The reality is, low-income students are statistically more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. Some of those teachers simply lack experience and others are truly ineffective no matter their experience level. (See these studies from the Center for American Progress and the Urban Institute and National Bureau of Economic Research for a few examples. Other researchers, like Eric Hanushek at Stanford University, suggest this can be inferred by other research on teacher quality in relation to experience and certifications).
The lawsuit argues that the student’s due process is being violated by a host of education policies including tenure and seniority privileges. These protections make it a) hard to fire bad teachers and b) more likely that it’s young teachers – who are more likely to be teaching low-income students – who are terminated. The lawsuit argues, correctly, that these rules disproportionately impact low-income students.
Olson is himself a pretty interesting character. He’s Republican lawyer who helped lead a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, which banned same sex-marriage in California. At the conference he relayed his experience in this case and argued to the audience that winning education reform battles – like reforming teacher employment practices – requires winning over American public opinion just as was done with the gay rights movement in California.
Catherine Michna – Tulane University
Catherine Michna is a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University and a former Teach For America (TFA) teacher. She’s also a TFA critic. She refuses to write letters of recommendations for her students applying to TFA unless they are education majors.
Catherine really believes TFA is doing damage to students in urban public schools, and she cites four studies on her blog to prove it. But she leaves out several studies that show TFA corps members are no worse than and sometimes better than their traditional teacher peers – including the most recent research by Harvard and Mathematica Policy Research.
Michna is also concerned about TFA’s impact on teachers, arguing TFA “deprofessionalizes teaching.” She worries TFA corps members are more concerned about padding resumes rather than seeing teaching as a long-term career. Indeed, few TFA corps members remain in the teaching profession after four years.
But TFA works in low-income areas with a chronic shortage of teachers. These are school districts where turnover is already high and where students are more likely to be exposed to ineffective teachers. Taking away TFA would likely leave these students worse off.
Opposing TFA because it “deprofessionalizes teaching” would be like opposing Habitat For Humanity because it deprofessionalizes carpenters.
Grade: In Need of Improvement
Douglas County School Board:
Douglas County, Colo. is the first school district in the U.S. to offer vouchers so its own students can attend private schools. So the Nov. 5 school board election, with four members up for re-election, is especially important.
The district is not the typical majority-minority urban district where decades of struggles prompted desperate parents to push for alternatives and major reforms. No, Douglas County is a white, affluent suburb of Denver with high-achieving students and an 87.4 percent high school graduation rate.
Simply put, it is not the sort of place you’d expect innovation in education. But in a bid to achieve even higher goals, the school board added vouchers to its list of high quality options. The response: intense fire from local and national unions; challengers who promise to roll back all the reforms; money pouring in from around the state and country; and charges of a Republican coup in a nonpartisan election process (the county is heavily Republican).
It remains to be seen what voters think. But support for the incumbents is cropping up in unexpected places. The Denver Post editorial board even wrote a column favorable to the reformers, urging voters to keep them and the innovation. Hopefully, a majority will give the incumbents credit for a progressive vision for a 21st century school district – a place where leaders worry more about student achievement than who runs the schools where students attend.
Schools Matter Blog:
In a recent article, John Thomson of Schools Matter called into question research highlighted in Michael Petrilli’s piece “Rain of Error.” Thomson called Petrilli’s source a “compendium of pro-voucher studies” and its claims about the positive individual and systemic effects of vouchers an “exaggeration.”
The source was a Friedman Foundation report, “A Win-Win,” which includes a collection of ALL the random assignment studies on vouchers. Random assignment studies are the gold-standard of scientific research. (Note: Non-random assignment studies on the impact of vouchers were excluded from the Friedman report. These studies are more mixed, but generally find small positive impacts from vouchers.)
The Friedman report also reviewed studies on the “systemic effects” of vouchers (that is, how vouchers impact public schools) but only included reports which were “empirical studies using any scientific method.” Thus, lower quality studies were excluded.
The bottom line: The Friedman review found the reports overwhelmingly found small but positive gains for voucher participants, and that public schools improve when vouchers were an option for students.
Not convinced by Petrilli’s sources, Thomson hunts for his own and finds three “reputable” studies from the Institute for Education Studies, the Chicago Federal Reserve and the National Center for Education Statistics. Thompson says these studies support the claims of Diane Ravitch, not Petrilli or the Friedman Foundation.
Interestingly, two of the authors cited by Thomson (Cecilia Rouse and Patrick A. Wolf) had other research reviewed by Friedman (that source of exaggeration, remember?). Their other, random assignment research found statistically significant gains for at least one subgroup using vouchers.
One of the three studies cited by Thomson actually has nothing to do with vouchers (it’s a 2006 study about public vs. private schools). Another simply looks to discover what type of student exits the Milwaukee voucher program and concludes that vouchers work well for some, but not all students.
The only one that can remotely come close to supporting Ravitch is the one 2008 by the Chicago Federal Reserve. A literature review on school choice, it claims the research on vouchers is “mixed.”
(By the way, Diane Ravitch doesn’t use the word “mixed” to describe the research. In a recent interview with Sara Scribner, Ravitch claimed “vouchers have absolutely no impact on student achievement.”)
The Chicago Federal Reserve review includes a small assortment of voucher research of varying degrees of quality, and does not explain why certain studies were selected and others left out. It also examined fewer studies than the Friedman report criticized by Thomson.
Nevertheless, it actually found generally positive effects for voucher participants, and for public schools impacted by vouchers. That is the opposite of what Thomson claims.
Grade: In Need of Improvement