New Governors in the Race

Undoubtedly, much of the next few days will be spent dissecting yesterday’s off-year elections and their greater meaning for healthcare reform, the 2010 congressional races, and the 2012 presidential campaigns.  What does it mean for Republicans to take back the Virginia governor’s seat?  How painful will the Democrats’ gubernatorial loss in New Jersey be?  Why was the NYC mayor’s race closer than most expected?  These are all questions that will (and already have) been raised in the past 12 hours.

But Eduflack has a far more specific question to ask.  How do changes in executives in the Old Dominion and the Garden State impact Race to the Top?  It is no secret that both New Jersey and Virginia and busily working on their RttT applications, most likely planning on submitting their prose to the U.S. Department of Education as part of Phase I submissions in early January 2010.  Most likely, the respective state departments of education have already invested hundreds of staff hours to prepare their applications, even while we wait on the final RttT RFP to be released by ED later this month.  And they have carefully negotiated the support of the governor’s office, the chief state school officer, the state board of education, and the teachers’ unions to put as unified a plan forward as humanly possible.
So what happens when the governorship changes party, and thus shifts priority?  Clearly, Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell has a very different approach to school improvement than current Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, particularly with regard to charter schools.  New Jersey’s recent victor, Chris Christie, differs with NJ Gov. Jon Corzine in just about every policy way.  McDonnell and Christie will be bringing in new secretaries of education and will be working to get their own people on state boards and in other positions of authority.  And neither is going to have the NEA or the AFT on their call list over the next few months.
When it comes to RttT, does Corzine’s education team sit down with Christie’s transition team to make sure the new governor is on board when it comes to the state application? How about Kaine and McDonnell?  Both incoming Republican governors will be wholly responsible for implementing the Race plans (as they are four-year grants slated to begin soon after both men take office).  As such, will they be given any input into the grant’s final development, or will they be forced to live with whatever plan is put forward by their predecessors?
We’d like to believe that Kaine/McDonnell and Corzine/Christie can work together on formulating their Race applications, or at least agree on the broad strokes.  But the cynic in me knows that that will never happen, and that’s a cryin’ shame.  I’m guessing that Race isn’t high on the list of either outgoing governor’s to-do list, leaving it to the folks in his respective SEA.  And neither will be looking to do his successor any favors.  So both Virginia and New Jersey will move full steam ahead with their apps, doing what they intended and doing what aligns with the last four years of policy in their respective states, and not the next four years.  Of all the issues on the table, McDonnell and Christie likely won’t raise Race as a major transition issue (though they should, when one considers the financial implications of meeting grant requirements that move well beyond the dollars coming from ED).
That being the case, is ED already starting to think about how they will deal with proposed changes to Race priorities after applications have been submitted or even approved?  Beyond these two states, what happens if new governors have new ideas for how Race money can be spent after the 2010 elections?  What happens if state legislatures have major changes in demographics next year?   What happens if more governors win the right to appoint their own state boards of education? 
In my home state of Virginia, for instance, charter schools remain a puzzle wrapped in an enigma.  On paper, the Old Dominion has one of the best charter school laws in the nation, with no caps, no restrictions, and basically unfettered opportunity to create such alternatives across the state.  In practice, though, charter opponents just choose not to enforce the spirit of the law.  Only a handful of charters exist across the state, with state and local officials finding ways to stymie their growth and establishment.  
Race makes clear that charter schools are a key component to the federal plan for school improvement and turnaround.  ED officials expect significant dollars to go to the cultivation of a strong public charter school network.  And Virginia Gov.-elect McDonnell has made charters a centerpiece of his K-12 education agenda.  So if the Kaine team chooses to overlook charters in their Race app (other than emphasizing the openness of the current state law and how it meets RttT provisions), does McDonnell and his incoming team have the opportunity to make adjustments to throw a greater spotlight on charter development in Virginia?  Will the incoming governors have to honor the spirit of the state’s Race application or the letter? 
Based on the timetables, McDonnell and Christie will likely be given no opportunity to impact their state’s Race applications.  Those are in process now, and few have the heart (after tough elections in both states) to open things back up and start over, particularly with a team that has just put them out of a job.  But both incoming governors will be responsible for distributing Race money to school districts across the state, and both will be responsible for determining how the state spends their dollars on the standards, assessments, and accountability called for in the grant. 
Both New Jersey and Virginia made marked shifts in their executive leadership last evening, both overall and with regard to public education (particularly K-12).  What’s left to be seen is how the rhetoric of the last year will translate into the policies of 2010, and whether either wants to start one of their first fights on the topic of education and the spending of federal ed dollars.  If they do, charters are likely to be the first battlefield, with teacher incentives (and a showdown with the teachers’ unions who fought so hard to defeat them this fall) coming quickly on its heels.  Let the fireworks begin!

