Flypaper

I've previously stated my strong support for the DC voucher program and derided the Secretary's use of what I believe to be the weakest argument against the program. However, in recent days several reputable outlets have gone farther, charging that the Department did something underhanded, putting its thumb on the scale during the debate over the program's continuation.

The accusation is that the Secretary and his top brass knew that the Institute of Education Sciences final evaluation of the program was finished (showing positive results) but sat on the report, not releasing it until after the debate was over and Congress had effectively killed the program.

From my time on the inside, I find this charge unlikely. Here's why:

IES is a largely autonomous research entity, not an arm of the Secretary's office. In a number of cases, like this one, it is charged by Congress with conducting independent evaluations of important initiatives.

When it is finished with a study, IES leaders typically brief the leadership of the Department on the findings and then the report is released directly. It may...

As a homeowner whose property taxes recently went up to support the Columbus City School District's November 2008 levy and bond issue, I was pleased to see this editorial in today's Columbus Dispatch asserting that, "As Ohio families continue to choose public charter schools, officials at traditional public schools need to become nimble in adjusting their budgets to match shrinking enrollments."

Every day, families and businesses adjust spending to reflect changing circumstances. So do charter schools, which often make multiple, mid-year corrections to staffing levels and school spending plans. Yet traditional districts in the Buckeye State have responded far too slowly to factors like changing enrollment.???? Perhaps, as the Dispatch points out, that's because despite a decline in the number of students they serve, many districts have actually seen an increase in funding over the past decade:

Nevertheless, large enrollment reductions, repeated through the years, should trigger staff reductions and consolidation of students into fewer buildings. The district's closure of more than 15 buildings since 2002 has not kept pace with the enrollment drop in that period of more than 12,000 students.

Moreover, a 2006 analysis showed that because of increases in state funding, Columbus...

I'm working on a stimulus project for the great folks at????AEI (stay tuned for more info coming soon), so for the last few weeks I've been burying myself in ARRA-related documents and articles.???? Though I don't want to completely let the cat out of the bag, the recent departmental????guidance????and Mike's post deserve some attention.???? In particular, two things are worth pointing out.

First, the Department really is trying its best to get as much reform out of its $100 billion as possible.???? Just about every time Secretary Duncan talks about the ARRA, he emphasizes that protecting jobs isn't enough.???? He and his colleagues pushed this theme hard during a briefing last Friday, with Duncan even threatening to withhold funding from status quo-defending states.

During a conference call right after the release of the new documents, advisor Jon Schnur, when listing the goals of the education portion of the ARRA, put reform first, a subtle but portentous signal. ????And the Department has even said that it plans to release advice on how states and districts can best use stimulus funding to drive reform and improvement.

Overall, based on the Department's words and...

I was meeting with the good folks at the National Council on Teacher Quality yesterday, and Sandi Jacobs, its V.P. and a former NYC teacher, reminded me of the norms of niceness within our education system. The rule goes something like this: when offering criticism to colleagues, or parents (about their children), or students, first say as many positive things as you can about their performance, before mentioning the item or two where "perhaps they could show some improvement."

So in that spirit...

Both Team Obama and the career civil servants at the Department of Education deserve oodles of kudos for getting out a massive amount of guidance on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in a very short amount of time. I know from personal experience how these sorts of things can take eons, so the couple-of-month turnaround was quite impressive. They also deserve credit for communicating so frequently with the field, via letters, town hall meetings, conference calls, and more. That's not to say that there aren't still a million unanswered questions--that's inevitable. But clearly the Department is responding to queries as quickly as humanly possible. And no doubt, Arne Duncan is...

Detroit is probably our most battered city. For 40 years, numerous forces????????the 1968 riots, population shifts, poor political leadership, the decline of the auto industry, and so much more????????have taken an unprecedented toll on what was once America's fourth largest city and arguably among the most vibrant urban areas in the country.

