A blank check to Sacramento would be a Dickens of a bad deal

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Back when I was working in schools in New England, we had snow days. In California, our kids have “budget cut days.” Unlike the snow days, there’s no surprise or joy to them and they never get made up. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. For those kids who need them the most, like the hundreds of thousands of students in our state who are learning English, the learning time is irretrievably lost.

This November, California voters are going to be asked to vote for ballot initiatives to tax themselves and the rich to raise more money for education. In the coming months, the proponents of these initiatives will serenade us with stories of cuts to the school year, increasing class sizes, and disappearing education services while our state’s wealthiest citizens live high on the hog. I can see the commercials already ­– a sad child staring out of the screen, begging voters, “Please sir. Tax the rich so I can have a future.” Based on recent polls, Californians are poised to respond to these messages and pass the initiatives.

Maybe it’s my repeated viewings of A Christmas Carol this past holiday season (or my experience working in districts and Sacramento), but the more I learn about these initiatives, the more I’ve been shouting “Bah, Humbug!” Call me a Scrooge, but for years I’ve been hearing Sacramento insiders complain that the problem with California is that we voted for initiatives that tied their hands. Now, these same folks have decided that the best way to fix everything is to pass another initiative.

Give me a break. I’ve seen the Ghosts of Novembers past, and no matter how many of their initiatives I’ve voted to pass, things haven’t gotten better for the majority of our state’s communities and their kids.

Look at the state of education in California. It’s positively Dickensian. For the most part, the adults who’ve been in the system the longest are doing quite well. Our wealthy districts protect their schools through their foundations, parcel taxes, and excess property taxes. Our poor districts, which have the students with the greatest needs, take the brunt of the budget cuts. Our teachers, especially those who have been in the system the longest, are among the best paid in the nation. Down at the other end of the salary scale, our young teachers get laid off or bumped from school to school no matter how effective they are in the classroom. In some districts, school employees get lifetime health benefits for themselves and their families. Meanwhile the school health clinics that serve our poorest neighborhoods are shuttered and school nursing positions eliminated. Everywhere you look, the social safety net inside and outside our schools has been shredded.

Dickens was a tireless crusader against the stark income inequality of his time. A Christmas Carol is an allegory about the negative impacts of severe income inequity – with Ebenezer Scrooge serving as the original representative of the “1%.” The proponents of upcoming ballot initiatives argue that taxing California’s Scrooges will restore our education system, thereby restoring our best path to income equality. But anyone who’s spent any time at school board meetings knows that the interests of children – especially the children in poverty and their families – are down near the bottom of the list, after the interests of the adult groups who got the board members elected. Give districts more money and sure, they might restore school days, summer school, and intervention programs for our state’s millions of Tiny Tims – but only after they’ve finished satisfying pent-up salary demands, backfilling pension and benefit obligations, increasing their reserves, paying off early retirement incentives, and recalling employees by seniority.

Reforms part of the package

Let me be clear. Given the cuts over the last five years, I strongly believe that we need to pass a ballot initiative to restore school funding. But giving a blank check to a bunch of guys in Sacramento whose first response to any question of policy is “What does CTA think?” and who cut many of the deals that got us into this mess – is not the answer.

If our leaders want taxpayers to pony up, they should commit to major reforms as part of the package. They ought to have an answer to those people who have no problem paying more taxes so our children can have a better life but sure as hell don’t want to pay more taxes so a bunch of well-placed adults can have a better life than they have. They ought to be able to tell us with complete transparency where our money is going and commit to making sure that 100 percent of it flows directly to schools based on the needs of their students. They should promise to stand up to their special-interest backers and pass the reforms necessary to fix our education system and keep our best teachers in the classroom, regardless of seniority – so we know our money isn’t wasted.

The Ghost of Christmas Future told Scrooge that the future wasn’t written yet. He had the opportunity to change it by reforming how he acted in the present. The same holds true for our leaders in Sacramento and for California voters. Otherwise, the future is guaranteed to look a lot like the present.

Arun Ramanathan is executive director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization. He has served as a district administrator, research director, teacher, paraprofessional, and VISTA volunteer in California, New England, and Appalachia. He has a doctorate in educational administration and policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His wife is a teacher and reading specialist and they have a child in preschool and another in a Spanish immersion elementary school in Oakland Unified.

