School Finance

We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.

Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless. We thought pensions were the most vivid example...

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At last week’s "virtual town hall" meeting to unveil his school funding and reform plan, Governor Kasich asked me to share what I thought was most exciting about his plan. I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement, and responded: “The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to, in effect, take charge and take control of the opportunities.”

It was hard to believe that an Ohio governor was actually proposing to create an innovation fund and that it would distribute real money: $100 million in FY2014 and $200 million in FY2015. The idea of an innovation fund for reform in Ohio is something the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF),[1] and other reformers have been urging since at least 2008. For example, in the OGF report Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generation of Ohioans to Come[2], issued in early 2009 and the result of months of input from philanthropy around the state, the first recommendation called for creating “Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund.” Specifically, the report called for “an Incentive Fund to seed transformative educational innovation, support and scale up of successful educational enterprises, and build a strong culture to support these activities in local communities and throughout the state’s system of public education.”

Further, Beyond Tinkering argued that the purpose of the innovation fund should not be simply incenting new programs, but pushing reforms that ultimately lead to greater...

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Plenty of folks in the education business seek the limelight. Not all deserve it—at least, not for doing good. But some individuals and groups that do great good for kids, teachers, and schools prefer to do so quietly, even invisibly. And two such entities are merging as Gene Wilhoit—previously of the Council of Chief State School Officers and, arguably, the most important force behind the Common Core standards—joins Sue Pimentel and Jason Zimba’s crackerjack (but small and quiet) team at Student Achievement Partners, which might be the most valuable enterprise in the land when it comes to defending, improving, explaining, and implementing the Common Core. Neither Wilhoit nor SAP is a glutton for publicity—but the work they’ve done, and continue to do, deserves respect and gratitude.

Earlier this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich unveiled his education reform plan. Among its many features are an expansion of private school vouchers and Ohio’s first-ever charter school facility funding. Perhaps most promising, the governor proposed a $300-million Innovation Fund to kick-start projects aimed at reshaping how schools deploy technology and human resources. In a town-hall meeting, Fordham's Terry Ryan told the governor and a rapt audience that the Innovation Fund is "very exciting...There's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to take charge and take control of the opportunities."

As school districts begin to come to terms with the fact that they will not be able to maintain their current spending levels, Stanford scholar Eric A....

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Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose nonpublic schools, seems to always be on its last legs. Kudos to Speaker Boehner et GOP al. for continuously patching it up and fighting for the kids it might serve. As my book, The Urban School System of the Future, shows, there is wide variation in the quality...

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What can Ohio schools learn from South Korean businesses? In a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Kiwook Kwon and Deborah E. Rupp examine the impact on firms when their high-performing employees leave their jobs.  Specifically, Kwon and Rupp analyze employee and performance data for 155 Korean firms, finding that organizations that invest in extensive selection practices, provide intensive training and development, and implement incentive-based pay suffer less when they lose high-performing employees. The researchers explain that firms focusing on human resources initiatives have staff that is more capable of filling the void left behind when a high-performing employee leaves their organization.

School can potentially learn from the experiences of these firms. Losing a high-performing teacher is difficult for any school. To mitigate the cost of losing a great teacher or administrator, school leaders must think about how to effectively implement human resources initiatives with their staff. As Governor Kasich has proposed a $300 million Straight-A-Fund to incentivize innovation, school leaders should consider applying for grants to develop better processes for hiring new teachers, effectively delivering in-service training, and implementing innovative human resources initiatives. While it will not have the wow factor of a new school building or high-tech equipment, developing a strong workforce can go a long way toward improving a school’s—and its students—chances for success.

SOURCE: Kwon, Kiwook, Deborah E. Rupp. “High-performer turnover and firm performance: The moderating role of human capital investment and firm reputation.”  Journal of Organizational Behavior 34, no. 1 (2013):...

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We don’t know the fine-grain details of Governor Kasich’s education plan yet, but the early indicators are promising. Many of the state’s district superintendents have reacted positively to the plan—though, without specifics, their comments remain guarded. The plan also earned praise from economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, who calls the governor’s plan “a significant improvement in the financing of Ohio schools.” Hanushek adds, saying that Kasich “has targeted extra funding toward achievement and has set the stage for unleashing local innovation to boost student outcomes."

