Impact of Eroding Teacher Salaries

Not the kind of pattern one would want to see if the goal is to increasr the quality of the workforce, and make the profession more attractive to potential future educators.

Individuals who choose to teach over other professions may be doing so at a consider financial cost as teacher salaries have been in decline during the past three years. It is important to note that between 1978-1979, public elemenatary and secondary school teacher salaries fell over 3%, followed by a 6% drop the following year before picking up again in 1982. The question at large is how bad will the next leg down in teacher salaries be in 2013? So far there’s been nearly a 2.5% drop between 2011-2012. Below is a chart illustrating estimated wage erosion over the past three years for elementary and secondary public school teachers

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Teacher Turnover Affects All Students' Achievement

In light of the Kasich education cuts, and the looming sequestration that will lead ot large education cuts, this article appearing in Education Week should be bourne in mind by law makers.

When teachers leave schools, overall morale appears to suffer enough that student achievement declines—both for those taught by the departed teachers and by students whose teachers stayed put, concludes a study recently presented at a conference held by the Center for Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

The impact of teacher turnover is one of the teacher-quality topics that's been hard for researchers to get their arms around. The phenomenon of high rates of teacher turnover has certainly been proven to occur in high-poverty schools more than low-poverty ones. The eminently logical assumption has been that such turnover harms student achievement.

But a couple years back, two researchers did an analysis that showed, counter-intuitively, it's actually the less- effective teachers, rather than the more- effective ones, who tend to leave schools with a high concentration of low-achieving, minority students. It raised the question of whether a degree of turnover might be beneficial, since it seemed to purge schools of underperforming teachers.

When reporting on that study, I played devil's advocate by pointing out that it didn't address the cultural impact of having a staff that's always in flux. The recently released CALDER paper suggests I may have been right in probing this question.

Written by the University of Michigan's Matthew Ronfeldt, Stanford University's Susanna Loeb, and the University of Virginia's Jim Wyckoff, the new paper basically picks up on the same question. Even if overall teacher effectiveness stays the same in a school with turnover, it's well documented that turnover hurts staff cohesion and the shared sense of community in schools, the scholars reasoned. Could that have an impact on student achievement, too?

To find out, they looked at a set of New York City test-score data from 4th and 5th graders over the course of eight years. The data were linked to teacher characteristics.
(All the usual caveats about limitations of test scores apply, of course.)

Among their findings:

• For each analysis, students taught by teachers in the same grade-level team in the same school did worse in years where turnover rates were higher, compared with years in which there was less teacher turnover.
• An increase in teacher turnover by 1 standard deviation corresponded with a decrease in math achievement of 2 percent of a standard deviation; students in grade levels with 100 percent turnover were especially affected, with lower test scores by anywhere from 6 percent to 10 percent of a standard deviation based on the content area.
• The effects were seen in both large and small schools, new and old ones.
• The negative effect of turnover on student achievement was larger in schools with more low-achieving and black students.

Read the whole piece here.

Poll: Americans feel good about teachers

The 44th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll on public schools has some interesting findings. The very first question the poll asks

Going back 10 years to 2002, we combined the responses that include discipline concerns, such as fighting, gang violence, and drugs. In 2002, these were the biggest problems identified by 39% of Americans. Today, just 10 years later, only 14% of Americans mentioned concerns about fighting, drugs, and poor discipline. This year, as in the last few years, lack of funding was by far the most common single response Americans cited as the biggest challenge facing schools in their communities. Parents were even more unified that lack of funding was the No. 1 challenge facing schools.

A further question explored sentiment to improving urban schools

Ninety-seven percent believe it’s very or somewhat important to improve the nation’s urban schools, indicating a strong continuing commitment, and almost two of three Americans said they would be willing to pay more taxes to provide funds to improve the quality of the nation’s urban schools. However, there was a clear difference of opinion between Republicans (41% in favor) versus Democrats (80% in favor) on the taxation question.

It's hard to get 97% of Americans to agree on pretty much anything, so to have that, and 2 out of 3 citizens wanting to increase taxes to address it, one might be forgiven for thinking we're talking about apple pie not urban education. A tip of the hat must also be given for recognition that our education system is unequal

On teacher evaluations, there is a significant divide

Americans are evenly divided on whether states should require that teacher evaluations include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests, and this finding is consistent across all demographic groups. Clearly, American opinion on this doesn’t match the massive effort under way in many states and school districts to do so. Of the 52% who favor including students’ performance on standardized tests in teacher evaluations, almost half said this should constitute between one-third and two-thirds of the teacher’s evaluation.