41 Comments

  1. You know, it’s truly amazing that we’ve been cutting school budgets by 5% – 8% every year for the last 5 years, and they haven’t gotten better! What is up with that, anyway?

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  2. School district budgets are public documents. I agree they’re not easy to understand, though in part that is because of the way we the people legally restrict money and hand it out in many tiny buckets each with different rules.
     
    I am genuinely interested in having budgets be more transparent and approachable to anyone with say two hours of time. I would love to see a model – using an actual school district budget – of a document that can create this clarity. With all the energy and rhetoric and even money that is being thrown around about the importance of “transparency,” I am troubled that no one has yet created such a document with these virtues to my knowledge.
     
    I don’t think we can make a useful law if we can’t make that document, no matter how many times we use the word “transparency.”

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  3. I agree with El. First, stop the bleeding. Arun, what do you think districts are going to do with any new money that is so terrible? Hire back teachers who have been fired? Lower class size and reduce teacher loads at high-school? Hire counselors so California doesn’t have the highest counselor/student ratios in the country?
    Second, you weren’t specific about reforms, but I would bet that they aren’t what the top performing countries and jurisdictions have done. Those high-flyers concentrated on building the teaching profession, made teaching and learning the drivers of reform efforts, encouraged the development of school site teams and  continuous improvement, built the infrastructure to support such efforts, and made teaching comprable to other professions such as engineers and doctors. This is what our homegrown high-flyers such as Long Beach, Sanger, and the charter network Aspire have done.
    Finally, I think you misread how the people of California feel about teachers and the profession. You think they are resentful of teachers making a decent living, or heaven forbid having adequate medical care. I thing the average voter does not begrudge teachers being paid wages comparable to other respected professions given the importance of education to the future of the state and the need to attract the best people into teaching.

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  4. Bill, I believe Arun’s primary point is that if new money is sent to Sacramento with no reforms attached, we will simply get more of the same (since the powerful status quo defenders are still as powerful as ever under the Dome) … and that voters implictly understand this, and therefore will not agree to higher taxes to protect the status quo.

    As a representative of teachers, I certainly believe a focus on this profession is of paramount importance to any discussion about public education.  But for the November ballot initiative, if we’re only talking money, then the art and science of teaching will be lost to the focus of bargaining table salaries/benefits and protecting the status quo.

    That’s not a winning electoral strategy in this poor economy.

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  5. @el, I have seen good summary documents presented by district staff in school board meetings, though they are not the whole story and are at times much better than others. In general, LAUSD seems to do a pretty good job with its budget documentation (at least at the high level). While they obviously have a lot of numbers in their budgets, they also put a lot of context, including FAQ sections and other background material in them. For someone with 2 hours to spend, there is a lot to be learned by reading one (many more questions are also evoked though). Here is a recent one just for reference:
    http://notebook.lausd.net/pls/ptl/docs/PAGE/CA_LAUSD/LAUSDNET/OFFICES/CFO_HOME/2011-2012%20SUPERINTENDENT'S%20FINAL%20BUDGET%20062311_REVISED.PDF
    Personally, I might actually approach it a different way. I would put the onus on the state for creating a system that is both mostly automated and transparent. The fact is, we have all our districts generate budgets using SACS info, and that is all published by the state (and/or ed-data). While this is great, can easily become unwieldy. As an example, here is a list of the current resource codes:
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/ac/ac/documents/resourcelist120611.pdf
    But all this budget data is available in raw format, so its possible for anyone to take that and ‘run with it’. The problems then come in two forms: the limitations of the accounting metrics (often comes down to the fact that districts, and their money usages differ), and the sheer number of things that need to be understood (eg see above list of resource codes for example and the questions that might arise for someone seeing those for the first time).
    While its nice that some districts tend to provide explanations, there is no reason that all districts should be duplicating this kind of effort, especially given that virtually every community will have the same questions. To be sure, ed-data does do their part at trying to fill part of that hole–and I think they’d like to do more if they had the resources–but its not really at the level you’re talking about, imho anyway.
    I also dont understand why something like an online checkbook (already SACS classified) could not be automated. I understand that there might be some political barrier there, but in the long run, it might not only save districts money, I think it would also engender confidence, something that might ease efforts to increase revenue, but that might just be my naive optimist coming out..

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  6. I posted a similar comment in today’s other thread, but I think it goes with this story too, which is that I think it’s really important when we’re talking about “reforms” and “no status quo” that people disengage themselves from the particular local fight they may have or particular local issues and step back to look at districts across the entire state.
     
