Eliminating Rainy Day Funds in NJ Schools?

Last fall, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was suffering through one of its worse budget stalemates in modern memory, one of the debates was how deep should the state dip into its “rainy day” fund to balance the current budget.  Do you completely deplete your reserves to get a budget many can live with?  Or do you hold back some of that rainy day fund, with the fear that 2010 or 2011 may not be particularly sunny either?

Ultimately, Pennsylvania (like a lot of states in similar situations) decided to tap the vast majority of those reserves to keep the state moving forward.  Such funds are established to help navigate those doomsday budget scenarios, and those dollars, along with the billions coming through the feds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, help many a K-12 state school system stave off disaster.

With the federal stimulus money nearing sunset, we are starting to see those doomsday scenarios coming back to the forefront.  In Eduflack’s home state of Virginia, new Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing a $731 million cut in K-12 education.  Details are still in the works, but it seems clear that most public school systems — urban, suburban, and rural — will face the butcher’s knife before the coming fiscal year’s budget is complete.  Many feared that cuts were coming, but few expected them to be as deep as McDonnell is currently proposing.

More interesting, though, is what is happening in New Jersey, where equally new Gov. Chris Christie has also declared that the public schools will face massive cuts.  In many ways, the Garden State is in an even more dire financial situation than the Old Dominion, with higher unemployment rates, a bigger budget deficit to overcome, and a generally dimmer light at the end of the tunnel.

For nearly two weeks, communities in New Jersey have been abuzz about the impact of the cuts.  The Christie Administration has told all districts to prepare for the possibility of at least 15 percent reductions, with virtually every school district now talking about $1 million-plus reductions to the money they receive from the state.  And it comes at a time when local taxes are also unable to pull out from their downward spiral.

But what makes New Jersey so thought provoking is what Christie is actually proposing.  If Eduflack is reading the proposals forward, New Jersey’s governor is particularly targeting those school districts that have established their own rainy day funds.  Those LEAs that have been reasonably good stewards of their tax dollars, and have established reserves to plan for their own Armageddon, are being asked to zero out those reserves and use them to fund the coming year’s operations.  Those districts that have no reserves, and essentially have always eaten what they killed, will be funded at levels comparable to what they typically receive from the state.

Honestly, Eduflack isn’t sure what to make of all this.  I was surprised to learn that so many school districts had more than a million dollars socked away in a coffee can in case the financial monsoons came.  Like many, I assumed that districts live (financially) from year to year, and spend every dollar they can get their hands on on their operating budget (particularly important since 80-90 percent of a school system budget can go to the salary and benefits one has to pay for each and every year).  So in these tough economic times, it seems it many be time for those saver school districts to dip into those accounts if they want to keep instruction and services at the levels we expect.

But at the same time, should we be penalizing school districts for being financial prudent?  And with so many districts in NJ following such a rainy day policy, should we be rewarding those school system “squirrels” who did not save their nuts for winter?

So which seems more reasonable, a Virginia approach where most districts are going to be asked to share the pain or a New Jersey approach where those who can most afford to sacrifice are the first to do so?  Definitely no winners here, but can one path make a school district less of a loser?   

UPDATE: For those looking for more info on the New Jersey debate, check out NJ Left Behind here for a discussion on the “surplus drill-down,” with a critique from Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker here on how such a policy actually hurts the poorest districts the most.

AFT Policy Talk … and Walk?

About a month ago, Eduflack wrote about AFT President Randi Weingarten’s teacher quality treatises nailed upon the schoolhouse door, where the head of the nation’s second largest teachers’ union laid a vision for how AFT could get on board the new ed reform/school improvement train.  At the time, I wrote that she was talking a good talk, but the real challenge would be how AFT, and Weingarten in particular, would be able to walk the walk.

