The Los Angeles school board election attracted enormous amounts of outside money and attention, so it’s no surprise that lots of people are claiming victory in the aftermath. In the end, an incumbent aligned with Supt. John Deasy and an incumbent supported by the teachers union each won, while a third candidate will be in a runoff.
The election attracted record donations, but the attention also created some resentment. Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, told Reuters he disliked that outside donations changed the tenor and focus of the race.
“This isn’t a national referendum,” he said. “It’s a local school board election. It’s about local issues.”
Many of those local issues are also being played out nationally, which is one reason why donors including Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported a slate of school-board candidates who believe in charter schools and in evaluating teachers based on student test performance – something the teachers union there has resisted.
Along with claims of victory, though, came some reality checks.
“How anticlimactic,’’ wrote blogger Alexander Russo. “In a showdown that’s fast approaching 2007′s $7 million campaign spending record, the teachers union and reform groups each succeeded in protecting one of their key supporters on the LAUSD School Board last night — but failed to score any decisive victory against the other side. ‘’
Here’s a quick snapshot of some reactions to the results:
Michelle Rhee, Students First founder and chief executive officer:
“Los Angeles voters made it clear that they stand together with those of us fighting to put kids first and who believe that every child deserves access to a world-class education. Last night’s outcome underscores the importance of the ongoing effort to elevate teaching, empower parents and implement reforms that are in the best interest of our students.”
Joe Williams and Gloria Romero, Democrats for Education Reform:
“Mónica García, the courageous LAUSD board president, held off her opponents to win reelection. Mónica faced multiple challengers in this election, precisely because she has demonstrated the courage to fight for reforms. Status quo forces mobilized in a big way, but so did the education reform community. We are thrilled that she will remain a bold voice on the LAUSD board.”
United Teachers of Los Angeles:
“UTLA is pleased that veteran teacher Steve Zimmer appears to have retained his seat on LAUSD’s Board of Education. Voters were not swayed by outsiders and their millions. School Board seats are not for sale. Zimmer has been a champion of students and an important voice on the school board.”
This post comes to us courtesy of Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog.
Today is the day that those automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that have been coming since August 2011 are finally set to kick in. And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a chief spokesman for the administration on the impact of the cuts on domestic programs—and landed in some pretty hot water with fact checkers.
Earlier this week, the White House put out job loss estimates, including for K-12 schools, and Duncan backed them up on Sunday’s political talk shows. However, it’s really too early to know exactly how many layoffs, furloughs, or programmatic cuts will result from sequestration (which would represent the largest cut to federal K-12 aid in recent history). School districts—not to mention states, and the federal government—are still hammering out their spending plans for this year. Schools don’t typically send out Reduction in Force (RIF) notices until March or April.
That means teachers won’t lose their positions this school year, although some districts are beginning to contemplate layoffs for next year, as well as cuts to things like professional development, according to this report by the American Association of School Administrators. Another survey by the organization, released last year, showed that many school districts were trying to carefully plan for the cuts, to minimize the impact on students and staff.
Besides, state and local money makes up the vast majority (about 90 percent) of a district’s budget, so school district officials could be watching their state legislatures just as closely (more closely?) than they are watching Congress when it comes to deciding just how many teaching positions they can fund next year.
Given all that, I asked Secretary Duncan earlier today, at an event at an elementary school in Takoma Park, Md., if he still stands by the estimates the White House put out earlier this week.
Here’s what he told me:
“Obviously all these potential cuts are not coming at a time when states and districts are flush. We lost a couple hundred thousand teacher jobs over the past few years.” And he said “the vast majority of [district] money goes to people. There simply aren’t too many other places to go.”
He added that districts have the option of furloughing teachers rather than laying them off, which he said would still be detrimental to kids. “If your money is going to people, people are going to get hurt. These are estimates, we’ll see, this is the potential impact. I think again, you’ll start to see over time now, these notices going out.”
