Education

Education on the Cheap

(Flickr/DraXus)
Publicly funded online schools run by private companies have been controversial with teachers groups and some education advocates since they started to take off a few years ago. But the concept of educating kids by computer has a strong appeal—not just among lawmakers but also among portfolio managers and investors. The two biggest companies offering online education—K12, Inc. and Connections Academy—are both for-profit, and until recently K12 had been a stock-market favorite. But an article this week on Seeking Alpha , a major investment website, casts doubt on the long-term profitability of K12 in light of poor student results. In the past few years, school districts and charter schools have increasingly subcontracted out certain operations to either Connections Academy or K12, Inc. In many states, lawmakers embraced the idea, which promised to bring private-sector efficiency to education. Online education also offered an idyllic image: Kids can take classes anywhere, at times that...

With Time Running Out, States Debate Education

(Flickr/Dave Nicholas)
Time flies—just ask the legislators in the 11 states who have to get their business wrapped up in the next few weeks. (New Mexico has already adjourned.) Most of the states began the year with fairly extreme education reform agendas, in terms of both funding and policy. Since then, with pushback from teachers groups, most of those efforts have been watered down considerably. With only weeks to go, key education bills remain up in the air in most of the places, leaving the roles of charter schools, teacher protections, and school funding in the balance. Efforts at education reform are hardly new, but with the Obama administration giving states waivers for No Child Left Behind requirements , there's even more emphasis on teacher evaluations and student performance. While Indiana, among the states with legislative sessions almost over, already received its waiver, other states are working to make themselves more appealing to the U.S. Department of Education. The applications process for...

The End of Affirmative Action in College

(Flickr/Kodamakitty)
As my colleague Jamelle Bouie noted yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher v. UT Austin, a challenge to the use of affirmative action for undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas. I wish I could make a case for more optimism, but I have to agree with the conventional wisdom that Grutter v. Bollinger , the case that upheld that affirmative action was allowed in higher education so long as it was done to promote diversity, is likely to be overruled and the use of affirmative action in higher education therefore made flatly unconstitutional. To start with the less-bad news first, readers may find it ominous that Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case. But this means less than it might appear at first. The 5th Circuit opinion the Supreme Court is reviewing upheld the constitutionality of the program. Because of this, if the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4, the program would be sustained and Grutter would remain good law. While the best outcome would be a...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ing Teachers?

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to The Daily Show Thursday night to discuss and defend his agency's latest initiative: Project RESPECT. The project looks a lot like 2009's Race to the Top, a chance for states (and in this case school districts) to compete for big grants if they offer ideas that conform to the department's priorities. But unlike Race to the Top, RESPECT is almost entirely focused on teachers and teacher evaluation. It's not likely the Republican-controlled Congress will fund the $5 billion program, which is part of the the president's budget proposal, but the initiative does offer a clearer sense of the department's priorities. The plan emphasizes a need for higher salaries for teachers, but also pushes to reform job protections like teacher tenure and improving teaching colleges to make them more selective. If a state chooses not to compete, districts can apply for funds on their own or in concert. As Bloomberg News reports : The Obama administration...

No Such Thing as an Arizona Free Lunch

(Flickr/USDAgov)
Subsidized school lunches always seemed like a government program most people could get behind. The federal program gives food to low-income children. Giving food to children who live in poverty—hard to argue with that idea. In 2010, I was covering a state legislative race out in East Texas. A Tea Party candidate explained to me that free school lunches are bad for society, because were it not for the government program, parents would provide food for their kids on their own. If the kids still couldn't get food, then he believed churches and charities should pick up the slack, rather than the government. But sadly for my Tea Party friend, in Texas, free lunches may be one of the few federal programs that hasn't stirred up too much controversy. Nationally, however, there's been no shortage of criticism of the program, particularly last year as Congress considered a proposal that would make meals more nutritious. The legislative fight soon became about which agriculture sectors had the...

The Coming Battle over NCLB Exemptions

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In 2014, no students will be behind in math or reading. All of them will meet grade-level goals. That's the plan according to No Child Left Behind. Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that ten states were getting waivers from the controversial law’s requirements. The states would implement their own plans, approved by the Department of Education, for improving public schools. New Mexico, the only other state that applied, was not granted a waiver, but Duncan explained htat this was because its application was incomplete. A few days, he said, and the state would likely be approved. According to the Obama administration, 39 states have expressed interest in applying for waivers. The next round of applications will be due by the end of February. In the meantime, a fight about the future of educational improvement is unfolding both in Washington and in school districts around the country. As 2014—the deadline for total proficiency—gets closer, educators, parents,...

A Ride to School, Brought to You by Disney

(Flickr/redjar)
Ah, the old days when school buses were yellow, slow, and smelled funny. With state budget cuts to education around the country, more buses may soon stop being so yellow and instead become traveling billboards. (I'm guessing they're still going slow and smelly.) Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky are all considering bills to allow school buses to sport advertisements on the sides. In all three states, proponents argue that so many cuts to education budgets, the opportunity for more revenue can't be ignored. "My idea of a school bus is a little yellow school bus with happy children riding down a country road with a dog barking at the back," explained a Florida senator sponsoring the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel . "Unfortunately, we're in times where we have to find every penny we can." Lest you think lawmakers are simply turning children over to the advertisers, the proposals don't allow alcohol and tobacco products to be advertised. But in Missouri, where the...

