Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 19
May 17, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Fair funding fights
By Eric Osberg
By Martin A. Davis, Jr.
End-of-course, of course
Mo' charters for Motown?
Firefights in L.A.
102 hours later
Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006
By Coby Loup
This week, Mike and Rick talk about NAEP, mayoral chartering, and lifetime health care. Fordham's own Eric Osberg tells us why teacher salaries are important, and Education News of the Weird is Last Tango in Paris? The Exorcist?
Eric Osberg / May 17, 2007
It's no secret that public education contains vast funding inequities: between districts, within districts, and between district and charter schools, to name just a few. There are lots of potential solutions, too, but when money is at stake, reform is never simple.
In New York City, Chancellor Joel Klein is rolling out a somewhat emaciated version of weighted student funding, aka "Fair Student Funding," to distribute education dollars more equitably across the Big Apple. This is no small challenge in a district with a million students, a powerful teacher union, and plenty of middle-class schools accustomed to generous budgets. Those fat budgets occur not because their students' families pay more in taxes (though they may), or because public policy intends for their schools to receive a greater share of resources (which it probably doesn't). No, affluent families in many New York City neighborhoods enjoy schools with more resources because their schools employ more experienced teachers with bigger salaries. Across town, run-down classrooms are led by less-experienced teachers, and less-experienced teachers make less money--which means that kids in needy schools are actually being shortchanged.
Klein's plan would go a considerable distance toward setting this right, within the limits of the budgetary share controlled by City Hall (as opposed to Albany or Washington). It proposed a system in which the city would allocate dollars rather than teaching positions to its schools. Not surprisingly, that plan engendered much opposition. First came the
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / May 17, 2007
The venue selected for the release of the 2006 NAEP results in U.S. history and civics was Boston's Old State House. Delicious, I thought.
As a site synonymous both with horror (the Boston Massacre occurred just outside it in 1770) and with celebration (the Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony in 1776), I couldn't help but wonder which mood would carry the day.
Mark Schneider, the commissioner of education statistics, didn't read the results from the balcony, to be sure, but his enthusiasm was palpable. While the civics results were a mixed bag, the history results were pleasantly surprising, albeit not where anyone would want them to be.
Overall, in U.S. history, more fourth- and eighth-graders are scoring at the basic level or above than in 1994 and 2001, and--for the first time in any subject since 1998--more twelfth-graders are hitting the mark, too.
Better, the lowest performers made the greatest improvements. So, for example, in the fourth grade, while those scoring at the 50th percentile and above held steady from 2001, those scoring at the 10th and 25th percentile levels saw their scores increase significantly. The same held true in eighth grade.
In twelfth grade, all but the highest performers (those scoring in the 90th percentile) increased their scores significantly.
But the numbers are not all rosy. Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders are below basic in history; a whopping 53 percent of twelfth-graders are. The number
May 17, 2007
Put this one in the "idea whose time has come" file: high school end-of-course exams. A decade back, when states such as Virginia started requiring them for graduation, it appeared the practice would take the nation by storm. Instead, it stalled for some reason (NCLB?)--until now. The Center on Education Policy reports that eight states will have end-of-course exams in place by 2012, and a bill that passed the Texas senate last month would make it nine. Nine states have also come together to offer a common Algebra II exam. Achieve president Michael Cohen explains the reasoning: "End-of-course tests can promote a level of consistency in content across courses, schools, and districts, and those tests can be a lot more rigorous." Of course, the devil is in the details; the tests need to be based on solid standards, for example. And their full potential won't be realized until states use the results for college admissions and placement decisions, as New York does--and as Cohen's American Diploma project urges. Still, when it comes to high school reform, end-of-course exams are a good start.
"States Mull Best Way to Assess Their Students for Graduation," by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, May 16, 2007
May 17, 2007
Perhaps inspired by Chrysler's success in staving off ruin, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick called for 25 new charter schools this week in a push to revitalize the city's troubled public-education system. "While DPS is getting its legs, we have to move very aggressively to make sure Detroit parents have good education options right now," he said. Kilpatrick's plan includes reaching out to city organizations, such as museums and hospitals, to help run small, specialized schools. He would also recruit local universities to sponsor the schools. But some district officials were not so keen. School board president Jimmy Womack charged that "charter schools don't have a track record when it comes to academic achievement to date." Of course, Womack didn't mention the district's own track record, which has been nothing short of miserable, or that Detroit schools are hemorrhaging thousands of families (lots to those purportedly unproven charter schools). Two years back, the mayor backed out on a $200 million private donation to create 15 charter schools; this time around, he should put the pedal to the metal and not look back.