I asked him if he was worried that by putting estimates out there, rather than waiting for hard and fast numbers, he had undermined the administration’s (and advocates’) arguments that the sequester could be very damaging for schools.
“My job is to be clear and straight and transparent,” Duncan said. “We’ve never said that this is what’s going to happen. …We’ve always said this is what might happen. And sadly, this is what might happen.” (On CBS’s Face the Nation Duncan said that there are “literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.” School district officials: Have you sent those notes? Or do you typically wait until March or April before announcing layoffs?)
More background on the cuts: The pain won’t be felt evenly everywhere. Some states, like Connecticut, don’t rely very much on federal funding for education, while others, like New Mexico, count much more on the feds. But overall, state budgets are largely rebounding from the recent recession, Michael Griffith, a state budget guru, told my colleague Andrew Ujifusa of State EdWatch fame.
The impact of sequestration appears to be equally murky when it comes to the $8 billion Head Start program, which helps low-income families cover the cost of preschool. The cuts will be far more immediate here, although it’s unclear what impact that will have on children served.
Here’s the administration’s take:
“We have a situation where we’re looking at the possibility of 70,000 young children losing their access to Head Start and Early Head Start, with teachers being laid off and teaching assistants being laid off,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a press conference today.
But, as with K-12, it sounds like local implementation could be key to how Head Start programs absorb the cuts. Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS, told me this week that under the sequester, Head Start programs that don’t operate in the summer could either end their current school year earlier than planned, or delay the start of the next school year to save money. Year-round programs would likely decide not to fill openings after children age out, he added. And grantees could also cut transportation services to find savings, he said. Some Head Start students may have no other way of getting to their programs. All of those steps would have a major impact on Head Start kids and families, of course.
The cuts may not be in place for long anyway. In fact, Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the House education committee, is betting they’ll be replaced with a broader budget agreement, possibly this year.
The large amounts of outside money flowing into the Los Angeles Unified school board election represent a new front in the reform battles that have shaken up education politics over the last decade. Donations of $1 million by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and $250,000 by former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, in particular, have sparked controversy.
But the involvement of national school reform players in local district politics is a trend likely to accelerate now that would-be reformers have won major policy victories at the state and federal levels, experts and advocates say. Upcoming races in Denver and Newark, N.J., may be the next target for national groups like Rhee’s advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, and major donors like Bloomberg and his former school chancellor, Joel Klein, who has also contributed money to the Los Angeles race.
“A lot of the reform success started at the federal level with Race to the Top, it moved to states and now it’s very much in the implementation phase at the district level,” said Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an advocacy group that supports charter schools and teacher accountability. “How implementation is handled is important to a lot of people.”
In the case of Los Angeles, donors like Bloomberg, Rhee, and local philanthropists such as Eli Broad (who has been among the many funders of The Hechinger Report), are giving to a slate of school-board candidates who support charter schools, new teacher evaluations based on student test scores, and overhauling teacher tenure. Although Los Angeles is already piloting new evaluations to be launched next year, the teachers union has resisted the inclusion of test scores as a major factor in the rating system. (Student achievement measures will make up 30 percent of a teacher’s rating under a system negotiated this year with the union.)
Reformers are also concerned that the city’s charter schools might be adversely affected if the make-up of the school board becomes more union-friendly.
Outside participation in local education politics is not entirely a new phenomenon. National groups were involved in state races in last November’s elections, and national donors gave generously to candidates in last year’s school-board race in New Orleans. “The extent that you have Bloomberg giving a million dollars, that’s new,” said Sarah Reckhow, a political scientist at Michigan State University and author of Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics. “But the base and the networks and the foundation for getting to this point [have] built over a couple of election cycles.”
