In this week's podcast, Mike Petrilli and Brandon Wright explain the schisms in the school choice movement, defend career and technical education programs, and discuss Eva Moskowitz’s big speech on school discipline. In the Research Minute, Amber Northern describes the effect of teacher turnover and quality on student achievement in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Melinda Adnot, Thomas Dee, Veronica Katz, and James Wyckoff, "Teacher Turnover, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement in DCPS," NBER (January 2016).


Mike:                    Hello this is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at Now, please join me welcoming my co-host the snowzilla of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:             I'll take that, yeah.

Mike:                    You take no prisoners, you pack a punch. You surprise. Especially in New York City.

Brandon:             I'm still causing problems here.

Mike:                    Oh, wreaking havoc left and right.

Brandon:             The sidewalks are blocked and the roads are still one lane. It hasn't snowed in like 4 days.

Mike:                    What? One lane? What are you talking about man? Out in the snowdrifts of the suburbs where I lived, you're lucky if your streets got plowed. That happened to me yesterday, which is why I get to be here, but yeah, it's tough. We are basically waiting for things to melt. That is how things will get back to normal.

Brandon:             It was cold for a few days though.

Mike:                    We've got to wait. We're going to just have to wait, patience Brandon, patience. That's a good segue because sometimes patience pays off such as with the movement for school choice. It is national school choice week.

Brandon:             Hey, hey.

Mike:                    We're going to talk about that today and some other important issues in education reform. Let's get started. Clara let's play pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                     It's national school choice week and many have noted that when it comes to giving families a choice of schools, it's no longer a matter of if, but how. But Mike you see [schisms 00:01:34] in the school-choice movement, should we worry about them?

Mike:                    Well we shouldn't worry about them but we should acknowledge them because they are there and they are real. I would argue and do argue in this week's Gadfly that these divisions within the movement are just as deep as we see divisions within each of the political parties. We're in this primary season right now where of course these divisions are on full display, I think particularly so in the Republican field. There is a great political scientist, or commentator Henry Olson, friend of mine who has been writing about the four faces of the GOP and he talks about these different categories.

                                Well, I've tried to write now about these three tribes of the school choice movement. You've got the school choice realists, I put myself in that camp Brandon.

Brandon:             As do I.

Mike:                    Who tend to support all 2 pillars of the Charter School movement. It's saying we believe in parental choice. We believe in accountability for results and we believe in school level autonomy, we also are willing to apply those same principles to private school choice. Then you've got the school choice purists, these are the folks who tend to be the more libertarians. They believe in choice, they believe in autonomy, but they're not so down on accountability. They feel like that is second guessing parents. If parents are happy enough with it, so should we, even if the school is not getting great results. Then finally you've got the school choice nannies, I call them. These folks are tension, these is an interesting group, they like choice, but and they're okay with accountability, but they are not so committed to autonomy.

                                These are either the bureaucrats that that want to just micromanage charter schools and other forms of school choice, or sometimes even some other folks out there in the school reform world, who claim to like school choice, but then are against certain practices like tough love on discipline, so they want to micromanage the schools around that. You know, look in the end of course as I said before, we tend to fall on the school choice realist spectrum, but it's important to understand where other people are coming from and Brandon what do you think? I mean, are we better of with this big tent than a pup tent, right?

Brandon:             Yeah. I definitely think the big tent is the best thing for kids which is obviously why we have school choice to begin with, right? Yeah, the entire point is to have better schools for our kids and the best way for that to happen is for school choice advocates in all these different small tents to work well together just as it's important for kids in public education in the country as a whole for the choice sectors and district sectors to find a way to work together well.

Mike:                    Yeah.

Brandon:             Right? We see that in a few places, we see that in Denver, we see it here in the nation's capital. Right so, it's possible right? But we need to find a way to cooperate.

Mike:                    Right, right, right 'kumbaya' instead of 'lord of the flies'. But you know and the other thing is look, I think we have to expect that this means school choice and charter ... Schooling is going to look a little bit differently depending on the political coloration of a given place. For example in Red states, you're probably going to see this libertarian tea party element stronger, the sort of school choice purist, will be more influential there. You know in some of the blue states you might have the school choice nannies are going to be stronger, or they're going to be responding certainly to the protest of folks on the left who for example aren't comfortable with allowing charter schools or other schools of choice to have their own approach to school discipline or admissions policies, and that's okay. I mean we're going to keep fighting for what we prefer and what we think makes sense in terms of policy, but it probably is going to intersect with the politics of a given place to see how that comes out.