The first stroll of such a challenge took place deep in the heart of Texas earlier this month, when Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier tried to use Weingarten’s rhetoric to get his teachers’ backing for a new teacher quality initiative that allows the school district to remove teachers with lagging student test scores.  Grier’s Houston experiment was unanimously supported by the Houston ISD School Board, but was loudly opposed by local teachers and by the national AFT.  Eduflack reflects on the Houston showdown here, while the National Journal’s Education Experts Blog provides some terrific insights and views here.
Coming out of Houston, there were many an education agitator wondering if AFT is indeed serious about being part of the reform agenda.  After all, AFT is in the business of promoting teachers’ jobs and boosting their benefits.  The reform agenda is now focusing on teacher incentives and so-called quality issues, which leads quickly to a discussion of bonuses for some (but not all) teachers and the removal of teachers who are deemed ineffective.  (Though Eduflack recognizes the rubric for effectiveness is one of the biggest sticking points in the game right now).  So while AFT may be for reform and for teacher quality, can it ever really get behind any plan that will call for the removal of educators from the classroom or the professional entirely, particularly when they are dues-paying members protected under an AFT-negotiated collective bargaining agreement?  How does the reform rhetoric translate into action?
While I’m not sure if AFT has figured out how it truly positions the union on the teacher quality issue (other than knowing that there are few in DC with the knowledge and experience on the issue with the ability to take real action like the AFT’s Rob Weil), it is clear that AFT is not content in simply serving as the “loyal opposition” to the current education reform wave.  Yes, AFT is going to do its share of criticism on policies such as Race to the Top, proposed budget cuts, and the expected ESEA reauthorization, but recent actions signal that AFT may also be looking for some common ground where it can move the needle, make a difference, and be a part of real reforms.
Case in point, earlier this week, Weingarten convened an off-the-record discussion with U.S. EdSec Arne Duncan, WV Gov. Joe Manchin, and 25 or so other business leaders, academics and advocates (supposedly from both the left and right) to focus on the issue of career and technical education, or CTE.  For those not paying attention, CTE is one of those key issues to strengthening our educational pathways, improving high school graduation rates and ensuring more students are ready to enter the workforce with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed.  But it is an issue many stay away from, believing that the current version of “vo tech” isn’t sexy or innovative enough to warrant the spotlight.  So bringing business leaders and educators and politicians and researchers together to discuss how to improve CTE is an important step to move CTE closer to the forefront of the discussion.
Eduflack is told the CTE discussion is the first of many “invitation-only” discussions that Weingarten and the Albert Shanker Institute has planned for the next year.  By hosting a series of salons on what are perceived as the important education topics of the day, AFT is clearly seeking to move issues beyond RttT, i3, and reauth into the education policy spotlight.
Personally, I’m all for such discussions.  The more we discuss such issues, and the more people who discuss it, the better prepared we are to have real, serious, and meaningful policy discussions.  But as usual, the devil is in the details.  Beyond the invitation-only events of the usual suspects, how do we engage a broader discussion with those whose voices are rarely heard in such debates?  And more importantly, what do we do after these discussions are held?  What are the policy reccs that will come out of these meetings? What are the action steps?  What is the call to arms?  Those answers will ultimately determine where we are just talking or adding a little strut behind AFT’s words.

Doubting ESEA Reauthorization

My name is Eduflack, and I am a natural-born cynic.  All day, I have been reading the unbridled optimism that folks seem to have for a quick and easy reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  In this morning’s Washington Post, House Education and Labor Committee members boldly declare their intentions to begin work on reauth next week.  For Chairman George Miller (CA) and company, it is now full steam ahead.  But I still have my doubts.

Congressional leaders are to be commended for moving forward in a bipartisan fashion.  Last year, few thought we would see Miller and John Kline (MN) work together to move this important issue forward.  Today, House Democrats and Republicans signaled it is time to improve No Child Left Behind and better align the federal law with the priorities and issues that have been moving forward over the past year.  Issues like common core standards, the next iteration of AYP, teacher quality, and charter schools will likely take center stage right quick.
But how realistic are we being in saying that this will get done now, on the express timetable many are expecting?  All parties involved have made clear this needs to be done by summer, in advance of the House of Representatives having to head back home and stand for re-election in November.  This is particularly true of Democrats, many of whom may have to vote for a law that makes life a little tougher for the teachers’ unions that help get them elected every two years.
But let’s be frank about timing.  First off, today’s big announcements are only coming out of the House of Representatives.  We have yet to hear a similarly ambitious agenda from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee or from Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (WY).  If we learned anything from issues such as climate change and health care, it is you need both sides of the Hill working in tandem to actually move legislation forward.  The House can have the best of intentions, but unless the Senate is planning the same rapid reauthorization, this bill is going to get bogged down over on the senior circuit.
Second, let’s look at the calendar.  Back in 2001, President George W. Bush made ESEA reauthorization priority number one.  It was his first piece of legislation out of the box and he immediately enlisted the help of folks like Senator Ted Kennedy to move it.  Despite the bipartisanship and the quick movement of both the House and Senate, it still took a full year to get NCLB through.  Granted, 9-11 forced congressional priorities to change in the fall of 2001.  But that team couldn’t get NCLB through in those first eight months.  It is now the second half of February.  Eight months puts us into October, which is completely untenable, particularly since congressional campaigns will begin in earnest come Labor Day.  Can we really reauthorize ESEA in four or five months this time around?  And can we do it when Congress is grappling with healthcare reform, a jobs bill, banking reform, climate control, and the full complement of annual appropriations bills?
Eduflack doesn’t want to be the skunk at this particular garden party, but I do want to be realistic.  I would love to see Congress reauthorize ESEA by summer.  I hope they are able to.  But I also know that the Hill calendar is working against such an effort, particularly with other major issues still pending.  I know that some in Congress may not have the stomach to pass an ESEA that will likely come with increased spending.  I know there are the continuing debates between rural districts and the perceived urban thrust of the last year.  And I know that many of the major issues involving ESEA — standards, AYP, data systems, Title II, and other issues — are not simple ideas that will be fixed in a hearing or two.  So this takes real work.  
Can Miller and Kline get such a bill out of committee by the end of spring?  Yes, absolutely.  Can it be voted out of the House, possibly.  But will we see all of that, along with Senate action and conference committee, happen before our final trip to the beach in September?  I just can’t see it … yet.
So that leaves me with one big question.  Are we talking a wholesale reauthorization of ESEA and all of its Titles or are we talking targeted legislation that focuses on a couple of the big issues?  Are we talking full-blown open-heart surgery or triage?  Are we swinging for the fences or playing small ball?
If it is the former, we may be in for a tough stretch.  If we are working toward the latter, and targeted amendment to NCLB, we could be in business.

