Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 13
April 7, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
A conservative's dilemma
School choice versus fiscal responsibility
Having a grown-up budget conversation
Why the GOP proposal may be good for ed
Give me a ???V???!
Vouchers?and tax credits?are on a roll
If it ain???t broke, why fix it?
Baltimore Public Schools encroach on KIPP
What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance
Methodology so shaky it would make the Think Tank Review Project blush
Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
An education-reform blueprint so straightforward Gadfly?s grandmother could follow it
What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers?
Answer: Sadly, not much
Reform skeptics week
Mike and Rick talk about what happens when the parent trigger misfires, raise serious questions about Florida?s teacher-reform law, and wonder whether expanding vouchers to the middle class will do much good. Amber knocks Gary Miron?s KIPP study down a few pegs, and Chris lobbies against state-mandated dress codes.
Terry Ryan / April 7, 2011
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidate, issued an unconventional statement last month when he challenged fellow Republicans to take a critical look at the defense budget: “Anybody who says you can’t save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon. We can save money on defense, and if we Republicans don’t propose saving money on defense, we’ll have no credibility on anything else."
Republicans, especially potential presidential candidates, rarely challenge defense spending, let alone when the nation is engaged in multiple wars. But these are not ordinary times. More and more, voters and politicians alike are asking, "What can we afford?" and "Where should we cut?"
What's more important for conservatives--more school choice or making ends meet?
As with defense, most conservative Republicans have been staunch supporters of school choice and its expansion. For this reason, observers in Fordham’s home state of Ohio expected Governor John Kasich to support a significant growth in both charter schools and private-school vouchers. True to form, the governor’s recently released budget for the next two years does in fact offer up a healthy portion of school choice by lifting charter-school caps and expanding the state’s voucher scholarship program, EdChoice. The Kasich version would indeed expand choice, but not at a dramatic clip and not to many middle-class families or districts beyond the state’s urban centers.
Two other bills already
Michael J. Petrilli / April 7, 2011
Two huge budget battles in the same week: That’s a decent description of cherry-blossom season in Washington this year. The first is a dramatic game of chicken over the contours of the FY2011 budget, and, as the Gadfly goes to press, appears totally unresolved. While consequential, however, this melodrama is much less so than the second big budget fight: over GOP budget chairman Paul Ryan’s vision to reshape federal taxation and spending in FY 2012 and beyond.
At first blush, Ryan’s plan looks dire for education spending, capping, as it does, domestic discretionary spending at 2008 levels for at least five years. There’s not much detail in the proposal around K-12 education but, assuming that this cap applies to Department of Education programs, there will be significantly less funding for Title I, IDEA, and the rest, particularly once inflation is taken into account.
Still, such a move would hardly be catastrophic for our schools, even if you believe that “not enough money” is what ails them. Even a 30 or 40 percent cut to federal education spending only amounts to a 3 or 4 percent cut in revenue for most districts, thanks to Uncle Sam’s role as the very junior partner in school finance. Particularly if less funding comes with less intrusion from the Potomac, many schools might actually view this as a deal worth taking.
The much larger challenge for school finance over the long term isn’t coming from Washington but from demographic changes across the land. Baby Boomers are starting to turn sixty-five, and the healthcare and retirement benefits we’ve promised them
April 7, 2011
After years of relatively slow momentum, school-choice proponents have been marking great strides in recent weeks. Indiana’s House passed a bill offering vouchers to families making up to $60,000 per annum, expanding the state’s program from 200 students to 7,500 in the next year alone, and adding some worthy accountability requirements. In Ohio, the legislature is debating a bill that would create an expansive tax-credit scholarship program. Near the Potomac’s banks, meanwhile, the House has reinstated the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, though the Administration remains implacably opposed and the Senate is iffy. And earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling with far-reaching implications. In a five-to-four vote, the justices upheld an Arizona program that offers tax credits for scholarship donations made to religious schools. All this activity is a fresh reminder: When it comes to promising school-choice options, charters aren’t the only game in town. ( )
“Tax Credits for Religious Schools Survive Challenge,” by Mark Walsh, Education Week, April 4, 2011.
“Ohioans rally to cheer Kasich’s voucher plan,” by Jim Provance, Toledo Blade, March 23, 2011.
“House votes to restart D.C. school vouchers,” by Sean Lengell, Washington Times, March 30, 2011.“Senate panel introduced to vouchers,” by Niki Kelly, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, April 7, 2011.