                                Okay, Clara topic number 2.

Clara:                     The NewsHour focus this week on high quality career and technical education, an Arizona lawmaker has just restored funding for their state's CTE programs yet many reformers and reform critics alike remain skeptical of CTE. Do they have a point?

Mike:                    Yeah so, Brandon I did an interview, it feels like months and months and months ago that aired this on the NewsHour among others, a nice long 6 minute segment on career and technical education, that was kind of, they pitched it as in the end a debate between myself and Carol Barz, reform critic about whether we should have college for all. I made the case that no we shouldn't. That this high quality career and technical education programs can be quite effective and she was making basically the anti-tracking point that she worried that if we make these decisions too early, that there are young people would have blossomed late and could have done quite well at college and instead we're sending them into these more technical fields, is that right to be worried about them?

Brandon:             I actually side ... I side with you.

Mike:                    No Brandon, just because you work for me doesn't mean you have to agree with me on everything.

Brandon:             No, no, no I mean-

Mike:                    You know what I mean? Let's-

Brandon:             Like right, so at some point it makes sense to choose.

Mike:                    Yup.

Brandon:             To choose your own track and you can always change right? After you do a CTE program if you want, you can go to a college. But when you look at what's actually happening as opposed to what we wish was happening, you see that a lot of kids who graduate and go to college aren't prepared for college and so they don't finish college, yet they had already paid for a few years of college. That's how things are. Like in a perfect world every kid would graduate from high school. They would go to college. They would graduate there and they would get a good job using their college education. That's not the world we are in and I don't think it ever will be.

Mike:                    Well, yeah and I would say and I'm not even not sure that that's ideal right? I mean-

Brandon:             Right.

Mike:                    There's lots of different talents that people have in interest and this economy, thankfully has lots of different opportunities including some good middle class jobs that require technical skills but not necessarily a 4 year college degree. Now, many of those jobs do require some post-secondary education. A 2 year degree or a 1 year credential and it is true that the best career in technical education programs tend to aim to have kids go from those high school programs directly into technical colleges, community colleges to get those credentials. But the Carol Barz our human ... As I read is, well, we want to keep all kids in this general college track basically have no track. Every high school is a college prep high school on a traditional sense, so that we give ever kid every possibility to blossom and have a chance to go to traditional colleges.

                                I just ... Look, as you say, it's not working. And it again buys into this assumption that the 4 year college route is the best route for everyone.

Brandon:             Mm-hmm (affirmative), don't stop.

Mike:                    In my opinion, wait until kids are 18, it's just too long.

Brandon:             Yeah.

Mike:                    You know some people say, "Well, we don't want to make these choices for kids. Let's have a goal that by 18 every child that wants to go college is fully prepared to do that. Again, fine, but what kind of college. If you want to be ready for a technical credential, ion post secondary education, a technical track in post secondary, you need to start working on that probably by age 14 or 15-

Brandon:             Exactly, or you'll be behind.

Mike:                    ... Or you'll be behind and that means giving options. Okay, maybe on this 3rd one Brandon, we will disagree, let's see. Clara, topic number 3.

Clara:                     Success academy's Eva Moscolatz gave a big speech on school discipline this week. Did she put the issue to bed?

Mike:                    No, Brandon.

Brandon:             Oh no. No she didn't.

Mike:                    Ah come on. Okay, then yes, yes, I'll take the yes side. Yes she took the issue to bed.

Brandon:             Okay sure, sure.

Mike:                    You just have to say no. I want you to disagree with me Brandon. Is that clear?

Brandon:             It's such a complicated topic. I don't know how in like a single speech, which was in large part a response right to a Times article that you could just say, oh. School discipline has solved it's no longer a problem. We've figured out the best approach or our approach is always fine or public school's approach is bad, right? It's a complicated topic that affects so many kids be it the kids who are actually being punished or the kids who are in a classroom with a disruptive kid who is or isn't being punished.