In Search of 21st Century Joe Clarks

When I’m flipping through the cable stations late at night, unable to sleep because something or another has my mind going a thousand miles an hour, there are a number of movies for which I will always stop and watch.  Braveheart, Thank You For Smoking, the original All the King’s Men, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Roadhouse, 10 Things I Hate About You, and She’s All That tops among them.

The remote also cools down when I stumble across Lean on Me, which I happened to catch again late last night.  We all know the movie I’m talking about, the 1989 film starred Morgan Freeman and told the story of Joe Clark and his transformation of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ.  The story has become urban legend by now.  About 30 percent of Eastside’s students were passing the state proficiency exam.  New Jersey had just passed a law stating that any school with less than a 75 percent passage rate faced state takeover.  So in a move of desperation, Paterson turned over its most troubled school to “Crazy” Joe Clark, giving him seven months to more than double the passage rate and avoid state control.
In the biopic, Clark is dogged, even possessed, in enacting his version of school improvement.  Focusing on discipline, accountability, self-respect, and responsibility, he quickly brings a new culture to the school.  That culture brings about a change in attitudes and actions from the students.  (He actually appeared on the cover of Time magazine with a baseball bat, not unlike DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her broom.)  In the 11th hour, facing possible jail time and certain termination because of personality clashes and violation of the fire codes, the movie Joe Clark reveals that the school surpassed the 75 percent proficiency mark.  Takeover averted.  Possibly the state’s worst public school transformed in a matter of months into a performer.  From dropout factory to postsecondary pipeline.
If only it were that simple.  But why, you may ask, is Eduflack writing about a movie from the late 1980s that has almost been forgotten in recent years?  President Obama and EdSec Duncan’s visit to Wisconsin on Wednesday has really got me thinking.  By now, we’ve all heard the chattering that the visit is being used to advocate for mayoral takeover of urban school districts in crisis, calling for changes at the top of the systemic education pyramid to bring about real change at the foundations.  In recent months, we’ve heard the detailing of successful takeovers in Chicago, New York, and Boston, along with promising takeovers in cities like Washington, DC.  With the success of charter schools in Milwaukee (and to a lesser degree, of vouchers), it only makes sense that the city will be the next test for mayoral takeover.
Yes, we can point to mayors who have been tremendously successful in using their bully pulpit to bring about a new world of thinking in the public schools.  But the story of Joe Clark and Eastside High should make us remember that there is only so much that can be done at the top of the foodchain.  A mayor’s support for a superintendent only goes so far in school transformation.  It ultimately takes the support and efforts of the teachers and the principals to bring about the sort of lasting change sought by Duncan and funded through RttT, i3, and other new programs.  And we are rarely talking about principals and building leaders these days.
So it begs the question, where are the next generation Joe Clarks?  What school districts are empowering their principals to “take no prisoners” and do whatever it takes to fix a broken school, restore order, and deliver improved student achievement?  Where are the breeding grounds for such school leaders, where they develop the instructional leadership, the vision, the executive management, and the passion to take on the schools that need it the most?  How do we embolden incoming cadres of principals, ensuring they see their jobs as more than building managers and more than the middle ground between the superintendent and the teachers?  And how do we give the right people the authority to shake things up and truly toss out what wasn’t working, even when facing strong defenders of the failed status quo?
Year after year, we hear about the modern-day Eastside High Schools, the dropout factories, the persistent contributors to the achievement gap, the schools where too many students are written off before they even arrive for their first day of school.  As we focus on how to move forward with lasting school improvement, it seems we need a whole mess of Joe Clarks to implement a new way of thinking, a new way of teaching, a new way of motivating, and new way of achieving.  Without it, all the fresh paint and duct tape in the free world can’t truly heal the schools that need help the most.

