Setting the Standard in Education

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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.

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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!

Brown Vs. Whitman Part 1: Jerry Brown

In California on August 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm

While the big news in California Monday was the adoption of the Common Core standards, making California the 33rd to join, yesterday’s big headline around these parts is that California teachers make the most in the country, despite per-student spending being $2,000 less than average.

Both of those headlines actually tie into the gubernatorial race in California as both issues relate to the platform of at least one of the two major candidates. Originally, I was going to write this as one post, but I decided that would be horrendously long, so I’m going to split this into three. Today, I’ll cover Brown’s platform, tomorrow will be Whitman’s, and Friday, I’ll do my best to compare the two. Before I begin, I want to give a few disclaimers. First, I am a bleeding heart liberal when it comes to social issues. I might even consider myself a pinko socialist. I will do my best not to endorse either candidate. Instead, I intend to write an analysis of each candidate’s policies to help California voters in their decisions. I can’t say I have a lot of hope in persuading people’s votes anyway. Despite most voters claiming education to be one of the most important issues they care about, they rarely make their decisions based upon education issues. If you’re in the small minority that do, more power to ya. Finally, I’m going to base my analysis largely on their platforms. I know this could lead to a flawed idea of what these candidates will actually do, but I’m more in the business of discussing whether what they say they’re going to do is valid.

And now Part 1: Jerry Brown.

Jerry Brown’s Education Plan starts off with a bit about his track record. He points to increasing funding, starting charters, establishing high school graduation requirements (they didn’t have them until the 70s?), focusing on math and science, and promoting job-related educational programs. All of these sound pretty good on the surface. I wish he had more numbers outside of how much money was spent. He claims that the charters he started are “among the top-performing schools in Oakland.” The only basis we get for that are the college acceptance rates. Twenty-five percent of graduates from one of the schools, Oakland Military Institute, were accepted to University of California schools. For those unfamiliar, the aim for UC schools it to accept about the top 12.5% of high school graduates, so for 1/4 of theirs to get into UCs is very high. The other of his two schools is the Oakland School for the Arts, about which he give no numbers.

This used to be Brown's facebook photo. His current one is just too big. Plus, it's more fun to post action shots.

I find it fairly impressive that he instituted high school graduation requirements, but upon looking closer, one has to wonder what that really means. The legislation only required that all districts establish academic standards, not that those standards are the same across the board. The other piece of law that he created was the California Worksite Education and Training Act (CWETA) to fund job training in under-staffed sectors. Again, I like the idea, but he doesn’t give any specifics on results.

He then continues with what he plans if elected. He has 12 different sections, so I’ll try to be as succinct as possible about each. He first tackles higher ed. His plan is to overhaul the California Master Plan (I wrote about its 50th birthday a couple of months ago). Again, he’s pretty vague about what that means. He’s a proponent of using more online courses to save costs. The Regents have a jump on him there. Online courses are great if they’re well-monitored. I wish he’d say something about how to ensure high quality online courses. He does a good job on being specific (finally) on community colleges. They need to have courses that are more closely aligned with Cal States and UCs for transferring credits. However, he also says that “burdensome state regulations and mandates should be kept to a minimum.” Hmm… It’s hard to create across-the-board accountability without regulations.

Next, he thinks state testing needs an overhaul. It takes too much time and needs to be better aligned with college- and career-readiness. Of course, joining the Common Core standards movement affects this tremendously. Working with PARCC will be instrumental in forming the new assessments. However, the other assessment consortium, SMARTER, is the one that is developing a computer-adaptive model, which would cut down testing time while increasing testing accuracy.

His third goal is to change the school funding formulas to create more generalized pots of money for schools. Rather than the current 62 categories, he suggests fewer than 20. I’m not completely sold on this idea. I think it’s a good idea to evaluate the formula periodically and continue to tweak it, but having a goal of being less specific in your funding may not be such a good idea. The benefit of being more accurate with your spending may outweigh the cost of having people decide on these various categories. I suppose it depends on how much is actually being spent and how much would be saved if the formulas were reduced so much.

