Monday, April 25, 2016

Next in the NPR Series on Money and Public Education

This NPR story is aptly titled, Can More Money Fix America's Schools?

The bottom line to that question is yes BUT no one seems quite sure what is the best bang for the buck and many legislators are loathe to give out extra dollars if there is uncertainty about what to do.  (But more on that in a minute.)

That's a super broad question.  Does it mean:

- if we paid teachers more, would we have better teachers?  Overall, I'd say probably because if teachers were in a well-paid profession, more of them might stay in the profession.  But getting more money might make teachers feel more respected but if they are still in buildings where they don't get the professional development or supports they need to teach, I'm not sure it would make a difference in outcomes for kids.

Senator Michael Baumgartner, who sat on the panel of last week's Seattle Channel Seattle Speaks discussion about money and education, issued a challenge to teachers.  He said that "they" would pay teachers $100,000 a year - every single teacher - if the teachers would change their pensions to a 401k, get rid of "teacher tenure"  and work year-round.  (He also said that the class size initiative was just a way for teachers to get more money and that districts were "bargaining away" dollars that could go in the classroom. It was a bit confusing.)

- if we rebuilt the infrastructure of our nation's schools, would we get better results or just happier, safer kids and their school communities? (The opening story about kids trying to get to class early, not for a seat but a blanket is just wrong.)

- if we provided more pre-K, would that create better outcomes?   According to the story, most studies say the bump up for kids who attend preschool flattens out in time. But is that because many students need the smaller class size that a pre-k has or would that be the effect anyway?

- what about wrap-around services for at-risk kids?  Probably but are those supports sustainable for the complete career from pre-k to grade 12?

One other question might be, if money really doesn't matter, then why are all the highest scoring states those that spend the most?

One quote from the story caught my eye:

"Use the money you have more wisely and educate our children," says Jon Caldara of Colorado's Independence Institute, a free-market think tank.
When I hear this, I always ask, "Okay, how would YOU spend the money differently?  I rarely hear an answer as it relates to our existing schools.  The answer I hear is we need charter schools and vouchers as if you could throw an entire system of schools out.
NPR starts at the start of modern-day thinking on education - via the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and sociologist James S. Coleman's report on public education in 1966.

"It was the most comprehensive data set, that was nationally representative, ever collected," says Kirabo Jackson, a researcher at Northwestern University. "It's actually the first time anyone had collected data that linked the characteristics of children in the home to their outcomes in school."

What did Dr. Coleman say:
"Coleman explicitly said families are important and, after that, schools contribute very little," recalls Hanushek, now a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "And also that resources contribute very little."
I don't have much right now to say on this point but I think there's a discussion in there about the role of families and their child's education in 2016 versus what Coleman said in 1966.

Lots of case studies then follow in the narrative of the story.  We read about New Jersey where even topped up spending could not fight the issues of poverty for outcomes. In  North Carolina where a judge said this:
"At-risk children, who are not presently in quality pre-kindergarten educational programs, are being denied their fundamental constitutional right to receive the equal opportunity to a sound basic education."
 That's a big statement but there then is the question - what if a parent doesn't want their child in pre-school?  Or believes they want a pre-school that may be less academic than the newer city-run types?  I've heard from several immigrant parents that they want their young child with their community.  Since you cannot force parents to sent their child to pre-k, won't we always have some percentage of kids coming into kindergarten at a different level than others who did go to pre-k?

Then there's Indiana where you hear some tough talk:
At a press conference last year, as the Indiana General Assembly was re-writing its school funding formula, state Rep. Tim Brown, a Republican, put it this way:

"You know, one of the things about education is money to help those kids who are outside the educational problem. You know, did Mary's mother get arrested the night before? Did Johnny not come with shoes to school? Those aren't to me core issues of education."

They affect education "a lot," Brown said, but help should come from outside organizations, not necessarily schools.
Right there, Rep Brown opens up a mighty big can of worms.  Because we all know that when a school has a counselor or family support worker, there is person at the school who does care about what may have happened the night before or if a child doesn't have shoes or glasses.  It might be fine to wait for an "outside organization" (maybe he means a church group) but that would probably take more time to get help to a student than a person on-site.