Mike:                    Yeah. I mean look this links back up to what we talked about a few minutes ago with these different schisms or camps within the school choice movement. You've got some of us who are willing to say, "Look, let's be honest. Let's be realistic, not every single school of choice is going to be right for every single kid. If there are a group of under-served kids in our schools it surely includes low income kids who are high achieving, or show high academic promise, or who are striving, or however you want to classify them. But kids who are wanting to come to school, work hard, play by the rules, the parents are supporting that. Too many places, those kids when they go to traditional public schools they are in a environment that's chaotic, where they are with kids who are way behind them academically, who are disruptive, and we do not make the strivers the priority.

                                Instead we say, "Well out of equity, we want to make sure we do everything we can to help their peers." No doubt, many of their peers are incredibly disadvantaged and have gone through all kinds of hardship and horrible experiences which explain why their behavior is now where it should be, or why their academic performance is not where it should be. But if you're rich, you're not going to school with those kinds of kids. Why is it that if you're poor we don't, we are going to make you go to school with those kinds of kids whether you want to or not. Isn't there a space within our public education system where those kids can go and get a good education. If that's a charter school or a private school, that partly is a strong place for them because they have the real discipline policy, so be it.

                                But the left just sees that and says it's not fair, it's not equitable, you have to serve everybody if you want to be considered a public school.

Brandon:             Which isn't actually fair to these kids, right? Like you ... It's not fair to the high achieving low income kids.

Mike:                    Yeah, and let's be honest, the public school systems in most cities have programs, at least by high school, many of them have had exam schools for a long, long time that don't serve everybody, right? We have come to peace with that notion.

Brandon:             Right, not every kid is the same.

Mike:                    Because not every kid is the same. This is ... You know Brandon, some of this just seems like such common sense right, and to somebody outside of education.

Brandon:             Yeah, yes.

Mike:                    But man, when you get into these issues, and particularly when you start throwing the word equity around. It just seems like we end up tying ourselves in knots and end up hurting many of the kids that we all want to help. Maybe we can start to untangle those knots and/or cut through them.

Brandon:             With some common sense maybe? Yeah.

Mike:                    With some common sense.

Brandon:             Maybe.

Mike:                    All right, thank you. Well, not a whole lot of disagreement, we'll try it better next time. That's all the time we've got for pardon the Gadfly, now it is time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Amber welcome back to the show.

Amber:                 Thank you Mike.

Mike:                    How did your fair city of Richmond survive snowzilla?

Amber:                 We got 20 inches, is that nuts? Like we weren't supposed to get 20 inches, we were like supposed to get 12.

Mike:                    Is that like a record for the confederacy?

Amber:                 I think it might be.

Mike:                    Yeah.

Amber:                 My husband who's lived there his whole life is like, "What the heck is going on."

Mike:                    Yeah.

Amber:                 Anyway we were in some of the weird area again that got the most snow in Richmond. I'm like, "How do I always end up in the areas with the most snow, no matter where I live?"

Mike:                    Because that was the case when you lived in the Washington suburbs.

Amber:                 In German town, same thing in German town. It follows me around Mike it's crazy.

Mike:                    Well, you know some ski resorts are going to ask you to move to where they are located, just to help them out.

Amber:                 Maybe, I'm not a skier though, I'm just a little ... I'm a tuber.

Mike:                    But just to bring the weather, just to bring the weather, that's all they need. A tuber, you're a tuber.

Amber:                 That's really lame though. It's me and all the 5 year olds tuber, yeah I love it.

Mike:                    That is a little funny. That's when I say, "You can get away with that as a woman." I think if you were a man and you did that, people would think you were creepy.

Amber:                 Well, my husband's right beside me, so make of it what you will.

Mike:                    Make sure-

Brandon:             As long as he's with you.

Mike:                    Yeah, make sure he's always with you. All right, what you got for us this week?

Amber:                 We've got a new study out by Tom D. and colleagues it follows on the heels of a prior evaluation of DCPS' impact teacher evaluation system, just came out yeah, a couple of years ago, now he's following up again.

Mike:                    NBER?

Amber:                 NBER study, you know it baby. This time around they examine the effects of turnover on student achievement, which is presumably prompted by impact, although it's not a colossal study, so they can't say that. Anyway, reminder that impact is a multi-faceted evaluation system that measures student growth, classroom practice to the observations professionalism, I'm not sure what that is, you show up on time I guess, among other areas.

