Wednesday, August 31, 2011


LAUSD students making API gains

smf: It’s the kids who take the tests – but note the ‘spin’ and the ‘framing’ .When the  scores go up it’s the students, when they go down it’s the teachers/administrators/charter operators and (mea culpa) Mayor Tony.

See this to further confuse the confusion.

By Connie Llanos, Daily News/Daily Breeze Staff Writer |

Posted: 08/31/2011 12:03:54 PM PDT - Students at Los Angeles schools continue making steady academic gains, with a record number of campuses meeting key state achievement goals, according to test results released today.

The Los Angeles Unified School District scored 728 on the Academic Performance Index this year, an increase of 19 points from last year - the largest increase of any urban district in California.

The API, compiled from Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR results, and the California High School Exit Exam, is used by school officials and parents alike to gauge the academic achievement of local schools.

API scores range from 200 to 1,000 points, with a statewide goal of all schools reaching 800, which usually requires most students at a campus to test proficient on the required exams.

"I am extraordinarily proud of the work of this district," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

"Once again this speaks to teachers and students doing a great job."

While hitting the coveted 800 score is what most schools aim for, some campuses that just missed that mark celebrated outstanding improvement. Napa Elementary in Northridge posted the largest gain in the district, improving its score by 130 points last year and reaching an API score of 798.

Nearly half of all California schools also met or exceeded the state's goal.

"I applaud the hard work our students, teachers, parents, school employees and administrators are doing to improve - even in the face of severe cuts to school funding," said state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

"At school after school, and among every significant ethnic group, California's students are performing better than ever."

While more schools than ever can brag about their test scores, an alarmingly high number of campuses in the state and in L.A. were also marked as failing under federal guidelines.

Every fall when the state releases new API scores for schools it also releases Annual Yearly Progress results for campuses, which are used to measure whether schools met federal benchmarks as determined by No Child Left Behind.

The NCLB benchmarks steadily increase every year with a goal of 100 percent of students testing proficient in English and math by 2013-14.

This year, schools had to reach a proficiency rate of 67 percent in English and math to meet the federal goals. High schools also had to have graduation rates of 90 percent.

Nearly three-quarters of LAUSD schools are labeled failing by the federal government under the current guidelines.

Earlier this week, Torlakson requested relief from NCLB requirements from the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Duncan has announced that states can apply for waivers from NCLB if they agree to alternate accountability measures.

Torlakson, however, has said that the current federal waiver proposal "presents problems for California" because it asks states to implement new policies that go beyond NCLB.


smf: on the day the Logan dual-language program was proposed, this happened!

by Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene  |  SchoolsMatter.Info |

"[C]reating a 'separate and unequal' education system through the co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings." — NYC Parents' Lawsuit

Gabriella Charter Corporation dumped the contents Logan Street Public Elementary School's room 32 into room 31 without asking or notifying anyone.26 Aug 2011 at 7:36 PM- A day after the Echo Parque community learned that Gabriella Charter Corporation had ended their week long occupation of Logan Street Elementary School's auditorium, evidence that Gabriella had merely taken over another room and moved their furniture into that room once they had emptied it of its existing contents came to light.

Photos by Lisa Baca-Sigala
Gabriella Charter Corporation dumped the contents Logan Street Public Elementary School's room 32 into room 31 without asking or notifying anyone. Then they moved their office from the auditorium into room 32. Some of the furniture should be recognizable

Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council's (GEPENC) CIO Lisa Baca-Sigala took photographs and notified the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Office of the General Counsel that Gabriella Charter Corporation had not only seized Logan Street School's Room 32, but had moved the contents of that room into Room 31 without permission or even the courtesy of notifying Logan's principal, Mr. Luis Ochoa. Moreover, the impromptu move damaged the rooms in question and some of the items that were moved.
GEPENC volunteers had spent a great deal of time and resources preparing the Logan Street School rooms for quickly approaching school year. This quote from their letter to LAUSD speaks volumes:

Both of these classrooms were part of the six classrooms painted and deep cleaned by the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council with the community and parents volunteers last year for the SPECIFIC USE BY LOGAN STUDENTS not the Gabriella charter school office administration or students. Additionally, you may recall that LAUSD also invested funds to replace the new floors in both of these classrooms for the use by the Logan DISTRICT SCHOOL STUDENTS.

The volunteers requested LAUSD make Gabriella Charter Corporation pay for the damages caused by their activities under Article 14.2(C) of the Colocation Agreement. Additionally, some local parents are asking for Gabriella Charter Corporation's colocation agreement be revoked.

Gabriella Charter School’s previous occupation of Logan St.  School’s auditorium - turning it into the charter’s office – photo by Robt. D. Skeels

In an attempt to provide Gabriella Charter Corporation with an opportunity to explain themselves, I've left several voicemails on their general office phone (213) 413-5741, and emailed them. They've made no effort to return my calls or emails. When I personally visited the Logan campus on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, classroom 32 was still occupied. Given Gabriella Charter Corporation's past behavior and flaunting of the colocation agreement (including last year's Room 51 incident), there's a very good chance they have no intentions of relinquishing their latest annexation.
Gabriella Charter Corporation has set up an office for the TFA missionaries in the midst of our neighborhood.
More frightening still, was evidence that confirmed rumors we had heard from several neighborhood parents about wealthy white Wendy Kopp's Teach for America (TFA) missionary corps establishing a beachhead in our neighborhood. When I circled around the campus from the outside to take a photograph of Gabriela Charter Corporation's main building, a white board stood to the side boldly proclaiming "Welcome Teach for America Office." Perhaps we know now why Gabriella needs more office space. I know several very principled people, including some prominent activist teachers, who are TFA alumni. That said, I know far more who are entirely unprincipled, and more to the point, I have observed TFA's overall function in leveraging neoliberalism and providing a scab force for districts trying wholesale privatization. Rather than get into my own lengthy critique of TFA, I offer a handful of other peoples' essays which address some of my concerns:

Gabriella Charter Corporation must do the right thing and return to the space allocated to them under their charter colocation agreement. Please contact Gabriella Executive Director Liza Bercovici at (213) 487-0839 and the LAUSD Board President Garcia at (213) 241-6180 and let them know that the occupation of our public school's rooms must end.
For a background on this story please see: Gabriella Charter Corporation further encroaches Logan Street Public Elementary School. There is a gallery of photos related to these articles.

STATE’S 2nd GRADERS GET A STAR: They'll continue to take standardized test, for now

By Kathryn Baron - Top-Ed – Thoughts on Public Education |

8/31/11 • A third attempt to end second-grade testing in California has fallen short. The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed Sen. Loni Hancock’s bill under submission, blocking it from consideration for the remainder of this session.

For a while, SB 740 seemed to be on a winning path, clearing each legislative hurdle with few tribulations and many powerful supporters. So advocates for SB 740, all of them thoroughly familiar with the vagaries of the legislative process, were understandably caught off guard by the appropriations committee’s action.

When we first wrote about it last June, the bill had the backing of the California PTA, both state teachers’ unions, and the California School Boards Association. Since then, Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has signed on, sending a letter to the chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee that urged him to support this “much-needed measure.”

Torlakson’s letter summed up the primary arguments for the bill.

  • Educators, psychologists, and early childhood education experts say high-stakes testing of young children does not provide valid and reliable data,
  • Eliminating second-grade STAR tests in California would save the state more than $2 million a year,
  • California is one of perhaps 10 states that test second graders, and
  • Second-grade testing is not required under No Child Left Behind and will not be included in the new Common Core standards under development.
  • Committee action is baffling

    Hancock’s bill also appeared to have, if not Gov. Brown’s blessing, then at least his belief in the concept. In the May budget revision, the Governor wrote that “testing takes huge amounts of time from classroom instruction,” and said he would reform the state’s testing and accountability system by engaging “teachers, scholars, school administrators and parents to develop proposals to reduce the amount of time devoted to state testing in schools.”

