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Archive for February, 2018

Newsmax Trumpets Terrible Idea Proffered by Blackrock Billionaire… Business Insider Blows Holes in it

February 26, 2018 Comments off

Two outlets reported recently on a speech to a group of public school superintendents given by billionaire Steven Schwarzman. Newsmax, a libertarian-conservative outlet, published an short synopsis of Mr. Schwarzman’s speech titled “Billionaire Warns Public Schools Need Private Financing”. The Newsmax article, which is based on an extended piece from Business Insider, trumpets Schwarzman’s terrible idea, which is that public schools seek private funding from billionaires like him to augment their funding. Why? Because, according to Schwarzman,

“The middle class economically has shrunk,” he told B.I. “The monies aren’t there in the same way. I think we have to recognize that and figure out what to do about it.”

And things will only get worse, according to Schwarzman.

“I think the roadblocks are basically just tradition,” Schwarzman told B.I. “What I’m talking about is just typically not done.

“Sometimes in life you just have to adapt.”

But Business Insider’s article flags the problem with Mr. Schwarzman’s idea, a problem is underplayed in Newsmax:

Regardless of fortitude and determination, some districts will have more potential funds to mine than others. Not every school has an alumnus like Schwarzman, who has deep pockets and an enduring commitment to education — he has donated hundreds of millions to a variety of education causes.

Such a model has the potential to exacerbate school inequality, according to Sean Corcoran, who studies education financing issues as an a ssociate professor of economics and education policy at NYU Steinhardt.

“School districts’ reliance on private funding is slim-to-none,” Corcoran said, “but where it does exist it tends to be in wealthier communities.”

Astonishingly, Mr. Corcoran seems open to the idea of having billionaires make contributions despite the dis-equalizing impact it would have on public schools and despite the fact that the billionaire’s largesse would have the effect of setting spending priorities for publicly governed institutions. And even more astonishingly, the Superintendents in attendance were “ebullient”, giving Mr. Schwarzman a standing ovation. And no mention was made that the Abington PA school district that benefitted from Mr. Schwarzman’s largesse was one of the most affluent in PA: Abington spends more per pupil than 95% of the other districts in the State!

In the end, though, neither Mr. Corcoran nor the Abington Superintendent see the philanthropy of billionaires as a panacea.

But (Mr. Corcoran) doesn’t believe the notion represents a realistic cure for public school funding ills, and he says it would become a problem if people started treating private donations as a substitute for local tax dollars and state aid.

(Abington Superintendent) Sichel, despite her district’s recent good fortune, isn’t convinced private donations are a magic elixir or a replacement for public funding, either. She points out that Schwarzman’s gift is not a substitute for a district operating budget, which in Abington currently stands at $159 million, 28% of which comes from local funds.

“In Abington, this is not replacing an operating budget at all. This is $25 million for a targeted gift for building and renovating a high school. It’s a very targeted gift,” she said.

But, she says, to stay competitive and offer students the best programs and opportunities, public schools have to give it a try.

“This may not be a panacea, but it sure is another avenue to pursue,” she said.

Spoken like a Superintendent in a very affluent district where such an avenue exists… but having worked in both affluent and needy districts I feel it is inherently unfair for billionaires to make gifts to districts that are already well off compared to their neighbors and even “distant relatives”… especially if those gifts are “very targeted”. I am reminded of the response to a question raised at a meeting with the president of a college with a large endowment about “his decision” to spend millions on a golf shooting range in a student athletic facility. He remarked that a large gift for the overall facility was contingent on including this feature. That’s where “very targeted” donations lead.

Kansas Legislature Hires Consultants from Texas to Study Funding Issues… The Name of the Texas A & M Grad School is a Tip Off on How This Will End

February 25, 2018 Comments off

Here’s the key paragraphs from an article by Tim Carpenter published yesterday in CJOnline.com, the Topeka Capitol Journal’s online news outlet:

The Republican-led Kansas Legislature hired advisers from outside the Capitol’s bubble to execute a fresh accounting of the cost for educating the state’s 490,000 students. It follows the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in October that a $300 million increase in state aid approved by the 2017 Legislature fell short of equity and adequacy mandates in the constitution. That increase spread among the state’s 286 districts was financed with a controversial income tax hike.

Lori Taylor, a professor in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, told education committee members why previous comprehensive cost studies were flawed or outdated. The two most influential evaluations applicable to Kansas were published in 2006 and 2011.

“Things have changed enormously in this state since the time frame in which these prior analyses were conducted,” Taylor said. “The expectations are different. The metrics are different. The economic environment, to a certain extent, is different. All of those changes cast doubt on the current applicability of the prior work.”

