Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do Charter Schools Burn Out Teachers?

Do charter school burn out teachers?  That is the question raised by a recent study by educational researcher at the University of California at Berkeley.  

In the study, the authors were looking at the statistical factors related to teachers leaving their schools.  Teacher longevity at schools is correlated with positive educational outcomes, both among standardized test results as well as family satisfaction, student relationship building, and other "softer" measures of educational quality.

So the study, which was focused only on teachers in the Los Angeles school system, which can differ in many ways from most of the school systems in this country,  is written in educational-ese and contains lots of data and statistics and such.  I glazed over the statistics analysis and chi squares methodology and such that is part of such academic research, and I have a Masters in Education.  But I think this graphic, taken from the report, can express one of the most important conclusions:

Annual Teacher Turnover by School Size in LAUSD 2002 - 2007

Click here to see the map in its original size.

The bottom line of this graphic is that I count 30 schools that have a teacher turnover rate of over 40%, and of that number, all but two are charter schools, which means that 93% of such high turnover schools are charters (and I don't know the exact statistics, but I think charter schools are only about 10% of all the schools in LA).  So clearly, teachers are much more likely to leave charter schools than traditional public schools.

The question that the study doesn't address, however, is why.  Charter teachers tend to be young; is that why more of them leave? (although more leave charter schools than is average for schools in general). Charter schools tend to be newer, which is also associated with higher turnover, but not at the rates seen in this study among the charter schools.  Are the young teachers who work at charter schools more naive and/or idealistic than other young teachers, and thus leave when their fantasies encounter real educational situations?  Do the (sometimes) for-profit charter schools pay their teachers and/or offer fewer benefits or other incentives that make their staff leave for traditional schools?  All of these explanations have been offered, but none have been proven.

So I don't know how to explain this data.  But I do have a belief (which is backed up by some data) that students are better served by teachers with more experience and/or commitment to the school in which they teach.  Therefore, I think the high teacher turnover rates should be at least a yellow caution light for those who seek to expand rapidly the charter school program (such as the Republican legislators, who this year lifted the 100-school cap on charter schools in North Carolina).  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Yet Another Study Shows Public Colleges Provide Better Value for Post-Graduation Salaries

So the final in my trinity of recent studies that suggest that top students don't necessarily have to pay top dollar for good educational opportunities, I turn to the "payback" study done by SmartMoney magazine.   Like yesterday's study, this one is based on the salaries earned by the graduates of top colleges, which I personally think is a dubious evaluation of the quality of education.  Nonetheless, it is a major consideration of most families looking at college decisions, so it is worth at least noting what these studies are saying.

So the payback scale devised by this study looks at the average salary of graduates divided by the total fees  (tuition and other charges by the college itself) over four years of earning a degree.  So, for example, if the average student paid $25,000 a year for four years at College X, but earned an average salary at graduation of $150,000 a year, that school would have a payback scale of 150% ($150,000/$100,000 total costs).  But if the average student paid $50,000 a year for four years, but earned an average salary of $175,000, that college would have a payback scale of only 87.5% ($175,000/200,000).

Let's acknowledge upfront that the payback scale favors some universities over others.  For one thing, the schools that offer programs in business or science and technology are going to look better than those that are typical "liberal arts" colleges, whose graduates may be going into such field as social work, the arts, non-profit research, or--gasp!--education, whose salaries are typically lower.   The scores also don't take into account average financial aid--which would benefit the Ivy League schools, whose endowments are rich enough to offer healthy aid packages to many students--or typical years to graduate--which would make many public universities look worse, because more of their students take longer to graduate than the presumed four years.  So looking at these figures with somewhat of a grain of salt, what did SmartMoney magazine find?

Based on the payback scale, the highest performing colleges and universities were the top-tier public universities.  According to SmartMoney magazine, the luckiest students are those living in Georgia:  Georgia Institute of Technology was their #1 "payback" school (with a payback ration of 221), and University of Georgia was #4 (payback of 186).  In general, the South and Midwest ruled the top of the payback scale, with the University of California at Berkeley being the only college on either coast breaking into the top 10 (it was #10 with a payback ratio of 146).   

Alas for North Carolinians, no college in the state made the top 50 of the SmartCollege listing.   Our neighboring states did better; South Carolina has Clemson University, which was #6 with a 160% ratio, and Virginia had both the University of Virginia at #16 (117%) and my alma mater, The College of Williams and Mary, at #18 (111%).

It is not until you get to #19 that you find a private school:  the Ivy League university of Princeton, which as a payback scale of 102.  The last 30 universities on the list are dominated by private schools, with the Ivy Leagues generally scoring higher than most of the other top-tier private colleges.

