Kasich cuts bite deep locally

A new report finds that the loss of teachers and other education staff is forcing communities into difficult choices that harm our children’s education and future, including increasing class sizes and shortening school years and days. The report shows that more than 300,000 local education jobs have been lost since the end of the recession – a figure that stands in stark contrast to previous economic recoveries. As a result, the national student-teacher ratio increased by 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010, rolling back all the gains made since 2000. Increased class sizes have negative consequences for the future of America’s children at a time when education has never been more important to finding a good job and maintaining our competitiveness as a nation.

In Ohio, as Plunderbund notes, the effects of the Kasich budget have been similar and dramatic, as we now find local communities being asked to pick up the budget pieces

Over 63% of the school levies on the general election ballot are Kasich levies seeking to increase property tax funding for schools to replace the lost of state funding.

We catalogued the full list of school levies on the November ballot, here.

Governor John Kasich enacted Ohio's most draconian education cuts in the state's history, and as a consequence is now causing either local taxes to increase to meet the serious shortfalls, or degrading educational quality with increased class sizes, cuts in programs, nutrition, busing and sport.

He will have a chance to reverse this in his up coming budget, we urge him and the legislature to do so, our future, as the report below indicates, depends upon it Investing in Our Future Report

Politicians Ignore Research, Say Smaller Class Size Makes No Difference

Class size matters.

In examining both Project STAR and SAGE, experts found that students in the smaller classes performed better than those in larger classes. Minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made the most gains, according to the Center for Public Education (CPE).

Haimson said those disadvantaged students, who may not receive as much academic support outside of the classroom as white, middle-class students do, will only improve if placed in small classes in which a teacher can give students the specific attention and support they need.

“We will never successfully narrow the achievement gap without smaller class sizes,” she said.

Furthermore, despite previous research that suggests small class sizes only make a difference in students’ education in Kindergarten through the third grade, CPE reported that students placed in smaller classes have higher scores through the beginning of high school than do their peers consistently placed in larger classes.

And because reducing class size produces such academic benefits, Haimson said keeping classes small is ultimately the more cost-effective option.

“Many studies have shown that class size reduction will pay for itself many times over with better healthcare, increased earning potential and lower crime rates,” Haimson said. “With education spending, the point is not to be as cheap as possible, it’s to be as smart as possible.”

Parents want small class sizes

StateImpactOhio has an article on voucher expansion in Ohio, and they talked to a few parents of children with special needs using vouchers. But it was why these parents were choosing vouchers that caught our eye.

Corinn starts high school next year, and hopes that a small Catholic school like Villa Angela Saint Joseph on Cleveland’s East side will help her continue her progress.

“I picked the school because it was a smaller class size and they would have the extra help that I would need there,” she explains.
Youngstown Christian is not a big school by any means. There are just 475 students in grades K-12, and Pecchia says parents are drawn to the school’s small size.

Parents want small class sizes for their children, whether they have special needs or not. Vouchers are setting up a vicious economic cycle. Parents want smaller class sizes, so some choose to use vouchers to enroll their children into smaller schools, which subtracts money from the struggling public schools reducing their ability to maintain smaller classes, which in turn causes more parents to seek schools with smaller classes via vouchers.

If that seems unfair, it's not even the beginning as State Impact reports

That’s because public school districts have to write yearly special individual education programs, known as IEP’s, for special needs students even if they attend a private school. And it’s the public school, not the private school the child attends, that has to monitor the progress of the student and update the plan each year.

“My first thought is frustration because it puts some responsibility on the school for kids that they won’t really know,” says Dennis.

The private schools and parents are supposed to communicate regularly with the student’s home district through progress reports.

The public school district still has responsibilities for the student even after they have taken a voucher and left. Private and charter schools like to dubiously boast about how efficient they are, but rarely if ever acknowledge that that is because the public schools are picking up the hard work for them.

Bloomberg's brain dead brainwave

Billionaire Mayor of New York, and wannabe corporate education reformer Mike Bloomberg has suggested a radically absurd idea

he said, “you would cut the number of teachers in half but you would double the compensation of them, and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers.

“Double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for students.”

Bloomberg's opinion is based upon a misguided and factually wrong premise, one he continues to hold to

Karen Matthews, a reporter with The Associated Press, asked, via Twitter, whether the mayor saw one teacher and 62 children as a good model. The mayor’s press secretary, Stu Loeser, shot back: “Are you asking as a journalist, advocate, or mom?”

No doubts haunt the mayor. In 2008 he insisted that class-size research was “unambiguous.”

“I don’t even understand why the subject comes up anymore,” he said, adding that all that mattered was teacher quality.

Let's examine class sizes and see if they matter. Michael C. Morrison, Ph.D. has analyzed 9,000 school districts to determine the impact on class sizes and graduation. His findings are unambiguous.

District probabilities for above average graduation performance are inversely related to district pupil-teacher ratios. As class size increases district probability for above average graduation performance decrease, controlling for district per capita income (a proxy for district socio-economic status) and district total revenue per student (a district proxy for programs and services).

