Category Archives: Education

Do School Districts Matter?

Source: Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael R. Gallaher, Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, March 2013

From the summary:
School districts occupy center stage in education reform in the U.S. They manage nearly all public funding and are frequently the locus of federal and state reform initiatives, e.g., instituting meaningful teacher evaluation systems. The most charismatic leaders over the last decade, people such as Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, have received considerable national media attention. Financial compensation for district leaders is high, with many being paid more than the chief state school officers who oversee the entire systems in which they serve. Some private philanthropies pour money into initiatives to improve district performance. Others invest in ways that suggest that they too think districts are important but as impediments to rather than instruments of reform.

Despite the centrality of school districts in all the ways described, we know very little from existing research about how important they are to student achievement relative to other institutional components for delivering education services, including teachers and schools. Neither do we have information on the size of the differences in effectiveness among districts or whether there are districts that show exceptional patterns of performance across time, e.g., moving from low to high performing.

We begin to fill these information gaps in the present report by analyzing 10 years of data involving all public school students and school districts in Florida and North Carolina. We find that school districts account for only a small portion (1% to 2%) of the total variation in student achievement relative to the contribution of schools, teachers, demographic characteristics of students, and remaining individual differences among students. Within just the institutional components affecting student achievement, the effect of schools is about twice that of districts whereas the effect of teachers is about seven times larger than that of districts….

…These findings provide an empirical justification for efforts to improve student achievement through district-level reforms and should be a tantalizing fruit for those who want to better understand why some districts are better than others and translate that knowledge into action.
See also:
Technical Paper

Improving Postsecondary Education Through the Budget Process: Challenges & Opportunities

Source: National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Spring 2013

From the abstract:
The report discusses:
– the challenges associated with the current higher education funding landscape;
– efforts at the state level to fund results/performance, restrict tuition increases, expand access, improve information and increase cost-efficiency; and
– opportunities for state and higher education officials to work together to improve postsecondary education and reduce costs.
See also:
Summary
Press Release

State Expenditure Report (Fiscal 2010-2012 Data)

Source: National Association of State Budget Officers, 2012

From the abstract:
The latest edition of NASBO’s State Expenditure Report finds that the recent improvement in the national economy has not translated to strong growth in total state spending. This is largely due to the fact that state revenues have not increased as fast as Recovery Act funds have declined, leading to a unique situation in which total state expenditure growth has slowed during the same time that the national economy has been improving. Total state expenditures from all fund sources grew 3.8 percent in fiscal 2010, slowed to 2.8 percent in fiscal 2011, and are estimated to have grown only 0.1 percent in fiscal 2012.
See also:
Summary

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools, Part II

Source: Benjamin Scafidi, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, February 28, 2013

From the summary:
America’s K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent, while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent, while administrators and other non-teaching staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

That hiring pattern has persisted in more recent years as well. Between FY 1992 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students nationwide grew 17 percent, while the number of FTE school employees increased 39 percent. Among school personnel, teachers’ staffing numbers rose 32 percent, while administrators and other non-teaching staff experienced growth of 46 percent, 2.3 times greater than the increase in students over that 18-year period; the growth in the number of teachers was almost twice that of students….
Related:
Review of The School Staffing Surge, Part II
Reviewed By Joydeep Roy, Teachers College, Columbia University, March 2013

The School Staffing Surge, Part II is a companion report to a 2012 report called The School Staffing Surge. The earlier report argued that between 1992 and 2009, the number of full-time-equivalent school employees grew 2.3 times faster than the increase in students over the same period. It also claimed that despite these staffing increases, there was no progress on test scores or drop-out reductions. The new report disaggregates the trends in K-12 hiring for individual states and responds to some of the criticisms leveled at the original report. Yet this new report, like the original, fails to acknowledge that achievement scores and dropout rates have steadily improved. What it does instead is present ratios comparing the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff to the number of teachers or students, none of which has been shown to bear any meaningful relationship to student achievement. Neither the old report nor this new one explores the causes and consequences of employment growth. When a snapshot of hiring numbers is not benchmarked against the needs and realities of each state, it cannot illuminate the usefulness or wastefulness of hiring. The new companion report, much like the original one, is devoid of any important policy implications.

