Showing posts with label John McCain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John McCain. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Will Paying Teachers More Improve Achievement?

Recently, I wrote about John McCain's major educational plan, school choice. I wrote that school choice wasn't likely to contribute to improved literacy, and because so many kids are already in private school, it is just too expensive. Ineffective and wasteful--what a great combination! I hope Senator McCain will rethink and use federal dollars to help schools to improve so that more kids will learn to read to higher levels.

That blog led some readers to conclude that I was supporting Senator Obama's education plans. That isn't exactly right, but it is certainly true that he actually does have some education plans--and I do agree with some of them.

However, last week Senator Obama made news with an education speech that aroused boos from the National Education Association. He proposed using federal dollars to teachers who got higher test scores from their kids.

Will a federal boost to teacher salaries improve reading? I cannot find any convincing research on this issue that would allow me to answer, but I suspect this one is a loser, too.

The problem with the salary proposal is that it is about motivation. Senator Obama evidently believes that kids are struggling academically because teachers aren't trying hard enough. I know of no evidence that supports this data.

I don't believe most teachers aren't motivated, but I do think, in far too many cases, they don't know what to do to raise achievement and that many school cultures are not arranged to support or encourage the kind of teaching that we need.

As with the McCain proposal, I think this one is irrelevant to what America needs in education now. Gosh, I wish one of these guys would focus on educational results rather than distant actions so detached from educational reality.

Please Senators Obama and McCain, let's get real about reading. These kinds of proposals are just irrelevant!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Raising Reading Achievement: What about School Choice?

John McCain so far has made his major educational reform about school choice (see my earlier blog on the presidential candidates views on reading policy). He believes that if a market could be created in public education, money would follow quality and bad schools would be out of business. And there are examples of public money being spent on private schools, even religious schools, without major problem (look at Canada; some social critics want to bring Canada’s health care system here, but their education system does better than ours in international comparisons and they provide public dollars to religious schools).

Of course, the U.S. Constitution requires separation of church and state, but there are ways around that. Public money goes to private colleges in the U.S. now and there is no constitutional problem at all. And, look at the statistics: private schools do better than public schools in reading by almost 15 points (that is a bigger difference than the one between today’s NAEP reading scores and any NAEP score in the past 37 years).

Unfortunately, the superiority of the privates is a chimera… those schools might do better, but that is the result of a selective clientele rather than an educational advantage. According to NAEP, when selection factors are accounted for, the difference drops to zero, the same finding that Herb Walberg and I came up with for the High School and Beyond data in the 1980s.

To me it doesn’t look like privatizing schools would provide the boost Senator McCain hopes for. Nevertheless, why not allow parents to pick their kid’s school? Why not let them to use their own tax dollars to place their kids with teachers they trust? Why not break the public school monopoly?

I admit that those choices have some attraction. I like the idea of letting parents decide where to put their kids (I get lots of emails from parents unhappy with their kid’s school and they have no alternative—if a school tells them to take a jump, there’s nothing they can do).

So, why do I think school choice is a dumb idea… and I do think it is a dumb idea in 2008! I wouldn’t be opposed if all the government was going to do was to take the $8701 per child that they now give to the public schools and turn it over to parents in the form of an educational voucher that they could spend at any school they chose. But there is more to it than that. There are about 6.2 million kids now in private schools. If we vouchered them too, and we would have to, public education costs would need to jump by about $53 billion annually just to cover these “new kids.” Given that private schools don’t do better than public ones now, I can’t argue for an extra $53 billion.

Maybe John McCain has no intention of increasing educational spending. Maybe he figures on no spending increases at all. If that’s the case, what he is suggesting is about a 12.5% cut in school budgets. I don’t know if such cuts will do educational harm (I’m not an economist), but I can’t see how we’ll improve reading achievement during such large retrenchments. Shifting $53 billion from public schools to the already in-place private schools does not look like a sure-footed approach to teaching kids effectively. At best, it is irrelevant to any real solution to this very real problem.

The educational statistics referred to in this commentary can be found at:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Where Do the Presidential Candidates Stand on Reading Education?