But is helping at-risk kids with their lives a "core issue of education?" I don't even know how it couldn't be.  Because you either help them now - because of whatever issue there is in the lives - or you will be sorry later.  I think what legislators like Brown forget is that it would be far cheaper to help a child during their school years than incarcerate an adult.

Then there's Massachusetts (which we all read about in the Times' article comparing Washington and the Bay state.  Speaking of money:
That magic wand did many things, but chief among them, it gave more state money to districts that educate lots of low-income kids.

In places like Revere, north of Boston, where nearly 80 percent of students come from low-income families, many of those dollars were spent on people: to hire and keep good teachers and give them better training.

This is key, says Bruce Baker, who studies school funding at Rutgers. "If you have enough money to hire enough people to have reasonable class sizes and to be able to pay them sufficient wages so that you're getting good people coming into the profession, that's most of the battle of providing quality schooling."
 Oh and Massachusetts also spent money on curriculum, reading coaches and a longer school day.
Today, the district says nearly 90 percent of its high school graduates go on to some form of postsecondary education. That's up from 70 percent in the early '90s.
Their wrap-up:
Takeaway #1: The money reaches students who need it most.
Takeaway #2: The increases come steadily, year after year.
Takeaway #3: The money stays in the classroom: paying, training and supporting strong teachers, improving curriculum and keeping class sizes manageable.
Takeaway #4: How do we define success?
My takeaway is that our state has not fully funded education for a long time.  I don't want to hear about any so-called "new" dollars (which really aren't many given the cuts from the recession.) Increased and steady spending - targeted - is what we need in Washington State.  There is really no reason we couldn't have the same outcomes as Massachusetts, given our state's relative good economy health.


Anonymous said...

most people don't go into teaching for the money, so paying teachers more might or might not result in better teachers.

What might?

I don't know. I would guess:

Efforts to reduce the burden on teachers/reduce teacher burnout.

Lower class sizes.

Grade-level/school level assistance to deal with the ABSURD amount of evaluation information for every student.

More choice in materials and/or less prescription in what, exactly, should be taught on a certain day, and the exact way it should be taught.

Basically, we'd be well-advised using public money to make sure that teachers devote the bulk of their time and energy to teaching, and are treated as respected professionals. Raises don't hurt, but giving a raise and continuing down the current path (large amounts of times devoted to evaluations, performance metrics geared to student performance on same evaluations, prescriptive materials and lesson plans, burgeoning class sizes - at least in Seattle), seems unlikely to result in better teaching.

-thinking out loud

Anonymous said...

Many of the teachers I know work second jobs, so paying them more would allow them to focus solely on one job rather than stretching themselves too thin. Paying them a living wage, so that they can live in the communities they teach in is important.
No, teachers don't go into the profession expecting to get rich, but they shouldn't have to spend hundred of dollars to buy the materials they need to do their job, they shouldn't have to work 2nd jobs, and they should be able to expect to live comfortably and afford decent housing on their salary.
Once again, I don't see any of the legislators offering to take a 401K rather than the state pension. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander. Plus Baumgartner's pretty much full of it and does't give a rip about public education unless he can privatize it. He contradicts himself in every other statement.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"Basically, we'd be well-advised using public money to make sure that teachers devote the bulk of their time and energy to teaching, and are treated as respected professionals."


"Paying them a living wage, so that they can live in the communities they teach in is important."


Watching said...

"I don't see any of the legislators offering to take a 401K rather than the state pension. " Good point.

Anonymous said...

Back in the dark ages, I went to school in a district with decrepit buildings and old worn-out textbooks. There were lots of disadvantaged and transient students. Class size was 36+ starting in first grade. There was no kindergarten. Some years, we went to school in two shifts, with some grades in the morning and some in the afternoon.

Back then I couldn't figure out why we were always so far ahead of our cousins in Seattle. When I was in high school I became aware that, in our district, teacher salaries were double what they were in other districts, so we always had the pick of the crop to fill any teaching vacancies. Over the decades I have come to the conclusion that the difference was quality teachers, along with the trust in their expertise that let them teach in whatever way they thought was best. That is why I think a *substantial* increase in teacher salaries should come ahead of curriculum materials, and even ahead of buildings - because I have seen that it can work to dramatically increase student achievement.