You can read the article to find out the specific details about the average salaries of the three types of schools--public, private, or Ivies--and the comparative relative costs.  But the bottom line is still the same:  going to a very expensive and exclusive university does not guarantee you a higher salaries, particularly when you compare the relative costs of earning your degree.

Now, my point in the three posts is not to bash the Ivy League schools, or private schools in general. But there can be so much pressure about getting into "the right school" or "the best school," and I hope looking at some of this data can help middle schoolers and high schooler feel less anxious about their postsecondary education.  

And I do have to admit to a personal bias.  When I was in high school, I applied (and got accepted, at least to some) to Ivy League and elite/expensive private schools, but I ended up choosing The College of William and Mary, which was one of my state schools, and thus a fraction of the cost of the others.  I ended up getting an excellent education at a bargain price.  But since I didn't have thousands of dollars of student loans hanging over my head, I was able to choose jobs that I really enjoyed and that I thought were really valuable--jobs in the non-profit world, and then in education (leading finally to homeschooling, where I get to PAY for the privilege of spending untold hours every day teaching children!).  I've never had a high salary job, but I think I've had plenty of high impact jobs.  Plus, I've always enjoyed and believed in what I did--which is something that is hard to put a price tag on.

So all I'm saying is--there is a lot to consider when choosing what college to attend.  Don't feel that a fancy name alone is the yellow road that will bring you to your dreams.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Study Casts Doubt on the Ability of Highly Competitive Universities to Raise Salaries

On the heels of my post yesterday about a study that showed that high achieving students end up with similar test scores whether they get into the most competitive high schools or not, a study this year by researchers at Princeton University discovered a similar phenomenon in regards to the most exclusive universities.  In this 2011 study, they found that most high achieving high school students who applied to the most elite colleges, but ended up going to a less competitive school (whether because they weren't accepted or chose a different school), earned the same average salaries as their peers that graduated from the exclusive colleges (Ivy League-level schools).

This study is particularly interesting because it was a repeat of a study that the same economists published about 10 years ago.  That study revealed the same thing--applicants to top tier universities who attended less elite colleges generally obtained comparable salaries to the graduates of the most exclusive schools.  In the first study, however, the salaries were self-reported, which left room for some, padding, shall we say.  But in this follow-up research, not only were many more people included, with the time span now reaching to careers of people in their 40s and 50s, but the data on salaries was taken from more objective sources, such as Social Security information.  Still, the results were the same; there was no boost in income for graduates of top colleges compared to other students with comparable test scores and such who didn't attend those types of schools.

So, the bottom line is:  Big name colleges are not required to earn the big bucks.  If you have the grades and test scores, along with personal qualities like self-confidence and persistence that are related to applying to these types of schools, of a viable candidate for admission, ON THE AVERAGE, you will earn as much even if you attend a less prestigious college.  Depending on how much you have to pay for the big name schools, in fact, you may be better off turning them down (if accepted) and pursuing an education at a less costly alternative.

There are some BIG caveats to this conclusion, however.  Graduating from a highly competitive/Ivy League type university DID significantly increase the incomes of minority students (black and Latino), students from low income families, and those whose parents did not attend college.  It appears that the elite colleges do provide those types of students with skills, habits, or networks that do advance their professional chances at gaining a larger salary.

But for white middle or upper income students, the debt they might occur to attend the most exclusive schools is not likely to translate to significantly higher salaries.

Of course, we hope that earning a lot of money is not the sole criteria by which we judge our universities.  Income upon graduation is an even worse stand-in for educational quality than standardized tests are.  However, there can be questions about the educational value of the highly elite schools.  In many of them, the focus is really on graduate education, so that a majority of undergraduate classes are taught by graduate students, who may have only a shallow command of either teaching techniques or the subject area (and sometimes, even of the English language itself!).

This is all to say that students don't need to feel that their lives will be ruined if they don't get into their desired Ivy League schools.  There are a lot more factors involved in finding the right school than simply the prestige of its name.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Study Casts Doubt on the Ability of Highly Competitive High Schools to Raise Test Scores

While more and more applicants try to get into the country's most competitive high schools, a new study suggests that all that effort may not be worth it.  The study, entitled "The Elite Illusion," by economists from MIT and Duke University, compared the students who gained entry to some of the nation's top examination schools (public school that students must apply and take entrance exams in order to attend) to their peers who didn't quite make the cut.  They found that, three or four years, there were virtually no difference in test scores, including state standardized tests, SAT and ACT tests, and AP exams, between the two populations.

This obviously is a narrow study, and applies only to the top tier of students.  Plus, of course, it conflates educational value and achievement with test scores, which readers of this blog know I find a dubious proposition.

However, it should alleviate some of the pressure on students to get into these top schools.  It demonstrates that smart, hard working students can attain equivalent test scores without having to attend the one "magic" school set up for the top achievers.  It also disputes one of the main arguments about these schools--that being around other top students will drive high achievers to superior performance.  This study found that their test performance was no better than the top students left to pursue their education with a traditional school filled with "average" students.

