The Republican party has no 2020 platform. They refer people looking for one to the 2016 version. That goes for education along with everything else. The Trump-Pence campaign website doesn’t display policy positions, either, though there’s a section on “promises kept” that includes one skimpy page on education.
The Republican party has no 2020 platform. They refer people looking for one to the 2016 version. That goes for education along with everything else. The Trump-Pence campaign website doesn’t display policy positions, either, though there’s a section on “promises kept” that includes one skimpy page on education.
Thus anyone seeking a preview of what a second Trump term might mean for education (or anything) doesn’t have much to go by, other than “past as prologue.” That’s unprecedented, so far as I can tell, and manifestly unhelpful to voters.
The president’s lengthy acceptance speech to the GOP convention last Thursday did, however, include a short passage about his education plans and claims. The K–12 portion hit three points. Two were familiar and predictable: his insistence that schools open this fall and his praiseworthy advocacy of school choice and well warranted denunciation of that portion of the Democratic party platform.
His third point was less familiar: “We will fully restore patriotic education to our schools,” he declared. “We want our sons and daughters to know the truth. America is the greatest and most exceptional nation in the history of the world…. I want every child in America to know that you are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history. No matter where your family comes from, no matter your background in America, anyone can rise with hard work, devotion, and drive. You can reach any goal and achieve every ambition….”
He went on at some length about the country’s impressive history and reasons why Americans should come to know and appreciate it. I share that view. Mike Petrilli and I recently edited a collection of essays that includes several ardent, thoughtful, well-informed pleas for U.S. schools to take history education generally, and “patriotic history” specifically, far more seriously in the future. Here’s an excerpt, well worth reading, from the Education Next version of Eliot A. Cohen’s superb contribution to that book, including the crucial link between patriotic history and the improved civic-and-civics education that’s now being urged by many people across the political spectrum.
Particularly for Americans, patriotic history is a kind of glue for an extraordinarily diverse republic. Lincoln used a patriotic version of the nation’s revolutionary past and founding generation to hold the Union together and provide meaning and redemptive hope after the slaughter of hundreds of thousands during the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address, after all, begins by recalling the Declaration of Independence and defining the meaning of the Revolution. And Lincoln in turn became a figure to inspire succeeding generations….
Civic education requires students engage with their history—not only to know whence conventions, principles, and laws have come, but also to develop an attachment to them. And civic education is also inextricably interwoven with patriotism, without which commitment to the values that make free government possible will not exist. Civic education depends not only on an understanding of fundamental processes and institutions (for example, why there is a Supreme Court, or why only Congress gets to raise taxes or declare war) but on a commitment to those processes and institutions, and on some kind of admiration for the country that created them and the men and women who have shaped and lived within them. In a crisis, it is not enough to know how the walls were constructed and the plumbing laid out in the house that Madison, Washington, and Lincoln built. One has to think that the architects did remarkable work, that as their legatees we need to preserve the building even if we modernize it, and that it is a precious edifice like none other.
Cohen is no Trump fan, nor are many other advocates of beefed-up civics and history education. Yet this they seem to agree on, and it ought to be something that lots of Americans could agree on—if we can agree on anything these days.
Tucked away in the President’s remarks on the topic, however, is a mystery posed by this pledge: “We will fully restore patriotic education to our schools.” What could he (or his team) mean by that? There’s a statutory prohibition against the federal government influencing curricula, much less mandating anything in that realm. This doesn’t mean Uncle Sam can’t help schools and teachers in various ways. Over the years, encouraged by such patriotic legislators as Senator Lamar Alexander and the late Senator Robert Byrd, both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Education have sought to support better history teaching, though it’s been almost a decade since the last appropriation for the main such program, named “Teaching American History.” The two agencies did, however, recently join forces to support an ambitious “convening project” that’s intended to strengthen both civics and history education.
That project is still underway—I’m one of many advisors—and is expected to produce recommendations that will likely include ways that Uncle Sam can help. Renewed funding for the mothballed history-teaching program would be a good thing, and extending it to include civics would be even better. Additional convenings would help, too. So would support for quality research in this realm and regular NAEP testing of students in these subjects in grades four, eight, and twelve with results reported by state as well as for the entire nation.
All good and all, I hope, moves that the Trump administration would back, both because the country would benefit and because this would be consistent with his mysterious but well intended pledge. Could we expect the same from a Biden administration? I sincerely hope so.
