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Colleges cut instruction spending

Posted by gradefund on January 22, 2009

Colleges cut instruction spending

By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-01-14-college-spending_N.htm

Most of the nation’s colleges are gradually paring back their investments in classroom teaching, an analysis of federal data shows. And all colleges have in recent years been spending a greater share of their revenue on expenses other than instruction, including computing centers, student services, administrative salaries and lawn care.

Those are among findings of a report released today that sheds light on where various types of colleges and universities get their money and how they spend it. While instruction remains the largest share of education and general spending at most colleges, much of the revenue raised by increasing tuition is not going to that core function of higher education, it concludes.

With one notable exception, “Students are paying for more and arguably getting less, particularly in the classroom,” says Jane Wellman, director of the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit that released the report. It is based on federally reported data from 2002 to 2006 of nearly 2,000 public and private institutions that enroll about 75% of all college students.

The exception is private research universities, which spend more per student than any other sector, but which enroll fewer students overall than most other institutions.

The report found that total spending on education and related services, including academic and administrative support, remained flat or declined between 2002 and 2006 everywhere but at those institutions, which can draw from more sources, including endowment income.

That could change as more private research universities, including Cornell, Harvard and Yale, see precipitous drops in their endowments.

At public colleges and universities, much of the decline in instruction spending — which is primarily faculty salaries and benefits — can be linked to a decline in state appropriations.

“I don’t think institutions have decided to disinvest in instruction,” Wellman says, but their spending patterns do show “a lack of a strategic approach.”

“The quickest place to cut costs is in instructional programs. When the primary focus is on balancing the budget from year to year, you grab what you can and spend where you must,” Wellman says.

Existing data can’t speak to the quality of education, nor is it detailed enough to determine whether specific spending is justified. A key goal of the report is to encourage institutions and policymakers to be more transparent about their finances.

“Policymakers and the public are showing increasing skepticism about spending in higher education, questioning whether tuition increases are helping to expand access and improve quality,” it says. “The data in this report show that this is a valid question.”

Other findings:

•More students, particularly low-income and minority students, are attending the colleges and universities with the least to invest in students. “Basically what we’re asking is (for) a set of folks who don’t have resources to pay more, even as we disinvest in their instruction,” says Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a non-profit that works to increase access to college.

•If tuition increases were tied to increased spending on education-related expenses, tuition at most public institutions would have dropped between 2002 and 2006. At public research universities, about 8% of tuition increases can be linked to increased spending on education-related expenses.

•At some point between 2002 and 2004, most private four-colleges began spending a larger share of their budget on administrative and academic support than on instruction. The exception: private research universities.

Posted in Economy and School, EducationalSpending, School Reform | Leave a Comment »

Stimulus gives schools $142B — with strings

Posted by gradefund on January 22, 2009

Stimulus gives schools $142B — with strings

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-01-19-school-stimulus_N.htm

The USA’s public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress’ $825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly $142 billion over the next two years — more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects — and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs.

But tucked into the text of the proposal’s 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money — and they certainly do — schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates’ long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

• High-quality educational tests.

• Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

• Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.

“The new administration does not want to lose a year on the progress because of the downturn in the economy,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education Committee. “So I think these are all things that are clearly doable.”

Testing, a key part of the No Child law, has gotten short shrift from most states, says Thomas Toch of Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

“Existing state tests are not as good as they could be,” he says. “Putting new money into building stronger state assessments is what’s needed.”

But he and others say a big challenge will be to ensure that states don’t simply cut their own education budgets in anticipation of massive federal increases. “That’s going to be a challenge because the states are all hurting,” Toch says.

The plan also will help schools modernize and fix buildings. Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, an advocacy group, says she’s “pretty excited” about the requirement that states spend a portion of the stimulus cash attracting their best teachers to schools that serve low-income and minority students. “There’s nothing they could do with it that would be more important for high-poverty kids.”

