The lessons of 2012 for ed reformers

Education reformers learned some painful lessons in 2012, writes Mike Petrilli. Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, the “darling of the national education reform movement,” lost his job to a union-backed opponent. In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.

To build a winning political coalition, reformers need to “stop angering suburban parents and teachers by subjecting their schools to changes they don’t want or need,” Petrilli writes.

It’s not that suburban schools are perfect — their performance lags behind that of our international competitors, too. But the policies required for these schools to go from good to great are different from those needed to get urban schools from dismal to decent. In nations with the best schools, local leaders have the power to make day-to-day decisions and aren’t micromanaged from on high.

Second, reformers must “show respect for teachers,” Petrilli writes.

 We need to stress that bad teachers are rare but devastating and that efforts to weed them out will lift the entire profession. Any rhetoric that implies that most or even many teachers are incompetent or uncommitted to children needs to be scrapped.

Finally, reformers need to match “an army of determined educators … with a larger army of equally determined parents.”

Don’t let the suburbs slide, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

. . . reformers can’t afford to ignore or placate suburbia. This is because suburban districts face many of the same challenges that bedevil big-city counterparts — and have been less-willing to embrace systemic change.

Suburban districts are increasingly more diverse, thanks to poor and first-generation middle class black, Latino, and Asian families who are seeking better educational opportunities for their kids (and often mistakenly think that suburban schools can provide them).

The Obama administration is handing out No Child Left Behind waivers that will ease the pressure on suburban districts.

 

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not ”loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

– 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

– 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

States will vote on vouchers, charters, ed reform

Across the nation, voters will have a chance to change state education policies, notes the Hechinger Report.

A ballot initiative in Florida would amend the Constitution to allow religious schools to receive vouchers.

Georgia is voting on a special commission to authorize new charters.

Washington voters have rejected charter schools three times, but another charter measure is on the ballot, along with a “trigger” that would let a majority of parents, or teachers, vote to convert their traditional public school into a charter.

Idaho’s teachers union hopes voters will reject three recently passed education laws.

Proposition 1 aims to repeal a law mandating that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be tied to student growth – an increasingly common policy nationwide. The law also abolished teacher tenure, limited collective bargaining and eliminated incentives for early retirement. Proposition 2 would end Idaho’s new merit pay plan, which provides bonuses for teachers and administrators based on student growth on standardized tests. The law also allows for bonuses to be given to teachers who take hard-to-staff positions or leadership roles. And if a majority vote yes on Proposition 3, a law mandating that all students take two online classes before graduating high school will be repealed.

Voters in Maryland will decide on in-state tuition at public universities for undocumented immigrants.

Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign is “being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Fordham’s Mike Petrilli told AP. “If Tony Bennett can push this type of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.” Indiana now has the biggest voucher program in the country.

Also keep an eye on Michigan, where a union-sponsored measure would put collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. That would block education reforms, argues Michelle Rhee, who’s put Students First PAC money into the “no” campaign.

More choices, more lawsuits

If 2011 was the year of school choice – including tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, charters and vouchers — 2012 was the year of school choice lawsuits, notes Education Next.

Many of the laws, including Indiana’s voucher program, Arizona’s savings accounts, and a new voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado, were challenged in court shortly after passage. These legal challenges stalled reform and kept the school choice movement fighting for a clear identity. Is school choice just for certain student groups, like low-income children, or can it actually change the public school system?

For some laws, such as Indiana’s, a legal challenge did not prevent thousands of students from participating in the program’s first year. In other cases, as with Colorado’s voucher initiative, courts shut down the program just as the school year began, leaving hundreds of students uncertain as to whether they could remain at their new schools.

“Legal challenges to school-choice programs have become as inevitable and painful as death and taxes,” says Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

Vouchers spike Catholic school enrollment

Catholic schools are attracting voucher students in Indiana, AP reports. Nearly 70 percent of students using the vouchers are choosing Catholic schools.

Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in South Bend was at risk of closure because few parents could afford tuition.  Voucher students have increased enrollment by 60 percent.

The enrollment boom has forced the school to hire three more teachers. It’s also allowed all but the seventh and eighth grades to be separated into single classes. In years past, the school has combined grade levels because of low enrollment.

Catholic schools attract about 70 percent of voucher students in Ohio, which  gives vouchers to children who’d otherwise attend low-performing public schools.

Urban Catholic schools have a long history of educating children from tough neighborhoods.

 

Judge lets Indiana vouchers go ahead

Indiana’s 2,800 voucher students can start private school: A judge rejected an effort by the state teachers’ union to enjoin the voucher program on grounds the state constitution requires “uniform schools.”

High schoolers who qualify for free or reduced lunch will be able to take 90 percent of the per-pupil funding that would have gone to their public schools and spend that money on private school tuition instead.

