Thursday, April 27, 2006
BoardBuzz Breathes Easier
Vouchers for religious schools knocked down in ME...cue big celebration from BoardBuzz! Interesting case...but the SCOTUS doesn't seem too keen on taking free exercise cases, doesn't seem like there is much of one here anyway because/and the establishment claim is tough here since the state's rationale seems to align with rather than conflict with Zelman: Public funds to religious schools are constitutional but there is no affirmative obligation to provide them as part of a choice program.
It's A Carnival...
At the Ed Wonks place...
Here is an eduissue to keep an eye on: While the rest of the economy is shifting -- for better or worse -- from defined-benefit retirement plans to defined-contribution ones, education stays mostly wed to traditional pensions. It's not good for teachers because it lessens their mobility and financial control and as some forthcoming research will show, some cities have pension arrangements that are fiscally untenable over time.*
What's worse though is that just as retirement financing is shifting more toward individuals rather than taking the lead and empowering their members some teachers' unions are demonstrably ill-serving them! So reports The Los Angeles Times (via Intercepts) in a must-read story you won't be seeing in NEA Today anytime soon! Apparently, some of the nation's teachers' unions are doing little to protect their members from hucksters offering them shoddy investment advice and in fact even abetting the problem.
The shady dealings will obscure a larger issue. In education, shifting from defined-benefit to defined-contribution plans offers several benefits for teachers. First, it is more empowering for teachers because they have more control over their professional mobility. Traditional pension plans do create disincentives for older teachers to move, in effect reducing the leverage of good teachers if they're seeking to change jobs. There are workarounds here (portability, buy-ins, etc...) but it's not a straightforward matter if a teacher wants or must move out of state. And for younger teachers, particularly those who do not plan to make a 30 year career of teaching, traditional pensions offer them less financially than if they invested their money on their own in tax-deferred accounts. And, in some cases such arrangements would allow them more flexibility with things like IRAs as well than they have now. Finally, 401k style arrangements would also offer another way to offer incentives for teachers who took on special assignments, had scarce skills, or were otherwise exceptional or high performers.
However, today's teachers, especially older teachers, came into education with one understanding of what retirement would entail financially if they upheld their end of the bargain. Consequently, any shift toward more of a 401k approach rather than today's defined benefit plans would have to address substantial transitional issues to ensure that current teachers were treated fairly. And, in some states issues like Social Security eligibility would further complicate any transition. Nonetheless, those are issues that can be addressed equitably in public policy. In the end, a system that empowered teachers more would be for the good and it's a conversation worth having. In the meantime, don't take the salesman at face value!
*Politically, this could provoke a backlash at some point...seems better for the teachers to strike a good bargain now ensuring a fair transition and then move on to a more contemporaneous retirement arrangement. Public sympathy will wane when no one else has a guaranteed retirement with full health etc...
More Fast Times...
OK, so you were out late partying with One-L and AFTie John (that's a high school yearbook photo of him in the front with his hand raised) and then overslept and missed the Ed Sector - NAS - NEKIA research to practice forum on high schools? It's cool, as they might say, you get a second chance: It's available to watch online (just click the links on the agenda).
I don't usually post insidery items on education journalism because it can only get you in trouble but I'll make an exception here: Miami Herald chief education correspondent Matthew Pinzur has obviously pissed off the powers that be at that paper. Why? Well, because they've made him into their resident edublogger by launching Miami Gradebook, a new education blog. What other possible explanation is there? Just give him a sandwich board and be done with it!
More seriously, it looks like a good blog. Pinzur, who is well worth reading in print, is going to focus on South Florida education but also the national angles, particularly the intersection with state and federal policy and there is plenty happening on both scores now.
In the LA Times Magazine, Douglas McGray puts a human face on the educational component of the immigration debate (pdf).
The gifted folks are giving away their journal, you just have to email them. It's not a scam; they're the gifties not the grifties.
Michele: I just got back from The Netherlands.
John: I'm stoned, hold me.
