Showing posts with label Educational policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Educational policy. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Indiana Drops Common Core

Yesterday, Indiana became the fifth state to choose not to teach to the Common Core standards (CCSS). Opponents of these shared standards have complained less about their content, than about how they were adopted. Critics claim the federal government forced states to adopt these standards by advantaging them in the Race to the Top competition. Two problems with those claims: (1) Indiana didn’t compete for Race to the Top—so there was no federal gun to its head, and (2) states, like Indiana, that don’t adopt Common Core face absolutely no federal penalty.

Ironic. Indiana’s governor claims he’s regaining Indiana’s sovereignty, while his action itself reveals that its sovereignty was never at risk. It is a deft and subtle act of political courage when a politician stands up to someone who hasn’t challenged him. (President Obama could learn from this. Perhaps he would look better on the Ukrainian front if he would issue stern warnings to Canada or Bermuda. That’ll show them whose boss!)

Why did Governor Pence pull the trigger on Common Core? He doesn’t seem to know. “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high, and I commend members of the General Assembly for their support,” Pence said in a press release. The tortured grammar aside—is it the standards or the Hoosiers who were uncommonly high?—this seems pretty clear.

But like many a “bold” politician of yore, the Guv went on to say, “Where we get those standards, where we derive them from to me is of less significance than we are actually serving the best interests of our kids. And are these standards going to be, to use my often used phrase, uncommonly high?” (I sure hope the new Indiana standards include grammar.)

In other words, Governor Pence dropped the CCSS standards because Hoosiers didn’t write them, but he doesn’t care where standards come from or who writes them. Maybe that’s why he has turned to a lifelong Kennedy-Democrat (Sandra Stotsky, not a Hoosier) to help him shape Indiana’s new educational standards. We all cheer for bipartisanship, but it is always startling to see Tea Party Conservatives and Massachusetts Liberals bedded down together.

What did the Guv get for his trouble? Dr. Stotsky publicly denounced the Hoosier draft for being too consistent with the CCSS standards. She wants Indiana teachers to teach different phonics, grammar, reading comprehension, and writing skills than those taught in the 49 other states (good luck with that).

Dr. Stotsky notes that the Indiana draft had a 70% overlap with the CCSS standards… but seemed to be silent about how much overlap there was among CCSS and the standards in Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, or Alaska; or with the previous and clearly inferior Indiana standards that she apparently advised on; or with the previous Massachusetts standards that she has championed. I guess that just shows that academics can be as slippery as politicians when they think they have a spotlight.


I support the CCSS standards because they are the best reading standards I’ve ever seen (and, yes, I am aware of their limitations and flaws). But if anyone comes up with better standards, I’d gladly support those, too (no matter how uncommonly high the Hoosiers might have been who wrote them).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Responding to the Political Challenges to Common Core

Recently, the International Reading Association began publishing a research- and policy-oriented blog. I was invited to contribute an entry to that effort, and I have done so. Thought you might be interested in reading that entry so have linked it here.

Shanahan Blog Entry on IRA Site

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Teachers, who otherwise are supportive of the common core, often ask me if I think it is fair that they be evaluated on the basis of test scores from tests they have never seen and on content that they are just starting to teach--often without a lot of supporting materials or professional development.

In fact, that most recently happened on Friday when I was in Franklin, TN.

I always give pretty much the same answer. I don't believe the test-based teacher evaluation schemes are ready for prime time, if it were my choice, we wouldn't make this many big changes at the same time, etc.

Today the New York Times issued an editorial along the same lines that you might find helpful.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/opinion/caution-and-the-common-core-state-education-standards.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130528

I have no problem if the accountability parts of this slow down (not stop, but slow down). Let's digest one big reform before we take on another. There is nothing more primary to kids' learning and teachers' teaching than the curriculum, so starting there makes great sense.

The kids' testing should follow that, and while it makes sense to develop tests that are consistent with the curriculum, it does NOT make sense (and it will never make sense) for teachers' to teach to the test. Not in reading comprehension or in writing anyway.

