School Finance

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.

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

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...

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.

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues facing Secretary Duncan during the second term.

One final thought from yours truly: Lots of reformers, especially those in the ed-tech camp, continue to think that Common Core is just about the best thing produced in eons.  So there’s a good deal of cheerleading going on, and most reform practitioners...

The results are in and Ed Reform, our non-partisan candidate, had a mixed performance. Let’s see how eight key races and referenda turned out:

    Tony Bennett
    Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett's loss was an unexpected blow.
    Photo by Joe Portnoy.
  • Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. There’s no sugar-coating it: This one hurts. Bad. As I wrote on Tuesday (and profanely explained to the Huffington Post), this was a referendum on the most aggressive reform agenda in the country. Despite being massively outspent, the unions managed to get one of their own elected to this critical post. We’ll have to wait for more data to determine the degree to which conservatives also punished Bennett for his support of the Common Core (perhaps inadvertently egged on by Arne Duncan’s tone-deaf cheerleading). But it’s no secret that some of them are gleeful. If they were the deciding factor, it will go down as one of the stupidest moves in the annals of education-policy history. Bennett will be fine (I suspect he’s already getting calls from Florida, Ohio, and other states looking for a hard-charging education leader). But a union-backed state superintendent is going to do her best to wreak havoc on the state’s new voucher program and much else. (Just ask choice supporters in Wisconsin, where state superintendent Tony
  • ...

The Fordham Institute sends out hearty congratulations to Mayor Frank Jackson and his staff, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, the city’s business community, district supporters, teachers, students, and the voters of Cleveland on the passage of the district’s levy—a key component of the Plan for Transforming Schools. It was a hard-fought campaign that was successful in the end due to the day-to-day and door-to-door diligence of its supporters.

As Fordham’s Ohio VP Terry Ryan wrote on this very blog back in February, this effort to make Cleveland one of the nation's school-reform leaders – with its sights fixed firmly on finding, funding, and nurturing what works in education for the sake of the students themselves—is a significant step forward for all Cleveland families. And on this morning of November 7, implementation is now at hand.

All involved with that implementation must be mindful of what was promised and what must be delivered:

  • Increasing the number of high-performing schools, both district and charter, while closing failing schools;
  • Maximizing enrollment in Cleveland’s existing high-performing district and public charter schools;
  • Investing in promising schools by giving their leaders additional resources, the freedom to build high-performing teams, and the ability to make financial and instructional decisions based on their students’ needs;
  • Seeking (and finding) flexibility in the hiring, retention, and remuneration of teachers; and
  • Sustaining both district and public charter transformation schools.

We applaud the work done to create and to pass the plan and look...

Want to know if school reform is winning in the court of public opinion? If the myriad efforts at ed-reform advocacy are paying off? Here are seven races and referenda to watch tonight, in order of importance:

Tony Bennett
Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett with the author.
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

1. Tony Bennett’s re-election

No one has pushed a more aggressive education-reform agenda than Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (and Ed-Reform Idol) Tony Bennett and his fellow ed-reform activist Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. A big win will give a big boost to Hoosier-style reform.

2. The Washington State charter initiative

Seattle is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have any charter schools. This initiative would finally fix that. Charter supporters have failed at the polls before; will they prevail this time around?

3. Idaho’s Propositions 1 and 2

These two referenda would limit the scope of collective bargaining and mandate that student achievement be included in teacher evaluations. The unions are fighting these aggressively; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is paying to defend them.

4. Michigan’s Proposition 2

This union-backed measure would enshrine collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group is working to defeat it.

5. Georgia’s charter-school resolution

This would amend...

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

Schools are comprised of teachers, students, and principals…and nurses, speech therapists, paraprofessionals, and librarians…and administrative assistants, reading specialists, transportation coordinators, and other central-office staffers. This Friedman Foundation report (building off the work of others) analyzes the  ballooning of these “other” education jobs—individuals employed by school districts (and paid with taxpayer dollars) who do not directly instruct children. And the numbers are eye-opening: Between 1950 and 2009, the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96 percent. During that same period, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew by 386 percent. Of those personnel, the number of teachers increased by 252 percent, while the ranks of administrators and other staff grew by 702 percent—more than 7 times the increase in students. Though this trend has abated somewhat in recent years, these increases remain dramatic. From 1992 to 2009, for example, the bump in school FTEs was 2.3 times greater than that of students, with forty-eight states upping the number of nonteaching personnel at a faster rate than their increase in students. Even where student populations dropped over the past two decades, public school employment increased. Maine, for example, lost roughly 11 percent of its pupils, yet saw a 76 percent increase in the number of non-teaching personnel. Ohio schools saw a 2 percent increase in student population coupled with a 44 percent increase in non-teaching personnel. These numbers are jaw-dropping when they stand alone. Attach...