Who Is In Charge

Lobato 8/25: Money and scores

“There’s no consistent relationship between school resources and school achievement,” Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek testified Thursday in the Lobato v. State school funding case.

Hanushek, a nationally known researcher on the economics of education, is the key expert witness for the state as it seeks to counter the plaintiffs’ claim that Colorado’s school funding system doesn’t adequately meet the education requirements of the state constitution.

Questioned by Senior Assistant Attorney General Carey Markel, Hanushek added, “Money certainly matters; you can’t run a school without money.” But, he added, “How you spend money is more important than how much … In general, you can’t expect any large achievement gains without changing the way you spend.”

Lobato v. State illustrationHanushek said that per-pupil U.S. education spending has increased four-fold since 1960 but that student achievement is at about the same level as in 1970.

“There’s been no gain in student achievement simply by doing what we’ve been doing with more money.”

Hanushek has testified in nearly 20 states as an expert witness for state governments defending school funding lawsuits. Other points he made in testimony Thursday included:

Class size: It doesn’t have an impact on achievement beyond kindergarten.

Master’s degrees for teachers: “None of the best studies say graduate education has an effect.”

Teacher experience and quality: “After the first couple of years, there’s no impact of experience.” He also said student achievement could be improved significantly if the least-effective 5 to 8 percent of teachers were removed from classrooms and replaced merely with “average” teachers.

“Costing out” studies: “They’re basically political documents. … I think they’re all unreliable and invalid.” He said at another point, “I don’t believe it’s possible scientifically” to do a valid cost study of educational adequacy. Hanushek also maintained that court decisions requiring additional school funding in other states haven’t increased student achievement.

He discussed at length spending increases and test scores in New Jersey and Wyoming, both states where courts ordered increased school spending. His assertions were disputed in great detail by plaintiffs’ attorneys on cross-examination, including one of his slides, which read: “Wyoming is very similar to Colorado in population and schools.”

Hanushek also analyzed some Colorado education data and drew conclusions, including:

  • “Very hopeful moves Colorado has made” include the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the new accountability system and the educator effectiveness law.
  • As with the nation, there’s no correlation between different spending levels and student achievement. And, “Nobody knows the cost of an adequate education in Colorado.”
  • Colorado districts with higher percentages of at-risk students generally have higher per-pupil funding.
Eric Hanushek
Eric Hanushek

To improve Colorado schools, Hanushek said, the state needs to focus on student achievement, reward districts and teachers who are producing higher achievement, rely on local decision making, provide choice and have a good data system.

“It turns out Colorado is doing a lot of that already, or it’s moving in that direction,” he said. “Colorado does relatively well in the nation, but the nation doesn’t do well internationally” in comparisons of students achievement.

Hanushek’s testimony was part of the state’s attempt to counter views expressed by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, including Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, Henry Levin of Columbia, Bruce Baker of Rutgers and Justin Silverstein of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates. (Links above will take you to stories about each witness’ testimony.)

The three hours of aggressive cross-examination by plaintiffs’ lawyers Kenzo Kawanabe and David Hinojosa included several questions about conflicts between Hanushek’s research and that of other scholars. They also repeatedly challenged him on his central conclusion that more funding doesn’t drive achievement.

Kristin Waters also on the stand

To start the day’s testimony, Markel led Denver Public Schools principal Kristin Waters through a detailed history of her work at Bruce Randolph School, a school that won autonomy from district and union rules in its quest for reform, inspiring the Innovation Schools Act of 2008. Randolph is often cited as an example of promising school reform.

Markel repeatedly steered Waters, now principal of Denver’s South High School, back to questions about whether extra resources were available for Randolph’s transformation and whether additional resources are needed to increase student achievement.

Waters gave various versions of the answer “no,” saying such things as “I don’t believe it’s the money that makes the difference. … It’s more of a time challenge than it is a resource or a money challenge. … The money piece isn’t what’s going to solve the issue” of low achievement.

On cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyers worked to establish that Waters’ views are based on her urban and Denver experience and aren’t applicable to all schools.