Six Simple Steps: Reforming the Illinois State Universities Retirement System

Source: Jeffrey Brown, Steven Cunningham, Avijit Ghosh, David Merriman, Scott Weisbenner, Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, March 12, 2013

From the summary:
As Illinois’ public-employee pension liability soars toward $100 billion, a group of scholars has developed a six-step proposal to stabilize pensions for employees of the state’s public colleges and universities. The experts, from the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University, said the six steps can help the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) achieve financial stability while ensuring retirement security and honoring the constitutional guarantee against reducing employees’ already earned benefits….

…The six steps are divided into three broader categories – reducing the normal cost and liabilities of the current defined benefit plan; how SURS pensions should be funded going forward; and reforming the so-called “Tier II” program instituted for employees hired after January 1, 2011.

The individual steps are outlined in detail in the paper, which is part of IGPA’s ongoing contribution to the dialogue on pension reform in Illinois. Generally, they would do the following:
– change the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA),
– change the value of the Effective Rate of Interest to eliminate what the authors say is a “hidden subsidy,”
– shift contributions to colleges and universities,
– increase employee contributions by an additional 2 percent,
– require the state to amortize the current SURS unfunded liability, and
– provide a new “hybrid” defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new employees.

State’s community colleges spend millions on duplicative administrators

Source: Erica Perez and Agustin Armendariz, California Watch, March 18, 2013

The state’s 72 community college districts spend tens of millions of dollars on administrative positions that could be consolidated or shared by districts a short drive away, a California Watch analysis has found…. In the wake of huge budget shortfalls, California’s vast community college system has reduced its core academic functions – slashing millions of dollars by eliminating nearly a quarter of class sections, cutting services and laying off employees. At the start of the fall 2012 semester, more than 470,000 students had been waitlisted for classes at community colleges statewide. But millions of dollars still are spent on duplicative administrative costs. More than half of the state’s community college districts are within 20 miles of another district. And the vast majority of those districts have a single college. If these districts shared administrators, they potentially could shave millions off their expenses….
See also:
Infographic

In Wisconsin, When Bargaining Is Illegal, We Bargain ‘Informally’

Source: Dawn Tefft, Labor Notes, March 20, 2013

…Many state employee locals in Wisconsin have chosen not to bother with recertification. Locals in the American Federation of Teachers are adopting informal bargaining tactics for items that are off the table.

Employers agree to informal “consent bargaining” outside of contracts—through verbal agreements, memorandums of understanding, or changes in policy—when faced with strong locals. In Wisconsin, where dues check-off and even “fair share” are prohibited, strong locals are those that understand organizing at the grassroots level….

School Nurse Shortage Update

Source: Jolynn Tumolo, Advance, March 20, 2013

The majority of school districts in the U.S. fail to meet recommended nurse-to-student ratios despite growing number of children needing complex care. …

…A report in the Twin Falls Times-News revealed that the number of full-time school nurse positions in Idaho from the years 2000-2008 grew from 93 to 121, with the most recent data suggesting somewhere around 136 full- and part-time positions.

But despite the increase, the state rates among the worst on the NASN student-to-school nurse ratio list. With a ratio of 1,881-to-1, it ranks 41st and falls far short of the recommended one nurse to every 750 well students recommended by NASN and Healthy People 2010. The article mentioned two part-time nurses at one school district who juggle the responsibility for 13 schools.

Meanwhile, an article on Northeast Florida’s www.firstcoastnews.com questioned the absence of nurses in many schools there. In Jacksonville, nurses at the Duval County Public School system each rotate among eight or nine assigned schools. When a nurse is not on-site, children receive care from administrative staff who have been trained by school nurses….

…When questioned about a lack of school nurses, most districts blame lack of funding, which differs from state to state and could explain ratios that range drastically from first-place Vermont’s 1-to-396 to worst-case Michigan’s 1-to-4,411. …

Doing the Math: The Cost of Publicly Funded ‘Universal’ Pre-K

Source: Alex Holt, New America Foundation, Education Policy Program, March 14, 2013

During the media frenzy that followed President Obama’s unprecedented call for expanding pre-K to all four-year-olds in the United States, we estimated that the additional cost to states and the federal government, combined, to be somewhere between $10-15 billion per year. We estimate that the feds and the states currently spend about $9 billion on pre-K for four-year-olds. We wanted to explain exactly how we came to that conclusion…

2013 Infrastructure Report Card

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers, March 2013

From the summary:
…Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (Report Card). Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns the grades according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.

Now the 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year….