Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 33
September 9, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Stretching the school dollar
New Fordham/AEI volume explains how
By Eric Osberg , Stafford Palmieri
Whither 21st century skills?
CCSSO and P21 merge--should we worry?
Main Street subsidizes Easy Street
Pensions: The next populist movement?
Money for nothing
NYC still pays unplaced teachers indefinitely
Stuck in the Middle
Middle schools hinder achievement
Five Miles Away, a World Apart
Urban and suburban students must learn together to close the achievement gap
Ed reformers go to the beach
Mike and Rick tackle public employee pensions, the forthcoming blockbuster "Waiting for Superman," and the two winning "race to the test" consortia. Amber then compares K-8 to middle schools and Rate that Reform takes out the recycling (on a school that didn't do its homework!).
It is no news that American public education is facing a fiscal crisis, one that is unlikely to get significantly better any time soon absent major structural changes in schools. It’s also facing mounting pressure to boost pupil achievement. But how do district and state leaders prepare for a world in which they must do more with less?
To answer that question, we joined forces with AEI’s Rick Hess to produce Stretching the School Dollar: How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best, published this week by Harvard Education Press. The book is the culmination of a joint Fordham-AEI project that brought together ten policy papers—now the book’s ten chapters—penned by a varied set of authors and first presented for feedback in January 2010.
George W. Bush Institute’s James Guthrie and Vanderbilt’s Arthur Peng set the stage, declaring that “A 100-year era of perpetual per-pupil fiscal growth will soon slow or stop. The causes of this situation are far more fundamental than the current recession. Schools should start buckling their seat belts now.” Tracing the history of school spending, they show how adding more money and people, guided by the “supplement, not supplant” mantra, has brought the K-12 industry to today’s unsustainable state of affairs. Former Wall Street Journal reporter June Kronholz completes the picture by narrating what districts and states have done so far to trim costs and budget creatively. These measures, however, have
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 9, 2010
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (known as P-21) announced the other day that it has entered into a “strategic management agreement” with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) under which the chiefs will house the P-21 team and provide them with diverse management services. P-21 is also searching for a new executive director to replace Ken Kay.
It's impossible to be certain from this news whether America can expect a continuation of P-21-as-we-know-it or some sort of major makeover. Also unknowable is whether such a makeover would mean the virtual disappearance of P-21 under the CCSSO’s multi-part agenda and priorities, or the enhancement of P-21 as a major project located there and vigorously projected across the country via CCSSO's visibility, stature, and multiple mechanisms.
P-21’s disappearance would be a gain for America. The right kind of makeover could be a gain, too. But additional traction for the organization’s current agenda would be bad for the country, bad for the new “Common Core” standards and the assessments being developed around them, and possibly bad for CCSSO as well.
The best thing about P-21 today is that there’s very little there. It makes a lot of noise but is, in fact, a sort of Potemkin organization, consisting largely of some high-profile names on the masthead, most of them corporate, and an industrious, well-spoken, non-educator executive. In fact, “21st century skills” are beginning to be an object of mirth and mockery
September 9, 2010
Fury Over Public Pensions Sparks Disclosure Lawsuits, by Jeannette Neumann, Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2010Opinion: How Government Unions Became So Powerful, by Amity Shlaes, Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2010
What if you got $100,000 or so every year for doing nothing in a terrible economy? That’s life for tens of thousands of public sector retirees—including former educators—who enjoy hefty pensions supported largely by the tax dollars of private sector workers. The catch is that those workers have seen their own pensions slashed or even eliminated. So it’s not surprising that a populist backlash can be spotted with the have-nots resentful of the haves. Public sector unions still seem oblivious, however, pushing as they are (through lawsuits and the like) to protect and even enhance their gold-plated pensions and retirement benefits. It’s bad enough that super-stretched taxpayers have to support the cushy retirements of former government employees, including many who stopped working in their 50s. But wait till the public and parents realize that class sizes are increasing and art and music programs being slashed because more and more education dollars are flowing into pension systems instead of classrooms. This debate could get a whole lot more heated yet.
September 9, 2010
Teachers Ignore Openings, by Barbara Martinez, Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2010
You might have thought that closing New York City’s infamous rubber rooms meant that our largest school system is no longer paying teachers to do nothing. You’d be wrong. Though disciplined teachers are now placed in administrative positions while their cases are sorted out, tenured teachers who lose their jobs because of downsizing are still guaranteed full pay and benefits—with no deadline by which they must find another job. The district and union reached an accord in 2008—that the district would encourage (and in 2009 require) principals to hire from the “reserve pool” (instead of new teachers), even offering to offset the cost of a higher-salaried tenured teacher over a newbie, but excessed teachers would never be forced on principals. But no deadline for pool time was ever set. Unsurprisingly, most of the 1,800 individuals in this position are taking full advantage. Fifty-nine percent of them have not even applied for a single job through the DOE recruitment site nor attended any DOE-sponsored job fairs, never mind that 1,200 positions are currently open. The Big Apple is the only city in the country that guarantees pay to tenured employees indefinitely; most, like Chicago, give excessed teachers one year to find another job. Needless to say, the annual $100 million this costs New York in salaries can hardly be afforded even in plush times. The union’s
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / September 9, 2010
Jonah E. Rockoff and Benjamin B. Lockwood, Stuck in the Middle: How and why middle schools harm student achievement (Cambridge, MA: Education Next, Fall 2010)
Do middle schools hurt student achievement? Seems so. Jonah Rockoff and Ben Lockwood compare middle schools (grades 5-8 or 6-8) to K-8 configurations in New York City by examining student-level achievement data for students in grades 3 to 8 from 1998-99 to 2007-08. They find that English and math achievement falls the year a student starts at a middle school, compared to his or her counterpart who remained at a K-8 school. Transition to a new place obviously plays a role, so what’s more troubling is that the declines persist at least through eighth grade (the highest year in which they had data). Moreover, this “middle school achievement gap” cannot be explained by a scarcity of resources, since New York’s per-pupil expenditures are roughly the same in both types of schools. They did find some evidence, however, that grade size impacts achievement. Since middle schools combine students from multiple elementary schools, they typically have over 200 students in every grade, while the average cohort size in K-8 schools is seventy-five. Large numbers of pupils in the same grade negatively affects achievement, though not overwhelmingly. Rockoff and Lockwood also found that parents with children in middle schools tend to give their schools lower marks on education quality and school safety than those with children in K-8
Stafford Palmieri / September 9, 2010
James E. Ryan, Five Miles Away, a World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America (New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA, 2010)
Should we give up on school integration? Among reformers, it’s been widely abandoned as politically infeasible; why not just focus instead on raising student achievement? That’s largely the thinking that has undergirded legal and political desegregation decisions since the 1970s: “save the cities, but spare the suburbs,” as University of Virginia’s James E. Ryan puts it in his provocative new book. Using the story of two Richmond high schools (one suburban, one urban, and only five miles apart), Ryan explains that urban and suburban schools, despite a spate of court cases, remain largely disconnected. In other words, we pump resources into urban schools (save the cities) “in ways that do not threaten the physical, financial, or political independence of suburban schools” (spare the suburbs). Ryan says this strategy won’t work. As the last fifty years have demonstrated, simply pouring money into poor areas, especially into poor schools, has had little success in actually alleviating poverty or raising achievement. That’s because we have never successfully addressed the fundamental political reality of poor urban areas: Poor parents do not pressure schools to serve their children better and urban districts do not have the same political clout as suburban ones at the state and federal levels. The only way in which these “education politics”