"This plan is aggressive." Those are the words used by School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon this morning in a press conference announcing a massive reform of K-12 education in the City of Brotherly Love. These changes come not a moment too soon: Philly's schools were facing massive deficits and ranked among the worst of America’s large urban school districts.
The SRC deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.
The School Recovery Committee deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future. Aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. The SRC instead plans to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district at all costs. According to the Inquirer's Kristen Graham, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is counterproductive, however: If the SRC really want high quality seats, it shouldn't cut charter funding.
District leaders around the country have been tempted into believing that the "new normal" of anemic revenue growth (or no growth at all) would be temporary. This has led to short-sighted cuts and quality-blind layoffs that supes and school boards hope will be
The U.S. spends more per capita on education than every other country in the OECD except Switzerland. Yet teacher salaries are relatively low, especially for early-career teachers, students underperform their OECD peers on international tests, and college students feel their K-12 education was inadequate preparation for higher ed. The solution to all these problems may just be to pay teachers more money, especially in salary rather than expensive fringe benefits.
Our education system has developed an obsession with remediation.
Our education system has developed an obsession with remediation, both for students and teachers. Youngsters fall behind quickly (or start behind) and start an endless round of pull-out instruction, reading groups, remedial courses, and tutoring early. For educators, districts have now beefed up the payroll with instructional coaches, teacher aides, and other paraprofessionals who bring (costly) support and advice but wield little authority. This addiction to support is unhealthy—every dollar spend on remediation and extraneous personnel could be going to pay front-line teachers more.
We released a policy brief yesterday that goes deeper on these points, How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar. Public Impact has also weighed in on the importance of high-quality, well-compensated teaching with a fantastic new website and infographic.
Trimming school budgets must involve some cuts to payrolls; staff costs constitute the majority of education spending. They need not hurt classrooms, however. With a more intense focus on rewarding quality teachers, especially undercompensated early-career stars, schools
In our recent documentary on the schools in Sciotoville, OH, you hear a big-dollar word used over and over: facilities. The Tartans of Sciotoville go to class in a building that dates from around 1914. The community would love a new facility—but bricks and mortar don't come cheap. Ohio community schools (that is, charters) get no state and local funds for facilities, meaning they have to scrimp and save out of operating funds or find private dollars to build.
Down the road from Sciotoville Elementary Academy, which is housed in modulars and packed with students, is a brand-new traditional district school built with public funds and under-enrolled. (Many of the kids it was built to serve go to SEA!) Charters across the country suffer from the same disparities.
Maintaining or replacing aging school facilities presents a challenge to many rural communities
Photo by Joe Portnoy.
It's not only charter school pupils who sit in old, dilapidated buildings, though. Some traditional schools have benefited from a boom in new construction, but others have missed out. The high school my mother attended, which was aging when she graduated decades ago, is still open at the ripe age of 91 today. Small-town superintendents across the country who haven't benefited from tobacco settlements or state largesse
Special education has been one of the few spending areas largely exempted from budget pressure since revenues took a hit following the 2008-09 financial crisis. This is due largely to maintenance of effort requirements that put districts in danger of losing federal dollars if they dared to touch the special ed budget. The Department of Education issued guidance to ease the burden last year but announced last week that they're pulling the rug out from under administrators, caving to special interests "after further review" (and, not incidentally, following an angry letter from activists at the Center for Law and Education). The new guidance states that once a district commits to a given level of spending on special education, it can (almost) never cut back, a very tough mandate given the present fiscal environment for schools.
Students with special needs certainly deserve additional resources to help them be successful in the classroom. Almost no one questions that nearly forty years after the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, thanks to that law and the work of advocates. However, ring-fencing the money dedicated to these students puts the majority of students served in the general education program at greater peril as they are exposed to 100 percent of the reductions needed to balance district budgets.
Obsessing about maintenance of effort also hides the reality that money does not guarantee quality.
This makes the decision of whether to identify a child
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
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.