Education reform: Reorganizing schools to address inequality – with Stephen Raudenbush | VIEWPOINT

Education reform: Reorganizing schools to address inequality – with Stephen Raudenbush | VIEWPOINT


Stephen: We know the kids are ready and the
question is, are we ready to really help those kids have the opportunities that we know how
to give them? Nat: Hi, I’m Nat Malkus, resident fellow in
education policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Today, I’ve got a conversation with Stephen
Raudenbush of the University of Chicago on his new book, “The Ambitious Elementary School.” Stephen, it’s great to have you here. Stephen: Thanks for inviting. Nat: “The Ambitious Elementary School” is
a fantastic book. I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s really challenging in a number of ways. So just to lay out the basics, it chronicles
the organization of two University of Chicago charter schools on the south side of Chicago,
North Kenwood Oakland and Donoghue. And the schools are organized ambitiously
in two ways: one, they have ambitious goals for student outcomes and student learning,
but it’s also ambitious in the bold design of the schools to depart from sort of the
traditional organizations that we have sort of become used to. So, can you just give us a layout of the basic
systems underlying these schools? Stephen: Yeah, well, the ambition for the
kids, of course, is we’re talking about kids who are African-American kids, 85% low income,
who historically had been behind in achievement and who… So the idea is that the school is gonna bring
those kids up to being equal with more middle-class kids, kids who are non-minority kids. So that’s a huge ambitious goal. The kids are…like kids anywhere, very heterogeneous. They come into school at all different levels. And so this project of catching up the kids,
when the kids are actually heterogeneous, this is a challenging problem for people in
any school. But also, the teachers have different levels
of experience and skill, so they are also heterogeneous. And to do this hard work of helping these
kids catch up, the teachers have to be operating at a really high level. So that means teachers have a lot to learn,
and the teachers who know the most have to somehow be able to help the teachers who don’t
know as much learn more so that everybody can be effective in doing this. So that’s a big project. And part of the strategy is to keep very close
track of every kid. So, to know where every child is in reading
and math, and other areas. Kids are assessed every 10 weeks. They’re all over the place. You make an instructional plan for every single
child. Nat: For every child, not just children with
special needs. Stephen: Every child. The child is down here. Where is that child gonna be in 10 weeks? How’s that gonna get out to where that child
needs to be? Up here, how does that child go farther? How do the kids who at the very top go even
higher, you know? So you’re not gonna focus on kids who are
having trouble at the expense of kids who are higher or look only at the high fliers
and ignore the lower achieving kids. Everybody’s gonna move up. So you’re gonna test these kids. You’re gonna have an instructional plan for
each child, and 10 weeks later, you’re going to assess them again and you’re gonna ask,
“Did the instructional plan actually work? And if it didn’t work, what were we doing
wrong? How are we gonna make it work? We’re gonna have a new instructional plan.” Nat: Right. One of the things in the book that’s evident
is how wide a web of support you create for these kids. And one of the challenges that struck me,
how does this model work is trying to distribute the information about each kid to everybody
throughout. And this is not just teachers on a grade level. It’s teachers, support professionals, the
school leaders, all the way down to the extended day people. Stephen: That’s right. Nat: So how do they manage information in
such a demanding network? Stephen: No, that’s really a key to the whole
thing, is to have an information system that’s constantly being updated and then it’s accessible
to everybody. So, a teacher can walk into the principal’s
office and see where that teacher’s children are, every single one of those kids, and where
every other child in the school is. So a second grade teacher can see where her
kids are and see where other second grade kids are. She can see whether her kids are moving on
this assessment and whether other kids are moving. And if kids aren’t moving, there’s gonna be
some kind of a conference to figure out how are we gonna get them to move. The school brings the parents and say, “Your
child is at step eight. Ten weeks from now, we’re gonna expect your
child’s gonna be at step nine in reading. Here’s what you can do to help.” So the printouts of this have to be then made
available to the parents. And you’re right, the social workers are involved
in understanding the achievement of the kids. They have a plan for the social development
of the kids. It’s a very demanding information system,
and getting people to use the information and to collaborate, and to understand how
to use that system is a whole part of what we think of as teacher expertise or social
worker expertise. It’s how you use the system. It’s not whether you have a high SAT score
or you went to a fancy college. It’s do you know how to use…can you use
this system in your instruction? Nat: All right. You know, that points to a pretty interesting
departure, at least from a lot of the literature and writings I’ve read on teachers in economics,
right. The idea in economics is, well, if we can
just move the distribution of teacher quality up. It’s sort of like almost as if we can replace
teachers like widgets. But, this system has a very different vision. It starts with distributed leadership across
the school, not just for the principal, but also from other teachers. And then, the other component that I find
compelling but also a challenge is sort of an open door policy, not as an empty policy
but where it’s normal for teachers to have other people come out and observe, give them
feedback and grow. So, as opposed to sort of getting inputs and
putting them in place, there’s a real development process. Stephen: Exactly. Nat: So, just tell me how that works in school. Stephen: Right. So one way to say this is you have to have