Teacher Quality Showdown in Houston’s Corral

Looking at the headlines coming out of Houston last night, it was a regular showdown at the school improvement corral.  Teachers versus parents.  Reformers versus status quo.  Process versus outcomes.  And in the words of far too many Simpsons episodes, we can’t possibly forget about the children!

For those late to the rodeo, last evening the Houston Independent School District School Board voted (unanimously, 7-0) to approve HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s teacher quality efforts.  The plan allows the school district to terminate (as a last resort) teachers whose students are unable to make the grade on standardized tests.  According to the numbers being circulated, about 3 percent of the HISD teacher force, or 400 teachers, could be affected by this new initiative.  For those who want more on this, the full story can be found here in the Houston Chronicle.

Most see Grier’s efforts as a direct response to the current calls for teacher quality and accountability coming from Arne Duncan and the folks at the US Department of Education.  Student performance remains the king.  Effective teachers are the path to student performance.  Ergo, students whose test scores don’t improve have ineffective teachers who may not be suited for the classroom.  Or so the SAT logic goes.  Grier is moving a real, tangible plan aligned with Duncan’s teacher quality pillar.

This vote has been brewing for weeks.  As part of his negotiations with the teachers union, Grier tried to use AFT President Randi Weingarten’s speech from nearly a month ago (Eduflack’s analysis here) as grounds for the union to support his efforts.  His argument was straightforward.  If Weingarten was serious about rhetoric to fix a broken system and focus on effective teachers and student achievement, she should side with him on his teacher quality efforts.  Why should 97 percent of HISD teachers be tarred by the student test scores of just 3 percent?  And don’t forget, Weingarten embraced the idea of using student test scores as part of teacher evaluation.

The AFT prez failed to see the connection between her speech and HISD’s plans.  As expected, Weingarten rose to the defense of her teachers and in opposition to any plan that would put the jobs of AFT teachers at risk.  As she told the Houston Chronicle, “Houston is a perfect example of what not to do.  The plan has all the wrong components, and it’s one of the reasons why teachers and parents are opposed to standardized testing.”

Typically, these sorts of battles are local.  We see the local union and the local school district spar.  Local parents and teachers lay their hearts on the rostrum at public hearing, and then a vote comes and all sides live to fight another day.  If most national voices get involved at all, it is after the fact to either praise or condemn the local decisions.  After all, who knows better about how to deal with student achievement and teacher quality in Houston than the folks in Houston.

Of course, this wasn’t the typical local issue.  Superintendent Grier’s plan was the proverbial canary in the teacher quality mine.  If he could get the board to approve his efforts, they could serve as a blueprint for similar efforts in other urban school districts across the country.  If he failed, then the teachers unions would be able to demonstrate their strength, even in a weak union state like Texas (where most still refer to the unions as “teachers organizations.”

So heading into last evening’s vote, two of the loudest voices in education reform/school improvement gladly took up arms on Grier’s behalf. 

Under the header “Nation’s Edu-Eyes Are On Houston Tonight,” Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform came out as Grier’s bad cop, going after Weingarten and the AFT:

We don’t question President Weingarten’s intent or sincerity, nor do we doubt her assertion that ineffective teachers are a minority of the teaching profession.


