School Finance

There is no doubt in my mind that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cares deeply about disadvantaged kids. He deserves our admiration and respect for bringing a renewed sense of urgency to addressing America’s persistently failing schools.

His devotion to the hope of school turnarounds is rooted in very real and very painful experiences. When he closed a number of underperforming schools during his tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, many displaced students were moved into similarly low-performing schools, and worse, inadvertently exposed to gang violence.

I’m certain this heartrending episode influenced him profoundly. I’m sure he committed himself to finding a better way to help boys and girls assigned to schools that weren’t working. I sincerely commend him for that sentiment and the passion behind it.

But this sentiment and passion also blinded him and his team.

Hence the tragedy of SIG.

Mountains of studies had clearly demonstrated over many years that the success rate of school-turnaround efforts was miniscule. The research showed that regardless of the intervention used or the amount of money spent, persistently low-performing schools stubbornly remained that way.

I will never know if the Department of Education simply hadn’t done its homework or if it had but believed that it could defy the lessons of the past. I suspect the latter was the primary culprit.

Slogans like “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” followed by a history-changing election, didn’t exactly infuse early Obama administration officials with...

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Last month, USA Today reported that officials in the Brevard County Schools had broken Florida state law—on purpose. Their offense? Placing more kids in classrooms than Florida’s Class Size Reduction statute allows. Officials had done the math and decided that complying with state policy would cost more than the penalty they’d pay for adding a handful of students to each classroom. The estimated fines totaled roughly $170,000, which paled in comparison to the cost of the teachers that the district would have to hire to comply with the size-limiting mandate.

Yet it’s unclear how Brevard chose to allocate these additional students. Did administrators give every teacher more students in equal shares? Did they apportion shares to seasoned veterans or, more likely, to seniority-deprived new teachers? Maybe they drew straws?

But what if Brevard officials had chosen another option? What if they had assigned the “extra” students to their most effective teachers, leaving fewer pupils in classrooms presided over by weaker instructors? What would be the impact of such a practice on student achievement?

That’s the scenario that this empirical paper models. The idea is straightforward: Give the better teachers more kids and the weaker teachers fewer—then see what happens. It’s a common-sense option with many supporters. We know, for instance, that parents say they would opt for larger classes taught by excellent teachers, rather than smaller classes with instructors of unknown ability. In a study last year for the Fordham Institute, the FDR Group found that a whopping...

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Michelle and Dara discuss class sizes, the new Youth CareerConnect program, and why the DOJ is backing away from its attack on Louisana’s school-voucher program. Amber gets wonky with cross-district effects on teacher-bargaining contracts. Amber's Research Minute My End of the Bargain: Are There...
Emily Ayscue Hassel

Fordham released a paper by Michael Hansen projecting the impact on student learning if excellent eighth-grade teachers—those in the top 25 percent—were responsible for six or twelve more students per class.  He found that moving six students per class to the most effective eighth-grade science and math teachers would have an impact equivalent to removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers.

We imagine many teachers and parents reading that finding will still fret over the idea of increasing class sizes that much, even with great teachers.  So here’s some good news: Schools can give a lot more than six more students access to excellent teachers without actually raising class sizes.  And they can pay great teachers—or even all teachers—more by doing so.

The key is shifting to new school models that extend the reach of excellent teachers wisely.  At Public Impact, we’ve published many such models on the website www.OpportunityCulture.org, and we’ve honed them via our work with teams of teachers and administrators now implementing them in schools.

Sure, one way to extend the reach of excellent teachers is to simply increase their class sizes.  But none of the pilot schools’ design teams—which include teachers—have chosen this route alone. None have increased class sizes above national averages. Instead, all the school design teams so far have chosen team-based models that leave effective class sizes on par or smaller. (By “effective class size,” we mean the number of students actually with a teacher at one...

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Michael Hansen

In the overwhelming majority of American classrooms, pupils are divided roughly equally among teachers of the same grade in the same school. Parceling them out uniformly is viewed as fair to teachers—and doing otherwise might be seen as unfair. Parents might wonder, too. But what if more students were assigned to the most effective teachers, leaving fewer in classrooms presided over by weaker instructors? What would be the impact of such a practice on student achievement?
 
That’s the intriguing question that Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teacherstackles. The idea is straightforward: Give the better teachers more kids and weaker teachers fewer—then see what happens. It’s a common-sense option with many supporters (including Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, sundry wonks, most parents, and even teachers themselves).
 
Using data from North Carolina, economist Michael Hansen, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, looks at what right-sizing the classroom can mean for academic achievement. In brief, he found that as the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teach progressively smaller ones, the net result is improved student learning—for all students, not just those who moved.
 
At the eighth-grade level,

  • Assigning up to twelve more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school;
  • Three-quarters of the potential gain (from moving twelve students) can be realized by moving just six; and
  • The potential gains from moving a handful of students to the most effective teachers is comparable to the
  • ...
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by Michael Hansen Foreword by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. Press Release In the overwhelming majority of American classrooms, pupils are divided roughly equally among teachers of the same grade in the same school. Parceling them out uniformly is viewed as fair to teachers—and...

