Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 4, Number 10
April 28, 2010
Educating children while living within our means
State pension fund execs peering through rose-colored glasses
New education model proposed for school-age offenders
Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise
Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go?
No, send Obama to the Queen City
Flypaper's Finest -- the best from Flypaper
Becoming charters could save Cleveland's most promising schools
Bill Clinton hopes to raise profile of universities
Needle in a Haystack: Louisa May Alcott Elementary
Two well-deserved pats on the back
Hess to rock Cleveland
Terry Ryan / April 28, 2010
Educators across Ohio are consumed by two issues – cuts and levies. School districts face brutal budget decisions as they confront falling revenues. The state’s newspapers are awash with headlines that read: “District cuts 164, mostly teachers,” “Cleveland issues layoff notices to more than 500 teachers,” and “Supporters make final push for school levies.”
The bad news is that things are apt to get even worse. The state’s current $50.5 billion biennial budget was made whole in 2009 by $5 billion in one-time federal stimulus dollars and $2.4 billion in budget cuts. Funding for K-12 education accounts for 41 percent of state spending. Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives recently warned that “state education funding may be reduced in next state budget by 22.7 to 30.1 percent.”
Other lawmakers and analysts suggest the pain won’t be that great. They point optimistically to new federal legislation, the Keep Our Educators Working Act, which seeks $23 billion in additional federal dollars to “provide money to every State for the specific purpose of hiring or retaining school employees.”
While there is genuine uncertainty as to how much Ohio will need to cut school spending in coming months, there is no doubt that further spending reductions are in the offing – if not this year then certainly next. It is also clear that the “easy” cuts and cost-saving strategies have already been implemented by schools and districts. Across the state districts have
Mike Lafferty / April 28, 2010
State lawmakers are expected to address the woes of the state’s public pension systems later this year. A recent report indicates they have their work cut out for them. According to the report, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Joshua D. Rauh, an associate professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and Robert Novy-Marx at the University of Chicago, Ohio is in the worst shape of any state when state revenues are projected against pension obligations.
“Ohio faces the largest burden. It would need to devote over eight years of tax revenue solely to retirement funding to cover already-acquired pension liabilities,” the authors report.
An investigation by Ohio’s major daily newspapers in January indicated that the taxpayer bill to cover pension expenses for government retirees could top $5 billion annually in five years. But the Rauh and Novy-Marx’s report says it’s worse than that.
The authors estimate that if proper accounting techniques were used, Ohio’s real pension fund obligation would have been $332.5 billion in December 2008 (at the start of the national economic meltdown), compared with the officially stated liability of $190.9 billion.
The pension systems’ forecasts are based on an “eight percent solution.” Fund executives argue that eight percent is the average return on investment that pension funds should “expect” to see in the future.
Economists claim such a rate is optimistic at best. Jay Greene, chairman of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education
Theda Sampson / April 28, 2010
Incarcerated young adults who are still legally eligible to a free public education would be able to attend classes inside prison walls, and continue coursework after release, if legislation currently under consideration is adopted. House Bill 479 (and companion legislation SB 246) seeks to create the Win-Win Academy, a charter school aimed at increasing graduation rates, and reducing recidivism rates, of young offenders.
Under the bills, state-licensed teachers would teach classes to incarcerated 18-21 year olds inside state prisons and at a companion Win-Win Academy facility, which offenders could attend once released without changing schools or potentially even teachers. According to proponents, young offenders often serve short terms, which do not allow them the time to complete their studies while in prison. This innovative program would also use “thinking aides” – rehabilitated offenders who would work with the Win-Win Academy in the prisons to provide social and moral support to students enrolled in the program.
This proposal represents a creative solution for the state to expand education to a sector of young people in need of such opportunities. Currently, more than 5,000 offenders between the ages of 16 and 22 could potentially receive a high school diploma through this program. Presumably, the establishment of Win-Win Academy could mitigate Ohio offenders’ low educational attainment and rates of recidivism. Eighty percent of Ohio’s prison population lacks a high school diploma or equivalency, and more than 40 percent of first-time offenders return to
Jamie Davies O'Leary / April 28, 2010
Dana Brinson, Jacob Rosch
Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact
A primary justification for charter schools is the need for freedom from bureaucracy and regulation. In return, charters agree to be held accountable for their academic, fiscal, and operational performance. But on the whole, charter schools across the country have not been granted the autonomy necessary to do what’s best for their students. That’s the main finding from a study released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise.