"Kilpatrick wants 25 charter schools," by Nolan Finley, Detroit News, May 14, 2007
"Kilpatrick school plan opposed," by Jennifer Mrozowski, Detroit News, May 15, 2007
"Kilpatrick's charter plan deserves broad support," Detroit News, May 15, 2007
May 17, 2007
Los Angeles Superintendent (and former Navy admiral) David Brewer III wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that anyone reading about the city's schools probably thinks "not a single thing is going right and that nothing is happening to fix what's wrong." Some things are indeed going right, including charter schools, which are trying to gain a bigger role in the City of Angels and deserve credit for the good work they've already done. But Walter Coombs and Ralph Shaffer--Cal Poly Pomona emeritus professors of social science and history, respectively--won't give an inch. These profs (who, as far as Gadfly can tell, have no experience at all related to K-12 education [see here, for example]), write that charter schools "have a tendency to pick and choose" who they enroll, "are unprepared to educate all students," and belong "in the circular file." Wrong. The Reason Foundation's Lisa Snell easily rebuts their nonsense with (here's an idea): actual data. As for the admiral's admirable efforts, we wish them well--but have more faith in charter-style reform. Coombs and Shaffer are retired--they should consider retiring their rhetoric, too.
"It isn't all bad at L.A. Unified," by David L. Brewer III, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2007
May 17, 2007
Paulette Strong, a former school bus driver, worked for less than 30 years and retired before she turned sixty. Nonetheless, Strong still received lifetime health insurance from Michigan's Office of Retirement Services. Thanks to a loophole, all Paulette had to do was re-enter the system at age 60 as a "school aide," work 102 hours, "retire," and then reap the benefits. Her aide salary was supposed to be $6.50 an hour, but, after lifetime dental, vision, and medical care is factored in, she effectively made $1,470 an hour. And Strong isn't alone. In 2006, thirty retired employees were rehired for 102 hours, then quit, and received lifetime health plans. During their first year in the retirement system, the medical bills of those thirty folks cost taxpayers $268,558. According to the Detroit News, Allan Short of the Michigan Education Association "shrugs off the impact of the loophole." That's odd, considering that we thought the union wanted more money for educating kids.
"The $1,470-an-hour Loophole: Retirees Work for 13 Days to Earn Lifetime Health Care," by Ron French, Detroit News, May 11, 2007
May 17, 2007
As if Messrs. Coombs and Shaffer (see above) didn't fill our weekly quota of musings from the Ivory Tower, ex-Harvard Ed School dean Ellen Condliffe Lagemann took to the pages of Education Week to voice her dissatisfaction with the rhetoric surrounding our K-12 system. Mostly, she's upset about those nasty, ominous titles (Rising Above the Gathering Storm, etc.) that we give to education reports. "I think the true story is not that our schools have failed us. It is rather that we, as a society, have failed our schools," she writes. Ah, yes. The old college paper switcheroo: take an obviously true statement, and defend its opposite. So how does Lagemann think we've failed our schools? We've "asked them to do impossible things," she writes. But please don't misunderstand her; in the next paragraph Lagemann writes that, even if society asks schools to do impossible things, that impossibility doesn't "justify school failure." So schools should achieve the impossible? And so it goes until its concluding paragraph, which says 1) Lagemann has no solutions, 2) the first step is recognizing we have a problem, 3) we failed schools, not the other way around, and 4) we need more social imagination. Right.
"Public Rhetoric, Public Responsibility, and The Public Schools," by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Education Week, May 14, 2007
May 17, 2007
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
As anyone who's ever attended a Fordham Institute event knows, conversations about K-12 education can quickly turn inscrutable. They become tangled in jargon, so for the lay person unfamiliar with the mishmash of acronyms, Diane Ravitch offers a rather comprehensive new book. Now, when friends start musing at cocktail parties about the particulars of the "Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)," a quick turn to page 182 resolves any lingering ambiguities that might kill the mood. Much is here. But no glossary of EdSpeak can ever be complete. There's just too much of it. This reviewer discovered several omissions. "Gadfly," for example, is inexplicably missing in action. One trusts that subsequent revisions and editions will tidy up such minor quirks in a swell book that your reference shelf now craves. Look for it this August.
Coby Loup / May 17, 2007
Susan L. Aud
Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation
Do vouchers unfairly drain money from public schools as their opponents claim? No, says the Friedman Foundation's Linda Aud, in this examination of the fiscal impact of 12 voucher and tax-credit programs. Her analysis weighs the amount of per-pupil state funding that districts lose when voucher students leave (voucher money generally comes from state, not federal or local, coffers) against those districts' per-pupil instructional spending. In Cleveland in 2004-2005, for instance, the state withheld $3,750 for each voucher, while the district's per-pupil instructional spending averaged $6,707 (although, it should be noted, the old Cleveland voucher program was cheap and rather inadequate). The school thus generated a savings of $2,958 when the voucher recipient left the district. Multiply that per-pupil "surplus" by the 4,256 Cleveland students who received vouchers, and the district saved over $12 million that school year. (Districts save money in other ways, too--lunch programs, transportation, etc.--but Aud includes only instructional costs to make her estimates as conservative and credible as possible.) The numbers are similar for most other voucher programs, save for Milwaukee, where the district itself bears half the burden of funding its vouchers. Aud also calculates savings at the state level. Although Ohio withheld $3,750 from the district for each Cleveland voucher, for instance, it actually awarded only $2,686 to each student, generating a state-level savings of $1,064 per voucher. When Aud combines district and state