    “We are baffled as to why this would not get out of the Appropriations Committee,” said Sandra Jackson, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. “There was a lot of support for the bill.  There was cost savings. There is plenty of formative and summative testing already.”

    Savings may be outweighed

    There was also mounting opposition and doubts – doubts about the efficacy of waiting too long to test students on state standards, unintended financial consequences, and timing.

    “Under the guise of saving a small amount of money, SB 740 eliminates an early assessment that helps schools identify kids who need extra help and use best practices to give them the additional assistance they need to reach grade level expectations,” wrote EdVoice, a nonprofit organization working for school reform in California, in a call to action on its website.

    EdVoice has been an unwavering and vocal opponent of Hancock’s legislation.

    However, it’s a misnomer to paint all supporters as opposed to testing and accountability. They say they want appropriate and useful testing, and contend that the California Standards Test, which is part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting system or STAR, is neither.

    “The California State PTA believes early assessment is critical to improving public education for all children, helping them to reach grade level proficiency, and to provide services needed for success,” wrote Patty Scripter, the California State PTA’s Legislative Advocate, in a letter of support last June.  However, she said that if the goal is to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses in order to give them individual attention, then standardized tests are ineffective.

    Scripter said that while the committee’s action was disappointing, it’s also understandable in light of the coming switch to Common Core standards that will revamp the state’s entire testing system.  “Some people thought this wasn’t the time to be making changes,” she said.

    Analysts for the State Department of Finance and the Assembly Appropriations Committee also suggested that that the money saved by eliminating the test could have backfired on school districts and the California Department of Education.

    Even though Finance didn’t take a position on SB 740, in its analysis of the bill Department officials pointed out that any money saved by doing away with the second grade test would revert to the Proposition 98 General Fund and that’s off limits to the CDE to use for state operations.

    Meanwhile, school districts that decided to give their second grade students other diagnostic tests in place of the STAR exam wouldn’t have been reimbursed by the state and would have had to pay out of pocket at a time when their budgets are already bare bones.


    The second of two informational meetings about the possibility took place at 5:30 p.m. last Friday.

    smf: While this went down, Logan’s charter co-location partner apparently continued to misbehave.

    By Anthea Raymond Echo Park patch |

     August 26, 2011 - Parents and kids heard Friday morning about dual language instruction in English and Spanish that could begin this school year at Logan Street Elementary School.

    <<Judy Iguina and Cheryl Ortega

    Judy Iguina, a expert from LAUSD, was on hand to outline the benefits of the program and how it might work.

    Iguina plans to be a similar meeting Friday night at 5:30 p.m, also in the Logan auditorium.


    According to materials presented at the meeting, "dual language" is an umbrella term for various programs in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages.

    Class time is split between the two languages. Bilingualism and biliteracy are goals.

    At Logan, at least one class of at least 20 kindergarten students must be recruited to launch the program, which would be a Spanish-English track. Plans call for at least 8 English speakers in the mix.

    Martha Medina, who currently teaches kindergarten, at Logan, would head the class.


    Cheryl Ortega, UTLA’s bilingual education director, said 44 dual language programs exist within LAUSD, including one at Aldama Elementary School in Highland Park. Ortega says it was initiated by parents who saw the benefits of biliteracy for their children.

    It is believed that dual language education works best with a stable student population with a low attrition or transiency rate. Ortega says that makes the area around Logan--with its mixed population--ideal.


    Logan principal Luis Ochoa was born in Mexico and didn’t learn English until he was 15.

    He sees the dual language track as a great chance for children to learn another language at a young age.

    “I never got rid of my accent, “ he said.

    “Logan is on the rise," he added. "Our API scores have moved 50 points in two years. Our goal is to move 40 more points this year”

    See if you live in the Logan school neighborhood by using the LAUSD School Tracker tool.

    If you live outside the area you can also make an Intra-District Permit Application. Go to the Logan School main office during business hours.


    By Louis Freedberg | Top-Ed - Thoughts on Public Education |

    8/31/11 • Californians can’t be blamed for being confused about whether their schools are doing well or badly.

    That’s because for the past decade Californians have lived with two conflicting ways of holding schools accountable for the performance of their students: a state and a federal one.

    Depending on which system they turn to, Californians might be told that the very same school is either failing or succeeding.

    As efforts pick up both in Washington and Sacramento to reform their respective accountability systems – and new assessments are devised under the Common Core initiative – this is the best imaginable time to work toward a single measure of rating California’s schools.

    Education insiders may be able to parse the conflicting systems. But for the average Californian, the dueling systems are much more likely to confound than clarify.

    That is likely to continue to be the case when California releases its updated list of Program Improvement schools – the closest a school gets to being declared “failing” under the No Child Left Behind law –  today.

    Chart 1 (click to enlarge).

    Chart 1 (click to enlarge).

    By the measuring stick established by NCLB, California’s public school system is doing poorly – and getting worse each year.

    The percentage of California schools that have made Adequate Yearly Progress has plummeted from 74 percent to 40 percent between 2005-06 and 2009-10, as this EdSource chart shows. See Chart 1.

    The number of schools in need of “program improvement” – tantamount to failure under the NCLB rules – nearly tripled, from 1,200 schools in 2003-04 to 3,169 schools in 2010-11. That’s due in large part to the fact that the federal system raises the bar each year for the percentage of students expected to perform at “proficient” level.

    Chart 2 (click to enlarge).

    Chart 2 (click to enlarge).

    And this year, an astonishing 4,600 schools, or 80 percent of  so-called Title 1 schools serving large numbers of poor children, will be stuck with the stigmatizing Program Improvement label, Superintendent of  Public Instruction Tom Torlakson disclosed last week. See Chart 2.

    But based on results from California’s own accountability system, the picture is just the reverse: California schools are improving steadily each year.

    Chart 3 (click to enlarge).

    Chart 3 (click to enlarge).

    The proportion of schools scoring 800 or more on the Academic Performance Index, the state’s benchmark for adequate school performance, has increased significantly, from 31 percent of schools in 2007 to 46 percent in 2010. See Chart 3.

    The main reason that schools do better on California’s accountability system is because of the state’s emphasis on measuring improvement

    Chart 4 (click to enlarge).

    Chart 4 (click to enlarge).

    in growth in student outcomes from year to year, rather than on meeting fixed “proficiency” targets set by the federal system.

    Thus, under California’s system, the number of schools that met all their API growth targets increased from 45 percent in 2007 to 57 percent in 2010. See Chart 4.

    Still confused? Try understanding the recent report that found California students did far better on state tests than they did on the nationally administered National Assessment of Education Progress.

    That seemed to conflict with the optimistic results of California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR), which showed more students than ever scoring at a proficient level or higher.

    Meanwhile, leaders in Washington and Sacramento continue to push for reform of their respective systems. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is considering giving some states waivers from the most onerous, and unattainable, provision of NCLB, which mandates that all students score at a proficient level or above on state tests by 2014.

    But it is far from clear that California will get a waiver, even as more and more schools are effectively labeled as failing under NCLB requirements.

    In California, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others want to revise the Academic Performance Index, the cornerstone of the state’s accountability system. In SB 547, now making its way through the Legislature, the API would be replaced with an Education Quality Index (EQI),  which would be based on multiple measures in addition to test scores.

