Category Archives: Elections

Walton Family Foundation stepping back from Milwaukee education scene

Alan Borsuk:

But it is also important in a broader context. Walton is joining a significant list of national players who in one way or another have entered the Milwaukee scene and then departed or reduced their interest.

I came, I got involved, I got frustrated, I didn’t see much change, I moved on. That has been the summary of a parade of those who have found Milwaukee a difficult environment for change.

And there are others (the large and impressive KIPP network of charter schools comes to my mind first) that have declined even to try Milwaukee for similar reasons.

Fifteen years ago, Milwaukee was called by some “ground zero” for school reform. Now, you rarely see national attention to Milwaukee education, at least not for positive reasons. The Walton decision underscores that.

It’s a curious thing, since you would think the current political dynamics in state government would make this a time for enthusiasm among private school choice, charter schools and innovations in the structure of urban education. In some ways that’s true, but in surprising ways, it is not.

In short, I’d attribute this to the entrenched nature of the way we do things, the continuing strength of those opposed to the things Walton favors and missteps by those who favor what Walton favors.

Milwaukee was among a handful of cities targeted in recent years by Walton. Walton had a fairly short list of Milwaukee grants, but they were generally large — frequently in the mid six figures.

Indiana School Choice Report

Indiana Department of Education (PDF):

This is the 2015 update to the Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report originally released on January 27, 2014. This version of the report includes updates for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.
The report provides an overview of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, which was passed as part of House Enrolled Act 1003-2011(Public Law 92-2011) and provides Choice Scholarships to students in households that meet income and eligibility requirements. The program provides funds to assist with the payment of tuition and fees at a participating Choice School.

For the 2011-2012 school year, Choice Scholarships were limited to 7,500 students. For the 2012-2013 school year, Choice Scholarships were limited to 15,000 students. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the student cap was removed and Choice Scholarships were available to any student that met eligibility and income requirements. During the 2013 Session of the Indiana General Assembly, the program was further expanded to include eligibility components related to special education, siblings, and failing schools.

Information on the School Choice Program may be found in I.C. 20-51, 512 IAC 3, and 512 IAC 4 or by accessing information on the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) website at the following link

To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

Alan Borsuk:

Not long ago, some people on the left and some on the right hated tests, but they weren’t much of a force. Now, everyone hates tests — there are too many, they waste time, they don’t prove anything, they stress everyone out, they’re of low quality, they distort education, they’re being used for the wrong purposes and so on.

Which brings us to the present. Let us touch on two scenes.

One is in Wisconsin, where a new test for grade school kids, the product of one of the two consortia, will launch in March. The test has problems, by far the biggest being that Gov. Scott Walker wants to kibosh it after this year. Many school people have gone to great lengths to prepare for this test and are wondering why bother to give it if it’s going to be killed. (Good question, I must say.)

The other and actually more important scene is in Washington, where there is new interest in revamping No Child Left Behind. There are a lot of obstacles, the largest of which is intense differences over testing. How much testing, if any, should be federally required? What kinds of tests and what should be done with the results? How do you hold states accountable without (or even with) test results?

The atmosphere is filled with anger and frustration as the mountain grows of test scores that have little prospect of yielding constructive impact.

However and unfortunately, Wisconsin’s DPI has spent many, many millions on the useless WKCE.

Teacher Union Lobbying: “We’re saying, ‘OK. We used to have sway top down and the only way we get back there again is to educate people at the local level.’”

Molly Beck:

Either way, membership is down more than 50 percent from the union’s 98,000-member levels before Gov. Scott Walker signed his signature legislation in 2011 that significantly diminished collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

WEAC’s lobbying dollars have dropped dramatically, too.

A decade ago, WEAC spent $1.5 million on lobbying during the 2005-2006 legislative session, state records show. The next session: $1.1 million. During the two sessions leading up to the passage of Act 10, WEAC spent $2.5 million and $2.3 million, respectively.

But during the 2013-14 session, after Walker signed the bill into law, the union spent just $175,540. It was the first time in at least 10 years that the union was not among the state’s top 12 lobbying spenders, according to the Government Accountability Board.

“That has a big effect on the political landscape,” said Mike McCabe, former executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political spending. “They often were the No. 1 lobbying spender among interest groups and they obviously don’t have the capacity to do that anymore.”

But Brey said it’s part of a strategy that WEAC was working on before Act 10. She said instead of relying on a lobbyist, the local focus is more effective because legislators have to explain their votes in their communities.
“At some point you have to look someone in the eye and explain just what you’re doing to their neighborhood public school and why,” she said.

Related: $1,570,000 for four Wisconsin Senators.

I’m glad that Ms. Beck included spending data.

A quick look at Dane County, WI K-12 Budgets and Redistributed State Tax Dollars


Mahoney, director of business and technology services at the McFarland School District, said in an email to district staff that a budget deficit of between $500,000 and $1 million is likely for the next school year, which includes keeping a 3 percent wage increase and expecting a 7 percent health insurance cost increase.

I appreciate the “total spending” data included with the article, along with McFarland’s healthcare spending increase. Changes over time would be quite useful as well.

Pro Choice: Vouchers, per student spending and achievement

The Economist:

This is not the end of the story for vouchers, however. In both Milwaukee and Washington, voucher schemes get similar results to the public schools but with much less money. Under the DC scheme, each voucher is worth $8,500 a year, compared with $17,500 to educate a child in the public school system. In Milwaukee the difference is smaller but still amounts to several thousand dollars. Another consistent finding from voucher schemes is that parents like being given a choice, which explains why vouchers, once granted, are hard to take away.

Though Milwaukee’s experience overall has been mixed it still has lessons for elsewhere. If one includes private schools, charter schools and open enrolment at public schools (which means parents may enroll their children in a school that is not in the neighbourhood where they live), around 40% of parents in Milwaukee exercise some kind of choice over their children’s education, an unusually high share. With so much competition, it is hard for any school to grow complacent. There are good public, private and charter schools and bad ones, too. Some private schools do very well with poor black and Hispanic children, others fail them and yet manage to stay in business, which suggests that even with lots of parents choosing there is a need for an authority than can close the bad schools down.

The proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, rejected by a majority of the Madison School Board.

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

An interview with Henry Tyson.

A focus on adult employment.

Already a friend to charter schools, Wisconsin could see more growth under budget proposal; one size fits all continues in Madison

Molly Beck:

“That charter authorizer is without accountability, if you will, to the voter in any way,” she said. “And so why would we want to do that? That’s what I would like explained to me. Why would that be a good thing for the state of Wisconsin? Honestly, I can’t fathom what the justification would be other than if I’m one of the big chains (of charter schools) that wants leverage into Wisconsin.”

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes wrote against the proposal on his education blog last week, saying the proposal allows new authorizers to “operate with a free hand in the state’s largest urban areas.”

Walker included a similar proposal in his 2013-15 budget but it was pulled out. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also has proposed similar legislation in the past. She said in an interview Tuesday that more communities than Milwaukee and Racine should have the option of an independent charter school.

She pointed to Madison Preparatory Academy, an independent charter school proposed by the Urban League of Greater Madison geared toward low-income, minority students that was voted down by the School Board in 2011.

“In some cases there will be opportunities where school boards say, ‘No, we don’t want that,’ as Madison did, and it seems there should be another option for those families,” she said.


The proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, rejected by a majority of the Madison School Board.

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

An interview with Henry Tyson.

A focus on adult employment.

Education at heart of Chicago mayor’s race

Stephanie Simon:

Democratic mayors and governors across the nation are increasingly standing up to their traditional allies in the teachers unions to demand huge changes in urban school districts — and labor is frantically, furiously fighting back. Local and national unions have made Emanuel a top target, pouring resources into the effort to oust him. If they succeed, they’ll gain momentum, not to mention a huge PR victory.

But if Emanuel wins despite the unions’ best efforts, analysts say it would embolden other Democratic reformers to forge ahead with a controversial agenda that includes closing struggling neighborhood schools, expanding privately run charter schools and overhauling the teaching profession by repealing tenure, trimming benefits and paying teachers in part based on how well their students score on standardized tests.

Research results from Madison schools suggest compassion, kindness can be taught

Doug Erickson:

To do the study, the researchers secured permission from the parents of 68 Madison students during the 2012-13 school year. All were in the district’s 4K program.

Thirty children were randomly assigned to classrooms where they received twice-weekly kindness lessons for three months. Children in the control group did not receive the lessons.

The curriculum is rooted in adult mindfulness-based practices adapted to a child’s developmental ability, said Laura Pinger, the curriculum’s lead designer.

She and the other researchers are affiliated with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, the UW-Madison effort founded by Richard Davidson, an international leader in mindfulness training.

The social network for people who want to upload their DNA to the Internet

Daniela Hernandez:

More than three years after Clark first put her genes up on the web for all to see, roughly 1,500 others have joined her on openSNP. It isn’t the only social network out there for genetic exhibitionists. Just like someone might have profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, people are starting to upload their genetic information to multiple sites. Clark is active on Genomera, Snpedia, and Promethease — all grass-roots open-source platforms for genetic information and research. People have even uploaded their genes to the collaboration tool Github.

This all adds up to a citizen-genetics movement that is just getting started. People like Sharon Terry, an advocate for public participation in genetics research, and Melanie Swan — a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded DIYGenomics, an organization that organizes crowdsourced genetics research — are spurring this revolution.

“What we’re trying to do is imagine a system where the patient says, ‘I want my data. I want it open. I want researchers to work on it. I want them to share it.’ We’re trying to build this alternate universe,” said Stephen Friend, the director of Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit that champions open science.

Governance Diversity: Measure would allow tech colleges to run charter high schools

Erin Richards:

Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges could establish independent charter high schools staffed by college instructors, under a proposal being circulated by two Republican lawmakers that aims to better prepare students for the workforce.

Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Racine) says charter high schools focused on occupational education or technology could attract students who would not otherwise be college-bound and help them attain the skills Wisconsin employers need.

His vision, outlined in a draft bill he and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) are circulating for cosponsorship, is to allow students to attend a charter high school run by the tech college for four years, then continue in the college to earn an associate degree after just one more year.

“There are a lot of young people in my district lacking the knowledge that technical education is out there,” Weatherston said. “Especially with the current systems, they’re required to graduate high school before they can get into technical programs.”

Options already exist for Wisconsin high school students to take classes at technical colleges, though Weatherston counters that some districts don’t let students participate in them.

More broadly, the potential bill would be the latest proposal aimed at expanding public charter schools in Wisconsin that operate independently of traditional school districts — something public-school supporters have opposed.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-’17 budget proposal calls for creating a different avenue to spawn more independent charter schools: a new state board that would authorize nonprofit entities to oversee such schools around the state.

He made the same proposal in his previous biennial budget.

A failed Republican-backed bill last session would have allowed all the University of Wisconsin System campuses, plus technical colleges and regional state education agencies to approve operators to open charter schools.

Generally, teachers unions and many district administrators are not on board with these ideas. That’s because independent charter schools are public schools run like small businesses, with nonunion employees that don’t answer to local school boards.

Critics say that the schools divert students, and by extension, state revenue, away from traditional public schools they would have otherwise attended.

Advocates say without so much government bureaucracy, independent charters can be more innovative than a typical public school.

