AEFP 46th Annual Conference Program
March 17-19, 2021
Note: All times are Eastern Time (EST). Program is updated as of 2/28/2021.
Zoom: Conference access and Zoom links will be available soon here.
Many of us choose to conduct education policy research because we want our work to promote more equitable policy and practice. Thanks to researchers studying research use and knowledge mobilization, we know more than ever before about how to conduct research that promotes positive change. And in recent years, we have seen investments in mechanisms that increase the chances that research matters for practice and improves equity. These include research-practice partnerships, networked improvement communities, new forms of media making research findings more accessible to practitioners, and federal and state policy that promotes evidence use. And yet, the worlds of research and practice still stand far apart, to the detriment of practitioners who would benefit from greater use of research findings to guide their work and researchers who would benefit from a deeper understanding of the demands of practice as they answer questions with research--and ultimately the students that researchers and practitioners aim to serve.
While the causes of this persistent problem are myriad, one factor stands above others for researchers based in universities: the incentives and structures of universities themselves. What counts for tenure and promotion is too rarely the work that increases impact and advances equity outside the ivory tower. Faculty face real, tangible pressure to publish frequently in peer-reviewed journals and, too often, no pressure at all to do the relationship-building and writing for general audiences that would get their research out of libraries and into the hands of practitioners. And work with an equity or community focus is too often marginalized within the academy, relegated to “lower tier” journals and viewed as “less rigorous.” These pressures create strong disincentives for scholars to do the type of research that could result in greater influence on policy and practice and more equitable outcomes for students.
At a time when the value of higher education is increasingly questioned in the public discourse, putting a greater weight within universities on public impact and equity is all the more essential. This policy talk will explore how universities can shift incentives and structures to take on this challenge, from a variety of perspectives within the system. Panelists will include:
- Sarah Cohodes, associate professor of education policy and economics at Teachers College, Columbia University. Sarah was recently tenured and prioritizes public communication and impact in her work.
- Adam Gamoran, president of the WT Grant Foundation (practitioner). The WT Grant Foundation recently created an Institutional Challenge Grant to encourage university-based researchers to build sustained research-practice partnerships around reducing inequity in youth outcomes. A priority in the program is that universities shift their policies and practices to value collaborative research.
- Valerie Kinloch, dean of the school of education, University of Pittsburgh. Valerie has recently spearheaded a successful school-wide academic reorganization and staff restructuring that encourage deep-level collaborations among students, faculty, staff, and community and school district partners. These efforts support and elevate community engagement and research-practice partnerships within equitable educational frameworks.
- David Phipps, assistant VP research strategy & impact, York University and network director, Research Impact Canada. Founded in 2006, RIC is a network of 20 Canadian universities working to build institutional capacity for knowledge mobilization and public impact. RIC works as a community of practice to share institutional policies, tools, and practices (i.e., job descriptions) to help universities more effectively support researchers, students, and their partners seeking to undertake research that has both academic and socioeconomic impact.
- Carrie Conaway, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will moderate. From 2007 to 2019, Carrie directed research and strategic planning for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions will be pivotal ones for school funding. The COVID-19 crisis is squeezing school systems from all sides. Districts face the steep costs either of keeping students safe on buses and in school buildings or of effectively implementing remote learning plans (and in the cases of districts pursuing hybrid models, both). At the same time, state budgets are likely to be hit hard as sales, income, and energy tax receipts decline, threatening the state aid that supports district operations. One projection, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, places the cumulative state budget shortfalls at $555 billion over the years 2020-2022.
This is an equity issue as much as a solvency issue. High-need districts need increasing support, not cuts, as their students face challenges including family income loss, heightened health risks, connectivity challenges, and mobility. Meanwhile, districts in lower-wealth areas rely more heavily on state support and have less in the way of local funding to compensate for any state cuts. School finance decisions made in the next few years will have huge ramifications—for all students, but especially for our neediest students.
Policy conversations are focusing heavily on the need for federal aid to forestall state aid cuts, but states are not without tools for raising their own additional dollars. This panel will explore potential avenues for states to bolster their education budgets with new state revenues, avoiding cuts and creating the space in state budgets for additional support of high-need students and communities. The discussion will cover the pros and cons of various approaches from the standpoints of policy, practicality, and politics.
Specifically, the panelists will consider commonly proposed revenue sources for education (possibly including ideas such as sales tax increases; excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana; severance taxes on natural resource extraction; changes to income and estate taxes; and lotteries) and discuss their stability and progressivity. They will also offer a view into practical limitations created by state contexts, such as political cultures and legal strictures, and especially discuss constitutional constraints. They will address the one tax source most heavily associated with school finance but least often tapped by states—property taxes—and consider how states could pool existing property tax dollars across district or county lines to better support high-need students and communities within current resources. The practitioner in the discussion will be Georgina Monsalvo, Organizing Director for Stand for Children Arizona, who will offer an on-the-ground perspective on how to achieve productive change in constrained times, drawing upon recent experience leading a successful advocacy effort to win voter approval for a new high-income surtax for education.
