Bush on the Road in AR, MD, and WV*

President Bush is on the road discussing education this week. Today he was in Arkansas, tomorrow in Maryland, and Thursday in West Virginia.

As President Bush tries to regain traction on education consider this: Perhaps the paradox of No Child Left Behind is that it took a Republican president to get it passed but will take a Democratic one to make it work. That’s because only a Republican in the White House could overcome the maniacal opposition among conservatives in Congress to almost anything federal in education. But, because — rightly or wrongly — there is so much (again in some cases maniacal) distrust of President Bush’s intentions on education he will be unable to solidify support for the law. Interestingly, bipartisan continuity on reform is key to state school improvement efforts in places like…Texas.

*One of these is not like the others…MD! It’s not a swing state! Apparently eligibility for this education tour was closeness of the 2000 vote or closeness to the White House…

Eduwonk’s Thumbnail Guide to IDEA

Looks like the Senate will finally begin debating reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) this week. IDEA sounds obscure but actually governs most special education policy and on a day-to-day basis and is probably the most visible federal regulatory presence in elementary and secondary schools. Although the House and Senate bills have plenty to recommend them, disability advocates are strongly opposed to provisions in both — particularly those that would streamline paperwork and due process aspects of the current law.

The Senate bill will be considered under a time agreement limiting debate and allowing only six amendments. They include amendments about attorney’s fees, transient students, research into the causes of some disabilities, a 10-state pilot program for more flexibility under IDEA, as well as two funding amendments.

The major disagreement will be, not surprisingly, about funding. There is general agreement that IDEA is under-funded but no consensus about how to increase funding. Careful readers will note that the best way to increase funding is to spend more money! Yes! But the disagreement is whether additional IDEA funding should be “discretionary” or subject to the annual congressional appropriations process or “mandatory” meaning automatic. Medicare and Social Security are examples of mandatory programs while most social spending including education is discretionary. Senator Gregg (R-NH) will offer an amendment about discretionary funding and Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Hegel (R-NB) will offer one to make IDEA funding mandatory. Here is more on the politics of IDEA funding.

The Republican-controlled House is opposed to mandatory funding for IDEA along with most Senate Republicans. An amendment to make IDEA spending mandatory will likely pass the Senate with almost every Democrat supporting it and probably a handful of Republican senators in favor too (you can be sure the White House and The Wall Street Journal editorial page will be watching Specter!).

Differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee. Smart money in both parties say that most likely mandatory spending will be removed in favor of a discretionary spending increase or the bill will just die in conference this year (not a lot is getting done these days anyway). That seems like a safe bet (the Senate has passed mandatory spending proposals for IDEA before and they’ve met this fate) but an unfortunate one if the good policy ideas in both the House and Senate bills get lost too.

Afterthought: The wild card to watch is the election. If it stays close then the President — who currently opposes mandatory IDEA funding — might decide that a big spending education bill would be advantageous. But he would not do a 180 and adopt the other party’s policy on the eve of an election, would he? Remember homeland security?

Or, more likely, to move the bill out of conference President Bush could also just support throwing a lot of money at IDEA during the appropriations process. After all the distinction among mandatory and discretionary is a Washington issue, it doesn’t drive voters to the polls.

The New York Post Says No to a UFT Charter School In New York

The other day Eduwonk praised the UFT in New York for considering opening a charter school. The New York Post vehemently disagrees. They argue that –at best– the school would be a Potemkin village and at worst would be inappropriately construed by the media as validating current teacher contracts in New York (which most observers agree hamper educational improvement efforts).

The Post has a point. There are far too many Potemkin villages scattered around American education that reporters and other interested parties are helpfully steered to when they want to learn more about a particular issue. And, in this business, too often the plural of anecdote becomes data so perceptions are shaped by outliers rather than the aggregate picture. And, the Post is right that the UFT has an obvious agenda here, namely showing that the teacher contract is not a problem.

But…so what? A big part of charter schooling is creating room for various publicly accountable innovations that parents are free to choose or reject. If the UFT can create a good charter school, all the better. If they cannot, well, then that is pretty telling too. And if the media cannot be trusted to sift through self-serving press releases and tell the story accurately and fairly then that is not an indictment of the UFT but rather of the Post and its colleagues.

