Job retraining fails if there are no jobs

President Obama touts job retraining at community colleges to enable laid-off workers to close the “skills gap.” Mitt Romney agrees that  retraining is the answer.  But it hasn’t worked in Janesville, Wisconsin, where a GM plant closed four years ago. Laid-off workers who took vocational classes at a nearby technical college ended up working less and earning less than their former co-workers who didn’t go back to school. Why? There aren’t many jobs.

Greene: We don’t need more teachers

“Hiring more teachers won’t improve student achievement,” writes Jay Greene in the Wall Street Journal. “It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.”

In 1970, public schools employed one teacher for every 22.3 students, according to federal data. In 2012, we have one teacher for every 15.2 students. Math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, writes Greene. High-school graduation rates are stuck at 75 percent.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios.

Unlike every other enterprise, public schools have not invested in productivity-enhancing technology, Greene writes. Outside the monopoly, charter schools such as Rocketship Academy in California and Carpe Diem in Arizona are using computers to provide individualized instruction while “teachers are primarily tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers.”

While Gov. Romney would leave education policy to state and local governments, President Obama proposes a billion-dollar “master teacher corps” with a goal of producing 100,0000 additional math and science teachers in the next 10 years. It’s “a Solyndra-like solution,” writes Greene. The federal government would pick the “winning” reform strategy.

Romney floats radical education idea

Education policy had a few moments in the Obama-Romney debate last night.

President Obama said education would be gutted, if Republican challenger Mitt Romney is elected, Ed Week reports.

“I’m not going to cut education funding . . . and grants that go to people going to college,” Romney said.

Obama touted his plan to hire an additional 100,000 math and science teachers.

Romney countered that Obama’s $90 billion invested in green energy (“You pick losers.”) would have paid for two million teachers.

Obama linked his education reform agenda to Common Core Standards, which are supposed to be a state effort, Ed Week notes.

Obama, who doesn’t refer to Race to the Top much on the campaign stump, invoked his signature education-reform brand three times in the debate as having “prompted reforms in 46 states.” (Clearly a reference to the common core, without naming the common-standards movement, which is a politically dicey thing for the federal government to support these days.)

Both candidates said improving education is a key to economic prosperity.

 Romney “floated the most radical, furthest left idea” in education in his debate with President Obama, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate. Romney called for letting poor and disabled schoolchildren use their federal education funding to cross district lines to attend a better school.  The idea is included in his education policy white paper released in May.

“Historically, affluent and white parents and school districts have gone to great lengths to keep poor, nonwhite kids out of their own kids’ classrooms,” Goldstein writes.

  The Obama administration’s signature school reform program, Race to the Top, did nothing to encourage school integration or allow children to attend schools outside of their home districts—an important right, since many failing schools are located in districts where almost every school is underperforming, and those that aren’t have overflowing wait lists.

Romney hasn’t explained how his proposal would work and the chances it would happen are slim, she predicts.

What would President Romney do on education? Rick Hess looks at Romney’s record as governor of high-scoring Massachusetts.

Romney’s education record as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007 looks a lot like President Obama’s has. Romney inherited a strong reform tradition — built around standards, testing, and accountability. He maintained and strengthened this commitment by adding a science test to the state’s accountability system and supporting high school exit exams. He also pushed a controversial plan to mandate parenting classes for parents in low-performing districts seeking to enroll their kids in kindergarten.

In terms of school choice, Romney vetoed a bill to place a moratorium on opening new charter schools, and the number of charter schools increased modestly, from 46 to 59. He unsuccessfully championed merit pay for the top third of performers and for math and science teachers, offering bonuses of up to $5,000. He pushed for addressing low-performing schools with strategies that are quite similar to those favored by the Obama administration, including making it easier to replace principals and teachers in such schools or turning them into charters.

President Romney probably would push an Obama-like reform agenda, “but would do so with a lighter touch, less spending, and more emphasis on choice,” Hess predicts.

