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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos Surprisingly Struggles with Basic Education Policy Concepts

I don't think Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) had any idea yesterday that his question would lead to the most disqualifying statement made by President-Elect Donald Trump's Secretary of Education nominee, billionaire Betsy DeVos. Here's the exchange, via CNN:


DeVos can't answer whether she prefers proficiency or student growth as the standard for student excellence. In fact, it appears she doesn't know there's been a controversy over the issue -- something a simple Google search reveals. Look, there's pressure involved in these hearings. I get it. So did DeVos simply run out of gas, forget, choke? I don't know. But the fact that she can't have a coherent discussion about student growth and proficiency scores and claims to want to run our nation's schools is frightening.

Why?

Because all efforts we make to turn around struggling schools, or reward high performing schools, or pay teachers, or rate schools and states , or establish charter schools or vouchers depends entirely on proficiency and student growth scores. In some cases, it's growth that takes the day. In others, it's proficiency. But to not know about these concepts is truly frightening. Kind of like hiring a basketball coach who doesn't understand wins and losses determine who reaches the playoffs. Yes. It's that problematic.

Nearly as disqualifying: her lack of understanding that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can't be overseen by states (which was her pat answer to any tough policy issue: Let the states and localities decide how to handle it). IDEA is a federal program that supports schools' IEP implementation and helps them hire Special Education Intervention Specialists, among other things.

And because it's a federal program, it ensures that every school in the country is required to meet these minimum standards. DeVos said during her hearing that each state and district should be able to implement IDEA how they see fit. Either she is ignorant of the program or she believes fundamentally that the U.S. Department of Education should exercise zero oversight of the $70 billion in taxpayer dollars it oversees.

Other issues from yesterday:

  • She wouldn't tell Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who represented Sandy Hook in the House, whether guns around schools were a good idea (except to defend against grizzly bears
  • She refused to say whether she would defend current regulations against sexual assaults on college campuses, though she did say that what Donald Trump bragged about doing with women was sexual assault.
  • She wouldn't commit to really any policies other than the same EduSpeak pablum everyone talks about -- ensuring kids and parents have opportunities. Who's possibly against that.
  • She outright refused to say that all schools that receive federal dollars should be put on the same playing field, which means charter and private schools will be judged differently than local public schools. She approvingly confirmed that charters currently are held to a different standard.
One more thing that concerned me. Here in Ohio, we have had a 20-year struggle with figuring out charter schools. The major turning point in our history with making these schools the high-quality options our children deserve came a few years ago when charter advocates and critics coalesced around the idea of quality governing school choices, not just the choice, quality be damned -- the If-Parents-Choose-It's-Inherently-A-Better-Option Fallacy. 

As Dr. Macke Raymond of the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University put it: Education "is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state."

I thought it was telling that every time DeVos was asked about the quality issue -- whether a bunch of low performing choices are choices in a real sense -- she always returned to the choice for choice's sake refrain.

Maybe I'm sensitive to this because of our Herculean struggle with this issue here in Ohio, but not once did I hear her bring up quality first. Choice was first. Then quality. And that's concerning to me. Because for 20 years, Ohio operated like only the choice matters, and we became a national joke on charter school quality.

All the more concerning is that even without DeVos in charge, the feds have not had a good history here of investing in the "high-quality" charters their grant programs are meant to encourage. Last year, we found that nearly 4 in 10 charters that received federal money meant to grow high-quality Ohio charters went to schools that closed shortly after receiving the grant or never opened at all.

Imagine if quality wasn't even considered because the new Education Secretary didn't know how to measure it? Well, we may find out soon enough.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Did Anyone Vote For This? Charters Get More Per Pupil Casino Money than Districts

I've written about this before -- the idea of whether the Ohio Constitution permits charter and joint vocational schools to receive any casino money, especially given the casino provision's specific mention of public school "districts". My concerns remain.

(By the way, whenever anyone criticizes me or anyone else for comparing charter schools with school districts, I give you the interpretation that charters are to be considered school districts for the purposes of casino revenue distribution.)

However, I wonder if more people will take the argument seriously now that charters get more per pupil funding from casinos than local public school districts. Last year was the first time that happened.

According to Ohio Department of Taxation data, charter school kids received $51.33, on average, from casino revenue. Local school district children received $50.89.



Now, the difference isn't that great. However, it is there.

I know for a fact that not a single person who voted for the casino issue voted to send more per pupil money to the notorious Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) than all but 2 Ohio school districts (Piqua and Bradford). Or that more than 1 in 10 charters now receive more per pupil funding from casino revenue than ANY Ohio school district. Or that only 89 percent of state casino money meant for "public school districts" under the Ohio Constitution actually go to public school districts.

As lawmakers return to handle what Gov. John Kasich has called a looming recession here, I would think one way they could address at least a little bit of the school funding issue is to re-examine whether charter schools should be receiving more per pupil funding from Ohio casinos than the school districts whose good reputations helped get the measure passed.

And this is one more area of concern with Betsy DeVos being nominated as the U.S. Secretary of Education. Her steadfast belief that charters and vouchers are better options than local public schools would seem to signal that she's perfectly fine with charters getting more per pupil money from Ohio casinos than local districts. Not sure many middle class Ohioans who voted for her boss would agree.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ohio: The Mediocre Heart of it All

It seems like I write this every year when the Education Week Quality Counts report comes out. There's Ohio, right in the middle of the national rankings. Again. Yawn.