a way of defining expertise, and they have to have a way of revealing it. And you have to have a way of enabling the
more expert teachers to help the less expert teachers gain expertise. I mean, you’ve gotta start with the idea everybody’s
not the same. People come in with different backgrounds,
different experiences. They’ve been doing this for different amounts
of time, so it’s very natural to think that people would have different levels of expertise,
and it’s a little bit uncomfortable to…for everybody to know who’s really good at doing
this and who’s not as good. But if everybody has an incentive to get better,
then the person who needs…you know, who’s a newer person, hasn’t learned the system
yet, wants to learn that system, that person’s gonna wanna have an expert person helping
them. And when a person’s really good at it and
consistently produces good data for their children, and that person has actually learned
how to not only teach well, but help somebody else teach better, then that person is gonna
be having more responsibility and is gonna have some reward for doing that as well. So there’s gonna be some career advancement
within teaching as you get better at doing it, and you can help other people do it. You can advance in your profession without
leaving the classroom. This has been a problem in education. The only way you could get ahead was to get
out of the classroom and become an administrator. Well, here…and by the way, I should say,
if you become an administrator, you’re still a part of the instructional system. In fact, you’re a crucial part of it because
you are an instructional leader in that system, and it’s the people who work within that system
and thrive within that system and who’ve shown a track record of helping other people who
become leaders in that same system and who continue to provide leadership for other teachers. Nat: Right, more than managing a building
or a set of human resources. Stephen: Yeah. So the idea is to have a Chief Operating Officer
who’s gonna take care of that work and create a kind of division of labor so that the director
of the school is mainly an instructional leader. Nat: Yeah, you know, there’s an…I found
a really compelling idea in the book, and I’ll tell you, the book is packed with information
so there’s no way that we can cover it all. One of the ideas was this idea you’re using
the word infrastructure, the idea that in some more centralized education systems, there’s
a lot more infrastructure. But typically, in American public schools,
we have a pretty decentralized system. Part of this is the view of teachers where
they’re sort of broken off and they can close their door and do what they do in their room
and sort of have this isolated expertise. But, what informs a lot of the school model
is infrastructure that may be hard to come by. So, in your words, what do you mean by infrastructure,
and then, who might supply it in a decentralized education system? Stephen: Right, because within a school, we
talked about some of the infrastructure having an assessment system, having text books, having
people who can coach and who can help other people get better, that’s infrastructure that
helps a person get better. But if you look between schools, you don’t
want every school individually to have to reinvent the wheel and create a powerful instruction
system. If other people have learned how to do this
and we have textbooks that work, and we have methods of assessment, we have tools that
work, technological tools, you were talking about having an information system, you wouldn’t
want every school to have to invent that. That would be just crazy. Once you know how to do that, you wanna make
it more widely available. How is that gonna happen? Well, it could happen through a local school
district. It could happen through a charter management
organization. Universities, we think, could play a much
bigger role in partnership with schools and helping supply infrastructure. Because one thing about scholars, they all
are trying to figure out what’s going on all over the place, what do we know, and what
works best. They have…you know, presumably, we’re able
to get our hands in some evidence about that. Making that accessible in a usable way through
usable tools to people who are trying to make schools work has a lot of potential that were
not explained right now, we think. Nat: So I don’t wanna bury the lead here. You’ve got some results. Can you just give us a thumbnail on, first
of all, how you know what you know about the outcomes of these students, and give us some
perspective on how big they are. Stephen: Right, yeah, sure. Well, the reason we know is we’re very fortunate
that every year in each of the schools in each grade, people come and apply for the
school, and there are more people applying than there are seats. And so, admission to school is decided by
a randomized lottery. So what that means is that we have, for these
schools, we have statistically equivalent group of kids who win the lottery and therefore
go to the school and another group of kids who lose the lottery and therefore, don’t
go to the school. So that means that we can make fair, objective
comparisons of these two groups and make a determination of what is the impact of the
school that’s free of the usual biases that we see when we just look at achievement between
two different schools. So that’s a randomization, randomized lottery. It’s kind of we call it in social science
the gold standard for causal inference, okay? To try to really make these results plain,
let’s think about two distributions. There’s a distribution of test scores for
all the white kids in Chicago and there’s a distribution of test scores for the black
kids in Chicago. Okay, let’s take the white kids. If I’m at the 50th percentile of the white
distribution, I’m a white kid in Chicago, that means that I’m scoring below half the
kids but above half the kids. I’m right in the middle of the distribution,
okay? And same thing, if I’m a black kid, I may
be in the middle of black distribution. So the question is, how do those two distributions
compare if kids lose the lottery and, as a result, are not able to go to the charter
school, okay? And what we know is that the kid who’s in
the middle of the black distribution is gonna be at the 26th percentile of the white distribution,