“Disrupting” High School Failure

Can you legislate graduation rates?  Today, the Washington Post editorial board called on the state of Maryland to raise the compulsory age for school attendance, essentially using state law to require students to stay in Maryland high schools until the age of 18 (it is 16 now).  The move, following on the heels of a similar policy adopted by the Montgomery County Board of Education is in direct response to the latest data showing a growing dropout rate in Maryland.  The full editorial can be found here.

Eduflack is all for any measure designed to improve high school graduation rates, but can you really legislate the problem away?  And if so, why just raise the dropout age to 18?  Why not require by law that every student stay in school until they earn a high school diploma or reach the age of 21?  Why not mandate a high school diploma in order to secure a driver’s license or buy a beer?
We don’t take such steps because such a “stick” approach to high school reform simply doesn’t work.  Despite the best of intentions, requiring an intended dropout to stay in school for two extra years rarely results in that “a-ha” moment when he finds his calling in high school, puts himself on the illuminated path, earns his diploma, and leads a successful life.  It leads to two more years of resentment, coupled with two years of wasted resources at the school and district level.
Talk to anyone who has succeeded in high school improvement efforts, and you will hear that the secret to true high school transformation is not about maintaining the current course.  To boost high school graduation rates, we need to make classroom learning more relevant to at-risk students.  We need to personalize courses, connecting directly with students.  We need to bring real-life into classroom learning, through internships, speakers, and any other means that link high school with life.
As part of its efforts to invest in meaningful high school reform models, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has regularly touted the successes of the high school reform model offered by Big Picture Learning.  While the Gates model for high schools has shifted over the years, its praise for Big Picture has been unwavering.  But the Big Picture model has been one of those “best kept secrets” in education policy.  Those intimate with the details are true believers, but many are unawares of what the Rhode Island-based organization is truly doing in schools across the world.  (Full disclaimer, Eduflack worked with Big Picture’s founders on their October policy event.)
Last month, Big Picture held its coming out in Washington, DC, educating the policy community on how the Big Picture model fits with the current call for school improvement and innovation.  Touting the need for “disruptive innovation” in school improvement, Big Picture leaders focused on the importance of a student-centered curriculum, a close relationship with teachers, and real world internships to best serve those students at greatest risk of dropping out.  And working in more than 130 schools, Big Picture knows of what it speaks.  More than eight in 10 BPL schools receive Title I funding, while 66 percent of their students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.  Such measures are usually the early markers of dropout factories and graduation problems.  But at Big Picture schools, more than 92 percent of students earn their high school diplomas (compared with 52 percent nationally).  And 95 percent of their students are accepted into college, the first step toward achieving the President’s college-educated Americans goal by 2020.
The true measure of Big Picture’s effectiveness, though, may best be found in what others were saying about them in DC a few weeks ago.  According to Congressman George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, “Big Picture is engaging students in discovering the level of context they understand, and how they apply it, and how they appreciate it, and how they can connect it to the next task in education, life, and experience.”  
And Harvard Business School Prof. Clay Christensen, the author of Disrupting Class and the godfather of the concept of “disruptive innovation” said: “I think that the Big Picture schools are about as great an example of integrating opportunities to feel success with the delivery of curriculum as exists in America.  By knitting together the delivery of the content they need to learn, with projects that allow them to use that they learn and feel successful, they’ve just done a wonderful thing; and I think it is a beacon for all of us.”
High praise from two who know a little bit about the topics of school improvement and comprehensive reforms.  So how does it translate back into what our states and school districts are looking to do through Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation to improve our schools and reform those so-called dropout factories?  Big Picture co-founder Elliot Washor summed it up best as part of their October event: “In our quest to improve public education, we often overlook the importance of the student perspective.  Based on our experiences, students thrive in high school when they see the relevance to their current interests and future plans.  Every student can earn a high school diploma with the right classroom and practical instruction.”
The data is there, and folks like Bill Gates and George Miller have recognized the benefits and impact.  Perhaps there really is more to high school improvement than increasing the compulsory age for school attendance.  Relevance and an increased focus on the students surely can’t hurt.