In late July, the Democratic Party released a policy platform that included stances on a variety of issues, including education. Although there appears to be some debate about what, exactly, the platform says in regard to charter schools, there are definitely some ideas that should give school choice advocates pause. Consider this statement:
We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances.
At first glance, that seems reasonable. Charter schools should be held accountable for the way they educate their students, and having solid policies that promote transparency is crucial. But calling for charter schools to “meet the same standards” as traditional schools suggests that they are not currently doing so—and that’s inaccurate.
Let’s start with accountability. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act outlines the basics of a school accountability system that states must implement if they want access to federal funding. State leaders get to determine the nuts and bolts of these systems, including how student achievement and growth data will be collected, calculated, and published. All public schools are subject to the conditions and consequences that are born from this combination of federal and state requirements. And since charter schools are public schools, that means they’re held to the same standards as traditional district schools.
Furthermore, charter schools face much higher stakes under these accountability systems. If traditional district schools perform poorly on a consistent basis, they may, in very rare situations, be subject to state-led intervention efforts. But in Ohio and several other states, if charters perform poorly, the state will close them down automatically, and permanently.
Charter schools also have an additional layer of accountability thanks to their sponsors (a.k.a. “authorizers”), the organizations tasked with overseeing them. In Ohio, sponsors are evaluated using a rigorous system, and poor or ineffective ratings can result in sponsorship authority being revoked. This puts pressure on sponsors to close low-performing schools before they impact sponsor ratings. Within the last few years, dozens of Ohio charters have closed as a result. And it’s not just sponsors that charters must answer to. A charter reform law passed in 2015 required charter schools to meet a slew of new transparency and accountability standards—several of which are more rigorous than what their district peers are subjected to.
Finally, charters face competitive pressures that districts are almost entirely insulated from. If families don’t like the way a charter school is run, they aren’t forced to attend. If families don’t like the way their district school is run, on the other hand, their options are often much more limited. Many have just two options: They can either move to a new district—a costly and often impossible option—or hope there’s a school of choice nearby.
Thus, accountability for charter schools is already at maximum. There’s no need to “increase” anything there.
But what about the other issues identified in the platform? The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notes that civil rights laws “prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, sex, disability, and on the basis of age.” They must be followed by any school that receives federal funding. The same goes for laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects the privacy of student education records, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which governs special education services. As is the case with academic accountability, charter schools are required to follow all of these laws. So, once again, they are held to the same standards and consequences as traditional schools.
That leaves issues such as admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. This is where things get complicated because education governance in the United States is complex. Many of these policies are established and implemented at the state level, which means they vary from state to state. But in general, charters are still held to the same—or higher—standards as traditional public schools. For example, when it comes to admissions, oversubscribed charters must use lotteries to admit students if they want to remain eligible for federal start up dollars. The same can’t be said for oversubscribed magnet schools in traditional districts. Student discipline policies in all public schools, charter and district alike, must adhere to the same federal civil rights rules, including reporting discipline rates. And as far as finances go, charters tend to get less money than their district peers but are still held to similar reporting requirements.
To be clear, it’s important for charter schools to be held accountable. They receive public money and are responsible for educating kids, and that means they must be subject to rigorous and transparent accountability policies. But a platform suggesting that charter schools aren’t held to the same standards as traditional public schools is misleading and, in states like Ohio, completely incorrect.
There are plenty of reasons why Democrats should support school choice. And policy advisers to the Biden campaign have said that the nominee supports high-performing charter schools. But in a world where fact and fiction are sometimes willfully combined to obscure vital but troublesome details, telling the truth in the clearest terms matters. And that means it’s important for the party’s policy platform to accurately reflect the reality of charter school accountability.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They don’t look at test scores when they evaluate schools.”
OK, I made that second part up. But the rich really don’t look at test scores. It’s just you and me, policy wonks and education researchers who do that. The rich (and the handful of fortunate non-rich who have private school choice) weigh the ineffable—school tone, peers, arts and sports programs, the kinds of colleges that graduates find their way into, and myriad other factors. In private schools there often aren’t test scores to look at even if you want them; they’re generally not required to administer or publish them.
To be sure, well-off Americans have the luxury of assuming their kids will learn to read well and do math competently, but that’s the starting line, not the finish line. The greater luxury is the ability to take the long view, asking not just “what will my kid learn,” but “what kind of person will she become and how will this school shape her?” Rich or poor, parents would likely agree that test scores matter—we must never be blithe about ensuring that every child achieves basic competence—but in the long run, character matters more. We want schools to help launch our kids well and happily into adult life, prepared to benefit from its blessings and grapple with its challenges. This presents a bit of a dilemma for researchers and policymakers. If “what the best and wisest parent wants for his child” (or at least the parent with all conceivable options and resources) transcends mere test scores, what else could we measure?
