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.

Kerry On

If you want to read the newspaper stories about Kerry’s teacher quality proposals (and you should!) we’d recommend you read them in this order: Ron Brownstein and Maria L. LaGanga in the Los Angeles Times, then The New York Times, and finally The Washington Post only if you’re curious about how a major paper misses a big story. The first two stories — particularly Brownstein-LaGanga which is a must read — lay out both the policy importance and the significance of Kerry’s policy announcements yesterday.

If you’re too busy to read, here’s the gist: Kerry’s teacher plan is gutsy, full of important policy ideas, and easily the most interesting education proposal so far during the 2004 campaign. It includes proposals for differential pay, performance-based pay, mentoring for new teachers, more attention to low-performing schools, higher standards for new teachers, more accountability for schools of education, and faster dismissal for low-performing teachers. It sets a high bar for President Bush and hopefully portends an interesting debate to come. Although, if their reaction to the proposal today is any indication, this one may have caught the Bush-Cheney team flat-footed.

Addressing the teacher quality challenge is a big part of making No Child Left Behind work and Kerry’s opening bid about how to do so is a strong one. But you should still read the Brownstein article anyway, it’s that good. Must be that late LA deadline!

Afterthought: Maybe it’s not the deadline….in addition to being a great political reporter, Brownstein really understands the education stories. Richard Colvin must be smiling!

Bonus Afterthought: Kerry offers incentives to help get National Board Certified teachers to teach in hard-to-serve schools. It’s a good and long overdue idea.

Read Eduwonk, Get a Job

The Joyce Foundation, Education Trust, and SEED School all have interesting education policy jobs open though the Joyce one is pretty senior. Please do not email Eduwonk about these. You can find all of these organizations on the web or linked on the left and Eduwonk assures you that if you can’t locate them and learn more yourself, you won’t make it long at any of them anyway…

Voucher Rhetoric Meets Voucher Reality

Today’s Washington Post writes up what has been a simmering backroom dispute for months. Washington’s new federally funded voucher program is causing heartburn for the city’s Catholic schools because it does not provide sufficient funding to cover their costs. The reason is that the voucher program provides parents grants only for tuition. But in Catholic schools tuition is lower than total costs. The Archdiocese of Washington subsidizes tuition as archdioceses in other cities do as well.

Although Eduwonk is skeptical of the whole program (click here to learn why) the Catholic schools do have a valid point here. But — and this is the important backstory here — these issues were raised while the program was being designed. But Republican congressional staffers and the Bush Administration were so wed to the myth and rhetoric that Catholic schools only cost a few thousand a year per student that they ignored the problem. It’s the same blind adherence to ideology over deliberate policymaking that causes even reasonable observers to question the efficacy of the whole enterprise.

Getting Teachers into Hard-to-Serve Schools…And Truly Worthless Education Degrees

Virginia Governor Mark Warner wants to try to entice more high quality teachers into the state’s most challenging schools.

Senator Kerry will make a major policy announcement on the same subject later today as well as unveil other aspects of a new teacher quality agenda. Eduwonk has taken a look, among other proposals there is good stuff on differential pay, holding schools of education accountable, more mentoring for new teachers, quicker dismissal for low-performing teachers, and better tests for new teachers. Again, Kerry has decided to focus on issues that are (a) politically smart because they avoid the spending versus accountability phony war (b) good strategies to make No Child Left Behind work better and (c) real problems! Good choice!

The AP reports on the rise in online diploma mills that some teachers have used to garner pay increases or try to meet the teacher quality requirements of No Child Left Behind (which makes the outrageous demand that teachers have demonstrated knowledge of the subject they teach). No doubt this too will somehow get blamed on No Child!

Update: Here are Kerry’s teacher quality proposals.

More Grad Rates! Why Kerry’s Graduation Rate Plan Matters

If Eduwonk’s email is any indication, there is some head scratching about Senator John Kerry’s proposals to increase graduation rates. It’s good politics but just what is so noteworthy? After all, isn’t pretty much everyone for higher graduation rates? Sure, but Kerry’s policy is a good one, here’s why:

Most Americans probably don’t realize we have such a substantial dropout problem. After all, the majority of states report dropout rates between four and seven percent, which, while not perfect, does not seem too bad. But these figures only represent the percent of high schoolers dropping out in a given year. And, just like a monthly interest rate on a credit card that looks like a good deal but actually translates into an exorbitantly high APR, over the course of three or four years a four to seven percent dropout rate translates into a lot of kids falling through the cracks.