But far too often in the past, promises by union leaders for real reform over the airwaves have been squarely contradicted by the positions advanced by union officials in political backrooms. Both national unions have steadfastly treated teaching, despite the high stakes for children and communities, as a right rather than a privilege.


The first test of AFT’s commitment to the principles it outlined last month will begin tonight in Houston, and play out over the days and weeks ahead.

And the Education Equality Project, in the voice of its director, Ellen Winn, played good cop, offering a far more positive and forward-looking defense of Grier’s reform agenda:

Together, Superintendent Terry Grier (a signatory of the Education Equality Project) and the Houston Board of Education are embarking upon a comprehensive project to dramatically improve student achievement by placing a highly effective teacher in every classroom.  Rigorous research efforts have demonstrated that – in the words of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind – “teacher quality is the single most important school factor in student success.”

Last month, the Board unanimously approved a plan to improve teacher evaluations starting next year. Going forward, teacher evaluations will give teachers an honest assessment of how much they’re helping their students learn. The evaluation process will include standardized test scores as one indicator of teacher success. 

Tonight, Grier is asking the Board to approve a policy that would require principals to use all the information available to them—including value-added test scores—when making decisions about renewing a teacher’s contract.  Value-added analysis is a statistical method used to measure teachers’ and schools’ impact on students’ academic progress rates from year to year.  (The process only analyzes the change across one year relative to where a student begins, thereby leveling the playing field.)

The Education Equality Project emphatically encourages the Board to approve this critical proposal and commends Superintendent Grier for leading the charge to close the achievement gap.  If Houston approves this policy, hundreds of thousands of students will be impacted. Think of the doors that will open to these students with better teachers and better chances at a good education – the chances they will now have for meaningful work and a real opportunity at attaining the American dream.  How can we afford to keep those doors closed?

Together, DFER and EEP are defining a new paradigm with regard to urban education reform.  We are now recognizing that school districts are no longer islands unto themselves, where local decisions are made to stay within the city boundaries.  Instead, when one of the big 50 school districts acts, its repercussions can be felt across the nation.  A good idea pursued by one is replicated by others.  A plan that goes down in flames is avoided by any means possible.  Houston is looking to do what is best for student success in the district.  DFER and EEP are looking to defend and support those activities that can feed into the larger national objectives of school improvement and closing the achievement gap.  And now both sides are working together to put a squeeze play on the system of old.  One thing is for sure, this is the first in what will be many, many local skirmishes on new policies and plans aligned with the new federal education improvement agenda.

Many have been longing for the day when education decisionmaking would leave Washington DC and return back to the localities.  The advocacy dynamic down in Houston may show just how that works in practicality.  Let the locals act, and then have AFT, DFER, and EEP square off in the Lincoln-Douglas debates that will occur during and after the decisionmaking process. 

Act locally and opine nationally!

Backbenching the Prez’ Ed Budget

It has been a little over a week since President Obama officially submitted his FY2011 budget.  Depending on who you speak to, it was the best of times/worst of times for the education sector.  Overall, the Administration is seeking to raise the federal commitment to education spending by more than 7 percent.  But that increase comes with a new set of priorities, a new grouping of funding streams, and some eliminations of long time, cherished programs.  You can see Eduflack’s original thoughts on the budget here.

During the original scrum, we heard from many of the groups we expected to hear from — including oldies but goodies like the NEA and AFT and the growing number of education “reform” organizations seem by many to benefit the new “consolidation.”  But Eduflack thought it would be interesting to see what some other organizations have been saying about the budget reccs, particularly those who are focused on the issues IDed in my original analysis.  Unsurprisingly, most comments come from those unwilling to throw a big bear hug around the proposed budget.

On the issue of teacher quality and preparation, we have Dr. Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (ISTE) opposing the elimination of programs such as the Teacher Quality Partnership saying: 

Across the nation, colleges and universities are playing an indispensable role in supplying our schools, particularly hard-to-staff schools, with effective teachers who intend to serve as classroom leaders for decades to come.  Through the federal budget and new programs such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, the U.S. Department of Education should be supporting and incentivizing those teachers colleges that are blazing a trail when it comes to strengthening instructional standards, effective use of data systems, improving teacher quality, and turning around low-performing schools. Programs like TQP are essential to ensuring preservice teacher preparation is part of our improvement agenda.

Over at NSDC, policy advisor Rene Islas had a very different take on the future of teacher preparation, stating:

What does this framework say about teacher effectiveness? The president is beginning to adopt NSDC’s language. The budget request outline a new program called “Excellent Instructional Teams.” Sound familiar? Taking it to the next step, the new program description includes the following statement: “promote collaboration and the development of instructional teams that use data to improve practice.” I count that as a significant victory.