Mike:                    Well and in that you're considered a collaborative et cetera.

Amber:                 Collaborative person, yeah. And there's something about community involvement too?

Mike:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:                 It's multi-faceted. Teachers receive scores that range from ineffective to highly effective. The former or "separated from the district", the later are illegible for one time bonuses of up $25,000 and a permanent increase to base pay of up to $27,000 a year. This is not chump change, we know this, but just reminding you. The evaluation has data spinning from 2009 through 2013. It covers 103 schools serving roughly 57,000 students in grades 4 through 8. Okay, it examines the achievement at the school then the grade level for particular years and let's examine whether teacher effectiveness and achievement are higher or lower as a result of these various teachers exiting and entering the system, okay?

Mike:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:                 That's a [inaudible 00:15:13] study, once again it's NBER so you've got 15 pages of people doing robustness checks to make sure that this is a solid design. They are trying to rule out like systematic sorting of students, once in response to the turnover. If you're interested in 15 pages of that kind of stuff, it's in there.

Mike:                    With all those formulas, with those fancy Greek symbols that I don't understand?

Amber:                 Yes. All that good stuff is in there, but it's a tight study. All right, bottom line is that teacher turnover in DC was found to have an overall positive effect on student achievement and math, and increase of about 0.08 standard deviation and the effect of turnover in reading, all reading again was positive 0.05 standard deviation, but that really wasn't statistically significant.

Mike:                    And even 0.08, that's not huge, right?

Amber:                 It's not huge, but that's overall. So now we're going to get into the nitty gritty.

Mike:                    Okay.

Amber:                 The overall effect mass, the important differences you were reading my mind, for instance when low performers leave, achievement grows by 21% of a standard deviation in Math, which equates to about a third to two thirds of a year of learning, depending on the grade level and 14% of standard deviation in reading. These numbers [develop 00:16:22]. Interestingly, well that's a hard word, interestingly, more than 90% of turnover of low performing teachers happens in the high poverty schools, but love this, their exit consistently produces large improvements in teaching quality, and student achievement and math, and once again smaller improvements over time and reading, the analyst say, "In almost every year, DCPS has been able to replace low performing teachers with high performing teachers who have been able to improve student achievement.

Mike:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:                 But what happens when high performers leaver, right? Well of course we want to know that. It does not influence teacher quality or student achievement, it appears that DCPS is able to recruit replacements who are at least as effective as those who left. Bottom like, whereas we have these other studies that show negative effects of teacher turnover, this one doesn't, but lo and behold it turns out when you have a policy that is specifically intended to change the composition of your teaching workforce, and you have a bunch of money to reward the high performers, lo and behold the workforce improves and the students benefit.

Mike:                    Amber first of all, I think this is an incredible validation of what Michelle did in DC and then Kaya and the various funders that supported there, again let's remember most the time when we look at these rigorous studies of anything we find out that it doesn't work.

Amber:                 It doesn't work.

Mike:                    Right? Or the impacts are very small. I mean, they set out to change the composition of the DC workforce and they have changed it dramatically and it has resulted in big benefits for kids.

Amber:                 It has. That is what they're saying. They deserve credit.

Mike:                    They deserve ... Okay.

Amber:                 This is like ... This is not a one time study apparently they've got a contract to follow these stuff for a while, this is the 2nd or 3rd study, so yeah, they are tracking it.

Mike:                    Now full stop.

Amber:                 Okay.

Mike:                    Here's the problem right? It's what do you do with these findings in terms of other cities, right? The question is, how much of a special snowflake is Washington DC?

Amber:                 Pretty special.

Mike:                    This is a place where you have a ton of money, first of all, thanks to the Federal Government, 2nd of all you have a ton of talent. We all know this. There are a bizillion 20-somethings who want to come to Washington DC and live and work, and DCPS has been able to recruit these people into their school.

Amber:                 And foundation supports, it's not even the-

Mike:                    And there's foundation support and so you say, "How many cities out there have the poor- because this is always the question when we are doing work in our home state of Ohio, and you start pushing for some of these ideas, the question is always, "Hey if you're able to let go of the low performers are [inaudible 00:18:56] has been arguing for, who are you going to replace them with?