Enter Patrick Wolf, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, and Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation, who just published a fascinating study in the Journal of Private Enterprise, which takes a long view of participants in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the oldest government-run private school voucher program in the U.S. It also hints at a broader vision of what it means to say a school or program “works.”
The pair find that participation in the MPCP “predicts lower rates of conviction for criminal activity and lower rates of paternity suits by ages twenty-five to twenty-eight” among voucher recipients. And not trivial reductions. “Exposure to the MPCP is associated with a reduction of around 53 percent in drug convictions, 86 percent in property damage convictions, and 38 percent in paternity suits,” Wolf and DeAngelis found. Effects tend to be “largest for males and students with lower levels of academic achievement at baseline.” This is encouraging, trajectory-changing stuff if it can be replicated and demonstrated in similar educational programs and policies. It’s also a far more compelling argument for the benefit of private school choice than test scores.
A couple of years ago, I was nearing completion of the first draft of my book, How the Other Half Learns, when I confided to Wolf, who I’ve known for over a decade, where I was netting out after a year of school observations and reporting on Success Academy, an astonishingly high-performing network of New York City charter schools. I’d expected to write a book about curriculum and instruction leading to higher test scores, I told him. But I’d ended up writing about school culture. I didn’t love every curriculum or instructional decision CEO Eva Moskowitz made in her network, I explained. But in some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods she had created schools where it was simply a given that certain levels of effort and behavior were expected, and she got every adult in a child’s life singing from the same hymnal. The test scores, while remarkable—and remarkably consistent—seemed merely to validate the power of the school culture to normalize student effort and achievement.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve read George Akerlof’s work,” Wolf replied. I confessed I had not heard of him, which was plenty embarrassing given that he’s a Nobel laureate and married to former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen. Wolf referred me to his 2002 paper with Rachel E. Kranton, “Identity and Schooling: Some Lessons for the Economics of Education.”
And there it was—a rich and detailed analysis that functionally predicted what I would see at Success Academy twenty years later: a focused, coherent, and intentional school culture that equaled more than the sum of its parts. If you’re able to get a majority of the students to buy into a school culture that valorizes certain behaviors, mindsets, and levels of effort, it becomes self-perpetuating, “because young people like to fit in,” Wolf explained to me. “Even if a student is not oriented toward valuing achievement, if they enter a school in which that’s the dominant culture, they will accommodate themselves to it.”
Wolf and DeAngelis’s new paper advances a similar theory to explain the pro-social effects they discerned among MPCP voucher recipients. “People who associate voluntarily often share similar values and expectations, making it easier to establish a strong educational culture and generate social capital,” they write. “Sustained exposure to a voluntary, and therefore value-intensive, educational environment should increase student levels of personal responsibility and conscientiousness.” Since private schools are typically located in more affluent, lower-crime areas, private school choice could “decrease risky behaviors by separating vulnerable children from peers who would pressure them to join criminal enterprises,” they speculate. Citing Akerlof and Kranton specifically, they suggest peer pressure at more-advantaged schools “may discourage the negative activities of students.” In sum, school culture matters and could very well contribute to enhanced character skills “leading to fewer risky behaviors that result in criminal convictions and paternity suits,” they conclude.
More remarkable than these findings is how little curiosity there has been within the education research and policy firmament even to explore these long-term outcomes. In a grand bit of understatement, Wolf and DeAngelis describe studies of non-test-score outcomes of school choice as “an undeveloped literature.” The pair uncovered six—count ‘em, six—comparable studies that have looked at the relationship between school choice and crime. And to be sure, private school choice programs are still relatively rare. Wolf and DeAngelis counted fifty-six such programs in twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia, with a total enrollment just shy of half a million students in 2018–19. That’s a rounding error compared to the 56.6 million American kids in K–12 schools.