And what about education technology and its consolidation into the overall ESEA framework (and the elimination of specific grant programs funding ed tech at the state or district levels)?  The following was offered by Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE):

We cannot and must not lose sight of the value and impact of education technology in our classrooms. As ISTE noted in its Top Ten in 2010 just last month, education technology is the lifeblood of lasting school improvement. Working from best and promising practices in the field, we must continue to use technology as the backbone of school improvement. We must ensure technology expertise is infused throughout our schools and classrooms—particularly through programs like EETT—and that we are continuously upgrading educators’ classroom technology skills as a pre-requisite of ‘highly effective’ teaching. We must boost student learning through real data and assessment efforts. And we must work together to leverage education technology as a gateway for college and career readiness so that our K-12 systems can help fulfill the President’s pledge to make the United States tops in the world when it comes to college-completion rates. We cannot and must not deny policymakers and educators the resources they require to provide all students with the globally competitive education they so desperately need.  

And we saw similar words coming from the ed tech community at large in a joint statement from ISTE, State Education Technology Directors Association, and the Consortium for School Networking:

While there are elements of the President’s proposed budget that are laudable, we remain extremely concerned that the Administration has elected to defund EETT in its FY11 Budget Proposal and urge the Administration and Congress to restore adequate funding for this critical program. Congress and the President included EETT as a core provision of the current ESEA law in recognition of the importance of driving the next generation of innovations in teaching and learning, assessment and continuous improvement, and cost-efficiency in coordination with other federal, state and local school improvement strategies. We fear that years of investments through EETT and the E-Rate, coupled with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investment, may be devalued or lost entirely without adequately funding EETT or a successor program.

Carol Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental, was far more direct on RIF being eliminated (and not consolidated) from the President’s budget:

Without this federal funding, over 4.4 million children and families will not receive free books or reading en
couragement from RIF programs at nearly 17,000 locations throughout the U.S.

Unless Congress reinstates $25 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 15 million books annually to the nation’s children at greatest risk for academic failure. RIF programs in schools, community centers, hospitals, military bases, and other locations serving children from low-income families, children with disabilities, homeless children, and children without adequate access to libraries. The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.

Interestingly, many of the so-called reform groups didn’t issue public statements (or at least haven’t put them up on the web for discerning minds to review).  Nothing from Teach for America.  Nothing from American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.  Nothing up from New Leaders from New Schools.  Nothing posted from the National Council on Teacher Quality.  (And, in fairness, Eduflack realizes that public statements are often issued but are slow to get up on the websites, as seems to be the case with groups like the Committee for Education Funding, which released a statement that can’t be found on its website.) 

The priorities identified in the President’s proposed budget demonstrate which groups and individuals have the greatest sway over on Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues.  What’s left to be seen is who will have real impact on Capitol Hill.  Anyone who is ready to leave RIF for dead, for instance, is underestimating Rasco’s passion and the power of the national RIF network.  The President’s budget is merely the first hand in what is going to be a long and expensive game of poker.  Those players who have been around the table many, many times before are likely to be the ones with chips still on the table when all is said and done.

(Full disclosure, I have done work with both AACTE and ISTE in recent years.)

Finding Value in The Flat World and Education

This week’s Presidential budget is further raising attention on pressing education issues such as teacher quality, closing the achievement gap, and ensuring our communities have the systems in place to drive the levels of improvement we are so desperately thinking.  With all of the rhetoric, both this week and in recent years, we seem to be focusing on promising ideas without necessarily looking for the research, evidence, proof, and data that should be separating the good ideas from the great ideas.

While Eduflack seems to spend a great deal of my time talking and opining, every so often I do find the time to actually read and learn from others.  And even more infrequently, I actually find what I read to be of the sort of import that I want to make sure others are aware of it, positioning the latest book or article so it is influencing the current policy discussions.  Today is such a day.  The book is “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity WIll Determine Our Future.”  And The Flat World and Education is brought to us by dear Eduflack friend Linda Darling-Hammond (who really needs no introduction).

In this latest volume from the Multicultural Education Series and Teachers College Press, Dr. Darling-Hammond offers up a clear and compelling primer for comprehensive school system improvement.  Rather than looking at incremental reforms or boutique solutions that address just a sliver of the students who are in such need of real, lasting efforts, the book provides a detailed blueprint of how to create high-quality and equitable school systems, with emphases on student achievement and teacher quality (those terms that far too many think are owned by the so-called “reformer” community.)