The current teachers’ union approach to charter schools is not tenable and threatens to further erode support for public education. Intellectuals inside the unions recognize this. Yet change won’t come overnight and charter supporters should not be so ideologically rigid as to reject any progress, however slow and incremental, because it is not wholesale change. Doing so will only make change that much slower.

Bay State Charters…And movement on pay in NYC

New charter school data from Massachusetts shows that six in ten urban charter schools there outpaced comparable schools in their communities. Results statewide were more mixed. Again this looks like an issue of authorizing and quality rather than a blight on the charter idea itself. As Checker Finn told the Globe,

“To hang a sign of ‘charter’ out is a guarantee of nothing in particular when it comes to educational performance”

That’s about right. The charter community has to be as relentless about quality as about supporting charter schools.

UFT president Randi Weingarten has proposed a step toward differential pay in Gotham. She wants across the board raises for all teachers but also extra differentials for teachers working in the 200 lowest performing schools in the city. Amazingly, such common sense differential pay schemes are still derided as plots to undermine teachers’ unions in many circles. Though there is still more rhetoric than action in terms of modernizing how teachers are paid, there are hopeful signs of progress.

Afterthought: Yes, you read this item right, salaries that are responsive to market conditions are still considered a radical idea in education. It’s just too early in the week to be cynical about it!

Sunday Reading

In The New York Times Diana Jean Schemo takes a long look at the Denver pay-for-performance experiment that is well worth reading (she also notes that Senator Kerry has now proposed national funds to support similar innovations elsewhere so there are national implications). The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman looks at Virginia’s new graduation requirements which have real consequences for students this year. Both are important changes worth watching but considering them together, figuring out how to increase accountability for adults working in schools does seem every bit — if not more — important than accountability for the students. Eduwonk’s not sure that individual pay-for-performance is the way to go, but it’s sure worth innovating to find out.

Not just a job…Broad Urban Superintendents Academy Seeks Applications and Nominations

The Broad Urban Superintendents Academy, a rigorous, ten-month executive management program for aspiring school system leaders, seeks high-achieving and dynamic executives from the corporate, nonprofit, government, military and education sectors who want to help improve urban education by serving as the chief executive officer in a large urban school system. Application deadlines are August 16th and September 13th 2004. Click here to submit a nomination or to download an application.

Chicago Story

Education writer Alexander Russo just started a weekly email blast about goings on in education policy. It’s got a Chicago focus because, well, that’s where he lives. But it’s a quick concise way to catch up on anything you may have missed. If you want in on it email him at AlexanderRusso@aol.com.

No Child Left Behind and the 2004 Election

This article in Blueprint explains why No Child Left Behind (NCLB) matters and why the left and center-left must make sure that it works. It also explains how President Bush failed to follow through on the law and the key implementation mistakes the Administration has made. However, the article also makes clear that large general interest reforms like NCLB are always a political and policy challenge.

Politically, as the article shows, in the presidential race education is a values issue rather than one that turns on specific policies. The particulars of the debate will matter much more to policy types than to average voters. Yet the overall contours of this debate will play a real role in the general perceptions voters have of the two candidates.

Good News-Bad News from NY…And a great point from MA

The emerging charter district plan in Buffalo is on shaky ground. Four newly elected school board members are opposed to charter schools leaving only a slim majority in favor. The Buffalo Teachers Federation heavily backed the four in an effort to undo the initiative.

Meanwhile in New York City the United Federation of Teachers is exploring the possibility of opening its own charter school, which is, needless to say, a great idea. In the New York Post, New York Charter Schools Association executive director Bill Phillips applauds the potential UFT move and makes the case for raising New York’s current cap on public charter schools.

Bonus charter school content! Adrian Walker makes the case for public charter schools in the Boston Globe. Discussing the proposed moratorium on charters in Massachusetts (which the governor has said he will veto) Walker writes:

It is not coincidental that much of the support for the moratorium comes from suburban lawmakers, many of whose constituents regard charter schools as a frill. Meanwhile, among city parents and low-income parents, they only seem to become more popular.

By golly he’s onto something…perhaps this is why self proclaimed “progressives” too often end up sounding like reactionaries.