School Finance

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...

Doing More with Less in K-12 Education: Cleveland State University

Doing More with Less in K-12 Education: Cleveland State University

Hosted by the Nord Family Foundation, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Ohio Grantmakers Forum with additional support from the Edward A. Lozick Foundation, Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, Nordson Corporation Foundation, and Stocker Foundation.

The Buckeye State has been hit hard by the national recession and faces an estimated $8 billion biennial budget shortfall. This fiscal crisis will have a serious impact on K-12 education as 40 percent of state revenue goes toward public schools. While most Ohio district superintendents and local school boards have accepted the new reality of doing more with less, the fact remains that they have little experience when it comes to handling the level of funding reductions expected this year, and will need to be equipped to handle them in a way that will not decimate existing education reform initiatives or harm student achievement. For these reasons, we are assembling free public events to help local education, business, and community leaders identify ways to think smart about cuts to school spending while staying focused on student achievement.

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of the federal School Improvement Grants program, which invests in persistently underperforming schools with the expectation that they will turn around. The early results of its most recent $3-billion infusion, as described by Education Week: "mixed" (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/11/initial_school_impr...). Two-thirds of the schools made gains in math or reading scores, but the other third saw achievement decline. Program supporters contend that one year of data is not enough to draw conclusions about the program. Critics ask whether taxpayers should expend a single cent more on what they deem a failed experiment.

Who's right? The Fordham Institute is bringing together three leading voices on urban schooling for a debate on the future of turnarounds: Bellwether Education and Fordham edu-wonk Andy Smarick; the Department of Education's Carmel Martin; and former Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

The 129th General Assembly wrapped up its business last week. Included in the flurry of lame-duck legislation sent to the governor’s desk was House Bill 555. Its major provisions include:

  • Moving Ohio from our current school-rating system (and its nebulous terms like Continuous Improvement) to an A-to-F rating system based on broader performance measures that more accurately gauge how schools and districts are actually performing;
  • Establishing closure criteria for drop-out recovery schools;
  • Establishing a new charter-sponsor evaluation process; and
  • Adding a second application period for the Educational Choice Scholarship Program.

Unlike previous non-budget years, 2012 was a busy one for education policymaking. Two other major education bills were signed into law: Senate Bill 316 – the governor’s mid-biennium budget for education – and House Bill 525 – legislation formalizing the Cleveland Mayor Jackson’s Education Reform Plan.

 SB 316 included many small tweaks to state education law; but it also included three big policy changes. Specifically, it:

  • Established a third-grade “reading guarantee” and accompanying diagnostic and intervention requirements;
  • Increased accountability for charter-school sponsors, drop-out recovery schools, and teacher-preparation programs; and
  • Made explicit that “blended-learning” school models are permitted in Ohio.

HB 525, which applies only to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District:

  • Gives the district superintendent greater authority to improve the district’s lowest-performing schools;
  • Codifies a new teacher evaluation system, eliminates seniority as a sole/primary factor in personnel decisions, and gives principals more authority in hiring and evaluation of teachers;
  • Establishes a “Transformation Alliance” to screen potential charter sponsors
  • ...

How much is too much when it comes to compensation of district superintendents and charter school administrators?

In the last couple of months I have been asked by reporters about the compensation being paid school administrators in Ohio. In late September, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a series of stories on what superintendents and treasurers in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky were making, while just this past weekend the Dayton Daily News ran a story on the overall compensation paid a charter school administrator and her family to run seven schools in Ohio and three in Florida. I’m also on the business advisory council to my local school district and one of the biggest issues they grapple with is compensation of top school administrators. This is a very sensitive issue politically, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.

My basic view on matters of compensation is pretty straightforward: Highly effective superintendents and charter school operators deserve to be paid well as they work long hours and deal with myriad and complicated human, fiscal, academic, and political issues. Their compensation should be transparent (no hidden benefits or perks); and there should be a marketplace for talent. Let school districts and charter school operators compete openly for talent, and from this competition the market should help set the bar for compensation.

But, when it comes to the compensation and salary of public school officials – be they district or charter – there is also a political dynamic at play that board...

Rick Scott
Rick Scott is right about Common Core standards.
Photo from Education News.

Just as Tony Bennett was talking to reporters last week about his new job as Florida education commissioner, Governor Rick Scott was getting some attention of his own for suggesting that all schools receiving public funding—including private schools accepting voucher-bearing students—should be held to the same standard.

Or, more specifically, the Common Core State Standards. And on this, reporters pounced, noting (with some jest) that Scott was parting ways with fellow Republicans who want to leave private schools alone and stirring backlash among private school leaders who feared they soon would have to “teach to the test.”

This kind of anxiety calls for a voice of reason, and Bennett is just the guy to provide it. After all, he’s leaving Indiana, where he pushed a voucher program that required students to take the same standardized test as do public schools (and where they also will be taking the Common Core assessments when those standards are implemented in 2014).

And the Hoosier State isn’t alone. Voucher and tax credit scholarship programs in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Louisiana require the same standardized assessments as those used in public schools. This does more than just make these programs more politically sustainable (though it does do...

Responsible adults

Mike and Dara discuss bringing MOOCs to K–12 education, tiptoeing up to the fiscal cliff, and angry unions in Michigan. Amber considers all the angles of the newly released international achievement scores.

Amber's Research Minute

International Achievement Test Results (TIMSS & PIRLS)

This afternoon, Sec. Duncan announced the winners of RTTT-D. The results are quite surprising.* Though the official announcement is noticeably devoid of both specifics and overarching themes, four things jump out immediately.

While some of the nation’s largest urban districts made the 61-member finalist list, virtually none of them won.

The first is that while some of the nation’s largest urban districts made the 61-member finalist list, virtually none of them won: Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Nashville, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all came up short. (Miami is the lone representative of big-city school systems.)

This is a bit puzzling because large districts generally fare well in these grant competitions. They have more central-office staff to task with grant-writing, they can more easily raise private funds, and so on.

It is conspicuous that they got boxed out.

Some might argue that, assuming scale is among our considerations, their exclusion from the winner’s circle is lamentable. They serve many students, so the types of changes envisioned by this grant would have touched more kids had these big urbans won.

The counter argument, of course, is that city districts get plenty of money and attention as is, so no one should cry them a river for losing. Moreover, if the lessons of these grants are ultimately disseminated widely and adopted elsewhere, the same kind of scale can be accomplished, though over a longer period of time.

Smaller districts, consortia, and charters did quite well.

The second thought...

This policy brief by Nathan Levenson, Managing Director at the District Management Council and former superintendent of the Arlington (MA) Public Schools, offers informed advice to school districts seeking to provide a well-rounded, quality education to all children in a time of strained budgets. Levenson recommends three strategies:

1.     Prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency.

Allocating scarce resources effectively means funding what works and obtaining ample information before making funding decisions, including information about what drives achievement—and drives  it cost-effectively.

2.     Make staffing decisions based on student needs, not adult preferences.

Districts should establish guidelines for what constitutes a full and fair workload for staff members, then staff accordingly. This may include “trading down” to less-expensive services of equivalent quality,  considering alternatives to maintaining class sizes, and closely monitoring insurance eligibility.

3.     Manage special education spending for better outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.

How money is spent matters more than how much is spent; that’s true for special education, too. Districts can reduce their special-education costs by ensuring that all children read at grade level; hiring a few behaviorists in lieu of many paraprofessionals; and staffing according to service hours, rather than numbers of students served.

To learn more, download and read the full policy brief....

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