    There are districts who were doing well by their students (at least before all the budget slashing), who apparently do know how to allocate their resources, when they have them, to benefit students. Districts did not make the same choices, due to differences in local circumstances. LAUSD has its own specific issues that are not necessarily shared by districts covering several hundred students instead of hundreds of thousands.
     
    Districts did not make the same cuts. In some places, staff gave back significantly on salary and benefits to preserve positions and more class time. In some places, schools have cut administrators past what is sustainable or eaten their maintenance reserves to keep smaller class sizes. Those funds need to be restored too, and districts who found unexpected and unusual temporary ways to preserve programs should not be hamstrung with unnecessary restrictions.
     
     

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  7. Since the inception of Prop 98 in 1989, state funding for schools has only grown (until the recent recession).  But during that entire twenty year period, test scores have remained flat.  Money is important to run programs, but there is absolutely no correlation between more funding and student success.  

    I’ve never seen so many people so passionate about a position when there is so much evidence to the contrary. 

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  8. Thanks for this. I am interested if other people agree that this is what they are looking for from districts when they use the word “transparency.”

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  9. Gah, I was thanking the link to the Sacramento budget. Don’t know why us mere mortals can’t thread replies.

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  10. CapitolReader, I can say that over those 20 years, our expectations for what constitutes “grade level” and what students learn in each grade have increased dramatically. When I was a student, maybe the top 8% of students took algebra in 8th grade. Today we expect all students to do so.

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  11. El, you are hitting on the problem with the current approach to K-12 public education: “expectation” versus reality.  While we may EXPECT all 8th graders to take theoritical, decontextualized mathematics (i.e., the way Algebra is taught in today’s classroom), that may not necessarily be what’s best for every student.  We need to get away from what elites expect of youth and get back to what actually best serves students (and, by extension, our economy).

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  12. @el – are you saying you believe students today are better educated than they were 20 or even 30 years ago?  With all due respect, to make such a statement would all but be an omission of reality. 

    Forget test scores over time.  Take a snapshot.  California school districts and charter schools get a whole range of money per pupil – from $5,500 to $25,000.  If you look at all of these schools, you’ll find there is no connection – not even a loose one – that ties funding and student success.  In fact, Stanford did this a few years ago by graphing the districts to make the visual point.

    If you compare the 50 states you come up with the same conclusion.  Or try comparing countries.

    Time and again, it comes down to HOW you spend the money.  Not how much.
     

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  13. Hi Arun.
    Interesting that you chose to use A Christmas Carol as your analogy. In the end, ol’ Eb did not in fact share his wealth with Tiny Tim directly, rather entrusted it to an adult in his life, and even further resolved to support the entire family, apparently in perpetuity. Perhaps a lesson to learn from this analogy is that sometimes supporting the best interests of a group lies in the indirect manner of supporting those who are entrusted with that group’s care. At minimum, it need not be assumed impossible to do so. FWIW

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  14. Capitolreader’s comment, and el’s initial comment, provide an interesting contrast. El’s got it right, and not just on the question of recent absolute reductions in per-pupil funding. By the time that Proposition 98 was passed, California was already near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending, at the top in terms of scope of service (consider our large population of English Learners, to pick just one category) and at the top in terms of cost-of-living for employees. Funding increments from Proposition 98 were not sufficient to increase our state’s rank in per-pupil spending. Capitolreader seems to expect a miracle: maximal results with minimal funding.
     
    On the question of including policy reforms in a revenue measure, this is contrary to law. A measure may only address one topic.
     
    I wonder why people think that they’d be writing a “blank check” in voting for a revenue measure. Really, that response is an anti-tax cop-out. The K-12 education system includes numerous decision-making structures, ranging from the State Assembly and State Senate to the State School Board and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to local school boards. If tax foes are dissatisfied with past policy decisions, they should use available means of influence — including electing new decision-makers — to effect change.
     
    It’s hard to see what positive purpose the tax foes could have in merely starving the system of revenue. By blocking revenue measures, they are setting up an undemocratic situation: decision makers are expected to render sound decisions but are not given enough funds to work with. Private “philanthropy”, non-democratically-elected charter school boards, and other biased influences come to the fore.

