Report: No Room for Rivalry in School Reform

The contentious relationship between traditional public schools and charter schools needs to end, according to a report issued as part of a Brookings Institution project. There are lessons to be learned, the authors say, from both the successes and failures of charter operations. Pilot programs in Houston and Denver are demonstrating the potential. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Early data show that the strategy – applied in Houston and Denver pilot programs – yielded “promising” results, according to the report, titled "Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools" and released Thursday by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

The study could help improve cooperation between charter schools and traditional schools, which have often viewed each other as competitors. The debate about whether charter schools or traditional schools are more effective is a false one and misses the central point, said secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Hamilton Project’s education forum Thursday in Washington.

“The question isn’t: Do we need more charter schools, traditional schools, gifted schools, or magnet schools?” he said. “We need better public schools. Kids don’t know what kind of school they go to. All they ask is, ‘Do I have a good teacher?’ ”

The report focuses on the work that Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer did with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to develop a pilot program targeting nine of Houston’s lowest-performing middle and high schools in 2010-11 and 11 elementary schools in 2011-12.

Dr. Fryer, who is the faculty director of Harvard’s Education Innovations Laboratories (EdLabs), studied 35 charter schools in New York and discovered the top five practices that separate low- and high-achieving charter schools: (1) extended time at school, (2) strong administrators and teachers, (3) data-driven instruction, (4) small-group tutoring, and (5) creating a “culture of high expectations.”

Two Charters: One OK, the Other Not

Traditional public schools sharing space, when available, with charter schools simply makes economic sense. For the New York City teachers’ union, however, that only applies if the charter school is unionized. Find out more about the "blatant hypocrisy."

Eva Moskowitz put New York City’s teachers union in its place this week.

The founder of numerous successful charter schools in the city called out the United Federation of Teachers on the blatant hypocrisy of the union’s opposition to traditional public schools collocating with charter schools.

Moskowitz cites a recent UFT article online that contends Moskowitz’s Success Academy is limiting the growth of Public School 241 in Harlem by sharing the building with the school.

“Nonsense,” Moskowitz wrote. “PS 241 has 113 students – averaging just 19 per grade. Its building was built to serve 1,136 students. It has 61.5 classrooms, almost one per every two PS 241 students.

“With collocation, PS 241 has been allocated 13 rooms. That means it has nine students per room on average. PS 241 could grow by a third and easily fit within its current room allocation. However, just the opposite has been happening.

“PS 241 has shrunk in recent years from 952 students to 113. That is not because of space but because parents have many educational options in Harlem these days, including many charter schools.”

If the misleading UFT story wasn’t bad enough, Moskowitz points out that there are actually two charter schools that operate out of the same building as Harlem’s PS 241, but only the Success Academy is the target of union attacks.

There’s a good reason why, and it says a lot about the UFT’s true priorities.

“Curiously, the UFT article doesn’t mention the other charter school sharing space with PS 241: Opportunity Charter School. Why? After all, if both schools take PS 241’s space, why is only one wrong for doing so? The answer: Opportunity’s teachers are UFT members.

“In fact, the UFT never objects to space-sharing by schools, whether charter or district, whose teachers are unionized. The UFT itself even runs two charter schools that share public school space. Talk about hypocrisy.”

Moskowitz explains that the UFT is lobbying to give parents whose children attend traditional public schools the right to refuse to share space with charter schools. It’s a political ploy that would allow the UFT to exploit teachers’ intimate connection with students and their parents to limit competition from non-union schools.

The union is already taking advantage of that relationship, Moskowitz said, citing a middle school teacher who “assigned all of her middle school students to write an essay about how they could protest Success Academy’s collocation with their school.”

All of the dirty union tricks point to one clear but troubling conclusion.

“Obviously, the UFT’s opposition isn’t about the needs of students,” Moskowitz wrote in the Daily News. “They just don’t want there to be schools whose teachers choose not to be unionized, since that model threatens the UFT’s flow of union dues.

“The UFT wants to use public school buildings, built at taxpayer expense, to advance its own interests.”

Broadband in America: Alternatives to GONs Needed

Widespread broadband access is a noble goal. The question comes down to how expansion of current networks takes place. The Coalition for the New Economy wants to make sure such investments are both effective and efficient.

Read its latest study, released earlier this week. The group’s press release is below:

The Coalition for the New Economy today (Monday) released a study by Dr. Joseph P. Fuhr, Professor of Economics at Widener University in Chester, PA. The study outlines the complex and problematic history of government-owned broadband networks (GONs) and looks for alternatives for achieving universal broadband access.

“Policymakers around the country are hurriedly trying to find ways to extend high-speed broadband access to all Americans,” said Fuhr, “This is a noble goal, but in their haste some local lawmakers have made bad business decisions, opting to build public networks that often leave taxpayers deep in the red.”

The report cites several case studies that show GONs:

  • Do not meet their stated goal of universal service;

  • Fail financially because they lack clear, sustainable business plans, based on realistic cost-benefit analyses;

  • Are often duplicative;

  • Create an unfair playing field between the public and private sector; and

  • Are so costly they crowd out spending on other essential social services, including law enforcement, healthcare and education, as well as stifling innovation.

