Virtual School Meanderings

March 15, 2019

Five Facts to Know About Class Size Research

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Five Facts to Know About Class Size Research

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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Five Facts to Know About Class Size Research

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It has been a factor in recent teacher strikes sweeping the nation, including in Oakland, Chicago,and Los Angeles. Uniformly popular among teachers and parents alike, class size reduction initiatives are the perpetual people pleaser of the political world, repeatedly appearing in forums such as State of the Union speeches and campaign platforms. But what does research tell us about the connection between smaller class sizes and key outcomes such as student achievement or high school graduation?

In recent years, skeptics ranging from the popular author Malcolm Gladwell and Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek have cited research to cast doubt on the efficacy and value of class size reduction reforms, launching a cottage industry of news articles boasting such headlines as Small Classes: Popular, But Still Unproven and Despite Popularity with Parents and Teachers, Review of Research Finds Small Benefits to Small Classes.

Of course, the implementation of any common reform will show varying outcomes in different instances. Responsible scholars and policymakers, therefore, insist on looking at the entire body of research. In one of the National Education Policy Center’s most often-cited policy briefs, Does Class Size Matter?, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a professor at Northwestern University, reviews the research comprehensively and reaches a clear set of conclusions. The five facts below are based on the analysis she presents in her brief.

  1. Smaller classes in early grades are associated with better test scores: The largest and most rigorous class size study ever conducted (Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, experiment) found, in no uncertain terms, that students in smaller classes of 13 to 17 students in grades K-3 outperformed their peers in larger classes of 22 to 25 studentsSTAR found that all students benefited, on average, from the 13- to 17-student classes. However, African American students and students from low-income families benefited even more. Most quasi-experimental studies reach similar conclusions. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of high-quality class size research focuses—as the STAR study did—on the early grades, so more research is needed in this area. An exception is a study that found that smaller eighth-grade class sizes are associated with higher rates of student achievement and engagement, especially in urban schools.
  2. Smaller classes in early grades are associated with better long-term outcomes: These outcomes include lower rates of juvenile crime, higher rates of high school and college completion, and increased odds of saving money, marrying, and owning a home. 
  3. Class size reduction helps, even if classes remain large: Some researchers have concluded that class size reduction only helps if class size drops below a magic number like 15. However, the preponderance of evidence suggests that reductions can improve student achievement even when class size remains as high as 40.
  4. Class size reductions make an even bigger difference for experienced teachers: Although all teachers benefit, on average, from class size reductions, experienced teachers are better able to take advantage of the smaller class sizes. With smaller classes, teachers can spend more time on instruction and less time on classroom management. They can more closely monitor student learning. They have more time to use alternative approaches to re-teach concepts to students who do not get them the first time. And they have higher-quality personal interactions with their students.
  5. Class sizes, student-teacher ratios have risen in recent years: After falling steadily for 40 years, student-teacher ratios spiked upwards around the time of the Great Recession (2008-2010), according to the most recent federal data available when Schanzenbach’s brief was published. More recent data suggests that the ratios remained flat or continued to rise through 2015 (when they were 16:1), but are projected to start declining once more this year. It’s important to note that pupil-teacher ratios are not the same as class size because some teachers do not have their own full-time classes (e.g., elementary school music teachers) or, as in the case of special education teachers, are placed in very small classes for students with disabilities. However, it is easier to calculate student-teacher ratios and this data is available, on a consistent basis, over longer periods of history. Average class size for primary school students in self-contained classes was 21.6 in 2011-12, according to the most recent available federal data. That’s up from 20.3 in 2007-08.

This newsletter 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 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

March 13, 2019

Report Advocating For More Charter School Facilities Funding Offers Scarce Rationale For Doing So

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Report’s flaws in comparison and reasoning hamper its usefulness in guiding Idaho charter school policy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Publication Announcement

Report Advocating for More Charter School Facilities Funding Offers Scarce Rationale for Doing So

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Report’s flaws in comparison and reasoning hamper its usefulness in guiding Idaho charter school policy.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Mark Weber:

(908) 358-5828

mark.weber@gse.rutgers.edu

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BOULDER, CO (March 12, 2019) – A recent report from Bellwether Education Partners contends that more funding should be given for charter school facilities. Focusing on a series of Idaho case studies, the report argues that charter schools are unfairly denied funding for the construction and renovation of their school buildings. These arguments, while focused on Idaho in this particular report, have been made with regard to charter school policies across the U.S.

