The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 13. April 7, 2011.
In This Edition
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Opinion and Analysis

A conservative's dilemma
School choice versus fiscal responsibility
Opinion | Terry Ryan

Having a grown-up budget conversation
Why the GOP proposal may be good for ed
Opinion | Michael J. Petrilli

Give me a “V”!
Vouchers—and tax credits—are on a roll
News Analysis

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? 
Baltimore Public Schools encroach  on KIPP
News Analysis

Short Reviews

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
Review | Amber M. Winkler

Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
An education-reform blueprint so straightforward Gadfly’s grandmother could follow it
Review | Marena Perkins

What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers?
Answer: Sadly, not much
Review | Daniela Fairchild

From The Web

Reform skeptics week
Raising red flags on the parent trigger, Florida’s teacher-reform bill, and an Ohio voucher proposal
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess

Falling off the funding cliff
Time to step out of the comfort zone
Flypaper's Finest | April 6, 2011 | Chris Tessone

A more accurate “TFA teachers are like untrained doctors” analogy
What if hospitals in low-income areas performed as poorly?
Flypaper's Finest | April 6, 2011 | Jamie Davies O'Leary

Reform school with Tim Kitts
One charter chain’s approach to curriculum and instruction
Gadfly Studios | April 7, 2011


A striking reversal
And plush pensions in the Golden State
Briefly Noted

Race, class, and charter schools
BASIS D.C. hosts an April 13 event to ponder: Is Washington ready for an integrated charter school?

The school board: What is it good for?
Join Fordham on April 26 as we tackle the question

Become a knight of the Philanthropy Roundtable
The Roundtable is hiring an education director

What’s next for Los Angeles schools?
John Deasy explains at AEI on May 5

Pioneering education in D.C.
Seeking a program director for Ed Pioneers D.C.

When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What’s the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs
A “sliding scale” approach to accountability
Fordham Featured Publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: A conservative's dilemma
By Terry Ryan

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 being debated in the General Assembly would go a lot further. They would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program, opening up private-school scholarship awards ranging from $2,313 to $4,626 to students from families with household incomes up to $100,000, award amounts to be based on a sliding scale related to actual income. There would be no geographic restriction on these scholarships (as currently applies to charter schools) nor any requirement that the students come from a failing public school (as is the case with the state’s existing voucher program.)

What’s more, by 2012-2013, these bills would allow some families with children already enrolled in private schools to use the scholarship to meet tuition costs they are currently paying out of pocket. (Ohio has roughly 250,000 students enrolled in private schools.)

While the program would dramatically expand school choice in Ohio, it would in time result in new costs. Ohio’s next biennial budget is already plagued by a deficit approaching $8 billion and no one expects a rapid recovery in the state’s revenues. Public education is going to operate with at least a couple billion dollars less funding over the next two years, and no programs are immune from cuts. Recognizing that shifting some kids from public to private schools is supposed to save money on the public side (though superintendents argue that such savings are extremely hard to realize in practice), subsidizing private-school students who currently attend without such subsidy is indisputably a net additional cost to the public fisc.

These fiscal realities raise an uncomfortable question for school-choice supporters, myself included. Is now the right time to support the creation of a new school-choice program that is essentially aimed at middle-class families, some of whom are already exercising choice at their own expense? Just as Barbour and others are starting to question how much defense spending the nation can afford, school reformers must consider how much school choice we can afford. What’s more important for conservatives—more school choice or making ends meet?

This piece originally appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on vouchers from the Education Gadfly Show podcast


Opinion: Having a grown-up budget conversation
By Michael J. Petrilli

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 are unsustainable without major tax increases or severe cuts to spending, including to education. Even if you believe that schools have plenty of money today, you don’t have to be a bleeding heart to see that they cannot withstand more and more cuts forever.

Which is why Ryan’s recommendation to cap Medicare spending, and make other fundamental adjustments in long-established federal programs and practices, is so important: We can’t continue to spend so lavishly on the old if we want to have resources to invest in the young.

Maybe that’s not what Paul Ryan is after. Perhaps he just cares about shrinking the tax burden and minimizing the size of government across the board. Still, if his proposal forces the country to have a grown-up conversation about the stark choices we face, it gives advocates for education a fighting chance. Let the conversation commence.

This piece originally appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.



News Analysis: Give me a "V"!

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.


News Analysis: If it ain't broke, why fix it?

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.


Short Reviews

Review: What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance
By Amber M. Winkler

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 its rebuttal statement, the analysts did not distinguish between operating and capital expenses—nor did they ask KIPP to open its books and explain the meaning behind the figures. For example, since charter schools are mostly ineligible for state or local facilities funding, hefty private donations must make up the difference. Those donations would show up in KIPP’s per-pupil numbers—while districts’ capital expenses don’t show up in their operating budgets. Maybe one day we’ll have accurate school-level spending data. Until then, let’s work harder to issue accurate research.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on this study on KIPP from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, and Nicholas Saxton, “What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance,” (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, March 2011).


Review: Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
By Marena Perkins

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).


Review: What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers?
By Daniela Fairchild

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, however, Gov. Christine Gregoire suspended the program due to budget cuts. This latest Rapid Response paper from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) assesses how well the program 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 wasn’t worth the hefty price tag. (Program costs have tripled since its inception. Over the next two years, it was 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. 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).