After those things are firmly in place, stitching those into a rigorous teacher evaluation system will make sense, but that is a way off. It is a good idea to include evaluations of student learning in teacher evaluations. I just wish we really knew how to do that.Maybe we will by then.

Thank you, New York Times Editorial Board.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Indiana Backs Down on Common Core


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to back down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this may be the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to act on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of them, adopted these standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support either. That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights, rather than learning. He apparently doesn’t like the federal government poking its nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards  emanated from President Obama and not from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama wasn't the source of these standards. That makes this concern more of a political wedge issue than an education concern. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic independence from Washington would sooner outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d that much money back to DC).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had been for the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them too, so for him it had become an issue of states rights (surprising how it sounds more like expediency). But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s educational standards. I’ve written about that before, and it is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny. I have no idea whether Virginia or Indiana should adopt common core or cling to the lower standards, but pretending to not be able to tell the difference is embarrassing.


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to have backed down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this is likely the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to actually take action on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Spence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of these, adopted the standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support.  That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t likely be sufficient to help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights. He doesn’t like the federal government poking is nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards somehow emanated from President Obama rather than from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have real expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama was not the source of these standards. That makes that more a political wedge issue than an education one. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic rhetorical independence from Washington would outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d send any of that money back to DC any time soon).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had wanted the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them to, so for him it had become an issue of states rights. But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s standards. I’ve written about that before, too. It is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Now Indiana is going to review the standards to see whether CCSS are better than what Indiana has aimed for in the past. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the text complexity requirements that make almost all of the reading standards markedly harder than any previous standards. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the disciplinary literacy standards for secondary students that require students to read science differently than they read history and literature.


Virginia ignored these differences and then concluded that they didn’t exist. I wonder if the upcoming Indiana review will ignore these stubborn facts, as well. Reject the standards, Governor, if you see some political advantage, you have the power to do so. Just don't mislead Indiana parents with claims that past Indiana standards are as high as the standards you are taking a pause on. They're not. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video of Recent Webinar

Recently, I presented a Webinar on Common Core policies. My major concerns have to do with the costs of CCSS, which I suspect the states haven't really thought through, and the surprising lack of cooperative work among the states. Here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgzaU0OLpY8

Monday, February 18, 2013

Register for Upcoming Webinar


I'll be doing an upcoming webinar for my friend, Freddy Hiebert. This will be on The Common Core Standards and Education Policy. It will take place on February 27, 2013 at 5pm EST. This is a second webinar in this series. Please join us:


•To register for Tim Shanahan’s webinar: 


•To find out more about TextProject’s CCSS webinar series, visit: http://textproject.org/events/common-core-state-standards-webinar-series/

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Common Core and the Fog of Education Policy

Recently, I made a presentation for the Reading Hall of Fame at the Literacy Research Association meetings in San Diego. My basic contention is that policymakers have failed to recognize the magnitude of the changes required by the Common Core State Standards in terms of English language arts instruction. Because of this failure, they are neither moving fast enough or seriously enough to ensure that schools successfully and effectively adopt the standards.

In the past, perhaps, that different states had different educational goals militated against any kind of joint response to students' educational needs. Now, with common standards in place, states could more powerfully pool their talent and resources to enhance their response. The only areas this has been happening so far have been in the writing of the standards themselves and in the development of new tests--both of which were "easy" for the states because these efforts were paid for and orchestrated by someone other than the state departments of education. Now we need this kind of sharing in areas like professional development for teachers and principals, curriculum materials selection, public information, and so on... but nary a joint initiative in sight. Instead, leaders seem foggy about the impending changes or dedicated to business as usual.