While lots of districts operate their own charter schools staffed by district employees, independent charters exist only around the Milwaukee area currently.

Most answer to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or the City of Milwaukee. State law also allows UW-Parkside to authorize charter schools.

One technical college, Milwaukee Area Technical College, can as well, but MATC has never exercised that authority.

One unusual aspect of the Weatherston-Wanggaard idea is that it would have the tech colleges run the charter high schools themselves, rather than overseeing a charter-school management company to run the potential high school.

The bill would allow instructors at the college to teach at the high school, ostensibly without a state teaching license typically required of K-12 educators.

Weatherston said tech-based charter high schools could offer programming relevant to careers such as dental hygienist or HVAC technician.

He said general education classes could have a technical career focus, such as math for bookkeeping.

“I think we should keep it broad-based and allow the market to drive what kind of curriculum they offer,” he said.

But some educators worry about autonomy.

“Communities deserve to have local control over their schools, and this proposal appears to allow high schools to be dropped into their towns without input,” Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said in a statement Tuesday.

Options already exist for high school students to take occupational or technical education classes at local colleges.

The Legislature last session also approved a new program called Course Options that lets students at all grade levels take up to two classes at a time from approved educational institutions outside their home school, at no cost.

Approved institutions include the University of Wisconsin System institutions and state technical colleges.

Waukesha County Technical College started a special program two years ago that allows local high school seniors to apply to spend a portion of their day taking credit-bearing classes in areas such as welding, metal fabrication, and printing and publishing. Students admitted to the program don’t have to pay for the college classes. State Superintendent Tony Evers is scheduled to visit that program at WCTC Dual Enrollment Academy on Wednesday.

Some districts have even started their own specialty schools to meet that niche. LakeView Technology Academy is a specialty high school in the Kenosha Unified School District that allows students to earn up to the equivalent of one year of tech college credits and one semester of engineering credits upon graduation.

About Erin Richards
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Erin Richards covers K-12 education in urban and suburban Milwaukee, as well as state politics related to education issues.

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6:00 a.m. – New today from PolitiFact Wisconsin:
High school under fire for assignment on political ideology
Feb. 10, 2015 – A parent at Nathan Hale High says a teacher marked “conservative/Republican” the correct answer for the statement: “We should not help the poor, it’s a waste of money.”
Problems swirl around new state test tied to Common Core
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Rural schools get mixed bag of benefits in Walker’s budget
Feb. 8, 2015 – Leaders of financially struggling rural school districts say the governor’s proposed budget both gives relief and takes it away.

Preparing Effective Teachers

Nicole Thorpe:

Like so many teachers, when I first entered the classroom, I believed that I would be effective. Then I met Mohammed, and Jose, and Efrain. Mohammed was defiant. He refused to do work, disrupting the learning of my other students. Most days, Jose hid under his desk. Efrain turned eleven in 4th grade because he was retained in El Salvador before coming to the U.S. and couldn’t read a word in English or Spanish. I wanted more than anything to help these students. In fact, I wasn’t helping them. I was like most first year teachers. I needed more training. I needed coaching. I needed a veteran teacher who could guide my practice.

What I felt most acutely in those first few months of teaching was that all of the students in my class would be better off it they were across the hall in Mrs. Lewis’ class. Debbie Lewis was a skilled veteran teacher. She was the kind of teacher my kids deserved.

In the beginning, I despaired of ever becoming that teacher. But slowly that year, my teaching got better. That year, Debbie talked me through every challenge I experienced in my classroom, from instructional failures to behavior issues, and helped me problem-solve so that I did better the next day. She worked with me to create a class-wide behavior system that even Mohammed wanted to follow. Together, we differentiated my lesson plans so Jose and Efrain would make progress. Debbie wasn’t the only one. Other coaches came into my classroom to equip me with skills to become more effective.

Why Scott Walker’s allegedly mistaken attempt to change the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement is an omen for big changes to higher education in America

Alia Wong:

Last Wednesday, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker released a biennium budget plan that had a strange twist nestled inside. This line item didn’t have much, if anything, to do with how he intended to spend the state’s money; it had no numbers, dollar signs, nor provisos. It did, however, deal ever-so-vaguely with Wisconsin’s economy—at least, what Walker envisioned it would look like down the line and how higher education would make that happen.

Walker proposed to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. He apparently wanted to strip out its frills (stuff like “extended training,” “public service,” improving “the human condition,” and “the search for truth”) and inject it with a more practical goal: meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”

Change is inevitable.

The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking’

Eva Moskovitz:

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results. Well, a recent report from New York City’s Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false. Unfortunately, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is among those city officials who believe the big lie.

K-12 Tax, Spending & Referendum Climate: The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending

Josh Zumbrun:

The U.S. has come a long way since the days of trillion-dollar deficits, just a few years ago. The White House projects 2016 will have the smallest budget deficit in eight years. Yet the budgetary impact of the debt that’s been accumulated–$18 trillion in total, $13 trillion of that owed to the public–will reassert itself.

Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates.

Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.

No profit left behind

Stephanie Simon:

A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards. And in the higher ed realm, the contracts give Pearson extensive access to personal student data, with few constraints on how it is used.

POLITICO examined hundreds of pages of contracts, business plans and email exchanges, as well as tax filings, lobbying reports and marketing materials, in the first comprehensive look at Pearson’s business practices in the United States.

The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, for instance, declined to seek competitive bids for a new student data system on the grounds that it would be “in the best interest of the public” to simply hire Pearson, which had done similar work for the state in the past. The data system was such a disaster, the department had to pay Pearson millions extra to fix it.

The issues are not only on the supply side. Wisconsin’s decade plus use of the weak and largely useless WKCE is worth a deeper dive.

Buy side issues merit equal attention.

Ms. Simon deserves applause for digging deep. It is so rare in our ever more expensive K-12 world.

Addressing the dismal state of civics education: Require citizenship test in schools

USA Today:

Jay Leno’s old Tonight Show man-on-the-street quizzes were particularly hilarious — and depressing — when he tested Americans’ knowledge of their own government.

One woman thought the colonies won their independence from Greece; a college instructor guessed that U.S. independence was won in 1922; and a man said the general who led our troops in the Revolutionary War was Winston Churchill.

Funny stuff, until you remember that these are the same citizens who elect the leaders who shape the nation’s future, if they bother to vote at all. Nor are these know-nothings outliers.

Surveys and tests repeatedly show that Americans’ knowledge of civics is pathetic. In 2010, just one in five eighth-graders tested proficient in civics on a national performance assessment — worse even than their dismal performance in reading and math.

A poll of Millennials, out last week, found that 77% of these 18- to 34-year-olds could not name even one of their home state’s U.S. senators.

A 2012 survey of adults by Xavier University found that one in three native-born citizens failed the civics portion of a test given to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. The pass rate for immigrants: 97.5%.

Problem’s Swirl Around Wisconsin’s next student test….

Erin Richards:

Costs to administer the new test have gone millions of dollars over budget. And administrators learned last week that a key technological feature of the new test — its ability to adapt to students’ individual ability levels by offering harder or easier questions as they take the exam — won’t be ready this spring.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction officials are downplaying the concerns.

“(It’s) a good test. It’s reliable,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers, while acknowledging the exam has turned out to be pricier than anticipated.

District superintendents are more critical. The timeline the Legislature approved for switching to a new exam tied to the Common Core standards this academic year has districts bearing the brunt of political and technological hangups with the test.

“If we administer this for one year only, which is likely, why are we shifting?” said Patricia Greco, superintendent of the Menomonee Falls School District. “We’re putting staff and students through a lot of change for a shift to a test that probably won’t produce the results we expected.”

The chinks in the armor of the new exam are coming to light at the same time that Walker has shifted his position on Common Core — again. Walker has had a complicated relationship with the standards, ranging from tacit early approval to an explicit call for their repeal last summer.

Now he’s eased away from throwing out the standards to booting the examination tied to them.

Wisconsin’s WKCE has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Yet, we continue.

School Vouchers have new champions on the Hill

Maggie Severns:

At Republicans’ recent retreat, Messer listened to GOP strategist Alex Castellanos promote school choice as one of a handful of issues that should make up a new agenda for the party.

“I thought, oh gosh — maybe I’m onto something here,” Messer said.

School choice has always been a hard sell in Washington: GOP lawmakers from rural states and those with powerful unions don’t stand to gain much from pushing the issue. In wealthier districts, too, parents may not feel they have much to gain if they are satisfied with their well-funded public schools. Other members of Congress don’t see why it’s worth the time.

“It’s an interesting challenge: Republicans believe this will be good for vulnerable kids and kids that need help,” said Frederick Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute. “But it’s also a fact that their local superintendents, and school boards, and kids, and parents are saying, ‘We don’t think this is a good idea’ in many cases.”

Politics and Academics in China

Bill Bishop:

Tackling the academy was thus the next logical step. According to the January Central Committee Document, universities are to put a higher priority on teaching (research is only mentioned insofar it concerns Marxist and Socialist theory), strengthen a common ideological basis and enhance Party leadership in higher education. Political theory courses and textbooks are to be centralized, and new evaluation and performance management systems introduced, in order to standardize the curriculum. Teaching staff will be required to participate in regular ideology training and study sessions, and to spend time engaging in “social practice” outside campuses. In the weeks since this document was published, the heads of all elite education institutions have published pledges of allegiance in various Party media.

There are quite a few reasons why the academy is targeted. First, it has internationalized more than any other professional group in China. Many well-regarded Chinese professors have either been educated abroad, or have spent considerable time outside China as visiting researchers. This considerable time spent living in a different political environment has provided them with a more nuanced understanding of social and political organization in other countries than can be gained in short trips. Second, they have considerable input into policymaking processes. China’s technocratic governance mode has often valued expert input more than public participation. This, therefore, provides academics with avenues to transform imported ideas into reality. Third, “patriotic worrying” is a part of Chinese intellectual tradition, which compels academics to relentlessly search out flaws in the China of the present in order to perfect the China of the future. Fourth, as educators, they are crucial in shaping the worldview of a new generation. However, the current generation of millennials (balinghou and jiulinghou) is already seen as rebellious and hedonistic, and it seems the leadership has decided that they’d better not be further confused. Remember: political protests in China over the last century, from May Fourth to Tiananmen, have tended to originate from universities. [Editors note: Pang Xianzhi, the former Director of the CPC Central Committee Party Literature Research Center, recently said this explicitly in 关于意识形态问题的一些看法, an essay that was republished on People’s Daily Online. Pang wrote “历史经验证明,出事往往从高校而起.” ]

It’s Etch A Sketch time in Wisconsin for education policy

Alan Borsuk:

Every two years for the last couple decades or so, the governor and Legislature pick up the state education policy Etch A Sketch, turn it over, shake it and draw a new picture. The game also goes by the name of the biennial budget process.

In days gone by, the new picture often wasn’t all that different from the old one. Some new money here, some new rules on how to spend it, some new patterns for what was expected from kids. There were sometimes bigger deals, like in the mid-90s when it was decided to hold down how much school districts could spend and how much teacher compensation could go up in exchange for the state paying more of the total bill.

With the rise of private school vouchers starting in Milwaukee, state budget season became prime time for controversy over changing the rules on money, accountability and who could participate.

