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Mega States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the NationCalifornia, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas: Together, these five states educate nearly 40 percent of public school students and more than half of all English language learners in the land. But how well do they do this? This latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics explains. And the results are a mixed bag (nothing new to wonks who have read previous NAEP reports). California’s students gained, on average, twenty-six points in fourth-grade math since 1992, though their average scores in 2011 still lagged behind the national average. And Illinois’s eighth graders’ scores declined in reading and science—the only state where that happened. On the upside, though, Florida’s students made important reading gains: Its fourth graders improved by sixteen points, beating the national average gain (five points), while its eighth graders jumped eight points. While NAEP data are far from causal, Florida’s surge in reading may be due in part to its third-grade reading guarantee (a policy Ohio has recently adopted), and/or its Reading-First-like early-literacy initiative. Data lovers: dig in!

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Mega-States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated...

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This latest installment in CRPE’s “Making Ends Meet” policy-brief series laudably infuses a dram of reason into the class-size whirlpool. The brief counters the common and mistaken belief—spurred on by knee-jerk sensationalism and politicking—that class sizes are “skyrocketing”; rather, according to the report’s estimates, class sizes in 2011–12 were actually slightly smaller than they were in 1999–2000. This misconception aside, the authors then set out to determine if the benefits of small class sizes (more individual attention per student) outweigh the costs (both monetary and the cost of saddling students with lower-performing teachers in order to keep class sizes small). The authors demonstrate that increasing the nation’s average class size by just two students could free up $15.7 billion—enough to raise average teacher salary by $5,000 per teacher, provide a laptop for every student, or lengthen the school day in the poorest quintile of schools. Tony Bennett, heads up. (Tom Torklason and leaders of other states with class-size mandates, you too.)

SOURCE: Marguerite Roza and Monica Ouijdani, The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-By-State Spending Analysis (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, December 2012)....

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The release of this year’s Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted annually since 1984, caused an uproar: “Record low job satisfaction among teachers—down 23 percentage points since 2008!,” a typical headline might have read. While a drop in teacher satisfaction is nothing to sneeze at, upon closer inspection, the degree to which this is the case may be overblown. In an insightful article, Bellwether Education’s Andy Rotherham pointed out that the wording of the question aimed at gauging teacher job satisfaction was altered: In 2008 and 2009, teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?” In 2011 and 2012, the survey queried, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?” Hence, this five-year “trend” appears to be based on survey methods that can be fairly dubbed “questionable.” The numbers bear this out: In the eight years that teachers were asked the “career” question, an average of 53 percent responded that they were “very satisfied”; in the six years that they were asked the “job” version, the average was 41 percent. Still, the decline in job satisfaction marked between 2011 and 2012—5 percent fewer teachers responded that they were “very satisfied”—is cause for some concern. Whether related to heightened accountability or tightened budget belts, this trend may carry consequences for the reform movement in the years ahead.

SOURCE: Harris Interactive, The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for...

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GadflyWith just a few hours left before automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts take effect, the odds seem slim that Congress will pull a rabbit out of this hat. But despite the Obama administration’s doomsday rhetoric (40,000 teacher layoffs, a huge blow to Head Start, and seven of the ten plagues), the reality seems—if not optimal—manageable. School nutrition programs, Pell Grants, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families won’t be cut, and most school districts won’t feel the pinch until the beginning of the 2013–14 school year. And when they do, it will be minor (perhaps 2 percent of their budgets in most cases). In other words, it’s a great opportunity to stretch the school dollar.

On Monday, President Enrique Peña-Nieto signed Mexico’s most sweeping ed-reform bill in seven decades into law. Mexico will now use uniform standards for hiring teachers, require merit-based promotions, and enjoy the ability to draw the first census of Mexico’s education system (because the 1.5 million-member-strong teacher union controlled the system, no one knew exactly how many schools, teachers, or students existed). One day later, police arrested Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful head of said union, for embezzling as much as $160 million from union coffers. Did we mention that Peña-Nieto is from the PRI, the party that has leaned on the teacher union as a pillar of support for decades? President Obama’s got nothing on...

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Balancing budgets in austere times requires hard tradeoffs; for schools (especially those hamstrung by restrictive collective-bargaining agreements), this often means nixing extracurricular and non-academic programs like music, the arts, or after-school athletics. This analysis by Jay Greene and his University of Arkansas colleague Daniel Bowen details how such an approach may be short-sighted. In an analysis of 657 Ohio high schools between 2004–05 and 2008–09, Greene and Bowen find that a school’s percentage of students participating in sports is associated with higher overall student performance and increased graduation rates. Specifically, the analysts find that a 10 percentage point bump in a school’s winning record (for football and boys and girls basketball) is associated with a 1.3 percentage point increase in said school’s graduation rate—and a 0.25 point bump in the percentage of students scoring proficient on the state test. Further, adding one sport to the available options for students (and controlling for multi-sport athletes) raised the graduation rate by 1 percentage point and the proficiency rate by 0.2. When ten additional students signed up for an athletic team, the school’s grad rate also increased by 1.5 percent and its percent proficient by 0.4 points (this all after controlling for school size, student demographics, and per pupil expenditures). While these results are relational, not necessarily causal, district leaders should take heed. Cutting sports programs may inadvertently fray a school’s academic prowess.