Mark Weber, of Rutgers University and the New Jersey Policy Perspective, reviewed Fairness in Facilities: Why Idaho Public Charter Schools Need More Facilities Funding. He found several flaws that undermine its usefulness for policymakers looking to provide an adequate and equitable education.

The report makes comparisons of charter and public school facilities spending. But the examples it relies on are not “apples-to-apples” comparisons. It avoids discussing differences in student characteristics between the charter and public school district sectors, and it does not examine the issue of school governance and facilities ownership. This renders any statewide generalizations suspect, and it results in problematic recommendations.

The report bemoans the fact that charter school facilities are not part of local school districts’ bonds and tax levies, yet it does not acknowledge that charter facilities are often owned by private entities. Mandating that local taxpayers support charter facilities would, therefore, force them to pay for buildings they would not own.

Further, the report’s calculation of “costs-per-seat” ignores the reality that different students have different needs. For example, public district schools enroll proportionally more English language learners and students with disabilities, with one consequence being that they tend to have more support staff per pupil than charter schools. These additional staff require additional space to do their work, which may result in greater facilities expenses per pupil in public school districts than in charter schools.

Given these limitations, Dr. Weber concludes that the report provides little guidance for policymakers and other stakeholders at a time when Idaho is working to overhaul its school funding system.

Find the review, by Mark Weber, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/facilities-funding

Find Fairness in Facilities: Why Idaho Public Charter Schools Need More Facilities Funding, written by Kelly Robson, Juliet Squire, and Lynne Graziano, and published by Bellwether Education Partners, at:

https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_BFP-Idaho_CharterFacilitiesReport_Final.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are 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 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

March 8, 2019

Voucher “Myth” Report Distorts Its Questions And Its Answers

From the National Education Policy Center.

Attempt by the Institute for Justice to muster pro-voucher evidence ignores the very research it cites, presenting a simplistic and one-sided treatment of the empirical record.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Publication Announcement

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Attempt by the Institute for Justice to muster pro-voucher evidence ignores the very research it cites, presenting a simplistic and one-sided treatment of the empirical record.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Christopher Lubienski:

(217) 419-9311

clubiens@iu.edu

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BOULDER, CO (March 7, 2019) – Researchers have built a substantial body of evidence about policies that use vouchers to fund private schooling, so an honest attempt to bring together that research could have real value. But readers will be disappointed if they look to the Institute for Justice (IJ) for that report.

Christopher Lubienski of Indiana University reviewed the IJ’s report, 12 Myths and Realities about Private Educational Choice Programs. He considers the merits of each of the 12 claims, and finds that the report fails to take advantage of this body of research, instead offering little more than a simplistic and one-sided treatment of the empirical record.

Setting out 12, often cartoonishly caricatured, “myths” about vouchers, the report proceeds to systematically dismiss each myth. The evidence presented in the report is based largely on previous work from other advocacy groups that curated evidence—much of it highly questionable—on the advantages of vouchers. Accordingly, the IJ report repeats earlier advocacy claims, even when flaws in those works have already been publicly explained. In doing so, the report makes claims that are not supported, and in fact sometimes contradicted, by evidence in the sources it cites.

The report provides a textbook case of echo-chamber advocacy. Professor Lubienski concludes that it offers nothing useful in furthering our understanding of school vouchers.

Find the review, by Christopher Lubienski, at:

https://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/voucher-myths

Find 12 Myths and Realities about Private Educational Choice Programs, edited by Tim Keller and published by the Institute for Justice, at:

https://ij.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/school-choice-myths-and-realities-2nd-PRINTING-FINAL.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are 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 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

March 6, 2019

A Consumer’s Guide To Testing Under The ESSA

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Guide promotes better use of information from standardized achievement tests for educational accountability.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Publication Announcement

A Consumer’s Guide to Testing under the ESSA

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Guide promotes better use of information from standardized achievement tests for educational accountability.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Madhabi Chatterji:

(212) 678-3357

mb1434@tc.columbia.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (March 5, 2019) – Between May and August of 2018, the federal government approved 44 proposals submitted by state departments of education to meet testing and accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. As these states move towards implementing their federally approved plans for meeting external regulatory requirements for accountability, they face several challenges. They should be alert to any unexpected negative outcomes of testing on students, schools, and education systems, and they need guidelines to help them avoid test misuses. These guidelines should explain how best to apply information from the adopted tests with a mind to their design and with close attention to their purposes, technical merits and limitations.