One of his strongest cases seems to be in teacher prep. Brown wants to improve our model in a few ways. First, he thinks there needs to be a focus on recruiting better candidates. He’s vagues on this point, but at least it’s something that he thinks should be looked into. More importantly, he wants to see a sort of apprentice program that  I am a big fan of. Rather than throwing first year teachers to the wolves (read: children), he suggests we ease them into it. Teachers should be able to take education coursework while learning to teach in the field. Another part of his plan is to have on-site teacher evaluations run by districts, specifically looking at performance. This seems fairly commonsense. Something that I wrote about in my very first post is the need for ways teachers can move up beyond teaching. Brown proposes paying experienced teachers to become mentor teachers, helping out younger teachers and allowing them a path toward school leadership. On top of teacher-based performance initiatives, Brown thinks we need to have similar programs for recruiting, evaluating, and training better principals.

Point five is simplify the Education code. This falls into a similar category as simplifying the budget. It could be useful, but has lots of pitfalls. On the topic of creativity in the curriculum, Brown says he will, “create local and state initiatives to increase school focus on science, history and the humanities–without reducing needed attention to math and English.” While I’m all for making the scope broader, I think it’s just silly to claim you can focus on something else and still keep the same attention on what you already had. If that were possible, it would’ve already been happening. In a similar vein, he wants to put more focus on STEM subjects (science, math). I’m not really sure what he is thinking we can do to “expand curriculum” there. Another area that he thinks needs attention is English learning. He wants the State Board of Education to “adopt instructional materials” for “intensive intervention.” From what I’ve known, State BOE’s don’t generally have official materials. They have standards and it’s left up to the districts to make sure they have materials that align. If he’s suggesting that there be specific things that schools must adopt, then that goes against his interest in giving local education organizations more freedom. Another vague thing he wants is to reduce the achievement gap and increase graduation rates. Don’t we all.

I have a bit of a bone to pick when it comes to charter schools. He adds that as one of his sections, but then doesn’t say what he wants to do, other than that it’s a bad idea to have “massive increases in charter schools.” That sounds like a union line if I ever heard one. He thinks that district schools should be given those same freedoms, but unless you’re going to make contracts void, it is a huge hurdle to have innovative staffing, calendars, and numerous other options. Right now, with all of the bureaucracy defining education, charters are the easiest way to get around those barriers.

His last two points are weak as well. He says that local districts should “consider innovative schools.” Sure, but that’s not something he is going to do himself, is it? That sounds like more of something he supports, rather than a platform. The last area of concern for Brown is citizenship and character. The only thing he suggests is that current law gets in the way of discipline. I’m not sure how making it easier to discipline would make people with better character and citizenship. It sounds more like a fast-track to jail.

OK, so that’s Jerry Brown for you. If you made it this far, I commend you. Imagine if I hadn’t been to the point! Look for my analysis of Meg Whitman’s (potential) education policies tomorrow.

The Future of LAUSD

In California, LA on July 31, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Back in June, I reported that LAUSD had hired John Deasy as assistant superintendent under Ray Cortines. It’s important to note taht Deasy is being paid more than Cortines, who also gave Deasy the bigger office. Clearly, the assumption is that Deasy will be superintendent when Cortines finishes his term. A little over a week ago, Cortines announced that will be sooner than what was previously expected. Cortines had a contract that lasted until the end of 2011, but he says he will be done next spring. This comes as a bit of a surprise, but it’s not a huge change from what the original plan was. By retiring next spring, Cortines will have served about 2 1/2 years of his 3-year contract. These past few years and his previous term were both fraught with difficulties. He presided over huge budget cuts and layoffs.

Cortines is retiring early to help transition LAUSD into a new era.

However, that seems like it was the plan all along. Cortines is seen not as a reformer, but as a budget-slasher. While he has done some great things for LAUSD like pressing for allowing wider school takeovers by CMOs and other organizations, his main issue has been navigating a financial crisis. LAUSD has been in dire straits since he came aboard in 2008 and he has worked his way into making things better. While the district is by no means out of the clear, perhaps this is a sign that Cortines thinks things should be better by next year. Or that he’s done dealing with the financial woes. What seems clear is that he’s creating a fast-track for Deasy to takeover next spring and put his own print on LA’s schools.

