Think Tank: Sponsoring Charters Harder Than It Looks
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has always been a strong proponent of charter schools, parental choice, and other market-oriented approaches to public education. So when its leaders admit that overseeing charter schools is harder than it looks, you have to pay attention.
The frank admission came first in a book, "Ohio's Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines
," released earlier this month, and then in a discussion about the book
on Thursday. Terry Ryan, Fordham's vice president for Ohio programs and policy, candidly described the challenges the think tank faced after becoming Ohio's first independent nonprofit to authorize charter schools. In the five years since, it ran eight pre-existing schools and started two more in Dayton. It still oversees seven.
The most interesting lesson: Reformers and innovators, said Ryan, can start protecting their turf as fiercely "as any teachers' union," and complain about a lack of money and the problems students bring to school. "Why are you picking on us?" he quoted some of the charter operators as asking.
Fordham faced controversy when it tried to shut down schools, Ryan noted. Parents don't always choose schools for reasons others see as rational, he said. Sometimes they just like the staff, or the safety, or the location.
"As you close schools, you shrink the number of people willing to help you in that community," Ryan said.
Fordham's experience points up some of the nuances of covering charter schools, including the importance of paying attention not just to charter schools themselves but also the entities overseeing them.
Some authorizers are much better than others. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers
has emerged as a leading advocate for keeping standards high. Still, as the panel on Thursday pointed out, while authorizers with lax standards can be a problem, so too can those who refuse to approve any charters at all.
When sizing up a charter school, don't forget to look at its authorizer's record. How many applications has it received, and how many successful charter schools has it approved? You also might examine its reluctance or willingness to close failing charter schools.
But should a willingness to shut down poorly performing schools be the hallmark of a good authorizer? As Fordham President Chester Finn Jr. pointed out during the session, the schools students have to return to if their school closes could be worse than the failing charter. Such realities create dilemmas for authorizers, as well as interesting issues for reporters to explore.
Are U.S. Schools Really in Crisis?
ABC News is getting into the back-to-school spirit by devoting Sunday's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" to education.
The news program will feature U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and American Federation Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Could be interesting.
The promo on the program's website features a clip of Duncan's speech at the National Press Club
in which he talked about education's "quiet revolution." (EWA's Caroline Hendrie shared an elevator with Amanpour after that speech, and reports that the TV news diva looks as chic in person as she does on TV.)
bills the program as "Exclusive: Crisis in the Classroom." Besides Duncan, Rhee, and Weingarten, the show will feature celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on how American school cafeterias can provide children with healthier food.
Are these numbers bad news for the Obama administration?
More Americans are saying they are less supportive of President Barack Obama’s plans for education reform.
One-third of Americans give the president an A or B for his leadership on public school issues, down from 45 percent a year ago, according to the 2010 annual Phi Delta Kappan’s poll of American Attitudes Toward Public Schools. Poll results were released Wednesday.
PDK officials questioned why the president hasn’t gotten more credit for his education reforms on a conference call Tuesday which coincided with the announcement of Race to Top Phase 2 winners
The U.S. Department of Education has infused states with more than $100 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Obama administration, using it to both offset budget shortfalls and to encourage reforms. And Obama has described his education platform as his administration’s most important initiative
and has argued that it is the preeminent issue of this era.
So why is there such a big gap in public perception on the president’s education reforms?
“The public in general is not aware of where the money is coming from,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, during a conference call with reporters to discuss this year’s poll results.
“Federal contribution to schools is like 8 percent and so people aren’t used to seeing big federal dollars going to schools,” he said.
You can’t underestimate the president’s overall waning popularity as a contributing factor in public opinion, poll leaders said in response to a question about how Americans are generally viewing the Obama administration on issues like the economy.
William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International and the poll's co-director, said Americans view neighborhood schools as a local issue and they want to have a say in how things are operated.
In fact, four out of five respondents said that state governments should be responsible for public education in the United States.
The public also disagrees with Obama about closing failing schools
, instead favoring more comprehensive support such as greater financial resources.
Other nuggets from PDK’s poll:
68 percent of Americans agree with the president's support of charter schools and almost all parents favor making college more available to all students.
71 percent of Americans say they trust teachers and do not support the firing of teachers and principals without cause.
So what do you think about PDK’s poll? Any surprises? Share your thoughts, and don’t forget to track your school district’s stimulus spending at Edmoney.org
Labels: education, President Obama, public polls
Race to Top Roundup: Angles Galore
The U.S. Department of Education announced the 10 winners of the next phase of Race to the Top on Tuesday, and it included a couple of surprises. Many speculated that Illinois, Colorado and Louisiana would be in the top 10. Few folks expected Hawaii or Maryland to make the cut.
The winners, in order of ranking from top to bottom, were: Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio.
The Department of Education offered a roundup
of rankings, a video statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a recording of his press teleconference, and the states' applications and scores
There are lots of angles reporters can explore with this round. How about the geographical one, as The New York Times pursued
? Hawaii is the only state west of the Mississippi River to make the cut, the article notes.
There's the value-added angle. How did Ohio succeed with a double-digit surge in its scores from Phase 1 to Phase 2, while New Jersey and Arizona lost by mere points after double-digit efforts between the two rounds? The Newark Star-Ledger speculates that an error on the application
cost New Jersey five points and a win.
Duncan said in a press conference on Tuesday
that he wished he had more money to include more states, but the cutoff score for both phases was 440.
During the press conference, he commiserated with the losing states, but was adamant that the department did not have enough money to fund any more than the 10 selected. And he wouldn't step in to change any of the scores—although he said he would cut off a state's funding if it didn't follow through with its promises.
Many education reformers expressed vociferous disappointment that Louisiana and Colardo were not on the list.
