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A parent paying $12,000 in private school tuition is “furious” that NH won’t help

Parents, student aid agencies seeking answers…” blared the Union Leader on its front page today, featuring the financial pain inflicted on parents:

The decision means Litchfield mother Kim Nichols won’t be eligible for a scholarship to help pay for her son to attend a Catholic school in Nashua.

Nichols, who pays more than $12,000 in yearly tuition to Bishop Guertin High School, said she was “furious” with the judge’s decision.

The scholarship organization NEO says it has over 1,000 more such applicants.  The only surprise is why there aren’t more.  The program is meant for public school students, but few have applied.  So NEO has been working with religious schools since the law passed a year ago, recruiting parents to apply for the state tuition subsidy.  As a result, applications are primarily for kids who are already in religious schools.

Maybe the Union Leader will now do a front page story on how Manchester’s Bakersville Elementary School is successfully reaching hundreds of low income kids today…

The Algebra 2 debate is healthy for the Common Core standards

This Education Week post is a great example of a healthy debate about standards and curriculum.  Some say all students should pass Algebra 2.  Others, that it should not be required of those who will enter the workforce directly.  The debate illustrates how the common core could evolve and be modified on a state-by-state basis to reflect an evolving consensus or local educational priorities.

I’ll leave it for others to decide, but here’s a good summary of the issues:

Should all students take Algebra 2? Florida seemed to say “no” this spring with the passage of a law striking it from graduation requirements. Texas said much the same in legislation Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed this week that also backs away from Algebra 2 for all.

Those steps come as the Common Core State Standards for math set the expectation that all students should meet learning objectives at whats generally considered the Algebra 2 level.  The new standards would represent a big shift. About one-quarter of high school students never take the course or its equivalent, based on recent federal data.  Also, some math educators say their Algebra 2 courses are about to get tougher as they align with the common core.

….lots more here: Education Week: Questions Arise About Need for Algebra 2 for All.

If you want to know what the new Common Core standards are all about, listen to this morning’s edition of NHPR’s The Exchange

The first three installments of NHPR’s series on the Common Core did not reflect my own experience of how New Hampshire teachers have engaged the move to the Common Core State Standards (I discuss that here), but today is a whole different story.  This morning’s report on the new “Smarter Balanced” test the kids will be taking characterizes the test and the challenges well.

And today’s  broadcast of The Exchange did a great service to the State in explaining what the Common Core is and how our schools are experiencing this big change.

NHPR education reporter Sam Evans-Brown was clear and knowledgeable.  Guest Nicole Heimarck, Director of Curriculum and Professional Development for SAU 39 (Amherst, Mont Vernon and Souhegan) and Debra Armsfield, a former Principal and the Director of Professional Learning in the Timberlane Regional District showed the deep level of understanding – wisdom, really – that many New Hampshire teachers get to draw upon as they make their new lesson plans.

The White Mountains Regional School District started its move to the Common Core years ago and has rolled it out in virtually all its classrooms.  Amy Parsons, a fifth-grade teacher at the Lancaster Elementary School in the White Mountains District, gave the perspective of a classroom teacher well grounded in the new standards.  

And Ben Dick, English teacher at Memorial High School in Manchester and president of the Manchester Education Association, provided a view from a school in which Common Core discussions have begun but the new curriculum has not yet been developed.

The audio of the broadcast will be here in the next couple of days and the podcast will be here.  In the meantime, you can listen to my recording of it here.

Here are some highlights:

Overview of the Common Core:

Nicole Heimarck:

[Common Core] is about more rigor – more rigor…in what students need to know and, equally important, its about rigor in what students can do, skills.  So we have spent a lot of time in our district discussing “habits of mind”…the notion of students being able to persevere, whether it’s in mathematics or reading – is very significant in these standards and its significant in our culture, in our communities….One of the big shifts we’re finding is that instead of students doing 35 or 40 math problems, they’re digging deep into one or two math problems – and challenging problems, problems that require them to think critically, to come up with multiple solutions…You need to have high expectations…and students feel a great deal of success when they recognize that they have accomplished something truly difficult.