Obama, Romney vie for Hispanic college students

In an appeal to Hispanic voters, President Obama’s new campaign ad says Romney would cut Pell Grants, costing Hispanic students $1,000. In an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language network, the Republican challenger called for letting the maximum grant rise with inflation, a larger increase than the president’s proposed 1.5 percent boost.

Both candidates are running Spanish-language ads attacking the rise in college costs. Obama’s ad promises to decrease the  tuition growth rate by 50 percent over 10 years.

At the Univision event at the University of Miami, Romney told students that what they need is “good jobs,” not more loans. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with debts. I want to make sure you can pay back the debts you’ve already got and that will happen with good jobs.”

Romney on education

At NBC’s Education Nation, Gov. Romney said the federal government shouldn’t push states to adopt core standards or “financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government’s idea of a curriculum.”

Here’s a transcript.

Independents lean right on education

Just one-third of independents report that President Obama has done an “excellent” or “good” job of handling education issues, reports the new EdNext-PEPG survey. On the role of teachers unions and support for school spending, “the views of independents hew closer to those of Republicans than of Democrats.”

Moreover, independents are more supportive than members of either party of expanding private school choice for disadvantaged students, the centerpiece of Governor Romney’s proposals for K–12 education reform.

Overall, however, 52 percent of independents say they lean Democratic, while just 40 percent lean Republican.

Seventy-one percent of Republicans report that the teachers unions have a generally negative effect on schools, as compared to just 29 percent of Democrats. Though independents come down in between, a majority of them (56 percent) agree with Republicans that unions have a negative effect.

Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to give high grades to public schools, the survey found.

While annual per-pupil expenditures run around $12,500, Hispanics, on average, estimate their cost at less than $5,000. Whites and African Americans estimate the costs to be more than $7,000.

The same goes for teacher salaries, which average about $56,000 a year. On average, Hispanics think teachers are paid little more than $25,000 a year; blacks, on average, think they are paid around $30,000 a year; and whites estimate salaries at $35,000.

All groups — but especially Hispanics — strongly support “proposals to condition teacher tenure on their students’ making adequate progress on state tests.”  Overall, the public backs using principals’ observations and students’ test-score improvement to evaluate teachers. 

Romney education plan is radical

“Emphasizing high-stakes tests and charter school expansion, Obama has simply continued — or accelerated — the policies handed down by George W. Bush in his signature education reform, No Child Left Behind,” writes education historian Jonathan Zimmerman in the Los Angeles Times. By contrast, Mitt  Romney’s education plan is revolutionary, writes Zimmerman.

Romney has put forth a plan that could completely transform the way Americans organize and fund public schools. And that’s why it has little chance of being implemented any time soon.

Romney proposes letting poor and disabled students use federal funds to enroll in new schools — private schools or out-of-district public schools.

. . . forget all our effusive rhetoric about education as the great equalizer, the ticket out of poverty and so on. American education is profoundly unequal because it is still circumscribed by local district lines — and still financed, mostly, by local tax dollars.

While President Obama’s education policies “don’t change the bottom line,” Romney “has suggested that kids in a poor public school district should be allowed to enroll in a wealthier one.” That’s a huge change in the status quo.

Romney “hasn’t provided any real details,” Zimmerman writes. And don’t hold your breath waiting for upper-middle-class suburbanites to welcome low-income students.

 Yet the plan does remind us of the radical potential of school vouchers, which are today blithely dismissed by liberals as a right-wing plot to gut public education. But vouchers once drew significant support from the left too, including from such luminaries as Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks and urban muckraker Jonathan Kozol.

To Jencks, who crafted a 1970 report on the subject for Richard Nixon’s White House, vouchers could help equalize American education if public as well as private schools were required to admit a certain fraction of low-income students. And the vouchers would have to be distributed progressively, with the poorest kids getting the biggest tuition assistance.