Then came 2011. Whoa, what an Etch A Sketch event that was. Take the whole system of teacher unions and contracts, turn it over, shake — presto, the screen was blank. Amazing. In the new etching, school spending was cut and teachers bore the brunt by paying more for health and retirement benefits.

Chicago’s schools Hard work rewarded Rahm Emanuel’s school reforms are working

The Economist:

Some of the toughest decisions Mr Emanuel had to make in his first term concerned schools. He demanded merit pay for teachers and a longer school day (Chicago’s was only 5 hours 45 minutes) and earmarked for closure 50 half-empty schools in poor districts. Teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years, but Mr Emanuel got the longer day and the closures went ahead in 2013. The teachers kept their seniority-based pay system.

Mr Emanuel ploughed some of the money saved by closures into charter schools, which made him even more unpopular with the teachers’ unions. But charter schools have worked well in Chicago. The Noble Network, which already runs 16 charter high schools with 10,000 pupils and plans to have 20,000 by 2020, has an attendance rate of 94% (compared with 73% for Chicago public schools) and a drop-out rate of only 0.4% (compared with 4.7%). It also gets better results on the ACT, a college-readiness test. It has an even higher percentage of minority students (98% compared with 92% at Chicago public schools), and slightly less public funding.

States weigh turning education funds over to parents

Stephanie Simon:

A radical new concept in school choice will come up for vote in at least a half-dozen states from Virginia to Oklahoma in the coming months, as lawmakers consider giving hundreds of thousands of parents the freedom to design a custom education for their children — at taxpayer expense.

Twenty-one states already subsidize tuition at private schools through vouchers or tax credits. The new programs promise far more flexibility, but critics fear they could also lead to waste or abuse as taxpayers underwrite do-it-yourself educations with few quality controls.

Called Education Savings Accounts, the programs work like this: The state deposits the funds it would have spent educating a given child in public schools into a bank account controlled by his parents. The parents can use those funds — the amount ranges from $5,000 to more than $30,000 a year — to pay for personal tutors, homeschooling workbooks, online classes, sports team fees and many types of therapy, including horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. They can also spend the money on private school tuition or save some of it for college.

K-12 Governance Stasis

Peter Thiel:

Why has this happened? Let me give both a libertarian and a conservative answer. The libertarian answer is that we have basically outlawed everything in the world of atoms but have left the world of bits mostly unregulated. It costs $100,000 to start a computer software company; it costs $1 billion to get a new drug approved through the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore it’s not surprising that we live in a world where people start video game companies rather than work on drugs that would save people’s lives. There is an extraordinary regulatory double standard.

From a more conservative perspective, there is the sense that we have become a more risk-averse society. We have lost hope for the future. I think this has seeped in in many subtle ways.

Among both libertarians and conservatives there exists a bias that the government can’t do things. But this isn’t absolutely true. The government succeeded with the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. It succeeded with the Apollo program, putting man on the moon.

Now we’re at a point where we can’t even get a website for Obamacare.

Whatever you think of the morality of nuclear weapons, building an atomic bomb is a far harder undertaking than building a website. We should not let our ideological biases obscure the objective decline that has happened.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The College Loan Bombshell Hidden in the Budget Obama’s new repayment program comes with a record $22 billion shortfall.

Michael Grunwald:

In obscure data tables buried deep in its 2016 budget proposal, the Obama administration revealed this week that its student loan program had a $21.8 billion shortfall last year, apparently the largest ever recorded for any government credit program.

The main cause of the shortfall was President Barack Obama’s recent efforts to provide relief for borrowers drowning in student debt, reforms that have already begun to reduce loan payments to the government. For more than two decades, budget analysts have recalculated the projected costs of about 120 credit programs every year, but they have never lowered their expectations of repayments this dramatically. The $21.8 billion revision—larger than the annual budget for NASA, or the Interior Department and EPA combined—will be tacked onto the federal deficit.

“Wow,” marveled Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Whether or not it’s good policy to help borrowers with their payments, it’s obviously costly for taxpayers.”

The 40 million Americans with student loans are now saddled with more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding debt. And with higher education costs rising much faster than inflation, the already massive program has been growing at a spectacular clip; direct government loans alone increased 44 percent over the last two years despite an aura of austerity in Washington. The Obama administration has tried to ease the burden for some borrowers by reducing their payments to 10 percent of their income and forgiving their loans after 20 years; this year, the Education Department plans to make all borrowers eligible for that “pay-as-you-earn” relief.

K-12 Tax, Spending & Referendum Climate: Global Debt has risen by $57 Trillion Since the Financial Crisis

Neil Irwin:

Here are two things we know about how debt affects the economy.

First, in the abstract it doesn’t matter. For every debtor there is a creditor, and in theory an economy should be able to hum along just fine whether a country’s citizens have a great deal of debt or none. A company’s ability to produce things depends on the workers and machines it employs, not the composition of its balance sheet, and the same can be said of nations.

Second, in practice this is completely wrong, and debt plays an outsize role in creating boom-bust cycles across the world and through history. High debt increases the amplitude of economic swings. To think of it in terms of the corporate metaphor, high reliance on borrowed money may not affect a company’s level of output in theory, but makes it a great deal more vulnerable to bankruptcy.

Political Posturing

Karen Herzog:

UW System leaders also lobbied for up to $200 million in one-time state money “until we have full tuition authority.” That would have reduced the cut to $100 million over two years, instead of the $300 million Walker will propose when he releases full details of his budget Tuesday.

In mid-November, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank contacted a top Walker donor and friend of UW-Madison to seek his help, according to an email she sent Nov. 15 to the UW System’s key communications and political strategist, Jim Villa, Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

Blank referred to the donor, Mike Shannon, as “one of our best friends and donors” and said she planned to fly with him and “other UW-Madison folks” to the Packers game the next day, adding “Scott and Tonette Walker are supposed to be along on the trip as well.”

Shannon is founder of KSL Capital Partners LLC in Denver,

and a board member for the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

“As he said to me, ‘I’ve been a really big donor to the Wi Republican party, but I’ve never asked anything of them since I live outside the state,'” Blank recounted to Villa.

In another email exchange between Villa and UW System President Ray Cross on Jan. 8, Villa outlined budget projections, the political landscape and strategies and options intended to be used as “notes for regent phone calls.”

“Our political strategies over the decade have varied in style and purpose from collaborative to hostile,” Villa said in the email. “We have tried to engage, cajole, prod, threaten, beg, and even initiate a statewide marketing effort. Yet, we have lost influence and suffered continuous budget cuts.”

Villa noted that UW over the past year had worked “to more tightly connect some aspects of the university to the state economy.” While those efforts received positive comments, he said, “when the state’s budget projections became dismal, our request to invest in and help to rebuild the economy of the state was tossed aside… We need a new strategy!”

K-12 Tax, Referendum & Spending Climate

John Judis:

Jerry is in his late 50s. He is a sales representative in Southern Maryland for a multinational corporation. He has a college degree and makes about $80,000 a year. He considers himself a “moderate Democrat.” He voted for Obama in 2008 and O’Malley in 2010. He says of Obama in 2008, “He was a breath of fresh air.” But after Obama became president, Jerry became disillusioned. He didn’t like Obama’s stimulus program. “I really think Obama messed up with all the money that we were giving out,” he said. He suspects that both Obama and O’Malley primarily gave the money to “their constituencies”—most notably, labor unions. In 2012, Jerry voted for Romney, whom he admired as a “businessman.” In 2014, he voted for Hogan. Taxes were an important reason. “Every year I seemed to pay more with Maryland state taxes,” he explained. “I am not happy with what is happening with the taxes. I don’t seem to be getting anything more from them.” Brown, he feared, would continue along the same line as O’Malley. “Hogan seemed to have the message,” he said.

Connie is in her mid-40s, a college graduate and a paralegal at a property-management firm. She lives in north Baltimore County. She was a Democrat until a month before last November’s election, and she voted for Obama in 2008 and O’Malley in 2010. In 2012, having become disillusioned with Obama, she voted for Romney. “I was disenchanted. [Obama] made a lot of promises. I have just seen our country turn around and go backwards,” she said. “I work in property management. The number of young people living on entitlement programs is overwhelming to me. I have seen it increase as never before.” Last November, she voted for Hogan. “I was upset with the number of taxes that I was being hit with as a single parent,” she explained. “We are overspending, and someone needs to get a handle on it, and perhaps a businessman was the best person to do that.” Connie supports abortion rights, but she thought Brown misrepresented Hogan’s position. “Hogan is not for repealing anything,” she said. She characterized Brown’s attempt to paint Hogan as a foe of abortion rights as a “political jab.” Hogan’s antiabortion position “didn’t bother me,” she said.

James is in his early 30s, a college graduate and a coordinator of services at a university in Southern Maryland. He lives in Howard County. He is one of the millennial voters on whom Democrats have rested their hopes. He voted for Obama twice and O’Malley in 2010, but in 2014, he backed Hogan. “I didn’t entirely like Hogan,” James said. “But I liked the idea of reining in spending.” He also thinks there was “some point” to Hogan’s attack on Brown as a tax-hiker. “The important thing with Brown is that he was likely to spend money. That would mean more taxes,” he said. James rejects the idea that Republicans are antigovernment. “Republicans are skeptical of government,” he told me.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Global Debt Levels Change the Economic Environment

Mike Hugman:

Moreover, the debt overhang (see chart 2) in many developed and in some emerging countries is dead weight on growth and inflation. In many major emerging markets, the slower economic expansion has been primarily noncyclical. Price pressures are wilting under the impact of cumulative demographic trends in many large economies, especially in Europe and Asia. The effect of aging populations so far conforms to theoretical predictions of slower potential growth and lower household savings rates, but in practice, the latter is being offset by the strong desire to save by companies and governments.

Education minister warns against “wrong Western values”


A Chinese newspaper has published an article by the country’s education minister in which he warns of textbooks with “wrong Western values” and claims college students and teachers are targets of infiltration by “hostile forces.”

Yuan Guiren’s article was carried by Monday’s edition of China Education Daily, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Education, and comes after Yuan told college officials last week to “never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes” and asked them to have more oversight of textbooks and materials directly taken from Western countries.

A Newark Mother of Ten Children Explains Why Her Children Need Charter Schools

Laura Waters:

Shayvonne Anderson , a Newark mother of ten children who range in age from five to eighteen, explains in the Star-Ledger today why she sends her children to charter schools. Among all the complaints about charter schools from lobbying groups like NJEA, Save Our Schools-NJ, and Education Law Center – they discriminate against children with special needs, they practice a “drill and kill” pedagogy, they drain money from traditional schools — we rarely hear from parents on the ground.

Ms. Anderson skewers those complaints. At least three of her children have “unique learning needs,” yet they are well-served by several Newark Charter schools:

Lessons for higher education reformers


In response to growing concerns about the US higher education system, policymakers have launched a range of efforts to improve the system’s quality. But this
is easier said than done. The system is populated with a diverse array of programs offered through a mix of public, nonprofit, and for-profit providers. Further- more, the outcomes that students and the public care about are frequently difficult to measure and are integrally tied to the characteristics and behavior of students themselves. All these factors confound efforts to improve quality.

