School Finance

We’re choosy

Mike and Adam celebrate school-choice victories in New Jersey and Race to the Top and worry about the battles ahead. Amber ponders state-mandated special-ed enrollment targets.

Amber's Research Minute

New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by CRPE - Download PDF

Generous pensions—one of the main “perks” of public-sector employment—come at a steep price: After years of can-kicking, state pensions face funding shortfalls that total in the trillions. Yet many are hesitant to restructure them. Among the reasons cited is the backlash expected from teachers facing a loss or diminution of their long-established defined-benefit (DB) pension plans. This new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues suggests, however, that teachers may be more receptive to new pension structures than previously thought (echoing findings from a New York poll conducted earlier this year). Researchers analyzed teachers’ pension preferences using data from Washington State over two time periods during which educators could opt for a DB or hybrid plan (which combines a DB and an employee-funded defined-contribution [DC] plan). During both periods, the majority of teachers—both new and experienced—opted for the hybrid plan. (Only teachers over age fifty-five preferred the traditional DB option.) The researchers then examined the association between choice of pension program and teacher effectiveness, measured by value-added. Compellingly, teachers choosing the hybrid plan were 2 to 3 percent of a standard deviation more effective than those opting for the DB plan. This is equivalent to the difference between a teacher with one or two years of experience and a novice—and hints that the composition of the teacher workforce (and its overall quality) is likely to be influenced by pension structures. The political will to revamp teacher-pension plans remains buried. This study provides a shovel with which we may start...

The new teachers contract in Newark has caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.

If state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.

The history of urban school improvement efforts, however, suggests that we might temper our enthusiasm. The side of the road is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.

Yet if state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.

The new contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors. It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved evaluations and enables change in the lowest-performing schools. It allows for greater school-level decision-making and removes bureaucratic barriers to reform.

The district will now be better positioned to attract and retain the best educators. District leaders will have the flexibility to make decisions that meet kids’ needs. New Jersey residents will have greater confidence that state, local and philanthropic funding will be spent in the right ways.

Accordingly, the agreement has spawned a remarkable degree of strange-bedfellow harmony, bringing together management and labor, left and right. Local union president Joseph Del...

When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news.  When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.

The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)

The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.

It’s not just me. Tom Loveless’s 2009 Brown Center Report showed the dramatic failure of turnaround efforts over 20 years, and David Stuit’s remarkable and devastating 2010 study powerfully reinforced these findings.

Now the Department, doing its job, is trying to paint the new data as a good-news story. But that clearly...

After weeks of Sandy-induced delay and reports of discontent among union membership, Newark teachers approved a “groundbreaking” new contract Wednesday,1,767 to 1,088. The new deal includes bonuses for high performance, an important first step for performance-related teacher pay in a state that has historically been a bastion of union strength and intransigence. Its value from a reform perspective, however, is mostly symbolic: Heavily subsidized by private donors (see Zuckerberg, Mark) despite Newark’s already-breathtaking per-pupil spending, the agreement would offer yearly awards of up to $5,000 to educators rated “highly effective”—a designation that would factor in fellow teachers’ evaluations. A traditional compensation option would also be available to teachers who prefer the status quo: hardly a transformative or replicable model.

The new Newark contract is hardly a transformative or replicable model.

Even still, approval was far from certain: Despite the strong support of media-darling Mayor Cory Booker and the blessing of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, many rank-and-file union members expressed strong reservations about the deal—one caucus within the union even warned that “it means indentured servitude for education workers.”

The union membership was right to take the deal. As Weingarten said, it is “a win for students, a win for teachers and a win for Newark.” National and local AFT chiefs deserve plenty of credit for making it happen: Reformers often gloss how challenging it must be for open-minded union leaders to persuade teachers to overcome decades of dogmatic resistance to the reform agenda. Hot on the heels of ...

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for 2013, which proposes to shrink Gotham’s budget by $1.6 billion, caused an uproar earlier this week. It all began when a court stopped the city from selling additional taxi medallions as a revenue raiser, leaving a $635 million deficit. To plug the hole, Hizzoner’s budget would apparently...

