We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.
Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.
Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless. We thought pensions were the most vivid example of states and districts kicking the education-financing challenge down the interstate. We were wrong. And California is not alone.
Michigan, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia—three states that recently revamped their teacher-evaluation systems and one that’s running a pilot program—continue to churn out suspiciously high percentages of “effective-or-better” teachers. Stakeholders in Michigan, a state that saw 98 percent of teachers judged effective or better, postulated that the new policies are bumping up against “cultural challenges” (particularly with regards to the observation components). Whatever the cause, this is clearly a case where a change in policy did not beget a change in practice—and we should take note. What good are new teacher-evaluation systems that yield the same old results?