The Ohio Education Gadfly welcomed Ohio's ranking
, but questioned whether Ohio had the political will to follow through. The Gadfly's DC contingent (Mike Petrilli) was more forceful, calling the selections a "disastrous outcome"
for the administration.
Both Petrilli and Andy Rotherham—aka Eduwonk—lamented a selection process that relied too heavily on peer reviewers to the detriment of reform-minded states. Rather than keep his hands off the process, they argue, Duncan should have considered putting a thumb on the scale
Bruce Baker, author of the schoolfinance101 blog, says RTTT should have put more emphasis on state effort and fairness
in school finance. To him, Colorado and Louisiana did not deserve the grants anyway.
Eduflack's Patrick Riccard made analogies to college basketball brackets
to discussa the competition. As he noted, oral presentations seemed to matter this time, while they didn't in Phase 1.
Edited to add: Democrats for Education Reform, supporters of the RTTT initiative, provided a breakdown
of some of the numbers, including union support, state participation in the process and the laws states changed in order to participate.
And the Wall Street Journal put together a nifty chart
of states' scores and rankings in both RTTT rounds.
Labels: Race to Top
Newest Data a Gold Mine for Reporters
EdMoney.org, EWA’s website tracking funds from last year’s economic-stimulus law, has just become a gold mine of information on that unprecedented influx of federal cash into the nation’s schools.
With data on roughly 39,000 grants to more than 12,000 school districts, the site now provides vastly more information on how funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are being disbursed. Besides listing the amount and purpose of grants awarded to states and districts through June 30 of this year, the database reports how much of the money had been spent as of that date.
The site also lets you compare school districts of similar size, and their spending rates. In some cases, it’s surprising to see how little of the stimulus cash has been spent. For instance, the nation’s capital has only spent $650,000 of its $16 million in additional special education dollars, while Wyoming has only spent 1 percent of its share of education-related stimulus money.
Very soon, we’ll offer downloadable files so you can analyze the numbers yourselves. But even now, the wealth of newly added data presents interesting story possibilities. Here are a few:
- Compare districts of similar size and demographics in your state to see if there are discrepancies in how they’re spending stimulus dollars.
- Compare the rate of spending among districts. Is your district spending at a faster rate or a slower rate than average? How about property-rich counties versus property-poor ones in your state?
- Are there significant differences in how much stimulus money per student various states and school districts are receiving? If so, find out why.
- Take a look at the IDEA grants to your districts and find out how those awards have affected the amount of local funds allotted for special education. If the local contributions have been cut and replaced with federal dollars, what does the district plan to do after the stimulus money dries up?
We’ll be offering more story possibilities in the days and weeks ahead. For now, take a cruise around the database, and contact us with any questions. Let us know when you come across something worth investigating. And make sure to share links to your own stories and blog items on the stimulus.
Labels: edmoney, stimulus, U.S. Department of Education
Race to the Top Phase 2 Winners Announced Tuesday
The US Department of Education will announce the winners of the next phase of Race to the Top on Tuesday. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were named finalists July 17
out of 36 applicants. During the first round, only two states -- Tennessee and Delaware -- received RTTT dollars.
Place your bets now.
Labels: Race to Top
Now THIS is a cool job.
EWA has a bunch of great ideas in the pipeline that, eventually, will help not just journalists but anyone interested in the conversation about education. To move them forward, we are looking for a multimedia producer
to join the staff—someone with writing skills, online experience, energy and a steady stream of ideas. Are you interested? Know anyone who might be? Encourage them to apply.
Reporters Puzzled by Edujobs Estimates
The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the emergency jobs bill that is supposed to save 160,000 teaching jobs around the country.
on the House Education and Labor Committee website shows how much money each state should receive and how many teaching jobs each state should save.
But reporters were skeptical during a press conference call held today by Arne Duncan after the jobs bill was passed. For example, columnist Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune told Duncan that he had a hard time finding districts that needed to rehire teachers in Washington state.
Incidentally, reporters also wondered on the EWA K-12 listserve about the jobs saved. Dave Murray of the Grand Rapids Press noted that the estimates of how many jobs would be saved went from 4,100 last week to 4,700 while the $318 million remained the same. Ben Botkin, education and politics reporter for the Times-News in Twin Falls, said the Idaho state schools superintendent downplayed the federal government's estimates.
The education secretary and his staff said the money could be used to restore counselors and social workers as well as after-school and summer school programs. ED plans to get the money out fast, within a couple of weeks, using a streamlined application process, Duncan said.
Duncan also will be meeting via conference call on Wednesday, Aug. 11, with governors and chief state school officers.
Also catching listservers' eyes: a press release from the American Federation of Teachers. One of the teachers who had lost her job attending the House vote had already been recalled to work, the release noted.
While education reporters wondered whether there were jobs that needed to be restored, White House reporters appeared to be concerned that the bill would not result of in the rehiring of all the educators who lost their positions.
During the White House briefing Tuesday morning, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about it. With a hat tip to Education Week's Dakarai Aarons for providing the transcript, here's the exchange:
Bill, following up on that, when the President promised today in the Rose Garden that this bill, if passed, would bring, he said, “hundreds of thousands of additional jobs in the next year, how can you back up that claim when even the White House's own material about this event -- some of the teachers that were appearing with the President, you had to say they might get their jobs back. There's no guarantee that these teachers are actually going to be rehired. So how can you back up the claim that hundreds of thousands of people are going to get their jobs?
Well, obviously we have some of the best economists in the world working at this White House, and they've taken a hard look at the numbers. They've taken a hard look at, state by state, what the states need in order to avoid some of these drastic cuts that would take teachers out of our classrooms and takes cops and firefighters off our streets. And they’re confident that those numbers are accurate."