Governance

It's school budget voting day in New York. And in my little district, with fewer than 2,000 K?12 students, voters are being asked to approve a $41,249,180 budget, which is a remarkably lean one, considering that it is just .77 more than last year's budget (that's less than one percent).

According to our state school board association (NYSSBA), that's pretty good:

Reflecting the difficult economic times, the average school district spending increase [in the state] would fall for the seventh year in a row?. The average proposed spending increase of 1.3 percent for 2011-12 is lower than the 1.4 percent average this year, the 2.3 percent average in 2009-10, 5.3 percent in 2008-09, 6.1 percent in 2007-08, 6.3 percent in 2006-07, 6.6 percent in 2005-06, and 6.9 percent in 2004-05. The five-year average is 3.9 percent.

Much of the restraint, obviously, is due to the busted economy; in New York, state aid to districts was cut by $1.2 billion.? In our district, if the voters approve the budget, we will be axing 22 teachers, 11 percent of the teaching staff. (New York City thinks it has it bad: Bloomberg's proposed teaching cuts ? 6,100 --? represent only 8 percent of Gotham's teaching force.)

What's not so good ? and if there is a ?burning issue? in my district, this is it ? is the proposed 9.8% local tax levy increase, more than double the increase on the ballot in surrounding districts and nearly three times...

Andrew Cuomo is not considered an education reform governor, but the Democratic leader of the Empire State has taken some bold stands in reining in education spending (by a billion bucks) ? even if it was courage born of necessity.? After caving in on Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) in March (see here), the new governor came back on Friday with a letter to the state's Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, asking for a tougher teacher evaluation system than the one the Regents had first proposed -- and which the Regents (having just hired John King as Commissioner (see here), will take up this afternoon.

According to the letter, Cuomo wants the Regents, who answer, officially, to the State Legislature not the Governor, to make ?comprehensive changes? to the evaluation plan, including:

? Increase the percentage of statewide objective data, like measuring student growth on statewide test scores, used to evaluate teacher performance;

? Impose rigorous classroom observation and other subjective measures standards on school districts when evaluating teacher performance;

? Require a positive teacher evaluation rating be given only when the teacher receives a combined positive rating on both subjective and objective measures, such as student growth on statewide tests; and,

? Accelerate the implementation of the evaluation system.

Though the devil is in the details, which Cuomo provides in his letter, there seems little doubt, as the Albany Times Union put it, ?that the letter puts him ?on course for clash...

In another major sign of how far the school reform movement has traveled, New York's Board of Regents today appointed John King, an African American and former managing director of Uncommon Schools, Commissioner of Education. (See my Education Next story on King's key involvement in New York's Race to the Top bid last year.)

King is smart and hardworking and tough on the details.? He'll need all those gifts and more as he takes on the challenges of running a once moribund school system, with the third highest enrollment numbers in the country (2.7 million K?12 students, after California, with 6 million, and Texas, with 4.6 million) and a powerful teachers union.

Good luck, Mr. King.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

Last week the lefties staged a protest against millionaires in New York City.? Tomorrow, a group called the District Parent Coordinating Council is asking kids in Buffalo to stay home from school to protest the terrible education students in the Empire State's second largest city are getting ? and have been receiving for some time. ?With a student population of 47,000, the Queen City also has the state's second largest school district (though far smaller than New York City's 1.2 million student system) and has an $800 million budget, money worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, according to the district's most recent state report card, the money (some $17,000 per student) doesn't seem to be resulting in much education for the largely poor students: 70% qualify for free and reduced lunch,? 25% get suspended every year, less than 60% graduates, 73% of its eighth-graders are ?below proficient? in English and 74% of them below proficient in math.? Is it any wonder that 18% of its teachers leave every year?

State Deputy Commissioner of Education John King*, who had been managing director of Uncommon Schools before being tapped for New York's number 2 education job (perhaps soon to be #1 ? see here), had visited the district a couple weeks earlier and told its leaders to lock themselves in a room and not come out until they had some solutions.

Well, the leaders came to a public meeting on May 3, but not only didn't they...

One of the more interesting characteristics of the recent curriculum counter-manifesto was its lead sentence, which had this lovely turn of phrase: we ?oppose the call for a nationalized curriculum.?? Interesting, I thought, since I don't believe anyone at the Shanker Institute called for a nationalized curriculum; they called for a national or common curriculum.? Was this a distinction without a difference? Was Shanker just being "sneaky"?? Not at all ? and I'm sure the writers of the counter-manifesto understand all too well that nationalize is a verb, meaning to do something like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez might do to oil companies or hotels.

Nice try, guys.