Considering that people have only heard from one side of the debate on this, and have yet to see the consequences of these corporate education reform policies, this is likely to be a high water mark.

On the subject of teachers, few professions garner as much trust as teachers

Remaining constant over a series of years, 71% of Americans have trust in teachers, despite constant efforts to tear them down by corporate education reformers and their billionaire and media supporters .

You can read the entire survey at this link. We'll close out with words from teacher of the year, Rebecc Mieliwocki.

What a wonderful shot in the arm this year’s survey results are for the American schoolteacher. The core truth is that Americans are confident in their child’s teachers and proud of our educational system.

They see the best educators as caring, attentive, and demanding professionals. They want us to have the freedom to create relevant, rigorous, and engaging lessons for students and to have our effectiveness measured fairly through both classroom observations and student scores on standardized tests.

Americans want teachers held to high standards from the moment we enter a preparation program to our last day in the classroom, and they want us to improve how we prepare young people for the rigors of college and their careers. These are all good things. Just like teachers themselves, Americans want to see schools and the teaching profession elevated and strengthened.

The great news is that kids are learning more than ever before from teachers who are better trained than at any time in history. Walk into most classrooms in America, and you’ll see tremendous things happening. Yet, the persistent negative messages about public schools and teachers remain. If we hope to attract the best and the brightest into the profession and keep them there, we’ve got to put an end to this.

Testing Profits

Now that states and the federal government are attaching high stakes to standardized tests, these tests are coming under increasing scrutiny. They don't appear to be holding up well to this additional scrutiny

A top New York state education official acknowledged Wednesday that the mounting number of errors found on this year's math and English tests has eroded public trust in the statewide exams.

"The mistakes that have been revealed are really disturbing," New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said at a Midtown breakfast sponsored by Crain's New York Business.

"What happens here as a result of these mistakes is that it makes the public at large question the efficacy of the state testing system," said Ms. Tisch, whose board sets education policy for the state.

Still, Ms. Tisch said testing experts have told state officials that the exams are valid and can be used to evaluate students and, in some cases, teachers.

Over the past several weeks, a series of errors by test-maker Pearson PLC have come to light, ranging from typographical mistakes to a now-infamous nonsensical reading passage about a pineapple. This is the first year of a five-year, $32 million contract the state awarded to Pearson, which also publishes textbooks.

To date, 29 questions have been invalidated on various third- through eighth-grade math and English tests, which are used in New York City to determine whether students are promoted to the next grade.

Pearson didn't return a request for comment.

Mistake riddled tests are not the only problem being highlighted

Is it okay to ask a child to reveal a secret? Richard Goldberg doesn’t think so. Goldberg, the father of 8-year old twin boys, was dismayed to learn his third-grade sons were asked to write an essay about a secret they had and why it was hard to keep. The unusual question, which Goldberg called "entirely inappropriate" was on the standardized tests given to public school students in the third through eighth grade every spring.
The question will not, however, appear on any future versions of the test, Barra said. "We’ve looked at this question in light of concerns raised by parents, and it is clear that this is not an appropriate question for a state test," Barra said.

Increasingly, calls are being made to make these tests public, so they can be fully vetted.

I learned that the tests themselves are being kept secret because the state Department of Education and Pearson, their test development contractor, wrote strong confidentiality provisions into the contract. My understanding is that this was so that they both could reuse test questions in the future. In order for the questions to be reusable, they have to be kept secret, otherwise students could prep too easily for the tests, and Pearson’s other customers would be able to get the tests from the public domain.

We only know about the gaffes because students exposed them. Educators have been sworn to secrecy. The Education Department has emphasized their concerns about test prep, but to me the secrecy seems rooted in economics: Secrecy saves New York on future test development costs and makes it easier for Pearson to re-sell the questions it created for New York (at New York taxpayers’ expense) in other states.

Two things strike me as odd about this. First, it’s uncommon to keep tests completely secret after the fact of their administration. Letting people see the test is a basic part of education.

The purpose of testing is to measure how well a student knows subject matter and to identify what areas need work. If the only thing one knows about a child’s performance on a test is his grade, and one can’t review the actual test, the test is pedagogically useless and can only serve a punitive purpose.

If the broader community of parents, educators and researchers can’t see tests, then we have no way of judging the connection between them and curricula or how to help our children.

A paper by the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy titled "Errors in Standardized Tests: A Systemic Problem" found

This paper contains a sizable collection of testing errors made in the last twenty-five years. It thus offers testimony to counter the implausible demands of educational policy makers for a single, error-free, accurate, and valid test used with large groups of children for purposes of sorting, selection, and trend-tracking.