I don’t see Mitt Romney as a wild and crazy guy. If elected, I don’t think he’ll challenge local control of schools. If he did try to push through a radical voucher plan, he’d face a lot of opposition from suburban Republicans, though he might get support from urban Democrats. I’m not betting the farm on this one.

Goosing the gander

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is granting No Child Left Behind waivers to states that adopt Duncan’s favored reforms, notes Rick Hess. If Romney wins, what sort of waivers would sauce the gander?

First, Romney ought to announce that waivers from NCLB will require real options for parents in all persistently low-performing schools. Since Democrats are right to point out that there aren’t enough seats for all the affected kids to escape to, Romney ought to insist that states adopt the “parent trigger” in order to give parents the option to radically remake their children’s school. Given that the parent trigger has been championed by Democratic school reform activists, but angers traditional Democratic allies in school districts, it’d be a neat piece of political jujitsu.

If states can’t provide alternatives for kids in failing schools, Romney could require a voucher option, Hess suggests.

In addition, waiver-seeking states could be required “to emulate Wisconsin and Indiana and restrict the scope of collective bargaining to wages and wage-related benefits, so that it no longer encompasses policies that can impede school improvement.”

Romney could require waiver states “to undergo an independent audit of their health care and retirement obligations and to adopt a plan that establishes a sustainable financial model.”

Finally, he ought to insist that states demonstrate that they’re spending federal funds wisely. This requires meaningful cost accounting, including calculating ROI (return on investment) at the school and district levels.

Yes, it would be federal overreach, Hess writes. But if the Democrats can do it, the Republicans can too.

Jobs, jobs, jobs — and school choice

In an acceptance speech devoted to jobs, family, jobs and jobs, Mitt Romney promised to “give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow” by promoting school choice. ” Every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.”

Earlier, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s speech was all about education.

We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. Tell that to a kid in whose classroom learning isn’t respected.

Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.

The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all.

That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time. And it’s hurting all of America.

Bush also called for school choice.

Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk.

You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D.

There’s flavored milk– chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – and it doesn’t even taste like milk.

They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.

Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Condi Rice, another choice supporter, said the “crisis in K-12 education” is a “threat to the very fabric of who we are” in her convention speech. Otherwise education was barely mentioned.

Here’s Romney’s education web page and the Hechinger Report‘s analysis of what would happen to education under Romney or Obama.

Romney’s pick for Education: Jeb? Rhee?

With the Republican convention underway, it’s time to speculate about Romney’s pick for Education secretary. Over at Politics K-12, Alyson Klein writes that  former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the number one guess among GOP insiders. Bush wrote the foreword to Romney’s education plan and is the “godfather” of the state superintendents’ group “Chiefs for Change,” which has “had a major impact on state-level education policies.”

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, of Minnesota also is a top mentionee.

If Romney looks for a state superintendent, Tony Bennett of Indiana, a Chief for Change, and Tom Luna of Idaho are possibilities.

. . . given Romney’s dissing of the teacher’s unions, Luna’s got anti-union street cred to spare—his tires were slashed last year when he tried to raise class size and put merit pay in place.

Other folks are fans of New Jersey’s Chris Cerf, a registered Democrat who, works with a GOP governor (Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Chris Christie).

Former superintendents include Robert Scott (Texas), Paul Pastorek (Louisiana) and Lisa Graham Keegan (of Arizona).

Folks have also suggested that Romney could use the Education Department as the one place to stick a (non-state chief) Democrat, to show his administration can be bipartisan. The name that came up most often? Former New York City chancellor Joel Klein. Other folks suggested Michelle Rhee, a Democrat, who is now running the Students First juggernaut and will be in both Tampa and Charlotte. She’ll be at screenings of the parent-trigger movie “Won’t Back Down.”

The darkest of dark horses? Some of Klein’s Republican sources suggested Romney could ask Arne Duncan to stick around. “Even if it is a joke, it shows Duncan’s still got some cross-aisle credibility,” writes Klein.