As for all the other things that students need, like food, health care, libraries, etc., that seems to me like a great place to direct all of the energy that other entities like city government and random billionaires want to put into education. When it comes to actual teaching, we want it planned by highly competent professionals in teaching, rather than in legislating, marketing, software design, whatever. We should hire the best teachers and then let them figure out how to do the job rather then telling them how to do it.


Anonymous said...

Well said Irene!!
Love it

Longhouse said...

Baumgartner is always so helpful -- like when he sponsored a revenge bill to lay off state supreme court justices after the legislature lost the Mcleary case. Thanks for your ideas senator. Now go away and vote to give yourself another 11.2% pay raise.

Anonymous said...

Pay more to teachers who work with disadvantaged, at-risk kids. That way the kids who need better teachers might get better teachers. Make sure the teachers get paid enough and have enough time to work with each other on creating lesson plans, etc.

Washington has a bonus program for "challenging schools", but the teacher needs to be NBCT certified (which I've heard from some teachers is a pain, and not very useful) to qualify for the bonus.


Anonymous said...

Irene wrote "As for all the other things that students need, like food, health care, libraries, etc., that seems to me like a great place to direct all of the energy that other entities like city government and random billionaires want to put into education."

That random billionaire, Bill Gates, is spending money to address family homelessness in King and Pierce counties because he believes that stable housing will improve education outcomes, but is outside the scope of what schools can provide.


Anonymous said...

Thanks LisaG. Homelessness in King and Pierce counties, as in most places, has been a tough nut to crack. I hope that Bill Gates will be able to make some real progress, and hooray for him for trying to do something about it.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, I'm torn. To repost or not (because you didn't follow our policy on posting.)

I'm reprinting in order to ask the age-old question I ask ALL ed reformers and you, just like all of them, never truly answer:

What would you do differently with the money now allotted to get better outcomes? Proven outcomes, please.

Teaching as a "mechanical exercise?" Who are you with, KIPP? Because that's certainly what they are pushing, teaching as a quick career turn then onto something else.

As for Washington state, well, our schools have not been properly funded for decades. Anyone who considers that will understand that a starved institution gets that way slowly. So no, a quick infusion of cash will not, overnight, turn the tanker that is American public education.

But you know what? We got a man to the moon (and back) with this institution.

I'll await your answers.

"I am not convinced more money spent on the US traditional education systems will result in the kinds of outcomes currently being discussed by thoughtful education leaders (Linda Darling-Hammond, Sir Ken Robinson, Yong Zhao, Tony Wagner, Ronald Wolk, etc.). The reason more money will not help is that legacy school systems are not designed to use money efficiently, to re-invent themselves or adapt to a dynamically changing world, and are burdened with over-regulation and reform efforts that sap energy, time, and remaining resources (in most districts, less than 20% of budget is available after personnel contracts are paid).

If, say, a mid-sized district in Washington pays our somewhere between 85 to 89% of its budget for people, we can expect that ratio to remain as the budget grows by a little or a lot. As costs grow (education vendors make, according to Forbes, about $733B a year off of school systems), one wonders what schools will begin doing that they are not doing now.

Sure, class sizes can be reduced if enough money is spent on people and buildings. Re-thinking and redesigning schooling would result in small groups without any infusion of money. But, current systems cannot seem to shake their 19th century thinking. Adult constituent groups would have us think that hiring more teachers and building small classrooms is the only idea out there. It is not.

Paying people more may result in a better income, but there is some indication that younger folks see teaching as a career dead-end, becoming a mechanical exercise rather than a practiced art of instructional design and intellectual and human coaching.

Travel around the country, indeed the world, and you will find schools and people who have designed extraordinary experiences for children on a fraction of what school systems spend. "

Anonymous said...

I choose the two-word pseudonym of "Veteran Educator" Does that work?