In reality, however, numerous sectors suffer from these challenges in one way or another. Policymakers should, therefore, look to learn from efforts to ensure quality, accountability, and consumer protection in these other sectors. In that spirit, this paper examines four sectors that face many of these same challenges: health care (with a focus on transparency efforts), workforce development (specifically, the system’s long-standing emphasis on outcome measurement and accountability), charter schools (a model of deregula- tion and delegated oversight), and housing finance (an example of risk sharing).

K-12 Tax, Spending and Referendum Climate: Middle Class Shrinks Further as More Fall Out Instead of Climbing Up

Dionne Searcey & Robert Gebelhoff:

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.

Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers


Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers challenges the claims of pension boards and other groups about the cost-effectiveness, fairness and flexibility of the traditional defined benefit pension plans still in place in 38 states. The report includes a report card on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia with a detailed analysis of state teacher pension policies.

Also, the State Teacher Policy Dashboard has additional state specific and national overview information on pension systems.

Change may be difficult, but One Newark plan is worthwhile

Cami Anderson:

I recently had an opportunity to engage with state legislators on a range of topics affecting students in Newark. I sincerely appreciated a forum where decorum was upheld, questions could be answered, and tough, frank dialogue could occur. Our children’s lives depend on our ability to deliver radically better results than we have to date. That requires difficult conversations and a willingness to confront dysfunctional past practices.

Change is hard. Breaking down and rebuilding a failed bureaucracy requires tough decisions – ones about which reasonable people can disagree. I left the hearing asking myself how we can move forward together to find ways to ensure equity while building excellent public schools, and how we can deepen our connection with families in Newark and those that represent them.

Testing Time: Jeb Bush’s educational experiment

Alex MacGillis:

That year, Bush found a compatible source for ideas on education when he joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers. Bush found school choice philosophically appealing. “Competition means everybody gets better,” he said.

He enlisted Fair to help promote a state law authorizing charter schools, which, unlike vouchers, were gaining some Democratic supporters, including President Bill Clinton, who saw them as a way to allow educators to innovate within the public-school system. The law passed in 1996, with bipartisan support, and that year Bush and Fair founded the first charter school in the state—an elementary school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami, called the Liberty City Charter School. Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

Obama goes where the money is to pay for ‘free’ education programs – your savings account.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

Bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have explained his career this way: “That’s where the money is.” Whether Sutton ever really said that, it’s an aphorism that, according to Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, explains President Obama’s plans to go after middle class assets like 529 college savings plans and home appreciation.

Though millions of Americans have been putting money into “tax free” 529 plans to save for their children’s increasingly expensive college educations, President Obama would change the law so that withdrawals from the plans to fund college would be taxed as ordinary income. So while you used to be able to get a nice tax benefit by saving for college, now you’ll be shelling out to Uncle Sam every time you withdraw to pay for Junior’s dorm fees.

This doesn’t hurt the very rich — who just pay for college out of pocket — or the poor, who get financial aid, but it’s pretty rough on the middle– and upper–middle class. In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents’ income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants.

Likewise, Obama proposes to tax the appreciation on inherited homes. When you sell property at a profit, you pay capital gains on the difference between the basis (what you paid) and what you sell it for. (Obama also proposes to increase the capital gains rate). That’s not a big issue for most middle class people, because right now if your parents leave you their house, you get what’s called a “step-up” in basis.

UK Schools Green party’s education policies are outdated and ‘total madness’ – Labour

Richard Adams:

The Green party’s education policies are “total madness” and a “flashback to the 1970s” that would most hurt the disadvantaged, says shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, in a full-throated attack that suggests Labour is concerned at the Greens’ recent opinion poll improvement.

In an interview with the Guardian, Labour’s Hunt said scrutiny of the Greens’ education policies revealed them to be attempting to turn back the clock on policies such as school improvement and accountability that had proven to be successful in state schools in England.

Commentary on Indefinite Tenure

Dan Subotnik:

A specter haunting the academy today is of an intellectually wizened white male professoriate refusing to step aside for au courant, energetic, ambitious, and of course diverse younger faculty. Part of a larger concern with tenure itself, the fear in question is that tenured old-timers, of which I am one, are holding fast to financial and administrative perks, limiting institutional control and stifling institutional development in the process.

Sometimes the fear is expressed openly. Intractable seniors, according to a recent, widely debated Chronicle Review post (“The Forever Professors”) often “crush the young” through their “selfish[ness].” A law school colleague argues that, having enjoyed our share of university bounty, responsible seniors should facilitate succession by quickly and gracefully exiting the stage. Such a development might be contrasted with what is actually happening today: seniors in effect extorting rich buyouts to retire.

More of the time, of course, the critique is not explicit. Yet who among us seniors has not felt the sting of “what are you still doing here, gramps” looks from junior law faculty and deans?

A visceral response to critics may be tempting here, but we must show our maturity. Beating up the young for impertinence would show both ignorance and hypocrisy. Inter-generational, oedipal struggle, we have learned, is the way of the world, and, it must be admitted, many of us felt the same way 30 years ago about our predecessors in law. They would never have gotten their jobs in the competitive environment of 1985, we self-righteously told ourselves, just like we would not get ours in today’s environment, when two good law review articles are required just for a job interview.

Look at the UK’s free school lunch policy

Andy French:

WHILE five-year-old Lewis Heudi gets a hot school meal his older brother Sebastian does not.

Staff at Woodstock Primary School can see the situation is unfair and are trying to do something about it.

But they have missed out on Government funding that would have allowed them to build new kitchen facilities to provide hot lunches for all pupils.

The county council bid to the Department for Education for about £1.1m for six schools following the government’s free school meals scheme for infants aged four to seven.

Under the government scheme, pupils across the country aged four to seven get free school meals but Key Stage Two pupils aged seven to 11 have to pay for hot lunches.

Three schools were awarded grant funding but Woodstock Primary, in Shipton Road, was not one of them.

Why lowering (UK) tuition fees is more complicated than you think

Chris Cook:

Labour is toying with the idea of fiddling with the English university tuition fees system, but doing so may have counterintuitive effects.

Early in the parliament, Labour said their preferred policy was to introduce a £6,000 upper limit on what universities in England can charge students each year – not £9,000, as it currently stands. But they haven’t committed to it – and there are a range of good reasons why they might not.

First, it would rile the universities. Labour has sought to soothe their concerns by promising university vice-chancellors it would make up the difference in their institutions’ income.

But this is probably not a good deal for the universities, who have no guarantee that this money – which could eventually increase the usual measure of public spending by around £2bn a year – would not be taken from their other state-backed budgets. Nor do they know how it would be distributed.

Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report on the Department for UK Education financial statements 2013-14

National Audit Office:

“I recognize the importance of not placing unnecessary additional burdens on the academy sector. But the inability of the Department for Education to prepare financial statements providing a true and fair view of financial activity by its group of bodies means that it is not meeting the accountability requirements of Parliament. In particular, I believe that, if the challenge posed by consolidating the accounts of so many bodies and the fact that so many have a different reporting period is to be surmounted, the Department and Treasury need to work together to find a solution.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 21 January 2015

Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has provided an adverse opinion on the financial statements of the Department for Education. An adverse opinion indicates that he considers the level of error and uncertainty in the statements to be both material and pervasive. He has also qualified his opinion because the Department has exceeded one of its expenditure limits authorized by Parliament.

Today’s report comments on the financial management challenges faced by the Department and the impact this has on the ability of the Department and the Treasury to discharge their accountabilities to Parliament. Since 2012-13, the Department’s group financial statements have consolidated the financial statements of academy trusts, alongside those of the Department itself, its executive agencies and NDPBs. For 2013-14, there are 2,591 bodies consolidated into the group financial statements. This includes 2,585 academy trusts operating 3,905 individual academies.

Wisconsin spent $14B on education during 2014.

Hill fight on No Child Left Behind looms

Maggie Severns:

Alexander raised eyebrows last fall when he indicated he might be willing to get rid of the law’s annual testing mandate. No Child Left Behind requires schools to test students in reading and math each year from third through eighth grades and once in high school. And students must be tested in science once each in elementary, middle and high school. The tests results are used to track student progress, school performance and though not required by NCLB, in some places the scores gauge the effect teachers have on students.

Testing has become a hot-button issue and a growing number of parents are encouraging their children to refuse to take tests. The “opt-out movement” has been attributed in part to growing pressure on schools associated with the Common Core standards and new tests based on those more challenging standards.

“There needs to be more local autonomy, and what needs to change is the culture of ‘the schools can’t be trusted,’ ” said Jia Lee, a special education teacher who will testify at a Senate hearing Wednesday on federal testing requirements. Last year, more than half of students at the small public school Lee teaches at in New York City opted out of their tests, she said.

“number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years”

American Institutes for Research and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting:

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures. The table is sortable and searchable. Institutions that do not appear did not exist in 1987-88, or did not report this information that year.

2015 Predictions: Competency-Based Ed To Grow, Debt Could Topple Some Schools

Dian Schaffhauser:

Online learning will grow this year, but only modestly; more colleges and universities will test out competency-based assessment; and education technology will continue expanding as an industry, driven by investment capital. Those are three of the predictions for the coming year from higher education research and advisory firm Eduventures.

“By nearly every measure, 2014 was a challenging year for higher education. Enrollments fell for the third consecutive year, funding to public institutions in 48 states remained flat or declined, operating costs rose, and we saw an unprecedented increase in federal oversight, with heightened attention paid to the issue of access and affordability,” said President and CEO Tony Friscia. In the coming year, he added, “The rhetoric of 2014 will become the reality of 2015 with the proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the continued emergence of new and innovative learning models, the further expansion of the technology sector and the ongoing need to clearly demonstrate outcomes.”

Teacher of the Year: Consider What Children Need Most When Rewriting Our Nation’s Education Law

Lee-Ann Stephens:

As federal legislators spend the next few months battling over the provisions of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, I want them to consider this:

I am a veteran teacher and I want to be accountable. I want my school to be accountable. Not for some of our students. For all of them. Not for certain grades and select years. For every year and every grade currently required.

That means we can’t abandon the federal mandate that requires all states to administer one standardized test every year for all students in grades three to eight and at least once in high school. That means we can’t walk away from teacher evaluation systems that consider, in part, how much students learn in a given year from a given teacher.

New Jersey Education Association’s Finances

Mike Antonucci:

Having Chris Christie as governor doesn’t seem to have affected the New Jersey Education Association’s revenues, but it certainly affected its political spending. The union sent $1 million to its candidate PAC, $5.5 million to Garden State Forward and $3 million to One New Jersey (both SuperPACs).

NJEA also spread cash to outside advocacy groups both large and small. It contributed $550,000 to the Education Law Center and $5,000 to FairTest.

NJEA executive officers do particularly well salary-wise, plus each receives an annual $1,000 in clothing allowance.

Total membership – 200,314, up 5,356

Total revenue – $126.5 million (90% came from member dues), up $2.7 million

Budget surplus – $3.2 million

Commentary on Wisconsin’s K-12 Governance model

Alan Borsuk:

So now, Walker wants to go back to letting parental choice drive quality?

