Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: A conservative's dilemma
By Terry Ryan
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."
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
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 listen to commentary on vouchers from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Opinion: Having a grown-up budget conversation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Credits for Religious Schools Survive Challenge,” by Mark Walsh, Education Week, April 4, 2011.
rally to cheer Kasich’s voucher plan,” by Jim Provance, Toledo Blade, March 23, 2011.
votes to restart D.C. school vouchers,” by Sean Lengell, Washington Times, March 30, 2011.
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.
Review: What Makes KIPP Work?: A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance
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 listen to commentary on this study on KIPP from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Review: Creating A Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story
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.
Review: What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers?
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
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.
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
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.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: A more accurate "TFA teachers are like untrained doctors" analogy
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
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Reform school with Tim Kitts
Tim Kitts of Florida’s Bay Haven Charter Academy
explains his “plus” model of school improvement, and the axes of curriculum and
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.
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.
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.
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.
privatize or keep public? This week’s NYT
Room for Debate asks whether outsourcing is cost-effective or vulnerable to
- 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?
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.