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  15. @capitol, here is a report on long-term NAEP scores. See the links at the bottom for more specific breakdowns, including by ethnicity and parent education. Almost universally, subgroup scores are up long-term, in some cases dramatically.
    http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2008/2009479.asp
    In addition, I made two charts for LAUSD CST Math and ELA proficiency rates by grade, one data point in 2002, the other in 2011 (I couldnt figure out how to turn of the axis labels in google charts, they indicate years in between but there are no data points in these graphs for those).  I could not go further back than 2002 because the results are reported differently before that. Im not really aware of any other long-term data points, but if you have some that show flat scores I’d be interested to see them.
    Math:
    http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chxr=0,2002,2011&chxt=x,y&chs=260×180&cht=lc&chco=FF0000,FF9900,FFCC33,224499,AA0033,008000&chd=s:Ul,So,Sp,Ml,KZ,JW&chdl=2nd|3rd|4th|5th|6th|7th&chls=1|1|1|1|1|1&chma=|0,6&chtt=CST+Math+Change+2002+-+2011%2C+LAUSD&chts=676767,10.5

    ELA:
    http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?chxr=0,2002,2011|1,0,105&chxt=x,y&chs=260×214&cht=lc&chco=FF0000,FF9900,FFCC33,224499,AA0033,008000,3399CC,80C65A,BBCCED,000000&chd=s:Og,OY,Pj,Lf,KZ,Lb,Ka,MX,NV,PX&chdl=2nd|3rd|4th|5th|6th|7th|8th|9th|10th|11th&chls=1|1|1|1|1|1|1|1|1|1&chma=|0,6&chtt=CST+ELA+Change+2002+-+2011%2C+LAUSD&chts=676767,10.5
     

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  16. Paul,
     
    Your recollection about California in 1978 are incorrect. California in 1978 was NOT at the bottom — it was number 21 out of 50 in spending per pupil, and slightly above the national average. Just a few years earlier (1974-75) California was in a much worse position (#26 out of 50, about 4% below the national average). Further, your argument that by then Calif. cost-of-living was high is also incorrect. Using 1964 as a COLA base, by 1978 California was about 1.5% cheaper than the national average. Please, no revisionist facts.
     
    capitolreader is correct that using 1978 as a base, California spends about 50% more today per student in inflation-adjusted dollars. Take away a generous 20% for the cost of IDEA and we still spend today 20-30% above what we spent then. Enough of this prop. 13 “false memory syndrome.”
     
    Finally, regarding navigio’s charts about correlation between money and achievement. Nice charts, but I think they are are unadjusted for the cost of living, which will bring up the southern states and eliminate whatever correlation there seems to be. Further, the correlation, even as it is, is close to zero. Further yet, states are bad units of comparison because spending among districts within states varies more than average spending across states, so the proper unit to analyze this is a school district rather than a state.

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  17. Ze’ev, thank you for your response, but my post made no reference to Proposition 13, which, as you said, came along at a time when California’s per-pupil funding rank was higher, when the scope of our educational services was smaller (fewer special education services, etc.), and when our cost-of-living was lower (before the sustained boom in real estate prices). My post mentioned Proposition 98, which was passed a decade later.

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  18. Hi Ze’ev. Thanks for looking.
    I dont mean to be facetious, but doesnt the mere suggestion that I should adjust for cost of living imply that money does in fact matter?   :-)
    I am admittedly not a statistician. That said, the correlation coefficient between the dollars spent and the proficiency rate for 4th grade reading (I only had time to check one series) is not close to zero. Rather it is about .28. Admittedly, that may not be significant enough to be meaningful, but when removing even only one outlier, it rises to near .5, and then slightly above that with a couple more outliers (very clearly outliers).
    You’re right about cost of living, but it turns out the stateline data I used also had a cost of living adjusted spending matrix (from the same year as the spending values, which is always helpful.. :-) ). Even using that, the correlation coefficient was over .4 when removing only one obvious outlier (DC).
    To be clear, this is not all exact science. The NAEP scores are obviously representational, even then the results used were from a different year than the spending data. How one adjusts for cost of living is always debatable, especially given differences in demographics. In addition, I agree with you on the question of comparing entire states, however, the explicit claim was made here that there is no correlation, even at the state level. It seems difficult to accept that statement, even only using my vague numbers.
    Anyway, the claim that funding is irrelevant in terms of success is absurd, imho. It seems that the only rational way such a claim could be made is if we also assume we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. It seems infinitely difficult to imagine our current reality as representing a situation where we are showering our students with too many resources. It also ignores an important fact hidden deep inside that assumption: that different kids cost different amounts to educate. Personally, my belief is the ‘money is irrelevant’ argument is often a euphemism for the fact that not only do some kids cost more to educate, but they cost more than we’re willing to spend. That, of course, is quite a different claim. Although it is a more uncomfortable one, it is probably where the discussion should be focused.