This discussion will draw upon peer-reviewed scholarship in law and economics; research resources published by EdBuild and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; perspectives honed at the Tax Policy Institute; and views from the trenches of advocacy. It will offer immediate and actionable ideas for state actors concerned with education finance and advance the policy conversation past crisis management to look toward the needs of students and school systems going forward.
Over the past few decades, the field of education finance research has continued to advance with respect to adequacy cost studies, as the demand for such studies continues to grow. Over the past five years at least 10 cost studies employing typical adequacy study methods have taken place, including two studies that are expected to be published by early 2021. These studies generally leverage one of four methods; Evidence-Based analysis, Professional Judgement Panel engagement, Successful Schools case study analysis, and Cost Function quantitative analysis.
Each method has strengths and limitations, and valid critiques of all have been noted (Hanushek, 2006; Baker & Levin, 2015). Specific improvements have also been proposed, including combining methods to balance limitations with strengths (Baker & Levin, 2015). Accordingly, each method has been refined over time to mitigate limitations (see Gronberg, Jansen, and Taylor (2017); Levin, Brodziak de los Reyes, Atchison, Manship, Arellanes, and Hu (2018), etc.).
As fiscal constraints grow in education, the demand for cost studies is likely to grow. Recent studies offer an opportunity to consider how these methods have advanced and how they address both the questions of how much and how wellresources are spent to achieve improvements in student achievement.
The topic of this proposed policy talk is the evolution of state adequacy cost study methods, and what the future may hold for this area of education school finance analysis.
As a foundation for discussion, the panel will provide an in-depth review of recent cost studies that illustrate this evolution and draw comparisons to identify implications for future work. This includes cost analysis for the North Carolina Sound Basic Education for All Action Plan (WestEd, 2019); the Arkansas School Finance Study (APA & WestEd, 2020); the Utah Funding Study (WestEd, 2020); and the Nevada School Finance Study (APA, Education Commission of the States, Picus Odden and Associates, 2018). All of these studies use a combination of complementary methods to balance strengths and limitations, and in some cases use the results of one analysis to inform others.
NORTH CAROLINA SOUND BASIC EDUCATION FOR ALL ACTION PLAN
As part of the Action Plan prepared by WestEd for the North Carolina Superior Court, the research team conducted a cost study employing two of the common methods; professional judgement panels and cost function analysis. Since the publication of the Action Plan in 2019, the court has formally accepted the report and the parties in the case have submitted joint, formal responses to the court on their near-term plan for its implementation.
This study combined two methods, using the results from one analysis to inform the other and strengthen findings overall. Specifically, panelists were provided with initial estimates from the cost function. This offered an opportunity to mitigate a key critique of the panel method; that it tends to result in an unrealistic list of services and costs. Panelists were asked to consider what specific recommended resources might be strategically abandoned while still maintaining an outcome standard.
ARKANSAS SCHOOL FINANCE STUDY
This study intended to “provide to the members of the Arkansas General Assembly detailed and accurate information concerning the current efficacy of the biennial adequacy study and evaluation undertaken by the Committees, and to provide the Committees with recommendations regarding reform or replacement of the current methods for determining educational adequacy in the State of Arkansas.” The study approach used a variety of methods for the investigation in arriving at its conclusions.
UTAH FUNDING STUDY
In the fall of 2019, the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) partnered with WestEd to produce a comprehensive study of their state funding formula focused on equitable access and employing multiple methods.
Particularly relevant are this study’s cost function and successful schools analyses. Recognizing the cost function’s limitations in understanding the local decisions that produce success, the successful schools analysis examined practices in high-performing settings. Similar to NC, cost function results were used, in this case to identify efficient settings as criteria for selecting case study sites.
NEVADA SCHOOL FINANCE STUDY
In late 2017 the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) partnered with Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates (APA) to conduct an update to the 2012 state finance study (APA et al., 2018). The scope of the study was to estimate resources needed to meet state standards. The study, along with others recently conducted in NV, informed the state funding formula reforms enacted in the summer of 2019 under the title of a “Pupil-Centered Funding Plan.”
The study employs the professional judgement panels and evidence-based analysis to inform recommendations. To allow for various prior analyses in NV to inform policy, this study’s recommendations presented policy scenarios leveraging different aspects of all prior studies.
Proposed panelists include:
- Alex Jacobson (WestEd) who was the task lead for the cost analyses in NC, the overall project lead for the UT study, and has been involved in several other recent studies. He will bring his intimate knowledge of these methods to the conversation.
- Justin Silverstein (APA) who was the study lead for both AR and NV and has been involved in other recent studies in this space as well. He will bring his knowledge of these methods and his observations of trends in this space.
- Tiffany Stanley (USBE)as the Chief of Staff for the Office of the State Superintendent at the USBE, Ms. Stanley brings a broad base of knowledge and perspectives. In her role at the USBE she works across departments at the agency, as well as with state leaders from the Governor’s office and the state legislature, to support USBE’s policy agenda at a systems-level. As USBE lead for the Utah Study, she has first-hand knowledge of how cost studies can inform the work of enacting state policy, and opportunities to make such studies more actionable.