SOURCE: Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene, “Does Athletic Success Come at the Expense...

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Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate AccountabilityThis new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education offers a troubling diagnosis: The thirty-five “NCLB flexibility” waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) may have had the unfortunate side effect of allowing states to skirt 2008 regulations that standardized the graduation-rate measurements and held schools accountable for raising those rates. Trivial this is not: Prior to these changes, reported graduation rates were often inflated and always difficult to compare (just like proficiency rates). The 2008 regulations set parameters for consistent, common graduation-rate calculations across schools, districts, and states. Through their ESEA waivers, however, eleven states have re-incorporated “alternative” measures of high school completion (e.g., the GED) in their graduation-rate tracking and reporting, possibly incentivizing schools to “push students towards a GED rather than a standard diploma.” The 2008 policy exposed the low graduation rates of pupil subgroups (minorities, English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities) that had previously been masked by averaging the student population; but eleven state waivers contain weak or no strategies for subgroup grad-rate accountability. An intriguing question—not considered here—is whether the 2008 regulation was responsible (at least partially) for the recent uptick in the national graduation rate—and whether the waivers will send that rate tumbling again. The permanent policy question remains: Which aspects of American education should...

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Do students of a feather flock together, or are kids more like chameleons? This new study contends the latter, via evidence suggesting that students whose grades are higher or lower than their friends’ tend to become more like their peers over time. The researchers (members of a partnership between the National Science Foundation and a team of high school students) surveyed 158 teens at New York’s Maine-Endwell High School on the identities of their best friends, friends, and acquaintances, yielding three “social networks”; the authors then tracked all of these individuals’ GPAs over one year to compare their achievement with those in their networks. The results: Students whose peers outperformed them at the start tended to do better by the end of the year, while those whose peers underperformed them were more likely to see their grades slip. This effect was stronger among friends than among acquaintances or, oddly, best friends. The authors theorize that academic habits are “socially contagious” in much the same way as are fashions and fads (though they note that it could simply be, for example, that students “on the way up” tend to seek out and attract higher-performing friends—ditto students who are beginning to slide). Still and all, such findings may have important implications for ed policy. For instance, while lower-performing students may benefit from the company of stronger performers (at least if they become friends), could such mixing wind up harming high performers? We eagerly await more research on this issue. Meanwhile, we’re...

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GadflyIn a futile effort to counter the influence of test-preparation companies, New York City’s education department changed part of the test it administers to four-year-olds to determine whether or not they are gifted and talented. For parents who cannot afford to send their child to one of the city’s myriad private schools, a coveted and scarce seat in a public school gifted program is the best start they could give to their children. While many lament the unjust advantage that students with access to test-prep programs obtain, the true tragedy is the dearth of suitable options for all of the gifted children. For more, listen to this week’s Gadfly Show.

Eliciting a keen sense of deja vu, this year's AP Report to the Nation—College Board's tracking of AP course-taking patterns and exam pass rates—offers the same three takeaways as last year's report: Participation rates in the AP are fast on the rise (up 2 percentage points since last year and 14 since last decade). So are AP exam passing rates: up 1.5 percentage points since 2011 and 7 points since 2002. Still, minority involvement flounders, with less than a third of "qualified" Latinos and African American (as decided by PSAT scores) enrolling in an AP course. Expect further unpacking of what these numbers may mean for Common Core implementation, college-remediation courses, and more next week.

The congressionally mandated Equity and...

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Milwaukee: Saved by Act 10 For Now

Michael Gove, the British Secretary of State for Education, is a man who reads serious books on education and follows their arguments. In a remarkable recent speech, he mentioned some of the intellectual influences that have caused him to shake up the British education world by insisting that students begin learning facts again. One of those influences was my UVa colleague Daniel Willingham, and he even quoted from my 1996 book. But he said that the greatest intellectual influences on his educational thought were the writings of Antonio Gramsci. So here we have a Tory cabinet minister singing the praises of one of the most revered Communist thinkers of the twentieth century. What gives?

I don’t doubt that Michael Gove might have an impish sense of humor and take pleasure in suggesting to his shadow opponents in the Labour party and in the anti-fact party of educators: “Look, I’m just supporting what the most profound leftist thinker of the twentieth century had to say about education.” But Gove’s main aim was deadly serious. Gramsci was an astonishingly prescient and penetrating thinker whose work is all the more remarkable since it was written under depressing conditions—in prison, where he languished because his writing and journalistic work in the 1920s were so cogent and influential that Mussolini’s fascistic...

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CANCELED: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
5:30p.m. - 7 p.m. ET*
Columbus International High School...

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