No company can offer flawless products. Even highly reputable testing contractors that offer customers high-quality products and services produce tests that are susceptible to error. But while a patient dissatisfied with a diagnosis or treatment may seek a second or third opinion, for a child in a New York City school (and in dozens of other states and hundreds of other cities and towns), there is only one opinion that counts – a single test score. If that is in error, a long time may elapse before the mistake is brought to light – if it ever is.

This paper has shown that human error can be, and often is, present in all phases of the testing process. Error can creep into the development of items. It can be made in the setting of a passing score. It can occur in the establishment of norming groups, and it is sometimes found in the scoring of questions.
Measuring trends in achievement is an area of assessment that is laden with complications. The documented struggles experienced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and Harcourt Educational Measurement testify to the complexity inherent in measuring changes in achievement. Perhaps such measurement requires an assessment program that does only that. The National Center of Educational Statistics carefully tries to avoid even small changes in the NAEP tests, and examines the impact of each change on the test’s accuracy. Many state DOEs, however, unlike NCES, are measuring both individual student achievement and aggregate changes in achievement scores with the same test – a test that oftentimes contains very different questions from administration to administration. This practice counters the hard-learned lesson offered by Beaton,“If you want to measure change, do not change the measure”(Beaton et al., 1990, p. 165).

Furthermore, while it is a generally held opinion that consumers should adhere to the advice of the product developers (as is done when installing an infant car seat or when taking medication), the advice of test developers and contractors often goes unheeded in the realm of high-stakes decision-making. The presidents of two major test developers – Harcourt Brace and CTB McGraw Hill – were on record that their tests should not be used as the sole criterion for making high-stakes educational decisions (Myers, 2001; Mathews, 2000a). Yet more than half of the state DOEs are using test results as the basis for important decisions that, perhaps, these tests were not designed to support.

Finally, all of these concerns should be viewed in the context of the testing industry today. Lines (2000) observed that errors are more likely in testing programs with greater degrees of centralization and commercialization, where increased profits can only be realized by increasing market share,“The few producers cannot compete on price, because any price fall will be instantly matched by others .... What competition there is comes through marketing”(p. 1). In Minnesota, Judge Oleisky (Kurvers et al. v. NCS, Inc., 2002) observed that Basic Skills Test errors were caused by NCS’ drive to cut costs and raise profits by delivering substandard service – demonstrating that profits may be increased through methods other than marketing.

It clearly appears that profit is winning the day over quality, when it comes to standardized tests.

Here's the full paper.

Errors in Standardized Tests: A Systemic Problem

Education News for 04-18-2012

Statewide Education News

  • Ohio takes aim at reducing achievement gap (EdWeek)
  • Estimates in Ohio suggest that at the current rate of progress, black fifth-graders will be reading on par with white fifth-graders in the year 2315. Third-graders they will start to pass reading exams at the same rate in 2102. Read More…

  • Schools, teachers seek delay in grading (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Leaders of teachers unions and education groups urged lawmakers yesterday to delay rolling out a tougher school grading system proposed by Gov. John Kasich, but the administration is not backing down. “We want them (the new rankings) in yesterday,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. “No one is backing away and saying we need additional time. We are not seeking a delay. We want to see this go into effect this year.” The new system for grading schools and school districts will begin with report cards issued by the Ohio Department of Education this summer. Simulations show that most schools will drop a full letter grade, maybe two.Read More…

  • CPS to lose fewer students to private schools (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • Cincinnati Public schools will lose fewer students than expected next year to private schools and state-funded vouchers, a school official said Tuesday. Only 899 new students applied for new Educational Choice scholarships for the upcoming school year, said Janet Walsh, a Cincinnati Public spokeswoman. That’s down from 1,078 EdChoice applicants from CPS last year and it’s far below the 1,377 students district officials had projected to lose this spring, she said. Read More…

  • School-voucher programs prove popular (Columbus Dispatch)
  • More than 17,400 applications for students to attend private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers were filed for next school year, a slight increase over last year. An additional 1,544 requests for a new special-needs voucher program were made by Sunday’s deadline. Among the 17,438 applications for an Educational Choice Scholarship were 3,814 new applicants. That deadline was Friday. About 17,000 applications were filed last year to use vouchers this school year. Read More…

  • Fewer Lima families seeking vouchers (Lima News)
  • LIMA — For the first time since the state began its voucher program, the Lima City School District is seeing fewer families wanting to leave the district. Twenty-eighty fewer pupils have applied for EdChoice scholarships. The last day to apply for a scholarship for next school year was Friday. Not all of those applying will necessarily get a scholarship. Read More…

  • Bill would hold school, government fiscal officers accountable (Columbus Dispatch)
  • School and government treasurers could be suspended or removed if they don’t keep proper records and spend taxpayer money appropriately, a bill introduced yesterday in the General Assembly says.

