Setting the Standard in Education

I’m Hitting the Road, Jack

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I start my 2800 mile journey from Los Angeles to New York tonight. As such, I’ll be on hiatus for the week with maybe a surprise post or two. Regular posts will resume the 14th.

Brown Vs. Whitman Part 3: The Comparison

In California, Federal on August 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm

While the Federal DOE is thankful to have an EduJobs bill that doesn’t cut any of Obama’s pet programs (although it does cut millions from welfare and financial aid funds), if you’ve been following along, you know that around these parts, that’s not the major storyline. This will be the third part of a three part series on Jerry Brown’s and Meg Whitman’s education platforms in their race for the governor’s seat. Today, I’ll go through a comparison of their policies. The easiest way to go about his is probably category by category. I’ll have a little scorecard to go along with it.

I couldn't resist this graphic from the San Jose Independent Examiner. Neither will win the looks contest from these pictures, but does one have a stronger education body of policy?

Higher education

Both Whitman and Brown have major selling points when it comes to higher ed. Whitman wants to give more money to the UCs and Cal States. Brown on the other hand wants to revamp the California Master Plan to make the system work with 21st century goals in mind, rather than the stratification that was set 50 years ago. Part of this includes online courses and making sure the community college system is aligned with the UCs and CSUs.

The point goes to Brown. He has a much more specific idea of what he wants to see happen in higher ed.
Brown: 1 Whitman: 0

Teacher quality

Both candidates want to recruit better teachers, but neither really says how this is going to happen. The closest thing that either candidate has for a recruitment plan is that Meg Whitman wants easier pathways to alternative certification, specifically for STEM subject teachers. This is a great idea, but it seems incomplete. Just making it easier to become a teacher is not going to necessarily attract better candidates. Her better idea is the idea of bonuses for outstanding teachers. While this might not attract better teachers, it could serve to retain good ones. Jerry Brown’s strength lies in his idea for teacher prep. He wants to see changes in how teachers are brought into the field. His idea actually has some major similarities to the Urban Teacher Residency model. To bring that to a large scale would be a great challenge, but it could be monumental in its effect. He also includes an idea for ways that teachers can move up, rather than keeping the same responsibility level for their entire careers.

This point goes to Brown. Again, he seems to have a very specific plan on what he’d like to see with real interventions.
Brown: 2, Whitman: 0

Education Funding

This is the topic that gets the most people riled up, although I think honestly it probably has among the least effects on students. You can argue that crowded classrooms and poor facilities result in poor performance, but I go back to the fact that money spent has little or no correlation to achievement. Whitman thinks that there should be less administrative spending and more in the classroom. She wants to cut a lot of the overhead so money can go to more direct funding of the classroom. Both candidates favor changing the formulas for classroom funding. Brown wants there to be fewer than 20 categories, while Whitman thinks there should be a few simplified grants for which districts can apply. They both think the spending should be more in the hands of the schools. Whitman says she’d take money saved from cutting welfare, whereas Brown says he’d save money from cutting prison programs.

This one is a tie. The only thing that really stands out in funding is Whitman’s idea to cut administrative expenses in favor of classroom spending. As I pointed out yesterday, there’s not much evidence this would lead to better performance.
Brown: 2.5, Whitman: .5

School innovation

This is an area where there are pretty clear-cut differences. Whitman is for abolishing the charter cap. That would allow for charters to blossom and create an environment with a penchant for change. Brown doesn’t want to be so hasty. Instead, he suggests that schools be given more freedoms and says that districts should be encouraged to be more innovative. I don’t really see how he expects these things to happen.

This point goes to Whitman. Brown really seems to be a waffler on this one, probably because of his large campaign contributions from a certain organization.
Brown: 2.5, Whitman: 1.5

School performance

A big part of Meg Whitman’s education policy is the idea to grade all schools A through F and then allow parents of failing schools choices of either allowing their student to transfer or to make it into a charter. I think parental involvement is important, but parents aren’t experts when it comes to education. They should have input, not control. A clear system of accountability could be very useful, though. Brown’s focus when it comes to school performance is on the tests. He thinks the testing system needs a big overhaul. Tests should be faster, more accurate, and throughout the year to gauge growth better.