Finally, Jason Willis (WestEd)will moderate the panel, leading discussion about the implications of these studies, the trends in this field of education finance, and what the future might hold for the evolution of these methods.
Typically defined as long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between education researchers and practitioners resulting in research focused on key aspects of education practice (Coburn, Penuel, & Geil, 2013), the research-practice partnership (RPP) model has been identified as a promising mechanism to bridge the gap between research and practice (e.g., Tseng, Easton, & Supplee, 2017). Indeed, because of their collaborative nature involving researchers and practitioners at all stages of the research process, RPPs have great potential to studyand directly addresslongstanding problems of practice. This is in contrast to more traditionally produced education policy research, which often aims to inform policy through peer-reviewed journal articles, but typically falls short of this goal (e.g., Penuel, et al., 2018).
In particular, RPPs may be especially valuable in terms of addressing equity-centered aims in education, given the central role practitioners play in partnerships -- this leads to a clear focus on improving practice that oftentimes is lacking in non-RPP produced research. For this policy talk, we propose a case study approach to explore how one RPP has influenced policy through co-production of research that advances equitable access of computer science in one of the largest urban school districts in the U.S. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) enacted computer science (CS) as a high school graduation requirement in 2016. Established in 2017, the Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science (CAFÉCS) RPP was formed to ensure that every high school student in CPS receives a compelling and relevant experience in CS through a high-quality, introductory CS education course (Dettori et al., 2018). CAFÉCS is a multi-stakeholder partnership that includes CPS as a central partner, in addition to a number of research-side partners, and ultimately aims to study how to provide schools with sufficient support and accountability such that the quality of the CS experience is equitable across the entire district. To support this goal, the team has used the borrowing strength policy theory to characterize the manner in which policy entrepreneurs shape the development of the graduation policy (Johnson, Wachen, and McGee, 2020).
POLICY TOPIC TO BE ADDRESSED
In this panel discussion, we will discuss the critical design elements needed to:
- Support effective partnering between multiple education stakeholders in the context of an RPP;
- Advance both a collaboratively developed research agenda and specific policy-related goals as they relate to equity;
- Implement a continuous improvement mechanism so that the RPP can become a learning organization with respect to “what works”; and,
- Support meaningful engagement with research on the practice/policy front.
Attendees will be invited to share their own questions and experiences related to the above, resulting in a rich exploration of how RPPs can advance equity-related aims through policy change.
PANELISTS and CONTRIBUTIONS
- Steven McGee, President of The Learning Partnership and co-Director of CAFÉCS
Steven has three decades of expertise in fostering long-term partnerships between researchers and practitioners. As the first Puerto Rican learning scientist in the nation, he studies how to support learning from an individual cognitive perspective as well as from the perspective of systems and social contexts. He will discuss the evolution of the collaborative structures within CAFÉCS that support rigorous research that both informs solutions and contributes to educational theory.
- John Wachen, Postdoctoral Fellow at The Learning Partnership
John is a postdoctoral researcher with experience as both a team member of an RPP and an evaluator of RPPs. As a member of CAFÉCS, John works with district partners to support and study various projects in computer science education, including understanding teacher beliefs about equity, integrating computational thinking across the curriculum, and assessing the effectiveness of teacher coaching. John will discuss his collaborative work with district partners to understand teacher beliefs about issues of equity in computer science and explain how this work is mutually beneficial for all partners.
- Troy Williams, Interim Director, Office of Computer Science, Chicago Public Schools and co-Director of CAFÉCS
Troy is responsible for overseeing implementation of PreK – 12th grade Computer Science education in CPS. This includes all computer science professional learning, curriculum resources, implementation support and instructional support. Troy was born and raised on the south side of Chicago during a time where computer science education was not readily available. He took his first computer class at Olive Harvey College at the age of 12 and has been hooked ever since. Troy will discuss how CAFÉCS research has shaped
- Erin Henrick, Partner to Improve
Erin Henrick is President of Partner to Improve, an education research and consulting group supporting improvement and systemic change in education through partnerships. Erin is an RPP researcher, evaluator, and professional development provider, including serving as the lead investigator of a WT Grant study resulting in a framework for assessing RPP effectiveness; serving as the external evaluator for multiple NSF funded RPPs, including CAFÉCS; serving as a researcher on a 10-year NSF funded RPP (known as MIST) focused on improving math instruction across large urban districts; and finally, co-authoringSystems for Instructional Improvement-Creating Coherence from the Classroom to the District Office. Erin will discuss the ways in which RPPs support improvements to policy and practice.
- Paula Arce-Trigatti, Director of the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP)
NNERPP is a professional learning organization for education RPPs launched in 2016 at Rice University. As director, Paula organizes and coordinates a number of learning opportunities for members across the Network and the RPP field at-large in order to improve both our theoretical understanding of partnerships and how they actually work in practice. She additionally oversees an online repository of RPP-related resources via the “NNERPP RPP Knowledge Clearinghouse,” collaboratively designs RPP tools and resources with members to support RPP development, and edits a quarterly magazine on RPPs (“NNERPP Extra”).