    The bill was prompted by several high-profile cases of misspending and theft, state Auditor Dave Yost said in introducing the Fiscal Integrity Act. Read More…

  • Your guide to how Ohio writes inoffensive test questions (State Impact Ohio)
  • Tenth graders across the state spent much of their time last month taking tests — the Ohio Graduation Tests to be specific. The OGT’s are given in five subject areas, and some students found one question on the Social Studies portion of the exam objectionable. The question asked: “After the Holocaust, many Jews felt that they needed a state of their own in order to provide security for the Jewish people. In 1948, the state of Israel was formed. Many Arabs disagreed with this action. Identify two perspectives of many Arabs that explain their objection to the establishment of Israel.”

    The Ohio Jewish Communities, a registered lobbying group, petitioned the Ohio Department of Education to remove that question, alleging bias that offended some Jewish students. After review, state officials concluded the phrasing was inappropriate and won’t be used again. Read More…

  • One big difference between Ohio and Florida Standardized Tests (State Impact Florida)
  • Our friends at StateImpact Ohio have an interesting look at how Ohio comes up with the wording on its standardized tests. By committee, of course. A controversy over a question about the Arab perception of the creation of Israel prompted concerns that the questions might not be without bias. Read More…

Local Issues

  • Teen who cared for mom wins bid to take part in graduation (Canton Repository)
  • CARROLLTON —Teri Fisher had a goal in mind as she battled Stage IV cancer last fall. She wanted to survive long enough to see her son, Austin, graduate from Carrollton High School. Her cancer went into remission in early March, and her goal will be realized thanks to the power of the Internet and a loyal community. Austin, 17, had been told by school principals that he would not be participating in the commencement ceremony in May because he had 16 unexcused absences in the first semester — two more than the amount allowed by the district.Read More…

  • Silent support for “Fish” at Carrollton BOE meeting (New Philadelphia Times- Reporter)
  • CARROLLTON — Many supporters of Austin Fisher came to the meeting of the Carrollton Board of Education on Tuesday night. But they only spoke with their signs. Supporters had been organizing all day Tuesday with hopes that school administrators would change their mind and that Austin Fisher would be able to attend not only his graduation, but also the senior prom, and go on the senior class trip to Cedar Point. Read More…

  • Cleveland board votes to trim teaching staff next year (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  • CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland school board voted Tuesday to trim an eighth of its teaching staff in the upcoming school year because of budget troubles and a falling number of students. The district will also shorten its school day through eighth grade by 50 minutes next school year and cut the number of music, art, library and gym classes for those students as part of the shuffling of staff to handle the layoffs. The elimination of more than 500 teachers -- all in kindergarten through eighth grade -- through layoffs and a retirement incentive is a major part of district Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon's plan to resolve a $65 million budget deficit for next school year. The layoffs are expected to cover about $40 million of the $65 million. Read More…

Editorial & Opinion

  • Apply common sense with the rules (Lima News)
  • It's likely no one was upset when the Carrollton, Ohio, school district said students who miss more than a certain number of days wouldn't walk in the graduation ceremony. But such rules should come with flexibility for extremely unusual circumstances. A student missing school to care for his dying mother would strike most people as an extremely usual circumstance.Read More…

Czar leaves as "work calls"

It was announced in late breaking news that the Governor's education Czar, Robert Sommers will be leaving his highly paid post to start his own education consulting company. In his own words

Shortly after his appointment by the governor, the Plain Dealer ran an article with the headline "Can Ohio Gov. John Kasich's education adviser and state superintendent co-exist?", the answer was no, since Sommers was seeking the post for himself.

But even as Sommers was passed over and Stan Heffner assumed the role, the question still remained. Could an education Czar and State Superintendent co-exist? Stories, like this one abounded of the Governor's office of 21st century education duplicating and working at crossed purposes to the Department of Education.

He leaves while Ohio's school funding mechanism is in shambles, school budgets in ruins, and a workable teacher evaluation system is yet to be developed. He advocated for the policies that have led to this situation, and leaves for corporate pastures greener now that the destruction is complete, and all the actual work left to be done putting it back together.

He acted like a corporate raider to the end, and it's not like we didn't see it coming.

We constantly call on the administration to include educators in the development of policy. Not because we believe they have all the right answers, though they have many. Not because they have all the experience, though they have much. But, because unlike those who espouse the latest fads, they are the ones who will still be on the front lines executing policy and doing the work of educating our children long after the fadsters have gone.

That's the real work that calls.