There are those who agree. George Mitchell, a central and adamant figure in the history of voucher advocacy, sent me an email last week, saying, among other things:

“If there was a true open enrollment system in Wisconsin that included private and charter schools, a system that ALL parents were eligible for, a system that did not give ‘public’ schools a decided fiscal advantage, there would be an accountability revolution.

“This would require that the state provide parents with Consumer Reports-style information. The result, among other things, would be a meaningful reduction in the number of low-performing schools.”

Mitchell added, “…given the demonstrable inability of officials and experts in Madison to craft an alternative, what could go wrong in giving true parent-based accountability a try?

“Such a system would not be perfect. I only argue that it would be (far) better compared to the current system.”

There was little evidence that Republican legislative leaders were buying Walker’s idea that there was no need for bureaucrats to create steps for dealing with low success schools.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was quoted saying that passing a bill that didn’t include state-initiated ways aimed at change “would just be political theater.” Rep. Jim Steineke, majority leader of the Assembly, posted an essay online, saying, “It is unconscionable that we would look at the children left at these schools and tell them that by slapping a grade on their schools, we have somehow accomplished something.”

On the one hand, you have to ask if Walker is serious about what he said — or is he, perhaps, striking a posture that might help position him in the race for the Republican presidential nomination? If he’s serious, will he really push for no new government-based accountability steps, except something like better report cards?

How Parents & Community Groups Use Data

Christina Esquivel:

Meaningful family involvement in schools can make a huge difference for a child’s learning and for driving improvement in the school system as a whole. Extensive research has shown that students with involved parents have higher attendance, social skills, grades, test scores, and graduation rates. We learned a lot more about this topic when PP200_0we attended a presentation about parent engagement at the City College of New York as part of their Colloquium Series on Data and Data Driven Instruction.

Norm Fruchter of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform presented the session, entitled “How do parent & community groups use data for organizing?” Fruchter’s documentary, Parent Power, explores how parents and community groups leveraged data to advocate for educational improvement in New York City schools from 1995 to 2009. The film tells the story of a group of parents from the South Bronx who came together after learning that only 17% of their students were reading at grade level in elementary school.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan to outline education priorities and defend testing

Lyndsey Layton:

As a new Congress gets to work to rewrite the 2002 federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is drawing what Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls a “line in the sand”: The federal government must continue to require states to give annual, standardized tests in reading and math.

In a speech scheduled for Monday at an elementary school in the District, Duncan is expected to insist that any new law retain the trademark of No Child Left Behind, requiring that every public school student be tested annually in math and reading in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and also be tested in science at three points during those years.

“He will outline the need to widen and ensure opportunity for all students — the original purpose of this landmark law,” said Dorie Nolt, Duncan’s spokeswoman. “He will call for quality preschool for every child, improved resources for schools and teachers, and better support for teachers and principals. He will also call on states and districts to limit unnecessary testing so that teachers can focus needed time on classroom learning.”

Why a Christie presidential bid is good for New Jersey’s teachers union

Laura Waters:

The nation’s atwitter about a potential Republican nomination brawl between Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, as well as a posse of Tea Party candidates.

One of the wedge issues, pundits predict, will be education policy. Picture it now: Bush and Christie, both moderate Republicans, saddled up at debate podia and straddled by an assortment of more conservative cowboys like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and maybe even Mike Huckabee. Remember what happened to Mitt Romney with his maladroit references to the “47%” and “corporations are people too?” Suddenly two more moderate Republican governors, one from purplish Florida and one from blue Jersey, may be forced to shift right by the collective heft of conservatives who demean the Common Core State Standards and standardized assessments.

Here’s another prediction: the likely airing of this Bush/Christie spaghetti western will warm up the political relationship between the 2015 New Jersey State Legislature and the N.J. Education Association. This shift will, in turn, affect debates and outcomes on unresolved education policies at the Statehouse this year, which include yet another effort to update the state’s twenty-year old charter school law, the future of PARCC standardized testing, school funding, local control in Newark, and the sun-setting of the pension/health benefits reform act on July 1.

GOP bill would make failing public schools charters

Jason Stein & Erin Richards:

The state would convert failing public schools to independent charter schools and cut off all state payments to failing private schools for at least four years, under a draft bill offered by Assembly Republicans Wednesday.

The sweeping measure would create a new board to assign letter grades of A through F to all publicly funded schools in the state and then lay out eventual penalties for those receiving D’s and F’s. In a shift from current law, the measure would allow private schools to use a different exam from the state test to measure student learning, though it would create a process for comparing those differing tests.

Molly Beck covers the story as well.

One wonders how long term, disastrous reading results play in the governance equation?

NPR: Six Education Stories To Watch in 2015

Claudio Sanchez:

5. Teacher Evaluation, Training, And The Vergara Fallout
This past year, the Vergara ruling in California reinvigorated the debate over teacher tenure, especially termination and due process rights.

In 2015, critics of teacher quality will take on unions in more states, beginning in New York. This will also draw more attention to colleges of education, which this past year came under fire from the National Council for Teacher Quality in a scathing report. NCTQ and Vergara supporters argue that low-income and minority students are more likely to be subject to poorly trained and incompetent teachers.

The plot to overhaul No Child Left Behind

Maggie Severns:

The president may be hard-pressed to veto even a very conservative bill, though the administration has signaled in the past it will take a hard line when it comes to preserving annual tests and other provisions that focus on equal access to education in NCLB. The Obama administration ushered in what has been labeled a dismantling of the law by giving states huge leeway on some of its key provisions, but the so-called waiver policy is unpopular in the states in no small part because it helped encourage the proliferation of the Common Core standards.

Lobbyists swarmed Capitol Hill in December to sway lawmakers’ positions in chaotic education debates over how often to test students and what role — if any — school vouchers should have in the law. These debates are set to erupt in January, though some groups have put themselves ahead of the curve: The National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher’s union, has been pushing to roll back testing requirements for years and is seizing on recent anti-testing sentiment in the states to make a fresh case for getting rid of annual tests on Capitol Hill.

Part of the difficulty in rewriting the law is that the most hated parts of the bill are deeply intertwined with its heralded civil rights provisions: The testing requirements, for example, allowed the government for the first time to spotlight the achievement gaps between white students with higher-income families and their peers when those test results were broken down by race and socioeconomic status. NCLB put a public spotlight on schools and districts that were falling flat when it comes to helping disadvantaged students — and pressed them to improve when no one else was.

Citizenship 101: Too many Americans are ignorant of the basics of democracy

Los Angeles Times:

But a growing number of critics charge that education in good citizenship is being shortchanged by an American educational system that is focused on other “core competencies.” The result is that too many products of that system are ignorant of the basics of how American democracy functions, and lack the knowledge to participate fully in the society it sustains. One of the most prominent spokespeople for this view is retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the last member of the court to have held elected office.

In a 2008 article written with former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, O’Connor argued that “civic education has been in steady decline over the past generation, as high-stakes testing and an emphasis on literacy and math dominate school reforms. Too many young people today do not understand how our political system works.”

Commentary on education reform and status quo governance

Anthony Cody:

There is growing evidence that the corporate-sponsored education reform project is on its last legs. The crazy patchwork of half-assed solutions on offer for the past decade have one by one failed to deliver, and one by one they are falling. Can the edifice survive once its pillars of support have crumbled?

Teach For America: This project had as its central premise the idea that what was wrong with the teaching profession was that not enough really smart people were becoming teachers. So we will recruit some high flyers and fill the gaps in high needs schools. And because these folks are sooo smart, they do not need the year or two of preparation that regular old teachers needed – they could learn to crunch data, manage a class and prepare for tests in just five weeks. And if they leave after a couple of years, that’s ok too. They can transform education as the next generation of leaders and policymakers, because they will have brains that classroom experience, and TFA’s no excuses philosophy to guide them.

But this year TFA is hitting some serious headwinds. They are finding that recruitment has dropped for some reason, and the organization is even closing its New York training institute office. Perhaps students have been finding out some of the problems with the program, discovering in advance that five weeks is not adequate preparation for the challenge of teaching in a challenging school. Perhaps potential recruits have encountered TFA alums sharing their experiences, or even some of those organizing to resist the program. And word may have leaked out that TFA is not the best vehicle for those concerned with social justice – given that corps members are sometimes being used to replace veteran teachers.

We cannot pass laws that declare others “accountable” for making sure 100% of our children will be proficient and act as though we have accomplished something. It is time to go back to basic premises, and in every community, ask ourselves what we want from our schools? How can we meet the challenge of educating all our children – not leaving any behind? The answers will not come easily or cheaply. But just as a previous generation faced the challenge of the 20th century Civil Rights movement, our generation must respond.

Status quo governance has a substantial price as well – see Madison’s long term disastrous reading results -despite spending double the national average per student.

High Teacher Scores Bring New Scrutiny

Leslie Brody:

The vast majority of teachers and principals across New York got high grades for their work last year, state data showed Tuesday, prompting top education officials to call for tougher evaluations.

The release marked the first time New York City teachers received ratings under a new state-imposed system that aims to be more rigorous and objective than in the past.

State data showed 9.2% of city teachers were deemed highly effective, 82.5% were effective, 7% developing and 1.2% ineffective.

Outside the city, teachers got even better reviews, partly because each district had some leeway in setting goals for performance. Beyond city borders, about 58% were deemed highly effective. Last year was those districts’ second under new evaluation systems.

Related: When A Stands for Average.

Via Laura Waters.

College ratings draft light on details

Alie Grasgreen:

The highly anticipated draft release issued Friday morning was delayed twice before officials settled on an “end of the fall” deadline. (The winter solstice is Sunday.) It’s largely a list of things the department is considering in its analysis of which institutions offer students and families the biggest bang for their buck.

And half the metrics — all of which aim to measure accessibility, affordability and outcomes — can’t even be measured right now. All told, it could be at least a few years before the system that the Obama administration envisions will be in place, though the plan is to rate more than 4,000 two- and four-year colleges by the start of the next academic year. And it will have to survive any challenges by Congress or the next administration.

“The question is, will we actually see ratings for the 2015-16 school year,” said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University and expert on college ratings. “I’d be surprised … to be honest.”

But in the draft, the department didn’t back down from that schedule. Officials want more input on the ratings framework, which they say was “based on extensive consultation with stakeholders and experts,” and are taking comments through Feb. 17.

Should the Government Rate Our Colleges?

Robert Kelchen:

Should the federal government be in the business of rating colleges? And can it do them right?

That’s been a question ever since the summer of 2013, when President Obama announced the Department of Education’s new plan to score American colleges—a source of intense controversy in the world of higher ed that could explode again in the days ahead, as the department gets set to release a draft of the metrics that will be used to calculate federal college ratings.

A poll released by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed last year found that only 16 percent of 675 surveyed college presidents said the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), as it’s called, is a good idea, compared to 65 percent who said it is not. The powerful American Council on Education, a professional association representing much of the nonprofit higher education community, said in a statement earlier this year that “many question whether rating colleges is an appropriate role for the federal government to play, and most believe it is nearly impossible for the federal government to do such a thing with any degree of reliability or validity.” And members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have expressed concerns about the ratings’ goals.

GOP gives feds’ college rating plan an F

Stephanie Simon and Allie Grassgreen:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he sees rating colleges as “a financial and moral obligation,” meant to help families make wise choices and to ensure taxpayers’ $150 billion annual investment in student aid isn’t squandered.