Here's the graph of results

This isn't the only study of course, it's a subject that has been well and extensively researched. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found

“We find that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among blacks. Among those with the lowest ex ante probability of attending college, the effect is 11 percentage points. Smaller classes increase the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shift students towards high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine), business and economics.”

Michael Morrison has detailed further studies on the subject, here.

As for Mayor Bloomberg, he doesn't practice what he is preaching

There’s a final oddity. Among the so-called meritocratic elite, low teacher-to-child ratios are beloved. The mayor’s daughters went to Spence, where classes hover from 10 to 15. Trinity, Dalton, Riverdale, Horace Mann: All charge $35,000 or more per year, and classes rarely exceed 12 in the lower grades.

Imagine if they packed those billionaire's kids into classrooms of 63!

Teacher Quality Is Not A Policy

I often hear the following argument: Improving teacher quality is more cost-effective than other options, such as reducing class size (see here, for example). I am all for evaluating policy alternatives based on their costs relative to their benefits, even though we tend to define the benefits side of the equation very narrowly – in terms of test score gains.

But “improving teacher quality” cannot yet be included in a concrete costs/benefits comparison with class size or anything else. It is not an actual policy. At best, it is a category of policy options, all of which are focused on recruitment, preparation, retention, improvement, and dismissal of teachers. When people invoke it, they are presumably referring to the fact that teachers vary widely in their test-based effectiveness. Yes, teachers matter, but altering the quality distribution is whole different ballgame from measuring it overall. It’s actually a whole different sport.

I think it is reasonable to speculate that we might get more bang for our buck if we could somehow get substantially better teachers, rather than more of them, as would be necessary to reduce class sizes. But the sad, often unstated truth about teacher quality is that there is very little evidence, at least as yet, that public policy can be used to improve it, whether cost-effectively or otherwise.

Positing teacher quality as a concrete policy intervention represents circular reasoning. It’s saying that, if we had more teachers who increase test scores, this would increase test scores. Well, yes. But that’s more of an effect than a means. The relevant policy question is: How do we do so?

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The attack on collective bargaining

Policy Matters Ohio has just released a report looking at the Benefits of Bargaining, titled "How Public Worker Negotiations Improve Ohio Communities". You can read the full report here (PDF).

We've pulled out the executive summary dealing with education.

Teachers: Teachers’ unions bargain to improve classroom conditions, benefitting teachers and students alike. Some of the issues teachers’ unions negotiate that improve student outcomes are:

  • Class size: Teachers’ unions often bargain to maintain low class sizes, especially in K-3 classes. Studies have shown that small classes are especially helpful to younger students, low-income students and students from minority communities. Small classes enable more writing assignments, better student-teacher relationships, and safer, more stable classroom atmospheres. We found that teacher unions often bargain to shrink and maintain class sizes, while management sometimes seeks to save money by increasing class sizes.
  • Discipline plans: Public employers and teachers’ unions use collective bargaining to develop discipline plans for students in order to minimize classroom disruptions. Under Senate Bill 5, discipline plans can be made without teacher input, which could undermine teacher authority and increase disruption. We also found examples of proactive union steps to prevent discipline problems. The Cleveland Teachers’ Union has negotiated to create In-School-Suspensions, to keep students off the streets and ensure discipline challenged students get proper treatment.
  • Improving school quality: Teacher unions fight for classes that improve curriculum. They have negotiated to ensure multiple choices of foreign language classes in high schools and to ensure music, art, and physical education classes in elementary schools. These classes also provide preparation periods for core-class teachers, which can improve their performance.
  • Improved Evaluations: Ohio teacher unions have been especially proactive in creating teacher evaluation and training systems. The Toledo Federation of Teachers created the Peer-Assistance and Review (PAR) program in the 1980’s, which pairs veteran teacher mentors with newly-hired or struggling teachers to provide guidance and evaluation. The PAR program is now in over 70 school districts around the country, including Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, and has been praised as one of the best systems for improving new teacher quality.
  • Our contract and literature review also found seniority in layoffs is not well understood. Generally seniority is only used as a tie-breaker after other circumstances have been considered, and principals retain a large amount of discretion in hiring and layoffs.

Policy Matters Ohio reminds us of some of the provisions within SB5 that constitute the attack on collective bargaining

Senate Bill 5 was passed in March 2011. Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Eliminating the right to strike for all public workers;
  • Limiting the right to bargain over health insurance, pensions, staffing levels and working conditions;
  • Confining bargaining rights for state-level employees to wage issues only;
  • Eliminating binding arbitration, a process for resolving impasses for safety forces, described below;
  • Allowing the legislative body to impose its own resolution in the case of an impasse;
  • Reclassifying most professors as management to take them out of bargaining units;
  • New minimum requirements for employee contributions to health insurance and pensions;
  • Restricting the ability of teachers to advocate for more effective classroom practices, including smaller class sizes and better teacher evaluations.