If you are interested in this topic, here is the powerpoint:
https://sites.google.com/site/tscommoncore/common-core-policy

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Literacy and the Presidency 2012


A little more than four years ago, I blogged about the literacy policies of Barak Obama, John McCain, and Hilary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, these candidates had little to say about reading instruction. Hillary had a plan for preschool education that Obama triangulated, and McCain clung to school choice with the tenacity he exhibited in a Vietnamese prison. Obama criticized “No Child Left Behind,” but not for the same reasons that my educator friends were against it (he decried it at the time for lacking sufficient financial support or enough testing).

This year it isn't worth bothering with that kind of column. The president’s education efforts are well known (more charter schools, more teacher evaluation, more testing, more accountability-rhetoric paired with lots of NCLB waivers relaxing actual accountability demands), while Mitt Romney clings to choice (more charter schools, more vouchers, etc.) in place of education policy.

The problem with the nostrums put forth by either candidate is that none of these is likely to have any real impact on student learning.

IES studied charter schools and found that, indeed, some were better than public schools, but overall there were no performance differences when the students' starting points were accounted for. Vouchers have not done so well either.

And, while you can find some positive studies on large-scale accountability assessments, the advantages have been tiny and inconsistent. If high-stakes testing is helping, its benefits do not match its costs. 

I very much like the idea of evaluations aimed at measuring a teacher’s impact on learning, but such schemes are not ready for prime time. Arne Duncan touted such a system in Chicago, but this scheme was never scrutinized by others. Let’s face it. Such analysis is extremely complex and getting it right is more an aspirational goal than an immediate reality. (By all means, invest in studies on such evaluations, but start with credible research rather than pressuring states into adopting schemes not even yet half baked).

No point in reviewing these candidate’s literacy plans this time around because neither provides any. Romney wants to cut to education funding and Obama doesn’t, but given the nation’s debts, cuts are sure to be made no matter who is elected. Obama started his first administration by cutting the National Institute for Literacy and funding for programs such as Reach Out and Read, the National Writing Center, and Reading is Fundamental; why would expect anything different this time around?

The research is clear: If you want to raise literacy achievement increase the amount and quality of teaching and ensure that the right things are taught. Investing in longer school days and school years and providing lots of opportunities to learn beyond the boundaries of traditional schooling makes sense. As do investments in curriculum design and teacher education. Neither candidate is emphasizing these basic, old-fashioned, research-proven approaches and neither is likely to take steps that will improve literacy achievement in the U.S.       

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Earmarks and Reading Education

When you listen to the political class nattering over earmarks, they rarely provide examples of the earmarks they are against. Oh, there was the “bridge to nowhere,” of course, and most everybody is against that kind of boondoggle.

But are earmarks good or not? I admit the earmark idea bothers me as it seems to run against fiscal discipline (I bear Scottish blood on my mother’s side). I wonder why all programs don’t run through the same budget process, and, yet, yesterday when Congress could have turned off the earmark spigot, I found myself rooting for the defense. (The country has been deeply divided and now I am.)

The National Writing Project, an effort to provide high quality professional development for teachers is an earmark. Reach Out and Read, which gives books to children through their pediatricians, is another one (full disclosure: I serve as an unpaid member of the board of directors of ROR). Reading is Fundamental makes books available to school-age kids in low income areas, and it, too, is an earmark. I support all of those earmarked programs as I think they are good for the nation.

Presidents usually are not big fans of earmarks. Presidents Clinton and Obama, for instance, both tried to wipe out several of these earmarked literacy programs. It isn’t that they don’t want poor kids to get books, but earmarks ultimately reduce their power. You see, earmarks are not necessarily the budget busters that the press has made them out to be.

For example, if Congress and the Obama Administration agree on funding the Department of Education at $5 billion, and then someone adds an earmark, let’s say for a $10 million for book distribution program, that doesn’t increase the budget by $10 million, but the President does lose control of $10 million of the $5 billion that he was going to spend anyway. The more such earmarks the less power for the President.

Presidents recognize that if they can rid themselves of enough of these earmarked responsibilities they will end up with $50 or $100 million to spend on something that they want.

