Friday, December 21, 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas

It's my last pre-Christmas blogging day, so I offer you the edu-version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Next week, I'll be taking a blogging break from Monday-Thursday, and my colleague skoolboy will take the reigns and write about class size. I'll be back on Friday to comment on his posts.

Enjoy the holidays, everyone!

On the twelfth day of Christmas
eduwonkette gave to me
12 spinners* humming (NYC DOE)
11 schools* I'm wiping (Jim Liebman)
10 lords a leaping (Ms. Frizzle)
9 bloggers blogging (see list below)
8 classes shrinking (Leonie Haimson)
7 days of swimming (KIPP)
6 years not paying (Michael Rebell)
5 golden rings! (Roland Fryer)
4 fighting words (Whitney Tilson)
3 loaded pens (Elizabeth Green)
2 boxing gloves (Diane Ravitch)
And a session in ther-a-py. (Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein)

1) Klein/Weingarten relations have chilled since the announcement of the "Teacher Performance Unit." See her NY Sun op-ed here.
2) After the Kathy Wylde attack, Dave Bellel offered this graphic.
3) Elizabeth Green is bringing investigative reporting back to NYC. You go, girl.
4) Whitney Tilson is angry. I am not sure why.
5) Roland Fryer is gifting ring (tones) to NYC kids.
6) Michael Rebell has been waiting for payment since a 2001 decision.
7) Lots of recent internet chatter over the KIPP trips. Some links here.
8) See Class Size Matters.
9) 9 great NYC edu-blogs: NYC Educator, Edwize, Ednotes, NYC Parents, NYC Students, insideschools, Dave Bellel, Ms. Frizzle, jd2718.
10) Ms. Frizzle is my favorite lady blogger, and per this post, she deserves many leaping lords. (Sidenote: A-Rus is my favorite manly blogger, but he is currently mad at me.)
11) 14 schools are closing, not 11 - but there are not 14 days of Xmas.
12) We actually need 15 days of Xmas here - at the Panel for Education Policy meeting, we learned that the NYC Dept of Ed press office employs 15 spinners. (5 of 15 make $115,000 or more; head spinner David Cantor makes $158,603 a year.

PS - Also check out NYC Parents' remix of "The Night Before Christmas" and edspresso's grinch poem.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cool people you should know: Marigee Bacolod

Marigee Bacolod is a labor economist who teaches at the University of California - Irvine. She is doing really important work on teacher labor markets. Below, I excerpt three key findings from a recent paper published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, which you can find here:
  • "Work conditions play a relatively more important role in determining where new teachers end up choosing to teach, rather than differences in relative teacher wages. Schools with more poor students attract significantly fewer teachers. This is especially true among female teachers.

  • On the other hand, relative teacher wages play a more important role than work conditions at the occupational entry decision, when male and female new college graduates are deciding to teach.

  • This paper also presents findings on the sorting of teachers across schools by ability. Conditional on choosing to teach, those with higher scholastic aptitude (in terms of SAT scores and college GPA) are significantly less likely to teach in central city schools compared to suburban schools."

Frogpond Effects: Age and Kids' Long-Term Academic Outcomes

Redshirting is not just for college sports anymore. As a summer NY Times article explained, affluent parents are holding their kids out of kindergarten for an extra year to give them an edge.

Does a kid's relative age - whether s/he is the big frog in a relatively younger pond, or vice versa - affect his or her long-term outcomes?

To provide insight into this question, economists Liz Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach took advantage of the fact that kids of the same biological age were randomly assigned to classrooms via the Tennessee STAR class size experiment. As always, some kids were relatively older (or younger) than their peers. But the advantage of the STAR data is that we can be reasonably sure that parents weren't pulling strings to be sure their kid was among the eldest.

On average, relative age didn't have any effect on a key long-term outcome for kids - taking the ACT/SAT. But disadvantaged kids lost out when they were relatively younger than their peers. Free-lunch recipients who ranked among the youngest 25 percent in their kindergarten classrooms were 8.4 percentage points less likely to take the ACT or SAT.