Both candidates have decent ideas that are very different, so it’s hard to give this point to one of them. I’ll call it a tie.
Final score: Brown: 3, Whitman: 2

Feel free to change the scores for things you believe in to determine who you find the better candidate for education. Maybe you think charters are too dangerous or perhaps you really think there needs to be more funding for higher education. What’s clear is this: Jerry Brown has a lot more ideas when it comes to education. This could be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it. It’s obvious his experience both as a founder of charters and a former governor makes him more aware of education issues. He tends to be more vague on a lot of his points, while Whitman strives to be straightforward, but I give him the edge when it comes to the policy potentials. Remember of course, that these are just platforms, so they don’t guarantee decision-making skills in themselves. Neither candidate seems to be terrible when it comes to education, but Brown falls a bit ahead of Whitman, it seems.

Brown Vs. Whitman Part 2: Meg Whitman

In California on August 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm

If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, I am writing a three-part series about the two California gubernatorial candidates’¬†education platforms. After my lengthy post¬†about Jerry Brown’s 12 point plan on education, today should be a little relief. Meg Whitman has a much shorter plan (not that that’s a positive or negative thing in itself). Whitman has seven education policy goals and they are each much more concise and to the point. So here goes:

Part 2: Meg Whitman

I put up Jerry Brown's facebook photo yesterday, so I find it only appropriate to have Meg Whitman's today.

Whitman’s headline goal seems to be “directing more money to the classroom.” It’s the only goal she lists on the first of three pages about her education goals. To be more precise than her wording, Whitman is in favor of making a larger portion of education funding go to the classroom. Currently, she says 60% of funding in California goes to the classroom with 40% going to overhead and administration. Personally, this sounds mostly like political posturing more than anything. An article Joanne Jacobs mentioned a couple of days ago says, California actually spends much less per student in non-classroom spending (ie teacher salaries) than any other state. One would surmise that means that California is already doing a decent job cutting down administrative costs. I would also point out that this is not based on any studies showing that higher classroom funding means better performance. In fact, a number of countries spend much less than the US on the classroom and have better results.

Whitman’s second point seems to be very clever. She says she wants to give bonuses to high-performing teachers, administrators, and schools. She doesn’t come out and support direct performance pay, such as having pay scales based upon performance, but this amounts to the same thing. The question is, would this mean bad teachers get the same that they’re already making and good teachers get even more? That article about California teachers making the most money would suggest that’s unnecessary. Obviously, if we’re paying teachers so much here and they aren’t performing better than other places, then just paying teachers more doesn’t seem likely to raise performance. There need to be other means to attract high-quality educators.

She also wants to do away with the caps on charter schools. This is a very bold approach that could put her under fire. Personally, I see no reason that charter schools should be capped. We don’t cap “regular” public schools. Whitman calls the cap an “artificial bar” and I agree. However, lifting the ban needs to come with something that she doesn’t mention: stricter controls in authorization. There are some great charter schools in California, but there are lots of bad ones, too. The point of charters is to be able to breed new models that can be replicated. If a charter isn’t any good, the plug needs to be pulled. That should go for district schools, too, but that’s a separate issue. Actually, it’s her next issue. She wants to see a simple grading system for schools from A to F with school grades posted online. This sounds good in theory, but schools already have ratings online at http://www.greatschools.org, but that doesn’t seem to help. However, she thinks that schools receiving an F should allow students to automatically be able to transfer or for parents to convert it to a charter with a simple majority vote. While this is innovative, I wonder how well this would work. Often parents don’t even know how well their child’s school is performing. Perhaps if they are automatically notified if the school is failing and told what the options are, it could work to speed things along. A simple majority vote may not be so simple if most parents don’t even know what’s going on.

Meg Whitman’s sixth part of her plan is very specific: she wants to see California invest $1 billion in its higher education system. She says this money will be saved from welfare and other reforms and should be used to go toward education. I think spending money on schools is a good idea and of course, the UCs and Cal States have been hurting due to budget constraints, but I think Whitman’s vision on this issue is too limited. This is where her business mentality breaks down. Throwing money at problems does not necessarily solve them. The UC system has bigger problems than underfunding and she doesn’t say anything about them. She says nothing about the community colleges. In fact, Whitman points out how good the UCs are, but doesn’t say what should be done to make sure that the other two parts of the system become world-class institutions as well.

Finally, Whitman supports alternative pathways for math and science teachers. It’s been bandied about that the US in general suffers from a lack of qualified STEM teachers and Whitman points out that California is 43rd in science and 45th in math. I like the idea of specific alternative pathways if there are a few constraints (she doesn’t go into specifics). Her point is that California specifically has too few teachers in these areas that were educated in these disciplines. I can see a good argument for allowing those who have studied math or science in college to be given an alternative option for teaching those subjects. Teach For America has its biggest improvements over other teachers in math and science, which could be linked to a higher proportion of those teachers having studied those disciplines.

Tune in tomorrow for my comparison of the Whitman and Brown’s policies!

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