On the other side of the aisle, of course, is the privatization crowd.? Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have been sharing their worries about billionaire ed reformers conspiring to kill off public schools for a long time and just about anything associated with ?business? draws hizzahs of privatizing public education.? Just the other day, Gail Collins weighed in on the Times op-ed page with a column called Reading, ?Riting and Revenues.? ?Today,? she opines, ?let's take a look at the privatization craze and the conviction that there is nothing about molding young minds that can't be improved by the profit motive.?

Though I would never be one to pooh-pooh a rhetorical flourish or two, there really are times when the language should be used to clarify not confuse.? The word "demogoguery" often comes to mind.? Words...

In a fascinating study of interest group influence on school board elections, Stanford political scientist Sarah Anzia offers new reasons for dropping special spring school district elections. And, as if on cue (though I don't know that there is any causal relationship), education reform governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana (also a GOP presidential candidate prospect), just signed into law, according to Sean Cavanagh of Ed Week, ?a measure to make major changes to school board elections around his state.?? The change in Indiana would move school board elections (from the spring) to the fall, said Daniels in his recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, because ?nobody votes? in the spring elections:

It's a lot easier? for an interest group to dominate the outcome and elect a friendly school board in the sparsely attended primary elections. And so now they will have more of the public at least eligible or at least on hand to take part in those elections, we'll see if it makes a difference.

According to Anzia's research, it should make a big difference. In a country with more than 500,000 elected officials, most of whom are not elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (the so-called regular cycle elections), she finds that school districts ?with off-cycle elections pay experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts that hold on-cycle elections.?? Not surprisingly, the pay differential increased for the most senior teachers:? those with more than ten years...

David Brooks had a sobering column in yesterday's Times, warning that America is going soft.? Or, as he puts it, ?the country is becoming less vital and industrious?. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.? Though the essay isn't about education, the lessons apply. Brooks could have written that a fifth of our high schoolers in many places are not getting up and going to school.

Though Brooks's premise lacks nuance ? he attributes our loss of industriousness to the fact that only about 80 percent of American men between ages 25 and 54 are now working, compared to 96 percent in 1954 ? the point is similar to the one that has roiled education for a few decades: our schools have become ?less vital and industrious.? As we all know, our NAEP scores are flat, our SAT scores are flat, our graduation rates, flat ? and worse.

Why that is has, of course, been the source of endless argument among educators and policymakers. (There remains a healthy contingent of educators who deny that those indicators even have validity.)? Brooks attributes the nation's loss of vitality to, in part, the fact that ?more American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute.? This would seem to apply to schools, where increasing numbers of children don't have the wherewithal ?to contribute.? ?Could that be because we are not asking them to contribute? ?(Remember the...

According to The Nation, ?thousands of working people, students, seniors, people on public assistance, and community activists? will be descending on Wall Street this Thursday ?to protest ?the city's billionaire mayor's? announced intent to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions (2,000 through attrition and the rest in layoffs).? Not surprisingly, according to the magazine, ?participants include SEIU workers, the United Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, ACT UP, Code Pink, Greater NYC for Change, Urban Youth Collaborative, the Working Families Party, and many more.? ?See the full list of sponsors at the event organizers website, where you will learn that ?There is no revenue crisis; there is an inequality crisis.? The Big Banks that crashed our economy, destroyed jobs, caused millions to lose their homes, and bankrupted city and state budgets, are reaping record profits?and yet they are refusing to pay their fair share of what it will take to rebuild our economy. From Wisconsin to Wall Street people are fighting back!?

Even if one sympathized with ?these folks' sentiments about the financial ?inequality crisis? or believed for a second or two that it was the big banks that ?crashed our economy,? the question is where the big unions ? and their contrail of sympathizers -- have been during the inequality crisis in education the last thirty years. Their silence in the face of crushing inner city educational failures has been deafening.? Not a single protest, that I know of, during this long inequality crisis.? Unfortunately, the...

Amy Fagan

As you may know, last week we hosted a terrific event here at the Fordham Institute, Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America?

Our excellent panel consisted of: Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association; Gene I. Maeroff, founding director of the Hechinger Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University and author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy; Christopher S. Barclay, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Maryland; and our own Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute. The group was moderated by Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli.

I?wanted to?quickly highlight a recent?interview Mike did with EducationNews.org about the event. (There have been a few other write-ups about the event too, including this one from the NSBA.)

Also, since we didn't have time during the event to get to all of the questions that folks had emailed in, we thought we'd throw one out to the panelists after the fact and see what they had to say.

We actually saw a few email questions about credentials for school-board members. We'll paraphrase here. Basically folks wondered whether there should there be minimum requirements for local school-board candidates? An undergrad degree or at least a 2-year college degree? What are some other qualifications for those who are making curricular and budgetary decisions for the county's students?

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