Chris Cerf & Co. deserve praise for trying something new in a touchy, costly program area.
New Jersey is trying something new, and promising, to improve the quality of special education in the state. Education commissioner Chris Cerf recently awarded $1M in grants to districts that had the highest absolute performance and highest growth for their special ed students.
The Garden State's implementation of performance-based funding has serious strong points. In a program area that focuses largely on inputs (i.e., the level of funding and staff dedicated to special ed students), these grants shift the spotlight to quality. The initiative also shows how much good a robust data system can do.
The long-term incentives performance-based funding could provide in this area are a little more worrying, however. A variety of children are lumped under the "special education" umbrella, and measuring performance and growth looks very different in each locale depending on the mix of conditions a district's...
Students could choose to spend that money to attend public schools, including charter schools; take public school online classes; and/or pay for courses offered by public and certain private, nonprofit Utah colleges. School districts and other providers would determine how much to charge for classes and that amount would be deducted from student accounts. Students could use any money left in their accounts after high school to continue their educations.
Providing secondary education services is becoming an increasingly complex proposition, as students add community college courses to their workload, explore...
The Shanker Institute's Matt Di Carlo had a great post last week breaking down a recent study by economist Brian Jacob on how principals fire (or don't fire) teachers in Chicago Public Schools. The news that firings correlate with lower effectiveness is nice to hear. But the headline is that, given more flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody:
Given more flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody.
Jacob found that, despite the new policy allowing principals to dismiss probationary teachers at will, a rather high proportion of them didn’t do so. During each year between 2004-05 and 2006-07, principals in around 30-40 percent of Chicago schools chose not to dismiss a single probationary teacher. Further, this phenomenon was not at all limited to “high-performing” and/or low-poverty schools, where one might expect to find a stable, well-trained teaching force. For instance, in 2005, 35 percent of the “lowest-performing” schools (the bottom 25 percent) chose not to dismiss any probationary teachers, as compared with 54 percent of the school with the highest absolute achievement levels (the proportions were similar when school performance...
More money means better outcomes for kids: It's an argument heard over and over in state capitals during budget season and in local newspapers leading up to votes on tax levies. At a recent event on Capitol Hill, Thomas Gais, the director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, made a similar case, claiming that more state education funding reliably leads to better well-being for children. If only it were actually that easy to improve America's schools!
The main problem with this argument is that we as a country tend to invest the most in kids who are already on track to do well—middle-class and wealthy kids, mostly white, largely found in the suburbs. Many are educated in the "public private" schools we profiled a couple of years ago. I believe that these kids have high "well-being,"...
This afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to announce his budget for the next fiscal year, and the proposal is being described as "dramatic" and "difficult." Flat state aid for K-12 schools is the best situation expected—many observers expect further cuts on top of last year's regressive reductions in state aid.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet. Chester Upland School District has shown what not to do: pretend extra money will appear out of thin air. After spending as if last year's state aid reductions never happened, the district is on the brink of bankruptcy. School boards, superintendents, and union leaders in other Pennsylvania districts have a responsibility to make their budgets work without dragging their schools to the brink.
Pennsylvania's lawmakers bear some responsibility—and blame—here as well, however. How they allocate the cuts needed to balance the state's budget have a real impact on kids, especially those in disadvantaged...
MBAs are taking on an increasingly visible role in traditional school districts around the country. Large districts are multi-billion dollar enterprises, the argument goes, and business-minded people bring critical skills for managing those organizations efficiently. Many passionate ed-reformer MBAs believe the b-school set can help combat the bureaucracy and mismanagement that hurt districts' effectiveness. As a fellow business school graduate, I'm not so sure.
My first, perhaps obvious, objection is that big organizations with distinctive professional cultures are incredibly hard to turn around. This is especially true if you're trying to effect change from the middle management and special-projects role where many new MBAs find themselves. Traditional school districts need major changes to their business models to be on financially sustainable ground and poised to deliver services in a coming era of increased parental choice and (I hope!) decoupled services. That's primarily a job for school boards and superintendents.
The problem with the "MBAs to the rescue" strategy is the conceit that business-school types are somehow inherently efficiency-minded.
The fundamental problem with the "MBAs to the rescue" strategy, however, is the conceit that...
Maryland is not a hot-bed of education reform (though the newly-formed MarylandCAN no doubt hopes to change that) and Martin O'Malley is not usually seen as vying for the crown of public-sector reformer as Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, et al. are. Nevertheless, O'Malley is stepping out in favor of a much-needed—and relatively unpopular—reform to Maryland's teacher pension system.
Under current law, the state shoulders most of the burden for teacher pensions, not districts. It's a sweet deal for the state's wealthier school districts, which can max out teacher salaries without bearing much in the way of pension costs. The state, in turn, must divert resources from other uses to pay the bill for retirement benefits.
The state will only pick up half the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game.
O'Malley's plan is modest. The state will only pick up half the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game. In return, the state will pay half of the employer contribution to Social Security, an expense that is capped by statute and, unlike pension costs, is not ...
Apple's announcement last week that it is entering the textbook market in a big way, with a free product allowing content creators to build engaging digital textbooks more easily, has already gotten lots of reaction
Associate professor in political science, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs
January 19, 2012
Guest blogger Joshua Dunn is an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. In this post, originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, he dissects a judge's flawed ruling in a recent Colorado school funding case.
In a 2001 interview, a little-known state senator and law school professor from Illinois cautioned that courts are “poorly equipped” for making public policy. Pointing to problems with the legitimacy and ability of courts, particularly in the field of education, he advised seeking change through politics rather than through litigation. Sadly, both of Barack Obama’s concerns were exemplified in a Colorado state court decision last December.
In the long-running Lobato v. Colorado school finance case, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport declared that Colorado is underfunding education by more than $2 billion per year. She said that the seventeen-year-old Public School Finance Act violates the education clause of the state Constitution, which says that the state legislature shall provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public schools. She instructed the state legislature to...
Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Unfortunately, this is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there is simply...
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.