Researchers from Public Impact analyzed and scored schools in 26 states based on the level of autonomy they are granted by the charter contracts they have with their authorizer and the state and federal policies that impact them (for example, federal “highly qualified teacher” provisions add red tape). Giving charter schools grades for how well authorizers (aka, sponsors) and states do in holding up their end of the bargain (granting autonomy) is akin to grading students on how well their teachers equip them to succeed.
Academic performance of charters is a separate matter and is not taken up in the report. The reason to measure autonomy is simple – it’s a necessary condition if we expect charters to deliver solid academic results. As the report sums up brilliantly, “To deny charters that freedom is akin to tying one arm behind the back of a prize fighter. Or forcing Monet to paint in mittens.”
Charter schools nationally
Urban Institute Press, 2010
This book is an excellent synopsis of the work on school funding that Marguerite Roza and her colleagues at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education have done over the past decade. In short, accessible fashion (just 99 pages), the book lays out the fundamental and systemic problems with school funding. It also explains how the complexities of and multiple actors in schooling cause $500 billion spent annually on K-12 education in this country to flow in perverse and sometimes surprising ways. For example, those with the most resources tend to be “[m]iddle- and upper-class students, not poor students. Electives and athletics, not core subjects. Gifted and high-achieving students, not struggling students.”
Mandates and strings attached to state and federal funding surely tie local school leaders’ hands when it comes to how they spend the money, and as such those at the local level might be tempted to wash their hands of blame for funding and spending peculiarities. However, Roza does a great job of illustrating how local policies, practices, and personalities adversely impact school funding and spending.
For example, CRPE found school-to-school spending differences, in the same district, of $14,000 per student. In one school, the principal had control over just $4,000 of her school’s entire budget. Fordham found similar examples in our 2008 look at Ohio’s school funding system. In the Columbus City School District, the per-pupil funding gap between elementary schools
April 28, 2010
Center for American Progress
Glenda L. Partee
This report, a product of the Center for American Progress’s Doing What Works project, takes a critical look at the implementation and funding of federal education policies and identifies programs that can be eliminated, consolidated, or restructured.
Partee credits the Obama administration for adopting a more targeted use of funding and offers a similar framework that puts heavy emphasis on flexibility, innovation, accountability, increased teacher quality, and common standards. She goes on to offer seven recommendations that can be used to make federal education programs more cost-effective and successful:
- Budgetary priorities should reflect the new education policy priorities.
- Narrow, low-impact programs should be eliminated.
- Outdated programs should be eliminated or updated.
- Programs should be better coordinated and sometimes consolidated.
- Programs should have clear goals.
- Results should drive funding decisions.
- Performance evaluation and transparency should be strengthened.
Utilizing this lens, the report identifies many education initiatives that have become too scattered or duplicative of other programs. A prime example is the Even Start early childhood and family literacy program, which has yielded little measurable results and is redundant with several dozen other federal programs.
Partee also pushes programs to be funded based on student need, rather than distributed by formula, which spreads money too thin to make an impact.
The recommendations offered up could certainly be translated to the state level, and should be of particular interest to Ohio policymakers, as the Buckeye State will need to re-examine the efficacy of all
April 28, 2010
Education Action Group Foundation
This report, sponsored by the Foundation for Educational Choice, looks at the cost of “labor” in school districts in Southwest Ohio. In reviewing teacher contracts for more than a dozen local districts the authors report, “we do not have to raise taxes, lay off thousands of teachers or cut student programs to help our public schools survive the current financial crisis.” Read the study here.
April 28, 2010
We appreciate Mike's enthusiasm for Denver's School of Science and Technology but would rather see President Obama give the commencement speech at Cincinnati's Clark Montessori Junior and Senior High School. And not just because we're typing this post in the Buckeye State.
