School Finance

Recent pieces by Jay Greene and Kevin Carey serve as effective bookends on the current ESEA debate picking up steam in Congress. They both appear to dislike the ?tight-loose? formulation to federal policymaking that was first championed by Fordham and is now heralded by Secretary Duncan and others?though of course for opposite reasons.

Let's start with Jay. In a witty and amusing blog post yesterday, he proposed a drinking game for readers of Fordham's new ESEA proposal, due out next week. (Clearly Jay has seen it?or at least heard about it?or else simply knows us very well.) From Jay's post:

Tight-Loose ? The Fordham folks will say that they favor being tight on the ends of education, but loose on the means. ?Never mind?that dictating the ends with a national set of standards, curriculum, and assessments will necessarily dictate much of the means. ?My instruction for the drinking game is that every time you see the phrase ?tight-loose? you can take a shot of your choice. ?We are loose about the means but tight on the requirement that you numb yourself to this edu-babble.

Let me give you a little hint: If you play this...

Georgia is on the road to eliminating seniority-based layoffs throughout the state. The big news is that they're replacing it with a flexible, sensible option for performance evaluation to be determined by local school and district managers.

GA's Senate Bill 184 sets three basic policies. First, local school boards cannot use length of tenure as the "primary or sole determining factor" in deciding whom to lay off during reductions in force. Second, performance should be the primary determining factor in making these layoffs. The bill states clearly that "one measure of [teacher performance] may be student academic performance." That is, local districts are free to decide how much to weight to assign to test scores and the like, and for which teachers they're relevant. Third, the bill establishes a commission of teachers, ed school profs, school managers, and others to identify effective professional development opportunities by 2015 to help all teachers improve their craft. It looks likely that the governor will sign the bill into law.

Some teachers and union folks say we can't evaluate teachers until we have a universally-valid evaluation system. Some reformers cling to a magical 50% weight for student test scores (or...

As you probably know by now, the President and Congress came to a budget agreement late last night that will keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. The deal apparently includes a five-year reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular voucher program for kids in the District:

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ? which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools ? is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to revive and expand the program. The House passed a Boehner-authored bill last month -- the SOAR Act -- to reauthorize the program for five more years, and that bill will be included in the final spending deal and signed into law by Obama.

The SOAR Act includes the so-called "three sector" payments, meaning that DCPS and public charter schools will also benefit from the program. I worked in the charter financing office in DC last summer and saw how much good those funds have done for the charter sector in the city. This seems like a big win...

Amy Fagan

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out from the Education Writers Association meeting in New Orleans. It's an annual gathering (ends tomorrow) of education reporters and folks from various education-related groups.?(To follow the ongoing Twitter conversation about it,?check out the hashtag?#ewa2011.)

There are various panel discussions going on, but earlier today Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at a?lunch session. Aside from praising the common-standards effort and the Race to the Top program, here are?a few of the more interesting tidbits:

*When asked about Cathie Black stepping down from her post as NYC schools chancellor this week, Duncan gave Mayor Bloomberg credit for making a change when he saw it wasn't working: ?That to me is real leadership.?

*Duncan is still hopeful about reauthorizing/fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind.

* On the issue of budget cuts in states/school districts, he said some people are being creative and innovative while others are paralyzed by the situation. But he said simply opting for across-the-board cuts ?doesn't make sense to me.? When pushed a few times by Bill Turque of...

Peter has already covered Trip Gabriel's NYT piece on digital learning this morning (and done, as always, a mighty fine job). And his post, which draws attention to our collective?and long-standing?deprioritization of robust, challenging curricular content and how that has created a knowledge deficit, is interesting stuff. But, he gives Gabriel's portrayal of the digital-learning landscape far too much credit.

As Peter points out, Gabriel falls into the weeds?and never gets out.

See, there are variations in online learning, each with its own positives and pitfalls. And to conflate them all?from otherwise unavailable AP courses offered in rural areas to supplemental afterschool math-tutoring programs to remedial credit-recovery courses?is to seriously undermine one of the most promising new innovations in education.

And Gabriel should have known better.

His piece starts (and to its credit, ends) on the topic of online credit-recovery programs. He draws the reader in early with an anecdote, showing how easily Daterrius Hamilton is skating through English 3, a course he had failed twice before. Daterrius reads snippets of Jack London instead of opening any of the author's full volumes. To complete his written assignment, the high schooler copy-pastes text from London's Wikipedia...

Districts in many states are spending the last of their federal stimulus dollars, and their strategy for dealing with the resulting fiscal pressure is: freak out and fire people.

The combined weight of those state and federal cuts would force Florida's Volusia County school district to cut an estimated 900 employees, including teachers, administrators, and clerical staff, said Margaret A. Smith, the system's superintendent.

The district, which has a total operating budget of about $470 million, also might have to cut back programs in art, music, and physical education, as well as extracurricular and sports programs, she said.

Volusia County is a good object lesson in why it's turning out to be so hard for districts to do more with less and what that failure costs. Unable to adjust classroom staffing due to Florida's onerous class-size mandates, the district is requiring principals like Marie Stratton to pull double duty managing multiple schools. Based on her schools' enrollment figures, she's managing 35-plus teachers and who knows how many paraprofessionals, yet the district is powerless to increase class sizes by one kid to pay for the managerial capacity they need for each school.

Not...

[caption id="attachment_15630" align="alignright" width="145" caption="Photo courtesy of Vox EFX"][/caption]

We're starting to seethe broad outlines of a budget plan that Republican lawmakers will present this week to slash $4 billion trillion in spending over the next decade. At first blush this sounds bad, bad, bad for education revenue?we don't yet know what the plan entails in terms of federal K-12 spending?but maybe not. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the plan would "essentially end Medicare" (and replace it with private insurance plans, subsidized by the government), plus:

The proposal would also convert Medicaid, the health program for the poor, into a series of block grants to give states more flexibility. And it is expected to suggest significant cuts in Social Security, while proposing fewer details on how to achieve them.

No doubt this will enrage the senior lobby?who will declare all of this dead on arrival. But to my eye, it puts Republicans firmly on the side of the young. If we don't address these entitlements, we'll have no choice but to devastate K-12 education budgets (and other social spending for children) for decades to...

Teachers rallied at the State Capitol in Albany last night, in a last-ditch effort to get the legislature and governor to restore funds to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's?deficit slashing budget proposal. It doesn't seem to have worked.? The legislature worked into the night and passed ?the $132.5 billion proposal, closing a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes (the much ridiculed Empire State solons held firm on not imposing a ?millionaires tax?) and cutting state aid to education by a whopping $1.2 billion.

These are certainly tough times, but E.J. McMahon at the Empire Center takes off the gloves with a post this morning that offers a different perspective on the ?It's about the kids? argument made by many of the protesters who crowded into the Capitol. ??Not,? says McMahon in his short post. ?And he takes out after one teacher from a nearby school district who was at the rally and was quoted ?quoted in the Albany Times?as?saying "It's about the kids." ?

Actually, it's about teacher pay increases. It seems that nearly half those threatened jobs in Rotterdam-Mohonasen could be saved if the district's unions would accept a wage freeze recently requested by

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