1. Background/Justification of policy relevance
The COVID-19 2020 pandemic caused an unexpected shift in educational delivery and uncovered truths about the U.S. educational system. The first- our system was not built, nor prepared, to offer effective online, emergency teaching to the more than 55 million school children ( 2. Statement of the policy topic to be addressed
As well-educated Black mothers of children who have been identified as gifted, and as women who work and study racial bias in different ways, we are uniquely poised to ask questions that often go unexamined. Even with higher socioeconomic status, our children still experience a deficit educational model. Black students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and administrators need allies at the state-level policy making table to assist in the agenda setting for our children’s educational future. Because our voices have not been heard, a comprehensive lens of what the educational deficit model looks like, has not been exposed.
Our children are not considered for FRPL but have had experiences regarding the underlying interpretations of our children’s cognitive skills. For example, in a suburban district near Charlotte, even with only a 6% FRPL rate and high income families, Black boys are still showing large deficits in reading and math test scores. These numbers leave us to question whether it is the testing or those interpreting the tests. Unlike those who may not be fiscally able, the pandemic provided an opportunity for us to step in the learning gap and teach our children what they were not able to receive from their teachers. But, we will not be in this pandemic forever and need to know that when we send out children back to school, their currently developing cognitive and soft skills (e.g. affirmation, creativity, motivation, perseverance, social skills, and tenacity) which together, demonstrate the capability to shape positive economic outcomes, will not be suspended.8
3).Contributions to be made by each panelist (Biographies attached in Supporting File)
While our policy talk does not include a policy maker or practitioner it is relevant and timely to said persons because of the needed advocacy to address the current educational policy gaps.
Dunn and Jason- Racial bias and children in crisis (pipeline culture), poor outcomes and discrimination in “the best”schools and the efficacy of arts education for improved outcomes.
Brown- Black and Brown students in predominantly White private schools: curriculum and IQ testing issues
Lewis and Glass--Advocacy for creative and representative literature for Black and brown students. How is funding being allocated? How are texts being chosen and taught and what are external resources to support implementation? How are teachers prepared for affirming diverse children?g Nantz. (2016). The Hamilton Project: Fourteen Economic Facts on Education and Economic Opportunity.” Economic Facts. (March 2016).
The first-ever large set of school-by-school spending data emerged this past June, making data available on some 45 states. With its June 2020 deadline, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now requires states to make these data available for every school in the country for the first time. Up to now, researchers using school-by-school financials had to forensically cobble data together, and were usually constrained to a particular locale and often an incomplete picture of the finances.
This proposed panel offers an opportunity for researchers, policymakers, analysts, practitioners, and journalists to explore how this unprecedented data release can spur financial research and analyses, and inform decisions in a way that wasn’t possible before. Proposed panelists cover a cross-section of relevant roles representing education finance research, district leadership, advocacy, journalism (covering ed finance beat), data fellows (in SEAs, LEAs), and development of a financial data archive.
The opportunity presented by the sudden availability of financial data on the nation’s 98,000 public schools is particularly significant because these data come at a time when schools(versus districts) are increasingly recognized as the unit of change and when so many other non-financial datasets (including student outcomes data) are already available by the unit of the school (Burnette II, 2018).
This panel will explore how the field can tap these new data to:
- Inform, reshape, and transform education finance research going forward;
- Explore and address inequities;
- Understand how to make money matter more for students, particularly high-need students;
Dr. Marguerite Roza is a Research Professor at Georgetown University and Director of the Edunomics Lab, a research center focused on exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice. Dr. Roza’s research traces the effects of fiscal policies at the federal, state, and district levels for their implications on resources at the school and classroom levels. Dr. Roza has previously used school-by-school financial data to explore intradistrict equity. She will highlight the School Spending Data Archive, a forthcoming national normed dataset of the ESSA-required per-pupil expenditures.
Daarel Burnette IIserves as Assistant Managing Editor at Education Week where he has been covering the ed finance beat. Recently, he was awarded an Education Writers Association (EWA) fellowship to explore school-by-school financial data in the context of student outcomes, with a focus on those students already disenfranchised and left behind. Mr. Burnette will share his thinking about how the data can be used by journalists in their coverage of education finance topics.
Gini Pupo-Walker is an elected school board member of the Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the State Director for Tennessee at the Education Trust where she works alongside advocacy organizations and stakeholders to increase educational opportunity and achievement among historically underserved students. Ms. Pupo-Walker will speak to her experience using school-by-school financial data both in her school board role and her advocacy role to explore intradistrict inequities and to engage stakeholders in policy changes.
Dr. Jon Fullertonis the Executive Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. Dr. Fullerton has extensive experience working with policymakers and executives in designing and implementing organizational change and improvements. Dr. Fullerton served the Board of Education’s director of budget and financial policy for the Los Angeles Unified School District. His center houses the Strategic Data Project which includes data analysts placed in dozens of SEAs and LEAs throughout the country. Dr. Fullerton will speak to the implications of this dataset for ongoing SEA and LEA analyses.