The Obligatory Race to the Top Update

In California, Federal on July 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Well, there are lots of things going on in education these days, despite school being out for most of the country. The number one story of course, has been federal spending on education and specifically, Race to the Top. Well, specifics on the Race have been quiet for a bit, but the DOE just announced that there are 19 finalists for Round Two. Even though there are more states that are finalists than not (17 losing out), this seems to be about the number expected. Michele McNeil and Lesli Maxwell actually correctly predicted 17 of them. Only Arizona and Hawaii were surprises to them. Arizona made an incredible improvement, considering they were 40th the first time. I suppose requiring teachers not to have accents didn’t hurt their chances. The number of finalists is no surprise, though. In the first round, there were 15 finalists with only two winners. This time, Secretary Duncan said he expects 10-15 winners.

While the announcement is positive, Ed Sector’s Rob Manwaring questions the timing. Because the deadline for adopting the Common Core is August 2nd, states who are not finalists may have less reason to make moves to put them in place. He points out that of the eight states that applied for RttT and haven’t adopted the Common Core yet, only California is a finalist. That means Alabama, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington have all lost the incentive of Race to the Top. As the head of one of the test consortia, I’d expect Washington to go ahead and adopt the standards anyway, but what about the others? Perhaps, they’ll have second thoughts now. Money is a big draw. New York’s Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, said she’d love for New York to be able to do what they’ve proposed in their application, but doesn’t think it can happen without the money from the federal government. Of course, Duncan is playing the line that all the states should do what they propose, whether or not they get the money, but lots of states are having budget problems. New York’s budget is four months late. California has been cutting and cutting and still having incredible problems.

The Hechinger Report’s Justin Snider has a list of who he thinks will win. (Hint: not too many big states). If California, New York, and Florida were all to win, that would take up half of the money left. Don’t think that the DOE isn’t thinking politically in this one. They’ll make sure the states that win are not only the ones with the best shots of enacting their reforms, but the ones that will have the most political impact, too. A win for California or New York would be great for those states, but Florida is much more of a swing state. Will that affect the winners? Hopefully not, but you can’t rule it out.

Updates: Liz Willen from Hechinger has a great analysis of the changes Arizona made to go from 40th to a finalist.

A Litttle Basic Math

In California on July 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I saw this article mentioned earlier this week, but didn’t put two and two together initially (ha! math joke!). The title is “Classsroom spending dips as ed funding rises.” That title sounds serious. California is spending more on education overall, but less on the classroom!? Well…no. We’re spending more and spending a lower percentage on the classroom. Spending went from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion from 2004-2009 and at the same time, the percentage spent on the classroom went down from 59% to 57.8%. I’ll do a little multiplication for you to save you the trouble. That means classroom spending went from $26.90 billion to $32.14 billion. So while the increase in overall education spending grew by $10 billion, classroom spending grew by $5.24 billion. Let me put it in comparative terms. Classroom spending increased by 19.5% while other spending (administrative costs, property costs, buses, all of those things) increased by 25.5%. Thus, because other costs increased by more, the overall percentage of spending in the classroom decreased.

Does this mean we’re neglecting the classroom? Maybe or maybe not. What kinds of spending does a classroom have? Teacher salaries and supplies for the most part. Teacher salaries are usually stable for periods of time this short, since there are union contracts that often don’t change much. As for supplies, the biggest expenses there are on technology. There have been lots of complaints about purchasing of unnecessary technology, so is it a problem that we’re both spending more on technology and less of a percentage on it? In addition, technology prices are decreasing rapidly. In 2005, $1000 would’ve been a reasonable price for a computer. Now, computers are half the cost. We’ve also focused a lot more in the last few years on things like accountability and support. Increasing assessments is costly. Professional development has also become a major focus in the last few years. I’m guessing that’s not counted as a “classroom cost,” but don’t you think it’s worthwhile? The article quotes the study’s author, public policy professor and director of research for the Davenport Institute, Steven Frates as saying, “It’s not teachers’ salaries and benefits that are causing the financial problems in the education system.”

He’s right; it’s budget cuts. School districts are being asked to spend less while at the same time their costs are going up. A report earlier this year pointed out that California spent less than average in 2007-2008 than other states, despite having higher costs of living. It’s not like education is the only area in which the California government is having budget issues. It’s widely known that the state is hemorrhaging everywhere. The article also brings up the fact that the CDE, according to spokeswoman Maria Lopez, has actually spent less money since 2007-2008, because of those very budget issues. Perhaps a bigger focus on classroom spending is necessary, but I’m not going to make judgments unless I see ideas of alternatives that are effective. How do we know administrative costs don’t drive learning as much as classroom costs? We don’t and misleading math isn’t going to solve any problems.