Think about the bridge to nowhere and about the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota. If transportation funds were not being nibbled away by earmarks, there would be more money to fix existing bridges. But what if the Department of Education is betting its budget on expensive accountability systems not likely to improve reading achievement? Then, earmarks for books or professional development, might be a darn good alternative investment.

It just comes down to whether you want all those spending decisions in the hands of the presidents or whether you want Congress to have any specific say so about spending priorities. Some earmarks are stupid (the easy ones to be against), and some are pretty local: For example, Arne Duncan once had me draft a request for an earmark for reading programs in the Chicago Public Schools. We didn’t get it, but the millions that would have come to Chicago wouldn’t have benefited New York or Los Angeles or anyone else. However, literacy earmarks, like RIF and ROR, provide book distribution nationwide to any community that wants to participate. If making books available to children is a priority—and I think it should be— then earmarks for organizations like RIF or ROR are a good way to go in terms of cost, quality, and local control.

So I give a resounding cheer for literacy earmarks… sort of.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Do You Think of the Common Core State Standards?

For the past several months, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have been beavering away at developing new college and career readiness standards in the English language arts (including reading and writing). I've been a part of that process.

These are the standards are that 46 states have signed onto, and that Arne Duncan has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to test. They aren't complete, but today, the organizations have provided the first official public draft of the standards. Once these are finalized, they will start backmapping down from here to Kindergarten, detailing what will need to be accomplished to get students to this point when they leave high school.

If you want to weigh in on these, you can do so at www.corestandards.org by October 21.

Here are the ELA standards:

http://sites.google.com/site/shanahanstuff/home/core-standards

Monday, May 11, 2009

President Obama Proposes New Literacy Cuts

On May 7, President Barack Obama told the press that he was attempting to negotiate $17 billion in program cuts. Among the programs that he slated for abolishment are the National Institute for Literacy and Even Start, a family literacy program.

A senior administration official announced on May 6, that Even Start was ineffective in improving the literacy levels of young children:

"And then finally as another example of a program that the administration supports the goals of but that the evidence suggests is not working very well -- Even Start. Even Start is a early education -- early childhood education program -- and obviously the President and the administration feel very strongly that early childhood education done in a high-quality way is crucially important and have provided additional funds both through the Recovery Act and in the budget that we will be releasing tomorrow for early childhood education.However, a variety of studies of Even Start have suggested that that program does not work well. The most recent evaluation, for example, found out of 41 outcomes that were measured between families in the program and families that were not, that there was only a difference in outcomes on 38 out of -- I'm sorry, there was no difference on 38 out of the 41 outcomes.So we are proposing that Even Start be eliminated even while we are investing in other programs that do work, including Early Head Start and Head Start."
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Background-Briefing-On-Terminations-Reductions-and-Savings-in-the-2010-Budget/

On May 7, the President himself made the following remarks as the explanation for ending the National Institute for Literacy:

"Some programs may have made sense in the past -- but are no longer needed in the present. Other programs never made any sense; the end result of a special interest's successful lobbying campaign. Still other programs perform functions that can be conducted more efficiently, or are already carried out more effectively elsewhere in the government....

"Another example is the National Institute for Literacy. Now, I strongly support initiatives that promote literacy -- it's critical -- but I oppose programs that do it badly. Last year, nearly half of the funding in this program was spent on overhead. So we've proposed cutting the $6 million for this program in favor of supporting literacy efforts within the Department of Education which use tax dollars more effectively and wisely."

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-Reducing-Spending-in-the-Budget/

These are just proposals, of course, but along with the recent cuts to Reading First, literacy education has been taking it on the chin. Obviously we'll have to wait to see if these latest proposals lead to real budget losses in reading. President George W. Bush tried to do away with Even Start for the same reasons, and Democrats in Congress howled about his lack of caring for the needs of adults and children living in poverty. Of course, they won't cast Obama as a Grinch for doing exactly the same thing, but that doesn't mean they'll give him the cuts he wants either (Congressional Democrats haven't really gone along with the Obama agenda at all, except when it has overlapped with their own).