10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You – SmartMoney

This is a balanced summary, including good links that help identify the pros and cons of the various forms of research on charters.  The net of it seems to be that, while there are inspired high-performance charters that outperform some traditional public schools, most don’t.  As Michael Marder shows, most public schools outperform most charters, according to the most-used comparisons.  So, while there is no data to support a general policy that promotes substituting charters for traditional public schools, New Hampshire charters have demonstrated their value in focused roles such as helping kids at risk of failure in school.  Here’s the SmartMoney piece:

1. We’re no better than public schools.

Not that public schools are perfect, as many parents know. See our earlier story, 10 Things Your School District Won t Tell You

A host of other studies on charter school outcomes have come up with sometimes contradictory results. As with traditional public schools, there are great charters and some that aren t so great. There s a lot of variation within charter schools, points out Katrina Bulkley, an associate professor of education at Montclair State University who studies issues related to school governance. In fairness to organizations that are running high-performing schools, many of them are very frustrated with the range of quality, because they feel that it taints charter schools as a whole, Bulkley says.

find the rest at: 10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You –

The unions make public schools bad, right? Actually, that’s not what the data shows.

Michael Marder is physics prof at the University of Texas at Austin, and Co-Director of UTeach (“We prepare teachers.  They change the world.”).  He’s a scientist who has found communicative ways to visualize his research data.  Sometimes he applies that skill to education issues to see what’s really going on.  Here is his look at the role unions play in student achievement (taken from page 8, here).

The view that unions are an obstacle to educational progress is the almost universally shared premise among education reform proponents in the U.S., whether the proposed reform is punitive teacher evaluations, the charterization of public education or state-funded private school vouchers.  Prof. Marder lets Steve Jobs (2007) serve as the voice of conventional wisdom on this issue:

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way….This unionization
and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.

But then he displays simple data that tells a different story.  Each disk is a state.  The red disks are “right to work” states, which he characterizes as “weaker union” states.  The blue disks are “stronger union” states.

Marder union graphs 1

Here’s what Prof. Marder observes in his dispassionate way:

States with and without strong unions are intermingled. Well-off students in wealthy states with strong unions have the highest outcomes. For low-income students the states with highest outcomes have weak unions. Differences in state performance that might be attributed to unions are small compared with effects of poverty.

As an additional note, here is an interesting study by the conservative Fordham Institute that ranks the states by the strength of their teachers’ unions.

The fantasies driving school reform: A primer for education graduates – graduation address by Richard Rothstein

Valerie Strauss has provided (here on her blog, The Answer Sheet) a transcript of a graduation speech by Richard Rothstein,  a deeply knowledgeable and trustworthy education commentator.  Here are some key quotes, but you should read the whole thing here:

Politicians of both parties, leading educators, and philanthropists like Bill Gates who increasingly influence education policy, repeat incessantly that our schools are failing, especially for disadvantaged children. Past efforts at improvement, and vast increases in spending, have accomplished little or nothing, they say. Achievement gaps between disadvantaged and middle class students have narrowed little, so as the proportion of white children declines, this failure of our schools weakens our nation, rendering it unable to compete internationally.

In truth, this conventional view relies upon imaginary facts.


In education, money counts: NH’s top schools often have the lowest amounts of poverty – Nashua Telegraph

This piece is interesting.  Danielle Curtis, the Telegraph’s education reporter, made the headlined observation, that our top ranked schools are in our wealthiest communities, as she was scanning the US News and Newsweek rankings.  She called me and others to talk it over and you can see the well crafted and accurate result here, on the Telegraph site.  This is a large and complex topic but she found a good thread through the issue.

Money isn’t everything.

It’s a phrase that applies to many situations in life, whether it’s a parent explaining why they won’t be buying those brand-name jeans, or a mentor encouraging a new worker to take that entry-level job they’d love.

But when it comes to education, does the saying hold true?

It’s a question that has been tossed around for years, by lawmakers trying to create a balanced budget and by educators lobbying for more funding for schools.

Take a look at the annual rankings of the nation’s top high schools, and other similar awards, and you’ll see that money is, at least, important.