But GOP critics frame the rating plan — expected Friday — as yet another example of arrogance and imperialism from the White House. They argue that it’s not just presumptuous, but logistically impossible for the Education Department to assess the quality of so many institutions, ranging from Harvard to Honolulu Community College.

And they have some powerful allies in their corner, including several higher education trade associations and numerous college presidents, some of whom have been quietly lobbying their representatives for months — not that it took a lot of lobbying to rouse opposition to the ratings. Republicans on the Hill were already up in arms over the administration’s proposed crackdown on for-profit career-training colleges, calling it an unwarranted intrusion into the free market.

What’s So Troubling About Competency-Based Education?

Marni Baker Stein:

In the last week since it was announced that the University of Texas System is diving in to competency-based education (CBE), it has become clear to me that a lot of the controversy around this programming model is grounded in fairly extreme misconceptions around what CBE is …and perhaps more troubling, around just how powerful today’s technology enhanced education has the potential to be.

What are the most concerning of these myths?

1. All CBE is “Direct Assessment” CBE
I haven’t been able to find too many great explanations about what “Direct Assessment” actually means in practice — but here is a set of definitions from a recent white paper, “All Hands on Deck”, written by Patricia Book, that describes in brief the two major types of competency based education:

Commentary on a Milwaukee voucher school; contemplating accountability & spending differences

Erin Richards:

The operator of one of Milwaukee’s longest-running private voucher schools says her organization strives to give disadvantaged children the best shot they can get in life, even when they’ve been left behind by other schools.

But new documents and former employees have raised concerns about the internal workings at Ceria M. Travis Academy, a private school that’s received more than $35 million in state voucher payments through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program since 1996.

Complaints filed with the state in 2014 and obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through an open records request allege that the school has violated state law by employing people without bachelor’s degrees to teach students.

Much more on vouchers, here.

Ideally, the writer might compare outcomes and spending between voucher and traditional public schools. Voucher spending in Wisconsin is minuscule compared to the present K-12 system. Further, one would hope that all publicly funded schools face the same accountability requirements.

Finally, voucher schools often spend less than half the amount per student than traditional public schools.

Compare Wisconsin’s teacher credential ism with Massachusetts’ (MTEL).

K – 12 tax and spending climate: ongoing property tax increases and the “lost middle class”

Jim Tankersley:

One day in 1967, Bob Thompson sprayed foam on a hunk of metal in a cavernous factory south of Los Angeles. And then another day, not too long after, he sat at a long wood bar with a black-and-white television hanging over it, and he watched that hunk of metal land a man on the moon.

On July 20, 1969 — the day of the landing — Thompson sipped his Budweiser and thought about all the people who had ever stared at that moon. Kings and queens and Jesus Christ himself. He marveled at how when it came time to reach it, the job started in Downey. The bartender wept.

On a warm day, almost a half-century later, Thompson curled his mouth beneath a white beard and talked about the bar that fell to make way for a freeway, the space-age factory that closed down and the town that is still waiting for its next great economic rocket, its new starship to the middle class.

Meanwhile, Madison schools’ plan to seek additional property tax increases (2015 referendumpdf board document) to find bricks and mortar. This proposal, rather ironically, perpetuates decades long demographic gaps.

Charter Schools: Revolution and innovation in some of America’s toughest neighbourhoods

The Economist:

AS PUPILS file into their classroom at Kipp Renaissance, a high school in a battered corner of north-east New Orleans, each one stops to shake the hand of a history teacher. “Changes”, a rap song by Tupac about the struggles of being poor and black in America, plays quietly in the background. Within a minute or two, the dozen teenagers—all black—are busily filling in test papers. Soon afterwards, Mr Kullman, the teacher, begins rapping himself—hopping around the room demanding quick-fire answers to questions about the civil war. Pupils shout back answers in chorus.

Kipp Renaissance is one of New Orleans’s newer high schools. Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, only six traditional public schools, directly run by the city, remain. Instead 94% of pupils now attend charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by independent non-profit organisations such as Kipp (in full, the “Knowledge is Power Programme”).

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Report: High property taxes the top concern raised in tax reform roundtables

Matthew DeFour:

The 19-page report from Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler comes after more than a year of study. It identifies property taxes as the top concern raised at 22 tax reform roundtables held across the state with some 500 people, but does not contain suggestions for lowering them.

“Taxes are too high and too complicated,” the report concludes. “They hinder economic growth, discourage job creation, and burden family budgets. And though we’ve made great progress in the last four years, we still have a long way to go.”

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance president Todd Berry, who wasn’t involved in the roundtables or consulted about the report, said he was surprised there were no recommendations.

“They certainly lay out the case that the governor made when he was running four years ago,” Berry said. “But there’s no fundamental comprehensive tax reform here.”

Related: Ongoing increases in Madison’s property taxes. “Delinquencies higher than we expect”. Madison schools raise taxes 4.2%.

Smart money: What teachers make, how long it takes and what it buys them (Revised 12/5/2014)

National Council on Teacher Quality:

What teachers are paid matters. Many factors play a role in making the decision to become a teacher, but for many people compensation heavily influences the decision not only to enter the profession but also whether to stay in it and when to leave. For teachers, knowing where salaries start and end isn’t enough; they must also understand the path they will take from starting salary to the top of the scale.

Milwaukee Public Schools Continue to Shrink, despite some signs of life

Alan Borsuk:

But it’s another year in which enrollment in the main body of MPS schools shrank. That carries long-term implications.

Every year for at least the past half-dozen, the percentage of Milwaukee kids who are getting publicly funded kindergarten through 12th-grade education through MPS has gone down a percentage point or two from the prior year. This year, it went down more than two points.

I wrote a story for this newspaper about seven years ago with a premise that at the time was very striking to me: A third of all Milwaukee kids getting publicly funded educations were doing so outside of the conventional public schools.

It was such a change from days not long ago when the answer was always that publicly funded education meant you went to the public schools.

Now, instead of 33%, the figure is an even more eye-catching 43%. The official figures for this fall show 56.9% of the 120,895 publicly funded students were in schools staffed by MPS teachers.

You can see the day looming (maybe four years? maybe five?) when that percentage is 50% or less.

Where are all the other kids? I use the term publicly funded because Milwaukee remains one of the nation’s biggest arenas for options in schooling. Parents can utilize public support to send kids lots of places.

cost disease“.

On Preserving the K-12 Governance Model, despite Reform Efforts

Larry Cuban

The notion of institutions adopting reforms in order to maintain stability—sometimes called “dynamic conservatism”—captures how U.S. public schools, especially in big cities have embraced new policies (e.g., charter schools, Common Core standards, new technologies) signaling stakeholders that schools are, indeed, changing. Yet those districts and schools have left untouched essential structures that make U.S. schools the way they are (and have been for over a century) such as residential segregation, school revenue derived from property assessment, age-graded schools, self-contained classrooms, student promotion, and retention, textbooks, and state tests. [ii]

Without attending to these basic structures, entrepreneurial donors in their pursuit of particular reforms reinforce the stability of the very organizations they want to transform. Not intended to be Machiavellian or even necessarily planned, school districts have learned to maintain overall stability in structures, cultures, and practices—the status quo–in the face of strong external pressures by selectively adopting reforms.

Consider the example of grant-giving strengthening the status quo that occurred in the early 20th century when Northern white donors gave money to improve what was then called “colored” or “Negro” education in the South. John D. Rockefeller, Julius Rosenwald, and others gave grants to improve black education by building schools, helping teachers gain more knowledge and learn pedagogy, and raising teacher salaries. In aiding black communities improve schooling for their children, however, these donors gave the money directly to white school boards who then dispersed funds sparingly to black principals, teachers, and communities. In effect, these grants maintained the Jim Crow system of separate schooling for blacks and whites. Positive, negative, and perverse outcomes were rolled into one. [iii]

School unions vital defenders of public education

Madison’s Capital Times

This fall, 305 local union organizations representing public school teachers, support staff, and custodial workers held recertification elections in school districts across the state. Despite everything that Walker has done to undermine them, more than 90 percent of the local unions were recertified. Indeed, according to the Wisconsin Education Association Council, 97 percent of its units that sought recertification won their elections.

The numbers are even more overwhelming for American Federation of Teachers union locals in Wisconsin.

“Since recertification elections began in 2011, every AFT-Wisconsin local union that has pursued recertification has won convincingly,” notes Kim Kohlhaas, an elementary school teacher in the Superior School District who serves as president of AFT-Wisconsin.

In many school districts, the numbers were overwhelming.

In Madison, where the Madison Teachers Inc. union has played a leading role in opposing Walker’s anti-labor agenda, the pro-recertification votes have been overwhelming.

According to vote totals released by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, Madison teachers gave 88 percent support to recertification, as did 81 percent of security staff, 77 percent of support staff, 76 percent of educational assistants and 74 percent of substitute teachers.

Notably, Walker won just 52 percent of the vote in his recent re-election run. So, if the governor claims any sort of mandate, he ought to accept that MTI has a much bigger mandate.


Act 10.

WEAC: Four Senators for $1.57 million.

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Declining Wagers for Younger Workers

Derek Thompson:

But there’s something deeper, too. The familiar bash brothers of globalization and technology (particularly information technology) have conspired to gut middle-class jobs by sending work abroad or replacing it with automation and software. A 2013 study by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson found that although the computerization of certain tasks hasn’t reduced employment, it has reduced the number of decent-paying, routine-heavy jobs. Cheaper jobs have replaced them, and overall pay has declined.

Your second question might be: Why have health-care wages been the exception to the rule? One answer is that health care is, generally speaking, the exception to many rules. Demand for medical services is dominated by the government (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, and the employer insurance tax break), which doesn’t face the same vertiginous up-and-downs as the rest of the economy. So as the Great Recession steamrolled many industries, health care, propped up by sturdy government spending, kept adding workers. What’s more, computerization and information technology have yet to work their magical price-cutting power in health care as they have in other industries, for a variety of reasons. Americans are spending four percent less on food away from home than in 2007; but we’re spending 42 percent more on health insurance. As prices have increased, so have wages for younger workers in the medical field. (Update: Some readers have made the smart suggestion that money which might have gone to higher salaries has instead gone to paying higher health insurance costs.)

Financial Status of NEA Affiliates, WEAC Membership Declines

Mike Antonucci:

Financial Status of All NEA State Affiliates. In-depth analysis will follow in the weeks to come, but for now here is the table containing total membership, total revenues, surplus or deficit status and net assets for all 52 National Education Association “state” affiliates for 2012-13

Related: $1.57M for four State Senators.

Patrolling the Boundaries Inside America

Robert Reich:

America is embroiled in an immigration debate that goes far beyond President Obama’s executive order on undocumented immigrants.

It goes to the heart of who “we” are. And it’s roiling communities across the nation.

In early November, school officials in Orinda, California, hired a private detective to determine whether a seven-year-old Latina named Vivian – whose single mother works as a live-in nanny for a family in Orinda — “resides” in the district and should therefore be allowed to attend the elementary school she’s already been attending there.

On the basis of that investigation they determined that Vivian’s legal residence is her grandmother’s home in Bay Point, California. They’ve given the seven-year-old until December 5th to leave the Orinda elementary school.