A decade ago, fights for mayoral control of school districts—which took power out of the hands of many local school boards—also occasionally attracted outside involvement from national foundations or other advocates. “It’s where you don’t have mayoral control where you see the outside money going into the local school boards,” said Jeffrey Henig, a political scientist at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is beginning research on the involvement of national groups in local education politics. “In places where you don’t have the friendly mayor as your ally, this becomes a backup strategy.”
The local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has been among the most vocal opponents of the participation of large national donors in the race. The union is supporting a separate slate of candidates, including incumbent Steve Zimmer, who helped push through the new teacher evaluation system and who last year proposed a two-month moratorium on the approval of new charter schools. The measure was defeated.
Voters “do not need outsiders deciding who is best to sit on the LAUSD Board of Education,” Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement quoted by the Los Angeles Times.
Henig says the increased outside involvement in local education politics could become a concern. “There are some legitimate questions about democracy and local community values,” he said. “In a lot of instances, the incumbents are not entrenched interests, they are responding to a constituency that elected them.”
Yet despite the attention the Los Angeles election is receiving, it’s unclear whether the outside cash will make much difference in the outcome of the races. The money from Bloomberg, Rhee and other donors is mostly going toward television commercials. In an off-year school board election that will likely turn out few voters, Reckhow said knocking on doors is usually a better strategy.
And the involvement of wealthy outsiders could create a backlash, Williams of DFER said: “The money could also be what tanks a candidate, if that’s what the storyline is with voters.”
Job satisfaction among public school principals and teachers has decreased in the past five years, with teacher satisfaction reaching its lowest levels in 25 years, according to survey results released Thursday. Only 39 percent of teachers reported being very satisfied in their job, and more than half said they felt under “great stress” several days a week, the 29th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found.
The findings come at a time when nearly every state around the country has adopted some sort of significant education reform in the past two years, including revising academic standards and implementing new teacher evaluation systems. Advocates say that many of these reforms, such as merit pay and the elimination of seniority-based layoffs, will help attract a higher-quality candidate to the profession.
But Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit group that promotes higher academic standards, said he was concerned by the job satisfaction numbers and what they said about the general public’s view of educators. “What struck me most,” he said during a conference call hosted by MetLife to discuss the findings, is that “they are operating in an environment of public discourse that is often focused on blame.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of principals said that their job was too complex. “We’re asking principals to do a lot more with – at best – the same, or fewer resources,” Mel Riddile, an associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said on the call. “They’re encountering a perfect storm of Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluations and state accountability systems.”
Both Riddile and Cohen stressed that full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, a new set of k-12 academic standards that 48 states have adopted, would be a huge shift for virtually all schools.
Ninety percent of principals and 93 percent of teachers reported that teachers in their schools had the skills necessary for implementing the new standards, according to the survey. They were less sure, however, of the impact Common Core would have. Just 22 percent of principals and 17 percent of teachers said they were very confident the standards would increase student performance.
“Different surveys produce different findings of how supportive teachers are of the standards,” Cohen said. “None of this is going to happen quickly. These are long term changes.”
Questions about how much President Barack Obama’s ambitious early childhood partnership plan will cost and how quality will be maintained emerged immediately on Thursday, soon after Obama delivered long-awaited details in Decatur, Ga.
“Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,’’ Obama told an enthusiastic crowd after a visit to an early childhood learning center. “Let’s make it a national priority to give every child access to a high-quality early education. Let’s give our kids that chance.”
The plan calls for a guarantee of preschool for all four-year-olds who are at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. It would expand funding for childcare programs for infants and toddlers as well. And teachers would have to meet high quality standards, while earning salaries in line with K-12 teachers, according to reports.
The speech produced joy – and skepticism.
“President Obama is trying, against great odds, to do something for 4-year-olds,” noted New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who pointed out that other presidents have tried and failed, while “working parents of every economic level scramble madly to find quality programs for their preschoolers, while the waiting lines for poor families looking for subsidized programs stretch on into infinity.”
