Effective schools

October 16th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A Harvard University study finds:

Charter schools were developed, in part, to serve as an R&D engine for traditional public schools, resulting in a wide variety of school strategies and outcomes. In this paper, we collect data on the inner-workings of 39 charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness. We find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 45 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. 

Teacher quality and use of data are the most effective.

In our empirical analysis, we find that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness in our sample. Indeed, our data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

Yet this is what the educational establishment for many years have said is the answer.

Using observational estimates of school effectiveness, we find that schools with more certified teachers have annual math gains that are 0.041 (0.023) standard 2 deviations lower than other schools. Schools with more teachers with a masters degree have annual ELA gains that are 0.032 (0.020) standard deviations lower. An index of class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree, explains about 15 percent of the variance in charter school effectiveness, but in the unexpected direction.

So the fact charter schools may have a couple of unregistered teachers is no bad thing, and may even be a good thing.

In stark contrast, an index of five policies suggested by forty years of qualitative case-studies – frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement – explains roughly half of the variation in school effectiveness.

Some argue that it is all about the socio-economic rating of the local neigbourhood. This research shows it is not. How schools teach can and does make a difference.

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22 Responses to “Effective schools”

  1. louie (96 comments) says:

    We all know this can’t be correct because the unions and Labour say charter schools are the devil’s handiwork. Harvard must have been taken over by evil right wingers.

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  2. cha (4,144 comments) says:

    And Dame Iritana will be no bad thing.
    /

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  3. tas (655 comments) says:

    Harvard, shmarvard. What do they know about education? Let’s listen to baseless assertions from blinkered unionists instead.

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  4. Inky_the_Red (764 comments) says:

    As charter schools are so great (all the evidence has pointed to this since the first one was established), I am surprised that none of the major political parties campaigned on it at the last election.

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  5. Samuel Smith (276 comments) says:

    Charter schools do not work.

    Top education performers in the OECD including Finland, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand (until now) have rejected charter schools.

    Low performing education systems including the U.S.A, Sweden and the U.K embrace charter schools.

    If the Far Right really believe charter schools are the answer, they should send their own kids to them and put their money where their mouths are.

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  6. decanker (185 comments) says:

    It’s surprising then that St Kents, Kings College et al don’t sack a few of the masters and doctors on the payroll and instead hire more unqualified teachers, they could be more profitable; and even more so if they also made the class sizes bigger and spent less on the students.

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  7. Bill Courtney (163 comments) says:

    This blog highlights everything that is wrong about David Farrar’s obsession with what is commonly now termed GERM, i.e. the Global Education Reform Movement. The “reformers” as they style themselves, love charter schools, data, league tables, etc. and blame all educational failure on teachers and schools. It is never down to economic and societal factors, of course.

    Several observations come straight to mind, without even going past the abstract on page 1:
    1. Harvard University is one of the strongest supporters of the reform movement and Harvard’s education leader, Professor Paul Peterson, was once famously described by Diane Ravitch as the “High Priest of school choice”.
    2. Note that the research work was funded by the Broad Foundation, one of the high profile billionaire backers of GERM, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
    3. Democracy Prep Charter School is used in the study. It is one of the “miracle” charter schools that the reformers love to rave about, but a lot of their “success” can be debunked quite readily. See two links below for more:

    http://www.edwize.org/democracy-prep-and-the-same-kids-myth

    http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2013/08/19/petrillis-desperate-attempt-to-save-democracy-preps-reputation/

    4. I believe that the pressure is really on the charter schools in New York. Many of them did very poorly in the Common Core tests administered recently. These two blogs from Diane Ravitch sums things up well:

    http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/15/the-charter-school-bubble-in-new-york-city/

    http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/15/what-you-need-to-know-about-new-york-citys-charter-schools/

    5. The biggest influence, by far, on student achievement is the socio-economic status of the student, i.e. what the student brings to school. The PISA data shows this clearly and yet every “reformer” denies it – Farrar included. WHY??

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  8. Rick Rowling (816 comments) says:

    Harvard must have been taken over by evil right wingers

    Some time after Cunliffe suckled her knowledgeable teat.

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  9. RightNow (7,015 comments) says:

    Ooh look, Bill Courtney posted some totally unbiased links. Quelle surprise.

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  10. Tharg (15 comments) says:

    Interesting study, worth a read. Just to pick up on one of the points in there – about the ‘high expectations’ characteristic – the way this is described it is something I think most parents and students in NZ would find anathema. E.g.

    “We code a school as having high academic and behavioral expectations if an administrator ranks “a
    relentless focus on academic goals and having students meet them” and “very high expectations for
    student behavior and discipline” as her top two priorities (in either order). Other potential priorities
    include “a comprehensive approach to the social and emotional needs of the whole child,” “building
    a student’s self-esteem through positive reinforcement,” and “prioritizing each child’s interests and
    passions in designing a project-based unit.”

    I.e. these places are test-prep factories. Never going to produce our Eleanor Cattons, Ella Yelich-O’Connors or the next Bill Gates at these I’m afraid.

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  11. Fentex (1,136 comments) says:

    Finland is routinely acclaimed for it’s schools quality, and there they insist of very qualified teachers.

    So if somewhere else it’s shown teacher qualifications don’t correlate with pupils success where it does in Finland then one must wonder, if other things are equal, where does the difference lie?

    I would suspect that a charter school might succeed because, presumably, it exists because of an ambition to succeed and that’s also true in Finnish schools where the community’s investment in teachers is active support of success.