This election year has not focused heavily on education, and none of the candidates have claimed they would be the education president. This is not surprising given that the top three candidates are all U.S. Senators (our presidents with educational interests tend to come from the ranks of governors). So, I’ve been curious. The past decade has seen a great deal of federal action in education with more attention on reading than ever before. So, as a reading guy I got curious…. What might we expect from these candidates if they are elected? The following is my summary of what the candidates say they will do on some key issues relevant to reading. Both Obama and Clinton have many other education-related proposals, but nothing else with much direct impact on child or adolescent literacy. I hope that you find this useful.
No Child Left Behind: Testing
Federal education law requires student testing in reading, math, and science in grades 3-12. Results must be reported for several groups of children (e.g., white, black, English learners, special education), and if schools fail to meet state standards with any of the groups there are accountability sanctions. These testing policies ensure that parents can find out how their child’s school is doing, and subgroup reporting forces schools to pay attention to the learning of these groups (a school can have acceptable average achievement, though failing with particular subgroups). However, critics have claimed the law requires too much testing, and that the failure to test some subjects, such as social studies, has reduced the educational attention to those areas while encouraging relatively more reading instruction. Also, each state sets its own standards, so the law encourages them to aim low and to use easy tests to protect schools from failing. Current policy is toughest on schools serving diverse populations and only considers levels of performance rather than amount of learning (schools that are successful at raising achievement may get punished anyway if their students still have lows levels of attainment.
Clinton: Says nothing directly about the NCLB testing policies, except that she would require the use of growth models for determining school success (meaning that she would not punish improving schools). Sounds like she supports the continued testing of reading, math, and science at grades 3-12 with no common national standard.
Obama: Intends to invest in improved tests and to expand testing into new academic areas (technology, problem solving, scientific investigation, etc.). Also wants new tests for English Language Learners. He would continue to use the tests for accountability (though his ideas of accountability are different than those in current law). Wants to fund more authentic tests (less multiple choice) that could be used for individual educational planning which would likely require more elaborate and time-consuming tests than those in current use (tests for individual decisions generally have to be longer than those for school decisions; the examples that he provides all take longer than typical school tests). He supports the continued testing of reading, math, and science at grades 3-12 with no common national standard (albeit with new tests and an expanded testing focus).
McCain: Claims that the current law holds schools to a common standard (it doesn’t as each state sets its own very different standards, and are rewarded for adopting low standards). He supports continuing current testing and reporting policies, apparently without change.

No Child Left Behind: Reading First
A major innovation in No Child Left Behind was the creation of Reading First. This program provided $1 billion per year to low achieving schools to upgrade their reading instruction in grades K-3. The program required schools to provide extensive professional development for teachers, to adopt instructional programs, to monitor children’s learning, and to provide instructional interventions to keep kids from falling behind. All of these activities had to follow the research findings of the National Reading Panel. The law was controversial both because of its high level or prescriptiveness (most federal education law provides dollars but no guidance) and because of corruption in the administration of the program. Nevertheless, research has shown that Reading First has been a particularly effective program in improving children’s reading skills. In 2007, Congress trimmed the funding of this program by 75%.
Clinton: She is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
Obama: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
McCain: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.

No Child Left Behind: Early Reading First
Another innovative program from NCLB is Early Reading First which focuses on reading improvement efforts for preschools. This effort provides funding to preschools to upgrade their efforts to help young children to make progress in reading and language (including professional development for teachers, adoption of curriculum, and monitoring children’s learning). Research has found these programs to be effective.
Clinton: She is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
Obama: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
McCain: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.

No Child Left Behind: Striving Readers
No Child Left Behind provided no specific support for reading programs for grades 4-12 (schools could use Title I money to support reading innovations, but the law doesn’t require that nor are there any designated funds for reading). In 2005, a tiny program was added to support adolescent literacy efforts (only about $30 million—supporting only 8 school districts in the nation). In 2007, during the NCLB reauthorization debates, a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressman called for a $3 billion effort to increase adolescent literacy performance.
Clinton: She is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
Obama: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.
McCain: He is silent about the continuation or expansion of this program.

No Child Left Behind: Accountability
One of the most controversial aspects of NCLB has been its accountability standards. Schools are required to meet learning standards established by their states and if they fail to do so, there are various requirements that the schools must meet. For example, failing schools have to allow parents to move their children to more successful schools (and the federal support for these students goes with them), and if failing schools have to provide afterschool tutoring for the struggling students (no special money is offered to pay for this tutoring, but schools can use their federally supplied Title I dollars for this purpose). To prevent their schools from failing, states have been lowering their educational standards and schools have increased their focus on improving test performance.
Clinton: She would change the standards now used to judge school success, by allowing schools to be evaluated on the amount of learning gains rather than absolute level of performance (which means there would not be sanctions against schools that are successfully raising children’s performance levels). Otherwise she has not called for changes to the current accountability approaches.
Obama: He wants to recast accountability law to provide failing schools with added federal support. Either plans to no longer require allowing students to transfer out of failing schools or to keep this but to continue to provide their federal funding to the failing school after the children leave. Not clear whether schools would be required to take any specific action to try to increase student success (including whether schools would still have to offer tutoring). One exception to this approach appears to be additional accountability standards for high schools with regard to graduating English language learners.
McCain: His major theme is school choice and apparently he intends no changes in the accountability aspects of this law.

No Child Left Behind: Funding
A frequent complaint of critics has been that NCLB has not been adequately funded to accomplish its laudatory goals. Although federal funding for education was increased under NCLB, the dollars committed to the program has never matched the authorization that Congress provided.
Clinton: She is calling to increase NCLB funding by $8.6 billion for Title I.
Obama: He is not specific in his proposals about NCLB funding, though he decries the lack of sufficient resources, and one presumes he is for full funding of NCLB.
McCain: He says nothing about the amount of educational funding. Presumably he supports neither increases nor decreases in school funding.