Never mind that Vivian and her mother live during the workweek at the Orinda home where Vivian’s mother is a nanny, that Vivian has her own bedroom in that home with her clothing and toys and even her own bathroom, that she and her mother stock their own shelves in the refrigerator and kitchen cupboard of that Orinda home, or that Vivian attends church with her mother in Orinda and takes gym and youth theater classes at the Orinda community center.

The point is Vivian is Latina and poor, and Orinda is white, Anglo, and wealthy.

And Orinda vigilantly protects itself from encroachments from the large and growing poor Latino and Hispanic populations living beyond its borders.

Madison has long supported wide demographic variation.

NEA’s $132,000,000 influence & spending spree

Rishawn Biddle:

The National Education Association just filed its 2013-2014 LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, and once again, it spent big to preserve its declining influence over education policymaking. The nation’s largest teachers’ unions spent $132 million on lobbying and contributions to what are supposed to be like-minded organizations, a slight increase over the $131 million poured into such activities last year. This, by the way, doesn’t include another $45 million spent on so-called representational activities which are almost always political in nature.

This past fiscal year, NEA poured plenty of money into Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive group that played a big role in trying to elect Democratic candidates to national and state offices this year. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this month, NEA and AFT have worked hard to pull Democracy Alliance into its fold; this includes NEA Executive Director John Stocks, a longtime player on the organization’s board, becoming its chairman. NEA poured $160,000 to the main organization itself, along with $250,000 into its Latino Engagement Action Fund, $150,000 into its Youth Engagement Fund, and $50,000 into its Committee on States. Altogether, NEA has devoted $610,000 to Democracy Alliance and its main affiliate organizations. Things didn’t work out so well this past Election Day for either Democracy Alliance or NEA; but that won’t stop either from spending plenty this next election cycle.

Big Ed Reform News in N.J.: Appellate Court Denies Education Law Center and Save Our Schools-NJ’s Argument that Successful Charter Schools Can’t Expand

Laura Waters:

The N. J. Charter School Association issued its own statement that relies more on the actual ruling than spin:

Today’s appellate division ruling validates our understanding of the breadth of the state DOE’s authority in regulating public charter school growth and the department’s intention to support public education choice for New Jersey families. This lawsuit was yet another attempt to stop the growth of innovation and preserve the status quo which continues to fail our state’s public school students. Defending this authority, and validating it through the judicial process, will allow charter schools to grow and serve families that are looking for great educational opportunities.

A proposal to rate teacher preparation programs

Erin Richards:

But Jeanne Williams, past president of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and chair of the educational studies department at Ripon College, said the state is already preparing to release educator preparation program report cards, in accordance with a state law passed in recent years to strengthen teacher training.

Those will report graduates’ pass rates on required licensure exams and provide data about where graduates get employed.

Williams did not agree with using test scores of students taught by the new teachers to review their programs that trained them.

She said several studies had shown that using student test data to evaluate teacher preparation programs is “not valid or reliable because of the numerous intervening variables that can affect student performance,” such as poverty, school climate and rates of teacher turnover in a school.

National Council on Teacher Quality reviews and ranks teacher preparation programs.

When A stands for average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education receive sky high grades. How smart is that?

I hope our leaders stand up against Walsh, teachers unions

Tom Foley:

I read with interest Erika Sanzi’s fine Nov. 25 Commentary piece (“Election bodes well for R.I. students”) on the election of two pro-student candidates as governor and lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. Neither Governor-elect Gina Raimondo nor Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan McKee seems to be beholden to the teachers unions.

I hope and pray that Ms. Sanzi is right. But I remember with dread the endorsement of Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, of candidate Raimondo in the last weeks before the election. Was there a quid pro quo? And what will be the payback demanded?

– See more at:

Americans Borrowing More Briskly for Cars, Homes Delinquencies Fall Broadly, Except in Student Lending

Neil Shah:

Americans increased their borrowing this summer, taking out more new mortgages for the first time in over a year while adding to their car, credit-card and education loans.

For the most part, consumers are taking on new loans carefully, yet late payments on one fast-growing category of debt—student loans—are worsening, new figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Falling Wages at Factories Squeeze the Middle Class

Nelson Schwartz & Patricia Cohen:

For nearly 20 years, Darrell Eberhardt worked in an Ohio factory putting together wheelchairs, earning $18.50 an hour, enough to gain a toehold in the middle class and feel respected at work.

He is still working with his hands, assembling seats for Chevrolet Cruze cars at the Camaco auto parts factory in Lorain, Ohio, but now he makes $10.50 an hour and is barely hanging on. “I’d like to earn more,” said Mr. Eberhardt, who is 49 and went back to school a few years ago to earn an associate’s degree. “But the chances of finding something like I used to have are slim to none.”

Related: Ongoing Madison Property Tax Increases: “delinquencies 30% higher than we expect”.

Jeb Bush speaks up for Common Core

Chloe Sorvino:

“In my view, the rigour of the Common Core state standards must be the new minimum in classrooms,” Mr Bush said. “For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher. Be bolder. Raise standards and ask more of our students and the system, because I know they have the potential to deliver it.”

Mr Bush said the US government must make education reform a priority and, if that happens, it could make Common Core a 2016 election cycle issue. Last month, Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican senator, said that a supporter “doesn’t have much chance of winning in a Republican primary.”

Mr Bush pointed to Black and Hispanic American fourth graders reading two and a half grade levels below their white peers on average. He also cited the global rankings that place American students 21st in reading and 31st in mathematics.

“But if we buy the excuses, if we let kids struggle, if we herd them into failing schools, how can we expect young people to grasp those first rungs of opportunity?” Mr Bush asked. “That is why the challenge of fixing our schools must be among the most urgent of national priorities.”

Here Comes The Student Loan Forgiveness

Jeffrey Dorfman

President Obama is in the process of expanding a student loan forgiveness program through his executive power (the infamous pen). Whether constitutional or not, he appears to believe that he can add more students to the eligibility list for a program he created by regulation in November 2013. This “Pay-As-You-Earn” program is partly about lowering the monthly payments to make student loans more affordable for graduates, but mostly it is the foot in the door to student loan forgiveness.

Under the latest version of President Obama’s giveaway to former college students, people with student loans that meet certain income eligibility standards will only need to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for a maximum of 20 years. Discretionary income is the amount you earn above the poverty line for your family size. If a borrower works for a government or in a job defined as public service, they only have to pay for 10 years. After that, the remaining balance is forgiven.

Commentary on open Enrollment & the Madison school District

Chris Rickert:

Of course, public schools officials will never accept a rating system that includes a failing-grade option; some things are OK for students, but not for the people who educate them.

None of these initiatives is any older than 2011, when Republicans took over complete control of the state government, but parents have been voting against the Madison district — with their feet — since they were first allowed to in 1998.

The open enrollment program was included in the 1997 state budget bill and allows parents to enroll their children in any public school district that has the space.

In the years since, the Madison district has never seen more students coming in than going out. In the current school year, 1,203 children living within the district’s boundaries opted to go to other districts, according to a district report. Another 372 opted to come into Madison from other districts.

A 2009 survey of families who took advantage of the open enrollment program to leave Madison found that 61 percent of parents pointed to environmental problems with Madison schools as among the reasons they left. Overcrowded classrooms, bullying and poor communication were among the specific complaints.

Notes and links on Madison’s open enrollment history, here.

Charter School in NYC Pays Teachers 125K. Gets Same Results as Most Other Charter Schools in NYC.

Neerav Kimgsland:

When the media gets a charter school story wrong, I usually suspect political bias.

Progressive media outlets often underplay the effectiveness of charter schools, while conservative outlets overstate their impact.

But sometimes everyone misses a major part of the story.

All of the following media outlets reported on Mathematica’s study of The Equity Project: (leans left), the Wall Street Journal (leans right), National Public Radio (leans left), the National Review (leans right), Shanker Blog (leans left).

Most of these education writers are top notch.

But all of them, I think, missed the mark.

The Mathematica Study; The CREDO Study

The Equity Project is a charter school in New York City. It pays teachers $125,000.

Mathematica just completed a rigorous study and found that, over four years, The Equity Project delivered an additional 1.6 years of math gains and .4 years of ELA gains.

Searching for consensus and New Jersey’s charter school wars

Laura Waters:

For those of you who follow N.J.’s charter school wars within the circumscribed twitter universe, the last few days have been pretty hot. The backstory here is that Mark Weber (a popular anti-reform blogger known as Jersey Jazzman who studies with Bruce Baker at Rutgers) and Julia Sass Rubin (professor at Rutgers and founder of the anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ) published a report on charter school demographics, paid for by an anti-charter foundation, also based at Rutgers. The study aimed to prove that charter schools “cream off” cohorts of kids who are less impoverished, less disabled, and more fluent in English than those enrolled in traditional district schools.

The conclusions imbedded in the report have been disputed by charter school leaders. Carlos Perez, head of the N.J. Charter School Association, for example, dismissed the report as “anti-charter propaganda.” But the primary igniter of this week’s heat wave was not the report itself but Ms. Rubin’s remark, printed in the Star-Ledger, that charter schools draw a less poor and more informed group of parents because “poor families are less able to focus on the best place to educate their children.” Here’s her quote:

Wisconsin superintendent seeks an Increase in Redistributed State Tax Dollars to $12,800,000,000

Erin Richards & Kelly Meyerhoffer:

State Superintendent Tony Evers wants to boost funding for Wisconsin’s K-12 schools by $613 million in the next biennial budget, combined with increases to the amount of money schools can raise in local taxes, and a new way of funding the Milwaukee voucher program.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s 2015-’17 budget request released Monday kicks off the conversation about the future of public school funding, ahead of Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature putting together the biennial state budget in early 2015.

But the newly elected Legislature is even more conservative than the previous two Legislatures — neither of which warmed to Evers’ similar “Fair Funding for our Future” budget proposals in 2010 and 2012.

“This is our third kick at the cat to get Fair Funding passed,” said DPI spokesman John Johnson.

The proposal calls for a 2.5% increase in state aid in the first year of the budget, which Johnson said would put the state back on track from the education cuts in the last four years. The 2016-’17 school year would see an even larger increase, 4.9%, in state aid. In total, that accounts for a $453 million increase in general school aid, according to the DPI.

The plan also calls for a $160 million increase in separate aid for specific uses, known as categorical aid.

More significant for school districts is Evers’ aim to increase the revenue limit — or the amount districts can raise in state aid and local property taxes — by $200 per pupil in 2015-’16 and $204 per pupil in 2016-’17.

Current state law calls for no increase to the revenue limit in 2015-’16 and thereafter, according to the DPI.

The DPI wants to tie the revenue limit increase each year to the rate of inflation.

Props to Molly Beck for including total spending. Ideally, the article would incorporate performance information…

Wisconsin’s K-12 taxes & spending have increased substantially over the years. Outcomes

Why Parents Prefer Charters

Marlene Gonzalez and Hector Nieves:

What wasn’t said in the Oct. 29th story, “N.J. charter schools see smaller percentages of poor and special needs students than districts,” was the implication that charter schools are the creation of better-off, better-educated parents who want to make sure their children are spared the miserable education of the state’s failing urban schools.