Fuhr says, “At a time of declining local revenues and rising budget deficits, taxpayers have the right to scrutinize how their local leaders are spending precious tax dollars. They deserve to know GONs are simply not the best, fairest or most cost-efficient way to achieve universal broadband access.”

In his study, Fuhr outlines a more effective way to extend broadband access, advising municipalities to explore public-private solutions. “For example, reducing the tax and regulatory burden on private telecommunications firms could be enough to compel these companies to invest in, and bring jobs to, underserved areas,” Fuhr says.

The Coalition for the New Economy (CNE), which commissioned Fuhr’s study, is dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to innovative technologies and that policies are fair, fiscally responsible and will allow for increased access and adoption.

New Site, Partnership Provides Higher Education Info

The Indiana Chamber is partnering with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the governor’s office on a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education to enhance the performance of the state’s public colleges and universities. A recent productivity report, video success story in Richmond and much more can be found at the Achieve Indiana website.

New Wisconsin Governor to Follow IEDC Model

A state wants to do away with its Department of Commerce and replace it with a public-private partnership. It wants the focus to be job creation. Citing Indiana as an example for its move six years ago, that is the current game plan from incoming Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Gov.-elect Scott Walker wants to eliminate the state Department of Commerce and replace it with a public-private entity focused solely on job creation.

Walker said he still wants the state to play "a direct role, a supporting role" in economic development, "but not necessarily doing that all through a state agency."

It’s not yet clear how the new partnership would operate, who would run it, or whether it would be subject to the state’s open meetings and records laws.

Walker mentioned the plan at a gathering of business leaders and interest groups at the Madison Club to promote a new report, "Be Bold — The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy."

The report offers similar suggestions for replacing the Commerce Department, saying the agency is responsible for many duties that have "little to do with job creation, which should rank as its top priority." It pointed to other areas, like natural resources and the public university system, where the state has governor-appointed boards.

It suggested creating an independent board to oversee the state’s job creation strategies and putting a variety of "private sector job creators" on that board, as well as the university system president, technical college system president, a union leader and a labor economist. It also recommended that the board be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, and be given oversight of the economic development bond fund and the power to review regulations affecting businesses.

Walker applauded the plan, but said he may go beyond some of its suggestions.

"It certainly is bold. And we want to be bold. In fact, we’ve told them repeatedly I want to be even bolder," Walker said. "And so, we may take this plan and build off it and be even more aggressive than what they’re presenting."


Colleges Look to Cut Costs

Taking a close look at expenditures is something Indiana’s colleges and universities have been concentrating on in recent years. In Missouri, efforts are focusing on elimination of rarely used degree programs and increased collaboration between various academic institutions. Stateline reports:

Last August in Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon told state universities to look at making some hard choices they’re not accustomed to having to make. Nixon, a Democrat, wants to eliminate “low-producing” academic programs in order to save money. To that end, he asked universities to review any program that fails to award an average of ten bachelor’s degrees, five master’s degrees or three doctorates per year.

The results of this review aren’t due on the governor’s desk until February, but preliminary results offer an interesting look at what may lie ahead. Institutions have volunteered to terminate 61 of the 353 programs that fell below the threshold, including programs in French, engineering physics, public administration, antiquities, sociology and recreation. More courses are expected to be on the chopping block as the schools conduct follow-up and explore opportunities to consolidate or share programs. Instead of all of the state’s institutions of higher learning trying “to be everything to everybody,” Nixon says, “we have to take a good hard look at what we do well.”

This review is only the beginning of a major efficiency initiative that Nixon is pushing across Missouri’s 13 four-year universities and 21 two-year colleges. So far, these institutions have been spared the worst of the state’s budget crisis, thanks to an agreement they made with the governor two years ago to freeze tuition rates. Now, with that agreement set to expire soon — and Missouri facing a budget deficit of up to $700 million next year — higher ed is bracing for a funding reduction of as much as 20 percent next year.

While some of that gap may be filled with increases in tuition and fees, there’s a growing sense, both in Missouri and across the country, that state colleges and universities can’t go on simply charging students more. Increasingly, school leaders acknowledge that they need to cut their underlying cost structures, and that saving money on classroom instruction has to be part of the mix. As David Russell, Missouri’s commissioner of higher education, puts it, “The last real area of higher education that’s remained relatively untouched, the academic enterprise, the core of our reason for existence, is in danger of suffering some severe reductions."

The Budget and Education: What You Need to Know

During Monday’s Statehouse debate on the budget, Sen. Connie Sipes (D-New Albany) made an impassioned plea that "money should follow the programs." The former educator added that the "money following the students sounds really good," but it doesn’t work.

Chamber education expert Derek Redelman tackled that issue (funding on a district vs. student perspective) and much more in a recent comprehensive overview of K-12 as it relates to the budget. Read here for a much clearer understanding of these key topics.