The NIFL cuts are different. It doesn't provide funds for program delivery to students, and without a full-time director (and a board whose terms have expired--including mine), it has neither constituents nor supporters likely to step up to save it. Originally, proponents of NIFL put it into the law so that there would be a coordinating agency for the diverse efforts of the federal government. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with programs like those offered by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE); too many people not reached by the programs, too much overlap between federal programs, and among federal and state programs, etc. The idea was that NIFL would study the system, monitor the delivery, and provide leadership since it was to be operated directly under the Secretaries of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. It was even required to report directly to Congress.

Sadly, NIFL never took on the duties envisioned for it and ended up doing odd jobs on literacy (some of them good, some not so good, but no real programmatic responsibilities like those envisioned for it in the enabling legislation). They recognized that no one wants a watch dog looking over their shoulder, so they gave into the resistance and just didn't bother.

The Clinton administration tolerated NIFL, as long as it didn't try to do it's job. Although NIFL is supposed to have a board of advisors with staggered terms, the Clintons left office with all of the advisor posts open making sure that no continuity could be accomplished.

The Bush administration both made it better and worse. In NCLB, Bush expanded NIFL responsibilities giving it duties for getting research-based literacy information to the schools and the public. It carried out those duties spectacularly well, showing an ability to do high caliber work without as much overhead and bureaucracy as the departments themselves. (This was useful because NIFL could respond more quickly and do some things the departments couldn't do.) It's finest hour came when it resisted great administration pressure to release misleading information to help those who were corrupting Reading First.

But the Bushies did some things that kept NIFL from ever righting itself. Instead of having NIFL continue to report to the Secretaries as it was supposed to, they kicked it to OVAE. Yes, that's right: the major agency that was supposed to be watched by NIFL was the one that NIFL had to gain approval from. NIFL couldn't even release its report to Congress without OVAE liking the report. Then Bush, too, left office, without making sure that NIFL either had a director or an operating board. Obama could rebuild it, of course, but that would take effort, and so Obama wants to dump it. Why would he want a watchdog agency causing problems within his administration.

The problems that NIFL was supposed to address still exist. Adult literacy programs continue to be funded by Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, the Bureau of Prisons, and Homeland Security. These programs are failing to address the needs of most older Americans who have inadequate literacy skills. There is no coordinated policy to ensure that these programs, along with those funded by the states, are making a dent in the nation's adult literacy needs.

Despite massive and unprecedented increases in government spending, including in educational spending on Title I and other programs with poor track records, Obama and Congressional leaders have continued to hack away at federal support for literacy. Let's hope that in the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that some of that money will be put back. Fingers crossed.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Reforming NCLB: What to Keep

The next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is going to be quite different from “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). That’s both good since real changes are needed, but it’s a little scary, too, because NCLB represented a remarkable and positive break with past federal education policy.

A quick pre-2000 history lesson: At the federal level, Republican and Democratic views of education had evolved into an unfortunate stalemate. Republicans usually opposed federal education spending for Constitutional and budgetary reasons. Their argument was that education was the responsibility of the states, and that Uncle Sam should keep his cotton-picking fingers off of local schools. That approach often meant that the Republican answer to educational programs was no, but it also meant that they worked hard to protect local control, to ensure that federal educational initiatives didn’t get very specific about curriculum, teacher preparation, or assessment, and that there could be nothing like national standards.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have been very pro-education spending. They Democrats have usually pushed for increased funding for Head Start, Title I, IDEA, and so on.

Sounds like the donkeys and the elephants’ positions were pretty antithetical. But that really wasn’t the case. The Democrats, despite their support for education dollars, were not particularly committed to trying to improve education. That’s why they weren’t worried about the constitutional problems: Democrats didn’t seek to fix schools as much as to use schools as a reason for moving federal bucks to local communities and to increase educational opportunity (more slots and more stuff), but within the existing universe of education.