The Urban Institute and Manhattan Institute calculate more accurate graduation rates by comparing the number of students who enroll in ninth grade to the number graduating four years later. These studies find that about one-third of high school students nationally don’t graduate, and barely half of African American and Hispanic students graduate in four years. That is a real problem seeing that a high school degree is the absolute minimal credential for any opportunity in today’s economy.

The No Child Left Behind Act holds schools and states accountable for graduation rates to avoid creating an incentive to “push out” struggling students to raise test scores. Members of Congress were aware of the reporting problems and included language in the law encouraging states to calculate rates using the Urban/Manhattan method. But the Bush Administration issued ambiguous regulations and allowed states to adopt much looser graduation rates definitions for NCLB. So, the underreporting and obfuscation continues. Kerry proposes to deal with this and enforce the intent of the law. Wonky stuff, but important.

Afterthought: Say what you will about NCLB, if disputes over data collection garner this sort of attention then that’s a pretty good indication the law is focusing more attention on low-income and minority kids. That’s a good thing, right?

Coming Attractions

Two events worth checking out coming up in Washington, D.C. next week. On Tuesday May 11, Common Good is sponsoring a forum on law in public schools. You can find out more about what promises to be a very interesting and lively discussion here. On Thursday May 13, Mass Insight Education and Research Institute and Partnership for Learning are sponsoring a forum on public opinion about standards and accountability in Massachusetts and Washington. The state superintendents from both states will speak along with national experts. Good data about what’s happening in two states that have been at this for a while. If you want more info on that one email

Erin Angell at

Campaign 2004: Graduation Rates

Yesterday, Senator John Kerry announced a new plank of his education agenda, focusing on reducing high school drop out rates and increasing high school graduates by 1 million over the next five years. Here’s what the New York Times and LA Times have to say about it. Tomorrow, Kerry is expected to further flesh out his education agenda with proposals for teachers.

Focusing on the dropout issue is a smart strategy for Kerry. First, it’s a real problem. Dropout rates are generally substantially underreported. According to the Urban Institute, only about half of black and Hispanic students graduate from high school and only 75 percent of whites. Second, it’s an issue where President Bush has been asleep at the switch — No Child Left Behind included provisions to ensure better reporting of drop out rates but the Bush Administration has not followed through on them. Finally, it allows Kerry to talk about progressive ideas like smaller high schools and mentoring for disadvantaged middle school students while linking these issues to outputs and accountability. That keeps Kerry out of the “accountability versus spending” phony war the Bush Administration wants while allowing him to advance a progressive agenda.

Gathering of the Tribe

New Schools Venture Fund is a philanthropic venture capital fund that invests in promising and scalable education ideas. Like a traditional VC fund it seeks out good ideas and helps nurture them to fruition. But unlike a traditional VC fund, New Schools is not-for-profit. New Schools invests in ideas like Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools,, Teachscape, Success for All, Green Dot Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, and Civic Builders.

The venture capitalist John Doerr started New Schools. Doerr, a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, is a Silicon Valley legend because of his ability to see around corners and over the horizon before others do and for his genuine ability to think outside of defined boundaries. Now he’s applying those skills to the education sector and his strategy is paying social dividends. New School’s co-founder and CEO Kim Smith, who was recently recognized by Newsweek as the sort of young leader who will shape society in years to come, is also a remarkable change agent and has built New Schools into an impressive and progressive presence in education.

Each year New Schools convenes a summit bringing together the social entrepreneurs they support, foundations and philanthropic interests, and key actors in the education. It’s always a great chance to reconnect with fascinating change-oriented people and gifted educators, to recharge, and to learn something new. It starts today in Palo Alto.

Chartering a New Course in CO?

The Colorado legislature passed a new charter bill today that will improve charter schooling there. Here’s why you should care:

Hardcore Eduwonkers: because this bill is a promising way to allow for multiple authorizers of charter schools while still ensuring public accountability. Softcore Eduwonkers: because to get the bill passed, its sponsor, Denver state representative Terrance Carroll, had to take on many in his own party and the state teachers’ union. It’s a great political story.

The new bill — which was sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff in the Colorado Senate — establishes a nine member state board to grant charters in communities where school districts are uninterested or unwilling to. The bill is specifically aimed at increasing public school choice options for disadvantaged students. In almost every state with charter schools the majority of charters are found in low-income communities. However, in Colorado about one-third of the state’s charter schools are in the suburbs.

What’s amazing though is that in Colorado, where a voucher program was passed last year, there is still so much political resistance to public charter schools. Choice is coming to education just like it has come to most walks of American life. The question is whether progressives will steer its energy toward progressive ends like public charter schools serving disadvantaged students or marginalize themselves by taking a reactionary posture.

We know Carroll’s answer, and it’s the right one.