I don't expect school systems, sorely dated organizations as they are both structurally and culturally, to ever spend current monies or future monies (a lot or a little, in drips or deluge) any differently. They can't, even if they wanted to.

And I might take a moment to explain that I don't subscribe to the notion that school systems are failing. They are not. They are actually doing what they were designed to do. And I think it is appropriate to bring the moon landing forward, for that is what our school systems were designed to do -- produce and promote the very best students.

As the authors I mentioned are quick to point out, our societal expectations have changed for the majority of students who pass through our schools. Those are the students who don't go to college, or, if they do, don't ever complete (and this would be the vast majority of students). The trouble comes when we expect something different from our school systems for which they were never designed. The dysfunction is not in our schools, but in our expectation of a different result from that legacy design.

More money won't change that. With money now allotted, the slim 15 to 20% of budget that doesn't go to contracts, but pays all the bills, won't do the redesign work needed. Besides, school systems labor to keep up with the swings in ed reform policy.

So, school systems endure endless reform efforts (how many since 1983?), with the current one of a "standards-driven" nature. Unfortunately, the standards-driven reforms have produced
an homogenizing and dispiriting experience for teachers. At conferences and Edcamps this past year, I was saddened to hear a consistent chorus of lament from teachers that the nature of their work had changed now to simply test prep. A few veteran teachers admitted they had left their content areas (25+ years each) for the arts where, they believed, they could continue being the artist-teacher-coach-designer they had always been.

At a screening for the movie "Most Likely to Succeed," one young teacher, speaking for the dozens who were there, addressed the superintendent attending that night and pleaded, "Just tell us there is some hope." Her yearning was for herself and her students, hoping that schooling could mean something more than a test performance.

I have worked in Washington's schools for decades, and I have come to believe in something other than what the educational hegemony preaches, and that is one of abundance. A superintendent of a very large west coast school district once asked the leader of a district-sponsored alternative school (in CA) "How is it you do so much with so little?" The leader replied, "How is it you manage to do so little with so much?" There really is a lot of money. But, our systems have little flexibility in how they can spend it. True, the regions that have, have more. But it isn't always true that it is spent well.

The answer resides in the issue of design. If there is to be a significant cash infusion for Washington's schools, it needs to be largely earmarked for school systems to redesign themselves, redesign and rethink their schools. The XQ Challenge folks provide some great resources for districts to get started, and dollars from the Olympia could be used to develop systems and schools that meet contemporary expectations for all of our students. The authors I mentioned, and many more, provide abundant direction for this work.

This work is one the elephants in the room for McCleary. It is a difficult thing to ask lawmakers to double down on 19th century designed systems. And it is difficult for a legislature to expect design work while the reforms they enact trap school systems in that design. I understand the State Board of Education is split, but talking, about this inherent contradiction.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Baker of Rutgers - school finance expert - via Shanker Institute

Does Money Matter in Education?

An excerpt "Does money Matter? Yes. On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters."


Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, please put your name at the end. I cannot be expected to search your post for it.

Thank you for expanding on your comments. You've been on the front lines for years so your thoughts are entirely valid. I mostly agree with you but XQ Challenge is an ed reformers dream courtesy of Steve Jobs' widow. I'd like to believe in it but I am very wary.

Ms206 said...

One of the most pressing issues that faces teachers today, especially teachers working in underresourced districts that serve large numbers of students who live in poverty, is discipline. I teach in a high-poverty school in Philadelphia, PA. About 90% of students are Black and/or Latino/a. I teach children with autism, so the issues don’t affect me as much due to my small class size (except for the issue of medication that I will address). But I see the issues everyday because the issues are present in my building. Teachers are asked to do the impossible.

Schools have to address behavior & document various interventions used to address behaviors of concern, such as physical aggression toward others (fighting), elopement (leaving the classroom), & disruption such as throwing furniture, destroying classroom materials, & other behaviors that prevent the teacher from teaching. So while the chronic aggressive & disruptive behavior happens, & the trail of documentation becomes longer & longer, the process takes time (usually months & sometimes years) & causes other students to lose significant amounts of instructional time. Schools are severely limited in the ability to recommend medication & to hold irresponsible/neglectful parents responsible for doing the right thing by their child(ren). The issue of medication & schools is one that needs debate, but all I can say is that I’ve seen students who have taken meds for ADHD or autism-related irritability/ aggression & the meds make a hugely positive difference. Schools are expected to DO EVERYTHING but we CAN’T ACTUALLY DO EVERYTHING!!!

