Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

New Hampshire’s Persistent Underfunding Leads to Perpetual Inequity and Interminable Lawsuit

July 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education blog featured a post yesterday with graphics that underscore how poorly funded New Hampshire public schools are. This is not a new phenomenon, and not a phenomenon that is likely to change until a Governor is elected on a platform that calls for some kind of broad based tax that will help underwrite the schools. Based on what I’ve read of Democratic candidates thus far, it is unlikely that any of them will come forth with a platform calling for a brand based tax. But in a state where the “no broad based tax” pledge is embraced by both parties, it is conceivable that a third party candidate who opposed the pledge and advocated for taxes could win. If a candidate could show voters how such a tax would help relive property tax burdens and increase funding for schools, for example, they might get 40% of the voters to support them. If the other two parties split the remaining votes, the pro-broad based tax individual would win. Whether their victory would enable them to get a tax measure through the legislature is an imponderable… but at least it would break the longstanding deadlock that has led to the inequality among schools in the state.


Can Philadelphia Ever Be Freed from Charter Mania? It Depends on the School Board Developing a Spine

July 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday drawing on a commentary written by Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill, two activists in Philadelphia for In the commentary, Mss. Haver and Grill describe the machinations of the Philadelphia School Board who recently took control of charter schools in the city after politicians determined that School Reform Commission was failing in its mission to improve the schools after 17 years of oversight. I was hopeful that the newly installed School Board would insist that charter schools adhere to the same standards and regulations as public schools. But, alas, it appears that school board members are “negotiating” standards and regulations with charter operators behind closed doors, presumably based on the fact they negotiate with teachers behind closed doors. But negotiating standards and regulations are not the same as negotiating wages and working conditions. Nor are they the same as negotiating contracts with vendors who provide indirect services to schools and students. In short, there is no rationale for negotiating standards behind closed doors or negotiating them at all. If teachers and students in public schools have different standards than students in privately operated charters the playing field is clearly NOT level… and the students who attend schools with the lowest standards will clearly suffer. Here’s hoping the Philadelphia School Board develops a spine.

NC GOP Legislators Drastically Cut Public School Funding. Now They Point to Flight of Students as Proof that Choice is Necessary

July 15, 2018 Leave a comment

The Charlotte News and Observer Editorial Board wrote a scathing editorial this weekend excoriating the action of the NC legislature toward public education. The editorial opens noting that “Advocates of school choice are heartened by new numbers showing that nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina students are opting out of traditional public schools. Many children are instead attending charter schools or private schools or being educated at home.

These “advocates” of choice believe this shift in enrollment patterns is a positive trend because it is evidence that “…parents are gaining educational options for their children and traditional public schools are being sharpened by the competition.” The editorial board, however, sees through this argument:

But the truth is quite different. What’s happening in North Carolina is that a concerted effort by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is starving public schools of resources and encouraging the expansion of educational options that lack standards and oversight.

…There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself.There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself. Parents have chosen to send their children to private schools and religious schools since schools have existed. But it is wrong to encourage the expansion of school choice by making traditional public schools less effective and less attractive.

The latter is what has happened since Republicans took control after gaining majorities in the state House and Senate in 2011. The 100-school cap on charter schools was lifted and the resulting proliferation of charters in some districts is draining funding.

Meanwhile, despite much talk about raising teacher salaries, the legislature has favored tax cuts over investment in public education. Adjusted for inflation, per-pupil funding is less today than it was 10 years ago.But even as funding shrinks, the legislature is mandating smaller class sizes and putting letter grades on public schools. The grades only advertise the obvious: the greater the poverty, the lower the grade.

Educational options are fine, but the foundation of public education also must be protected. Fortunately public school teachers are taking steps to protect that foundation. The group Red4EDNC plans to form a “Teachers Congress” that will press for more school funding and slow the shift of traditional school funding to charter schools and vouchers.

If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.

Given the caveat at the beginning of one of the paragraphs, “…there’s nothing wrong with school choice itself”, it’s possible that the editors at one time offered qualified support for offering options to parents. Indeed, given the disingenuous “civil rights” sales pitch offered by “reformers” it is probable that op ed pieces appeared on the pages of the paper promoting the virtues of “choice” by advocating “competition”.

It is heartening to see the editorial board expressing strident opposition to “choice” and to acknowledge that legislators who advocate choice among schools should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice. I only wish that editors in states who are beginning to redirect public school funds toward charter schools and choice would read this editorial and understand that any effort to expand charters and choice without expanding funding for schools across the board has the effect of diminishing funds for traditional public schools. If the pool of funds for public education does not expand at the same time as choices for public education expand traditional public education will suffer and privatization and profiteering will advance.


