Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 21
June 2, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Where's the Tea Party when you need it?
Insider proof of the madness of local control
By Peter Meyer
Bending the special-ed cost curve
It requires multiple approaches
By Chris Tessone
Ohio???s charter schools: Threats from within
Quality must trump quantity?and profits
Hitting it big in Clark County?
Are the three cherries aligning for reform in Vegas?
The Condition of Education 2011
Data, data, everywhere?and not a Catholic school to spare
By Gerilyn Slicker
Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education
Even innovation must be guided?and funded
By Chris Tessone
Preparing for Growth: Human Capital Innovations in Public Charter Schools
How the best-of-the-best attract talent
By Kathryn Mullen Upton
A Texas high school arms race
Mike and Rick talk substantively (for a change) about: Clark County?s education blueprint, private special-education service providers, and utopian hopes for turnarounds. Amber geeks out with stats from the latest Condition of Education and Chris audibles for a Texas high school football stadium.
Peter Meyer / June 2, 2011
A friend emailed earlier in the week: “Breathtaking.” It was the first of many such emails and phone calls.
Each was referring to a Monday night vote by our local board of education (of which I am a member—though my gadfly tendencies often lead me to butt heads with other board members, and to get shut out of things like budget-making processes). The vote was to impose a budget that raises the local property tax levy by 9.8 percent (triple the New York state average). This wasn’t the first time the board had made this decision—we had originally voted on the tax increase back in April. Yet it was soundly rejected—by a 3 to 1 margin—at the polls on May 17. So back to the board it came, through a back-alley channel known as the “contingency budget law.” How we got to this point—and what has happened since—is a story worth telling.
First, some context. Mine is a tiny (2,000 student) district in upstate New York. It’s a poor community with average family income of just over $30,000, and an unemployment rate of about 9 percent. (Conjure up a Richard Russo novel and you’ll get the picture.) As such, it depends largely on aid from the state and federal governments. (Local sources account for much less than half of our district’s funds.)
It is an argument for more local control, not less—provided, of course,
Chris Tessone / June 2, 2011
Fordham’s recent look at data trends in special-education populations peered under the surface of special-ed funding—but it couldn’t dive fully into those murky waters. But with some states ostensibly spending two or three times as much per student as others, it would appear that savings can be found in this $110 billion-plus lake of school spending—without negatively impacting kids. To that end, some districts are now turning to private companies, like Futures Education, to provide quality services to disabled youngsters at a lower cost. Such firms can play a dual role. First, they are more flexible than public-school districts at providing services where and when they’re needed, hiring and retaining only the staff necessary to serve the present pupil population. If a district employs ten speech therapists on staff, it must find ways (and salaries) to keep all ten busy. A private company that hires contractors, on the other hand, can stay lean and mean. Second, because these firms are somewhat removed from the difficult politics of special ed, they may have more courage—and ability—to say no to unneeded or ineffective services. (This is not unlike the vilified but vital role that insurance companies—or Medicare—play in the healthcare system.) Of course, outsourcing special-education services is not without barnacles. Shady operators will have every incentive to overcharge and underdeliver. As such, districts must consider which services they’re outsourcing, and to
June 2, 2011
Gadfly has criticized Ohio lawmakers for their efforts to water down charter-school accountability in the Buckeye State. If upheld in the state’s biennial budget (due to be finalized by month’s end), these provisions would downgrade the charter movement in Fordham’s home state to a “full-fledged contender for America’s worst.” An in-depth article in last weekend’s Dayton Daily News spotlights the worst of those legislative provisions and the man who appears to be responsible for them (despite denials by some House members): David Brennan, Akron industrialist and founder of White Hat Management. This firm is currently being sued by the boards of nine Ohio charter schools for illegally usurping their independent oversight and authority over said schools. But if the budgetary provisions passed by the Ohio House were to stand, that court case might be moot. White Hat would be allowed to continue operating all schools sans oversight, despite its slipshod educational-performance record: Two thirds of the schools it operates are rated D or F by the state. (To be fair, many of these schools serve kids who had previously dropped out.) It’s no wonder, then, that Brennan—who has lined GOP pockets with millions of dollars in campaign contributions—lobbied the Republican-controlled Ohio House to insert language that would allow White Hat to “keep secret details of how it spends… public money.” Gadfly is cautiously optimistic that this can get set right before the budget is completed. Two days ago, the heavily Republican Ohio Senate removed these harmful charter-school provisions from the budget bill. Now, however, House and Senate must
