$23 billion to save teachers' jobs

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is backing Sen. Tom Harkin’s $23 billion bill to save teachers’ jobs, reports Politics K-12. Students worry that their favorite teachers will be laid off, Duncan said.

Threatening to fire teachers — and then “heroically saving” teachers’ jobs with emergency funding — “has become the national pastime of America’s politicians,” sneers Hit & Run.  Much of the $100 billion in education stimulus funds “went directly to pay for the salary, benefits, and pensions of school personnel.”

But now, in a development that exactly everyone could have foreseen, that money is running out. And since the massive infusion of cash saved states from having to make tough decisions about the budget, we are exactly where we were at the beginning of 2009. The cry goes ’round the room: Teacher firings are upon us!

The bill delays the inevitable belt-tightening, Gadfly agrees. Students will lose their “favorite teachers” only if “unions force districts to abide by ‘last-hired, first-fired’ rules,  instead of making lay-off decisions based on merit, Gadfly adds.

Harkin’s plan is to “drop more money out of airplanes for education” without seeking meaningful reforms in return, writes Daniel L. Bennett on the College Affordability blog.

The bill was introduced as an emergency spending bill, meaning that it would be exempt from the meaningless pay-as-you-go rules that require new spending to be financed.

During the fat years, teacher hiring outpaced enrollment, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Between 2001 and 2007, 12 states saw student enrollment fall while teaching staffs grew, according to data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics. And in another half-dozen states, teachers were hired out of all proportion to increased enrollment.

For example, Virginia’s student enrollment grew by 5% and the number of teachers grew by 21%. In Florida, student enrollment rose by 6% and the number of teachers rose by 20%. Student enrollment was up by 9% in North Carolina, where the number of teachers was up by 22%.

In a recession economy, that’s not sustainable, especially if top-scale teachers’ jobs are protected by seniority, while bottom-scale teachers are laid off.  (And, yes, if seniority vanishes, there’s a big financial incentive to lay off experienced top-scale teachers.)

Delaware, Tennessee win Race to Top

Delaware and Tennessee have won Race To The Top funding in the first round.

Both had stakeholder buy-in (from the unions and school boards), the Education Department says. Politics K-12 points out another factor:

. . . Tennessee and Delaware just happen to be the home states of two powerful, Republican lawmakers the Obama administration is trying to court in its bipartisan push to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Both chair the subcommittees in their respective chambers dealing with K-12 policy, and both are considered leading moderate voices on education who have worked well with Democrats in the past.

Also noticing the Alexander and Castle factor, Flypaper’s Andy Smarick credits the Department for choosing only two winners, but says Delaware and Tennessee had plans that were good but not great.

The story here is just how important “stakeholder support” turned out to be. Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island had very good plans, but their unions didn’t buy in, especially in RI and FL.  So those states lost.

Two other finalists, North Carolina and Kentucky, had weak plans but high stakeholder support. They lost too.

. . . Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island now have to wonder, “What reforms do we give up in order to get our stakeholders to support the plan? Do we lighten up on teacher evaluations? Do we give up performance pay? Do we take it easier on failing schools.”

The need for stakeholder support could give unions and local school districts a “veto” over their state’s proposals, Smarick writes.

Giving a veto to the status quo’s defenders will make RTTT “meaningless,” writes Jay Greene. “If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will apply in the future unless they have union support.  This means that the unions will dictate what reforms will be pursued, which means that there will be virtually no reform.”

Rick Hess calls the results the Race To Consensus.

Looking at Delaware and Tennessee leaves me thinking that all the talk about bold reform was window dressing. The states that explicitly set out to blow past conventions, and devil take the hindmost, fell by the wayside. Florida and Louisiana’s bold, action-backed plans — which reflected a belief that they could push forward if they did so only with the eager and willing — lost out to states that obtained laughable levels of buy-in from school districts, school boards, and local teachers’ unions.

Tennessee’s plan is bold, writes J.E. Stone.

Mike Petrilli is better at handicapping RTTT winners than college basketball teams. His short list included: Delaware, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts. Union support made a big difference, he writes.

Lifted from Russo, a cartoon by my old friend Signe Wilkinson, the mother of two blogging teachers, one in Philadelphia and one in Taiwan.

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DOE names 16 'Race' finalists

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia are finalists in the first round of  “Race to the Top” funding: Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. The winners will be chosen in April, and a second round of applications accepted in June.

Some weak applications made the cut, notes Eduwonk.

Some states with good apps here but OH and NY is not a great sign…and IL and CO were arguably bubble states at best and not sure what SC means given how out of step they are with parts of the administration’s agenda.

If too many states get grants, it’s going to look like the kindergarten race at Ravinia School in the 1958: Prizes for all, including those who run diagonally. (And, yes, I ran diagonally and slowly but got the same green “participation” ribbon as my classmates.)

Update: Edspresso wonders why so many charter-restricting states made the finals.

California lifted its ban on the use of test data to evaluate teachers but the Golden State didn’t make it. DC and Florida, along with Colorado and Louisiana, might just be the only reformist states that made the final list. And now that it’s clear that a strong charter law or performance pay system doesn’t seem to matter for the competition, state policymakers can breath a sigh of relief that they don’t have to do any heavy lifting to get or stay in the game, just hire a smart team of consultants to create convincing charts and use flowery language. Read a little of Illinois’ application. It seems to be written entirely in the future tense.