A few of the promising elements that may have sparked the interest of Hanushek and others include targeted funding for innovation, a revamped funding formula, and expansions for quality school choice. Specifically, in his plan, the governor has proposed to:

  • Establish an innovation fund: Dubbed the “Straight A Fund,” this $300 million pot would provide competitive grants for one-time, innovation projects. As the Governor’s team presented it, these one-time projects may include, for example, retrofitting a school’s technology or establishing more efficient management systems.
  • Provide facilities funding for charter schools: Currently, charter schools don’t receive state dollars for facilities, meaning that charters have to pay for facilities out of their operating fund. The governor’s plan provides $100 per-pupil funding to charters for facilities, which would free charters to spend more on classroom instruction.  
  • Broaden voucher eligibility to more low-income families: Tuition vouchers to attend private schools are currently only available to students who would otherwise attend a persistently under-performing school. The
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Governor Kasich's budget plan for K-12 education is exciting and indeed long overdue. Especially important are education dollars following students, support for innovation, more and smarter (and more quality-conscious) school choices, and greater flexibility for districts and schools. The Governor's plan, as crafted, looks to empower the professionals closest to kids - teachers and building level administrators - to make decisions that are in their students' best interests academically, while also expanding the power of parents to decide what type of school works best for their children. The Governor's plan moves Ohio's schools, families and students away from the idea of education being a one-size-fits-all enterprise to something closer to customized schooling for every child.

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Basketball
How are districts supposed to pay for all these new extracurricular options?
Photo by y.accesslab.

Let me acknowledge—sincerely—that I love wheelchair basketball. I would vote for candidates to public office who would provide funding for “inclusive athletics” and would be proud if my sons’ schools offered such programs to their special-needs students.

Yet it boggles my mind that the Obama Administration, without an ounce of public debate or deliberation, without an iota of Congressional authorization or approval, could declare by fiat that public schools nationwide must provide such programs or risk their federal education funding. Talk about executive overreach! Talk about a regulatory rampage! Talk about an enormous unfunded mandate!

At issue is the 1973 Rehabilitation Act’s insistence that public schools not discriminate against students with disabilities. Longstanding regulations clarify that this requirement applies to extracurricular activities, too. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report highlighted confusion in the field about what exactly was expected of schools, particularly with regards to participation in sports, and urged the Department of Education to clarify the issue by publishing new “guidance.”

This is what’s happened today. And some of that guidance (still not on the Department’s website, as far as I can tell) is pragmatic enough. Schools must allow “reasonable” accommodations for student-athletes with disabilities, such as providing...

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State of Education, State Policy Report Card 2013

State of Education, State Policy Report Card 2013

StudentsFirst's much-awaited (and plenty contentious) 2013 State Policy Report Card awarded its highest rankings (B-minuses) to Louisiana and Florida; a dozen states earned an F. After California was flunked, chief deputy superintendent Richard Zeiger took his ire to the New York Times: “‘This group has focused on an extremely narrow, unproven method that they think will improve teaching—and we just flat-out disagree with them.’”

This video's panel discussion digs into the new report card, the future of education reform, and how to bridge the divide between policy and practice.

The NYT turns in a piece about TFA, recruiting, and today’s underwhelming job market. This quote from a recent recruit will certainly stir the passions: “It wasn’t until I was desperate that I said ‘I’ll check this out.’” My Bellwether colleague Andy Eduwonk weighs in thoughtfully here. The bigger question, I think, is this: Given the great need for drastic change in our urban school systems, are TFA and the other ed-reform human-capital providers sustaining or disrupting the establishment?

I argue in the Urban School System of the Future that we need to replace big-city districts because they will never produce the results we need. This tragic piece about the mess in Detroit gives another reason for replacement: Many of these districts (possibly including Philadelphia) are on the brink of dissolution due to financial and other pressures. We need to have a Plan B should these systems break down; better yet, we should carefully choreograph their exit so we get ahead of these impending crashes.

MOOCs are all the rage now in higher education (check out this WJS piece). They seem to have countless benefits. The problem is that the technology has gotten far ahead of policy and practice. These upsides and downsides are coming to K–12. Get up to speed with this great column by Checker Finn.

Education-reform commissions like this one in NY seem to come and go, and with few deviations, they typically amount to little (I...

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