Those whose families earn up to 150 percent of that mark can take a smaller voucher, worth 50 percent of that per-pupil funding. And students in grades 1 through 8 can get up to $4,500 to apply to a private school’s tuition.

More legal challenges are expected.

So far, 83 percent of voucher applicants come from low-income families, but the program is open to middle-income families.

2011 is ‘year of school choice’

Republican electoral gains have made 2011 The Year of School Choice, writes the Wall Street Journal.

No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.

Wisconsin removed the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest voucher program, and expanded school choice in Racine County.

Even more significant, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state’s students to attend public or private schools.

Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma have created or expanded tuition tax credit programs. North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on the number of charter schools. Maine passed its first charter law. Colorado created a voucher program in Douglas County that will provide scholarships for private schools. In Utah, lawmakers passed the Statewide Online Education Program, which allows high school students to access course work on the Internet from public or private schools anywhere in the state.

Pushed by House Speaker John Boehner, Congress revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program for low-income students.

Choice doesn’t guarantee excellent schools, the Journal concedes. But it drives reform by eroding “the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live.”

I’ll be very interested to see what happens in Indiana.

From 11th grade to college

Indiana will encourage students to skip senior year and go straight to college, the Hechinger Report notes. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plan, high school students who complete their core requirements by the end of their junior year can go straight to college with a scholarship based on how much money the state would have spent — $6,000 to $8,000 for most — on their 12th-grade education.

Daniels said he came up with the idea after years of asking seniors he met across the state what they were up to and too often being told “not much.”

“I kept bumping into seniors who said, ‘Well, I’m done,’ ” he said. “They’d laugh and tell me they were having a good time. We are spending thousands of dollars on students who are eligible to move on.”

Senior year is a time for “drift and disconnection,” concludes the National Commission on the High School Senior Year.

Solutions over the past decade have trended toward mixing college and high school courses through dual-enrollment programs or early-college high schools, where students can earn an associate degree and a diploma.

But Daniels’ preferred strategy — shortening high school altogether — also is catching on.

In Idaho, 21 districts will give early-graduation scholarships. Kentucky is thinking about it. In the fall, eight states will begin a program that lets students test out of the last two years of high school and go directly to community college. The National Center on Education and the Economy and the Gates Foundation are backing the idea.

One of my best friends in high school left after 11th grade for college. She was impatient to get on with it. (She dropped out after a year to organize the proletariat for the revolution.)

My daughter’s half-sister skipped high school entirely. Now 18, she will earn a bachelor’s in classics, summa cum laude, on Saturday from the University of Santa Clara and go on to Berkeley for her PhD. It was a challenge to buy her a graduation card. Nothing seemed to fit quite right.

Update: Ed Next looks at high school students who attend college part-time.

Indiana OKs broad voucher bill

The nation’s most sweeping school voucher program — with tuition aid for low- and middle-income families — is now law in Indiana. Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill today, along with another bill expanding charter schools.

Parents can choose to use vouchers at private schools that accept state regulation, including religious schools. As family income rises to $60,000 for a family of four, the voucher’s value will go down.

Other voucher systems across the country are limited to lower-income households, children with special needs or those in failing schools.

Indiana’s program would be open to a much larger pool of students, including those already in excellent schools. Indiana’s program will be limited to just 7,500 students for the first year and 15,000 in the second, a fraction of the state’s about 1 million students. But within three years, there will be no limit on the number of children who could enroll.

Indiana will save money on voucher students: Vouchers for elementary and middle school students are capped at $4,500 and no voucher will equal funding for public-school students.

According to Rick Hess, 60 percent of Indiana schoolchildren will be eligible for a voucher worth up to 90 percent of public education costs. The student must attend a year of public school to qualify for a voucher.

The bill also gives a $1,000 tax deduction for private-school tuition or the costs of homeschooling. That’s expected to cut revenues by $3 million.

While most choice advocates are celebrating, Cato’s Adam Schaeffer argues the law is a “strategic defeat for educational freedom” because it greatly expands state regulation of participating private schools.

To qualify for vouchers, schools will have to administer state exams and submit data on students’ progress, admit students by lottery and “provide good citizenship instruction” that stresses respecting authority, the property of others, the student’s parents and home, the student’s self and “the rights of others to have their own views and religious beliefs.”

What does this mean for religious private schools teaching that one can only be saved by belief in Jesus Christ?

Private schools that refuse to be regulated will risk losing most of their students,   Schaeffer writes.

‘Stuck schools’ stay stuck

Most high-performing schools are leaving low-income and minority students behind, concludes Stuck Schools Revisited: Beneath the Averages, a new Education Trust report that analyzes data from Maryland and Indiana.

In Maryland, the achievement gap in reading narrowed from 2005 to 2009, but African-American and Latino students often lag behind.

“In Indiana, gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers have remained both wide and stagnant,” Ed Trust reports.