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  19. Sorry, the links for the two test related graphs in an earlier previous post were all messed up. I’ve put the images on another server to make them easier to reference.
    http://navigio.blogspot.com/2012/01/lausd-2002-2011-cst-change.html
     

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  20. Paul — my apology! Talk about reading what one wants to read rather than what’s written!

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  21. Navigio,
     
    I did not even bother to do the correlations, as eyballing seems sufficient, but thanks for the numbers. Reading shows a small correlation,  math barely shows anything. But the big problem is that states are the wrong units. If, however, one goes to districts, one cannot do nationwide comparison only statewide, as test differ and NAEP can’t help. It is a complicated problem that cannot be “winged.”
     
    A nice and short summary of research on this topic from high caliber researchers is here. Not something I’d try to do at home (smile).  There is no clear evidence of correlation between spending and achievement, but there are examples of successful rich districts as well as rich districts with terrible achievement. Similarly you have relatively poor districts with both excellent and miserable records of achievement.  One way is to simply look at the last 30-40 years and observe that achievement wise we haven’t budged much (or at all) while spending per student increased significantly. Eventually, Capitolreader seems to have it right: ” it comes down to HOW you spend the money.  Not how much.”

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  22. A simple google search shows CA as being second in the US, behind only Hawaii, in “cost-of-living.”
     
    RAND Corp. has some good information on CA’s school spending.  CA’s spending per pupil went below the national average around 1985 a few years after the passage of Prop 13. That spending has been declining ever since and the decline has accelerated in the last three years.
     
    Yikes, Ramanathan has really nailed it in his essay. The only way to protect the schools, and particularly poor school kids, is to prevent the wealthy 1% from having to pay their fair share in taxes. Right.
     
    And then we need those un-researched, self-styled, “reforms.” Its interesting that those wealthy suburban schools with very high student success rates have all those old teacher evaluations, due process rights, and seniority rights in place.
     
    CA is currently about 27th in its personal tax burden of the 50 states, just a couple of ticks above the national average. Now you link that, pretty average taxes, with very high cost-of living (aka, cost-of providing-services) and what do you get? A “structural budget problem.”
     
    The solution (or at least part of it) is no real mystery. Support the “Millionaires Tax initiative.”

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  23. Actually el I can remember “budget cuts” since the 1990s and earlier. Yet annual budgets now are vastly higher than then, in real dollars. Could it be that we aren’t really cutting budgets?

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  24. First of all, this posting is one of the most informative and most challenging opinion pieces written by Arun Ramanathan in this forum.  All of you should read his words again and take them to heart.
    Second, it’s well past the time that the Bovine Scatology involving school finance, rankings of states, and the inequity of it all finally is exposed.  If any of you clowns advocating for more funds to sustain the status quo in California education knew anything about data analysis, you would know it is a fool’s errand to apply rankings to entities that are inherently not comparable.  The fifty states are not equal, and to compare them as equal is pure nonsense.  (The common argument that “we need to spend more because other states spend more” is bogus.)
    Third, our school districts are in fiscal distress not because the state had not supported schools adequately.  They don’t have enough money now because the spending decisions made in the past cannot be supported in an environment of shrinking budgets.  What is worse, those spending decisions made in the past cannot be supported in an environment of CONSTANT budgets.  (I’m waiting for the rationale that justifies ever-increasing expenditures for public education, or any other public priority.)
    Arun is correct.  Without many painful discussions and difficult policy changes in many school districts, more money given to the state for K-12 education will simply result in a continuation of the current sub-optimal system we have.  Don’t look for policy relief from Sacramento; at least one (if not both) of our political parties is “owned” by the CTA.

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  25. Despite Mr. Ravani’s claims, California is NOT “about 27th in its personal tax burden of the 50 states.” California is number 6 in tax burden, and that does not even include our various extravagant regulatory fees. Had we been in the middle of the pack, corporations and citizens would not be fleeing the state as they are. http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/sr189.pdf

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  26. Hi TomC.