There’s Gambling in Our Ed Assessment Casablanca?

Yesterday’s release of the National Center for Education Statistics’ report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto National Assessment of Education Progress Scales: 2005-2007 seemed like it was almost lifted from the movie Casablanca.  We are shocked, shocked to learn that many states’ “standards” are hardly standards at all.  For years, we’ve been reading about how student proficiency on state exams has been on the rise, while NAEP scores have remained virtually stagnant.  Now, NCES paints a grim picture of the situation, demonstrating that most states are below or only meet the basic learning standards established by NAEP.
How can that be?  The cynic in us says that states have been downgrading their state assessments to meet NCLB and AYP expectations.  As they need to demonstrate year-on-year gains in math and reading, they’ve had to readjust their tests and their scoring scales to demonstrate such gains.  It is why we hear that, according to state data, students in Alabama beat students in Massachusetts when it comes to reading proficiency.  Of course, there is no telling what those numbers would look like if Bay Staters were taking Alabama’s state test instead of their own MCAS.  The full NCES study can be found here.
Perhaps the strongest statement on the NCES report came from Congressman George Miller, the chairman of the House Education Committee.  In response to the latest data comparisons, Miller said: “The quality of a child’s education should not be determined by their zip code.  It is unacceptable that many states have chosen to lower the bar rather than strive for excellence.  This means that many students aren’t even expected to rise to meet rigorous standards — they are allowed to linger in a system that doesn’t challenge them to do better and doesn’t help them to develop the complex skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the jobs of the future.”
These are strong words from the man who is in charge of managing reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act next year, the Congressman who will ultimately decide the future of AYP, the adoption of core standards, and the development of the assessments and data systems to track against those standards.  And they are right on the money.  Effective assessment has hardly been a strong suit in U.S. public education, particularly considering the rough patchwork that has long made up our testing systems.  That’s why so many people are providing a big bear hug to the notion of common core standards.  In the pursuit of a better mousetrap, we hope that core standards provide a common baseline for all assessment, regardless of the state administering the exam.  If we accept the concept of core standards, it means that fourth grade reading proficiency means the same thing in Alabama as it does in Massachusetts, the same in Texas as it is in Oregon.  And if the we are all working off the same standards, in theory, we should all have similar benchmarks by which to measure proficiency.  Proficient is proficient.
But if we are moving from the promise of core standards to the realization of common expectations, we can’t overlook some of the core realities that underly the data.  Yes, we should be appalled that proficiency percentages on state exams don’t track well with NAEP proficiencies.  But we should be equally appalled (if not more so) by what NAEP itself tells us.  
As Eduflack has discussed before, the eighth grade reading NAEP has long been considered the best measure of true student achievement.  It provides a strong longitudinal approach to learning (as kids have been taught reading four eight years), and those reading skills are essential to success in other academic subjects.  We look at Massachusetts, with the highest eighth grade NAEP scores, and see it as the gold standard in reading proficiency.  But only 43 percent of Massachusetts eighth graders score proficient or better on the reading NAEP.  Is that really the bar we want to set, where nearly six in 10 students are scoring below proficient?  Is that the best we can do, or the best to which we aspire? 
Core standards will only take us so far.  At some point, we have to raise our game when it comes to both teaching and learning, ensuring that all students are gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to both hit the mark on the requisite assessments and achieve when it comes to both college and career opportunities.  Standards only mean so much if we aren’t achieving the goals they set forth. 