Dr. Phillip Caldwell IIis an Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University. His expertise lies at the intersection of education finance, data science, research methods, education policy, and leadership. Recent related research focuses on identifying key learning opportunities for educational leaders as they use resource allocation strategies to drive equitable student outcomes.He will speak to the utility of the data for equity and decision-making.
High-quality early childhood education is critical for addressing systemic inequities in early learning resources and opportunities. The global health pandemic and economic insecurity widened the chasms between the haves and have nots in our communities making early childhood a key lever rebuilding social trust and community care. As of fall 2020, enrollment counts are still tentative, but communities across the country are beginning to report missing up to thousands of expected incoming kindergartners. Furthermore, it is unclear the extent to which economic security is moderating the situation, sending some students into costly preschools and others into environments with fewer learning opportunities. Identifying how to re-engage students during the 2020-21 school year will be an enormous feat for state and district leaders, one that will have tremendous implications for local enrollment counts, budgets, and require an eye for the long game and community-organizing.
Dr. Pitts will situate pandemic related early childhood education challenges within the context of a recently published study examining theacademic skills at kindergarten entry between 2010-2017 [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189X20931078]. The results indicate that kindergarteners in 2017 exhibited moderately lower math and reading outcomes compared to 2010, but gaps by race/ ethnicity and school-level poverty narrowed modestly. These findings are somewhat consistent with the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores that indicate the performance of U.S. 4thgraders flattened or declined between 2015 and 2017. Notably, some policy leaders suggest that these trends may be explicative of residual effects of the Great Recession, lasting from 2007 to 2009, having to do with the economic health and wealth of our country’s families. In turn, the education research and policy community must think holistically, early on about how we are investing in early childhood education in response to the pandemic and our current economic downturn. Together we can evaluate the efforts we are taking to mitigate the impact from the potential for increased financial insecurities on early childhood outcomes.
Dr. Johnson will present findings from a recent study on theimpacts of school entry age on academic growth through second grade [https://www.nwea.org/research/publication/impacts-of-school-entry-age-on.... In recent years, many parents and policymakers have favored a trend to enroll young students in kindergarten at later ages to benefit from students’ skill development and maturity. Johnson’s study results indicate that students entering kindergarten at later ages experienced early advantages that faded, somewhat, by grade two. Costs are associated with delaying school start, for example with actual financial impact on families to pay for private preschool programs for an additional year and the impact of this decision on potential inequities in school-entry outcomes. In the context of thousands of kindergarteners not enrolling this fall due to the global health pandemic, it will be critical for education leaders and state and local policymakers to consider ways to document and mitigate these tradeoffs happening within our own communities.
In response, Megan Irwin, policy leader in Multnomah County representing County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, will describe a community-driven initiative,Preschool for All [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/06/upshot/oregon-universal-preschool-ele... from Portland, Oregon.The Preschool for All program, led by Commissioner Vega Pederson, was developed by a coalition of nearly 3 dozen diverse community-serving organizations. The coalition facilitated a two-year exploration, design, and proposal process with key leaders across the community. The result was an evidence-based policy solution that would create a countywide funding proposal to improve access to quality preschool. This proposal is on the November ballot in Multnomah County and if passed will tax high-earning households to increase county preschool seats by nearly 7,000 openings and improve wages for preschool workers. At a time when communities are asking how they can support Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other diverse communities, how they can mitigate the longstanding underinvestment in our communities of color across the country, this proposal answers the broad call to action. More importantly, it was researched, designed, and developed by and for the community to be served.
The panel will conclude with a conversation about curriculum alignment with Dr. Ralston. Many evaluative frameworks of preschool programs center on the question of developmentally appropriate and quality curriculum to support learning in preparation for the transition to kindergarten. Yet, these critical skills do not stop once students enter kindergarten and the approaches to teaching and learning between preschool and kindergarten can often become disjointed, leaving our youngest learners and their families grasping for tangible support to quality learning opportunities. Dr. Ralston will present findings and recommendations from a working study on the extent to which kindergarten curriculum aligns with preschool curriculum.
Background/Justification and Policy Topic
Colleges in the United States are facing numerous logistic and financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these challenges is the potential for the pandemic to disrupt the number of students within the enrollment pipeline, which provides a critical source of revenue. To help address this challenge, hundreds of colleges have elected to alter or suspend admission requirements for the next few enrollment cycles. One of the more common policy changes that colleges have adopted is to make standardized test scores either optional or unnecessary for admission. For this proposal, we will refer to these admission policies by the umbrella term “test optional.”
The reasoning behind such an abrupt shift in admission policies may be justified. Given temporary closures and capacity restrictions placed on test centers across the country, the number of ACT tests taken in the 2019-2020 school year decreased by 34% over the previous year. Nevertheless, the adoption of a test optional policy could have academic and non-academic consequences that extend well beyond the short-term maintenance of enrollment levels and tuition revenues. We firmly believe that college administrators should elect to continue, modify or discontinue their test optional policy post-pandemic based on evidence obtained from their local contexts. We also believe that colleges should document this evidence as part of an effort to provide greater transparency to prospective students about the college admission process. Conducting local research on the impact of these policies, however, can present many challenges, some of which are only exacerbated by the pandemic. The goal of this session is to provide a space to discuss with college administrators and educational researchers the data requirements and model specification challenges associated with conducting rigorous research aimed to assess the impact of test optional policies.
