Roland Fryer

new math

New York

Study of city charter schools attempts to isolate what works

What happens inside New York City charter schools is more important than their ideological affiliations in determining academic success, according to a new paper. The paper, which did not undergo peer review, is based on a detailed analysis of 35 city charter schools by two Harvard University researchers, Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie. Fryer is a MacArthur "genius" award winner who has conducted experiments and studies in New York City in the past, often in order to test his theories about the impact of incentives. For the newest paper, "Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City," the researchers conducted in-depth case studies at self-selecting charter schools that received $5,000 for supplying required information. By interviewing principals, teachers, and students; analyzing test scores and lesson plans; and videotaping classroom activity, Fryer and Dobbie built a database of "the inner workings of schools" and compared them. They wanted to find which traits of city charter schools appeared most closely linked with academic success. They also asked whether schools with a particular philosophy, such as the "whole child" approach of providing wraparound services or the "no excuses" approach typified by KIPP charter schools, did better than others. The researchers conclude that teacher credentials, class size, and per-pupil spending did not account for test score differences across the schools, but that five other features did. Those traits — frequent teacher feedback, high rates of data usage, "high-dose" tutoring, more class time, and a culture of high expectations — are features of many charter schools. Without them, schools that adhere to particular philosophies don't outperform other charter schools, according to the analysis.
New York

Fryer: Incentives should spur action, rather than reward scores

A chart in Fryer's report shows the effect of incentive programs from city to city. (Click to enlarge) Despite several spectacular setbacks, Harvard economist Roland Fryer isn't ready to throw in the towel on incentives to boost student performance. In recent years, New York City abandoned two different inventives programs that Fryer designed — one for students and another for teachers — after it became clear that the promise of more cash for higher test scores wasn't paying off. But Fryer, who last week was awarded a "genius grant" by the MacArthur foundation, has experimented with incentives in other cities and gotten different results. In a report released today, he and a colleague from Harvard University's EdLabs offer instructions for designing incentives programs and argue that, contrary to what economic theory would predict, programs that reward "inputs" such as reading or completing homework are more effective than those that reward "outcomes" such as test scores, as New York's program did. In Houston, students who were paid $4 for each math skill they learned mastered more skills — and they did even better when the prize grew to $6 a skill. In Dallas, students who were paid to read books read more books. More study is needed to figure out exactly why the Texas students responded to incentives and students in New York City did not, the researchers write. But they hypothesize that New York City students might not understand that comprehending content is key to raising scores.
New York

Study: $75M teacher pay initiative did not improve achievement

New York City's heralded $75 million experiment in teacher incentive pay — deemed "transcendent" when it was announced in 2007 — did not increase student achievement at all, a new study by the Harvard economist Roland Fryer concludes. "If anything," Fryer writes of schools that participated in the program, "student achievement declined." Fryer and his team used state math and English test scores as the main indicator of academic achievement. Schools could distribute the bonus money based on individual teachers' results, but most did not. Most teachers received the average bonus of $3,000. The program, which was first funded by private foundations and then by taxpayer dollars, also had no impact on teacher behaviors that researchers measured. These included whether teachers stayed at their schools or in the city school district and how teachers described their job satisfaction and school quality in a survey. The program had only a "negligible" effect on a list of other measures that includes student attendance, behavioral problems, Regents exam scores, and high school graduation rates, the study found. The experiment targeted 200 high-need schools and 20,000 teachers between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 school years. The Bloomberg administration quietly discontinued it last year, turning back on the mayor's early vow to expand the program quickly. The program handed out bonuses based on the schools' results on the city's progress report cards. The report cards grade schools based primarily on how much progress they make in improving students' state test scores. A so-called "compensation team" at each school decided how to distribute the money — a maximum of $3,000 per teachers union member, if the school completely met its target, and $1,500 per union member if the school improved its report card score by 75%.