“When you’re in a budget debate, the first statement is always, ‘Schools don’t get better by throwing money at them,’ ” said Bill Duncan, of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education. “But they do, actually, they really do.”

Duncan said that while money is by no means the only factor that plays into a school’s success, the financial support a district receives from its taxpayers and the socioeconomic situation of a school’s students factor into the test scores they see, the number of college-bound students they graduate and resources they can use to aid struggling students.


What are the real lessons from international comparisons of education systems?

The testing of 15 year olds done every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is at the heart of the critique of American education, usually cited as the basis for privatization proposals like replacing lower performing public schools with charters and private school vouchers.  If you want to get beyond the cherry picked statistics about “the US is 17th in….etc.,” here is a thoughtful discussion of what it all means with Andreas Schleicher, Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division (Directorate for Education) of the OECD.

A couple of quotes:

“Canada does very well, not just in terms of the average outcomes but in its capacity to moderate socio-economic inequalities, which is a quite big issue in the United States.”

“…a generation ago, the United States was far ahead of everyone.  At the age of 15, you would have in the United States more people taking part in education than elsewhere, but this has changed quite a bit, not because the United States got worse, but because progress in schooling has been so much steeper in other countries.”

“…the impact of social background on the success of children is stronger in the United States than in many of the best performing systems….Many of the best performing systems really expect every student to succeed.  They set universal, very ambitious standards for all their children.  They support their children well.  They expect teachers to support their children well.  They expect that students learn differently and differently at some times.  You can see a high degree of personalized approaches to learning.”

…and lots more, here:

New Hampshire’s only tax credit scholarship organization is making hash of it

New Hampshire’s only scholarship organization is a California group called “The Alliance for the Separation of School and State.”  In New Hampshire, it calls itself the “Network for Educational Opportunity,” but it’s the same group.  They say their purpose is “ending government involvement in education.”  In other words…privatizing public education.

The group helped write the education tax credit bill to do just that, move money from public to private schools.  But even better, there was the prospect that they could make good money doing it.

The Alliance has always been a small budget operation, but it’s been getting smaller.  It had almost $300,000 in donations in 2001, trailing off to less than half that a decade later.

But New Hampshire’s tax credit law was their turn-around opportunity.  The law authorizes tax credits sufficient to fund $4 million in donations in the first year and $6 million in the second year.  And this law that the group helped write allows the scholarship organization to take 10% out of the donations for administrative overhead.


Fiscal magic: how private donations to private schools save state government money

I gave a presentation to a committee of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association (BIA) about voucher repeal yesterday and Charlie Arlinghaus of the Bartlett Center preceded me with a talk about the state budget.  He took the opportunity, since he had the floor, to defend the voucher tax credit program.  His argument was that the tax credit program actually saves the State money – a few hundred thousand dollars per year.   Voucher advocates seem to have decided to bring this this point to the fore as a key selling point.

It’s an interesting point because while the savings are minor, the point itself highlights the essence of the voucher program.  The savings come because, for each child who leaves the public school system, the State provides a tax credit funded voucher averaging $2,500 to a private school instead of an adequacy grant averaging $4,200 to a public school.  Advocates making this argument are saying, “Privatize education – it’s cheaper than paying for public education.”  So, while the cover story is school choice for poor kids, this is as close as voucher supporters get to the real point of this whole exercise, privatizing public education.

The pitch goes on to assert that these State-funded private schools should not be accountable because they are, after all, private.  The result though, is that some number of the kids – a large number in other states using education tax credits – will go to small, unaccredited Christian schools teaching that dinosaurs and people were created on the sixth day.  Is that really a legitimate use for public money or a substitute for our public education system?  I would argue that disinvestment in public education is not a good way to provide an adequate education to every child as the New Hampshire Constitution requires.

Voucher advocates go on to say that it’s really all private money going to the private schools.  “Because the courts have said so.”  That always reminds me of that great Groucho Marks quote, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”  The courts may treat the almost dollar-for-dollar tax credit the business gets in return for the voucher donation as a separate issue for some legal purposes, but voters can still see it there.  I’d say anything the Legislature has to account for in the State’s general fund is public money.