Today, NEPC is releasing A Consumer’s Guide to Testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What Can the Common Core and Other ESSA Assessments Tell Us?, written by Professor Madhabi Chatterji of Teachers College, Columbia University.

As Professor Chatterji explains, misuse of test information in educational accountability contexts is like misreading a Fahrenheit thermometer in degrees Celsius. Such misuses can pose unexpected barriers to goals that educators and stakeholders hope to achieve in schools. Her guide analyzes current conditions in the context of ESSA—conditions that could cause serious test misuses similar to those of the past.

Her analysis finds that new testing programs, ESSA’s latest accountability requirements, and state plans combine to present “black boxes” that increase the chances for improper test uses and negative consequences for students, teachers and schools. She provides guidelines that could improve uses and transparency of test information in school rating and ranking systems that states and other educational entities plan to use in their accountability programs. The guide focuses on standardized achievement tests, other academic and non-academic measures, and combined quality indices that rate or rank schools.

A well-designed educational test is a useful tool, but it can only do so much. Under ESSA, however, many education systems are making multiple demands on a single test without due attention to its limitations, and several have proposed uses of test information at student- and upper-levels of the system without sufficient evidentiary support of validity, reliability and utility in hand. These are “Red Flags” that test users and test makers should heed, as they could lead to inadvertent test-based misinterpretations and misuses of information.

To preempt inappropriate or unjustified inferences and uses with test-based information, Professor Chatterji recommends that test users (a) specify all intended test-based inferences and uses up front; (b) avoid multi-purposing a test in ways that exceed a test’s declared purposes or reported evidence; (c) justify all planned inferences and uses of test-based data using appropriate criteria for validity, reliability and utility (see inside for definitions); and (d) seek out expert technical reviews of tests and non-academic measures before adopting these tools for accountability purposes. Professor Chatterji also offers seven additional concrete recommendations for policy makers, test makers, and education stakeholders involved in implementing accountability programs in education systems.

Find A Consumer’s Guide to Testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What Can the Common Core and Other ESSA Assessments Tell Us?, by Madhabi Chatterji, at:

https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/rd-assessment-guide

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 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

March 1, 2019

Betsy DeVos’s Proposed Title IX Regulations: A Q&A With NEPC Fellow Elizabeth Meyer

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Betsy DeVos’s Proposed Title IX Regulations: A Q&A with NEPC Fellow Elizabeth Meyer

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Newsletter

Betsy DeVos’s Proposed Title IX Regulations: A Q&A with NEPC Fellow Elizabeth Meyer

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is trying to transform how sexual harassment and assault are addressed under Title IXIn November, she released a proposed regulation that would substantially alter the rules guiding the implementation of the main federal law pertaining to gender-related discrimination in education. The regulation would replace Obama-era civil rights guidance that DeVos lifted in 2017.

The proposed changes have been controversial, attracting more than 100,000 comments (the comment period is now closed, but online submissions can be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/). Importantly, the Obama guidance was just thata letter providing guidance about how the current administration will understand and enforce the law. The current rulemaking process will change the implementing regulations for Title IX, meaning that the legal requirements themselves will change. If, for example, a college or university does not change its due process procedures to comply with the changes, then it will be in violation of the law.

In a statement, DeVos said that her intent was to ensure a “safe and nurturing environment.” She continued:

That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on. Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process.

However, many commenters have suggested that the changes are not fair in that they are tilted toward the benefit of those accused of sexual harassment or assault.

In the Q&A below, National Education Policy Center Fellow Elizabeth Meyer explains the major changes proposed by DeVos, and discusses how they might affect universities and schools. Meyer is the associate dean of teacher education at the University of Colorado Boulder. An expert on gender and diversity in schools, Meyer is the author of Gender, Bullying, and Harassment: Strategies to End Sexism and Homophobia in Schoolsand Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools. She is also co-editor of the Gender and Sexuality in Education series for Peter Lang Publishing. She writes a blog for Psychology Today.