If this is true, it may even behoove students NOT to attend such schools if they are planning on applying to the most competitive colleges.  The thing is, the colleges all have a cap on how many students they will take from any one high school.  For example, if Bill Gates could prove that he had rounded up the 1,000 most brilliant students in the country for an advanced Bill Gates High School, Harvard wouldn't accept all 1,000 of them, no matter how much smarter they might be.  They would only take a small percentage--25 or 50 students maybe?--because they want a diverse, but still high achieving student body.  A student with a 2200 SAT score who is number 1 in an average school that doesn't have a lot of Harvard applicants may stand a better chance than a student with a 2300 SAT score from an elite school that has dozens of other applicants also trying to get in.

It's just something to consider....

This is particularly interesting for homeschoolers to consider.  Many families decide to have their homeschooled children go to school for their high school years for a whole variety of reasons.  But certainly an important consideration is preparation for college and trying to make the students more competitive by having them in school with other high achieving students.  But this study implies that elite peer relationships don't result in higher test scores.

For example, in our area, most of the homeschoolers I know who are going to school for high school want to get into Raleigh Charter High School, which was the Number 1 school in North Carolina in the Washington Post annual High School Challenge that ranks the best high schools in the country (although it was only 55th best on the national list).  But it is not that much more likely to get into Raleigh Charter, which I think accepts 11% of eligible applicants through a lottery system, than to get into Harvard, which accepts about 7% of applicants.

Anyway, this study is reassuring for those other 89% that don't get into Raleigh Charter that by taking the right classes and doing the hard work, they can earn equally impressive test scores even at a "normal" school.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Who Wants to Win (REAL) $1,000,000--Math Edition

Yesterday we talked about a science game based on the TV show, Who Wants to Win $1,000,000?  Today, we are talking about a site that is offering $1,000,000 (to be split with their most inspirational math teacher) for people who solve 13 great math questions, one for each K-12 grade level.

Just one caveat--the sponsors of these competition, Math Pickle and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, haven't yet gotten the funding for the puzzle winners.  But I guess they don't have many people claiming to be winners yet, either, so perhaps they've got a while to raise the money.

Here is a video that presents the unsolved problem for the 8th grade, which is based on the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth:

Even if you don't expect to win $1,000,000, you should definitely check outMath Pickle.  It has a bunch of different videos, all geared to specific grade level, about ways to spice up your math teaching.  In particular, it features puzzles, exploratory questions, and hands-on activities that draw students into problem-solving and applying the math they are learning, rather than doing rote exercises.   The problems and ideas are quite interesting, and I've tried a few of them with my own son.

It is this kind of approach to math (also a hallmark of the work we have done with Maria Droujkova of Natural Math) that has turned around my son's attitude towards math, which he used to hate but now thinks is neat.  And that is worth more than $1,000,000 to me.  So it is worth your while to visit Math Pickle and pick up a few ideas for getting your students engaged in math problem solving.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Curriculum Resource: IMF International Economics Games

Perhaps it is all this focus on the debt ceiling debate, but our homeschool group has been abuzz about economics education discussions and resources lately.  But when I heard about these two online games by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), I knew I had to post them, seeing as I have not just one, but TWO people in my immediate family who have served as the US Executive Director to the IMF!

The IMF has an educational section on its website with curriculum guides for middle school and high school teachers, and some online games for middle school and high school students.  The first game for the middle schoolers is called Where in the World & What in the World is Money?  In this game, students use a time machine to visit cultures around the world at different times in Earth's history, and discover that the units of exchange have varied greatly over time and space.  The other game for this age group is Trading Around the World, which is a little more involved than the first one.  Students choose to play a role based on a trader from different continents across the world.  They your trader goes about trying to sell his/her goods at the best prices, while buying other things at the biggest bargains.  Sometimes the desired trades are blocked by trade barriers, which helps students understand why international organizations like the IMF exist to keep trade flowing.

If you have a high schooler, or an advanced middle schooler, you could also check out the Money Mania game.  It is a quiz on macroeconomics, set as a game show format.  You pick your character, who is competing against a typical uninformed high school student and a college economics major.  But it isn't easy!  In the beginning, I was getting trounced by the college econ major.  But then they asked some questions about policies that my father spent most of his early career working shame on me if I didn't get those right!  Then, at the end, they asked four questions specifically about the IMF itself, all of which, fortunately, I got right (did I mention TWO of my family helped run the IMF?).  But even with those advantages, I ended up tying with the college student.  So I don't know how well most higher schoolers would do, let alone middle schoolers.

Still, these are fun ways to help explain why it might matter whether or not the US defaults on its international loans, and some other aspects of international economics.