Obama, the education president

Obama’s Education Record includes some success stories — and soft spots, write Mike Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt in Education Next.

His Race to the Top (RttT) initiative catalyzed a chain reaction of legislative action at the state level, securing key reforms on issues ranging from charter schools to teacher evaluations to rigorous standards. His stimulus and “edujobs” bills seemed to maintain a critical level of investment in the public schools during a time of difficult budget cuts and financial strain. His administrative action to provide flexibility on No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions bypassed a paralyzed Congress and partially fulfilled his campaign promise to lift the law’s yoke off the backs of decent but maligned schools. . . .

. . . both the Common Core State Standards effort and the move toward rigorous teacher evaluations could lead to dramatic increases in student achievement, if implemented faithfully by states and school districts. Neither of these reforms would have been adopted so quickly, in so many places, were it not for the president’s leadership.

But the stimulus wasted a lot of money, they write. Race to the Top states have back-pedaled on reforms.

And Washington keeps tightening the screws on the states, while promising flexibility. Race to the Top required states to “develop plans that complied with federal guidelines set forth in excruciating detail.”  No Child Left Behind waivers required more hoop jumping. Now the Education Department has declared that “a disproportionate percentage of white students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitutes evidence of racial discrimination.”

“Obama and Duncan have been good on education reform” compared to their Democratic predecessors, write Petrilli and Eberhardt.  But “the administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education system bailouts, on the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and on the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers.”


Obama pledges job training, lower college costs

Community colleges will become “community career centers” working with employers to train 2 million Americans for skilled jobs, said President Obama in the State of the Union speech, which also promised to make college affordable for middle-class families.

States cut funding for colleges and universities by 7.6 percent in 2011-12, a new study finds. The federal stimulus money ran out and state budgets couldn’t make up the difference.

Also: More on free and cheap online college courses’ challenge to traditional higher education. It’s all about the credentials.

States link $ to college performance

States are linking dollars to college performance. In most states, not much money is involved, but Tennessee plans to base 90 percent of funding on students’ outcomes.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Hit with funding cuts, community colleges are getting creative to raise money and cut spending.

That $5 billion to repair community college buildings should be spent to forgive the interest on student loans, a dean writes.

High dropout rate has high costs

Low educational attainment has a high cost, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report, the median annual income for a high school dropout is $10,996. That’s 60 percent less than workers with some college education and 74 percent less than bachelor’s degree grads.

Young men lag in nearly every educational indicator except math, he adds.

In the Dropout Nation podcast, Biddle argues that President Obama’s $450 billion stimulus plan, which includes $60 billion for “allegedly avoiding teacher layoffs and fixing up school buildings,” will do little for poorly educated jobless Americans.

The return of edujobs

Edujobs — $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs — has passed the Senate; the House will return from recess to vote on it.

The bill is financed, in part, by cutting food stamps for poor families by $516 a year  per family, notes Flypaper. (Food stamp funding, expanded as part of the stimulus, will be cut in 2014 instead of 2015.)

Hiring people with one-time funds is now defined as “courage” by the Education Department, writes Rick Hess. During a June webinar, Maura Policelli, ED’s senior advisor for external affairs, told listeners to spend stimulus funds to keep teachers on the payroll. She said, “And that does require some courage because it does involve the possible risk of investing in staff that you may not be able to retain in the 2011-12 school year.”  Hess writes:

I used to think that courageous leaders made tough decisions to identify waste, streamline budgets, and plan ahead.

What happens next year?

Stimulus doubles teacher pay

Fayetteville, Arkansas is using stimulus dollars to double the pay of teachers in a summer reading program, reports the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Teachers in this program that targets at-risk students who have completed kindergarten through second grades will bank $8,000 for 12 days of classroom instruction and three days of preparation at the school.

The money won’t save teacher jobs or offer a new program, points out Jay P. Greene.

The money is simply being used to pay teachers more for the same thing that they would have been doing anyway. The only thing that is “racing to the top” about this use of funds is teacher pay.

. . . that works out to paying Fayetteville teachers $76 per hour of scheduled work (excluding benefits) to do something that teachers in neighboring Springdale are doing for $25 per hour. And it is apparently double what the same Fayetteville teachers are normally paid.

Why not pay teachers more to offer more days of instruction?

Update: Most stimulus money is going to protect existing jobs and programs, writes Andy Smarick.  That’s no surprise.

Stimulating discussion

National Journal’s new Education Experts Blog asks the experts: What’s the best use of stimulus money?

More info, same results

What are we going to get for $100 billion in education stimulus money? More data on how students are doing. But that’s not enough, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News.

The recent economic stimulus bill contains more than $100 billon in education spending, a historic investment equal to about 16 percent of the nation’s annual expenditures on public elementary and secondary schools. In exchange, states are required to report more information about student performance and make “assurances” that they will work to improve schools. However, the law requires little in the way of actual changes.

Transparency isn’t the same as accountability, he writes.

More data, same results

Reason blogger Lisa Snell mocks the idea that stimulus cash will buy useful education data.

From NCLB data reporting requirements, we learned that thousand of schools are low-performing and that low-income and minority student have low levels of proficiency in reading and math.

Yet, these same states that report that “transparent” data under NCLB continue to get billions in federal aid.

NCLB’s data reporting requirements have pushed many schools to focus time and resources on teaching low-achieving students.  There have been successes. But spotlighting failure doesn’t necessarily lead to success.

Stimulating learning

Stimulus funding will “help retool education,” not just fund more of the same, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells the Washington Post.

To help struggling schools, the federal government will use stimulus funding to encourage states to expand school days, reward good teachers, fire bad ones and measure how students perform compared with peers in India and China, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday.

History has shown that money alone does not drive school improvement, Duncan said, pointing to the District of Columbia, where public school students consistently score near the bottom on national reading and math tests even though the school system spends more per pupil than its suburban counterparts do.

“D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous,” Duncan said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters.

The huge increase in federal education spending will “target states, local school systems and nonprofit organizations willing to adopt policies that have been proven to work,” Duncan said. And he’ll be able to identify reform agents in 30 to 45 days?

On The Quick and the Ed, Robert Mainwaring looks at the challenge of spending one-time funds intelligently.  Districts that use stimulus money to fund new programs risk “falling off a cliff” when the money dries up.

NPR’s On Point interviewed Duncan today.