I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, April 2, 2012

Funding, Schunding!

It's hard to think of an article that could get more stuff wrong than this one from the Connecticut Council for Education Reform:
Today, we are taking a look at an argument frequently made in opposition to education reform: namely, that Connecticut’s achievement gap - which is the largest in the nation - is due to poverty, and therefore, the education system, and the adults within it, cannot be held responsible for providing a high-quality education to all students.While poverty and a lack of parenting are used as convenient scapegoats to explain the achievement gap in Connecticut, Massachusetts has skipped the blame game, and worked on addressing the issue instead.  In 2010, Massachusetts and Connecticut had almost exactly the same percentages of students who were low-income (34.2% in Massachusetts vs. 34.4% in Connecticut).  Nonetheless, on national math assessments in 2011, Massachusetts’ low-income 4th graders scored 2nd in the nation – while Connecticut’s low-income students scored 48th.  This difference in performance between Massachusetts’ low-income students and Connecticut’s equates to about 1.5 grade levels.
In fact, the low-income students in all of our neighboring states outperform Connecticut’s low-income students. For instance, New Jersey’s low-income students, who make up 33% of their student population, ranked 14th on 4th grade national math assessments - again, as compared to Connecticut’s rank of 48th in the nation, and Massachusetts’s rank of 2nd.  Connecticut’s low-income students not only score below all of our neighboring states, but also score below states like Mississippi and Tennessee.
Funny how all the sucky teachers just happen to teach poor kids, isn't it? What are the odds?

A quick look at the NEAP results tells us CT's lower-income students do not, in fact, do well compared to NJ and MA. Is that because the teachers in poor NJ and MA schools suck less than CT teachers in poor schools?

According to these guys, yeah, pretty much:
We think folks would be hard-pressed to argue that low-income students right over the border in Massachusetts or New Jersey face very different circumstances at home than the low-income students in Connecticut.  So, what actions have our neighboring states taken to address their achievement gaps that Connecticut hasn’t?  Put bluntly, they have adopted education reform policies very similar to the ones proposed in Governor Malloy’s original education reform bill.  They have adopted or implemented policies that evaluate teachers on the basis of student performance, that rank schools and districts within a tiered intervention framework, and that provide the Commissioner with the authority to intervene in the lowest performing schools and districts. [emphasis mine]
I can't speak with authority on MA, but I can tell you that this is dead wrong regarding NJ. The new teacher evaluation system is only in its pilot stage; how could it possibly affect student achievement throughout the state when it hasn't even been implemented?

The link here for "authority to intervene" takes us to this:
New Jersey
In its application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, New Jersey has proposed the creation of a system of accountability and intervention. It proposes evaluating schools and districts based upon student performance as well as college- and career-readiness, and grouping them into four tiers. This differentiated recognition will result in commensurate levels of state intervention, particularly in the two lowest tiers: “focus schools” and “priority schools”.
Again: none of this has yet been implemented. How could it possibly affect student achievement when we're not even doing it?!

And ranking schools by tiers is nice, but who cares if you're not doing anything after the ranking?

So why are CT's low-income kids lagging behind MA's and NJ's? Bruce Baker spells it out:
Previously, Guryan (2003) found:
Using state aid formulas as instruments, I find that increases in per-pupil spending led to significant increases in math, reading, science, and social studies test scores for 4th- and 8th-grade students. The magnitudes imply a $1,000 increase in per-pupil spending leads to about a third to a half of a standard-deviation increase in average test scores. It is noted that the state aid driving the estimates is targeted to under-funded school districts, which may have atypical returns to additional expenditures. (p. 1)
Although Hanushek and Lindseth concede that Massachusetts reforms appear successful,[4] they failed to cite Guryan’s NBER working paper, the inclusion of which would have (like most other omitted studies) weakened their overall conclusions about the non-impact of these reforms.
Turning to New Jersey, two recent (though not yet peer-reviewed) studies find positive effects of that state’s finance reforms. Alexandra Resch (2008), in a study published as a dissertation for the economics department at the University of Michigan, found evidence suggesting that New Jersey Abbott districts “directed the added resources largely to instructional personnel” (p. 1) such as additional teachers and support staff. She also concluded that this increase in funding and spending improved the achievement of students in the affected school districts. Looking at the statewide 11th grade assessment (“the only test that spans the policy change”), she found “that the policy improves test scores for minority students in the affected districts by one-fifth to one-quarter of a standard deviation” (p. 1). [emphasis mine]
These reformyists have convinced themselves that money doesn't matter, but evaluating teachers with flawed systems that haven't even been implemented does. And rather than be embarrassed by this absurd position, they sanctimoniously claim the moral high ground:
We think it’s time to stop using the excuse that our schools can’t be held responsible for ensuring that low-income children learn and are held to high expectations.  We think it’s time to start holding our schools accountable for providing a high-quality education to all students – as all of our neighboring states have taken significant strides in doing.
If they really cared about improving low-income schools, they'd be demanding that CT follow NJ's and MA's lead and get more funds to the kids who need it the most. Instead, they tout the "success" of reformy measures that haven't even been put into place.

CCER is at the center of the reformy network in CT. Jon Pelto gives all the seamy details if you're so inclined; suffice to say, all of the usual suspects are involved, and they have well-heeled backers:
Finally, calling themselves the “Connecticut Council for Education Reform” top executives from New Alliance Bank, The Hartford Insurance Company, UBS Private Wealth Office,  Yale New Haven Hospital System, Webster Bank, The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, Nestle Waters North America, First Niagara Financial Group, Yale University, the Travelers Companies, Inc., the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, United Illuminating Holdings Corporation and GE Asset Management have joined together to hire staff and lobbyists to push Malloy’s “Education Reform” plan.
I wonder how these "top executives" feel about an explanation for MA's and NJ's smaller achievement gap that includes "reforms" that haven't even been implemented. I wonder how long their businesses would last if they made decisions with this same lack of logic.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it true that Corey Booker is also part of the reformy party in CT? These types of political benefits will do much to explain the connected web of money and political decisions.

wisemom said...

Stop the presses!

If NAEP data shows Connecticut's lower-income students do not do as well as NJ lower-income students, then what justifies MacCormack's $1,000 a day salary at the DOE? We thought the need for this was because she was the superstar reformer in Connecticut. As Beaver would say, "what gives Wally?"

Duke said...

Ha! Brilliant, wisemom! I am totally stealing that!