But Charles Barone, a former congressional staffer who helped design the education reform law, says the plan doesn’t go far enough. He predicts states won’t do much to change how they hire teachers — and they’ll still get their money. “All they’re going to have to do is copy and paste what’s in their current plan to get this money,” says Barone, who now consults about education and writes a popular blog.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “It seems to me you’d ask more from states and districts in terms of the kind of changes you’ve been talking about for years.”

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Obama Picks a Moderate on Education

Posted by gradefund on December 26, 2008

Obama Picks a Moderate on Education

The president will ultimately decide whether to take on the teachers’ unions.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123025581101034681.html

Barack Obama picked Arne Duncan only partly for his skills on the basketball court. As secretary of education, he will be running one of the administration’s most important finesse games.

[Commentary] AP

Arne Duncan and Barack Obama in Chicago, Dec. 16.

The CEO of the Chicago public schools and the ultimate diplomat, Mr. Duncan rises to the rim at a moment when teachers unions are, for the first time, facing opposition within the Democratic Party from young idealists who favor education reform. They want to recapture what should always have been a natural issue for Democrats: helping underprivileged kids get out of failing public schools.

Considering the reviews from the right and the left, you might be confused about whether Mr. Duncan is a signal that Mr. Obama’s administration is lining up behind the reformers or supporting the status quo. Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor (and über reformer) Michelle Rhee endorsed the pick, as did President Bush’s Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings.

But Mr. Duncan also has fans among traditional Democrats, whose main interest is keeping the teachers unions happy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the choice, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised that he would enjoy a speedy confirmation.

So what should we make of Mr. Duncan? One promising clue comes from a group called Democrats for Education Reform, part of the growing voice for reform in the party. DFER is known to cheer Democrats brave enough to support charter schools and other methods of extending options to parents. Joe Williams, the group’s executive director, predicted that Mr. Duncan will help break the “ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas.”

In Chicago, Mr. Duncan is credited with laying out plans to close 100 underperforming public schools. Fans also note that he helped raise the cap on charter schools to 30 from 15.

But his record is short of miraculous. Why have a cap on charter schools at all? And the teachers unions extracted plenty of concessions, including a ban on new charters operating multiple campuses.

Mr. Duncan is certainly no bomb thrower. His role instead will be to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of young idealists in the party, like DFER and the tens of thousands of young people who join Teach For America each year. This group, which continues to attract highly skilled young people, is fast creating the new Democratic elite in the education arena while challenging the education establishment.

At forums during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, several big-city mayors lined up with reform principles against union demands. Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., said that “As Democrats we have been wrong on education, and it’s time to get it right.” Washington, D.C.’s Adrian Fenty, a strong backer of Ms. Rhee’s effort to negotiate tough terms with the unions, remarked that the politics of school reform are changing fast.

At one DFER event last year, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. used the word “monopoly” — a major affront to teachers unions — to describe failing schools. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third ranking Democrat in the House, is another important convert to the idea of more parental choice in education.

It’s all a bit delicate, which makes Mr. Duncan Mr. Obama’s man for a good reason. He’s known for a flexibility that allows him to float between the traditional Democratic strongholds and the new wave of reformers in the party. With proper implementation, Mr. Obama could accomplish on education reform what President Bill Clinton did for welfare reform — taking a previously Republican issue and transforming it from within the left.

But unions aren’t about to slink off into the sunset. If they’re losing some of their clout at the national level, they maintain their grip locally. In many places, teachers angle to usurp the language of the reformers while pushing their own agenda. Thus “merit pay” has been twisted into a system that bears little resemblance to the original concept of paying teachers for teaching kids successfully. Instead, it has become pay-for-credential, offering salary bumps for continuing education and other qualifications, with no anchor to proven results in the classroom.

Mr. Duncan is a reformer at heart, if one who works collegially within the system. But in the end, much will depend on his boss. Whether Mr. Obama is an artful fence walker or a real agent of change — on schools or anything else — is a mystery the coming year may finally clear up.