Taylor and Jason Willis, who works with the nonprofit WestEd consulting firm, said cornerstones of their study would be student needs, the price of labor, economies of scale and operational efficiencies. The data dive will shine light on school-by-school, student-by-student expenditures. The report will incorporate results from English and math test scores from the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.

A Republican led legislature is seeking a non-partisan analysis of their deficient financial plans from a professor in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University? If I am a Democrat in Kansas I would be suspicious of this choice right off the bat… and my suspicions would be particularly aroused when I learned that the report will examining “…economies of scale and operational efficiencies” would be targeting school closures as a means of savings but omitting any analysis of transportation or food services whose funding shortfalls are compelling districts to use local revenue sources. And I’d be VERY concerned to learn that the analysis of “economies of scale and operational efficiencies” WILL include “… bloated reserve accounts maintained by school districts”, a concern of GOP legislators who believe those accounts are being built up by increases in STATE funding.

And if these elements of the study were not sufficient reason for concern, this issue raised by unnamed legislators should be:

During the three-hour meeting, Taylor was dismissive of criticism related to excerpts from Texas court opinions in a 2005 school finance case that indicated her research on behalf of the Texas Legislature was “not credible” and “seriously flawed.”

“I have a deep experience with these policy issues,” said Taylor, a Salina native. “I am a very good choice to be the expert for this project.”
It sounds as if her “deep experience” was a study done 12 years ago, an interesting perspective given her assertion that studies completed within the past 12 years in Kansas were deemed to be “outdated”. The concluding paragraphs indicate where this study is headed:

The report on instructional and administrative costs of operating public schools in Kansas is due March 15. The Supreme Court set an April 30 deadline for the Legislature’s fix for constitutional shortcomings.

Attorneys for the plaintiff school districts in the case said the remedy could require an additional $600 million annually. Prior to resigning, Gov. Sam Brownback recommended the 2018 Legislature adopt a bill phaseing in a $600 million increase over five years.

House and Senate Democrats expressed frustration with the consultants’ presentation and speculated their report would be distorted to support arguments of some GOP legislative leaders that total education spending of $4 billion annually was constitutionally adequate.

“This will be the best study money can buy,” said Senate Minority Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the hearing set the table for the consultants’ low-ball cost recommendation. The conservative GOP leadership will use the report as leverage until centrist Republicans agree to a modest increase in state aid to schools rather than the full amount justified, he said.

“This is the seventh week of the session and we’ve done nothing on school finance,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.

This might be the 7th WEEK of the legislature, but it has been at least the 7th YEAR Kansas public schools have experienced underfunding at the state level and the 7th YEAR children have experienced cutbacks in their programs… except in the most affluent districts in the state where local property taxes can offset the cuts in state aid.

This is a cautionary tale for every state in the union because the “Kansas model” of trickle down economics is being used at the national level and the laws that led to this funding model are taken from the ALEC playbook being used in every state in the union. As a result, we’re NOT getting the best schools money can buy in every district in America… we’re getting them only in themes affluent districts in our nation…

“Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

February 25, 2018 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’“. In the article, Ms. Worthem describes the cottage industry that has sprung up around the demand that colleges prove that students are receiving a good return on investment through the use of standardized assessments that “measure” whether students are mastering skills like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” In her essay, Ms Worthem also notes that this desire to measure “outcomes” is particularly emphasized in second tier colleges, particularly those state and proprietary colleges designed to serve first generation students. At the same time, the “elite” colleges effectively ignore the entire movement, signaling a disdain for any effort to measure what a college education provides for its students. Near the end of her article, Ms. Worthem offers this observation:

“Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.”

In a comment I left at the conclusion of the article, I noted that this drive for efficiency is the fallacy in the entire “reform” movement in public education, which is designed to use standardized tests to identify “best practices” that can be scaled up to help “deficient schools” improve their performance as measured by standardized tests. The “failing” public schools serving those who do poorly on standardized tests, like the “less prestigious colleges”, gear their curriculum to increasing their test scores while the public schools serving affluent and well educated children– who do well on these tests without coaching— offer a wider array of courses and opportunities.

What I didn’t note in the comment was this: the “elite” colleges do not make any effort to strive for affordability any more than “elite” private schools or “elite” public school districts. The parents who spend their own funds to pay tuition for elite private schools or pay a premium on their housing to reside in affluent school districts do not view their spending as “throwing money at a problem”. Rather, they see the premium prices they pay for schooling and housing as an investment. In the meantime, those who resent paying taxes for “other children” see low test scores as evidence that their precious tax dollars are being spent wastefully. The desire for cheap and efficient education only exists when voters are seeking a rationale for lower taxes and when voters see education as an “expense” as opposed to an “investment”.