    But these bicoastal efforts, regardless of their merits, don’t resolve California’s conflicting accountability systems.

    From a budgetary standpoint alone, having to maintain these two systems imposes a burdensome and arguably unnecessary expense at a time of extreme fiscal crisis for schools and the state.

    This is not just an education or budget problem. It is also a political one. If lawmakers and voters can’t say with certainty whether their multibillion dollar investment in public education is paying off, it will be extremely difficult to persuade them to make further investments in California’s struggling and cash-starved schools.

    Resolving the conflict will depend at least in part on what Congress does whenever it gets around to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

    But until the state is able to bring its system in line with the federal one, or vice versa, confusion will reign. In return for their annual investment of tens of billions of dollars in K-12 schools, Californians are entitled to a far clearer picture of how their schools are doing.

    Louis Freedberg is executive director of EdSource, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging Californians on critical challenges facing the state’s education system. He has analyzed and reported on California education policy issues for more than two decades. He was a co-founder of California Watch and previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was an education reporter, Washington correspondent, columnist, and member of the editorial board. He has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.

    How to tell if your educational institution is being abducted by the Billionaire Educational Reformers: GATES GIVES $500K TO HARVARD TO “REIMAGINE” THEIR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION + smf’s 2¢

    Imagine a $500,000 Gates Foundation grant to Harvard


    by Sue Peters, a parent in Seattle Public Schools, an infected district. She is the Founder of the SeattleEducation2011 blog and also Parents Across America, the Centers for Disease Control battling the Broad Epidemic.

    37. Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”

    38. The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things related to STEM and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.

    41. Broad and Gates Foundations give money to local public radio stations which in turn become strangely silent about the presence and influence of the Broad and Gates Foundation in your school district.

    By Valerie Strauss Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog |

    31 Aug 2011 - Why would the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s richest foundation, hand over a $500,000 grant to Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university?

    It turns out that Harvard, in July, was given a $500,000 grant from Gates, which has its financial tentacles deep in the education world and beyond, to do the following, according to the foundation’s Web site:

    “to re-imagine the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the future”

    Yes, Harvard got that much money to “re-imagine.”

    What will school officials do with the cash? Here’s what Kathleen McCartney, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sent me in an e-mail to that question:

    “We are conducting a strategic planning process with an eye towards the future for schools of education generally, and the Harvard Graduate School specifically. We’ve just gotten started, so no news to report as yet.”

    Asked about the grant, Gates foundation spokesman Chris Williams said in an email: “The grant supports a strategic planning process the Graduate School of Education is working on,” and said Harvard would have more details.

    Half- a-million dollars can pay for a lot of re-imagining, I’d imagine. At a lovely resort. Or maybe a villa in Tuscany. Hey, they could pay to have Oprah facilitate, and, for visioning exercises, they can purchase a slew of the hottest white boards on the market.

    Who knew Harvard, with a $27 billion-plus endowment, needed Gates money for this?

    Descartes imagined “Cogito ergo sum” without a Gates grant, but these days, even re-imagining comes under the Gates umbrella of largesse.

    It is fair to wonder if educational institutions that take Gates money feel obliged to consider the education positions of Bill Gates.

    Gates supports modern reform efforts that unfortunately apply business principles to the public education system, which is not a business but rather a civic institution, the most important one in the country.

    The policy push toward competition in public education was initially premised, at least by some, on the notion that traditional public schools would improve when families had other, better alternatives, such as publically funded charter schools. It hasn’t quite worked out that way for a number of reasons, including the fact that the biggest research study on charters schools shows that most of them aren’t any better than the traditional schools.

    Gates not only invests in policy initiatives, but also in building public support for his investments. The foundation spent at least $3.5 million to create a new organization whose aim is to win over the public and the media to its market-driven approach to school reform, according to a closely held document that I wrote about earlier this year.

    The organization, Communities for Teaching Excellence*, was designed to win public approval for the foundation’s investment of more than $335 million in teacher effectiveness programs in four school districts that involve controversial initiatives, including linking teacher pay to student standardized test scores.(Critics, including me, say this “value-added” model-based test scores is unfair because there are many factors that go into how well a student does on a test.)

    The original plan for the organization included campaigns to reachout to parents, teachers, students, business and civic and religious leaders, and to build “strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs.”

    And last year, the foundation gave a $2 million grant to a media company “to execute a social action campaign that will complement Paramount’s marketing campaign of Waiting for Superman,” the tendentious pro-charter school anti-Randi Weingarten film.

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation leads the growing number of foundations and wealthy individuals who have made the beneficiary of their charity the reform of public education, or, rather, pet projects, including charter schools, charter school management companies and teacher assessment systems.

    Their unprecedented input has strongly influenced the shape of education reform according to their preferences, effectively giving non-elected private people control of policy directions that should properly be reserved to governmental decision-making bodies.

    Even if they were investing in sound policy initiatives their role would be questionable, but the direction of the investments is based on nothing in research and is more likely to cause harm.

    About a decade ago, Gates decided that small schools were the answer to the high school dropout problem, so from 2000-2009 he poured in about $2 billion to help reform high schools and improve graduation rates of minority students — with most of the money going to create small schools out of large drop-out factories.

    When standardized test scores didn’t go up, Gates pulled out his money and declared the effort pretty much a failure. It wasn’t entirely, but he moved on, now, to teacher assessment as the answer to troubled schools. Teacher assessment systems in many districts are in dire need of reform, but not the kind that is dominated by standardized test scores.

    Do we really want experimenting philanthropists to have a role driving education policy?

    One last thing:

    Next time the Gates foundation decides to hand over big bucks for re-imagining, please note: For a tenth of what you gave Harvard, the education reporting team at The Post will re-imagine anything you want.

    2cents smf

    * FOOTNOTE: Communities for Teaching Excellence


    By  Nirvi Shah, Ed Week |

    Published Online: August 31, 2011 - School districts that want to reduce special education spending from one year to the next without restoring what was cut now have the blessing of the U.S. Department of Education.

    In the past, federal law was interpreted to mean that once a district set its special education budget, it could not be reduced permanently except for very specific reasons. One of those exceptions to the so-called maintenance-of-effort rule were limited to decreased expenses, such as when an experienced, highly paid special education teacher retired or a high-needs student left a district. Cutting the special education budget for other reasons meant a district was running the risk of losing its share of federal funds.

    But a letter (follows)  to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education in June from the Education Department, now says otherwise.

    A school district “is not obligated to expend at least the amount expended in the last fiscal year for which it met the maintenance-of-effort requirement. In other words, each year’s [district] maintenance-of-effort obligation is based on the actual amount expended in the immediate prior fiscal year,” wrote Melody Musgrove, the director of the office of special education programs.

    That means that if districts lower their special education spending for any reason, whether or not it’s because of one of the exceptions built into federal law, the Education Department says it’s now permissible to never resume spending at the previously higher level.

    The shift has special education advocates worried. The maintenance-of-effort provision was built into special education spending rules to buffer students with disabilities from changes in services triggered by the ups and downs of public spending and politics.

    “In essence, what the department has done by issuing this interpretation, they have created one more way in which [districts] can reduce their local spending, which is not articulated either in statute or regulation,” said Candace Cortiella, who runs the website IDEA Money Watch, which tracks special education spending.

    Earlier this month, Kathleen B. Boundy, a co-director of the Center for Law and Education, based in Boston, sent Ms. Musgrove and OSEP Deputy Director Ruth E. Ryder a letter challenging their new positionRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader about school districts’ responsibilities regarding special education spending. Ms. Boundy asked that the guidance be rescinded.