What that meant until 2000 was that the Democrats and Republicans “conspired” to make sure that federal dollars wouldn’t affect educational quality. NCLB was remarkable because it broke that stalemate and increased funding towards improving educational quality. I might not agree with all of the NCLB specifics, but I strongly support the principle.

Back in the 1940s when the GI bill paid tuitions for soldiers to go to college, the quality of the colleges was not the issue (just the access). In the 1960s, when Head Start was set up, the idea was to get kids from low-income families into preschools and to provide them with meals and health care, and the assumption was that any preschool would be okay. The problem, in 2009, is that increasing access is insufficient. Making sure that more African American boys have the money to go to college is great idea, except that most will flunk out during freshman year because of their inadequate elementary and high school preparation.

Change NCLB by all means, but keep trying to use that federal increment to boost quality and effectiveness. Candidate Obama campaigned on increasing educational access. Let’s hope that President Obama changes that emphasis to trying to increase quality, too. Our kids need to read better than they do now; more access alone won’t solve that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why the Stimulus Bill Will Not Really Increase School Funding

This week Congress will approve the Obama stimulus plan and soon schools will get a big pile of new money for their Title I programs and Special Education programs. How they’ll spend it will depend on current rules and regs, because the stimulus bill doesn’t seem to carry any new guidance.

Of course, those of us in education should be pleased as this new money should mean fewer layoffs for teachers. However, I suspect there will be a couple of problems with these dollars. The first is that I doubt that this assistance will do much for kids. The money isn’t targeted on any improvements, so there probably won’t be any. Schools will be tripping over themselves to push these bucks out the door, and that is not exactly the scenario for quality improvement.

The other big concern is that I will be surprised if this money really represents more dollars for the schools. I think states and cities will reduce the amount of tax support that they are now providing to these institutions and will use the savings to pay for their other responsibilities. In other words, I think the schools will still get cut, but the new arrangement will mean that a larger proportion of school budgets will be coming from the feds. In cities like Chicago, most of the money that they spend already comes from the U.S. government, and this will increase that imbalance.

Two things about federal funding for education: down the road it will likely mean more federal regulations for schools, something that has been a big point of contention under NCLB, and local governments tend to worry less about quality when it comes to programs funded by the feds. Transferring the responsibility for funding schools to the U.S. government means local school systems will worry less about quality control than they do when using local money (that’s part of the reason large urban districts are often of lower quality than suburban schools—on average school systems get about 9% of their support from the feds, while in places like NYC, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the federal portion is well over half).

We’re not talking about small amounts of money either. When I was director of reading in Chicago, the school budget was $3.5 billion for 437,000 kids; the Bush administration pumped lots of new federal money into the schools, so now Chicago gets about $5 billion for 430,000 kids. And that staggering figure could go up dramatically if the stimulus plan was additional money. What will happen instead will be that the city and state will try to anticipate the amount that the feds are about to add to the mix (and then, they’ll cut their contributions by at least that amount—allowing them to protect their other construction, health and welfare programs).

This will be like the bankers last fall. They got the new money, but didn't increase their lending. The school systems will get this new money, but they're not likely to be in any better position to educate children. Just pumping money into the system won't protect education; you have to have some rules about how that money has to be spent--something that the leadership apparently won't provide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Primer for Policy Makers

These are sure tough money times. The credit markets are frozen harder than the Chicago River right now. States are scrambling to cut billions from their current education budgets. It isn't clear how much will be lost yet, but schools are about to go through a time of shrinking resources like we've never seen during any of our careers.

Despite these problems, some policymakers are doing their best to preserve literacy programming and to make sure that the great efforts of the past several years are not entirely lost. Just last week I was invited to Florida to speak with a group of school superintendents, legislators, and other leaders. My job was to sketch out what was essential and needed to be preserved (even if cut back), and what could be done to make sure as much support was maintained as possible.

The responses have been great, so here is a copy of the powerpoint that I used to make the presentation.

http://timothyshanahan8.googlepages.com/readingforpolicymakers