At the same time, there’s currently pressure on schools to reduce the “school-to-prison pipeline.” There’s a big push for schools to implement Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports. My school is implementing PBIS & PBIS works for about 95% of the kids. But PBIS requires a lot of consistency & must be ongoing. Many urban schools, including mine, lack adequate staffing & adequate resources to implement the PBIS with desireable consistency. And even if a school does have adequate staffing, there are in my experience about 5% of students for whom PBIS does not work. Many of the studuents in this 5% come from broken homes & the root problem falls largely outside what the school can address because the problem begins at home. Still, schools are asked to exhaust all avenues without be given all of the available tools.

The school-to-prison pipeline issue is important to address, but I get so tired of hearing advocacy organizations (e.g. the Education Law Center here in PA, the ACLU, Schools with Dignity) talk about the need to stop using suspensions, the racial disparities in suspensions & discipline, & the STPP WITHOUT offering realistic alternatives. These advocacy organizations push the idea that all children should be given the option to learn in regular education (unless the IEP states otherwise) without realizing that regular ed isn’t right for everyone. In other words, the rights of a small number of at-risk students end up outweighing the common good for the vast majority of students.

Ms206 said...

Advocacy organizations focus on the racial disparities of the STPP. There is bias and institutional racism in discipline & the criminal justice system, absolutely. But not all schools have issues of bias toward students of color. My school has a predominately African American & Latino/a student body, we have a principal who is a woman of color, the leadership team is majority African American, & at least 50% of the staff is Latino/a or African American. Some of the children do need special education services, but others do not have a disability & need services to address their trauma. Some also need BETTER PARENTS. Why isn't there as much of a focus on the kids who are hurt by these students with severe behavior problems?

Discipline issues & the limited measures that schools can take is one of the biggest existential threats to public schools. It’s a big reason why so many parents choose charter schools. The neighborhood schools have their hands so tightly tied that the best option for many parents is to ESCAPE by applying for a charter school. And when the children with good, caring, invested parents leave the neighborhood schools and go to the charter schools, there is less & less public pressure to improve the neighborhood schools because the good, caring, invested parents no longer have their children in the neighborhood public schools. So then the job gets harder for the teachers & staff persons in the neighborhood schools. And as the situation in the high-poverty neighborhood schools gets worse, fewer people want to teach in these schools, & the spiral downward continues.

Until the well-behaved children have the same right to an education & safety as the not-so-well-behaved children have to stay at school while being aggressive and disruptive, then the situation will only continue to get worse for students, teachers, & everyone else!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ms206, a log of food for thought.

I think the overwhelming amount that teachers are expected to do - mostly on their own with not much support - is hurting the teaching profession.

I also think in circumstances such as you describe, teachers are frustrated with what is or is not happen at home. And nearly every study I have ever since says that the number one issue that affects student performance is home life (at school, it's the teacher.)

There are many reasons why students may have a difficult home life, none of it their fault. For the parents, whatever is happening may not be their fault. To say this is not "blaming the parents" but it is foolish to ignore this factor (and teachers/schools don't and neither do researchers.)

If schools had supports to help with those stressers, some effects might be mitigated at school. If city and district officials work together, more effects could be mitigated. Many times the stress at home is about the economy or housing or health care or public safety and that's a city's job (which I what many of us keep saying about Mayor Murray's education efforts - help with city issues first.)

It's interesting that some are advocating charter boarding schools. Add to that, a 6-hour preschool day. You start thinking that there are some people who are trying mitigate effects of home life and affect how a child views the world by having them spend less time at home.

I'm not sure if parents would feel good or bad or upset about that. As Ms206 says, some parents might welcome the escape for their child from chaotic classrooms or some parents might feel like Big Brother is trying to shape their child rather than the parent.

Food for thought.