June 2, 2011
Dwight Jones gained a rock-star reputation during his time at the helm of Colorado’s state education department. (Among other things, he was the commissioner during enactment of the Rocky Mountain State’s pioneering teacher-evaluation legislation.) Though he hasn’t been in Clark County, NV for long (having been lured to the nation’s fifth largest district in December), he’s already making big moves. Last week, Jones released a dynamite education-reform blueprint, redolent with both familiar reform elements (e.g. performance-based pay and value-added growth modeling) and some cutting-edge proposals. He would, for example, dramatically increase principal autonomy in successful schools, bundling like-performing schools into “performance zones,” each with its own level of support and oversight. “The aim is to achieve more laserlike focus on student performance,” Jones explained. Of course, with education’s hydra-like governance structure (district superintendents work with teacher unions and school boards within the constructs of state and federal legislation), no entity may make unilateral decisions. But that’s part of the appeal and intrigue of Clark County. Jones appears to have a soulmate in Nevada governor Brian Sandoval (though a stick-in-the-mud legislature still poses problems in Carson City). The district's rather abrupt move from growth-and-prosperity to population loss and budget woes makes it even more challenging--and interesting. The slot machine wheels on education reform in Vegas are still spinning but at least a couple of
Gerilyn Slicker / June 2, 2011
This latest portrait of American education from the National Center for Education Statistics is, as usual, dense with useful information. Perhaps most interesting are the large shifts on the school-choice front, with charter enrollment ballooning and private-school enrollment losing air. Over the past decade, the number of public charter-school pupils more than quadrupled—from 340,000 students in 1999-2000 to 1.4 million students in 2008-09. At the same time, private-school enrollment has deflated. While these schools taught 6.3 million students in 2001-02, private schools educated 5.5 million youngsters in 2009-10—a 13 percent decrease. Intriguingly, the pattern varied by school type. While enrollment in independent and secular private schools remained constant, religious schools saw sharp declines. Catholic schools were, once again, hit the hardest. Some other findings come as no shock (though maybe they should): Total per-pupil expenditures rose by 39 percent (in constant dollars) from 1989-90 to 2007-08, for example. On the good-news front, drop-out rates have declined for whites, blacks, and Hispanics over the past thirty years. Along with its parsed K-12 data, this year’s edition focuses on postsecondary education, documenting significant increases in total college enrollment and degrees as well as a bump in for-profit postsecondary enrollment (from 3 percent in 2000-01 to 9 percent today). In total, higher-education enrollment now trumps that of high schools: The nation boasted 17.6 million undergraduates in the fall of 2009 (and 2.9 million postbac students) and 15 million high schoolers (in 2008-09). Choose a preferred topic, dive in, and get a little nerdy.
Kathryn Mullen Upton / June 2, 2011
The growth of high-performing charter schools—and their charter-management organizations (CMOs)—is critical for such schools to become sound alternatives for additional needy kids. To expand, however, CMOs must overcome the challenge of finding superior teachers and school leaders. To see how this has been done and can be done, this Center for American Progress report profiles Green Dot, IDEA Public Schools, High Tech High, KIPP, Rocketship Education, and Yes Prep and explains how they have dealt with organizational growth and human-capital challenges. It seems that these successful CMOs have three things in common: They formalize recruitment, training, and support processes and infrastructure; they get the most mileage from available talent by narrowing and better-defining staff roles; and they import and induct management talent. Toward that end, many of these organizations have developed their own recruiting tools and candidate evaluations. Some offer extensive professional development aligned with their organizational cultures. Most believe in cultivating in-house talent, often by identifying future school leaders during the teacher-hiring process. Others have created and implemented their own certification programs. Well worth your attention, whether or not you’re a CMO junkie.