But this doesn't mean that poor kids would be better off if they started school later. Cascio and Schanzenbach also found that the effect of absolute (biological) age varied by socioeconomic status, writing, "Disadvantaged children who are older at the start of kindergarten are less likely to take the SAT or ACT, while the opposite may be true for children from more advantaged families." They attribute poor kids' disadvantage here to the fact that advantaged parents are able to provide their kids with learning opportunities not unlike kindergarten in these extra years - either at home or in a formal setting.

The policy implications? They summed up:
These findings suggest that efforts to provide disadvantaged children with higher-quality care and education prior to kindergarten, as well as changes to state and local rules governing the age of the youngest kindergartner, could substantially affect socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment.
You can find the paper here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

4 Good Ones on NYC Report Cards

Four useful articles on report cards:

1) Diane Ravitch's NY Sun op-ed from earlier this week.
2) Leonie Haimson's post at NYC Parents, which provides links to youtube footage from the City Council hearings.
3) Norm Fruchter's Ed Week commentary.
4) Sam Freedman's NYT column.

My prior posts on report cards are archived here. Basically, here's what they say: even if your only concern is statistical validity, the NYC report cards are a mess. The system doesn't take into account measurement error, creates unreasonable peer groups, and pays no attention to regression to the mean (the idea that very high or low data points will move toward the mean the next time they are measured - i.e. Staten Island's PS 35, discussed in Randi Weingarten's commentary). And that's just a small sampling of the design problems.

What the report card debate reveals, I think, is that parents and citizens don't view school quality as a unidimensional construct. Nor do all parents want the same things from their schools; or, more accurately, they may want the same things, but put different weights on academic growth, climate, etc. Some value overall performance more than growth. Others care more about the climate and social environment than academics. Still others prioritize safety. In short, assigning one grade conflicts with our competing intuitions about how to value different dimensions of schooling.

If a central goal of the report card system is to provide information to parents, the Dept of Ed should consider assigning multiple grades. First, though, the basic design of the system needs some serious work.

Ithaca is Gorges for Teachers

I just profiled a Finger Lakes region teacher, Robb Munro - you can drive by his school on your way to Ithaca's Winter Recess (February 16-23rd). This is the only festival of which I'm aware that honors pre-K - 12 teachers and gives them a week of discounts and goodies. You can find all of the details here.

I visited Ithaca for the first time in October, so let me play travel agent and suggest some restaurants. Just a Taste, a wine and tapas bar, had delicious food and flights of local wine. And be sure to stop in to Moosewood for lunch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

7 Things You Didn't Want to Know About Me

Loony Hiker at Successful Teaching implicated me in the blog version of the chain letter. Basically, this involves sharing 7 things about yourself and passing the torch to 7 more bloggers. There was no "if you don't pass this along, all of your hair will fall out" clause, but I read way too many of these as a kid.

Though you didn' t ask, here are my 7 facts:

1) When I was a kid, I founded a Patrick Swayze Fan Club.
2) Favorite foods: Ethiopian and chocolate (not together).
3) I like things that hang from the ceiling (like mobiles).
4) I read US Weekly.
5) I love Woody Allen movies.
6) I enter the New Yorker Cartoon Caption contest every week.
7) I think there is no better place to vacation than the Jersey Shore.

I hope they won't hate me, but I am tagging:

Ed Notes Online (Norm Scott) (& response)
Ms. Frizzle (& response)
This Week in Education (Alexander Russo)
Sherman Dorn (& response)
Edudiva (& response)
PREA prez (& response)
Joanne Jacobs (& response)

Here's the deal:
- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Lessons on Instructional Time from Mother Nature

Yesterday, USA Today championed more time in school in an editorial. States are getting behind the idea by providing grants for schools to extend instructional time (see Ed Week article here). But opt-in programs are hard to evaluate precisely because schools are choosing to participate. So how might we figure out whether and how much instructional days matter?

Dave Marcotte, an economist at the University of Maryland - Baltimore County, turned to mother nature for guidance. Marcotte reasoned that variation in winter weather made non-trivial differences in the number of instructional days before students took the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) exams.