Ms. Levy, based in Washington, is a senior editorial writer at the Journal.

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Lessons From 40 Years of Education ‘Reform’

Posted by gradefund on December 12, 2008

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122809533452168067-lMyQjAxMDI4MjA4MTAwOTE1Wj.html

Lessons From 40 Years of Education ‘Reform’

Let’s abolish local school districts and finally adopt national standards.

While the economic news has most Americans in a state of near depression, hope abounds today that the country may use the current economic crisis as leverage to address some longstanding problems. Nowhere is that prospect for progress more worthy than the crisis in our public education system.

[Commentary] Martin Kozlowski

So, from someone who realized rather glumly last week that he has been working at school reform for 40 years, here is a prescription for leadership from the Obama administration.

We must start with the recognition that, despite decade after decade of reform efforts, our public K-12 schools have not improved. We can point to individual schools and some entire districts that have advanced, but the system as a whole is still failing. High school and college graduation rates, test scores, the number of graduates majoring in science and engineering all are flat or down over the past two decades. Disappointingly, the relative performance of our students has suffered compared to those of other nations. As a former CEO, I am worried about what this will mean for our future workforce.

It is most crucial for our political leaders to ask why we are at this point — why after millions of pages, in thousands of reports, from hundreds of commissions and task forces, financed by billions of dollars, have we failed to achieve any significant progress?

Answering this question correctly is the key to finally remaking our public schools.

This is a complex problem, but countless experiments and analyses have clearly indicated we need to do four straightforward things to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education:

1) Set high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.

2) Greatly improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms, supported by substantially higher compensation for our best teachers.

3) Measure student and teacher performance on a systematic basis, supported by tests and assessments.

4) Increase “time on task” for all students; this means more time in school each day, and a longer school year.

Everything else either does not matter (e.g., smaller class sizes) or is supportive of these four steps (e.g., vastly improve schools of education).

Lack of effort is not the cause of our 30-year inability to solve our education problem. Not only have we had all those thousands of studies and task forces, but we have seen many courageous and talented individuals pushing hard to move the system. Leaders such as Joel Klein (New York City), Michelle Rhee (Washington, D.C.) and Paul Vallas (New Orleans) have challenged the system, and elected officials from both sides of the political spectrum have also fought valiantly for change.

So where does that leave us? If the problem isn’t “what to do,” nor is it a failure of commitment, what is stopping us?

I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.

Therefore, I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation’s governors and seek agreement to the following:

Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.

Establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum. I would suggest we start with four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.

Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.

Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000 per year, and allow school leaders to remove underperforming teachers.

Extend the school day and the school year to effectively add 20 more days of schooling for all K-12 students.

I can predict that three questions will be raised about these measures:

First, how can we set national standards when we have a strong tradition of local school autonomy? The answer is that the American people are way ahead of our politicians here: Poll after poll shows they support national standards.

Second, won’t this take many years to implement? No, if we follow a focused, pragmatic approach. While ideally we want all 50 states to participate, we can get started with 30. The rest will be driven to abandon their “see no evil” blinders by their citizens as the original group achieves momentum and success. Moreover, we do not have to start from scratch on the national standards. Experts can quickly develop an initial set just by drawing on existing domestic and foreign programs.

Third, how do we pay for all of this? In three ways: We will save billions by consolidating the operations of 15,000 school districts. The U.S. Department of Education can direct all of its discretionary funds to this effort. And we need to drive into the consciousness of every American politician that education is not an expense. It is, rather, the most important investment we can make as a country.

H.G. Wells remarked that “history is a race between education and catastrophe.” For the first time in America’s history, we may be losing that race. We can win, but we have to act quickly and decisively.

Mr. Gerstner, a former CEO of IBM, was chairman of the Teaching Commission (2003-2006), which reported on ways to improve the quality of public school teaching.

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