Millions and Millions of Minutes

It’s been used by education reformers and praised by the folks like Newt Gingrich.  Business leaders point to it as a sign of the looming “crisis” our education system may be facing.  It’s been screened at policy events and cited in opinion pieces.  The “it,” of course, is the movie 2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution.  Produced by Robert A. Compton, the film is demonstrates how the United States is failing to keep up with the world (notable India and China) when it comes to education.

The movie is essentially the visual equivalent of Tom Friedman’s World Is Flat tome, watched through an entirely education lens.  Those living in the education policy world (particularly those who pay attention to international assessments like PISA and TIMSS) will not be surprised by what they see and hear.  China and India do a remarkably better job graduating students from high school (or high school equivalents) and the hard work is represented on international benchmarks and other assessments that measure student learning, particularly college and career readiness.  These countries are adapting, and adapting quickly, meeting today’s educational challenges and thus preparing for tomorrow’s economic opportunities.  Their students may be venturing across the Pacific to attend American colleges and universities, but the message is clear.  They are building a better 21st century mousetrap when it comes to teaching necessary skills and knowledge.
And for those looking for some positive news, the film’s producers have also found some American success stories in some unlikely neighborhoods.  So it does provide some hope, it what many may see as a hopeless situation.  The trailer can be viewed here. 
But 2 Million Minutes raises some interesting questions, particularly as we look at issues like common core standards and the assessments that will soon follow.  When it comes to programmatic and instructional innovations, Eduflack would like to believe the United States is second to none.  In my travels, I have seen communities, schools, and classes that were long written off succeed, despite the odds, out of sheet will.  They turned it around when it came to effective reading instruction.  They implemented groundbreaking STEM initiatives, ensuring that students and jobs were properly aligned.  They implemented technologies in ways never thought possible.  And they even enacted whole school reforms to boost expectations and drive achievement gains.  
Assessment, though, remains a tough nut for us to crack.  It was little more than a decade ago when it was every state for itself, with a mismatch of tests, standards, and expectations littering the national map.  In 2002, we made the national commitment to measure reading and math achievement (and in theory, science) in grades three through eight, presumably to give us a common frame of reference.  But assessments still vary, the once-a-year tests have their limitations, and we are still left with only the samples found in NAEP to stand as our only true common yardstick for student achievement.
If we are serious about running a school improvement and innovation race with the Chinas and the Indias of the world, we need to get serious about the assessments we will use to evaluate our successes.  That means setting new expectations for learning that measure beyond a common bubble sheet.  It means differentiated learning, investments in teachers, and holistic measures of effectiveness.  And it means a focus on higher order skills and the multi-faceted assessments that truly measure critical thinking, performance, and meaningful progress for all students.
At state education agencies across the nation, they recognize that current state assessments just aren’t cutting it.  But they are also pragmatists, recognizing that the new common core standards will demand a revision of any assessments used in the schools.  So no one is ready to invest in assessment overhaul now, knowing that it may be coming again in a year or two once the common standards are adopted.
Hopefully, the end game is not to simply find the one state assessment that is better than many others (and I know quite a few states that believe theirs is the gold standard).  Instead, we need to be looking at the assessment systems coming out of countries like Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Singapore to guide our thinking., a new approach that measures not just the memorization of key facts, but the true comprehension and application of those facts in multiple learning venues.
Assessments and accountability aren’t going anywhere (particularly as we see what other nations are doing to leapfrog us on current international assessments).  So our challenge is to build a better assessment system, aligning a strong system of national standards (coming through the common standards push), a strong and robust commitment to teaching and learning in the classroom, and the evaluation of that learning through the proper assessments.  It is the only way we are going to be able to out-innovate the other guys, and it may be the only way that 2 Million Minutes becomes simply a warning of what could be, and not a self-fulfilling prophesy for where American public education is headed.

The Great White Whale of Teacher Quality

At the heart of EdSec Arne Duncan’s remarks at Teachers College last week has his new never-ending pursuit of the illusive “teacher quality.”  Clearly, the search means more than the “highly qualified teacher” definition currently found in NCLB.  More than the qualities that currently win one additional monies through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF).  And even more than the plans floated more than two years ago by Sen. Joe Lieberman et al to redefine HQT as “highly qualified and effective teacher.”

