Blame the Elites for the Trump Phenomenon

Intelligence Squared hosts Oxford-style debates, with two teams supporting or opposing a motion. The motion of their most recent debate: blame the elites for the Trump phenomenon.

Personally, I’m for the motion, but I would encourage you to watch and decide for yourself.

The World Turned Upside Down

After 11 years of litigation, Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a seismic decision in the CCJEF school finance lawsuit. In the decision, Moukawsher not only eviscerated Connecticut’s school finance system, he also detailed flaws in the state’s approach to teacher evaluation, teacher compensation, the lack of clear definitions of success in elementary and secondary education, and gave the state 180 days to come up with a solution to all of it.

There’s a lot to digest, but here are my initial thoughts:

  • It’s good to see the ruling bring more attention to the distribution of funding than the overall allocation. As I argued nearly two years ago, actual appropriations are not driven by the ECS formula, leading to huge funding disparities (positive and negative) that affect thousands of students.
  • I’m sympathetic with the desire for better approaches to teacher evaluation and compensation, I’m not sure the order in this ruling is the best way to actually improve how those systems operate. To paraphrase Rick Hess, while judicial orders can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well.
  • The timeline is super-aggressive. Staffers at the Connecticut State Department of Education are going to have a busy winter.
  • Will the state’s proposed solution include magnets, charters, and/or other choice options? The state already spends a significant amount of funding on these schools and the ruling sounds like a mandate for a comprehensive solution. It will be interesting to see how they address this question.

There’s much more to digest in this decision. While the plaintiffs got a partial victory, they’re about to learn an important lesson:

Winning is easy. Governing’s harder.

How to create a free distributed data collection “app” with R and Google Sheets

A really neat concept that reminds me of my time tracking method:

Jenny Bryan, developer of the google sheets R package, gave a talk at Use2015 about the package.

One of the things that got me most excited about the package was an example she gave in her talk of using the Google Sheets package for data collection at ultimate frisbee tournaments. One reason is that I used to play a little ultimate back in the day.

Another is that her idea is an amazing one for producing cool public health applications. One of the major issues with public health is being able to do distributed data collection cheaply, easily, and reproducibly. So I decided to write a little tutorial on how one could use Google Sheets and R to create a free distributed data collecton “app” for public health (or anything else really).

There’s plenty of hype around “big data” in every field, including education, but I’m convinced there are many interesting questions that could be investigated at the school/district level with a “small data” approach supported by this workflow. There are obvious limitations - you wouldn’t want to put individual student/teacher data in a public Google Sheet - but it’s worth thinking about the kinds of programs/practices in schools that could benefit from research supported by distributed data collection.

Long-Term Orientation and Educational Performance

If there’s one common thread between Robin Lake relating The Boys in the Boat to schools, Neerav Kingsland on a recent charter study, and Robert Pondiscio on Hillbilly Elegy, it’s that culture plays a huge role in education. A new NBER Working Paper provides powerful evidence that it may be even more critical than was previously understood.

The authors examine the performance of first and second generation immigrant students in Florida to understand the relationship between the “long-term orientation” of the cultures they come from to their educational outcomes. They find that students from families from countries with a high degree of long-term orientation score higher and grow more over time than similar students from countries with lower long-term orientation. They also are more likely to have better attendance, fewer disciplinary incidents, and enroll in more advanced classes.

To put the size of the “long-term orientation” effect into context, the authors note that their data showed that a student of a mother holding a college degree scored 40% higher in math than the child of a high school dropout. The same data shows that holding everything else equal, moving from the lowest long-term orientation measure (Puerto Rico) to the highest (South Korea) translates to a 73% higher math score, almost twice the impact of a parent with a college education compared to a high school dropout.

Education reform is often focused on factors that can be addressed via policy change, like human capital management, standards/curriculum, and school governance/accountability. Yet as challenging as those issues are, we can’t ignore the power of culture, and more specifically, values that support delayed gratification. Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference is a start, but given the power of culture to impact educational outcomes, this conversation deserves a more prominent place within the ed reform community.

ESSA and the Administrative State

Chad Aldeman on the delegation of policy making in ESSA:

Congress was able to reach broad bipartisan agreement on ESSA mainly because it punted on a number of key policy questions. Any reading of ESSA leaves one wondering what exactly Congress meant when it asked states to “meaningfully differentiate” among schools, when it required that states give “substantial weight” to each indicator, or when it stipulated that academic indicators count for “much greater weight” than non-academic ones.

While I am pleased that ESSA will give states more latitude to develop school accountability models, I share Aldeman’s concern that we don’t really know how any of the candidates for president would approach ESSA rule making. This exemplifies a long-term trend in which Congress cedes power to the administrative agencies tasked with implementing legislation - a topic covered in the most recent episode of The Federalist Radio Hour.

If this habit is not broken, we will continue to find ourselves lamenting the uncertain implementation of major legislation.