    “This is illogical and is not consistent with the language of the statute. This is not a matter of interpretation, but a misreading or misapplication of the law,” Ms. Boundy said. “School districts are required to maintain the level of special education expenditures from year to year based on a notion that costs rarely decrease, the population of eligible children is predictable, and Congress in granting ... funds for the education of children with disabilities mandated that these federal dollars were being used to pay for the excess costs of educating this vulnerable population of children, not as a substitute for local and state funding for the education of these children.”

    Recession No Excuse

    The Education Department said it is still reviewing Ms. Boundy’s letter. But, in an email Monday, federal education officials said they think school districts’ obligation to provide students with disabilities a free, appropriate education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will keep them from cutting spending haphazardly.

    “We have some confidence that [districts] will continue to provide the funding needed to meet the ... obligation,” the email said. “Historically, because the cost of services has increased, most [districts] have needed to provide at least as much funding as in the prior year to meet this obligation. It would not be appropriate for a [district] to reduce spending simply because of ‘financially challenging times.’ ”

    However, the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., estimates that 10 percent of the nation’s school districts will not be able to keep special education spending level this year, and 15 percent of districts won’t be able to do so next year.

    “School administrators have been forced to cut to the bone when it comes to general education costs, but current IDEA [maintenance-of-effort] requirements prohibit them from making the same difficult cuts to special education. Our members think this is inherently unfair,” said Sasha Pudelski, a legislative specialist for the AASA.

    “Fairness dictates that all programs and populations share in the burden of cuts, rather than holding a single program exempt from the cuts,” she continued. “If the situation was reversed and special education budgets received all the cuts while general education students’ budgets were left entirely intact, parents and school leaders would never stand for that. Our members don’t understand why the reverse is somehow acceptable.”

    Special education budgets haven’t gone entirely untouched, however. Seven states—Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia—have requested permission to cut spending on students with disabilities, on the basis of unforeseen declines in financial resources, exercising an option that had never been used by any state. Some have been granted their wishes.

    “You can only protect this pot of money so carefully for so long before people are going to be upset,” said Nancy Reder, the deputy executive director for governmental relations for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, in Alexandria, Va. Bill East, the executive director of the group, wrote the letter to Ms. MusgroveRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in February that triggered the Education Department’s informal guidance about districts’ abilities to reduce special education spending.

    “At the same time,” added Ms. Reder. “I don’t want services for kids to be cut.”

    Part of the solution is a bigger federal contribution to special education budgets, said Lindsay Jones, the senior director of policy and advocacy services for the Council for Exceptional Children, in Arlington, Va.

    “CEC has long advocated for full funding for IDEA,” Ms. Jones said. When the law was crafted, it allowed the federal government to contribute up to 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities. The current federal contribution is 16.5 percent. Over the years, members of Congress have proposed many bills that would increase the share of federal spending on students with disabilities, but none has passed both chambers.

    “Everybody is taking a magnifying glass to their budgets,” Ms. Jones said. “We can try to be as efficient as possible, but at the end of the day, these are individual services, and there are lots of individualized needs for technology that are expensive.”


    letter cited in ¶3:

    letter pp1 letter pp2


    By Tom Chorneau  Capitol Weekly from Cabinet Report |

    8/30/11 12:00 AM PST - Along with a growing number of education leaders nationwide – Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he would consider abandoning compliance with federal performance mandates if relief from No Child Left Behind sanctions is not otherwise provided by federal officials.

    Torlakson, who earlier last week sent a sharp rebuke of NCLB to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said in an interview that NCLB was a law that had outlived its usefulness and that the nation’s schools needed Congress to undertake a complete revision of the law.

    “I think there is a consensus to leave behind, No Child Left Behind,” Torlakson said. “And to leave behind the (Annual Yearly Progress) which is a failed system and put in a new one that would be based more on the growth model that we use here in California.”

    Governors and state school officers from around the country have been inundating Duncan with requests for relief from federal proficiency targets aimed at getting all students proficient in math and reading by 2014 – targets that some of the nation’s best-run public schools are finding almost impossible to keep up with.

    Also critical of NCLB, the Obama administration has been unsuccessful in pushing Congress to undertake a reauthorization effort. But as a political tactic, Duncan has offered to provide relief to states through a waiver process, which would also be conditioned with reform measures that have yet to be made public.

    Although Torlakson’s letter to Duncan was widely reported last week as an appeal for such a waiver, the state schools chief said Friday California had not applied. Instead, Torlakson said, he had asked Duncan to merely freeze the state’s annual proficiency targets and thus avoid having a new cohort of schools to fall into the failing category.

    “We are not applying for a waiver at this time,” he said. “My understanding is the conditions –if any – that would be attached to a waiver are still being worked on and there has been not a final determination by Arne Duncan and his department as to what conditions or caveats will be part of the waiver.”

    There are two states, however, that have appeared to have won relief from the sanctions of NCLB from Duncan this summer – without having to agree to reform conditions: Idaho and Montana.

    National school organizations have called on Duncan to do the same for other states, by granting permission to modify “accountability workbooks” and freeze annual proficiency targets in reading and math until reauthorization is completed – action believed to be within the secretary’s authority.

    Torlakson said his letter to the secretary asked that California to receive such permission.

    “We’re weighing in to say, ‘Don’t saddle us with conditions that we can’t meet or we don’t feel are appropriate for California,” Torlakson explained.

    “And if he (Duncan) can’t resist a waiver that isn’t tied up with a lot of caveats and costs, the next best thing is freezing the accountability act as it is, not holding anyone accountable for it anymore,” Torlakson said.

    The fact that state officials in Idaho and Montana threated to simply stop complying with NCLB may have played a role in both states receiving unencumbered relief. Asked if his office would consider going down the same road, if federal officials are unresponsive to the request made in his letter – Torlakson said he would consider it.

    “We are looking at all options and hoping to get a positive response from this letter,” he said. “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there but all options are on the table.”

    A former school teacher and veteran lawmaker from the East Bay, Torlakson said a recent visit to an elementary school in Southern California made the turmoil caused by NCLB once again visibly clear.

    The school, he said, like many others in the state is making progress as they struggling against huge budget cuts, bigger class-sizes and more demanding performance targets.

    “They’ve just had a significant boost in test scores,” he noted. “But because it wasn’t reflected before a particular deadline – even though all this process was being made – they are going to have to put out letters saying they are a failing school.

    “The teachers, of course, are discouraged by that and the parents, confused by that,” he said. “I think it just shows that the system is unrealistic and out of touch.”


    Ed’s Note: Tom Chorneau is the managing editor of Cabinet Report - a subscription-based news service distributed to California school districts. Selected stories have been shared with Capitol Weekly with permission from School Innovations & Advocacy, owner and publisher. Cabinet Report is at



    Corey G. Johnson, California WATCH |

    August 31, 2011 | Only after the governor ordered an independent examination did Georgia officials catch widespread cheating by teachers, principals and administrators on standardized tests in the Atlanta Public Schools system.

    The resulting scandal has sparked resignations, a criminal investigation and a wave of other state inquiries into possible test tampering.

    << zorani/

    The sleuthing techniques used to catch testing fraud in Atlanta – monitoring test score data for dramatic spikes, analysis of testing erasures and on-the-ground interviews – used to be commonplace at the California Department of Education.

    By 2004, a robust state forensic team that annually undertook an average of 150-200 testing audits was credited with investigating more than 200 California teachers for allegations of helping students on state exams, and proved cheating in at least 75 of those cases, according to an investigation by the LA Times.

