There was an error in this gadget

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?