Race To The Top is a “doomed bribery scheme,” says Daniel Willingham.

Flypaper’s Andy Smarick calls the list of 16 a major disappointment. He was hoping for five finalists or even three.

The list of 16 is padded, writes Tom Carroll of Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability. Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee are highly competitive, Colorado, Georgia and Delaware are competitive and the rest should be out of the running, he predicts.

Feds politicize school research

Feds And Research Shouldn’t Mix, writes researcher Jay P. Greene.

Federal research tends to support federally favored policies. Even when it’s farmed out to independent evaluators, there’s pressure not to alienate those who will be awarding the the next contract.

The safe thing to conclude in those circumstances is that the evidence is unclear about the effectiveness of a policy but future research is needed, which, not surprisingly, is what many federally funded evaluations find.

Greene served on a What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) panel that was supposed to identify what was known from the research literature on how to turn around failing schools.

As we quickly discovered, there was virtually nothing known from rigorous research on how to successfully turn around failing schools.  I suggested that we should simply report that as our finding — nothing is known.  But we were told that the Department of Education wouldn’t like that  and we had to say something about how to turn around schools.  I asked on what basis we would draw those conclusions and was told that we should rely on our “professional judgment” informed by personal experience and non-rigorous research.  So, we dutifully produced a report that was much more of a political document than a scientific one.  We didn’t know anything from science about how to turn around schools, but we crafted a political answer to satisfy political needs.

Federally funded research also is way too expensive, Greene writes. And a lot of it is awful.

In particular, I am thinking of the work of the federally funded regional research labs.  For every useful study or review they release, there must be hundreds of drek.  The regional labs are so bad that the Department of Education has been trying to eliminate them from their budget for years.  But members of Congress want the pork, so they keep the regional labs alive.

The feds can provide data on student performance to researchers who’d be stymied by privacy laws, Greene writes. Researchers can take it from there.

Obama ties funds to new standards

President Obama wants to link Title I funding to states’ adoption of “college- and career-ready standards, he told the National Governors Association.  States would have to sign on to common core standards under development — Texas and Alaska are the hold-outs — or work with state universities to set their own standards.

It’s not clear how “college- and career-ready” would be defined or evaluated, Education Week notes.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan also wants to tie Race To the Top funding to adoption of “college- and career-ready” standards.

Forcing states to adopt the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) package is a “huge mistake,” writes Lynne Munson on the Common Core (no relation) blog. It alienates states like Massachusetts and California, which already have rigorous standards and won’t appreciate being coerced.

However, several new reports criticize the quality of the proposed common core standards, reports Curriculum Matters. Drafters are fighting over what to include in the reading and math standards. Once they see the final result, some states may opt out.

On Flypaper, Checker Finn suggests humility and prudence:

If these standards and assessments end up representing a huge improvement over those in use in most states today, then much that’s good may reasonably follow from their installation and use. But what if they don’t? And even if they do, what about those (few) states that have done a creditable job on their own and for which CCSSI may represent either a lateral move or a step backward? In any case, would it not be prudent to appraise their safety and efficacy before demanding that they become the center of America’s new education universe?

Rick Hess worries that the Education Department’s arrogance will undercut RTTT, which he likes.

. . . the Duncan team’s self-righteousness, impatience with skeptics, and frantic pace have meant little time or interest in building a process that will be credible and sustainable.

Duncan says the governors are “receptive” to linking common standards to eligibility for federal funds. Alexander Russo says he’ll believe it when the governors say it themselves: Sure, force us to jump through a new hoop to get the same old funding!

Update: Reward results, not process, says Center for Education Reform.

Why Race to the Middle? First-Class State Standards Are Better than Third-Class National Standards asserts a paper by Ze’ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky for the Pioneer Institute.

Australia is introducing new standards — including grammar.

Stimulating schools

Politics K-12 is the place to go for news on the education provisions of the compromise stimulus bill:

The agreement would provide $53.6 billion for the state fiscal stabilization fund, including $40.6 billion to local school districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used for averting layoffs and programmatic cutbacks, and to pay for school modernization. The fund also includes $5 billion for incentive grants to be allocated by the Secretary of Education; and $8 billion to states’ high–priority needs, which may include education.

The agreement would provide $1.1 billion for Early Head Start and $1 billion for Head Start, plus $2 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant.

It would also provide $13 billion for Title I programs for disadvantaged students and $12.2 billion for grants for special education.

And, on the higher education front, the bill would boost the maximum Pell Grant to college students by $500, for a maximum of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.

. . .

The $25 million fund for charter school facilities is not included.

. . . The compromise agreement includes $250 million for state data systems, $100 million for teacher quality state grants, and $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund. It also has $650 million for education technology, which is less than the $1 billion provided in both the House and Senate bills. The $13 billion for Title I money includes $3 billion for school improvement grants, according to education lobbyists.

Lots of money, not much reform.

The Gadfly guys have advice for Arne Duncan on how to manage the ed stimulus money.