Charter schools in at least six cities and counties will benefit from local bonds and levies that voters approved on Election Day. Collectively, that means more than $500 million[1] of local tax dollars over the next several years for charter-school facility or operating costs in Cleveland; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Metropolitan Denver (including school districts in Denver proper, Aurora, and Jefferson County). Why the sudden generosity in places that (with the exception of Denver) historically have barely tolerated charters, if that? Some charter leaders say school systems might have realized that it’s become harder to ask parents to pay higher taxes only for district schools when so many more of them are choosing charter schools for their children. Indeed, voters in these regions have joined a handful of other cities that, over the past few years, have set aside local dollars for charters by ballot initiative, when most districts and state legislatures still refuse to do so. Of course, voters might have never seen these ballot questions had it not been for legislators (like those in Colorado) who rewrote laws a few years ago, forcing districts to “invite” charters to discuss the needs of all public schools before requesting bonds or levies. But whatever the reason, the response from voters is encouraging: A whopping $350 million share of a $2.8 billion bond in San Diego will aid charter-school facility needs over the next several years; charters in and around Denver may see $150...

The School District of Philadelphia, which has been leaking students even as the city’s school-age population has risen, is now scrambling to keep its sinking ship from capsizing. The city’s School Reform Commission (SRC), which operates in place of a board of education, will close forty schools next year and an additional six every subsequent year until 2017—a tough sell, but the right call when many schools sit half-empty. Meanwhile, the SRC has also announced that it will borrow $300 million to keep the district above water through the end of the school year, a fact that underscores how important it is that the SRC make wise choices with their planned school closures. Previous downsizing efforts by the SRC have raised red flags. For example, when Pepper Middle School was shuttered in March, there were complaints that students had been reassigned to schools of lower quality. In way of allaying such fears, the SRC does claim that these upcoming school closings will be “more informed by academic performance than previous rounds of closures.” We certainly hope so. They don’t need to look far for a solid example of how to navigate the downsizing process.

RELATED ARTICLE
Philly schools borrow $300M for expenses,” The Associated Press, November 8, 2012....

Late last week, the US Department of Education announced the 20 winners of the latest “Investing in Innovation” competition.

On its website, the Department has a number of documents worth checking out if you’d like to learn a little more about the competition itself and those awarded funds.  Here are the things that jumped out at me.

  • I had never heard of most of the winners.  Of late, the ed-reform community has become enamored of a number of flashy tech organizations that focus particularly on hybrid learning and the transition to Common Core.  Most of these winners are outside of that cool-kids lunch table.  Lesson to reformers: We should start grazing around the rest of the cafeteria.
  • Almost three times the amount of money was given to “validation” awards (up to $15m) than to “development” awards (up to $3m); no money was given to the largest “scale up” categories (up to $25m).
  • Grants were pretty well spread among the five absolute-priority areas, such as “Teachers and Principals,” “STEM,” and “Parent and Family.”  However, only one award was given in the area of “Standards and Assessments” (to Jobs for the Future for work in the Rio Grande Valley and Denver, CO).  This is a huge surprise, given the number of organizations that talk wide-eyed about the intersection of technology and Common Core.  I would’ve expected a bunch of winners in the area of formative/interim assessments, lesson plans, online courses, etc.
  • After lots of justified complaining that previous competitions
  • ...

While the focus of Tuesday’s election was on the presidential race, many voters across the Buckeye State also gave a yea or nay for their school district’s levy proposal.  According to the Hannah Report, 192 district levies were on ballots this election day, and a little over half of them passed (55 percent). If your district asked for a renewal of a tax levy, it was more likely to pass (87 percent) compared to new levies, which passed at a 37 percent rate.

Despite these figures and the ever-tightening fiscal climate, Tuesday spelled victory for several districts asking for new levies. For example, Cleveland voters approved a $15 million levy. Cleveland Municipal will be able to reinstate regular school days and gym and music classes, which were previously cut. Akron City Schools also has cause for celebration with the support of its $7.9 million levy. To find out how your district’s levy did, see the Ohio School Boards Association’s webpage.

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