UC Regents Consider Online Courses

In California on July 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm

On Wednesday, the University of California Board of Regents will be deciding whether to add online courses in place of in-person ones. Credits for online classes would cost the same as other ones, but would be less expensive for the university and add flexibility. It’s a simple market-based decision. Because demand doesn’t change, the universities find it OK to keep any added revenue, rather than pass along savings to the consumer (read: poor college student). Chad Aldeman calls it “balancing budgets off the backs of students.” When your current practices have led you to near-bankruptcy, I suppose you can’t be blamed for trying to cut costs. After all, Berkeley’s tuition and fees will be around $12,000/year even after close to a 40% hike this year. Compared to the  Carnegie Mellon (ranked 22 in US News, right after Berkeley) whose tuition and fees will be over $40,000, that doesn’t seem so bad. Factor in the UCs’ returns on investment and you get pretty good bang for your buck. In fact, Berkeley tops out as the highest annualized net ROI percentage of any school with over $1.2 million return. It’s also the highest of any public school (surprise, surprise).

Well, that's one way to save money.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be generalizing based on Berkeley, though. All UCs charge the same, so even though you might be getting $1.22 million net ROI over 30 years from Berkeley, you’re only getting $423,000 if you attend  UC Santa Cruz (Berkeley’s 90% graduation rate and Santa Cruz’s 72% are factored into those numbers). Still, the UC’s in general do give pretty good bang for your buck compared to other schools. But how do we know what the online courses will bring? We don’t, really. Perhaps the courses will go off without a hitch and perfectly mimic their other available options. Students will get the same product for their dollars. This is a new program, though, and new programs almost inevitably have problems. I don’t have an issue with tested programs costing the same as one another. They regents should consider any new online courses to be pilots, though. The students who enroll in them are guinea pigs. There is risk involved in partaking in these classes. Students should not have to bear that risk alone, though. A portion of the initial savings should be given to those who enroll in these classes initially. If students and professors find that the online versions are just as effective, then keep the classes and charge the same as others. It’s not ethical to do otherwise.

Locke Steps

In California, Federal, LA, Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm

On Thursday, Sam Dillon of the New York Times wrote about Green Dot’s transformation of Locke High School and the high cost in turning it around. I am particularly interested in Locke, having run a leadership program for students there while I was an undergrad at USC. When I visited the school in 2006, it was not uncommon to see graffiti in the building. I remember my first experience there waiting for the teacher to come to the front to tell the security guard that it was OK for me to come in. Parking was also interesting. The teacher parking lot was filled with cars, not just in spots, but double-parked behind other cars and some just stopped on the side. Although that doesn’t sound like a major issue, it was indicative of the climate of the school.

When it comes to organization, I can’t say that it seemed much different than the other LAUSD schools I had visited. I had received a grant from Ralph Lauren and MTVU to run a leadership and technology program for high school freshmen and sophomores. The idea was that I’d teach them skills to help them set up their own organizations at the school. For a couple of months, I went around to schools trying to get appointments with principals to ask if I could run the program for them. They didn’t have to do anything other than sign off on it. I had the transportation, I had the program. I had ways to recruit students. Everything. After almost three months of getting nowhere, I finally talked to woman who recruited me to Teach For America and she gave me the name of one of the teachers at Locke. I called her that night and she told me to come drop off the applications for students the next day. The program was off and running, but it certainly had nothing to do with getting through the bureaucracy of the higher-ups. If you’re interested in reading about the exploits of the TFA teachers at Locke, there’s a book.

Anyway, that was all a very long tangent to explain how Locke was  just your average crime-ridden poorly-organized behemoth of a school. In 2008, Green Dot Public Schools took over aiming to transform the school. One of the most important changes that people point to is the fact that Locke was split into seven different smaller schools, creating a close-knit environment. While it’s a little misleading to say that this is a complete departure from the past – there were already separate teams within the school that essentially created separate schools – the organization is the obvious difference. The school looks nicer, the staff is stronger, and most importantly, it seems as though the students believe in the school and in themselves. It’s clear that it’s basically a different school. This is no surprise, considering Green Dot’s track record.