Sam Brownback's Anti-Poor Agenda

Flickr/VictoryNH
The GOP presidential primary has offered some odd debates on who cares about the "very poor" and whether there should be a "safety net" or a "trampoline" to help people get out of poverty. Meanwhile, in Kansas, it seems Governor Sam Brownback is hoping to dig a bigger hole for the poor fall into. Between his tax plans and his approaches to school funding, Brownback's agenda overtly boosts the wealthy and makes things harder for the poor. While many liberals speculate this to be a secret goal, Brownback is hardly making a secret of his agenda. Currently, the Kansas Legislature is examining Brownback's plan to redesign education funding. The plan removes extra dollars for students who are more expensive to educate —those who must learn English or come from challenging backgrounds. Instead of providing funding based on the actual costs of education, Kansas would allow counties to raise property taxes and keep the revenue. That's great for wealthy districts with high property values and...

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Last week, I mentioned California Gov. Jerry Brown's state of the state address , which argued for more moderate approach to education and investments into infrastructure like high-speed rail. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Brown's plan calls for some slight tax increases. And since California requires voters to approve such increases, Brown is embarking on a campaign around the state to convince people it might not be such a bad idea. In the world of political strategy, this sounds ludicrous. Except that it just might work. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows over 68 percent of California likely voters support Brown's tax proposal. And it's not just Democrats; 65 percent of Republicans favor the governor's plan. According to the LA Times Brown's plan to wallop the well off—individuals earning $250,000, couples making $500,000—pleases the middle class. Raising the sales tax, the governor hopes, will neutralize the business lobby, which mostly fears...

Does Changing the Dropout Age Matter?

Among the many policy proposals in the president's state of the union last night, you may have missed his one-liner, urging states to adopt a dropout age of 18, with a goal of reducing the dropout rate. Right now, in most states students must attend school until they are 16 or 17. However, even before last night's speech, several states were considering legislation to raise the dropout age, like Wyoming and Kentucky . Many states—19 back in 2009—already had raised the age for compulsory attendance to 18. With so many states doing it, and the president pushing the policy, presumably it works, right? Well, not exactly. In 2009, the Rennie Center in Massachusetts came out with a report investigating the impact of the policy . Their conclusion? Focus on other policies first. The comprehensive report showed a lack of evidence that changing the age for compulsory school attendance had a major impact on the dropout rate. Based on 2004-05 data, it showed that of the ten states with the...

Rick Scott's Strange Math

Updated to clarify Texas' use of stimulus dollars. I was surprised when I saw the headline, "Scott, lawmakers agree: Schools need at least $1 billion more." Florida governor Rick Scott kicked off his term last year with proposals to eliminate 7 percent of state government jobs and slash the state budget . He also cut the public-education budget by $1.3 billion. Now, as the Miami Herald reports , the governor is pushing for pumping money back to schools. Well sort of. As the article explains, of the billion dollars, $220 million would make up for the losses in propert-tax collection that school districts across the state face; $190 million would fund the 30,500 new students coming into schools; and $224 million would "replace one-time revenue used to plug a hole in this year's budget." In other words, a majority of that "new" money would simply let districts maintain the status quo. Education spending is generally complicated and money comes in from a variety of different streams. That...

Common Sense Radicalism

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Apparently California Gov. Jerry Brown missed the memo. Across the country, governors outlining educational priorities for their states have focused largely on more testing and doing away with teacher tenure. The approach is so in-vogue, it reaches across party lines. A few examples: Last week, South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugaard outlined his education reform package , including merit pay for high performing teachers and the right to fire those whose students fail to perform on tests two years in a row. On the east coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also asking legislators to do away with tenure , while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, is determined to implement more teacher evaluations, based largely on standardized tests . In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to create a full-scale voucher program , as well as getting rid of teacher tenure. Finding "high quality" teachers is a key component of the education reform movement, but...

Bad Education

In Arizona, only the courts can save ethnic-studies programs in public schools.

Arizona took a shot at the state's Latino residents last week after a judge ruled that Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program violates ARS 15-112, a new Arizona law targeted at ethnic-studies programs in the state. In response to the decision, state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announced that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) must revise or drop its Mexican-American Studies program, appeal the decision, or face a 10 percent cut in state funding. ARS 15-112 prohibits classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne authored the bill in 2010, and it was signed into effect by Governor Jan Brewer. Horne ran a winning campaign for state attorney general that year on the basis of...

Tocqueville for Toffs

O n any given day in Washington, D.C., the city’s hotels teem with civic activity. Trade associations, lobbies, corporations seeking government contracts, lawyers looking to influence agency rules—all form a beehive of action. At last count, there were 12,200 registered lobbyists in Washington, according to opensecrets.org, and that doesn’t include the many thousands of corporate attorneys who are technically not lobbyists. Of the top-spending trade associations or issue organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads the list with a budget of more than $46 million. Only one quasi-liberal group, the AARP, is even in the top 20. This is the vision of Alexis de Tocqueville made flesh, with one notable difference: Nearly everyone in this associational paradise speaks for the top 1 percent or 2 percent of the income distribution. Tocqueville, in Democracy in America , famously identified “the art of association” as an essential complement to American constitutional democracy. The...

Class Struggle

As levels of student debt continue to rise, regulators have an opportunity to reform higher education.

AP Photo/Steven Senne
O n November 28, hundreds of students from Brauch College linked arms and protested outside a City College of New York board meeting in which members authorized, by a 15-to-1 vote, a $300 annual tuition increase until at least 2015. The protest was so disruptive that, according to The New York Times, Brauch canceled classes after 3 p.m. and stopped regular foot traffic going in and out of the building where the meeting was taking place. Three people were arrested. Occupy CUNY, the group of students that staged the protest, announced on its Facebook page that it aimed to make public education “accessible” and “fair.” The City University of New York’s (CUNY) tuition is already more than $5,000 per year and with the new rates, will be more than $6,000 for the 2015—2016 school year. The students’ demonstration lined up with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has focused on one of the facets of economic injustice increasingly affecting the “99 percent”—student debt. It’s no wonder. The...

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