Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘Joanne Jacobs’

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.

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Scary But True: Real Reform is Wholesale

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Thanks go to Forest Hinton at The Quick and the Ed for his Quick Hits today leading me to Heather Zavadsky’s report for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, “Embracing Systemic Reform.” In the last few years, there have been many education advocates pushing for individual policies, such as performance pay and breaking up large schools into smaller ones. However, AEI argues that true reform can only happen when a web of changes is made. They point out a few reasons for this.

Spending green isn't useful unless it's strategic.

Most importantly, students are diverse, so not every student will respond to any one change. Smaller classrooms may be useful for students who need more attention, but it doesn’t help the student who is ready to move beyond the curriculum being taught. Individual policies will almost never affect the entire population. Next, policies affect each other. What is the point of giving teachers bonuses for helping students achieve higher test scores when they are stuck to a misaligned curriculum, or worse when the test scores themselves are meaningless because of poorly-written assessments? The idea of creating systemic change is what has inspired so many CMOs to establish their own schools and districts. It’s also the reason that last week, I said that Bill Gates should invest in an entire charter district. The only way to help all of the students in a district is to alter the way schools operate entirely – and all of the schools a child attends K-12 for that matter. Only an entire district has the ability to control all of the aspects of a student’s learning. The report focuses on five large school district who have managed to improve learning outcomes across the board for their students, in some cases significantly reducing the achievement gap between minority and white or low- and high-income students. Brookings has similar findings in the commonalities of these districts to a report I wrote for The Riordan Foundation. Who would have thought that using data, aligning your curriculum, building a skilled staff, and having strong goals would be the keys to strong schools?

On the flipside, just because you’re spending lots of money on bold reform doesn’t mean all of your changes are doing anything. The Brookings Institute has found that the services that the Harlem Children’s Zone has supported have had no educational effect. That doesn’t mean that the schools themselves have not been effective. It’s just that students receiving the additional social services, such as classes for parents, healthcare, and after-school programs, did not show any improvements over those who didn’t. Not all problems are strong factors in education. Perhaps Obama shouldn’t have been so hasty in endorsing $210 million for Promise Neighborhoods to replicate the HCZ.

Chaos and Teachers’ Voices

In Federal, LA on July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

As I was reading Joanne Jacobs’s blog today, I came across this tidbit from Organized Chaos. Its author, Ann Bailey-Lipsett, was invited to a panel discussion with Education Sector. You can see the whole video here. Here’s what Jacobs quoted that interested me:

With first graders this process usually starts out in a few different ways.

The “structure-seekers” ask a lot of questions like “Where do I put my pencil?” “What is the right answer?” and “Do you want us to use blue paper or light blue paper?” while the “oh good, freedom! Let’s see what we can do/get away with” group gets busy making something happen. Not necessarily the right thing, mind you, but paper gets cut, glue bottles are out, excited chatter starts. Then another group, of course, the “run and hiders” manage to sneak into the classroom bathroom, or into the classroom library . . .  All the while, the “I have the right answer” group of children is walking around the room telling everyone else what to do with utmost confidence. And of course, because they are 6 and 7, they end up crying, stamping their feet, and swearing that they are not Susie/Jamie/Max’s friend because Susie/Jamie/Max wont listen to their idea.

Which is, actually, somewhat similar to what’s going on in the education-sphere as we all react to Race to the Top, and the (possible?) changes in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The act formally known as NCLB).

Some states immediately got busy applying for RttT grants, while others refused to participate in the process. Some are not acknowledging that any change is occurring and will not until they’ve seen progress from other states, while some, who comfortably followed NCLB, are still waiting for specific instructions. Even in the room today, as I listened to the debate over how much students’ standardized assessments should play into teacher evaluation I couldn’t help feel that this how we are reacting to the discussion even on a personal level. Some of us are the bossy first graders announcing we know what the answer should and should not be. Some of us figure it will all play out in the end and we’re just along for the ride, while others look at this as a blank check to start some change.

Was this classroom full of 6-year-olds or policy-makers?

I really enjoyed Bailey-Lipsett’s insights, so I figured I’d look a little deeper and see what the rest of her blog post had to say. I thought a few of her points were really important. First of all, there is a worry that this method of being “tight on goals, loose on means” as Duncan has said can backfire. Bailey-Lipsett says she named her blog “Organized Chaos” specifically because of the craziness that results in these similar methods. Everyone has a different reaction and it takes a lot of energy to get to the end. However, after thinking about it, she realizes that with the right constraints, she ends up with better products in her classroom than when she has more structure. The idea behind the methods is clearly that with so many people trying many different things, there will be a big mixture of successes and failures from which to learn. Those lessons can then be applied in the future. If we only try one method, we can only know whether that one method worked. If we try many, there are many lessons to be learned.