    While I do think Arun brings up a valid question (for his perspective) I have to disagree that this is ‘one of the most informative [..] pieces [..] in this forum.’ Unless, of course, you care about what movies he watches.

    That said, I agree the question of how increased funding will be used is a valid challenge to calls for increased funding (not that raising that question alone brings the two sides any closer together on the issue).

    In the clown school I attended, they always taught us to put our claims in context. If you bothered to read what I wrote, you’ll notice my numerous caveats, not only about NAEP, but even about state comparisons.

    On the other hand, there appear to be clown schools that dont subscribe to the same level of transparency, and which apparently allow people to claim things which are not provable. The way I look at it, if someone makes a claim, it is fair game to challenge that claim on its face.

    Two claims (among others) were made: 1. that ‘scores’ have remained flat, 2. that there is no correlation between spending and achievement at the state level.

    The only measure I know of that would allow one to longitudinally measure scores over the timeframe referenced is NAEP. A reference was provided to show that scores, when broken down by subgroup–which is the only valid way of assessing results in the face of huge demographic shifts–scores have not only not remained flat, but have increased, and in some senses significantly.

    In addition, I figured providing some results for the 2nd largest school district in the nation–one that is commonly riled against as a complete and utter failure–that showed in fact that scores have not only not remained flat, but increased significantly, albeit in a shorter time span, would be useful as a data point in response to the claim that ‘scores have remained flat’. (You should see the subgroup results, I didnt even include those).

    If you would rather posit that both NAEP and CST are irrelevant, I am fine with that (in fact, half the time I look at performance metrics, what they seem to be telling me is we’re measuring things the wrong way). However, I think that would clearly make it impossible to make any longitudinal performance-based claim in the first place, including how it might correlate with any other metrics. Simply put, we would have nothing to say about performance whatsoever. Not sure I’d find that completely acceptable, but Im willing to entertain the notion if thats what you’re proposing.

    Then finally, I figured the logical response to a claim that there is absolutely no correlation between ‘results’ and ‘funding’ at the state level might be to attempt to see whether, with the only data that could indicate that, there is in fact a correlation. If you dont feel talking about correlation at the state level is valid, again fine by me, but please feel free to equally chastise those who make such claims and not only those who try to counter them. (On a side note, you’ll surely be happy to hear that I actually calculated the correlation coefficients for the other scores (math and 8th grade) and they are similar to the values I reported earlier. I am willing to ignore such a correlation altogether if there is a way to show that 4 different data series all show a similar correlation, in spite of the fact that measuring at state level is apparently invalid. The whole point of the correlation measure is to try to provide an indication of the extent to which something is unlikely to have happened by chance. Obviously some other correlation is being measured there. I guess we’ll never know what that is.)

    Your third point is an interesting one. I hate to try to go into that in this thread, though I agree the decision to let public pensions increase their investments in equities (voter proposition btw), was a mistake, and I agree the decision to try to use the resulting windfall to increase public sector benefits to try to match private sector returns was a mistake (legislature), and I agree that allowing these public funds to remain at risk from the meltdown that was caused by the private investment sector was a mistake, and I agree that years of intentional under-contribution to pension and health retirement benefits due to policy that tried to incessantly force the state into deficit spending was a mistake. Admitting those mistakes would be nice, though they are not really reversible at this point.  So Im not really sure what your point is unless you’re simply saying public education is not sustainable (to me thats saying democracy is not sustainable, which is unacceptable).

    I hate to continually disagree, but also dont buy that local school boards are where the difficult policy decisions must happen. School boards hands are tied on many policy issues. Sure they could break the law, but that isnt a reasonable ‘solution’. Local school boards are much less ‘owned’ by union interests, so there is much less incentive to avoid ‘the tough decisions’ in the first place, when they are even possible. In my view, when people talk about tough decisions they are talking about changes to the state constitution and to ed code. Those are not local board decisions.

    I also would like to understand what you mean by our ‘current sub-optimal system’. What exactly are using as a metric to measure that?

    As a final note, I do agree with Arun on two things: First the requirement that all budget data be public (though I think that is already law), and that Dickens was a great writer.

