Friday, July 19, 2013

Leaning In

In my usual cranky manner, I refuse to read a book (or watch a TV series) until the buzz has died down. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is full of sensible, uncomfortable truths. A safe bet is that few people who have pissed on it have actually read it. 

On the applicability of her advice to professional vs. working-class women:
"I am also acutely aware that the vast majority of women are struggling to make ends meet and take care of their families.  Part of this book will be most relevant to women fortunate to have choices about how much and when and where to work; other parts apply to situations that women face in every workplace, in every community, and in every home."
On women's increasing education, compared to their stagnant leadership roles:  
"But while compliant, raise-your-hand-and-speak-when-called-on behaviors might be rewarded in school, they are less valued in the workplace."
Worth a read. Then, form an opinion.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

College Graduates and the Recession

The Pew Charitable Trust has released a terrific report (OK, they released it in January, when I was in blogger hibernation) on how the recession affected those with and without college degrees. 

The bottom line: the recession sucked, but it sucked most if you did not have a college degree. From the report:
"Although all 21- to 24-year-olds experienced declines in employment and wages during the recession, the decline was considerably more severe for those with less education." 
"The comparatively high employment rate of recent college graduates was not driven by a sharp increase in those settling for lesser jobs or lower wages." 
"Out-of-work college graduates were able to find jobs during the downturn with more success than their less-educated counterparts." 
College is insurance against bad economic times. If you are (or know) a recent college graduate upset about current job prospects, go out and agitate for more stimulus spending, or looser monetary policy, or extended unemployment benefits. But don't go telling people (especially teenagers!) that a college education is a raw deal. It's the safest harbor during stormy economic times.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Value of Clinical Trials, in Education and Cancer Research

A great op-ed in today's New York Times explains the value of randomized trials. The parallels with education are striking.

As explained in the article, many pharmaceutical companies, doctors and patients are frustrated by the failure in randomized trials of so many cancer drugs that looked promising in uncontrolled trials. I have heard the same frustration vented in education circles, with the What Works Clearinghouse disparagingly referred to the "What DOESN'T Work Clearinghouse." 

The education trials that find no positive effects are not failed studies. They are successful studies in that they keep us from wasting millions of dollars (and kids' and teachers' time) on the latest cool, sexy, exciting, elegant fad that doesn't work. They also keep us searching for something better.

I admire the patient (and beautifully scientific) perspective of the cancer researcher quoted at the end of the article: 
"His definition of a successful clinical trial? 'At the end of the the day,' he says, 'regardless of the result, you've learned something.'"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Headlights Off, Driving in the Dark

Canada pretty much destroyed the long form of its household census by making response optional. The response rate has plummeted, and cities now find themselves without the data they need to make policy decisions.

Friend Nolan Miller informs me that legislation was recently introduced in the US Senate that would eliminate all federal data collection except the constitutionally-mandated, decennial head count. Unemployment rate? GDP growth? Nah, who needs to know?

Call for Papers Using State Longitudinal Data

Along with Mark Berends of Notre Dame, I am editing a special issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The call is below; submissions are due October 1, 2013.

Research Using Longitudinal Student Data Systems: Findings, Lessons, and Prospects
Issue Editors: Mark Berends and Susan Dynarski
Expected Publication Date: 2014
Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in the availability to education researchers of largescale longitudinal, student-level data sets.Chicago, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas were leaders in the move to open these databases to researchers. The Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, through a variety of funding initiatives, has encouraged researchers to partner with states, districts, and other education practitioners to use the data to develop research that can inform education policy. IES points to the need for these research partnerships in a recent publication: 
The Institute recognizes that evidence-based answers for all of the decisions that education decision-makers and practitioners must make every day do not yet exist. Furthermore, education leaders cannot always wait for scientists to provide answers. One solution for this dilemma is for the education system to integrate rigorous evaluation into the core of its activities. The Institute believes that the education system needs to be at the forefront of a learning society—a society that plans for and invests in learning how to improve its education programs by turning to rigorous evidence when it is available and by insisting that, when we cannot wait for evidence of effectiveness, the program or policy we decide to implement be evaluated as part of the implementation. (Request for Applications, CFDA Number 84.305E)
In a 2014 special issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), we will publish original research findings that have emerged from these kinds of partnerships. We are soliciting papers from researchers who have worked with states, districts, and other practitioners to formulate research questions and use administrative data sets to answer those questions. We are especially interested in studies that have used experimental and quasi-experimental methods to extract causal relationships from such data. For example: 
  • What is the effect of a state’s need-based grant program on college attendance, choice, and persistence?
  • How does a mandatory algebra requirement in secondary schools affect high school graduation and college attainment?  
We also welcome descriptive, exploratory papers that suggest directions for policy, research, and future partnerships and answer questions such as:
  • What are the achievement gaps between poor and nonpoor children from kindergarten to high school and into postsecondary education?
  • What lessons have researchers and practitioners learned about forming and maintaining research partnerships that they can pass on to future collaborators?
Submission Guidelines 
When you submit your manuscript, please make sure to indicate in the cover letter that it is for the special issue. Submissions received by October 1, 2013, will be considered, but earlier submission is appreciated.When submitting your manuscript, please follow the EEPA manuscript submission guidelines. All manuscripts must be submitted electronically at

What Works Clearinghouse reviews one of my charter school papers

The What Works Clearinghouse has done a quick, positive review of one of my charter school papers. This arm of the US Department of Education gives its seal of approval to research studies that meet its high standards for research design. They have given it (tentatively) the highest rating possible: Meets WWC Standards, WIthout Reservation.