In PA, Neither Candidate for Governor is Facing Fiscal Reality… and Neither are Voters

July 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s Google feed featured three articles about a war of words between the two candidates for governor: the GOP’s Scott Wagner and the incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf. According to a US News and World Report article by AP reporter Mark Levy, Mr. Wagner is claiming, with no facts to support his claim, that the incumbent intends to short-change some school districts in the state by redistributing funds from districts with shrinking populations to growing districts who supported the Democratic party. This baseless claim comes from a candidate who decried the hold harmless provisions Mr. Wolf supported in order to increase funding for public education in the state. But Mr. Wolf cannot get off from a funding reality: the public schools in his state remain underfunded, the legislature seems unwilling to provide the tax increases needed to close the gap, and he has not indicated how he will close the gap.

What is happening in PA mirrors and illustrates the daunting challenges politicians face if they hope to keep promises. No one wants to see their taxes raised, no one wants to see their services cut, and no politician seems willing to point out this obvious: these two outcomes cannot be achieved without some kind of compromise. At this juncture, it seems that children are the ones who ultimately suffer the consequences.

Where You Are Born Determines Your Future… But Fixing That Reality is Vexing

July 12, 2018 Leave a comment

A the title of a recent NYTimes Upshot article by Neil Irwin describes a reality that vexes both economists and policy makers: “One County Thrives. The Next One Over Struggles. Economists Take Note.” The article uses Loudon County VA and Jefferson County WV as exemplars of this phenomenon, but there are several other paired counties across the nation that have the same issues. Here’s Mr. Irwin’s description of the divide:

Economically, Loudoun County is humming from the technology boom in Washington’s suburbs, with the number of businesses rising 49 percent from 2005 to 2015. But on the other side of that border, Jefferson County doesn’t have the same economic dynamism: The number of businesses in the county fell 11 percent in the same period, according to census data.

Mr. Irwin uses this as a springboard for political analyses, noting that the poorer counties supported Donald Trump in 2016 while the more affluent counties trended toward Hillary Clinton. He also notes that average increases, which drive macro-economic thinking, often mask marked differences in well-being, differences that can put regions into a death spiral due to “path dependence”:

But averages can mask a lot of discontent. If growth in jobs, incomes and output is concentrated in a few areas, the overall national numbers might look perfectly fine even as people in huge areas of the country feel despair and a lack of opportunity.

Path dependence may be one cause of recent trends. In a place with a depressed economy, for example, the most ambitious people move to places with more opportunity, leaving an even bleaker situation behind.

Having consulted in school districts in poor counties in New England and worked in a relatively poor county in Maryland, I repeatedly heard the lament about the outmigration of the “best and brightest”. Even New Hampshire, which has a relatively strong economy, is trying to hold onto those “ambitious people” who work as entrepreneurs and provide forward thinking local leadership.

Mr. Irwin doesn’t offer any clear answers to the steps counties or policy makers can take to address this divide. He describes an idea advanced by the Third Way think tank that suggested two bad ideas bookending a relatively good one: “...a public fund to support small-business loans in the struggling regions, nationwide broadband internet and vouchers to help the unemployed move to places where there are more jobs.” Increased broadband would clearly help counties attract new technology related or impacted businesses and hold onto those who favor their hometowns over other areas where technology is more readily accessible. Small business loans might make a difference, but only if the loans are available to existing businesses as well as new ones, who often get benefits that create resentment among existing ones. The notion of offering vouchers to help the unemployed move would only exacerbate the negative economic cycle sine those left behind would tend to be the elderly or those who have extended families in the area. Irwin concludes with this:

Individual proposals aside, experts haven’t formed a consensus on how to make economically moribund places feel more like economically dynamic ones. But it is clearer than ever that this divergence explains much of what ails the United States’ economy, and just maybe its politics, too.

Here’s an idea for Mr. Irwin and the “experts”: invest in local government agencies— including public education— instead of businesses. Local government agencies employ highly educated individuals whose salaries will fuel the local economy and whose commitment to developing community will attract other businesses to move into the town. If you want to make a community more vibrant and more attractive to new business ventures and the in-migrants who would follow, you need to invest in local government as well as business.

NPE Offers a Grading System for the States that Makes Sense

July 9, 2018 Leave a comment

The Network for Public Education (NPE), the public education advocacy group founded by Diane Ravitch, has used the letter grading system beloved of “reformers” to illustrate how states are performing in their efforts to resist two changes “reformers” are seeking: the expansion of deregulated charter schools and vouchers. In a brief overview of their work, the authors provide several paragraphs underscoring the overarching purpose of public education and offer this paragraph describing the effects of “reform” advocates who want to privatize the existing system of education and thereby undercut democratic local governance:

The attack on public education is also an attack on equal opportunity and civil rights. Although privatization advocates claim that private schools advance the quality of education, this is a tenuous argument to make in the face of the reality that too often there is little to no public accountability, fiscal transparency or maintenance of civil rights protections for students in privatized programs. History is replete with battles fought and sacrifices made to protect the civil rights and ensure the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or other immutable characteristics. The proliferation of privatization programs in the states and the redirecting of public resources for the benefit of a small percentage of the student population belies this principle of equality of opportunity for all students. Privatization in public schools weakens our democracy and often sacrifices the rights and opportunities of the majority for the presumed advantage of a small percentage of students.