“Schools should teach people to be responsible citizens, increase social cohesion, and boost democratic participation,” Wolf and DeAngelis suggest. This includes “responsible citizenship,” such as “obeying just laws crafted by legitimate government institutions and procedures.” The research citations for these assertions in their paper delightfully include “Mann 1855,” “Dewey 1916,” and “Locke 1690,” none of whom, just like rich parents, would have given much thought to test scores either. At the very least, it suggests a richer definition of what it means to say a school or program is effective and offers a critical argument for school choice advocates to advance. As I’ve noted elsewhere, narrowing the discussion of whether choice “works” to test scores (or even primarily) is akin to comparing your neighborhood grocery store to Wal-Mart based on price alone. Price is important (and to some shoppers it will be the most important thing), but other factors may matter more to you than saving 50 cents per pound on ground beef. If school culture and voluntary association with like-minded families drives good long-term outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged families, it is shortsighted to grant veto power to test scores alone. School culture and the signals it sends to children about their role in civil society are of paramount concern.
Reading Wolf and DeAngelis’s fascinating paper reconfirmed for me much of what I saw at Success, but raised anew a profound dilemma. If school culture and voluntary association is the key to positive, long-term, pro-social outcomes, it’s not just a blind spot for test-focused policy wonks and researchers, it’s hard to square with lottery admissions, which are a spin of the wheel that may or may not attract a critical mass of like-minded families who are bought into a school’s culture, potentially dulling its beneficial effects. And there’s an opposite problem school choice proponents must reckon with: Common sense suggests that allowing like-minded families with similar values and ambitions to self-select and cluster together risks concentrating dysfunction and anti-social behaviors—negative school cultures—in the schools they flee. Taking the long view demands that we consider and account for both.
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) surveyed students at that school to determine the impact of Covid-19 on their current and future plans—including their enrollment decisions, study habits, remote learning experiences, labor market participation, and more. The results, published in a recent NBER working paper, show a dark cloud descending upon many students’ sense of their future.
Analysts surveyed over 1,400 ASU undergraduate students online in late April. The campus was closed in early March, and all classes transitioned to online learning following the conclusion of spring break. ASU is a large and diverse university, which makes the findings relevant for other large public institutions in the U.S. That said, there are several caveats. Compared to students in other flagship universities, their sample had higher scores on the SAT and ACT, which is likely explained by a higher percentage of honors students participating in the survey. It also has a higher proportion of first-generation students and a smaller proportion of international students than the ASU population as a whole. Finally, the survey was administered on a “first come, first served basis” since funding prevented any more than 1,500 students from receiving the $10 dollar incentive to complete the survey.
The somewhat unique aspect of the survey is that it consistently asks students about their perceived outcomes, both in light of Covid-19 and without it. For instance: “What semester level GPA do you expect to get at the end of the semester?” Then: “Were it not for Covid-19, what semester GPA would have you expected to get at the end of the semester?” Analysts say this approach allows them to calculate an “individual level subjective treatment effect” of Covid-19, which is basically the difference between the two responses.
On average, the academic outcomes are mostly negative. Overall, more than 50 percent of students expect some decrease in their GPA due to Covid-19. Specifically, the average subjective treatment effect of Covid-19 on semester GPA is a decline of 0.17 points. In addition, 13 percent of the sample delayed their graduation, 11 percent withdrew from at least one class during the spring semester, and 12 percent stated their choice of major was impacted by Covid-19. In terms of weekly study hours, the average treatment effect of Covid-19 meant a decline of 0.9 hours spent studying per week.
As for labor market outcomes, on average 29 percent of students lost the jobs they held prior to the pandemic (67 percent reported working prior to the pandemic), 13 percent had their internships or job offers rescinded, and 61 percent reported that a close family member had lost their job or experienced an income reduction. In terms of labor market expectations, on average students expect a 13 percentage point decrease in their probability of finding a job by graduation and a 2.3 percent decrease in their expected earnings at age thirty-five—more than fiteen years hence—due to Covid-19.
As for heterogeneous effects, low-income students, first generation college students, and racial minorities experience larger negative impacts, with the biggest differences appearing for low income students—who are 55 percent more likely to delay graduation due to Covid-19 and expect 30 percent larger negative effects to their GPA, as compared to their more affluent peers. First generation students are 50 percent more likely to delay their graduation than students with college-educated parents.
Interestingly, the switch to online learning was harder for men, who were 7 percentage points less likely to opt for an online version of a course when the in-person class was cancelled. Students in ASU’s honors college were also less enamored with online learning—qualitative evidence showed they felt less challenged in that format—but they were nonetheless able to mitigate the negative effects because they were less than half as likely as non-honors college students to delay graduation or change their major.
Finally, analysts show that economic and health related shocks induced by the pandemic vary by socioeconomic status and may partly explain the large heterogenous effects. These are things like whether a family member lost a job or income, or whether a student fears that they may contract Covid-19 themselves. For example, they find that the change in the expected probability of finding a job before graduation strongly depends on whether a family member lost income. So their perceptions are shaped by their family’s experiences, not only their own college experience.
