Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

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.

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.

NYTimes Columnist David Leonardt’s Analysis: Big Business is Winning… My Analysis: It WILL Win in the Public Sector if Voters Don’t Stop It

June 21, 2018 Comments off

David Leonardt writes compelling op ed columns on the economy and I tend to agree with almost all of his findings… with one notable exception. Mr. Leonardt is among the many NYTimes editorialists who unwittingly (I hope) buy into the notion that education is not a public good but a commodity. Mr. Leonardt, like many of his colleagues on the Times, is a school choice advocate and, as part of that advocacy, wants schools to compete in a lightly regulated marketplace. What he and his colleagues fail to recognize is that public schools, unlike private corporations, are governed by locally elected officials who will tend to make decisions that favor local needs and concerns over the needs and concerns of shareholders who reside in distant cities and make their decisions based on spreadsheets.

In Mr. Leonardt’s column earlier this week, The Charts Show How Big Business is Winning, Mr. Leonardt offers this overview of how the “big fish” have gobbled up the “small fish” in the national economy:

The changes over the past quarter-century are pretty remarkable.

In the late 1980s, small companies were still a lot bigger, combined, than big companies. In 1989, firms with fewer than 50 workers employed about one-third of American workers — accounting for millions more jobs than companies with at least 10,000 employees.

Since then, though, many small businesses have struggled to keep up with the new corporate giants and with foreign competition. You can probably see a version of the story in your community. The hardware store has given way to The Home Depot. The local hospital and bank are owned by a chain. The supermarket is Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon. The family-owned manufacturer may simply be out of business.

The share of Americans working for small companies fell to 27.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data exists, down from 32.4 in 1989. And big companies have grown by almost an identical amount. Today, companies with at least 10,000 workers employ more people than companies with fewer than 50 workers.

After reading the column, I left the following comment:

For Mr. Leonardt and his colleagues at the NYTimes who believe that the way to improve public education is to commodify it so that it competes in the marketplace, here’s what to expect in the decades ahead: (or Walmart) Public Schools that employ thousands of teachers and answer to shareholders and executives in a faraway city will soon supplant your local public schools that employ 50 or fewer teachers and are beholden lo local voters who elect school boards from citizens in their community. If you don’t see this happening, you aren’t learning from the trends Mr. Leonardt describes in this column.


NYC Tracking System in the Spotlight… and It Is NOT a Pretty Picture

June 18, 2018 Comments off

Over the past several days, numbers articles have appeared in the NY media praising or assailing Mayor Bill De Blasio’s call to expand the number of minority students in NYC’s elite schools by de-emphasizing the SHSAT tests that serve as the de facto sole metric for admission. Today’s NYTimes features an article by Winnie Hu and Elizabeth Harris that brings to light the fact that the kind of screening the exists to gain entry to the elite high schools permeates the entire city school system…. and that screening underpins the re-segregation that is taking place in that city and across the nation. Titled “A Shadow System of Tracking by School Feeds Segregation, Mss. Wu and Harris’ article opens with these startling paragraphs:

No other city in the country screens students for as many schools as New York— a startling fact all but lost in the furor that has erupted over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent proposal to change the admissions process for the city’s handful of elite high schools.

One in five middle and high schools in New York, the nation’s largest school district, now choose all of their students based on factors like grades or state test scores. That intensifies an already raw debate about equity, representation and opportunity that has raged since Mr. de Blasio proposed scrapping the one-day test now required to gain entry into New York’s eight elite high schools. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in many of the most selective screened middle and high schools, just as they are in the specialized high schools.

I’ve witnessed this screening mechanism as a grandparent of a NYC seventh grader. My grandson is one of the 20% of middle schoolers whose parents “chose” a school for him, a process that was arguably more daunting than applying for college since there is no common application form and one of the factors for admission to a de facto selective middle school is a parents willingness and ability to attend evening orientation sessions for each school a child is considering. This phenomenon is described in the article, using one parent’s experience as a proxy for thousands of parents cross the city:

Edwin Franco, a father of two girls who lives in the Bronx, said that too many selective schools cherry pick the best students — and deprive everyone else of opportunities. “They’re almost like a factory,” he said. “They’re churning out high-performing kids who are doing great while the rest of the kids are trying to figure it out on their own because they don’t have the same resources.”

….And now as many coveted middle schools screen, the competition has moved down to that level as well. Mr. Franco attended neighborhood schools in Washington Heights, and he only went through a selection process for high school. Both his daughters have already been through screening for middle schools.

“As a parent, I’m seeing the same level of intensity to get into middle school,” he said. “That’s what baffles me, middle schools are just as competitive as high schools.”

Mss. Wu and Harris provide a “history” of this tend toward screening, attributing its acceleration to the Bloomberg administration when all eighth grade students were compelled to “choose” their high school and the high schools marketed their programs in an effort to entice parents to select them:

Students rank up to 12 choices, and then get matched to one school by a special algorithm. The idea was to allow students to escape failing neighborhood schools and apply anywhere they chose.

…But as students increasingly chose their schools, the system evolved so that many schools became the ones choosing the students.

The number of high schools that admitted students only through academic screening — including the specialized high school exam, other tests and grades, or auditions — has more than tripled to 112 schools in 2017 from 29 schools in 1997, according to an analysis by Sean P. Corcoran, an associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University. Screening requirements vary from school to school, but the most sought-after schools often require at least a 90 average.

“You’ve set up a system of competition among high schools in which the easiest way for a principal to win is to select the students who are best prepared,” Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “Certainly having that market-based ideology — without guidelines for equity — appears to have accelerated the growth of screening.

From my perspective, even if Mayor De Blasio’s effort to limit the use of standardized test scores fails in the NYS legislature as appears to be the case for THIS session, by raising this topic now he could conceivably make the commodification of schools a campaign issue in 2018… and THAT would be a tremendous public service. The more parents understand the inter-relationship between choice and screening and the consequences of screening, the more likely it is that public schools might abandon the practice of sorting and selecting and replace it with funds to improve all public schools.

The Governance of a “System of Schools” is Different from the Governance of a “School System”

June 8, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch featured a lengthy post by parent activist Jane Nylund that brilliantly captured the difference in the governance of a “system of schools” as compared to a “school system”. The post opens with Ms. Ravitch’s description of a “system of schools” and it’s origin:

When Mayor Bloomberg first took control of the New York City public schools and launched his reforms, his Chancellor Joel Klein said that New York needed not “a school system,” but “a system of schools.” Over time, his meaning became clear. He would break up and close scores of existing schools and replace them with brand new schools, including dozens of shiny new charter schools. “A system of schools” is akin to what others call “the portfolio model.” The board chooses winners and losers, like buying and selling stocks for your stock portfolio.

It soon turned out that the “system of schools” was a reformer cliche, like offering choice to “save poor black kids from failing schools.” We now know that most of those poor black kids lost their community school and were sent off to a distant school that was no better than the school that was closed. They were not saved. There seems to be a Reformers’ Hymnal that lists all these cliches (“no child’s future should be determined by his zip code,” etc.). I would love to see that list of favorite phrases to rationalize disruption the public schools and replacing them with privatized charters that come and go like day lilies.

Ms. Ravitch then uses the balance of the post to Ms. Nylund’s analogy comparing the governance of a “system of schools” to the governance of a “system of water” and, in doing so, she illustrates why public education, like public water, must be operated as a so-called government monopoly if it ever hopes to achieve the aspiration of providing quality services for its customers. It is well worth a read!