Amber:                 Yes.

Mike:                    Right? And look, I think in most places you probably could still replace the very lowest performers with somebody better, but let's be honest, you're not going to have the same talent pool that you're going to have in a Washington DC. There's going to be a handful of big cities where this strategy might work. By all means, let's do it in those cities, but it is going to be hard to apply everywhere.

Amber:                 Because people want to live here too, right?

Mike:                    Yes.

Amber:                 I mean we literary studied their entire system in DC and find that they nationally recruit, like they have people in their personal office who's job is to travel the country and find good teachers. They make it a priority too.

Mike:                    Yeah, absolutely. And so look, I just ... For some of our friends who look at all this and say, "See this is validation for having a Federal mandate on teacher evaluation, or state mandates on teacher evaluation or ... Yeah you know you say, "Well-"

Amber:                 "You've got to have the ego-system, that's [inaudible 00:19:49] right?"

Mike:                    "No, I kind of hope he's right."

Amber:                 Yeah I know, it is a unique, what you call a unique snowboard special snowflake.

Mike:                    A special snowflake, isn't that what the ... All the cool kids are using that phrase these days right?

Amber:                 Yes. I think that is what it is.

Mike:                    But all that said, hey still Michelle, Rick, Kyle Henderson take a bow.

Amber:                 Kudos to you.

Mike:                    And the other folks that are working on this dead gist and the foundation is already behind the scenes. You said look, "A lot of people thought it couldn't be done, that there was no way to change the composition, or that ..." All along I remember we'd have these merit paid debates and people say, "Oh these teachers are not motivated by money," or it assumes that they're not working as hard as they could be and it was people like Rick Hearse always made the case and said, "Look it's not so much about trying to get people to work a little harder for the money, it's about bringing in a whole different kind of person in the first place who's more goal driven, who's more-" you know?

Amber:                 Right, but it's also $25,000.

Mike:                    Yeah.

Amber:                 We know from those old merit pay studies, if you give them a bonus of 1 or 2,000, that doesn't swing the needle.

Mike:                    Of course, no.

Amber:                 When you start talking 20, 25,000 that will do a little something for recruiting efforts.

Mike:                    There are 30 year old teachers in DC making 6 figures.

Amber:                 Yes.

Mike:                    Right? That is a big deal.

Amber:                 Yeah, I think it was 185 with some of the top salary you could get with a bonus.

Brandon:             Wow, 185,000? Are you sure?

Amber:                 I'll find the citation.

Mike:                    What? All right, I didn't think it was that high.

Brandon:             That's higher than the highest federal government might pay GS.

Mike:                    Yeah.

Brandon:             It's something.

Mike:                    It's a lot of money, but ... And again that's hard to replicate.

Amber:                 Yeah, hard to replicate, that's right, because really the funders are all still standing behind, I mean I obviously don't have the skill anymore.

Mike:                    I don't know how much they are still giving. That's a good question, and ... Again, like DC needs the money, you'd think it's by some estimate they spend 30K a year.

Amber:                 Yeah. By the way they are turning up the screws on the impact system next year, like making it even harder to get that high performing.

Mike:                    Yeah, God bless them.

Amber:                 Yeah.

Mike:                    God bless them. All right, well thank you Amber, fascinating stuff, that's all the time we've got for the education Gadfly Show. Till next week-

Brandon:             I'm Brandon Wright.

Mike:                    And Mike Petrilli, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, executive editor of Education Next, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education Commission of the States. An award-winning writer, he…

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Amber Northern is senior vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she supervises the Institute’s studies and research staff.  She has published in the areas of educational accountability, principal leadership, teacher quality, and academic standards, among others. Prior to joining Fordham, she served as senior study director at Westat. In that role, she provided evaluation services…

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Brandon Wright is the Editorial Director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He is the coauthor of two books: Failing our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students

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Clara Allen is the Development and Staff Assistant at the Fordham Institute, where she assists with grant-writing initiatives, contributes to the operations team and manages Fordham's events. Prior to joining Fordham, she graduated cum laude from Davidson College with a bachelor of science in psychology and a minor in educational studies. She has experience working in various development capacities with the American…

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Audrey Kim