Defining the test optional policy and policy context (led by Hossler & Cruce)
Admission policies that fall under the test optional label are not the same, and this can create a lack of transparency for prospective students. We will discuss why researchers should go beyond the label to include a rich description of the admission criteria that were used, how admission decisions were made (e.g., formula or holistic review), and the ways in which the new policy was communicated to prospective students. Studying the effectiveness of a new admission policy requires a comparison between that policy and some alternative. We’ll discuss why researchers should choose the alternative admission criteria that would have been in place in absence of the test optional policy, and we’ll argue that this prior admission policy should also be described in detail to help contextualize research findings. Finally, since neither admission policy operated in a vacuum, we will discuss ways that researchers can identify and address both the local and global “history threats” to the internal validity of their inferences about the effectiveness of their test optional policy.
Defining the targets of the test optional policy (led by Curs)
For research purposes, the targets of a test optional policy could range in scope from all new applicants, to only those applicants who are eligible to forgo the submission of test scores, to only those applicants who opted not to submit test scores. We will discuss how the choice of a target group is essential for the selection of a comparison group, for the proper interpretation and contextualization of the research findings, and for the generalizability of those findings to future admitted classes and other college settings. We will also discuss what criteria need to be in place for the comparison group’s outcomes to serve as an unbiased representation of the target group’s counterfactual outcomes, and we will address ways that researchers can identify and potentially minimize “selection threats” and “attrition threats” to the internal validity of their inferences about the effectiveness of their test optional policy.
Defining the outcomes of the test optional policy (led byGonzález Canché)
In addition to studying the impact of the test optional policy on outputs such as enrollment size and the baseline characteristics of an entering class, we will recommend that local research include a study of the relationship between the adoption of the policy and subsequent student success measures such as college grades and persistence. We will also discuss why researchers should craft hypotheses based on a shared understanding of whether the test optional policy was intended to improve or simply maintain student success levels, as the analytic approach and thus the inferences that can be drawn from the research findings will hinge on this choice. Finally, given the potential changes to college course delivery and grading in response to the pandemic, we will discuss ways that researchers can identify and address potential “instrumentation threats” to the internal validity of their inferences about the effectiveness of their test optional policy.
- Policymaker/Practitioner*Dr. Donald Hossler is a Senior Scholar at the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at USC and a Distinguished Provost Professor at IU Bloomington. He has previously served as vice chancellor for student enrollment services, and as executive associate dean of the School of Education at Indiana University. Areas of specialization include college choice and enrollment management.
- Dr. Ty Cruce is a Principal Research Scientist at ACT, Inc. His research uses experimental and quasi-experimental designs to study the efficacy of products, services, and initiatives for prospective college students who have been historically underserved by higher education.
- Dr. Bradley Cursis Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on issues of education access, equity, and success across three broad areas: the efficacy of financial aid programs, the behaviors of educational institutions, and pre-college readiness behaviors.
- Dr. Manuel González Canché is Associate Professor in the Higher Education division of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. His research focuses on providing estimates of expected outcomes associated with a variety of decisions students make, effects of state- and federal-level policy changes, and spatial and social spillovers and outcome dependence.
The devastation from COVID-19 is layered on top of an already stratified education and workforce landscape. Black adults with a high school diploma earn $28,439 annually, while those with a bachelor’s degree take home over double that amount at $59,027. For students who start college but leave prior to earning a degree, debt accumulation further constrains their earnings. The average college dropout leaves school with almost $14,000 in outstanding student loans. Stopped out students confront the worst of both worlds: they are burdened with debt but lack the degree or credential that would facilitate economic mobility. The long-term impact of this debt load is more damaging for Black students, who default on student loans at a rate of almost 49% compared to 21% of white borrowers. Many stopped out students owe small balances to the college they left. These relatively small amounts of debt can harm students’ credit scores, and the resulting financial holds on their transcripts can prevent them from re-enrolling or transferring.
Institutional debt forgiveness is one approach to address the affordability barrier for returning students. Debt forgiveness strategies bring students back to higher education by offering partial or full cancellation of the past-due balance owed to the institution. Implementing a debt forgiveness program in conjunction with a reengagement strategy for adults while offering focused student support services supports students in gaining a post-secondary credential and generates a positive return on investment for the institution.
Initiatives in the Detroit area sparked a national interest in debt forgiveness. The Detroit Regional Chamber conducted an inventory with five regional higher education institutions to identify students who stopped out before earning a degree or credential in the last ten year and found that one in four of these nearly 250,000 students had financial holds on their accounts. The prospect of meaningfully addressing this issue had unique implications for the Chamber’s goal of reducing Detroit’s racial equity gap in education attainment: while African American students accounted for only 21% of the overall population of stopped outs, they accounted for 45% of the stopped-out students with financial holds. In 2018 the Chamber partnered with Wayne State University in launching the Warrior Way Back debt-forgiveness initiative.