    And that compared to large, soulless, bureaucracies where initiative may be discouraged and careers exist for time servers it’s the motivated and supported staff that succeed.

    Remembering that NZ is repeatedly measured as providing good education for it’s investment I don’t think there’s any argument to be found in this report that our teachers are unnecessarily qualified but one that to improve results improved motivation and commitment to success is to be encouraged.

    Personally I think that’s an argument to let charter schools have a chance to prove themselves as places created for that purpose, but it isn’t proof that a charter school no matter what it’s success or failure might not do better with more qualified teachers.

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  12. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    Some links showing that charter schools *do* in fact work –

    http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/academies/a00210582/annual-report-2010-11

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/26/new-orleans-charter-schools-model?newsfeed=true

    http://www.economist.com/node/21558255

    http://www.economist.com/node/21558265

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444358804578018410937727422.html

    http://www.nyccharterschools.org/content/nyc-charter-schools-show-math-and-english-gains-2011-12-tests

    http://www.kipp.org/results/independent-reports

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  13. OneTrack (3,372 comments) says:

    Louie – “Harvard must have been taken over by evil right wingers.”

    You mean”neolibs” :-).

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  14. OneTrack (3,372 comments) says:

    Bill – “The biggest influence, by far, on student achievement is the socio-economic status of the student, i.e. what the student brings to school.”

    So we don’t actually need trained teachers then because they have little influence. Thanks for clearing that up.

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  15. OneTrack (3,372 comments) says:

    Fentex – “Personally I think that’s an argument to let charter schools have a chance to prove themselves”

    But Sam and Bill are scared that they will prove themselves – that’s why they, and the rest of their staff, are doing their best to nobble charter schools before they even start. Cannot question the union mantra…

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  16. mandk (1,032 comments) says:

    “Charter schools do not work”

    Who am I to believe: Harvard University or Samuel Smith? Tough decision.

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  17. Bill Courtney (163 comments) says:

    Well, thor42, you have been busy, but unfortunately, you just don’t get it, do you?

    1. An article from the UK government lauding its own policies? Really? Not to mention KIPP patting itself on its back but without any references, I suspect, to their high drop-out rates – particularly for black boys.
    2. The Economist, long an advocate for any form of “free market”, has always been a charter school fan. Also, given it is owned by Pearson, a major player in the education reform marketplace, this hardly makes for an independent stance.
    3. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s education arm, Amplify, is managed by Joel Klein, former controversial New York Chancellor of Schools under billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Here’s a brief piece on Klein’s latest antics:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/16/there-joel-klein-goes-again/

    4. The New Orleans “miracle” has been debunked many times before. My favourite blogger here is teacher and PhD in statistics, Mercedes Schneider, who blogs as deutsch29 . Here are two of her numerous blogs on the Recovery School District:
    http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/new-orleans-recovery-school-district-the-lie-unveiled/

    http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/rsds-watered-down-incremental-miracle-and-continued-fiscal-embarrassment/

    5. The point, dear thor42, is that these pieces of “evidence” usually fail to take account of major factors such as drop-out rates, which translates to “expulsions” in normal language. Managing either the selection, or more importantly, the retention, of students is the key to charter school success. And what do they do with the rejects? Send them back to the public schools, of course.

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  18. KiwiRupes (16 comments) says:

    And another excellent article that shows traditional methods don’t always work when teaching…

    http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/free-thinkers/

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  19. Maggy Wassilieff (488 comments) says:

    Thank goodness no-one told my teachers at Castlecliff School (Decile 1 territory) that I was of low socio-economic status.

    Somehow I must have been infected with some middle-class gloss and become teachable…… as must have our present GG (also a pupil of Castlecliff School and Wanganui High School).

    Or more likely, teachers in the 1950-60s didn’t believe all this crud about unteachable poor kids.

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  20. Bill Courtney (163 comments) says:

    Maggy,
    You’ve got it wrong. The words “unteachable” are yours – not mine. It is standard right wing mantra to put words into your opponent’s mouth and then shoot down the strawman that you have yourself created.

    Read these two excellent op-eds from Helen Ladd and Sean Reardon to gain a much more reasoned professional perspective:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/no-rich-child-left-behind/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20130429

    As for your own success, you are, of course, referring back to the great egalitarian era of New Zealand history. I also went to what would now be labelled a decile 1A school. But it’s different today. Why? It’s called inequality and we now have it in spades.

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  21. Maggy Wassilieff (488 comments) says:

    Bill Courtney…. I trained and taught for some years as a secondary school teacher in my 40s (after having worked 20years as a scientist/ science editor)… so I know a thing or two about professional teaching practice. I observed too many teachers who offered up excuses about poor kids not performing well. Sure, I encountered numerous pupils who were never going to achieve well in the academic sphere… but I never thought it was because they had come from a poor background, I just thought they had had some lousy teaching in their primary school years.

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  22. doggone7 (849 comments) says:

    “Some argue that it is all about the socio-economic rating of the local neigbourhood. This research shows it is not. How schools teach can and does make a difference.”

    What it could mean is that it’s easier (a lot) to teach at a high decile school. The pupils do not have to be socialised, fed, be given medical and other care and have other prime needs addressed as happens in low decile schools. In all likelihood most of the high decile pupils would have been to pre-school facilities. Most would have a parent or parents who have done other formal education after school.

    For the reward for having to work much harder and smarter and not succeeding with some is to be pilloried for the “underachieving tail.”

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