April 7, 2011
KIPP Baltimore just can’t seem to catch a break. Last month, the high-flying charter-management organization scuffled with Baltimore City Schools over the renewal of its schools’ teacher contracts. (The quick back story: KIPP needed a waiver to operate outside the standard BPS teacher-pay scale, which peeved the union. Luckily, the two reached an agreement—ensuring that KIPP can remain in Charm City). This week, KIPP Baltimore, specifically its KIPP Ujima campus, begins to navigate another unnecessary intervention from the district. The middle school, which has been in operation nearly a decade, has been asked by city schools CEO (and bona fide reformer) Andrés Alonso to stop administering a placement exam it gives to all students who win the school’s admissions lottery, as the exam could be construed by parents as “elitist” or “off-putting.” The test doesn’t deny entry: Potential sixth-graders who score poorly are still able to enroll in KIPP Ujima, though they are asked to repeat fifth grade. Alonso’s request raises more than one red flag. Not only is the intrusion a blow to KIPP’s autonomy, the core of the charter-school ideal, it is also apt to force ill-prepared students into classrooms above their present capabilities. Gadfly thinks highly of Dr. Alonso—and respects the principle that charter schools should accept all comers. But he’s baffled and discomfited by this latest development.
“KIPP Ujima to discontinue placement tests,” by Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 5, 2011.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 7, 2011
This new report from Western Michigan University, and funded by the AFT, casts a skeptical eye on the KIPP charter-school model, evaluating it from two less-examined vantage points: student attrition and the organization’s revenues and expenditures. Unfortunately, both of these examinations are flawed. On attrition, researchers use federal Common Core Data (CCD) from 2006-07 to 2008-09 to compare exit rates for individual KIPP schools to their local public-school districts, concluding that KIPP schools have much higher levels of attrition. But measuring the proportion of students who leave KIPP schools to the proportion who leave given districts fails to account for intra-district student movement, and is hardly a fair comparison. Besides, as the New York Times noted last week, Mathematica’s more rigorous study of KIPP attrition, which used student-level data, came to a different conclusion: that overall attrition rates in KIPP schools are similar to those of traditional public schools. As for the financial analysis, researchers used 2007-08 federal financial data for a sample of twenty-five KIPP schools, and supplemented them with federal 990 tax forms, concluding that KIPP schools receive, on average, $18,491 per pupil through public and private revenue streams—about $6,500 more per student than the average for the local school districts. Unfortunately, this sample is one of convenience not representativeness. No KIPP schools in Florida, New York, or California (just to name a few states) are included—and the Golden State is widely known to underfund charter schools—since their data are traditionally reported within their school districts, not as separate entities. Moreover, as KIPP points out in
Marena Perkins / April 7, 2011
Colorado’s passage of SB191, the Centennial State’s groundbreaking teacher quality and accountability legislation, was even more impressive because it happened during an election year, and was passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic governor. For those who scratch their heads about how this came about, have a look at this fascinating Democrats for Education Reform brief. In it, Scott Laband, a key legislative aide as the bill made its way through the statehouse, identifies the strategic steps taken to pass SB191: find strong and credible leadership, get the policy right, build a powerful coalition, coordinate broad-based advocacy, and control the message. Within each of these five broad steps, Laband details specific actions calculated to boost the odds of victory. Some are straightforward (e.g., identify a smart education-policy expert). But others are so smart they almost feel like political insider trading. For instance: Interlock the bill’s critical provisions so tightly that none can easily be amended out. Or: Rotate political cover, allowing some sponsors to vote with their party bloc on certain amendments sure to pass. The brief ends with a sample press release, editorial, fact sheet, and bill language—all geared to helping buttress future education-reform legislation. A must-read for politicos and policy wonks alike.
Scott Laband, “Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story” (Washington, D.C.: Democrats for Education Reform, March 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / April 7, 2011
In 2007, the state of Washington passed legislation offering $5,000 bonuses to its national board-certified teachers (NBCT). To sweeten the pot and address the “teacher quality gap,” the NBCTs would get another $5,000 per year if they taught at a “challenging school,” or one with a concentration of low-income students (70 percent at the elementary-level down to 50 percent at the high-school level). In December 2010, Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed suspending the program due to budget cuts. This latest Rapid Response paper from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) assesses how well the program has met its two main goals: to improve teacher quality through board certification and to attract stronger teachers to disadvantaged schools. The upshot: The program probably isn’t worth the hefty price tag. (Program costs have tripled since its inception. Over the next two years, it is slated to cost Washington a cool $100 million). First, CRPE notes that past research shows no causal relationship between national-board certification and quality teaching. That is, gaining national-board certification does not improve a teacher’s efficacy. Second, CRPE examines state data and concludes that, even with the $5,000 bonus, less than 1 percent of NBCTs in the Evergreen State moved from low- to high-poverty schools. During these austere times, a hard rethink of ineffective programs would be wise across the other forty-nine states, too.
Jim Simpkins, “What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Board Certified Teachers?,” (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, March 2011).