So how do kids do when snowfall decreases the number of instructional days before state tests? In Marcotte's paper, "Schooling and Test Scores: A Mother Natural Experiment," published this fall in the Economics of Education Review, we find out that that students who took exams in years with heavy snowfall performed worse than their peers in the same school who took MSPAP exams in other years. A 19.1 inch increase in a school year's snowfall is associated with a 1.2% fewer 3rd graders passing the math test. The effects of instructional time varied by subject - math scores were affected more than reading scores. They also varied by grade level - 3rd grade scores are affected more than 8th grade students' scores.

Teachers - go buy an SUV. Global warming will help increase your school's test scores.

(Image from

Monday, December 17, 2007

The bosses are at it again...

And they're writing very smart blog posts. Check out edwize on the NYC report cards' catch-22 - the grading system provides strong incentives to grant students course credit where credits are not due.

Over at the AFT blog, Ed sets the record straight on Siobhan Sheils' KIPP TEAM/Newark Public Schools comparison. From your friendly neighborhood broken record (i.e. me) - kids that choose into a charter school lottery may be different on their observable characteristics (prior test scores, family structure, disciplinary records, grades, special education classification, etc). With comprehensive data (which administrative data never provides, but let's say it did), we can control for these differences.

Perhaps more importantly, we must assume that those who opt into a charter lottery and those who don't are different on their "unobservable" characteristics (think parental support at home, propensity to benefit from the charter school treatment, aspirations, motivation). Here, unobservable means unobservable to the dataset we're working with, not necessarily the human eye.

Comparing kids who win the lottery with those who don't = good. Comparing charter schools and neighborhood schools = wrong.

Dallas ISD Bonuses Disappoint

$6,000 bonuses don't produce hoards of teachers dying to teach in hard to staff schools, writes the Dallas Morning News. Rick Hanushek explains why:
Eric Hanushek said most teachers won't be enticed into tough jobs for a few thousand dollars. His research determined that, for most teachers, the bonuses would have to equal about 45 percent of their base pay before they would take those jobs. If true, that means the district would need to offer more than $20,000 to draw serious interest from mid-career teachers.

"Teachers need a lot of money to move," said Dr. Hanushek, who is also a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University. "Teachers will move, slightly, for salaries, but it's more for other factors" such as school climate, student behavior and the quality of their principals.

Further, such bonuses – sometimes called "combat pay" – tend to attract the wrong teachers, Dr. Hanushek said. "Your best teachers aren't going to take it because they have options," he said.

Private Schools (and Starbucks) in DC

Percent of K-12 Kids Enrolled in Private School in DC: 2000

Readers wanted a DC map, and soupa-prof delivered. Click to enlarge - and for fun, the Starbucks are represented by green dots.

Does the Threat of Closing Schools "Work?" A book for those who want to know.

Stocking stuffer #1/left over from last week: I just read Rick Mintrop's Schools on Probation: How Accountability Works (and Doesn't Work) and highly recommend it for those wondering how the threat of closure may play out in NYC and elsewhere.

Based on a study of 11 Maryland and Kentucky schools on probation, Mintrop, a Berkeley edu-prof, found:

Advocates of high-stakes accountability hope that the public exposure of low performance and the threat of further sanctions will move educators to increase work effort and schools to get organized and focused on student achievement. This book shows, in a nutshell, that probation had a weak motivational effect on most educators. The case is different for administrators and small groups of highly involved teachers. Teachers modestly strove to increase test scores and overcome probation primarily because of a desire to be rid of the negative label and diffuse commitment to their school, not because they expected a clear reward. Nor did they consider accountability goals as particularly meaningful orientations for their work.

Like Charlie Clotfelter et al's paper, "Do School Accountability Systems Make it More Difficult for Low Performing Schools to Attract and Retain High Quality Teachers?" (answer: yes), Mintrop looks at the ways that the label of probation pushes educators out the door. It's a useful study and a nice, if depressing, read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Holidays to all eduwonkette readers!

Click here to watch Joel, Mike, and I dance. And then visit elfyourself to turn your family and friends into dancing elves.

Update: Dave Bellel takes the challenge, elfing Jim Liebman, Randi Weingarten, Leo Casey, and Bloomberg.

This week: Stocking stuffers

The semester is over and Xmas is a week away, and I'm planning on catching up on some reading this week. Lots of interesting work came out this semester, so I'll provide summaries of some papers that we haven't heard about in the news yet.