    But that changed in 2009, when the forensic team was hit with $105,000 in budget cuts. In response, state education department officials stopped collecting data on erasures and halted all field visits that ensured testing procedures were followed. Further, a request to restore the funds was rejected this year by the Department of Finance, said John Boivin, an administrator with the education department.

    So the state is left with no choice but to rely on local school districts to voluntarily report instances of cheating – a standard that didn't expose the type of systemic fraud currently sparking outrage in Atlanta.

    The less stringent oversight comes as school administrators face strong temptation to cheat.

    In the last two years alone, California districts self-reported 112 investigations of cheating allegations, a USA Today investigation found. In July, the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education voted to shut down two charter schools in response to allegations that the schools' founder ordered principals and teachers to use actual test questions to prepare students for the 2010 state standardized tests. Voice of San Diego found testing irregularities at the Chula Vista Elementary, Poway Unified and San Diego Unified school districts.

    What's the cause of the unethical behavior? The answer is multiple and inconclusive. But some experts blame the cheating on the federal No Child Left Behind law and the push for education reform.

    Schools with poor test scores can face closure or a dramatic loss of funds. Districts also face pressure from lawmakers and education reformers to re-evaluate teacher pay based on student test scores.

    So as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is posed today to discuss this year's accountability results, the question looms: How much faith can we have that the scores are accurate?

    John Fremer, testing forensics expert at Caveon Test Security, which has helped Atlanta and Washington, D.C., investigate suspicious incidents, told KPPC radio that testing students without a detailed check of results can't be considered credible.

    "You're not going to be able to run a state testing program without doing comprehensive analyses of the results," he said. "I mean that ship has already sailed."

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011


    District alters policy to allow teachers and administrators priority in submitting plans, instead of charter groups and other outsiders. Any group can still compete for existing, low-performing schools.

    LAUSD approves changes in Public School Choice plan

    By Connie Llanos Staff Writer |Daily News/Daily Breeze |

    L.A. Unified gives insiders first chance at new charter campuses

    By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times |

    8/30/2011 07:43:16 PM PDT - The Los Angeles Unified school board on Tuesday approved changes in its Public School Choice plan that give an edge to internal, district-based teams that compete to run new schools.

    School Choice was designed to improve education through competition by allowing outside groups and internal teams to bid on the management of new and under-performing schools.

    But the motion approved unanimously Tuesday changes the rules of the program for its upcoming third round by allowing district-based plans to be submitted first, as long as they meet a series of conditions.

    Those changes include performance-based evaluations for educators at new schools, giving administrators more flexibility to hire and fire staff based on school needs, and more freedom to craft work hours and rules for teachers and principals.

    Originally proposed by board member Steve Zimmer and later amended by Tamar Galatzan, the new rules allow the district to search internally first, to seek the best talent to open new schools while paving the way for more LAUSD campuses to adopt charter-like reforms, board members said.

    "New schools are our schools that have not opened yet ... they don't have a track record," Galatzan said. "What better place to start growing reform than at our new schools."

    These changes would be nullified, however, if the teachers and administrators unions don't agree to the key contract changes by Nov. 1.

    All of the changes being required of educators at the new schools participating in Public School Choice have been publicly listed by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy as amendments he'd like to see for the teacher and administrator contracts districtwide.

    Deasy said he was hopeful that "at a minimum" the unions would agree to make these changes at the new campuses, but he said he was hopeful that similar reforms could be negotiated for all LAUSD sites.

    "This is an opportunity to take the energy around Public School Choice and hopefully leverage it, into dramatic reform for the whole district," he said.

    United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said he could not comment on any specific requests being made of the union by the new board policy because negotiations must be kept private.

    "The fact the district is asking us to come to the table to discuss these items, though, is promising," Fletcher said.

    In the third round of Public School Choice, 37 schools are up for grabs, including 15 new schools.

    Of the three South Bay and Harbor Area campuses set to undergo Public School Choice this fall - Carson High, the new Harry Bridges K-8 span school in Wilmington and a new elementary school in Playa Vista - only the latter generated bids from outside organizations.

    The three local campuses that went through the process previously generated little interest from charter groups compared to schools in other parts of LAUSD.

    Recent state test scores have shown mixed results for schools in Public School Choice. Charter schools have bucked that trend, with a majority outperforming their neighboring district campuses.

    Charter school leaders said these changes could discourage many operators from participating in the district's process in the future and slow down the pace of reform at LAUSD.

    "Public School Choice was a bold step forward for education reform that emphasized quality and competition as key to achieving better schools but this diminishes that concept greatly by focusing on the affiliation of an applicant, not their quality," said Sara Hernandez, policy director for the California Charter School Association.

    Zimmer said he hoped this plan would encourage more charter operators to focus on overhauling low-performing schools.

    During the first two rounds of Public School Choice, four charter operators submitted bids to take over existing campuses, while 39 applied to run new schools. In the third round, though, charter school interest in existing schools increased, with charter operators submitting initial applications for 12 campuses.

    Charter school leaders have complained that applying to run existing schools has been challenging because school workers and community members tend to resist the outside interest, but Zimmer questioned that statement.

    "If charters were concerned with resistance, then we wouldn't have 80,000 kids in LAUSD next year attending charter schools."

    August 31, 2011 - The Los Angeles Board of Education made a major change in its controversial, 2-year-old policy allowing charter groups and other outsiders to take over new campuses. The board unanimously agreed Tuesday to give teachers and administrators first chance at those schools.

    If inside groups' plans are unacceptable, then charter operators, who mostly run schools that are nonunion, and others can apply.

    The rules remain the same, however, for existing, low-performing schools; any group can compete for those campuses.

    The district was preparing to accept new proposals for 15 new campuses by mid-October; that deadline has been changed to Nov. 18. Since the policy began, 11 charter schools won bids to run new district campuses and one existing campus is being operated by a charter organization. About 40 campuses are operated by inside district groups, mainly led by teachers.

    Tuesday's unanimous board action also attempts to require the teachers union to be more flexible with the new schools. The board set a Nov. 1 deadline for the teachers union to agree to whatever performance evaluations, job requirements and other conditions the school staff are seeking in their plans, district officials said.

    If the Los Angeles Unified School District and union cannot come to a deal, L.A. Unified reverts to the initial policy in which any group can compete for a new campus.

    Teachers union leaders said the district could not force them to accept any conditions.

    "It's all bargainable," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

    Charter schools are independent educational groups that are funded by public money and generally employ a younger workforce. Supporters say they give parents another option besides traditional public schools, while critics contend they cherry-pick the best students and avoid serving children with special needs.

    Tuesday's vote came after a series of last-minute amendments and unusual public deal-making during a contentious board meeting. The board considered two other resolutions before finally approving the final version offered by Tamar Galatzan and amended by Richard Vladovic.

    The board was initially set to consider a proposal by board member Steve Zimmer that would have given district groups the first opportunity to bid for new schools but it did not include the requirement that UTLA agree to teachers' proposals.

    Zimmer questioned why charter organizations have shown little interest in bidding for existing campuses and instead focused on new schools.

    "If choice is held with this almost religious fervor at our new facilities, how could it be so unimportant at our schools with the greatest need?" he said.

    Board member Bennett Kayser tried unsuccessfully to get the board to go further: he proposed that all new campuses be excluded from the Public School Choice program.

    The teachers union, which counts Kayser, Zimmer and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte as allies, has long been opposed to charters winning control of new campuses. The union sued the district last year to try to block charters from those schools but was unsuccessful.

    Four other board members, Monica Garcia, Nury Martinez, Galatzan and Vladovic, have been supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa whose nonprofit has gained control of three campuses under the Public School Choice policy.