They conclude with an overview of the purpose of their report card:

This report card… provides a vital accounting of each state’s democratic commitment to their public school students and their public schools, by holding it accountable for abandoning civil rights protections, transparency, accountability and adequate funding in a quest for “private” alternatives. It is designed to give citizens insight into the extent of privatization and its intended and unintended consequences for our students and our nation.

If critics of NPE’s findings— likely to be Red State legislators and Governors— argue that their grading system is too simplistic, they might want to look at the grading “systems” they use to conclude that public education is failing and their belief that “running schools like a business” is the solution.

DC Miracle Story Evidence of Traction of “Fake News”

June 30, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago AP writer Ashram Kahlil wrote an article titled “DC’S Public Schools Go from Success Story to Cautionary Tale“, a story that was picked up by NPR and some other mainstream news outlets. But alas, Time magazine is unlikely to run a cover story with Michelle Rhee sitting on a dunce stool or holding a broken broom.

In 2008, both Time and Newsweek offered overs depicting then rising star Michelle Rhee, the no-nonsense DC Superintendent who pledged to clean up the public schools in that city by implemented a test-and-punish policy that garnered support among those who thought schools needed to be operated using a no nonsense “business” approach and negative attention from anyone who actually worked in schools and realized that instead of a clean sweep their schools needed new floors, new lighting, and more money.

Since 2008, funding for schools has diminished, in some cases in real dollars and in all cases in terms of actual funding… and the consequences of test-and-punish has not been the improvement of test scores but rather the expansion of corruption in the administration of those high stakes tests. And DC has had its eyes blackened badly. As Mr. Kahlil reports:

As recently as a year ago, the public school system in the nation’s capital was being hailed as a shining example of successful urban education reform and a template for districts across the country.

Now the situation in the District of Columbia could not be more different. After a series of rapid-fire scandals, including one about rigged graduation rates, Washington’s school system has gone from a point of pride to perhaps the largest public embarrassment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure.

This stunning reversal has left school administrators and city officials scrambling for answers and pledging to regain the public’s trust.

A decade after a restructuring that stripped the decision-making powers of the board of education and placed the system under mayoral control, city schools in 2017 were boasting rising test scores and a record graduation rate for high schools of 73 percent, compared with 53 percent in 2011. Glowing news articles cited examples such as Ballou High School, a campus in a low-income neighborhood where the entire 2017 graduating class applied for college.

Then everything unraveled.

An investigation by WAMU, the local NPR station, revealed that about half of those Ballou graduates had missed more than three months of school and should not have graduated due to chronic truancy. A subsequent inquiry revealed a systemwide culture that pressured teachers to favor graduation rates over all else — with salaries and job security tied to specific metrics.

The internal investigation concluded that more than one-third of the 2017 graduating class should not have received diplomas due to truancy or improper steps taken by teachers or administrators to cover the absences. In one egregious example, investigators found that attendance records at Dunbar High School had been altered 4,000 times to mark absent students as present. The school system is now being investigated by both the FBI and the U.S. Education Department, while the D.C. Council has repeatedly called for answers and accountability.

It takes a long time to inculcate a culture of support, but a culture of fear can be implemented rapidly… and once that culture is in place it is hard to change. And that culture is especially hard to change when “salaries and job security tied to specific metrics” and those metrics can be manipulated by those who will be damaged the most: the administrators and politicians who based their careers and campaigns on their ability “…to improve public education.”

And who implemented this culture that resulted from salaries and job security tied to specific metrics?

As Mr. Kahlil reports in his closing paragraphs… it was none other than Michelle Rhee:

Critics view the problems, particularly the attendance issue, as an indictment of the entire data-driven evaluation system instituted a more than a decade ago when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the school system and appointed Michelle Rhee as the first chancellor. Rhee’s ambitious plan to clear out dead wood and focus on accountability for teachers and administrators landed her on the cover of Time magazine holding a broom. But now analysts question whether Rhee’s emphasis on performance metrics has created a monster.  

Readers of this blog know the answer to that question: there is no doubt that the test-and-punish methods supported by Ms. Rhee and her follow reformers created a monster… but it’s serving their purposes: it is creating the impression that public schools are not only “failing” based on those test scores, but they are now “corrupt” because of the actions of a handful of administrators whose continued employment required them to boost them.

And here’s one fact that remains the same today as it was in 2008: the teachers who work in poverty stricken urban and rural districts like DC are giving their hearts and should to the jobs and the administrators in those same schools are being over backwards to support them. But a cover article lionizing public school teachers and principals is not nearly as compelling as one showing that an inexpensive one-size-fits-all solution is the best way to fix schools.