Clark is the first public Montessori high school in the country, and has been identified by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a national model high school.? It boasts outstanding academic performance year-in, year-out from a student body that is racially and socio-economically diverse and that is not admitted through an entrance exam or other enrollment hurdles.
...the school also prepares its graduates for the non-academic challenges that students, especially first-generation college-goers, face.
Clark takes seriously the task of preparing students for college ? academically, of course, through its rigorous honors-level core courses.? But through Clark's College Center, the school also prepares its graduates for the non-academic challenges that students, especially first-generation college-goers ? and more than one-third of its students fall into this category, face.? The school offers extensive AP coursework and dual-enrollment at nearby colleges so that students can graduate with some college credit under their belts; Clark exposes students to the workplace and higher education by requiring students to go on college tours and participate in job shadowing experiences; guidance counselors teach students the basics of writing a resume and filling out the FAFSA; and so much
Emmy L. Partin / April 28, 2010
The school board of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District voted this week to lay off 10 percent of its 8,000 employees, including 545 teachers. Particularly hard hit will be the district’s ten “innovation schools”…. CMSD already authorizes several charter schools and the board approved the superintendent’s ambitious transformation plan, which includes plans to develop a portfolio of schools and turn some district schools over to charter operators. Could Cleveland use the charter mechanism to save its most promising schools? Read the full post here.
April 28, 2010
Bill Clinton hopes to raise profile of universities, whose students are tech-addicted, English-fluent, and have already been put on the path to college.
- WaPo’s Jay Mathews gives points to dissenting views on the value of foreign language requirements in high school—mostly on grounds that the skills are insufficient and never used. To this editor, it sounds like all the more reason to start them early and then let students choose if they want to continue with the language. Also, read about France’s “success” in limiting the number of students who leave school without any sort of academic qualification.
- University of Maryland’s College of the Obvious released a report concluding that college students are unwilling to disconnect from popular media (laptops, television, iPods, cell phones, etc.). Framing a study group’s emotional responses as akin to those suffering from drug addiction, these students viewed giving up media as the equivalent of giving up their social lives and connectedness to information.
- Laureate Education, Inc., a for-profit education company that spun off from Sylvan Learning Systems has anointed former president Bill Clinton as its honorary chancellor, for an undisclosed price tag. The company expects the former president to raise the company’s profile, which serves primarily an international clientele.
- It must be “Follow Jay Mathews Week” (we promise to get a better name if it becomes a regular feature of EE), as he provides some context to an “exhausting” read: Doug Lemov’s new
April 28, 2010
Louisa May Alcott Elementary in Cleveland may have caught our eye for delivering a quality education to economically disadvantaged youngsters, but it was its results with special needs students that truly impressed us. Given the state's recent chastisement over its lackluster supervision of district special ed programs, Alcott's success is all the more impressive. Check out our video to learn what the school's teachers and leaders believe are the keys to the school's extraordinary success.
Louisa May Alcott and seven other Ohio schools will be featured in Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio's high-performing, high-need urban schools, due May 2010 from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
April 28, 2010
Fordham’s Director of Charter School Sponsorship, Kathryn Mullen Upton, has been invited to join top practitioners and authorizing experts on the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ national Advisory Panel that will recommend revisions to NACSA’s Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. The revised Principles & Standards will be released at NACSA’s Annual Leadership Conference in October.
And Jamie Davies O’Leary’s Gadfly article about Teach For America’s new book, Teaching as Leadership, was the feature story in the April issue of Education Matters, the newsletter of the American Association of Educators.
April 28, 2010
The American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick (Rick) Hess is coming (back) to the Buckeye State to set Ohioans straight. His most recent book, Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling, argues for a radical rethinking of our educational establishment, and his forthcoming (and Fordham co-produced) book, A Penny Saved: How Schools and Districts Can Tighten Their Belts While Serving Students Better, chronicles how states and school districts might cut education spending while improving student performance. Hess will discuss the important lessons from both books and provide cautionary tales for Ohio and its leaders at The City Club of Cleveland on Friday, May 7. For tickets or more information, call toll free at 888-223-6786 or locally at 216-621-0082.