Undergraduates surveyed in early April of 2020 had plenty of reason to be gloomy at that time. Of course, data are still to come on whether college GPAs actually declined—and how any realized declines stem from Covid-19 and/or its relationship to pass/fail grading or other lowered classroom standards. Moreover, the economic hit borne by today’s collegians could take years to manifest.
For now, a new school year has already begun at colleges and universities across the country—some fully online and some with hybrid in-person models. How those institutions and their students respond to ongoing pandemic challenges will largely determine whether bleak initial assessments come true or whether the crystal ball was clouded more by early shocks than by certain doom.
SOURCE: Esteban M. Aucejo, Jacob F. French, Maria Paola Ugalde Araya, and Basit Zafar, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Student Experiences and Expectations: Evidence from a Survey,” NBER Working Paper #27392 (June 2020).
Arnold Glass and Mengxue Kang, psychology researchers at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, are conducting an ongoing study using technology to monitor college students’ academic performance and to assess the effects of new instructional technologies on that performance. Noticing a problematic trend in the data—students’ homework grades far outpacing their exam grades—they have dug into a subset of their findings to try and determine what may be driving that change. The results raise questions about teaching and learning in a time when remote education opportunities are expanding.
The data come from Professor Glass’s own courses: two sections of a lecture course on human learning and memory taught between 2008 and 2011, and two sections of a lecture course on human cognition taught between 2012 and 2018. Glass and Kang analyzed student homework and exam performance (232 total question sets) for 2,433 students who took the classes over the entire period. Fity-nine percent of students were female, and 41 percent were male. The vast majority were between the ages of nineteen and twenty-four.
Homework consisted of online quizzes of four to eight questions posted after each lecture that were to be completed outside of the classroom prior to the next lecture. The students’ answers, the correct answer, and some detail on why the answer was correct were available after the quiz window closed and throughout the semester and were to be used as study guides for the exams. There were three in-class exams given each semester. In the final two years of the study, the researchers also asked students about their process for completing the online quizzes: whether they typically answered from memory (these students were dubbed Homework Generators), or whether they looked up their answers before submitting (dubbed Homework Copiers).
The initial data sorted students into two groups: those whose exam grades were higher than their homework grades and vice versa. The researchers considered the former to be the preferred outcome, since the lectures and online quizzes were intended to build upon one another over the course of the semester and “produce learning” that would ultimately increase the probability that students answered exam questions correctly. This was the predominant pattern shown by the data beginning in 2008. However, the percent of students who exhibited the opposite pattern—scoring better on the online homework than the in-person exams—increased from 14 percent in 2008 to a whopping 55 percent in 2017.
During the most recent two years of the study, Glass and Kang added the survey responses on homework strategy and performed an analysis of variance to discover that Homework Copiers were far more likely than Homework Generators to be among the group whose exam scores lagged their homework scores. In other words, looking up the answer to an online quiz boosted those quiz scores but did not appear to build learning that translated into success on exams when no outside resources could be used. Nearly 60 percent of students reported being Homework Copiers in 2017.
The researchers make a couple of leaps in their discussion of the findings, likely based on other parts of their ongoing research, in which they demonize burgeoning internet access and increasing smartphone usage among students during the ten-year study period. But the survey questions asked here of self-identified Homework Copiers do not differentiate between digital and analog look ups. Whether it’s Google trawling or combing the course’s required textbook for answers, the point is that students are on their own when answering the homework questions. The more common this type of learning becomes—work completed outside of class and without oversight—the more looking up answers will likely occur. It is vital that course design responds to this reality. That college kids are looking up homework answers is probably not big news. That it might undermine their learning and retention when a course is not properly structured to address it should be the headline—or a call to arms. Especially if their little siblings in high schools could be following suit.
SOURCE: Arnold L. Glass and Mengxue Kang, “Fewer students are benefiting from doing their homework: an eleven-year study,” Educational Psychology (August 2020).
On this week’s podcast, Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, joins Mike Petrilli to discuss why politics seems to be a bigger factor in some school reopening decisions than science. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines how school finance reforms and test-based accountability have affected student outcomes.
Amber's Research Minute
Christian Buerger, Seung Hyeong Lee, & John D. Singleton, “Test-Based Accountability and the Effectiveness of School Finance Reforms,” retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University (August 2020).