Yet advocates and educators who have been pushing hard for the president to tout a larger federal role in early education found plenty of reasons to cheer the initiative, which first came up during the president’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
“It represents a milestone achievement that begins to place the United States in a position comparable to the nations of whom we routinely compete with economically,’’ said Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan, co-director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University. “We have not had services for three- and four-year-olds voluntarily available in the past. So I regard this as a real policy advance.”
The plan also calls for expanding home-visiting initiatives that would provide nurses, social workers and others to meet in the homes of at-risk families and connect them with assistance.
“Voluntary home-visiting matches parents with trained professionals to provide information and support during pregnancy and throughout their child’s first few years—a critical developmental period,” noted Libby Doggett, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts home-visiting campaign. “Quality, voluntary home-visiting leads to fewer children in social welfare, mental health, and juvenile corrections systems, with considerable cost savings for states.”
But how will it all work? Questions remain about the cost, which has not yet been specified. Estimates are as high as $10 billion to $15 billion a year or more. “The money, of course, is the sticking point,” noted a New York magazine story.
House Republicans, the story points out, “are not the sort of people who, when presented with evidence of a really promising public investment program, nod their heads and say, ‘Okay then!’”
That’s a point duly noted by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “We can all agree on the importance of ensuring children have the foundation they need to succeed in school and in life,’’ Kline told Education Week. “However, before we spend more taxpayer dollars on new programs, we must first review what is and is not working in existing initiatives, such as Head Start.”
Jerlean Daniel, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, is among the advocates who noted that bipartisan support will be needed, as well as a focus on quality.
“When program providers and schools do not have the financial and other resources to hire skilled teachers, to purchase appropriate curricula and equipment, and meet other quality standards, we create conditions of achievement inequity for children and undermine a valuable workforce,” Daniel said in statement.
Many challenges lie ahead. States and the federal government, points out Lisa Guernsey of the Early Ed Watch blog, are going to “need to offer preschool programs that are good enough to make a real, lasting difference for young children.”
More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education legally ended segregation in public schools, many districts have struggled to integrate, leaving some schools as racially divided as they were in the 1950’s. In Mississippi, private schools, often referred to as “segregation academies,” were established in communities across the state in response to actual or anticipated desegregation orders. There are more than 35 private academies in the state that opened between 1964 and 1972, and all of these schools enroll fewer than two percent black students. Many of the high-poverty, mostly black public schools in Mississippi are underfunded and under resourced, and some experts say this can affect children in a variety of ways. Can integration improve schools?
Hechinger’s Jackie Mader appeared on MSNBC to talk about this issue.
As Mississippi moves closer to passing legislation that would expand charter schools in the state, the debate has created a racial divide. Advocates say charter schools can provide a quality education for children in a state that consistently posts some of the lowest test scores in the nation. But opponents of the publically funded, privately run schools say that charters, which can be racially unbalanced, could become another form of segregation academies.
School districts around the country are facing obstacles as they attempt to finalize new teacher evaluation systems in time for the 2013-14 school year. At least 30 states have passed laws requiring new evaluation systems, but many cities are experiencing pushback from teachers and unions, particularly on requirements to include student test scores as a part of a teacher’s rating.
New York City teachers recently balked at a proposal to include student test data in the evaluations. The teachers union and city officials failed to meet a state mandated deadline to reach an agreement, which could cost the city up to $450 million in state funding. Other districts in New York received approval for their plans with just hours to spare.
A proposed bill in Connecticut would delay the start of a new statewide teacher evaluation program from 2013 to 2014 due to educator concerns about funding and implementation. And Hawaii has been warned by the U.S. Department of Education that it may lose the federal funding it won in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative if it fails to secure a teacher contract that links teacher evaluation to personnel decisions. Although the Hawaii Board of Education has mandated the use of new evaluations, contract negotiations are ongoing in the state.
In other places, however, compromises have been made. Earlier this month, the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles voted in favor of an evaluation system that will rely on raw state test scores and district assessments.