Some of the statistics Darling-Hammond presents are startling (yet all too familiar).  One one in 10 low-income kindergartners ever earn a college degree.  Our nation’s graduation rate (listed at an optimistic 70 percent) has dropped from first in the world to the bottom half of the rankings for comparable nations.  And we won’t even get into how U.S. students on the whole (let alone those from historically disadvantaged groups) stand up against their international counterparts on tests like TIMSS, PERLS, and PISA.

Darling-Hammond provides one of the strongest and most passionate discussions regarding the opportunity gap in the United States and the downright destructive impact it is having on both educational quality and long-term value of our public schools.  Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom.  The book provides specific action steps we can take (at a federal, state, or even local level) to implement the sort of comprehensive systemic reforms that may be required to truly address the opportunity gap problem, including:
* Implementing stronger induction programs for teachers — We can’t ask new teachers to row our children to the promise land while only giving them half a broken oar.  New teachers entering the classroom need strong pedagological background and even stronger clinical training.  Believe it or not, we can learn a great deal from our global competitors about how to properly prepare a teacher candidate, ensuring they have the knowledge, skills, and direction necessary to succeed in even the most challenging of classrooms.
* Supporting quality teachers — Teacher quality is not just about financial incentives for those who are boosting student test scores.  New teachers (even the best of them) need mentors and a strong support network.  School districts and states need to use tools like National Board Certification to both identify quality instruction in their classrooms and share that best practice with other teachers in the building, the district, and the state.
* Designing effective schools — School structure does matter.  In the current reform agenda, we aren’t spending as much time talking about systems as we probably should.  When we look at the problems — resource inequities, getting good teachers in the classrooms that need them the most, and providing the necessary targeted interventions (particularly for ELL and special needs populations) — we need to create and support the school structures that are most effective in serving 21st century students.

By looking to establish strong professional practice in all schools and promoting equitable and sufficient resources across the board, Darling-Hammond IDs a clear route to ensure that all students — including low-income students, students of color, and English language learners — have the teachers, curriculum, and level of resources necessary to achieve … and to make sufficient gains to begin to close that daunting achievement gap.

Does The Flat World and Education provide all of the answers?  No, and it shouldn’t.  This book provides some important lines of inquiry and thinking that should be front and center as we discuss implementation of new funding streams like RttT and i3 and the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  As EdSec Arne Duncan and his team look to completely reinvent Title II (both under ESEA and the Higher Education Act), Darling-Hammond’s data and conclusions on teacher induction and ongoing teacher support need to be central to the discussion.  They may not be adopted whole cloth (and probably shouldn’t) but if they aren’t part of the debate, we are missing a central point to meaningful education improvement.  These aren’t just good ideas, but they have the data and the real-life case studies that can be pointed to to demonstrate true impact.

I recognize that many may be quick to discount Linda Darling-Hammond, fearing this is just the latest defense of the status quo.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  We forget that the role that Darling-Hammond has played in the charter school movement in California and her work in both building and supporting effective charter schools in Northern California.  We overlook her commitment to common core standards and her commitment to accountability, albeit a more comprehensive and broader approach to measurement.  And we are quick to discount that everything and everything she does seems to be in the name of the student, particularly those low-income and minority students who have been perpetually caught in the opportunity gap vortex.  For those who want to get caught in such urban legends, forget who the author is.  Just read the book.  It will still prove worthy.

Eduflack recognizes he is a bit of an advocate for dear ol’ LDH.  And after reading The Flat World and Education, I am reminded why.  Too often, we talk about education reform as if it is a lab experiment where we can substitute one ingredient for the next, and just move on the next test.  Darling-Hammond reminds us that teachers are at the core of our public schools, both good and bad, and need to be central to any school improvement effort.  More importantly, though, she makes clear that we are not operating in an experimental vacuum.  There are very real children who are effected by our decisions and those kids impacted the most are the ones that are neglected in the decisionmaking far too often. 

We may not realize it now, but ultimately the education reform parade is going to have to head down the street LDH is paving if we are going to have the sort of impact we are looking for.  Better to give this primer a close look now and see what can be implemented in the current environment than discounting it in its entirety and then needing to play catch up when ESEA rolls back around in another decade.  Happy reading!

EEP 2.0

Some still don’t quite know what to make of the Education Equality Project, or EEP.  When it was launched in 2008, we assumed it was another “reformer” group preparing to ride the Obama wave.  Then we had the strange bedfellows experiment of Rev. Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the “faces” of EEP, showing EdSec Arne Duncan some of the major issues facing urban education.  Along the way, we’ve had the logical “comparison” to the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education and then the partnerships with Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, and Center for American Progress on critiques of Race to the Top and other federal ideas.  And Eduflack even remembers a time last year when critics were saying EEP was closing shop, having run out of funding and “accomplished” its goal but getting like-minded reformers in the Duncan regime.