okay? So that means that the typical black kid is
gonna be outscored by 74% of the white kids, okay? What we’d like to see is we’d like to see
the black distribution move up and become the same as the white distribution. If it were, that would mean that the child
in the middle of the black distribution would be right in the middle of the white distribution,
50-50, be at the 50 percentile of white distribution. What we see is that, as a result of winning
the lottery and attending the charter school, that the black distribution moves up from
the 26th percentile of the white distribution up to the 44th. So the typical kid who wins the lottery and
attends the school is gonna be at the 44th percentile of the white distribution. We want it to be 50 and we’re not there, but
we have moved a long way from 26 up to 44. Nat: Far more than half the achievement. Stephen: Far more than half the achievement. And I wanna say one other thing. When these kids leave the elementary schools,
this is where we’re really surprised to see this. A lot of social science research would have
predicted that those effects would fade out… Nat: Fade out, yeah. Stephen: …when they go to secondary school
because they are no longer under the care of this particular school, which is quite
unusual. But what we see is quite the contrast. In fact, the effects increase. So these are not effects that fade out. These are effects that grow as kids move into
a secondary school. Nat: You know, that’s fantastic. So I sort of approached a lot of my studies
from the economic lens, which, you know, we talked about the benefits and we talked a
minute about the cost. I know it may not be easy but there’s sort
of three things to talk about. One is just the funding, but beyond that,
it seems like you had two elements that also helped the University of Chicago schools. One is the University of Chicago, which sort
of drew expertise. That would be expensive and is perhaps hard
to estimate but still important. And then there’s also some other in kind resources
that it seemed to get that weren’t from the university, that were, you know, from the
community and so forth. So can you just give us a thumbnail also on
the resource side? Stephen: Sure. Well, very basically, these are Chicago public
schools. And although they are formally charter schools,
they are funded with regular per pupil expenditures for the Chicago public schools. And so, if you know about Chicago public schools,
the funding is not high compared to a lot of other urban districts: New York, D.C.,
Boston, many other urban districts. So it’s a pretty low funded district. And so, we do…to make this model work, we
try to raise some extra money, about $2,000 per pupil that would bring…but that would
bring the cost of educating these kids up to where actually still below where a lot
of urban schools are but a little bit closer. So it’s not an…just in terms of outright
expenditures, it’s not an overly expensive model by any stretch of the imagination. But as you pointed out, and this is an excellent
point, there are hard to measure advantages that the school gains by working closely with
the university, where the university is…we have something called the Urban Education
Institute of the University of Chicago, is actually operating almost as a small district. I didn’t mention, we actually have four charter
schools because we have a high school and another middle school, as well as these two
elementaries. And the Urban Education Institute does other
things and it has very good practitioners, as well as researchers. So, that benefit of being able to work closely
with the University of Chicago and helping develop some new assessments, some new tools,
some new coaching methods, and using research the…we have access to other universities
that do a really good job with reading instruction. They’ve done research and we’ve used those
things. So we make those things available. So that’s the thing that we do that maybe
a lot of other…talk about infrastructure, a lot of other districts might not be doing
or some other organizations. But we think that other institutions, like
I say, charter school management systems or districts could do more of that. And we also think there’s a much bigger role
for universities to play and making partnerships, and helping generate the know-how for excellent
schooling. And I wanna say one other thing. What we find when we work with…at the university,
we work with teachers, we find wonderful people, exemplary people, teachers who have incredible
ideas, we can help those people get their ideas out. A lot of what you see in the book are actually
quotes from just fantastic leaders in schools. So by getting their word out, practitioners
aren’t paid to tell the world what they know, they just do it. So universities can help make accessible to
a broader range of people what great practitioners know, and we think that’s another thing that
universities can do much more of. Nat: Well, perhaps a lot of universities that
focus on teacher training can export a little teacher training to the schools and can provide
a little infrastructure in return, so that’s… Stephen: Yeah, I think we have to take a hard
look at how we do teacher training and how we learn from the teacher training that we’re
doing. I think we can do a lot better with that,
takes it kind of in a different direction but… Because just having the experience we’ve seen,
where we take these kids who would have perhaps really not fared so well and who are doing
so well and knowing that they will tremendously respond if given the opportunity, it makes
you wanna think about everything you can do to ensure that every child has this kind of
opportunity. This is kind of the…the moral side of this
for me is that we know the kids are ready, and the question is are we ready to really
help those kids have the opportunities that we know how to give them? Nat: Well, I think that’s a great point to
end it on, Stephen. Thanks for coming to AEI. Thanks for the book, and I’m glad to have
it on my shelf. Stephen: Thanks for the invitation. It’s been a pleasure. Nat: All right. Hey, everyone, that’s the end of our discussion
with Stephen Raudenbush. Thanks for watching. As always, let us know what other topics you’d
like AEI scholars to cover on viewpoint, and be sure to check out the rest of our videos
and research from AEI.