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  27.  
    What a shameful display of obsequiousness to the wealthy. It stakes out the fringe right notion that before we even discuss marginal taxes on those paying so much less than their fair share that it’s incomprehensible, that working people need to give yet more concessions. Why should restoring the budget be held hostage to what Ramanathan terms “reforms” that are nothing more than Cato, Hoover, and Manhattan talking points.
    Lost in this in this less than cogent essay is that schools aren’t asking for more money, they’re asking for their budgets to stop being cut ad infinitum. I know I don’t make nearly as much as the executive director of a right-wing think-tank like The Education Trust—West, but if my taxes were to go up slightly to hire back librarians, nurses, and educators, I won’t whine like reactionary Ramanathan does.
    You truly are Scrooge, but unlike the Dickens character, you’re irredeemable.
     

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  28. NAVIGIO:
     
    You do good, thoughtful, work. Congratulations. Keep it up

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  29. Ze’ev:
     
    You have a point. CA is actually 20th (not 27th) in personal tax burden. You suggest #6? You must be looking at the, always “fair and balanced,” Howard-Jarvis site or the equally “objective” CA Taxpayer’s Association.
     
    CNN Money, using data complied by the Tax Foundation (who has no dog in CA’s tax fight that I am aware of), asserts personal “tax burden,” that is; state, local, property, sales, luxury,fuel combined for this state equates to a 10.30% rate. The national average is 10.10%. As I said, ” a few ticks above the national average. CA is, as opposed to the typical “conservative/business roundtable” fable, is a pretty “tax friendly” state.
     
    But not friendly to its school children, of course. Being 20th in taxes paid while also being 2nd in cost of living/cost of providing services puts the state, in cost of living weighted dollars (a concept it appears some struggle to wrap their minds around) leaves the state at 46th place in its K-12 funding per child.

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  30. Navigio,
    Perhaps you are so blinded by the light of your own self interest that you cannot see the truth in Arun’s remarks.  Mr. Ramanathan may have been deficient in his remarks by not specifically naming the reforms he would like to see, but that oversight does not diminish the truthfulness of the inequities he identifies.
    This posting is a re-articulation of a conclusion reached several years ago by the Governor’s Distinguished Task Force that more money put into the present education system will not be sufficient to produce better results.  Your comments, whether valid or not, simply have not addressed the central theme of this post:  additional monies for K-12 education will just perpetuate the existing system.  I don’t know how many school board meetings you have attended, but I have been to enough to have seen the tears of the young teachers in line to get pink slips as the school board makes a decision forced by the “rules.”
    More of what we are already saddled with is not the path to the future.

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  31. Hi Ze’ev. Thank you very much for the link. That is an interesting overview paper. I plan to read through the studies referenced in them and provide my own personal take on them. Obviously this will take me some time and I didnt want to give you the impression I was ignoring you, so I will do it piecemeal. Here is the first one:
    Downes 1992 (a study on the changes in student performance before and after serranno II and prop 13, with a tacit assumption that the performance changes were mostly a result of those structural changes): The first problem with this report is how its hypothesis is stated: “if the reforms did reduce inequality in outcomes, then, ceteris paribus, the performance of students in poorer districts should improve relative to the performance of students in wealthier districts.” However, firstly, ceteris non paribus (why thats true will become clear later in my response). And secondly, why only relative to other districts and not relative to themselves? Of course the answer is because this is a measure of whether districts became more equal, not whether they actually improved at all. To put it another way, if all inequalities remained identical while every student and subgroup and district improved significantly and across the board, the claim that inequalities did not change would still hold. But is that what is being claimed in this thread? One might characterize such a stance as missing the forest for the trees. But as it relates to the discussion here, this paper tries to substantiate the claim that funding reform does not reduce inequality, while the comments here want to say that funding reform does not reduce quality. Those are two very different things.

    The report goes on to show the difference in the state’s 6th grade scores in 76-77 and 85-86 as a way of trying to display little variation between them. However, again, the way this is presented is not as actual performance but as a measure of the deviation from the mean. Using this measure is obviously assuming that any change in inequality would show up in the deviation from the mean (essentially the bell curve would be squeezed). Given that the bell curve is similar in shape (though not exactly), the conclusion is then that the change in funding did not impact inequality. However, a very interesting point about the limited set of data they provided (which I’ll have to assume means its the one that makes their point the best, implying that there might be other data that shows something to the contrary), is that the highest deviation from mean is above zero (meaning scores are clustered disproportionately to the high side). The reason this is noteworthy is that the high point on the bell curve is in fact slightly higher in 86 than in 77 (density increased by about 10%). In addition, there was a significant decrease in the density at one lower-scoring data point. This appears to show that in fact there were more scores clustered above the mean in 86 than in 77 (in 2011 parlance, perhaps more kids were moved from below basic to basic, or from basic to proficient). Showing the data as a graph of deviation from the mean tends to deemphasize that change. (I have to question why there was no actual mean or median provided. And why only 6th grade, and why the entire state aggregated. Of course the probable answer is that the goal is to divert attention from any actually improvement in scores, if that happened to take place–admittedly, I am not an expert in the testing mechanisms that were in place a few decades back, so I cannot comment much on the meaning/validity of the scores themselves, but since the paper relied on them, I’ll have to assume they had some meaning).

