Flypaper

Scott Pearson

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer offers the public a great resource by sharing data on public school spending (at the school level) across the District. As with any financial data, though, the fine print is as important as the headline. 

The map says that D.C.’s public charter schools had a total operating expenditure of $18,150 per pupil in the 2011–12 school year, compared with total operating expenditure at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) of $15,473. But this is misleading. Many public charter schools rent their space, and rental payments are considered operating expenses. Meanwhile, school-system buildings are decades old and are almost exclusively paid for from the city’s capital budget—which is not included in the comparison. Moreover, more than $1,000 per pupil of DCPS maintenance expenses are provided free by the city—these expenditures aren’t included either. 

The fine print found in the Fordham Institute map describes the real situation—public charter schools receive less money per pupil than DCPS. This disparity is carefully documented in a 2012 study commissioned by two charter advocacy groups. It found that the total amount of extra non-uniform local operating funds DCPS receives compared to public charter schools ranges from $72 to $127 million annually. The report also makes the case for why some of these disparities exist, noting that charters are schools of choice, while “DCPS operates as a system of right, which requires schools be available across the city to...

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NEA FLEXES POLITICAL MUSCLES
The National Education Association Advocacy Fund, the Super PAC of the country's largest teachers’ union, has spent more than $11 million in midterm campaign efforts, including $3.6 million in media and advertising. 

SPENDING RACE
Elsewhere in the exciting world of politics: Educational funding is playing a major role in Florida's gubernatorial campaign, as incumbent Governor Rick Scott and his challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist, vie to pledge more money for K–12 schools. In fact, Mr. Crist has promised to set a state record for per-pupil spending.

FLORIDA BONUS ROUND
The tight race for governor is also a fascinating backdrop for the Common Core debate. A long overview ran in the Tampa Bay Times last month, but the gist is that the standards were initially adopted in the Sunshine State—as in so many others—to little fanfare. A few years later, Governor Scott is sending his advisers to meet with anti-Common Core groups, while opponent Crist backs the standards unreservedly. 

LOWER LEARNING
Recently released poll data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed a wide discrepancy in what core subjects college students are required to take. Among the findings: A scant 18 percent of schools require their students to take American history in order to graduate....

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Without a doubt, and in the main, testing has done more good than harm in America’s schools. My Fordham colleague Andy Smarick is absolutely correct to argue that annual testing “makes clear that every student matters.” The sunshine created by testing every child, every year has been a splendid disinfectant. There can be no reasonable doubt that testing has created momentum for positive change—particularly in schools that serve our neediest and most neglected children.

But it’s long past time to acknowledge that reading tests—especially tests with stakes for individual teachers attached to them—do more harm than good. A good test or accountability scheme encourages good instructional practice. Reading tests do the opposite. They encourage poor practice, waste instructional time, and materially damage reading achievement, especially for our most vulnerable children. Here’s why:

A test can tell you whether a student has learned to add unlike fractions, can determine the hypotenuse of a triangle, or understands the causes of the Civil War—and, by reasonable extension, whether I did a good or poor job as a teacher imparting those skills and content. But reading comprehension is not a skill or a body of content that can be taught. The annual reading tests we administer to children through eighth grade are de facto tests of background knowledge and vocabulary. Moreover, they are not “instructionally sensitive.” Success or failure can have little to do with what is taught.

A substantial body of research has consistently shown that reading comprehension relies...

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute set out to answer a basic (yet complicated) question: how much does each school in the D.C. metro area spend for each student it enrolls? In the Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer, we found that there are differences in spending within the same district. For example, in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Tyler Elementary spends $19,721 per pupil (above the district total of $15,743), while Janney Elementary spends $11,652 per pupil.

Explore the Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer to learn more about why these differences may occur and to filter the data by district, school type, low- or high-spending, and more.

Also check out Mike Petrilli’s and Matt Richmond’s take on which Washington-area system does best at funding its neediest schools. The answer may surprise you.

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In the era of No Child Left Behind—and at a time of growing concern about income inequality—virtually every school system in the country claims to be working to narrow its student achievement gaps. But are they putting their money where their mouth is?

The data in our brand new D.C. Metro Area School Spending Explorer website allow us to answer this question for school districts inside the Beltway. Specifically, we can determine whether and to what degree they are spending additional dollars on their neediest schools.

To be sure, ever since the Coleman Report, it’s been hard to find a direct relationship between school spending and educational outcomes. Still, basic fairness requires that systems spend at least as much on educating poor students as affluent ones, and investments that might make a difference in narrowing achievement gaps (such as hiring more effective, experienced teachers and providing intensive tutoring to struggling students) do require big bucks.

There are lots of wonky ways to compute the fairness of education spending, but we’re going to use a measure that makes sense to us. Namely: How much extra does a district spend on each low-income student a school serves? Compared to what districts spend on behalf of non-poor students? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Fifty percent?

Read the methodology section below for details on how we got to these numbers (they are estimates, and apply only to elementary schools), but here are our conclusions.

...

School System

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BIGGER IS BETTER
new study highlights the importance of even earlier early education, finding that having a higher birth weight leads to higher cognitive development. “Weight, of course, may partly be an indicator of broader fetal health, but it seems to be a meaningful one: The chunkier the baby, the better it does on average, all the way up to almost 10 pounds.” But birth weight is not the be-all and end-all: Researcher David Figlio was 5 pounds, 15 ounces at birth.