Another point that of worry for her is the part of teachers in all of this. This has been a particularly contentious issue recently. The Administration has said many times that they want teacher input, but most teachers don’t feel like they are a part of the process. They don’t even feel much connection to the process, since it takes time for any of the new initiatives to take effect. Schools are still caught up in whether or not they will make AYP, pitting teachers against a system of punishment and blame. She said Brad Jupp pointed to the ability of unions to be the voices of teachers in all of this, but to her, in the current climate, that’s not feasible. Teachers join unions for protection from lawsuits, not as a place to voice their opinions. Perhaps that is the critical point that needs to be made. The unions have become powerful in many places because of their large membership, but there are so many teachers who are members that don’t even follow what their own unions are doing. If you thought national voter turnouts were terrible, you should see union voting. Rates of under 20% are not unusual.

One solution would be to create a grassroots movement to get teachers more involved in their unions. Young teachers with new ideas could actually participate and make a difference. I had a discussion with some others about this very thing. Within UTLA it literally only takes a handful of votes to get elected as a delegate in the House of Representatives. Get some people together and you can have your voice heard. While this grassroots approach has potential, I am a top-down kind of guy. I think to get things done quickly, people at the top need to make them happen. Perhaps instead of dealing with unions (which also leaves out all those who don’t belong to them), the administration should be looking to create ways for teachers to have input. Task forces and advisory committees could be formed and polls taken to see what teachers want. Why should it be so hard to find out what teachers think?

What do you think? How can teachers be heard better? Tonight, I’m off to a screening of “Waiting for Superman.” I’m sure you’ll hear all about it tomorrow.

Does this flood have a rainbow ending?

In Federal on July 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm

It seems like every ed blog has something to say about Rep. Obey’s EduJobs ammendment. There seems to be a lot of anger. Obviously, this is a direct blow to Obama’s reform plans. Democrats are lining up in opposition to progressive changes to education (or at least ignoring them by voting against them). I think Flypaper’s Stafford Palmieri has an interesting take. She says that the reduction from $3.4 billion to $2.9 billion could actually be a blessing in disguise. Just a few weeks ago, people were lamenting the possible egg on the ED’s face if they had to give some of the money back to the treasury because there aren’t enough states with worthwhile, feasible proposals. Now with less money, they can focus on the stronger applications. In the first round, only two states had strong enough applications to get money. Duncan would need to pick upwards of 15 states in the second round to put another $2.5 billion out there.

What's the big deal about a cloud, silver lining or not?

Mickey Muldoon responds by asking “What if silver lined a harmless cloud?” He poses three questions that I’d like to answer simply:

1. Not considering the cost or effects of a teacher bailout, would cutting the Race to the Top fund by $500M be better overall for American education?

I think this depends on what Duncan would do if he didn’t find enough strong applications. My initial reaction is that cutting money isn’t better. The Ed Department should have the money that it needs to fund the programs that it thinks can work. There’s no way to tell at this point how good the applications are, so who knows whether all of the money is needed? Even though some think that it might make the Education Department look bad to have money and not use it, wouldn’t it seem sensible of them? Everyone is always complaining about waste. The government is spending too much. Why not applaud a decision to only use as much as necessary.

2. If your answer to part (1) is no, then here’s the natural follow-up: is $4.35B the magic number?

I think it’s obvious from my first answer that there isn’t a magical number. We can only know how much to spend on a program after we know what the program involves. What if there were 20 states in round two that learned enough from round one to have proposals worth funding? Maybe more money is needed. It’s probably safe to say that the amount on the table is at least sufficient. Cutting 15% of the rest of the pot ($1 billion has already been earmarked for the assessment competition and round 1) might be OK, but it could also mean cutting a state out that was going to make some progress.

3. If Race to the Top was really worth $4.35B this time around, should it be funded into perpetuity?

If it was worth it, then I think it’s wise to continue it as long as states have work to do, such as getting rid of charter caps and seniority-based layoffs. The proper question is, “Was Race to the Top really worth $4.35 billion?” Compared to the $10 billion that may end up being spent to keep teachers in the classroom regardless of their proficiency, it’s probably going to end up worth it. We can’t really say yet, since we it will take some time to see the results of the changes states make.

Of course, this discussion could end up moot if the bill doesn’t even pass the Senate. We’ll just have to wait and see, since they are on break until next week. In the meantime, I’m going to look at the two applications for Race to the Test. Bill Tucker thinks it may be more important than Race to the Top.