But the author of the study, Rutgers professor Julia Sass Rubin, seemed to blame poor parents for not getting more of their children into urban charter schools, saying, “People in abject poverty don’t have the band-width to even evaluate charter schools.”

Speaking on behalf of more than 1,000 families who made the choice to send their children to the LEAP Academy charter school in Camden, we have had the bandwidth to evaluate the education available to children in traditional public schools in cities such as Camden, Trenton and Newark. In spite of the thousands of dollars that poured into these districts, even when they have been under state oversight, the results have been atrocious and simply unacceptable.

Risky bonds prove costly for Chicago Public Schools

Jason Grotto and Heather Gillers,:

Fresh from the world of high-stakes trading, David Vitale arrived at Chicago Public Schools a decade ago with a plan to transform the way it borrowed money.

With the district thirsty for cheap cash, plain old municipal bonds weren’t good enough anymore, and banks were standing by with attractive new options.

So Vitale, then the chief administrative officer at CPS, and other officials pushed forward with an extraordinary gamble. From 2003 through 2007, the district issued $1 billion worth of auction-rate securities, nearly all of it paired with complex derivative contracts called interest-rate swaps, in a bid to lower borrowing costs.

In California education debate, the tide is turning

UT San Diego:

The easy re-election win of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Tuesday was a big disappointment to education reformers. They believed Marshall Tuck — a polished, well-funded Democrat with a strong record as an education executive in Los Angeles — was the perfect candidate to unseat Torlakson, a Bay Area Democrat who has acted more like an appendage of the state teachers unions than a nonpartisan officeholder devoted to improving schools.

But in the big picture, we think Tuck’s candidacy will be remembered as one of the turning points in a period in which the school reform debate at long last took center stage in California. The education establishment is like a supertanker that requires the application of vast energy to make it to change course. There are subtle but unmistakable signs this course change has begun.

Midterm Election Survey

Whiteboard Advisors:

54% of Insiders say the Republican win in the Senate will make post-secondary education a higher priority.

Exactly half of Insiders think Senate newcomers are unlikely to impact education policy or it’s too soon to tell. Echoing October’s report, Insiders said Lamar Alexander will “lead the charge.”

Education Insiders express slight optimism that both K12 and higher education policies will become higher priorities with Republican control of the Senate, though agreement between the President and Congress is unlikely. Insiders see attention gainful employment regulations as a possible area of focus.

Insiders repeatedly cite Senator Lamar Alexander, the presumptive chair of the HELP committee, as the key driving force behind both K12 and higher education legislation in the Senate. With the political winds in his favor, Alexander may have the support he needs to gain traction on key education policies. But Insiders do not see the newly elected senators as having a great impact on education policy.

Madison Superintendent’s Perspective

Jennifer Cheatham:

Our strategy is no longer a laundry list of ever-changing “initiatives,” but instead a set of inter-related, long-term work aimed at eliminating the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement.

It is directly focused on the day-to-day work of great teaching and learning. Put differently, our strategy directly impacts the daily work of teachers in a way that other efforts that have focused on the classroom periphery have not.

To be successful, this strategy requires us to continually monitor our progress, respond to issues as they arise, and manage the natural stages and pace of change.

As a district, we conduct a deep review of progress once a quarter — that first review is scheduled for this month. This process provides a space for us — school based leadership teams, central office, and board — to examine both implementation and outcomes, process concerns and questions from our staff, families and community, and to make adjustments, even major shifts in direction, if necessary.

If we use this process the way it was designed, we’ll continually identify strengths and challenges, understand root causes, collaboratively problem solve and chart our course forward.

Related: Madison’s disastrous reading results.

Jennifer Cheatham.

“Plenty of Resources”.

Fired school leaders get big payouts

Melanie Gutierrez:

A former Union City superintendent took home more than $600,000 last year, making her the top earner on a new online database tracking salary and benefit information for California public school employees.

Kari McVeigh, former superintendent of New Haven Unified School District in Union City, and two other superintendents from the Bay Area were among the highest-paid school employees in the state last year in large part because they were fired and received six-figure severance payouts, according to a Chronicle analysis of pay data recently made public by the state Controller’s Office.

The data shows that both small and large public school districts awarded administrators six-figure salaries, sometimes with lifetime health benefits, low- or no-interest home loans and golden parachutes, even as California emerged from a financial crisis that forced huge cuts to social service programs for the poor and elderly.

The Teachers Unions First Lost The Media; Have They Now Lost Everyone Else, Too?

Andrew J. Rotherham & Richard Whitmire:

This may mark one of the great missed opportunities in education. With a sympathetic president as a partner, national union leaders could have spent the last five years telling their members the truth: The nation’s classrooms are changing fast, now at 50 percent poor and minority students, and our schools are simply not good enough for too many students. So the entire education sector, including teachers, must change as well.

But they didn’t. Instead, union leaders spent the last five years telling their members that change was not necessary. You are blameless, they insisted in their fight against “reformers.” You’re being demonized. Poverty is to blame, not our schools.

Those demanding change, they insisted, are “corporate reformers” out to “privatize” your schools. What’s needed instead, they told their teachers, was a massive digging-in to block those very changes.

Philadelphia Schools: Another Year, Another Budget Crisis (spends $21,425/student)

Claudio Sanchez:

“Lets say you’re an employee making $70,000 a year.” says Stanski. “That’s about a $14,000 payment to your pension fund. It’s just not sustainable and yeah, it worries me tremendously.”

Philadelphia’s school superintendent, William Hite, says the math just doesn’t add up. The district, he says, has seen “years of reductions of revenue, years of spending beyond what the district was taking in — not just over the last two years but for the past decade.”

Marjorie Neff agrees. She’s a former principal and one of five members of the School Reform Commission that took over the district in 2001 to stabilize its finances. Instead, the commission has lurched from one budget shortfall to the next.

It has had to shut down 31 schools and lay off thousands of teachers, reading coaches, librarians, nurses and counselors in the last two years.

Related: Philadelphia spends $21,425 per student!

Why I Wasn’t Able to Talk to New York City’s Teachers

Joel Klein:

What makes for a great teacher? For generations, educators operated on the belief that great teaching was mostly an art, which the talented refine in the privacy of the classroom over many years of work. Think Sidney Poitier’s Mark Thackeray in To Sir with Love or Richard Dreyfuss as Glenn Holland in Mr. Holland’s Opus. The trouble with this romanticized idea is that it all depends on the individual. Yes, some educators grow and develop on their own initiative. But this model assumes that all teachers will naturally progress and negates the possibility that any educator can be coached or challenged to improve.

And because teaching happens behind closed doors, this conventional wisdom protects less-competent teachers from being assessed and, if necessary, removed. Truly awful teachers can effectively commit malpractice (like bad doctors) against thousands of unsuspecting students throughout a thirty-year career and still collect the same pay, benefits, and pensions as their most effective peers.

Once Sleepy Campaign Issue, Education Gains Clout

Philip Elliott:

Middle school art teacher Cynthia Bliss laced up her sneakers, grabbed a jacket and spent most of a recent Saturday asking strangers to help her oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office.

“We’re teachers in the area and this election is very important to us,” Bliss told one voter on the front steps of a house.

“You don’t even have to talk,” the older woman at the door replied. “We’re the choir you’re preaching to.”

Bliss, who teaches in Fort Atkinson, wrote down the answer and marched back to the sidewalk, where autumn leaves crunched underfoot. For her — and hundreds of other Wisconsin teachers — booting Walker from the Capitol has been a priority.

“If Scott Walker wins re-election, he will keep his current policies and put them on steroids,” Bliss said as she walked to the next house. “That’s not acceptable to me.”

Paul Vallas Criticizes Rauner’s Position On Charter Schools, Education Issues

“Progress Illinois”:

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate Paul Vallas, a former school executive, says he and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner have fundamentally different views on education reform.

Vallas is the former head of the Chicago Public Schools as well as the school districts in New Orleans and Philadelphia. He was most recently the schools chief in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In the past as a school district leader, Vallas has promoted some controversial education reforms like charter school expansion, which Quinn opposes.

Both Rauner — a millionaire venture capitalist who has been a leader in the corporate education reform movement — and his running mate Wheaton councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti support charter school growth.

Much more on Paul Vallas, here.

An American School Immerses Itself in All Things Chinese (nothing like this in Madison)

Jane Peterson:

On weekday mornings, a stream of orange buses and private cars from 75 Minnesota postal codes wrap around Yinghua Academy, the first publicly funded Chinese-immersion charter school in the United States, in the middle-class neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. Most pupils, from kindergarten to eighth grade, dash to bright-colored classrooms for the 8:45 a.m. bell, eager to begin “morning meeting,” a freewheeling conversation in colloquial Mandarin.

Meanwhile, two grades form five perfect lines in the gym for calisthenics, Chinese style. Dressed neatly in the school’s blue uniforms, the students enthusiastically count each move — “liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi.”

By 9:15, a calm sense of order pervades the school as formal instruction begins for math, reading, social studies, history and science. Instructors teach in Mandarin, often asking questions that prompt a flurry of raised hands. No one seems to speak out of turn. “We bring together both East and West traditions,” explains the academic director, Luyi Lien, who tries to balance Eastern discipline with Western fun.

Madison has largely killed off any attempt at innovative charter schools. Ironically, the Minneapolis teachers union is authorized to approve for charter schools.

The Changing Profile of Student Borrowers Biggest Increase in Borrowing Has Been Among More Affluent Students

Richard Fry:

Share of College Graduates From High-Income Families who Borrow Has DoubledIn 2012, a record share of the nation’s new college graduates (69%) had taken out student loans to finance their education, and the typical amount they had borrowed was more than twice that of college graduates 20 years ago. A new Pew Research Center analysis of recently released government data finds that the increase in the rate of borrowing over the past two decades has been much greater among graduates from more affluent families than among those from low-income families. Fully half of the 2012 graduates from high-income families borrowed money for college, double the share that borrowed in 1992-93.

The rise in the rate of borrowing was also substantial among upper-middle-income graduates, with 62% of 2012 graduates from upper-middle-income households leaving college with debt, compared with 34% roughly 20 years ago.

The State of Education Reform

Chester Finn:

This short essay cannot begin to say all that deserves to be said about the state of ed-reform in America in 2014, but it gives me an opportunity to do some stocktaking, recount a bit of history, and flag some challenges for the future.

Organizationally, the modern Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Foundation that birthed it have been around for seventeen years, but the reformist zeal and philosophy that it inherited from the Educational Excellence Network carry us back to 1981. Two years before A Nation at Risk, Diane Ravitch and I—and a handful of fellow travelers—had concluded that American K–12 education needed a kick in the pants, a kick toward greater quality, primarily in the form of stronger student learning. (More of that tale can be found on our website here and here.)

That’s thirty-three years ago, before many of today’s ed reformers were even born, and, while Diane has obviously deviated from that path in recent years, I like to think I’ve continued to trudge down it, along with an ever-growing cadre of fellow reformers and—since 1997—with Fordham’s organizational and human resources pushing us onward.

Shift in NJEA’s stance on charter schools fraught with tension

Laura Waters:

The New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill on Oct. 16. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer. As he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of New Jersey’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between the NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters.

Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For more than a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did last week, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.

Locally, a majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school.