    Charter operators were disappointed by the board action. "It's pretty much the death of Public School Choice as a collaboration with outside partners," said Judy Burton, the president of the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.


    “What’s good for General motors is good for the USA” – a popular-but-incorrect paraphrase of ‘Engine’ Charlie Wilson, GM president from 1941-1953. Wilson left GM to accept President Eisenhower's appointment as secretary of defense – becoming the first of the Military-Industrial-Complexers Ike warned us about. - smf

    by Larry Abramson | NPR All Things Considered |

    Listen to the Story [4 min 42 sec]

    Roy Roberts, emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools, speaks at Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School. Roberts, a former General Motors executive, came out of retirement to try to fix the school system.

    Larry Abramson/NPR - Roy Roberts, emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools, speaks at Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School. Roberts, a former General Motors executive, came out of retirement to try to fix the school system.

    August 30, 2011 - If there were an award for the "most challenged" school district in the United States, the Detroit public school system would have good reason to claim the title.

    The system is wrestling with crumbling buildings, low achievement and a decline in enrollment that just won't stop. But this year, the system has added some new faces and plans to the mix in an attempt to revive it.

    The Detroit Public Schools' optimistic slogan this year is "We're in," which is what the students from Martin Luther King High School were chanting at an event at Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School that marked the beginning of the fall enrollment season.

    The cheerleaders and the marching band are part of a re-branding effort for the district. DPS wants parents to know this is not the same old struggling school system.

    Witness the brand new school that served as the backdrop for this event, which was run by the new emergency manager of the schools*, Roy Roberts. He told attendees he has lots of new things to offer, including added instructional time in reading and math, an extended school day in summer school, and netbooks for all sixth through 12th graders.

    Helping Struggling Schools

    DPS has been re-branded before, with new leaders and different forms of state takeover. But Roberts' style is fresh — he's genial, dapper and a former General Motors executive who came out of retirement to help fix the schools. He likes to say he could have made a lot more money sitting on corporate boards.

    Roberts says he is getting no grace period.

    "I think the honeymoon ended the first day I was in the job," he says. "Ultimately, it's not what you say, it's what you do. People are going to watch my hips, not my lips."

    Roberts' first major action is a new state-led effort to shake up the lowest achieving schools in DPS. Starting next year, they will be part of the Education Achievement System, a new district for the weakest schools.

    His chief task, he says, will be guaranteeing that struggling schools have some independence from the Detroit Public Schools.

    "We're going to put all kinds of energy behind them; we're going to put more money. There can be different schools; they can be run differently; the principals can take different approaches to education. We're going to put more money into the classroom; we're going to properly train teachers," he says.

    But it's unclear why kids have to wait a year before failing schools get more independence from the central administration.

    Michael Tenbusch of the local United Way has been leading a coalition of schools that already have some autonomy. He says his kids' achievement has already improved dramatically and would accelerate if he had more control right now.

    'At A Critical Juncture'

    The other new face on the scene is Doug Ross, the founder of a successful charter network in Detroit. Ross is also an outspoken critic of DPS, but he has agreed to work for the school system as the head of new charter schools authorized by the district.

    Ross says that with the student population plummeting, the schools in Detroit are at a critical juncture.

    "If we don't get it mostly right in the first 12 to 18 months, we'll fail," he says.

    About 40 percent of Detroit students already attend charters, and under Ross, that number is expected to grow. Just like Roberts, Ross sees his job as making sure the central administration leaves the charters alone. Successful schools will attract students, Ross says.

    "I think where parents are coming is to actually where the political structure's been heading," he says. "Which is to say, 'You know really, we don't care too much about the governance. How good's the school?' "

    All this talk about the new Detroit Public Schools is upsetting to those who feel like they have been cut out of reform plans — the teachers.

    Keith Johnson, head of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, is combative as he considers the changes currently under way. He says his members had no input.

    "If they want to fly solo on this, they're going to crash-land," he says. Johnson says this rush to the future will just be window dressing if the district ignores past realities, like high levels of truancy and violence.

    He is also skeptical about the plan to create a new district for failing schools, with a new name.

    "You can call it anything you want," he says. "If you don't address those intrinsic cultural inhibitors, nothing is going to change."

    But district chief Roberts says the new Detroit Public Schools has answers, like a new security system meant to prevent violence. At the same time, though, he has to provide alternatives for families who aren't ready to embrace the Detroit Public Schools.

    * From the Modern School blog:

    • [F]ormer General Motors executive Roy S. Roberts [is] the new Emergency Manager of DPS, with the power to nullify teacher contracts, fire all teachers and privatize DPS schools to his heart’s content under Michigan’s financial martial law.
    • Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, together with the state's Republican legislature, has passed a bill allowing the governor to dissolve the elected governments of Michigan's towns and cities, and replace them with "emergency financial managers" who can cut services, merge or eliminate school boards, and lay off unionized public employees without recourse. All the governor has to do to justify such action is to proclaim a “financial emergency.” There are no limits to the salaries of these “managers” and they will be given a free hand to govern as they see fit, without any accountability to voters or residents. Republican senator Jack Brandenburg, a supporter the bill, called it "financial martial law."


    Remember the poor superintendent (Broad Academy, Class of ‘08) who quit last week in a dispute with the KC Board of Ed? Don’t worry about him!

    New chancellor could make $1.5M overseeing district for Michigan's troubled schools


    New chancellor John Covington will get a $175,000 signing bonus to lead the statewide district.

    New chancellor John Covington will get a $175,000 signing bonus to lead the statewide district. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press

    John Covington

    Related Links

    John Covington >>

    7:47 AM, Aug. 30, 2011  | The first chancellor of the new statewide special district for Michigan's lowest-performing schools could receive more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses over his four-year contract, if he meets all performance targets.

    John Covington, the departing superintendent of the Kansas City, Mo., School District, will be paid a $175,000 signing bonus and a $225,000 salary his first year as leader of the new Education Achievement Authority.

    His base salary grows to $325,000 in the second year. And if he meets yet-to-be-determined goals, he could make more than $425,000 in each of the last two years of the contract.

    As a comparison, the top salary for superintendents of the nation's largest districts ranged up to $329,000 last year, according to a study by the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools.

    The contract raised the ire of activists and unions.

    But Steve Wasko, a spokesman for Roy Roberts, the emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools and chairman of the EAA board, said the contract was necessary to attract "top talent to what may be the toughest job in the country."

    Covington could not be reached for comment.

    Strategy for state school district in the works

    It's unclear what the special statewide district for Michigan's lowest-performing schools will look like when it begins taking control of struggling schools in 2012.

    But the first chancellor, hired Friday to design the new Education Achievement Authority, could make more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses if he comes up with a winning strategy.

    John Covington, 52, the departing superintendent for the Kansas City, Mo., School District, signed a four-year employment contract last week. Covington's contract is effective Thursday, but it's unclear when he will start.

    DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts is the chairman of the EAA board, which voted to hire Covington, who is credited with championing innovative changes in Kansas City, such as personalized learning based on student needs, which means getting rid of letter grades and grouping students by skill level instead of grade. The EAA will start taking control of low-performing schools -- and their budgets -- in the 2012-13 school year, starting with some DPS schools. In subsequent years, it will take over more low-performing schools. This year, there were about 150 schools classified in the lowest 5%.

    Covington could not be reached for comment. For his first year, he will be paid $225,000 and collect a $175,000 signing bonus. The base salary increases to $325,000 the second year. For the last two years, he can make an incentive-compensation payment of $50,000 to $100,000 per year.

    He's also eligible for a raise in years three and four.

    The contract also includes a retirement plan with immediate vesting, a $15,000-per-year supplemental insurance allowance for life and disability coverage and an $800-per-month car allowance.