9 thoughts on “Education reform: Reorganizing schools to address inequality – with Stephen Raudenbush | VIEWPOINT”

  1. Why did we leave IQ deniers in charge of education. Stephen Raudenbush is peddling nonsense that does not withstand any scrutiny. The emperor has no clothes.

  2. Someone explain to this Marxist that spending resources elsewhere (low performing students) takes resources away from others (high performing students).

  3. Lots of paperwork! The stuff works I'm sure, but the paperwork involved is a nightmare. Teachers have so much paperwork just to prove they are doing it.

  4. At least someone is attempting to do something different to address the problems discussed. Obviously the status quo has not worked.

  5. this knucklehead has a fantasy project, just look at the integration over the past 30 years. it didn't work. the test scores of the disenfranchised kids did not improve significantly, and the kids that were doing well suffered poors scores as well. the schools have been run by gov't far too long. the schools are failing on the financial end as well. can somebody name one government program that is successful? just one? you can't blame the failing schools on money. they should have plenty, do the math, the established rich neighborhood pays plenty of money, their kids are grown and gone class sizes should be smaller, but no. they nuss kids in from other areas, cram them into classrooms like sardines. pay teachers crap for wages and claim they have no money. in California the lotto was supposed to help with funds for schools. the lotto makes bank where's the school money? if you tell me the State took away funding once the lotto started putting in funds. then I will ask where is the tax money that is for school funding. misrepresentation of taxes? again I'll ask, name one government program that is running efficiently.

  6. All these "race realists" keep denying that IQ isn't fixed. Tons of evidence proves it. The Flynn effect show that the IQ of humans has been going up faster than evolution or genes can account for. IQ is affected by both genes and environment. IQ goes up the more educated you become – these are all proven facts that "race realists" keep denying.

    Having a genetic predisposition to lower IQ doesn't mean you can't have a higher IQ. Just like having being genitally predisposed to being overweight doesn't mean you will be fat. These genetic predispositions can be overcome. This is why improving education is so important.

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