Friday, May 17, 2013

Each and Every Child: Reflections on the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report (part 2)

In April, I wrote about the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report to Arne Duncan, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.” The report is broken into five sections: equitable school finance; teachers, principals, and curricula; early childhood education; mitigating poverty’s effects; and accountability and governance. Here, I will focus on the first two sections.

While many leaders lament the inequity of educational opportunities, little is done to stop it (pg. 9). One area in which such inequity is clearly evident is school finance. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. spends 35% more than the OECD average on education; yet, no other country has inequities as systemically ingrained as the United States (pg. 15). One factor of the systemic inequity prevalent throughout the U.S. is the reliance on property taxes to largely fund education. Such a reliance on property taxes allows for municipalities with higher value homes to bear a smaller relative tax burden while enjoying higher levels of funding compared to municipalities with lower value homes. In 14 states, over 50% of school funding comes from property taxes, and in Illinois and Nevada it is over 60% (pg. 17). An important, but often overlooked, source of unfair education funding is the inequity within districts. Developing a funding formula that addresses both inequities between districts and between schools in the same district is an important step in improving equity and excellence for every student. 

The second section of the report responds to recent trends related to the de-professionalization of teaching, which some have linked to alternative teacher preparation programs, such as Teach For America (TFA). Between 2005 and 2011, TFA has increased its number of corps members from 2,173 to 19,699, a significant increase especially considering that a traditionally certified teacher spends about 1,200 hours in pre-service training compared to a TFA teacher’s 145 hours in pre-service training (Brewer, in press). The report from the Equity and Excellence Commission calls for actions to increase the professionalization of teachers by improving preparation, compensation, and evaluation (pg. 21). The Commission calls for significant change in how we attract, prepare, and support teachers, including expanding teacher preparation that offers intensive coursework that is integrated with clinical models that are often only found in more expensive programs. Attracting well-prepared teachers to communities that serve populations of students that have not had the privilege of highly funded schools requires teacher salaries that are competitive with more advantaged communities. Finally, supporting teachers requires professional development, collaboration, time, resources, and meaningful and fair evaluations, all of which require fiscal resources (pgs. 23-24).

The Commission rightly embraces the stance that schools serving all students deserve adequate resources to close the equity gap. In our current times when education reform is based so much on ideology rather than research and evidence, the Commission’s call for the “use of research to overhaul teacher evaluation and professional development” (pg. 26) is refreshing. To teachers who are blamed for failing schools and bombarded with calls for more accountability, this report’s recommendation to reform teacher-training programs and use valid, comprehensive measures to award teacher tenure and employment decisions is a welcome addition to dialogue.  

Brewer, T. J. (in press). Accelerated burnout: How Teach For America’s “academic impact model” and theoretical culture of hyper-accountability can foster disillusionment among its corps members. Educational Studies.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

ALEC's Report Card Receives Failing Marks

EAST LANSING, Mich. (May 9, 2013) – Ranking states is a popular tool for education advocacy groups, with the goal of advancing a policy agenda based on ideologically driven pre-packaged reforms. These report cards receive considerable media attention, although few reflect research-based evidence on the efficacy of particular polices.  The 18th edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform is no different according to an academic review.

Christopher Lubienski, associate professor of education policy and Director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois, and T. Jameson Brewer, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, reviewed ALEC's Report Card for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Lubienski and Brewer find that ALEC draws its grades exclusively not from research organizations, but from like-minded market-orientated advocacy organizations.

"Furthermore, when studies are highlighted in this report, they do not represent the peer-reviewed research on a given issue, are often of extremely poor quality, and generally unsuited for supporting their claim."

In their review, Lubienski and Brewer provide two key areas – alternative teacher certification and school choice – to highlight gaps between ALEC's agenda and empirical evidence. Despite multiple claims that a "growing body of research indicates…" – the report offers absolutely no supporting evidence. Math results, which have a lower pass rate, were used to compare traditionally-certified teachers to alternatively-certified teachers. Meanwhile alternatively-certified teachers were portrayed using their reading results.

"Many of the grades given to states reflect the level to which pro-market policies have been implemented while the grades systematically ignore meaningful measurements of equality and outcomes" according to the review.

Readers of ALEC's Report Card should consider it a statement of policy preferences and not an overview of research on education reforms.

The reviewers conclude, "At best, the report serves as an amalgamation of other like-minded think tanks' assessments of states' adoption of pro-market policies, and thus offers nothing new … it provides little or no usefulness to policymakers."

Find the report by Lubienski and Brewer on the Great Lakes Center website:

Find ALEC's Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform (18th edition) on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), provides the public, policymakers and the press timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

This review is also available on the NEPC website: