Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 41
November 4, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Welcome to a new era of restraint
Election closed spigot on school bailouts
It's all about the benjamins, baby
A campaign finance battle royale
Another day, another manifesto
Rhee and Fenty go out swinging
The long slog to diversity
What's a school to do?
Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities
Heads up, ESEA reauthorizers!
Education Finance and Policy: Special Issue: Rethinking Teacher Retirement Benefit Systems
The low-down on teacher pensions
Blurring the Lines: Charter, Public, Private, and Religious Schools Come Together
The murkiness of religious charter schools
It's Five O'Clock Somewhere
Mike and Rick are manifestoed out, and instead talk shop on election implications, campaign contributions, and color-blind admissions. Amber jazzes up the pension reform debate, and Chris asks which witch is which.
Michael J. Petrilli / November 4, 2010
What do Tuesday’s election results portend for education? After much palaver in many quarters, I conclude that it’s pretty simple: less money, and less reform from Washington. More responsibility shouldered by states and, perhaps, districts. And that equation isn’t as bad as it may sound.
There’s little doubt that a Republican-controlled House will close the federal-spending spigot, including bailout dollars for schools and teachers. It’s true that, if history is any guide, and if President Obama has his way, we’re unlikely to see any cuts to the ongoing federal education investment—which has itself increased considerably in recent years. But the days of $100 billion infusions (as in last year’s stimulus) or even $10 billion infusions (as in this year’s edu-jobs bill) are behind us. Help isn’t coming from the states, either. Most are broke; some face huge deficits and—with close to two-thirds of governor’s offices and thirty legislatures in GOP hands—they are utterly unlikely to raise taxes to fend off the impending funding cliff.
The tough-love message to superintendents and school boards nationwide should be clear: The day of reckoning has arrived; let the de-leveraging begin. The spending bubble is over. No more adding staff at a pace that outstrips student enrollment; no more sweetheart deals on pensions or health insurance; no more whining about “large” class sizes of twenty-five. It’s time to live within our means.
But Republicans won’t just work to constrain education spending; they will also attempt to refashion
November 4, 2010
Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform channeled over $3.5 million into the campaigns of reform-minded candidates in Illinois, Colorado, New York, and elsewhere during the run-up to this week’s election—over twelve times what the two groups offered in 2008. While they are still grossly outspent by the unions (three-to-one in Illinois, for example), this non-trivial clump of cash offered shelter to some Democrats facing storms after bucking union bosses. As DFER’s Joe Williams put it, “This year, we wanted to show that we understand the rules and protocols that most other interest groups follow.” Better still, he (and Stand’s Jonah Edelman) seem to be quick studies: Michael Bennet (D-CO), a DFER darling, won by a razor-thin margin, and of eight candidates Stand supported in Illinois, five took control of their seats. If this feels a bit unseemly, get over it. As Edelman said, “It’s about money, money, money.”
(Photo by AMagill)
“Education groups challenge unions,” by Stephanie Banchero, Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2010.
November 4, 2010
While a bit hubristic (a common problem these days), Michelle Rhee’s and Adrian Fenty’s Wall Street Journal “manifesto” is worthy of attention. It offers the rationale for the teacher layoffs incurred under their watch—the District was overstaffed, and it was either lay off teachers, or cut critical student programs—as well as a blueprint for other urban districts attempting to reform their public-education structures. While some initiatives executed in D.C. aren’t generalizable, acknowledge the two authors, others, such as closing low-performing schools and streamlining a bloated central office, are. The manifesto is most interesting, however, for its unwitting honesty. Rhee and Fenty admit that their reforms relied on money they didn’t have: “Since the city did not have the money for a significant [teacher salary] raise, we implored several foundations to consider providing the resources to enact a groundbreaking contract.” This confession demonstrates the corner into which we’ve backed ourselves: conditioning education reform on more money from outside. As the money dries up, however, reformers will have to say goodbye to such stratagems and instead shift to something more realistic. Who will lead the charge, and what will their manifesto say?
“The Education Manifesto,” by Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2010.
November 4, 2010
What’s a school to do? Virginia’s ultra-selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology—the best high school in the land, says U.S. News—can’t seem to get its minority population above 4 percent. (That number would have to be more like 33 percent to be demographically-representative of the region from which TJ draws students.) Why? Admissions decisions generally don’t take ethnicity into account, and initiatives to swell the pipeline of qualified black and Hispanic students have flopped. For example, Young Scholars, the only comprehensive program offered to would-be students of TJ, works with over 3,000 targeted youngsters in K-8. Sounds great, but next spring, when the first Young Scholars cohort receives their diplomas, only one will be a TJ grad. This project alone is clearly insufficient to offset the socio-economic, family, and cultural factors that result in such a limited pool of qualified applicants of color. It’s time that Virginia officials cross the river into D.C. and see what charter schools like KIPP are doing to prepare minority students for real academic rigor. They’ll find that it takes a lot of hard work—starting way before high school.
“Black, Hispanic students dwindle at elite Va. public school,” by Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, October 30, 2010.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 4, 2010
The release of this informative and lively book by William & Mary political scientist Paul Manna is exquisitely timed for what many expect to be ESEA reauthorization (finally!) by the 112th Congress, which after Tuesday’s election, may be more open to Manna's counsel than its predecessor. In its pages, he draws from eight years of study on NCLB implementation and does a first-rate job of depicting its consequences—both positive and negative—and drawing insightful conclusions for the future federal role in K-12 education. He ends with scant faith that the traditional ESEA approach—brought to what may well have been its apogee in NCLB—can yield good results. “Crafting a new role that better recognizes the constraints limiting federal power in education” might, however, “enable federal policy to make valuable contributions.” “With such an acknowledgment,” he writes, “the vast majority of influence over the nation's schools would still reside in state and local governments. No doubt, that would prove frustrating to reformers who wish to see Washington play a more aggressive role....Still, if educational results...are most important, then it should not matter if federal leaders or their colleagues at other levels of government wield the most power. The point would be to engineer federal advocacy, funding, incentives, and information to help state and local governments improve opportunities and results for the nation's students.” Sage advice, that.
Paul Manna, “Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities,” (Washington, D.C.: SAGE, 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / November 4, 2010
This 450-page special edition of Education Policy and Finance offers a one-stop shop for the teacher-pension novice and journeyman alike, furnishing timely and comprehensible overviews of our teacher-pension predicament as well as thoughtful empirical analyses of today’s muddled pension reality. No stone in this debate is left unturned. Rick Hess and Juliette Squire illustrate the political dynamics perpetuating the “irresponsible fiscal stewardship” of teacher pension plans and offer political strategies to make such plans more tractable. For those interested in the legal frameworks behind pensions, Amy Monahan outlines the regulations that affect states' ability to reform. And for those curious about the cost of defined benefit-programs on mobile teachers, Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky offer a sobering analysis. (Splitting a thirty-year teaching career across two states adds up to a net loss of over half of one’s cumulative pension wealth.) As fixing teacher pensions becomes an increasingly prominent piece of the education reform puzzle, studying this volume might just serve you well.
Thomas A. Downes and Dan Goldhaber, eds., “Education Finance and Policy: Special Issue: Rethinking Teacher Retirement Benefit Systems” (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Fall 2010, Volume 5, Issue 4).
November 4, 2010
With the rise of religiously-affiliated charter schools higher and yon, the line separating secular and sectarian education is increasingly murky. Are these schools a beachhead for valuable cultural, linguistic, and ethnic learning? Or are they a backdoor entry into state-sponsored religion? This thoughtful book explores this complex terrain and emerges with a rather cloudy answer: “The combination of dramatic public policy initiatives proclaiming charter schools as the answer to genuine school reform, relaxed public attitudes to the separation issue, and apparent judicial confusion regarding the wall of separation have left us with standards which are barely discernable.” To prove their point, the authors offer case studies of a Catholic charter school that rents space from the local archdiocese, a Hebrew charter school that offers a “modern Jewish education,” and another with an Islamic dress code. Stepping away from sectarian schools, the authors also question ethnically-based charter schools. Is a charter school that teaches Arabic culture, including the Qu’ran, too religious? What about one that uses the Bible as a key text? Debates over religious instruction in public schools have raged pretty much since Horace Mann; this book further stokes that fiery conversation.
Janet D. Mulvey, Bruce S. Cooper, and Arthur T. Maloney, “Blurring the Lines: Charter, Public, Private, and Religious Schools Come Together,” (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2010).