I spent a week there last year, learning more about its history and challenges and came away very sad and not so hopeful. Beyond the depressing figures (unemployment, crime, foreclosures), there were other, more palpable signs of distress????????I had never seen a downtown area so uninhabited at 2pm on a weekday. (Recently, two national magazines????????one from each side of the political spectrum????????have done very good, long stories on these troubles, and I highly recommend both: Weekly Standard and Rolling Stone.)

So when you add all of these problems on top of the typical challenges of major urban school systems, no one could be faulted for predicting trouble in Detroit's schools. But things are even worse.

Last year, the Council of Great City Schools produced a scathing report pointing to DPS's deficiencies in...

The Post writes up Chancellor Rhee's attempt to overhaul the District's teacher evaluation system. ????This is tougher work than it may seem. ????In addition to the obvious political hurdles, there are more mundane and trickier issues--not all teachers teach courses with standardized tests, the statistical reliability of value-added measures, the objectivity of evaluations by principals or master teachers, etc.

Rhee has a former national teacher of the year leading this up internally and has hired some reputable outside experts to help out. ????She's also set up focus groups so teachers can weigh in. ????Not a bad process.

Look for other districts to begin work on similar projects soon: to get stabilization dollars under the stimulus legislation, districts must report how many teachers receive each rating under the state's evaluation system. ????This is going to cause some embarrassment when it's revealed that lots of urban districts have all above average educators.

Lynne Munson of Common Core has the latest low-down, here.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has been running a powerful series of articles about the troubles facing that city's generous public pension systems. The newspaper's editorial board says enough is enough:

Long-term change is needed. Pension benefits for current retirees and those near retirement cannot and should not be changed. But new work rules can and should be established for younger workers and new hires. That means higher deductions and contributions on health plans, longer service for pension eligibility and a moving away from guaranteed payment plans and toward investment contribution systems such as those found in the private sector.

The Enquirer further wonders whether the city of Cincinnati could find itself laying off police and firefighters to cover the pension tabs of their retired colleagues. Could the same thing happen to teachers????? It's not out of the question. The Buckeye State's teacher retirement system faces an $18 billion unfunded liability (a whopping $15.5 billion more than that of the larger Ohio Public Employees Retirement System). Fordham alerted Ohioans to problems with the teacher pension system in 2007 and made suggestions for shoring up the system.???? Lawmakers didn't take heed at that time. Will they start to...

Think of all of the energy that some folks are putting into killing the $13 million DC voucher program. Then consider the following:

The DC voucher program is 0.024% of the size of the $54 billion stabilization fund in the stimulus package, meaning it would take 4,153 voucher programs of this size to equal the stabilization fund.

This is the difference between the GDPs of the United States ($13.8 trillion) and Rwanda ($3.3 billion).

This is the difference between the populations of New York City (8.3 million) and Casselton, North Dakota (1,900).

This is the difference between the calories in 400 Big Macs (230,400) and one apple (55).

The difference between the volume of the earth and Jupiter (1:1,300) is less than one-third of the difference between these two programs.

Is killing DC vouchers really this important?

Photograph comparing Earth with Jupiter from the Adler Planetarium website...

As Mike noted, the third-year report on the DC voucher program, showing statistically significant benefits for scholarship recipients, presented a challenge for the folks at ED, who responded by using the time-honored tactic of releasing unwelcome news on a Friday afternoon.

The Washington Post, however, refusing to be bamboozled, turned in three separate pieces in Saturday's edition. ????Under the headline, "Study Supports School Vouchers," a front-page Metro article reports on the main findings and sets up the debate to follow between program advocates and detractors.

Though the article says that the Department released a statement, I can't find it anywhere (it's not on their press releases page) and the Duncan quote used in the story is from a previous interview with the Post.* That quote uses possibly the weakest argument against the program--that it should be scrapped because it only helps some DC students instead of all. ????But that same line of reasoning could be used to kill other targeted programs like Head Start, Title I, IDEA, AP, IB, and free and reduced-price lunch. ????The obvious response to that criticism is, "Since the voucher program is helping approximately 2,000 students today, let's keep it going...

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