So with states and school districts across the nation scrambling to demand effective teachers and pledge policy and funding to support new efforts under expected Race to the Top, i3, and such funds to implement teacher quality efforts, what exactly are we using as our benchmark for such actions.  Surely, how students perform on their standardized test scores is an important piece to the equation.  But is there more to effective teaching outcomes than simply student achievement?  And are there key inputs that need to be factored into the process as well, recognizing that quality teachers come as the result of both effective preparation and effective teaching?
While nailing Duncan’s latest teacher quality demands to the schoolhouse door up at Columbia was THE story last week, we’ve also had two new reports designed to support, enhance, or rethink the efforts moved by the EdSec and his Brad Jupp-led teacher quality team.  Earlier this week, Hope Street Group released its study on Using Open Innovation to Improve Teacher Evaluation Systems.  This follows on the heels of the Forum for Education and Democracy’s Rethinking Learning Now campaign’s Effective Teachers, High Achievers report. 
As part of its new phase of education reform dialogue, the Hope Street Group released a series of eight recommendations around how to measure effective teaching, including:
* Objective measures of student achievement gains must be a major component of teacher evaluation
* Clearly defined standards of quality instruction should be used to assess a teacher’s classroom performance
* Teachers, teacher groups, and unions should be included in developing and implementing teacher evaluation systems
* Teacher evaluation systems themselves must be periodically evaluated and refined
* Teacher evaluation systems should reflect the importance of supportive administrators and school environment to effective teaching
* Components of teacher evaluation that rely on observation and discussion must be in the hands of instructional leaders who have sufficient expertise, training, and capacity.
* Evaluations must differentiate levels of teaching efficacy to identify opportunities for professional growth and drive rewards and consequences
* Information from teacher evaluations should be comparable across schools and districts, and should be used to address equity in the distribution of teaching talent 
Hope Street’s full report, shaped by actual teachers (a novel concept in education policy), can be found here.   The group is clearly building on the accountability recommendations released earlier this year from the Education Equality Project (EEP), while looking to provide some additional support to Duncan and his teacher quality efforts.  Focused primarily on outcomes, Hope Street is all about results and who is the final arbiter of said results.
And what of the Forum?  No surprise, but the education policy minds at the Forum take a decidedly different world view of teacher quality, focusing primarily on the inputs that go into effective teaching.  The Forum first focuses on the current obstacles to true teacher quality, emphasizing dramatically different levels of training (with those least prepared teaching the most educational vulnerable students); disparate salaries; radically different teaching conditions across districts, schools, and classrooms; and little mentoring or on-the-job coaching to help teachers improve their skills.  And they look to international models (those found in Singapore, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and others) for inspiration, seeking a system that requires high-quality teacher education for all candidates, completely at government expense; a year of practice teaching in a clinical school; mentoring for all beginning teachers; equitable salaries; and ongoing professional development embedded in 15-25 hours a week of planning and PD time.  The full policy brief can be found here.
The Forum limited its demands of the federal government to seven, including:
* Create incentives for recruiting teachers to high-need fields and locations
* Strengthen teacher preparation
* Make teacher education performance-based
* Support mentoring for all beginning teachers
* Create sustained, practice-based collegial learning opportunities for teachers
* Develop teaching careers that reward, develop, and share expertise
* Mount a major initiative to prepare and support expert school leaders
Two different paths.  Two different perspectives.  Two different rubrics.  So which direction are we headed?  Clearly, Hope Street is more closely aligned with the priorities, objectives, and goals of the U.S. Department of Education and reform-minded school leaders such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee.  And the emphasis on results — recognizing that talks of teacher quality are relatively hollow if they don’t translate into improved achievement and performance in the classroom — are key if we are to turn around our nation’s low-performing schools and improve overall student achievement while closing the persistent learning gaps our school districts have struggled with for decades.
But can we achieve that vision without first addressing the ideas and issues laid out by the Forum?  Can we achieve results-based improvement in teacher quality if we do not first address those inputs that go into building and supporting an effective teacher?  In an era where results are king, how important is the process that gets us there?
From the cheap seats, it seems clear that this should not and cannot be an either/or approach.  If we want to see the tangible results (as advocated by Hope Street and others) we need to invest in the systems and structures that build and support effective teachers (as called for by the Forum).  If we don’t, teacher quality will remain that great white whale for the EdSec and policy voices across the country, always top of mind, but always out of reach.  If we are going to catch our Moby Dick, we need to find those areas of agreement between the inputs advocates and the outcomes champions and find the common ground to build comprehensive expectations and rubrics for real teacher quality.  It may be the only way to have the true impact so many are now looking to have on what happens in the classroom.

