest Center (CU Boulder) have all helped make what I’m doing possible.” Welner went on to note that he works with talented colleagues on the NEPC staff and across the country. “The NEPC staff and NEPC’s 125 fellows make enormous contributions to our collective effort. Providing high-quality research and analysis in support of democratic deliberation about ​education policy is the mission of NEPC. This award tells me that we are on course.”

NEPC co-founder and Publications Director, Alex Molnar, praised Welner, commenting, “I can think of no one more deserving of this award. It is an honor to work with such a talented and ethical scholar whose enduring commitment to equity, social justice, and democratic decision-making enrich our scholarship, improve education practice, and strengthen our civic life.”

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2017 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.
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