As the dust settles after the November 5th election in Columbus, it may be instructive to parse the 69 percent to 31 percent trouncing that Issue 50 (a combined 9.01-mil levy and bond issue) experienced.

The victors: No cheaters, no charters—no new taxes

If Winston Churchill was correct and “history is written by the victors,” then the takeaway is “no cheaters, no charters.” A group of this name was the most organized foe of the ballot issue. It opposed any measure that would “reward” a school board or district still mired in state and federal investigations of data rigging, and it opposed distributing local property tax dollars to charter schools of any type.

Were levy opponents correct? Did Columbus voters follow their lead and base their decisions on the ongoing investigations and inclusion of charter schools?

There is some evidence, but not much data, to suggest that this happened. First, the pro-levy campaign brought together a broad array of supporters who were able to raise and spend in excess of $2.3 million. Opponents were armed with their aforementioned mantra and a “staggering” $4,000. For the results to be that lopsided, the levy opponents’ message apparently resonated with Columbus voters with little more than a mantra to reinforce it.

In addition to defeating the levy, voters also replaced two of the three school board incumbents running for re-election. Given the success that incumbents typically enjoy, this points to some general dissatisfaction. That being said, the school board results do not...

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With the polls closed and votes counted, the most interesting school district in America will remain interesting: Douglas County, Colorado—which had four of seven seats up for election on Tuesday—maintained its pro-reform edge, with two incumbents reelected and two reform-y newcomers taking seats at the table. Well done—and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.

By a margin of 4 percentage points, State Representative Martin Walsh has become Boston’s first new mayor-elect in twenty years, beating out City Councilor John Connolly for the mayorship of Boston. Walsh—whose campaign, according to Politico, received a fair amount of funding from the unions—has underscored his support for universal pre-Kindergarten. Connolly—a former teacher backed by Democrats for Education Reform—had supported reducing the district bureaucracy and improving career and technical education. However, both candidates supported lifting the state cap on charter schools and lengthening the school day.

Meanwhile, Gotham voters eagerly elected Bill de Blasio as their mayor on Tuesday; he famously pledged to tax the rich in order to pay for his universal preschool program. Colorado voters, on the other hand, rejected a $1 billion tax increase for education by a two-to-one margin (while adopting a new tax on marijuana). Voters in Columbus, Ohio (Fordham’s home state), also rejected a local levy by a lopsided margin. The lesson: Education taxes on the one percent (and on weed) are popular. Taxes on the middle class? Not so much....

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Joshua Dunn

Yesterday, Colorado’s voters resoundingly rejected Amendment 66, which had promised to vastly increase funding for Colorado schools and create a world-class system of education. Voters, with some justification, think Colorado already has good schools and were not in the mood to approve the largest tax hike in state history.

Much can be taken away from the results. First, despite being well funded and organized, a greater margin of voters said “no thanks” to Amendment 66 than a smaller proposed education tax increase in 2011, Proposition 103: That measure failed with 63 percent of Colorado voters rejecting it, while Amendment 66 (if the current, almost-complete results hold up) failed by 66 percent. The supporters of Amendment 66 raised over $10 million, including $1 million donations apiece from Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, which allowed supporters to vastly outspend opponents of the measure. The lucky citizens of Colorado were subjected to seemingly endless ads about how, for a very small price per family, we could do things like add art classes and gym. Of course, the fool’s gold but always-enticing “reducing class sizes” was thrown in for good measure.

Second, the results are a huge repudiation of the Democratic leadership in Denver. Just a few months ago, two Democratic state senators, including the Senate president, were the first recalled public officials in Colorado history. One gets the sense that some of the vote on Amendment 66 was a carryover from the general public anger over how many measures, such as...

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On November 5th, Colorado voters head to the polls to decide whether they want to substantially raise their taxes to better fund schools (and, separately, to regulate their newly legal pot—but more on that some other time). The plan, known as Amendment 66, is spearheaded by State Senator Mike Johnston (D) and funded by a coalition of teacher unions and others. It would raise income taxes by $950 million by ditching the state's flat tax of 4.63 percent. In its place would be a system with two rates: 5 percent for incomes at or below $75,000 per year and 5.9 percent for incomes above $75,000.

Passage of the amendment would green-light a previously passed and wide-ranging bill, also led by Johnston, designed to revamp the existing school-funding formula and divvy up the new money, if taxpayers decide to provide it. The bill has some ideas that, by themselves, should be fairly popular. For example, it lifts caps on preschool and Kindergarten enrollment, moves away from an easy-to-manipulate, single enrollment-count day, and refreshes the funding formula to weight for poverty and ELL status, among other factors. But, to many others, the cost to taxpayers seems outrageously high.

Supporters and opponents are sharply at odds when it comes to what this proposal might mean and, of course, whether it should pass. But those on both sides feel certain of one thing: The final result is sure to be a nail biter. Here’s a breakdown of five factors that could make the...

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