Playing Games with LA’s Future

For more than a year now, we have been hearing about the dire financial state of public education in California.  We’re ridden a roller coaster of threats of massive teacher layoffs and a two-year ban on the purchase of any textbooks or instructional materials.  We’ve viewed district after district struggle to meet the school equity requirements placed on them by the courts.  And we’ve witnessed state officials dance a West Coast two-step to quickly eliminate the barriers to additional federal education funding.  And even though California has spent more of its education stimulus dollars, percentage wise, than any other state in the union, schools in the Golden State are still hurting and are still facing tough decisions and even tougher cuts.

Fortunately, Cali Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has now stepped up to make a major investment in the future of the state, or at least in the future of the greater Los Angeles area.  In the name of creating jobs, growing the economy, and strengthening the community, the guvernator yesterday signed a bill that could deliver upwards of a billion dollars to the City of Angels, money that would be coupled with a $150 million bond pledged by the business community.
Unfortunately, not a dime of these funds will ever see an LA classroom or be used to help an LA teacher improve their craft and meet the new demands being placed on our public schools.  Not a dollar of it is doing to school improvement or innovation.  And not a penny will go to support Los Angeles’ blossoming charter school movement.  No, the entire kitty is designated to go an build a new football stadium for the city, a stadium for an NFL football team that does not exist.  The full story can be found here.
Why does this matter?  In these tough economic times, we have to make choices.  Schwarzenegger signed the controversial spending bill claiming that this stadium investment would generate jobs and bring an economic boost to Los Angeles.  Noble goals, yes.  But there are few facts to back it up.  Even since the renaissance of baseball stadium construction launched two decades ago in Baltimore, we have heard how new sports stadiums result in jobs and economic development.  But in study after study, researchers have found that such impact lasts only as long as the construction cranes are on site.  Once the venue opens to the public, the economic impact is complete.  Jobs are temporary, manifest in the construction itself.  Then the community goes back to normal.  That’s why cities have shied away from paying the tab for such construction projects in recent years, leaving it to the teams that will enjoy the long-term benefits of a shiny new stadium.
In an era where dollars are in short supply in California, if the goal is really to invest in job creation and economic strength, is this really the best investment for the citizens of Los Angeles?  Right now, the state is trying to move heaven and earth to get Race to the Top dollars, following the belief that these dollars can serve as make or break for the future of California education.  If successful, RttT would likely result in a few million dollars a year for four years to LAUSD.  Yes, LAUSD’s cut of a successful RttT grant likely won’t even cover the laundry costs for the school district’s athletic teams. 
Imagine what would be possible if they could muster the strength to move this $1 billion from a stadium that may be used on any given Sunday and instead invest it in LAUSD.  One billion to ensure that LA students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to hold 21st century jobs.  One billion to improve high school graduation rates.  One billion to demonstrate the relevance of K-12 education to the futures of K-12 students.  One billion to truly innovate and improve.  A $1 billion targeted investment at what LA public schools need the most.  
Football stadiums may be the sexy choice, but they’ll break your hearts and empty your wallets.  If the goal is to create jobs and strengthen the economy, it doesn’t take a Vegas oddsmaker to tell you that the schools are a far better bet than a new stadium.  Years from now, LA will have its new stadium (which may or may not remain empty), but how many area kids will have the high school diplomas, skills, and jobs necessary to enjoy a beautiful LA Sunday afternoon in its friendly confines?