One year later, Detroit launched a first-of-its-kind multi-institutionaldebt-forgiveness compact [https://www.detroitchamber.com/new-program-to-help-former-students-elimi... with Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Henry Ford Community College. These three institutions agreed on three common tenets that governed this partnership that related to debt-forgiveness 1) being available to an unlimited number of students; 2) offered to students at an amount that met a minimum floor; and 3) facilitating the release of transcripts if students preferred to attend a different institution than where they attended previously.
This work helped spur a national movement around debt-forgiveness-- Wayne State University and Detroit partners have fielded over 100 inquiries from communities and states across the country wanting to replicate this model. To date at least forty institutions, communities or entire states like Missouri are now implementing some sort of debt-forgiveness.
While debt-forgiveness as an innovative strategy has generated a lot of attention, there are still key policy questions to consider:
- What are the early indications of the impact of debt-forgiveness as an intervention both in promoting re-enrollment and credential completion among the nation’s 36 million adults with some postsecondary experience, no credential? What are the limitations of this strategy?
- How can policymakers leverage the aligned interests of returning students and institutions (which stand to benefit from a demonstrated ROI from debt-forgiveness initiatives) to promulgate this intervention? How should they navigate the potential moral hazards involved?
- What are state policy barriers that prevent this intervention from being scaled? For example, Ohio state law requires that institutions send student debt to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, effectively stymieing debt-forgiveness offerings.
- How can institutional debt forgiveness programs complement potential federal loan forgiveness initiatives if President-elect Biden follows through on some of his policy proposals from the campaign?
Panelists will address these key policy considerations in the implementation and scaling of debt forgiveness strategies, while lending their unique perspective to the conversation: (1) key personnel who spearheaded Detroit’s Regional Debt Forgiveness Compact, (2) policymakers involved in debt forgiveness program design and implementation, and (3) researchers documenting the landscape of debt forgiveness programs and state policy context. The goal of this panel is to offer different perspectives on debt forgiveness policies and opportunities for future evaluation.
 Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development,Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Key Data Highlights Focusing on Race and Ethnicity and Promising Practices [http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/advancing-diversity-inclusion...., Office of the Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 2016.
 Brown, Mike,College Dropouts and Student Debt [https://lendedu.com/blog/college-dropouts-student-loan-debt] , LendEDU Report, November 2, 2017.
 Scott-Clayton, Judith,What Accounts for Gaps in Student Loan Default, and What Happens After [https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-accounts-for-gaps-in-student-loa..., Brookings Report, June 21, 2018.
The need for costing-out studies is clear given the clauses found in virtually all state constitutions that dictate that the state has a responsibility to provide an education that is considered adequate, sufficient or some other term that represents a level that allows all students an opportunity to achieve the outcomes expected of the public education system (Baker & Green, 2014). If states are to follow through on this obligation then it is necessary to understand both the amount of effort involved in terms the public funding required to offer educational adequacy and how to appropriately distribute this funding. More formally stated, the main objectives of educational costing-out studies are to answer what have been referred to as the two fundamental questions of educational adequacy (Chambers & Levin, 2009):
1) What does it cost to enable a public school system to provide all students with an adequate education?
2) How can state school finance systems allocate their resources equitably, such that all students are afforded an adequate education regardless of their need or circumstance?
Costing-out studies over the past several decades have often been included directly under court cases brought about by plaintiff claims that states have not met their constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education, some of which have prevailed (Rebell, 2005). However, it should be noted that the effectiveness of these studies to result in the implementation of sustained policy reform has been less than impressive. Other studies have not been conducted directly as part of a lawsuit, but instead commissioned by state governmental bodies including departments of education and legislative commissions with a specific charge to investigate their state’s school finance systems (Chambers et al., 2008; Kolbe et al., 2019; Atchison et al., 2020).
The focus of the proposed panel is to showcase how the results of two recent costing-out studies have been used to support policy makers in developing actionable plans to reform their school finance systems. The panel will focus on the experience of New Hampshire and Vermont in 1) commissioning rigorous studies of their respective school finance systems to better understand the existing adequacy and equity with which their schools are funded and 2) using the results to develop actionable policy intended to improve the mechanisms used to fund schools. Interestingly, given the fact that both states are among the highest in the country in terms of funding levels offered to schools, much of the emphasis of the policy deliberations that have followed these studies has been on how to best improve the distributive properties of their formula in order to promote greater funding and taxpayer equity.
Attendees of this policy talk will hear first-hand from both study leaders and top-level policy makers about the investigation approaches taken, how findings were communicated to support the decision making process, and how the results are currently being used in these two states to develop significant policy that stand to significantly improve school. Specifically, the panelists will speak to the following points:
- The motivation(s) for commissioning a school finance study in New Hampshire and Vermont, the specific issues each state was grappling with and key policy questions that needed to be answered.
- The research approaches taken to speak to key issues of interest and address the research questions.
- What was learned from the findings of the investigations and the subsequent key policy recommendations.