U.S. Customs should have been more careful with AFTie Michele's luggage. What other possible explanation is there for John's post ostensibly skewering John Stossel by essentially arguing that choice and privatization has nothing to do with education in The Netherlands? I don't carry any brief for Stossel or for privatization, but choice and what some would call "privatization" is pretty prevalent in The Netherlands. In fact, as Anne Bert Dijkstra, Jaap Dronkers, and Sjoerd Karsten report in Educating Citizens, "approximately 70 percent of Dutch parents send their children to schools that, although established by private associations and managed by private school boards, are nonetheless fully funded by the state government." Because of the Dutch constitution religious schools are entitled to equal funding with other schools. In other words, John Stossel might be on firmer ground than AFTie John thinks.
State support for religious schools is pretty common in Europe. Usually, however, it's for one particular religion, generally Catholicism or a Protestant denomination. Because of its history The Netherlands has a posture of neutrality reflected in the constitution and consequently different denominations run public schools including non-European religions such as Hinduism and Islam. That's more unique. There are national examinations though so there are some elements of homogeneity across the schools; it's not a free-for-all in the Friedman sense of things.
That said, the problem with many international comparisons commonly thrown around is that they're reverse engineered: People find a country that does better than the U.S. on some measure and then claim that whatever characteristic they happen to favor must be the cause. So sure, some countries with centralized curriculum do better, but some do worse, too. Likewise for public support for parochial schools, choice, etc…It's a basic correlation-causation issue. Not saying we can't learn from other countries, just that we should be careful of simplistic lessons. This is particularly true if you happen to think there are unique or exceptional things in the American experience that should be reflected in how we order our public schooling.
Update: A sober and straight AFTie John responds (and with an outstanding pop culture reference).
Not content with just harranguing SEED, Washington DC's resident band of educlowns are now after schools superintendent Janey and KIPP reports Dion Haynes in Saturday's Washington Post. At Quick and the Ed Kevin Carey uses the wonders of technology to unpack some of the self-interest for you, but the role of "Save Our Schools" is again worth noting.
At issue is a novel plan where the District of Columbia Public Schools would partner with KIPP and share space in a neighborhood school so that students would move from the traditional public school into KIPP in the 5th-grade. The plan is in part the brainchild of DC Superintendent Janey who apparently understands that with more than 20 percent of DC students now in public charter schools, accommodating parental demand might be a good idea.
Yet along comes "Save Our Schools" again. In case you had any doubt this was all ideological, remember that not too long ago these clowns were attacking public charter schools because they allegedly "skimmed" students, were non-selective, and so forth. But now, say the clowns, the problem with this arrangement is that because KIPP schools, like other public charter schools, are open-admission, some of the students from this elementary school might not find space in KIPP! That's right, the problem isn't that charter admissions are unfair, it's that they're too fair! As Haynes' story points out this is less of a problem than it might appear and the obvious solution is another KIPP school if they're that much in demand by parents.
Of course, if the SOS'ers really gave a damn about open-admission as an issue or principle they'd be protesting DC's wildly popular and successful Banneker High School and Duke Ellington, both of which are public schools that are not open admissions. But this isn't really about that. It's about power and "the system" regardless of the impact on the kids. It's a tragedy that bound by the journalistic convention of "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" WaPo's Haynes can't just call BS when the SOSers say reactionary nonsense like this or just assert that public charter schools in Washington aren't public. And the DCPS school board, some of whom are now fighting this new partnership idea, are again on their way to showing an uncanny ability to shoot the public schools in the foot. That's not just clownish, it's sad.
Disc: I'm a trustee of a public charter school in the District.
I've noticed something, unless I'm traveling I'm usually a few days late to read the Michael Winerip columns that don't hysterically and often misleadingly trash No Child Left Behind and ed reform in general. We can't get the Times delivered where I live so I read online and am not prompted to check out the column by a dozen emails from the anti-NCLB activists furiously emailing it around and hailing, cum canonizing, Winerip as the one reporter who "gets it" about NCLB.
Case in point: I just now got to this terrific column from last week about a child with gay parents and Catholic schools. Another example here. Sure wish the paranoids would email these around!