The union had strongly opposed the use of the controversial “value-added” system which uses a complex formula to calculate student growth on standardized tests. Critics have questioned the validity of value-added and warned against using it for high-stakes decisions. The district has yet to determine what percentage of the evaluation will be based on student test scores.
Union president Warren Fletcher praised the agreement. “We worked hard at the bargaining table to craft a system that intelligently uses student data in the evaluation of teachers,” he said in a statement.
New Jersey has also been moving forward with new evaluations. The state launched a pilot program this year in preparation for mandatory statewide implementation of a new system in the 2013-2014 school year. The law had required districts to report their final evaluation systems to the education department by Jan. 1, but the administration extended the deadline to Feb. 15.
Hundreds of schools have closed in urban neighborhoods in recent years, mostly in low-income, minority neighborhoods. Would-be education reformers like Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City have argued that closure is the only way to turn around some persistently failing schools. Critics have argued that closing a school is a drastic step with collateral damage that education reformers haven’t considered. Are the pros worth the cons of closing a struggling school?
Hechinger’s Sarah Garland appeared on NBC to talk about the issue:
It’s not the first time school districts have closed hundreds of schools in minority neighborhoods. The same thing happened during the desegregation of the nation’s schools nearly half a century ago. And back then, communities also protested.
As the new semester gets under way at many colleges and universities, Hechinger’s Jon Marcus speaks with Here & Now host Robin Young about trends in cost and enrollment, and market forces coming to bear in the decision-making process.
JACKSON, Miss.—Mississippi is one step closer to allowing charter schools to open in the state after the Senate Education Committee approved a charter school bill on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, after more than three hours of debate, the Mississippi Senate passed their version of the charter school bill. Lawmakers approved an amendment that will allow a charter to be revoked if the school receives an “F” rating by the state for two consecutive years, instead of the original three year provision. The bill will now move to the House, which is where similar charter school legislation died in 2012. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves told Mississippi Public Broadcasting that he is confident representatives will support charter schools. “I think as the public gets more and more engaged and more and more involved in this debate, that the members of the House will step up and do the right thing for kids in Mississippi,” Reeves said.
The bill would allow the publicly funded, privately run schools to open in districts that have been rated poorly by the state, and would give highly rated districts the power to approve charter school applications in their areas.
Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told committee members that the bill is essentially the framework from last year’s contentious charter school fight. That proposal failed by one vote after five Republicans in the House Education Committee broke rank and voted against the bill.
This year’s proposal also renewed debate over a provision that would allow 25 percent of teachers in charter schools to be exempt from Mississippi teacher certification standards. These teachers must hold a bachelors degree, take a subject matter competency test, and complete an alternative certification program within three years.
That provision brought opposition from State Senator David Jordan, a retired teacher from Greenwood, a town in the Mississippi Delta. “This situation would be worse than the public schools that we’re trying to change,” Jordan told the committee. “If a person has a bachelors degree…in business administration, and you need him to teach chemistry, do you think he’d be prepared to do so?”
The battle over charter schools in Mississippi is nothing new for lawmakers. There have been five attempts in the past five years to introduce charter school legislation. Supporters say the schools could improve education in a state with the nation’s highest child poverty rate, and some of the lowest test scores. But opponents of the schools say that they will only reach a small number of students, and could further segregate state schools.
Mississippi already has a charter law which is so restrictive that no charter schools have opened,
Some opponents are also skeptical of for-profit charter schools and virtual charter schools. The charter school bill included a provision that would have allowed up to three online charter schools to operate in the state, but it was stricken after Senator David Blount, D-Jackson, proposed an amendment to remove virtual schools from the bill. “Virtual charter schools are not successful at educating children as efficiently as other schools,” said Blount, to The Hechinger Report. “Children need supervision, particularly underserved students need supervision from teachers.”
The bill will now move before the full Senate, where the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports it could be considered as early as Wednesday.