- How the study findings are currently being used put to use to develop and implement significant policy changes.
- How the study researchers and policy makers have worked together to build and sustain state capacity for ongoing analysis that will help support current policy decisions and inform further policy development.
- Implications for how other states go about costing-out studies and developing changes in their funding mechanisms that adjust for educational cost differentials.
The proposed panel will be moderated by Dr. Jesse Levin (Principal Research Economist at American Institutes for Research) and include two high-profile policy makers who are currently at the center of the school funding policy debate within their respective states. In addition, it will include three leading education finance researchers with vast knowledge about the application of costing-out studies to drive school funding policy, all of whom served as leaders of the studies conducted in New Hampshire and Vermont. Note that all panelists have confirmed they will attend the proposed policy talk.
1. Dr. Daniel French, Secretary of Education, State of Vermont Agency of Education
2. Representative David Luneau, New Hampshire State Representative and Vice Chairman of Legislative Education Committee
1. Dr. Drew Atchison, Senior Researcher, American Institutes for Research
2. Dr. Bruce Baker, Professor, Rutgers University
3. Dr. Tammy Kolbe, Professor, University of Vermont
Background/Justification of Policy Relevance
Shortages of special education teachers (SETs) across the United States has been a persistent problem for decades (Boe & Cook, 2006; Cook & Boe, 2007; Sutcher, et al., 2016). For the 2020-2021 school year, most every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories reported a shortage of special educators (U.S. Department of Education, 2020).Reasons for shortages of SETs range from lower enrollment in teacher preparation programs (Sutcher, et al., 2019), to poor working conditions, and low pay (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Sutcher, et al., 2019).
Shortages and reasons for them however, are not uniform and vary depending upon state and local context (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). Mississippi is no exception and continually faces critical shortages of SETs (Mississippi [MDE], 2020). Root causes of shortages within Mississippi however, are quite complex and multifaceted. To address shortages of SETs thus requires a collaborative and targeted approach involving various stakeholders (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017).
In partnership with the Collaboration for Educator Effectiveness, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center [https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/], a team of state policy makers, faculty from educator preparation programs (EPPs), and district-level school administrators from varying contexts across Mississippi developed a partnership to address SET shortages. This team meets regularly using the Shortages Toolkit [https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/shortage-toolkit/] developed by the CEEDAR Center in partnership with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to guide our efforts to identify and address SET shortages in Mississippi.
To address SET shortages, the team has taken the following steps:
- Identified the landscape of shortages in Mississippi using state-level data
- Identified district-level Special Education Directors from rural and urban regions across Mississippi
- Collected and reviewed district-level data on the SET pipeline to identify gaps and potential root causes of shortages within each context
- Brainstormed potential strategies to address SET shortages within each district
The first step conducted was to identify the landscape of statewide SET shortages through the collection of state data for the 2019-2020 school year, on items such as the number of EPPs that confer SET degrees and the number of graduates from these programs. The team then used this data and developed an infographic that was disseminated statewide to various stakeholders to inform partners about SET shortages in Mississippi. Local school district data was then shared by special education directors and subsequently analyzed by the team. Based upon our ongoing data analysis and use of prior research on effective recruitment and retention strategies, the team brainstormed potential targeted approaches on recruitment and retention efforts for SETs within each partnering district. Targeted strategies include cultivating relationships between local educator preparation programs and school districts, supporting induction and mentoring, and using monetary and non-monetary incentives. For next steps, the team continues to meet regularly to develop differentiated plans for developing and implementing one or two of the potential strategies within each district to address their local needs.
This policy talk proposed is relevant to state and local school districts across the nation as it provides an example of how education stakeholders can collaborate to address the persistent problem of SET shortages within varying contexts. We also hope this policy talk will provide local school administrators, educator preparation program faculty, and policy makers with additional resources they can employ to target SET shortages.
Clear Statement of the Policy Talk to be Addressed
In this policy talk, we plan to share our work in Mississippi as an example of how to target SET shortages according to local needs through the development of collaborative partnerships and the use of available resources and tools.
Description of the panel and panelists
Kelly Acosta, M.Ed., is a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida studying teacher education and special education. She works as a graduate assistant at the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center, where she supports Mississippi with addressing SET shortages.
Corlis Snow, EdD, is an Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Sciences (COEHS) at Delta State University. She serves as the CEEDAR Liaison for the COEHS and works to fully engage the COEHS in college-wide activities that promote cultural competence and equity for all.
Contributions to be made by each panelist
As a CEEDAR Center staff member, Kelly Acosta will contribute to the policy talk by sharing how to use data and resources, such as the CEEDAR Center Shortages Toolkit, to analyze teacher shortages statewide and locally. In addition, from her work at the CEEDAR Center, she will be able to provide broad national context on SET shortages and discuss broadly how other states are engaging in similar efforts.
Dr. Corlis Snow will contribute to the policy talk by sharing her expertise on developing local partnerships between educator preparation programs and school districts in addressing teacher shortages. She also has experience and knowledge on structuring an educator preparation program to support non-traditional students with becoming educators.