    Although, for the reasons outlined above, I dont necessarily buy into the conclusions of this paper, the authors, to their credit, include some caveats to their conclusions that are well worth noting. One is the fact that there are important resource sources that lie outside the funding data set evaluated in the paper (private/parent donations, volunteerism, etc) and even go so far as to admit that there is evidence that these factors “played a major role in enabling high wealth districts to maintain their relative position.” Not only something that counters their conclusion, but even a tacit implication that performance is in fact correlated with funding/resources.

    A similar caveat was provided for low-wealth districts as it relates to changes in demographics. “Changes in the composition of the student population were an important factor in preventing funds redistribution from reducing relative disparities in student performance.” In other words, it could very well be that the changes introduced by serranno II were not sufficient to remedy the inequities that existed, or were exacerbated after the fact. This is a crucial point, imho, because when one discusses the efficacy of increased or decreased funding, one must assume a starting point. Simply stating that there is no correlation ignores the question of that starting point.

    More to come..

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  32. It seems the Tax Foundation gets wildly different results by using different metrics. Though this makes sense mathematically it has created some controversy and criticism particularly from the US Census Bureau.
    I will cherry-pick the CNN Money example where they used a wide sample of taxes and came up with the rank of 20 for CA. Looking at a number of studies it appears somewhere around rank of #12 for CA’s tax burden would not be too far off the mark. The contrast between even #12 in taxes and #2 in cost of living still leaves us with a very real “structural deficit.” We don’t bring in enough revenue to cover relatively expensive services.
    CA is now indicating population growth, not decline. Those who are leaving tend to be poor, moving to low cost of living states, and the influx of high wealth people just about matches the outflow of wealthy people.
    Businesses leave CA at about the same rate businesses leave every other state and when they go they offshore.
    When Ze’ev objects to calling Ed Trust “right-wing” I think we ought to pay attention. Ze’ev hangs around with people from the Hoover Institution and if anyone could properly identify “right-wing” he’d be the guy.
    Ed Trust just promotes the policy choices of its funders, Broad, Gates, Walton, etc. We should not forget that these corporate modeled reform policies have been an abject failure for over a decade and are derided by real education researchers; however, Ed Trust has its own survival to consider. It is just unfortunate the policies run counter to the interests of schools, kids, and learning.
    And Ze’ev’s commentary about how “disgraceful” personal attacks are cannot be reasonably argued with. This provides Ze’ev with an opportunity to lead by example.
     

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  33. I have deleted the comments that included the personal attacks on Arun Ramanathan that Gary referred to. They were not in keeping with the conditions we have set for commenting: “To promote a civil dialogue, please be considerate, respectful and mindful of your tone.”

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  34. Mr. Fensterwald, when my contacts at PESJA notified me that you deleted their comments for posting EdTrust West and Arun Ramanathan’s Form 990 information I was mortified. I said SVEF would never stoop to that type of censorship, and 990 data is public information anyway, so why would anyone censor it?

    However, when I checked here I learned it was true. You can be sure that I will publish far and wide about this unfortunate incident.

    If my colleagues’ posts differed in tone than that of the article in question, then I would accept your explanation “To promote a civil dialogue, please be considerate, respectful and mindful of your tone.” However, considering the vicious and unconscionable swipe reactionary Ramanathan takes at the California Teachers Association in his “essay” I find this unbelievably hypocritical.

    If anything, PESJA’s tone was far more respectful than Ramanathan’s, which could charitably called mean-spirited and caustic at best. Indeed I found Ramanathan’s not so subtle insinuations about California’s hard working educators inconsiderate, disrespectful, and barbarous in tone. No censorship of his prose though.

    I’ve lost a great deal of respect for this publication, which apparently only allows the powerful a voice. I stand with PESJA on this and am astonished that SVEF would silence dissent and protect privilege in this way.

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