School Choice
Some claim low school performance is due to the fact that public schools are a monopoly: children have to go to the schools that they are assigned to. Federal money supports children in public schools, but not if they are enrolled in private schools. Supporters of school choice would like a system more like the one that exists with universities (federal support for these students follows the students wherever they choose to go). A major problem with this approach is that there 13 million children (K-12) already enrolled in private schools, and these students would immediately become eligible for federal support (representing either a major increase in federal dollars or a major reduction on per-child expenditures). Another concern is that there are not likely to be quality alternatives available in many high poverty communities (especially in rural areas).
Clinton: Takes no specific stand on school choice in her education policies, but she is likely to oppose the expansion of choice options (school unions oppose it and she is supported by AFT). Apparently would continue the NCLB requirement that failing schools allow choice.
Obama: Takes no specific stand on school choice in his education policies, but he is likely to oppose the expansion of choice options. Might not continue the NCLB requirement that failing schools allow choice (or would allow it to continue, but without the negative funding consequences).
McCain: He wants to increase parent choice options dramatically. Although his proposal lacks specificity, it sounds like he would work for a system that attached federal funding to students rather than to schools (meaning that a child could take the money with him/her to private schools, including religious schools and even to the parents themselves in the case of homeschoolers).

Preschool Education
The federal government has provided funding for preschool education since the 1960s (the major effort has been in Head Start, which provides support for preschool programs for children from low income families). Research has demonstrated the value of early education and recent efforts have been upgrading Head Start curriculum and professional development to increase their emphasis on literacy and language development.
Clinton: She calls for $10 billion in additional support for preschool education including expanding prekindergarten programs, Head Start, programs aimed at children from birth to 3, and nurse home visitation programs. These would be matching funds and states would have to expand their efforts to or already have expanded efforts to obtain this funding. Proposes various mechanisms and requirements for supporting the quality of these programs.
Obama: He calls for $10 billion in additional support for preschool education including expanding prekindergarten programs, Head Start, programs aimed at children from birth to 3, and nurse home visitation programs. These would be matching funds and states would have to expand their efforts to or already have expanded efforts to obtain this funding. Proposes various mechanisms and requirements for supporting the quality of these programs.
McCain: He is silent on preschool education. Presumably he would continue with current programs, but proposes no initiatives to expand, diminish, or improve these efforts.
Teacher Education
There is an impending teacher shortage in America, and some areas (math, science, etc.) the shortage has already hit. Additionally, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of teachers. Most teachers leave the profession within five years. There have been many recent efforts to create alternative certification routes (for instance, programs to allow career changers to bypass certification requirements). The adequacy of such efforts is in dispute.
Clinton: Wants to provide $500 million for programs to recruit and retain teachers to high poverty areas. Supports efforts to provide rewards to teachers who demonstrate an ability to raise the academic achievement of poverty children. Not clear how this funding would be distributed among the various efforts to improve recruitment, coaching/mentoring, reform of teacher education, and rewards for successful teachers.
Obama: Wants to provide $100 million to expand scholarships for students who complete teacher education, including full forgiveness of the federal support for those who teach in urban schools for four years. Would require certification of all teacher education institutions, and create teacher residency programs to try to steer 30,000 teachers to urban areas. Would provide $1 billion to support teacher mentoring. Calls for increased teacher salaries, but not clear that he has any specific plan in this regard. Indicates that he would provide an unspecified amount of funding for career ladder programs.
McCain: Silent on teacher preparation efforts. Apparently has no plans for federal initiatives to expand on availability of teachers or to improve quality of teachers or teacher education programs.

Other School Improvement Initiatives with Possible Impact on Literacy Learning
Clinton: Wants to provide $1 billion for tutoring and mentoring programs for middle school and high school students. Supports continuation of current after school programs.
Obama: Wants to provide $200 million for increasing amount of instructional time. Wants to also expand summer and after school programs, and create new middle school programs to create professional development and coaching programs to help students do better in math and reading; unspecified amounts of money for those efforts. He proposes an unspecified amount of additional funding for bilingual education classes.
McCain: Proposes no new educational programming, nor changes in existing programs.

Educational Research
One of the big changes in federal support for education during the past decade has been the requirement for greater application of research to policy. This has entailed changing the research infrastructure by restructuring the education research arm of the Department of Education, increasing the focus on research into what works using experimental studies, large scale syntheses of educational research, and requiring the use of research-based practices in federally-supported education programs.
Clinton: She is silent on the support and use of educational research.
Obama: Calls for doubling the current annual educational research budget by the end of his first term (this would be an increase of $260 million per year). He indicates that this is for research into what works and throughout his proposals he calls for the use of “evidence-based” and “research-based” approaches.
McCain: He is silent on the support and use of educational research.