Today, though, we see that the work has just begun.  This morning, EEP announced three new co-chairpersons for the organization.  The Reverend Al era is over.  As of today, EEP is now co-led by NYCDOE Chancellor Joel Klein (a founder of EEP), UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax, and Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.  (And, of course, the workhorse Ellen Winn remains as director of the organization.)
Why is this important?  For two reasons.  First, during the Al and Newt show, many discounted EEP for being all hat and no cattle.  They could do a great media event, but the group lacked the true substance necessary to truly move policy.  In other words, Al and Newt could grab you a headline or put a good segment on Meet the Press, but they weren’t the sort to roll up their sleeves and get changes to ESEA agreed to by legislators.  While it may have been an unfair criticism (particularly since Sharpton and GIngrich weren’t actually running the group, but were really just spokespersons), it was a criticism that stuck.  The three new co-chairpersons have both the sizzle and the steak necessary to capture attention and actually move the ball forward.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the new leadership at the board reminds us of the mission of the group and its origins.  We can forget what EEP stands for and we can discount what “education equality” actually means.  But the gravitas of the trio of co-chairpersons moves front and center the EEP mission of eliminating the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education.  Lomax and Murguia are national leaders for empowering the black and Hispanic communities, respectively, on education issues. UNCF and La Raza are at the top of the game when it comes to such issues.  And whether folks like it or not, Klein’s tenure in NYC has been committed to closing the achievement gap and providing greater learning opportunities to historically underserved populations in the Big Apple.  So if these three are going to throw their intellectual heft and personal commitment behind the issue, we may see some real movement.
That movement, though, is going to be determined by the specific priorities EEP moves forward.  Some groups, particularly those who engage in educational civil rights and achievement gap concerns, often throw everything but the kitchen sink into a debate, fighting a noble fight but triggering few actual changes because they are asking for the sun and the moon.  If EEP can avoid that trap, and focus on the two or three specific issues that are most important to closing the achievement gap in our urban centers and increasing opportunities for students for historically disadvantaged students, have their membership hammer on those two or three without rest, and engage their advocates and third-party partners to support those issues as well, we may actually be able to move one or two of those topics to the front of the debate.  Without that focus, we may just be looking at another well-meaning group in a collection of well-meaning groups.
Klein, Lomax, and Murguia are definitely the folks who can lead such a focused advocacy campaign.  And Winn and company have proven particularly adept at using shoe-leather relationships, new media and social networking to spread the EEP message and effectively engagement of the stakeholders that matter the most.  The time is now to see if there is some real cattle behind that EEP hat. 

ED Budget Winners and Losers

The President’s FY2011 budget is out, and we’ve now had a day to digest the toplines and find out if our pet programs are on the chopping block or slotted for additional support.  Not surprisingly, ED is reorganizing its budget around priorities similar to Race to the Top, leaving some clear winners and losers.  (The full breakdown of the budget reccs can be found here.)

As a former Capitol Hill rat and appropriations staffer, I find it important to note that yesterday’s document is a starting point, and not the final deal.  Programs that have been eliminated or consolidated are bound to be reinstated once their constituency speaks up.  Additional money is likely to be found to fund those reinstatements.  (And as a former Byrd scholar, Eduflack, for one, is hoping that funding for the Robert C. Byrd Scholarship is reinstated immediately).  But the new parameters and programmatic headers offered in the President’s budget is likely to hold, standing as our new organizational strands for future spending and ESEA reauthorization.

So who are the winners?  Who are the losers?  Let’s take a quick look, shall we.