    His first-year compensation and the EAA's initial planning year will be paid through a nonprofit, according to Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder. It's unclear what portion during that first year could come from taxpayers. Ensuing years will be funded by per-pupil state aid.

    Covington was paid $250,000 in Kansas City, where the district has more than 17,000 students*. With or without the incentive compensation, in the final years of his contract, he would make more than the top-paid superintendents of the largest districts in the nation, according to a 2010 study from the Council of the Great City Schools, based in Washington, D.C. The study shows that among 65 large school districts in the nation, the average superintendent salary was $239,000. Salaries ranged from $157,000 to $329,000. Most superintendents -- 54% -- made $250,000 or more last year.

    Henry Duvall, the council's communications director, said about a dozen large urban districts are looking for superintendents. "If you want the top person in the job, you've got to give some kind of incentive," he said.

    Keith Johnson, president of Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the level of pay disturbs him, considering DPS employees have been asked to take pay cuts and make a "shared sacrifice."


    * – For comparison, Burbank Unified has 17,000 students.  The Huffington Post reported 50,000 students in K.C. last week …but what's 33.000 kids among friends?

    PS:  The K.C . boardmember who resigned in solidarity with Covington last week has withdrawn his resignation.


    by Bruce D. Baker in schoolfinance101 - Data and thoughts on public and private school funding in the U.S. |

    August 26, 2011 - I’ve previously written about the growing number of rigorous peer reviewed and other studies which tend to show positive effects of state school finance reforms. But what about all of those accounts to the contrary? The accounts that seem so dominant in the policy conversations on the topic. What is that vast body of research that suggests that school finance reforms don’t matter? That it’s all money down the rat-hole. That in fact, judicial orders to increase funding for schools actually hurt children?

    Beyond utterly absurd graphs and tables like Bill Gates’ “turn the curve upside down” graph, and Dropout Nation’s even more absurd graph, there have been a handful of recent studies and entire books dedicated to proving that court ordered school finance reforms simply have no positive effect on children. Some do appear in peer reviewed journals, despite egregious (and really obvious) methodological flaws. And yes, some really do go so far as to claim that court ordered school finance reforms “harm our children.”[1]

    The premise that additional funding for schools often leveraged toward class size reduction, additional course offerings or increased teacher salaries, causes harm to children is, on its face, absurd. Further, no rigorous empirical study of which I am aware actually validates that increased funding for schools in general or targeted to specific populations has led to any substantive, measured reduction in student outcomes or other “harm.”

    But questions regarding measurement and validation of positive effects versus non-effects are complex. That said, while designing good research analyses can be quite complex, the flaws of bad analyses are often absurdly simple. As simple as asking three questions: a) whether the reform in question actually happened? b) when it happened and for how long? and c) who was to be affected by the reform?

    • Whether: Many analyses argue to show that school funding reforms had no positive effects on outcomes, but fail to measure whether substantive school funding reforms were ever implemented or whether they were sustained. Studies of this type often simply look at student outcome data in the years following a school funding related ruling, creating crude classifications of who won or lost the ruling. Yet, the question at hand is not whether a ruling in-and-of-itself leads to changes in outcomes, but whether reforms implemented in response to a ruling do. One must, at the very least, measure whether reform actually happened!
    • When: Many analyses simply pick two end points, or a handful of points of student achievement to cast as a window, or envelop around a supposed occurrence of school finance reform or court order, often combining this strategy with the first (not ever measuring the reform itself). For example, one might take NAEP scores from 1992 and 2007 on a handful of states, and indicate that sometime in that window, each state implemented a reform or had a court order. Then one might compare the changes in outcomes from 1992 to 2007 for those states to other states that supposedly did not implement reforms or have court orders. This, of course provides no guarantee that states from the non-reform group (a non-controlled control group?) didn’t actually do something more substantive than the reform group. But, that aside, the casting of a large time window and the same time window across states ignores the fact that reforms may come and go within that window, or may be sufficiently scaled up only during the latter portion of the window. It makes little sense, for example to evaluate the effects of New Jersey’s school finance reforms which experienced their most significant scaling up between 1998 and 2003, by also including 6 years prior to any scaling up of reform. Similarly, some states which may have aggressively implemented reforms at the beginning of the window may have seen those reforms fade within the first few years. When matters!
    • Who: Many analyses also address imprecisely the questions of “who” is expected to benefit from the reforms. Back to the “whether” question, if there was no reform, then the answer to this question is no-one. No-one is expected to benefit from a reform that didn’t ever happen. Further, no-one is expected to benefit today from a reform that may happen tomorrow, nor is it likely that individuals will benefit twenty years from now from a reform that is implemented this year, and gone within the next three years. Beyond these concerns, it is also relevant to consider whether the school finance reform in question, if and when it did happen, benefited specific school districts or specific children. Reforms that benefit poorly funded school districts may not also uniformly benefit low income children who may be distributed, albeit unevenly, across well-funded and poorly-funded districts. Not all achievement data are organized for appropriate alignment with funding reform data. And if they are not, we cannot know if we are measuring the outcomes of who we would actually expect to benefit.

    In 2011, Kevin G. Welner of the University of Colorado and I published an extensive review of the good, the bad and the ugly of research on the effectiveness of state school finance reforms.[2] In our article we identify several specific examples of empirical studies claiming to find (not just “find” but prove outright) that school funding reforms and judicial orders simply don’t matter. That is, they don’t have any positive effects on measured student outcomes. But, as noted above, many of those studies suffer from basic flaws of logic in their research design, which center on questions of whether, when and who.

    As one example of a whether problem, consider an article published by Greene and Trivett (2008). Greene and Trivett claim to have found “no evidence that court ordered school spending improves student achievement” (p. 224).  The problem is that the authors never actually measured “spending” and instead only measured whether there had been a court order. Kevin Welner and I explain:

    The Greene and Trivitt article, published in a special issue of the Peabody Journal of Education, proclaimed that the authors had empirically estimated “the effect of judicial intervention on student achievement using standardized test scores and graduation rates in 48 states from 1992 to 2005” and had found “no evidence that court ordered school spending improves student achievement” (p. 224, emphasis added). The authors claim to have tested for a direct link between judicial orders regarding state school funding systems and any changes in the level or distribution of student outcomes that are statistically associated with those orders. That is, the authors asked whether a declaration of unconstitutionality (nominally on either equity or adequacy grounds) alone is sufficient to induce change in student outcomes. The study simply offers a rough indication of whether the court order itself, not “court-ordered school spending,” affects outcomes. It certainly includes no direct test of the effects of any spending reforms that might have been implemented in response to one or more of the court orders.

    Kevin Welner and I also raise questions regarding “who” would have benefited from specific reforms and “when” specific reforms were implemented and/or faded out. In our article, much of our attention regarding who and when questions focused on Chapter 6, The Effectiveness of Judicial Remedies of Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth’s book Courting Failure.[3] A downloadable version of the same graphs and arguments can be found here: Specifically, Hanushek and Lindseth identify four states, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wyoming as states which have by order of their court systems, (supposedly) infused large sums of money into school finance reforms over the past 20 years. Given this simple classification, Hanushek and Lindseth take the National Assessment (NAEP) Scores for these states, including scores for low income children, and racial subgroups, and plot those scores against national averages from 1992 to 2007.

    No statistical tests are performed, but graphs are presented to illustrate that there would appear to be no difference in growth of scores in these states relative to national averages. Of course, there is also no measure of whether and how funding changed in these states compared to others. Additionally, there is no consideration of the fact that in Wyoming, for example, per pupil spending increased largely as a function of enrollment decline and less as a function of infused resources (the denominator shrunk more than the numerator grew).