Q: Please help our readers understand the three or four main changes from the Obama administration guidelines that are being proposed by Secretary DeVos.

A: Devos has proposed several changes to Title IX guidance since arriving at the education department. The most recent ones impact how colleges and universities respond to and investigate allegations of sexual assault. The other ones include rescinding Obama-era guidance about transgender students in K-12 schools and general guidance for Title IX coordinators, which I explain in detail here in my blog.

Q: What are the pros and cons of these changes?

A: Let me focus just on the due process changes in the proposed rule. Advocates for these changes argue that they will be more fair for the alleged perpetrator in that they limit the types of behaviors that are protected by Title IX enforcement. They also limit “interim measures” that Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) can take until a hearing can be held and a decision rendered. They argue that requiring a higher standard of proof and allowing complainants to be questioned by the alleged perpetrator will lead to better due process and fewer false claims.

Many universities and advocates for survivors of sexual assault state that these changes will make it harder to convince people to come forward and file reports, as the new guidance offers little protection and support for survivors of sexual assault. This will make it harder to respond to cases of sexual misconduct and to address related forms of sex discrimination on campus. My university, the University of Colorado Boulder, issued a statement saying that their current procedures have been developed to ensure all students get a fair process, but that the university will ensure it remains in compliance with federal law. 

Q: What are the odds that these changes will be implemented as is?

A: The comment period just closed, and the department received a high volume of responses. I don’t have faith that the department will listen to this feedback from educators, lawyers, and advocates. I predict that it will likely move ahead with the language as proposed, with minor changes at best.

Q: If implemented, how might these changes impact colleges and universities? How might they impact K-12 schools?

A: These changes primarily impact institutions of higher education, so the effect on K-12 schools is minimal as most school districts do very little in terms of Title IX enforcement. IHEs that don’t already have a robust Title IX enforcement arm will likely adopt the DeVos approach as-is and adjust their practices accordingly—to the detriment of the campus climate. Other IHEs, including my own, are likely to keep as much of their existing practices as they can, consistent with the new regulations. For instance, the proposed regulations expressly allow IHEs to choose between the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof adopted by the Obama guidance letter and a more stringent “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard. Many IHEs will likely decline the invitation to make this change out of concern that it will discourage victims from coming forward. But other elements of the proposed regulations will be required of IHEs, with the most troubling being a guarantee that the alleged assailant be allowed to cross-examine the accuser. It is easy to see how the victim of a sexual assault would shy away from putting themselves in that position.

Q: I wonder if you could help us think about how these proposed changes can best be understood within the context of the #MeToo movement and the more than 100,000 public comments submitted. How do you think this context might affect the final rule and the reaction to it among colleges and universities as well as K-12 school districts?

A: I think it is horrific that DeVos would propose such changes during an era where there is a heightened public awareness of and sensitivity to issues of sexual harassment and assault. It is clear that this administration is not attentive to defending the interests of groups who have been historically marginalized and violated by people in positions of power. I anticipate there will be some resistance from progressive educational institutions to protect the advances they have made towards safety and protection around issues of sex discrimination. For example, the Attorney General in Colorado stated: 

In its current form, the procedures required by the Proposed Rule deny survivors the dignity, equality, and equal rights to education that Title IX aims to protect,” He added that the proposed changes would require Colorado’s institutions of higher education “to undergo costly and administratively difficult changes to these well-established systems. Such disruptive changes would impose substantial burdens on Colorado (institutions of higher education), requiring the abandonment of approaches that work well—all in favor of an untested approach dictated by the federal government.

Other institutions will quickly and gladly adopt the lower standards in the name of compliance—even though it actively goes against the language of Title IX—which is to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions. By lowering this bar and changing the standards for investigations, DeVos and the Department of Education are communicating that they don’t care about survivors of sexual assault and are more interested in maintaining the status quo—which research shows is terrible in terms of sexual assault on college campuses. For more evidence on this, I encourage folks to watch “The Hunting Ground,” a powerful documentary on issues related to sexual assault and Title IX enforcement on college campuses.

This newsletter 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 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

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