* Arne Duncan — The EdSec has put his personal brand on both discretionary and non-discretionary spending, while imposing his own “brand” on the future of federal education dollars.  The current budget demonstrates that Duncan’s four pillars are not a one-time RttT deal, and instead are the buckets by which federal education policy will be governed for years to come.
Reforming School Districts — The new budget likely provides another $700 million to LEAs under an expanded RttT and another $500 million for i3 (more than doubling our current i3 investment).  For those districts that are focusing on teacher/principal quality and school turnaround and research-proven innovation, the coming years may be profitable ones (as long as there aren’t too many good districts who can walk the walk).
* Teach for America — At first glance, some would say that TFA being “consolidated” is a bad thing.  But take a closer look at the budget.  The meager federal funds going to TFA now are being consolidated with a host of other teacher development funds to create a significant fund that can support TFA expansion and alternative certification pathways.  Wendy Kopp’s plans for scalability may be coming into clearer focus.
* Low-Performing Schools — Following a decade of NCLB and AYP, many thought RttT was going to focus on the turnaround of our lowest-performing schools.  Then the RttT scorecard came out, and it seemed turnarounds were being minimized.  But yesterday, he new budget proposed a 65 percent increase for turning around our 5,000 lowest-performing schools.  And this is in addition to support LEAs can get through Race to the Top.  It is a good time to be a school district with nowhere to go but up.
* STEM — No surprise here, based on the amount of attention the White House has been paying to STEM.  But by consolidating math and science moneys, we are now increasing our STEM commitment by 66 percent while focusing on high-need schools.  Interestingly, it seems we are shifting from a notion of all students needing to be STEM literate to using STEM to train the next generation of scientists and engineers.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray — Senator Murray’s inclusion here may surprise some.  But the President just strengthened her hand for her LEARN reading act.  the budget eliminates a lot of reading programs, including Even Start, National Writing Project, and Striving Readers, moving the money into a general literacy fund to support both PD and instructional materials.  But the proposed K-12 commitment to reading is only $450 million, well below the more than $1 billion a year that was recently spent under Reading First to move K-4 reading instruction.  Throwing another $500 million toward Murray’s bill and the support of middle and secondary school literacy (and the PD and support that goes with it) seems like more of a no-brainer now, either as a stand-alone piece of legislation or rolled into ESEA. 

Losers (at least for the time being)
* Education Technology — The proposed budget essentially eliminated all of the targeted ed tech dollars coming from the federal government, with the promise that technology would be integrated into core ESEA activities.  But here in DC, dollars are king.  In an era focused on school improvement and innovation, how can we zero out ed tech funding?  In a 21st century education, how can we eliminate funding for teacher development and support in the technology arena?  While the notion of integration may look good on paper, ED is going to face a real fight from the education community on the future of ed tech investment.  This is the one decision that really makes the least sense, in light of all of the rhetoric.
* Teachers Colleges — Perhaps the most interesting piece of the budget (at least to Eduflack) is the fact that Teacher Quality Partnership grants have been zeroed out, less than six months after ED awarded huge sums to colleges and universities across the nation under the TQP initiative.  By focusing teacher quality and development dollars on alternative certification pathways and programs focused on student outcomes, ED has all but said that our colleges and universities are playing little, if any, role in developing the next generation of high-quality teachers.  This is a big shift from Duncan’s remarks up at TC this fall and draws a real line in the sand between higher education and K-12.
* Teacher Incentive Fund — Back in the good ol’ Margaret Spellings days, a little program called TIF was created to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to incentivize effective teaching.  While few have seen the end result of TIF, the program was viewed as a core component of Duncan’s teacher quality efforts.  But now TIF has been zeroed out, with the dollars going to establish a new “Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund.”  While ED claims the new fund will be built on TIF’s strengths, it is clear the Administration is clearly the deck of most programs and initiatives associated with the previous regime.
* AYP — Though not explicitly spelled out in the budget priorities, AYP is now going the way of the do-do bird.  Adequate Yearly Progress, as measured by middle school proficiency in math and reading, is now going to be replaced by the college/career-ready common core standards developed by CCSSO and NGA.  State assessments tied to the middle grades reading and math standards will now be replaced.  NAEP now looks stronger, some of the accountability measures from the 1990s are losing a step, and we are clearly entering a new world order when it comes to student achievement, with the term AYP quickly expunged from our vocabulary.
* Beloved Pet Programs — As part of the consolidation efforts, funding for a number of beloved programs is being eliminated to make more money available for the streamlined priorities.  Federal commitment to the National Writing Project, Close Up, and Reading is Fundamental have been placed on the chopping block.  Javits G&T is soon gone, as is AP funding (unless College Board and Tom Luce can find a way to save it).  And it makes no sense to pick on the Byrd Scholarships again, particularly when we know the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee will find a way to restore funding. 
While many of these programs will ultimately get some dollars back, it is a sign of changing times.  And this may very well be the true end of the “Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners” effort, an ED program that collected $5 million in federal funding last year. 

And other surprises?  LEAs seem to be favored over the states.  Competitive funding is quickly replacing the block grants the sector has grown to depend on.  The Promise Neighborhoods initiative may finally focus on the role of family and community in education improvement.  The $1 billion bonus to pass ESEA remains in play.  And the significant funds found in both ESEA and HEA Title II appears to be in the cross hairs of the reform agenda.

Regardless of one’s personal preferences, the coming months are shaping up to be a “fun” debate on education funding  I just hope Chairman Harkin, Chairman Obey, and the rest of the approps gang are up for the challenge.