    Setting these other major concerns aside, which alone undermine entirely the thesis of Hanushek and Lindseth’s chapter, Kevin Welner and I explain the problem of using a wide time window to evaluate school finance reforms which may ebb and flow throughout that window:

    As noted earlier, the appropriate outcome measure also depends on identifying the appropriate time frame for linking reforms to outcomes. For example, a researcher would be careless if he or she merely analyzed average gains for a group of states that implemented reforms over an arbitrary set of years. If a state included in a study looking at years 1992 and 2007 had implemented its most substantial reforms from 1998 to 2003, the overall average gains would be watered down by the six pre-reform years – even assuming that the reforms had immediate effects (showing up in 1998, in this example). And, as noted earlier, such an “open window” approach may be particularly problematic for evaluating litigation-induced reforms, given the inequitable and inadequate pre-reform conditions that likely led to the litigation and judicial decree.

    There also exist logical, identifiable, time-lagged effects for specific reforms. For example, the post-1998 reforms in New Jersey included implementation of universal pre-school in plaintiff districts. Assuming the first relatively large cohorts of preschoolers passed through in the first few years of those reforms, a researcher could not expect to see resulting differences in 3rd or 4th grade assessment scores until four to five years later.

    Further, as noted previously, simply disaggregating NAEP scores by race or low income status does not guarantee by any stretch that one has identified the population expected to benefit from specific reforms. That is, race and poverty subgroups in the NAEP sample are woefully imprecise proxies for students attending districts most likely to have received additional resources. Kevin Welner and I explain:

    This need to disaggregate outcomes according to distributional effects of school funding reforms deserves particular emphasis since it severely limits the use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the approach used in the recent book by Hanushek and Lindseth. The limitation arises as a result of the matrix sampling design used for NAEP. While accurate when aggregated for all students across states or even large districts, NAEP scores can only be disaggregated by a constrained set of student characteristics, and those characteristics may not be well-aligned to the district-level distribution of the students of interest in a given study.

    Consider, for example, New Jersey – one of the four states analyzed in the recent book. It might initially seem logical to use NAEP scores to evaluate the effectiveness of New Jersey’s Abbott litigation, to examine the average performance trends of economically disadvantaged children. However, only about half (54%) of New Jersey children who receive free or reduced-price lunch – a cutoff set at 185% of the poverty threshold – attend the Abbott districts. The other half do not, meaning that they were not direct beneficiaries of the Abbott remedies. While effects of the Abbott reforms might, and likely should, be seen for economically disadvantaged children given that sizeable shares are served in Abbott districts, the limited overlap between economic disadvantage and Abbott districts makes NAEP an exceptionally crude measurement instrument for the effects of the court-ordered reform.16

    Hanushek and Lindseth are not alone in making bold assertions based on insufficient analyses, though Chapter 6 of their recent book goes to new lengths in this regard. Kevin Welner and I address numerous comparably problematic studies with more subtle whether, who and when problems, including the Greene and Trivett study noted above.  Another example is a study by Florence Neymotin of Kansas State University, which purports to find that the substantial infusion of funding into Kansas school districts which supposedly occurred between 1997 and 2006 as a function of the Montoy rulings never led to substantive changes in student outcomes. I blogged about this study when it was first reported. But, the most relevant court orders in Montoy did not come until January of 2005, June of 2005 and eventually July of 2006. Remedy legislation may be argued to have begun as early as 2005-06, but primarily from 2006-07 on, before its dismantling from 2008 on. Regarding the Neymotin study, Kevin Welner and I explain:

    A comparable weakness undermines a 2009 report written by a Kansas State University economics professor, which contends that judicially mandated school finance reform in Kansas failed to improve student outcomes from 1997 to 2006 (Neymotin, 2009).13 This report was particularly egregious in that it did not acknowledge that the key judicial mandate was issued in 2005 and thus had little or no effect on the level or distribution of resources across Kansas schools until 2007-08. In fact, funding for Kansas schools had fallen behind and become less equitable from 1997 through 2005.14 Consequently, an article purporting to measure the effects of a mandate for increased and more equitable spending was actually, in a very real way, measuring the opposite.[4]

    Kevin Welner and I also review several studies applying more rigorous and appropriate methods for evaluating the influence of state school finance reforms. I have discussed those studies previously here. On balance, it is safe to say that a significant body of rigorous empirical literature, conscious of whether, who and when concerns, validates that state school finance reforms can have substantive positive effects on student outcomes including reduction of outcome disparities or increased overall outcome level.

    Further, it is even safer to say that analyses provided in sources like the book chapter by Hanushek and Lindseth (2009), or research articles by Neymotin (2009), Greene and Trivett, provide no credible evidence to the contrary, due to significant methodological omissions. Finally, even the boldest, most negative publications regarding state school finance reforms provide no support for the contention that school finance reforms actually “harm our children,” as indicated in the title of a 2006 volume by Eric Hanushek.

    Sometimes, even when a research report or article seems really complicated, relatively simple questions like when, whether and who allow the less geeky reader to quickly evaluate and possibly debunk the study entirely.  Sometimes, the errors of reasoning regarding when, whether and who, are so absurd that it’s hard to believe that anyone would actually present such an absurd analysis. But these days, I’m rarely shocked. My personal favorite “when” error remains the Reason Foundation’s claim that numerous current reforms positively affected past results! It just never ends!

    • Bruce Baker is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

    Further reading:

    B. Baker, K.G. Welner (2011) Do School Finance Reforms Matter and How Can We Tell. Teachers College Record.

    Card, D., and Payne, A. A. (2002). School Finance Reform, the Distribution of School Spending, and the Distribution of Student Test Scores. Journal of Public Economics, 83(1), 49-82.

    Roy, J. (2003). Impact of School Finance Reform on Resource Equalization and Academic Performance: Evidence from Michigan. Princeton University, Education Research Section Working Paper No. 8. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from in Education Finance and Policy.)

    Papke, L. (2005). The effects of spending on test pass rates: evidence from Michigan. Journal of Public Economics, 89(5-6). 821-839.

    Downes, T. A., Zabel, J., and Ansel, D. (2009). Incomplete Grade: Massachusetts Education Reform at 15. Boston, MA. MassINC.

    Guryan, J. (2003). Does Money Matter? Estimates from Education Finance Reform in Massachusetts. Working Paper No. 8269. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Deke, J. (2003). A study of the impact of public school spending on postsecondary educational attainment using statewide school district refinancing in Kansas, Economics of Education Review, 22(3), 275-284.

    Downes, T. A. (2004). School Finance Reform and School Quality: Lessons from Vermont. In Yinger, J. (ed), Helping Children Left Behind: State Aid and the Pursuit of Educational Equity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Resch, A. M. (2008). Three Essays on Resources in Education (dissertation). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Department of Economics. Retrieved October 28, 2009, from

    Goertz, M., and Weiss, M. (2009). Assessing Success in School Finance Litigation: The Case of New Jersey. New York City: The Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University.

    [1] See, for example: E.A. Hanushek (2006) Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges’ Good Intentions and Harm Our Children. Hoover Institution Press.  Reviewed here:

    [2] Baker, B.D., Welner, K. (2011) School Finance and Courts: Does Reform Matter, and How Can We Tell? Teachers College Record 113 (11) p. –

    [3] Hanushek, E. A., and Lindseth, A. (2009). Schoolhouses, Courthouses and Statehouses. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

    [4] B. Baker, K.G. Welner (2011) Do School Finance Reforms Matter and How Can We Tell. Teachers College Record.