DUELING BANJOS ON THE HELP COMMITTEE
Which senator played the washboard with a spoon in a banjo band? It's a question the Politics K–12 duo asks in a quiz of (useful) facts about the likely heads of the next Senate HELP Committee. The primer matters to wonks because, “[n]o matter which party comes out ahead on Election Day, the Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will have a new leader.”

COMMON CORE AND GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS
Three states are plowing ahead on tying graduation requirements and Common Core-aligned assessments, “a natural part of the transition from the adoption phase of Common Core to actually implementing the standards in a meaningful way.”

THE COMPLACENCY GAP
Sick of hearing about the achievement gap? Fordham's own Chester E. Finn, Jr. wants you to consider the complacency gap. When it comes to education...

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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The New York Times's Motoko Rich reports that some public charter school systems are implementing a new model of teacher preparation: residencies, similar to those in the medical field. The programs focus on practice over theory and match veteran educators with aspiring teachers in a structured mentorship. The piece offers a great look into the anxieties of new teachers and the critical importance of feedback from veteran mentors.

TENNESSEE MULLING COMMON CORE
In a recent interview with Chalkbeat, the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell, suggested that the state might be on its way to dropping Common Core. However, her spokesperson’s claim that “Tennessee—and not the federal government—knows what is best for Tennesseans” would seem to suggest that the Speaker isn’t aware of what the standards actually do. 

THE DANGERS OF BIAS
At Education Week, Darius D. Prier asks how educators can address stereotypes and ensure safety and equality for students inside and outside of schools. Prier recommends that schools incorporate current-day race issues into the curriculum, along with other ideas for preventing hip-hop culture from being conflated with criminality.

DROPPING OUT IS HARD TO DO
This weekend, the Wall Street Journal examined the American undergraduate dropout rate and uncovered a startling truth: According to data compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, almost one-third of the students who matriculated in a U.S. college in 2012 did not return the following year. Lots of steps...

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At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Senator Lamar Alexander famously told Arne Duncan that “President-elect Obama has made several distinguished cabinet appointments, but in my view of it all, I think you are the best.” Duncan had already made statements indicating a willingness to embrace charter schools and break with the unions over teacher evaluations—sentiments not typically expressed by Democratic secretaries of education. And on many issues, Secretary Duncan has not disappointed, regularly pushing a pro-education-reform line, especially via his bully pulpit.

Most intriguing about Secretary Duncan—from my perspective at least—was his early embrace of the theory of “tight-loose” federalism. As he put it in 2012,“ the federal government should be tight on goals,” but state and local leaders should decide how to attain them. “Local leaders, not us, know their children and communities best—to try to micromanage 100,000 schools from Washington would be the height of arrogance,” he said.

Indeed it would be. But trying to micromanage 100,000 schools from Washington is precisely what Duncan has been doing.

In fact, Duncan’s greatest failure—on par with politicizing the Common Core and trying to kill D.C.’s school voucher program—has been his unwillingness to follow through on the “loose” part of his “tight-loose” promise. It feels like there’s been no problem too big or too small for his Department of Education to tackle. This is particularly the case for his Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which has been a prime example of executive overreach and federal interference run amok for almost six...

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I’m writing this now in hopes I won’t have to write a future piece that starts: “Alas, a bad idea whose time has come…”

The bad idea is ending annual testing in grades 3–8, which may emerge as a consensus response to concerns about the state of standards, assessments, and accountability.

Clearly, testing is under fire generally. AFT head Randi Weingarten wants to do away with the federal requirement that students take annual assessments. Anti-testing groups are hailing state-based “victories” in rolling back an array of assessments and accountability provisions. Even Secretary Duncan recently expressed misgivings about the amount of time being dedicated to testing.

But the specific idea of returning—regressing—to “grade-span” testing might be gaining steam. Former President Bill Clinton recently said, “I think doing one in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.” At least two bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives to retreat to grade-span testing: One got public support from the NEA, and the other was saluted by the AFT.

What might be even more notable is the lack of vocal defense being mustered for annual testing by long-time advocates for strong accountability. Checker Finn took to National Review Online arguing for an “accountability reboot.”

Among other things, he wrote, “It’s probably time for education reformers and policymakers to admit that just pushing harder on test-driven accountability...

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EIGHTY PERCENT OF LIFE IS JUST SHOWING UP
Chronic absenteeism is a huge and often overlooked problem in America's schools. A new Education Week op-ed finds that students who miss four or more days in their first month are unlikely to keep up with grade-level achievement standards. In one study, only 17 percent of chronically absent kindergartners and first graders achieved reading proficiency by third grade. 

DECLINING TEACHER PREP IN CALIFORNIA
Teacher preparation programs in California have seen a downturn in enrollment recently, particularly in high-need areas such as math and science. Figures released for the 2012–13 school year highlight a decline of nearly three-quarters from a peak of 77,000 in 200102. On the bright side, a growing number of ethnically diverse applicants are entering the profession. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Teachers in Waukegan, Illinois, are on strike for the seventh day, with no likely end in sight. The work stoppage has shuttered two dozens schools in the cityhometown of science-fiction great Ray Bradbury—which sits on Lake Michigan roughly forty miles north of Chicago. Federal mediators have been participating in the negotiations.

MUST READ
On the heels of Nick Confessore's epic treatment of the federal school lunch program, Chalkbeat has an incredible photo essay chronicling the food offerings at six Colorado charter schools. As the story explains, charters with larger populations eligible for free- or discounted-meals will often rely on district food sources; others emphasize locally sourced meat...

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