From The Web

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: 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.

The Education Gadfly
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.


Flypaper's Finest: Falling off the funding cliff
By Chris Tessone

Many states are spending the last of their federal stimulus dollars, and their strategy for dealing with the resulting fiscal pressure is: freak out and fire people.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Flypaper's Finest: A more accurate "TFA teachers are like untrained doctors" analogy
By Jamie Davies O’Leary

Today’s Columbus Dispatch features an anti-Teach For America op-ed by an OSU ed professor (Thomas Stephens).… Stephens begins his piece by making a ludicrous but quite common analogy between teaching and medicine… Alright Tom, … let’s roll with this comparison.

Imagine that in Ohio (and nationwide), hospitals located in low-income areas overwhelmingly have abysmal outcomes for patients. We’re talking huge mortality rates, 1 in 2 infants dying during birth, children dying from basic preventable illnesses, that sort of thing. Let’s also assume that hospitals across the state have big gaps in service when it comes to how they serve wealthier, mostly white patients and low-income, mostly minority patients.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Gadfly Studios: Reform school with Tim Kitts

Click to play

Tim Kitts of Florida’s Bay Haven Charter Academy explains his “plus” model of school improvement, and the axes of curriculum and department structures.



Briefly Noted: A striking reversal

  • With a potential federal-government shutdown looming, YEP-DC, Fordham, and others are thinking of potential ways to link ambitious, yet idle, government workers with volunteer opportunities in D.C. schools and beyond. Stay tuned for more, through the YEP site or through Flypaper.
  • South Korea’s former minister of education issued an unexpected warning to the U.S. during a keynote speech at the Association for Education Finance and Policy annual meeting: Don’t focus too strongly on testing. It’s important to nurture a broader skill set.
  • Still skeptical about the sustainability of today’s teacher-pension programs? Direct yourself to this Providence Journal op-ed, or to this stat: Retired teachers in California take in more each year than working teachers in twenty-eight states.
  • Mike was right: After tallying a 17 percent approval rating this week, Cathie Black is stepping down as chancellor of New York City’s schools, to be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott.
  • To privatize or keep public? This week’s NYT Room for Debate asks whether outsourcing is cost-effective or vulnerable to mismanagement.
  • With the expansion of online learning, credit-recovery programs are mushrooming—and their quality is being called into question.
  • Time is accepting votes for this year’s 100 most influential people. Some familiar education names made the list: Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee, to start. And some other worthwhile mentions like Davis Guggenheim, Scott Walker, Amy Chua, and Cory Booker. Vote here.
  • In one of Detroit’s smartest moves to-date, the city has asked the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) to oversee the DPS Renaissance 2012 initiative. Gadfly is skill skeptical of the turnaround craze. But at least Motown is calling in the right reinforcements.


Announcement: Race, class, and charter schools

Join BASIS D.C. at Fordham on April 13 from 1:00 to 3:00PM for a symposium entitled: “Looking Inside Fully Integrated Schools: What they Promise, How they Deliver, and Why They Succeed.” Panelists are DC At-Large Councilmember Sekou Biddle, Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, Jeanne Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform, and Sam Chaltain, a DC-based educator and organizational-change consultant, and will be moderated by Fordham's Mike Petrilli. Click here to register or for more information, contact Mary Siddall.


Announcement: The school board: What is it good for?

Join Fordham and a crackerjack set of panelists—including Anne Bryant of the National School Boards Association, Christopher Barclay of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Chester E. Finn, Jr. of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Gene Maeroff, author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy—on April 26 from 4:00-5:30PM for what proves to be a lively debate on the future role of school boards. Event details and RSVP here.


Announcement: Become a knight of the Philanthropy Roundtable

Philanthropy Roundtable is on the hunt for a new director of K-12 education programs. The lucky occupant of that key role will be a go-getter with strong communication and writing skills, as well as a commitment to education reform and philanthropy. For the full job description, and how to apply, click here.


Announcement: What's next for Los Angeles?

LAUSD chief John Deasy heads to AEI on May 5 from 4:00-5:15PM to explain his vision for the district, as well as how he plans to boost results while wrestling with a severe budget shortfall. For more information, or to RSVP, head here.


Announcement: Pioneering education in D.C.

Education Pioneers’s D.C. branch is seeking a program director to mobilize its fellows, alumni, and partners networks, and to ensure success of fellows’ summer programs. Interested parties should have strong communication, facilitation, and presentation skills, as well as a knowledge of K-12 education policy, and three-plus years of program design and management. Click here for the full job description and how to apply.


Fordham's featured publication: When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What's the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs?

When Private Schools Take Public Dollars cover

The majority of experts agree that private schools participating in voucher programs should not face new regulation of their day-to-day affairs. They also see value in helping parents make informed choices by providing data about how well their own children are performing. To find middle ground, Fordham suggests a “sliding scale” approach: The more voucher-bearing students a school enrolls, the greater its obligation for transparency and accountability. And the more generously taxpayers support vouchers, the greater their accountability claim on voucher-receiving schools. Read more here.



The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Daniela Fairchild, Amy Fagan, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Amanda Olberg, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Marena Perkins, Michael J. Petrilli, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Gerilyn Slicker, Chris Tessone, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at Find archived issues or other reviews of reports and books here.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary and secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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