This year, we rated 22nd overall. Last year, 23rd.



It wasn't always this way. In 2010, we ranked 5th best education system in the country.

Then in 2011, we had an historic, $1.8 billion funding cut to education -- a cut that hasn't been replaced in many parts of the state, even now, despite the state spending about $10 billion more overall than it spent in 2010.

But I digress.

Once again, though, the rankings demonstrate just how close Ohio came to being a national education leader rather than a laggard. In 2010, we had the Evidence Based Model of school funding -- a system that for the first time promised to reduce the state's reliance on property taxes -- the key to the state's constitutional mandate. In fact, 2010 has been the only time on record that more state than local money paid for public education. The model and other education reforms won the state the prestigious Frank Newman Award from the bipartisan Education Commission of the States, which is awarded every year to the nation's most "bold, courageous" education policy reforms of the year.

However, Gov. Kasich eliminated the EBM as one of his first acts. Since then, Ohio's rankings have plummeted.

There was one state that kept its version of the EBM. Wyoming. In 2010, that state ranked 34th nationally. Today? It's 7th. And it's the only state in the country to receive an A (A-) in school finance.

Think elections don't matter?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Thanksgiving Wish for Everyone...

video

Here is my Thanksgiving wish for everyone. It's possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together and say respectful things to one another. I pray we can reach that point again. Soon.



Ohio's Largest Campaign Finance Violator named Trump's Education Secretary

Well, this is something. Amway Billionaire Betsy DeVos was named as Donald Trump's Education Secretary choice today.

Wow.

DeVos has a bad history here in Ohio. In 2006, she allowed David Brennan to launder campaign cash through her All Children Matter PAC. That led to the largest fine ever levied against a candidate or PAC by the Ohio Elections Commission -- $5.2 million. By all accounts, that fine was larger than all fines put together.

DeVos is an avowed school choice champion. She has been politically active to elect pro-school choice candidates around the country. And there is little question she would continue to push for more vouchers and charter schools as Secretary.

However, there's not a great track record with federal charter school investment. Just in Ohio, we found that about 1/3 of all the money sent to grow high-quality charters went to charters that closed shortly after receiving the federal funding, or never opened in the first place.

In all other federal grant programs, only 2% of the entities failed or failed to open.

I hope DeVos is focused on quality rather than choice for choice's sake. But combining this news with the crazy, unwarranted and clearly politically motivated attacks against state Sen. Peggy Lehner and her family (which will be the subject of a standalone post form me later), one starts to think that perhaps the quality-based choice advocates are about to be crushed.

And that would be terrible for our nation's kids.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Happens if Trump Blows Up USDOE? Folks in Trump Country get Hammered.

Now that we have to contend with a President Trump, I thought it might be useful to look at one of his only concrete policy proposals: Eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and replacing the funding with a voucher program.

Killing off the USDOE has long been a dream of the conservative movement, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry remembering he wanted to eliminate it, even as he famously stumbled over the other agencies he wanted to whack.

But what would this mean for local communities? What would it mean for Ohio's school districts?

Well, it would not be good if federal funding disappeared. Every district in Ohio but 5 received federal funding last year. The largest recipients are urban districts. But the most disproportionately impacted are the poor, white, rural districts in communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.

That's because they have the least amount of local tax revenue to make up for the lost federal funding, and they have among the lowest incomes in the state. Below, you will see the top 25 Ohio School Districts that would need to have residents sacrifice the largest percentages of their incomes to pay for lost federal revenue. While Youngstown, Warren and East Cleveland are the top 3, about 1/2 are from the rural, red counties that overwhelmingly put a guy in office who would force them to consider serious income tax increases to keep their schools going. The districts best able to withstand a federal funding loss? You guessed it -- the state's wealthy, suburban districts.



Overall, Ohio school districts received $1.5 billion in federal funding last year, which would force districts to seek an overall property tax increase of about $220 per $100,000 home.

While I have certainly disagreed with federal education policy, especially when it comes to some of the competitive funding it's come to be defined by, Title I, IDEA and other federal programs have sought to bring equity and adequacy to our nation's most struggling schools. The evidence that these programs help kids is pretty clear.

Will Trump eliminate these programs that improve kids lives while keeping property taxes down in communities that can least afford to raise them? We'll see.

But elections have consequences. And if one of this election's consequence is the elimination of federal education funding, it appears that those who made Trump president will suffer among the worst outcomes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ohio Charter School Sponsor Ratings: School Districts have Highest Academic Achievement

While I have concerns with how the overall grades are being calculated in Ohio's new charter school sponsorship ratings, there's something really interesting happening in the area that is most important in my mind -- academic performance.

Try this: The only recipients of an A, B, or C in academic performance are school districts and Educational Service Centers. While it is also true that these public entities sponsor far fewer charter schools, the performance shouldn't be overlooked.

It appears that the more charters you sponsor, the worse your rating. Which isn't surprising, given Ohio's overall poor performing charter sector.

But it should be made clear that the 33 charter school sponsors that receive As, Bs and Cs on academic performance are all public entities.

Equally telling?

All 33 are rated ineffective or poor. Which means the state would say that the 33 highest rated charter school sponsors in academic performance would be banned from opening new charters, or in the case of the poor rated sponsors, would have to immediately shut down.

I'm not sure that how the accountability system should work.