Wednesday Reading List: What Schools Measure, American Education Spending, and Voter Suppression Data

Alyson Klein of Education Week looked at states' plans to comply with ESSA, the federal education law. Some of the most interesting trends are in accountability:

Attendance—particularily [sic] chronic absenteeism—and college-and-career readiness are by far the most popular new areas of focus for accountability among the 40-plus states that have filed their plans to implement the Every Student Success Act, an Education Week review shows. At least 33 states are looking at chronic absenteeism or attendance in some form to hold schools accountable under the new law. And some states chose factors that are related to attendance. California, for instance, is looking at suspensions and discipline rates. At least 33 states are incorporating some kind of postsecondary-readiness measure, whether that's ACT scores, SAT scores, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, career and technical education pathways, a mix of those factors, or something else. 

While just about everyone agrees that grade-level standardized tests alone are an insufficient way to judge school progress, there's very little agreement about what schools ought to be measuring, and in what proportions. In the future, states and districts should follow their graduates' progress after K-12 graduation. We should know how many students enroll in and complete college, and who's earning a living wage after her terminal education experience.

Jill Barshay of The Hechinger Report looks at American education spending relative to other countries:

U.S. spending on elementary and high school education declined 3 percent from 2010 to 2014 even as its economy prospered and its student population grew slightly by 1 percent, boiling down to a 4 percent decrease in spending per student. That’s according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual report of education indicators, released last week. Over this same 2010 to 2014 period, education spending, on average, rose 5 percent per student across the 35 countries in the OECD. In some countries it rose at a much higher rate ... How lower spending constrains learning is subtle. [The OECD's Andreas] Schleicher has pointed out for years that there isn’t a clear relationship between money spent and student outcomes. Some countries that spend far less than the United States on education consistently outshine this country on international tests.

Barshay looks at other countries whose performance outstrips ours. In some high-performing Asian countries, for example, teacher expertise is more specialized; instructors teach fewer classes, but class-size is much larger. We rarely discuss such trade-offs in domestic education policy.

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In other news, Ari Berman of Mother Jones looks at the consequences of new voting laws in the last election. He focuses on a Wisconsin statute that makes voting more difficult:

A comprehensive study released today suggests how many missing votes can be attributed to the new law. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed registered voters who didn’t cast a 2016 ballot in the state’s two biggest counties—Milwaukee and Dane, which is home to Madison. More than 1 out of 10 nonvoters (11.2 percent) said they lacked acceptable voter ID and cited the law as a reason why they didn’t vote; 6.4 percent of respondents said the voter ID law was the “main reason” they didn’t vote. The study’s lead author, University of Wisconsin political scientist Kenneth Mayer, says between roughly 9,000 and 23,000 registered voters in the reliably Democratic counties were deterred from voting by the ID law. Extrapolating statewide, he says the data suggests as many as 45,000 voters sat out the election ... “We have hard evidence there were tens of thousands of people who were unable to vote because of the voter ID law,” Mayer told me.
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Voter suppression is real, and this study attempts to quantify the extent of the problem. As with other laws that seek to disenfranchise people, it shouldn't matter what the "intent" of the law was; its consequence was to depress voter turnout within specific demographic groups. Moreover, the extent of voter suppression outlined here is FAR greater than any evidence of voter fraud, which does not seem to exist in meaningful ways. We cannot have a functioning democracy while people are barred from the polling place.

Finally today, Thomas P. Abt is in The New York Times with a sober examination of two consecutive years of rising crime rates:

What to make of this two-year spike in death and violence is unclear, but you can be certain of this: Partisans on all sides will seek to spin this situation to their advantage ... Criminal justice reformers will worry that fear of violent crime could slow the momentum of their movement. As a result, they’ll play down the data that says it’s increasing. They’ll say that it’s too soon to call this a trend, that a few neighborhoods in a few cities are driving the numbers, and remind us that overall rates of violence remain near historical lows. Opponents of true reform, including President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will do far worse. They will likely use the latest numbers to push the culture-war-fueling narrative about “American carnage” that Mr. Trump described in his Inaugural Address. They’ll double down on outdated tough-on-crime strategies like aggressive prosecutions, mandatory minimum sentencing and drug education and follow a strategy that my colleague David Kennedy, a criminal justice researcher and director of the National Network for Safe Communities, recently called a “criminologist’s nightmare.

Read the whole thing. I'm not a criminologist, but the ones I trust tend to agree with Abt's perspective. You can't solve a problem while being dishonest about its existence ... but the solutions we've been using for the last generation are both unjust and ineffective.

Have a great day!