However, Dillon points to one problem with being able to replicate what Green Dot has done: the cost.

According to Dillon, Locke may have transformed like a butterfly, but the cost stings like a bee.

By some estimates, Green Dot had to raise $15 million in private funds to transition the school, two-and-a-half times the $6 million per school Congress is allowing districts to apply for. These numbers are a bit misleading for a few reasons, though. The $6 million is in addition to the normal operating costs that the school is already receiving. The school also gets per pupil funding. How much? The budget is for close to $30 million per year with the state paying for $25 million of that. While that may sound like a lot, with 3,200 students, that amounts to less than $10,000 per student. In comparison, it was just reported that the state of New York spends over $17,000 per pupil. The national average is higher than California (which seems odd, considering how much higher cost of living is in California). Is it any surprise that the school spent just under average for pupil spending? The problem seems to be California’s budget issues more than anything else. Aside from California’s already low spending on students, Alexander Russo says that he has heard that, charters get less to spend than traditional public schools, which accounts for as much as $4 million by itself. One would expect that a large school with lots of problems in an expensive area would cost above average to turn around, not below. If anything, Green Dot should be commended, rather than questioned for how much they raised to make big strides in such a problem school.

Back on track

In California, LA on June 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a few days since my last post. Aside from applying for jobs in NYC (anyone have any leads?), I’ve been spending the week trying to catch up on all the articles I was behind on. I subscribe to 19 education news sources to get you the best tidbits from around the blogosphere and further, so after being in Israel for 3 1/2 weeks, I was behind by about 700 articles. I’ve managed to finally catch up, so I figured it’s time to get back to my article every day or two that I had going before.

There are a few  topics that I would like to cover. Tomorrow’s post will be about the recent selection of organizations that won grants to develop assessments aligned with the new CORE standards. Very exciting. I’ll also give you my thoughts on the scalability of the Locke High School turnaround, a school to which I have a personal connection.

Tonight, we’ve got  a local LA headline (from yesterday): John Deasy, deputy director of the Gates Foundation’s education division, has been hired as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD. Not only that, but with a salary of $25,000 more than what Ray Cortines (the current superintendent and his boss) is making, there is speculation that he will take over for Cortines within two years. Before his stint with the Gates Foundation, Deasy was superintendent for Prince George’s County Public Schools from 2006-2008 and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from 2001-2006.

Deasy has been picked as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD.

What does this mean for LAUSD? First of all, it could possibly be a strong step in the right direction. Under Cortines, the district has by-and-large bent to the will of UTLA, not wanting to ruffle any feathers. While I am sure Deasy intends to work with the union, rather than against it, his track record shows he is a big proponent of some policies that they have adamantly fought against. Most notably, he arranged a bargain in his Maryland district to incorporate performance pay into the teacher contract. Other policies he has advocated include data-based decision making, staff development, fair evaluations for both teachers and administrators, and revenue sharing by richer sections of the district with poorer ones.

Of note is his performance in his previous districts. While Deasy made large gains with Prince George’s County, he left after less than three years with the district still the second worst in Maryland. I doubt he’d leave so quickly from such a big project as this, but you never know. There is certainly a lot on the line for him if he is to step in after Cortines, who at the age of 77 is expected to retire within the next two years. One thing is for sure, it will be no easy task with so much dysfunction and so many budget problems both at the district and state levels.

For real this time…

In California, Federal, LA, Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

OK, so my plan to write entries while in Israel did not quite pan out. It did not help that the adapter for my laptop decided to die. So now that I got that all squared away a few days ago, I’ve been in the process of trying to catch up on a month’s worth of articles. I thought perhaps I’d get through all of them and then start writing… I still have almost 600 articles left in my queue dating back to May 28. So instead of making you all wait another week or two, I’ll just start writing and hope that I can get back on track. Before I do, I thought I might mention that I’ll be relocating. The blog will stay here and I’ll still keep the national/LA stuff going, but since I’ll be heading to the NYC area, I’ll add in some NY/NJ local news once in a while, too. Since there are already lots of updates elsewhere on big to-dos in that part of the country, I don’t feel as obligated to make sure the general public is aware of them.

I am about to work on an entry about The Lottery, an excellent film I saw last night. It will be up later today.