Ask almost any leader of a growing urban charter school about their biggest worries, and real estate is likely to be at the top of the list. City-dwelling young parents want schools that are convenient to their homes and—increasingly—public transit. Government has (appropriately) high expectations of school buildings but provides little to no money for charter school facilities in most jurisdictions. Educators and school leaders want all of the above to provide a fantastic experience for their students—without breaking the bank. This is not something the real estate market can provide in most cities.
Cities like Newark, New Jersey are experimenting with creative uses of space to improve education options.
Photo by William F. Yurasko.
To make the problem even more difficult, city centers are redeveloping, with entire neighborhoods gentrifying, building mixed-use housing and innovative commercial spaces. Young professionals who a generation ago might have fled for the ‘burbs as they settled into careers and started having children are now staying. This has resulted in vibrant, revitalized neighborhoods—but the pressure continues to build on large urban school districts to provide high-quality seats to meet the needs created by this cultural shift.
Increased density and the creative reuse of space can help ease the space crunch. Public charter schools have led the way
Once upon a time, corporate IT departments lived by the slogan "no one ever got fired for buying IBM." Big Blue's products were a safe bet in a rapidly evolving industry. The over-reliance of the Fortune 500 on that safe bet proved to be a problem for those companies, which missed out on innovations adopted by more nimble rivals, and for IBM itself, which stagnated in the absence of pressure from customers to push the envelope. District schools suffer from the same "buy IBM" problem, with state policies and district budget decisions making it difficult for principals and teachers to adopt promising new options for delivering instruction.
An EdWeek piece today documents the struggle ed-tech startups wage to get their products adopted, and catalogues a number of promising companies that are gaining headway despite those challenges. One of the greatest barriers is the fragmented but highly regulated market that results from the "buy IBM" mindset of thousands of risk-averse districts:
In addition, big companies have clung to their monopolies because investors were reluctant to dive into the education sector.
"The timeline is
Guest blogger Layla Bonnot is a research intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Is the number of free and reduced-price lunch participants an accurate proxy for the number of poor kids in America’s schools? New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, isn’t so sure. A recent article in The Star-Ledger highlights Cerf’s two concerns: first, that the self-reported basis of Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP) participation makes the count prone to errors and—potentially—fraud, and second, that this number alone might not be a reliable proxy for the number of students living in poverty.
Mr. Cerf, I wouldn’t throw out school lunches quite yet—maybe just add a few other ingredients into the mix.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The issue of fraud in the lunch room pops up every couple of years. Detailed audits have shown that some students who should receive benefits do not, some parents or schools make honest mistakes on the application, and yes, there are some instances of fraud. Given our current situation of squeezed budgets and a National School Lunch Program that cost $9.7 billion in FY 10 and relies on self-reported income, those small instances of fraud can really add up (A 2009 2007
How much does an "adequate" K-12 education cost? What about a "reasonable" education? Courts weigh in on these questions regularly; last year alone saw a New Jersey ruling demanding half a billion more in state support for the so-called Abbott districts, as well as a Colorado case that questioned voters' judgment about what constituted appropriate support of a "thorough and uniform" school system. This year brings an interesting new development to the table: New Hampshire voters may tell the state Supreme Court to butt out entirely.
There's a lot to be said for the Granite State's typically libertarian approach.
There's a lot to be said for the Granite State's typically libertarian approach. As the Hoover Institution's Rick Hanushek said to Ed Week after the Colorado ruling, the courts are not a good place to adjudicate the ongoing academic research on the role of school spending in driving achievement. In particular, the record of New Jersey's Abbott districts, the recipients of billions of dollars in additional court-mandated state support since the mid-1980s, is abysmal.
This highlights one of the most fundamental criticisms of activist meddling in school finance systems by courts: quality rarely, if ever, enters the picture. Judges simply assume that poor performance implies inadequate funding, and that layering more money on top of failing systems will improve student outcomes. Anyone in the corporate world who has been through a tough restructuring will tell you that more money serves to hide problems (even fraud and embezzlement) as often as it solves them. Failing school districts have proven this over and
- 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.