Plaintiff-intervenors’ lawyer Marisa Bono asked if Waters agreed that innovation status is not a universal fix for schools, and Waters said, “That is my belief.”

Other cross-examination questions highlighted Bruce Randolph’s low CSAP and ACT scores, although Randolph has shown academic growth.

Highlights of the day

TONE: It was another testy day, and the longest of the trial to date.

QUOTE: “I promise that we won’t go through every article you’ve published,” said Markel to Hanushek, as she led him through 45 minutes of testimony about his resume and lengthy list of books and articles. Lawyers for both sides love to linger over the qualifications of their expert witnesses.

MANEUVERING: Expert witnesses speak at a fairly broad level, and lawyers on cross-exam ask about a lot of very detailed things that the witnesses don’t know. Kawanabe and Hinojosa played that game at length with Hanushek, and also were on the attack in other ways, occasionally interrupting his answers or demanding “yes or no” answers.

At one point, Kawanabe asked Hanushek about his fee, which the professor said was $375 an hour or “on the order of $50,000” for the Lobato case.

“Have you made more than a million dollars” on all the expert testimony for states, Kawanabe asked.

“I’ve never tried to sum that up,” Hanushek replied.

DOCUMENTS: Bruce Randolph, Waters’ former school, currently is accredited with an improvement plan. It does not meet the state’s academic achievement indicator, meets indicators for student growth and growth gaps and its students are “approaching” postsecondary and workforce readiness. Read the school’s three-year performance framework and its improvement plan.

UPCOMING: Friday’s witness list for the state is an interesting mix, including outspoken former education Commissioner Bill Moloney, Democratic State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder and Nina Lopez, a former top Department of Education official who recently joined the Colorado Legacy Foundation.

Budget woes

In budget address, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker proposes modest education increases

J.B. Pritzker speaks during a round table discussion with high school students at a creative workspace for women on October 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Even while calling his proposed budget “austere” and speaking plainly about the yawning deficit he inherited, Illinois’ new governor, J.B. Pritzker, struck an optimistic chord when describing how he plans to plow more money into schools.

His fiscal year 2020 budget would allocate a total of $7.2 billion for K-12 funding, including an extra $25 million in addition to the mandated $350 million annual minimum increase under the state’s funding formula.

“There’s a focus here on trying to not only rebuild from the damage that was done over the last four years but also to set us up for growing the economy, which happens in part because of our investments in education,” Pritzker said, nodding to a nearly two-year budget stalemate under his predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, that left the state with billions in unpaid bills.

During Wednesday’s speech, the governor said the long-term solution to the state’s budget deficits  was a progressive income tax that would take more money from Illinois’ wealthiest residents.

In the shorter term, though, Pritzker’s budget proposal includes an additional $25 million for Illinois schools, an increase of $21 million in special education grants, and a $5 million boost for career and technical education programs for high school students.

Also in the proposal: $50 million in need-based college grants, another $35 million in university scholarships, and $2 million to cover waived fees for low-income students taking Advanced Placement tests.

Pritzker’s budget would allocate an additional $100 million to the Early Childhood Block Grant. That would bring the state investment in early childhood education to $594 million next year.

The governor Wednesday also proposed freezing a tax credit for businesses and individuals who contributed scholarships for private schools. Critics argued the program cut into state income taxes that would otherwise help fund public schools. Supporters, including Rauner, said it was one of the few ways struggling families could afford private schools.

Pritzker noted that given Illinois’ economic reality, there is a limit to how much cost-cutting alone could do. Instead, he promised to pass a budget that would include an increase in funding across the board as a way to invest in the state’s future, with a particular focus on education.

“We must stop slashing programs that build future prosperity,” Pritzker said in his budget address. “Over the long term, we must make investments in education, livable wages, innovative human service programs and job training.”

In unveiling his budget, the governor spoke plainly about the state’s dire fiscal situation: a $3.2 billion budget deficit and $15 billion in debt from unpaid bills — an amount that is equal to funding “free four-year university tuition for more than 12,000 students,” he said.

Nearly two years without a state budget under the previous governor prompted a massive backlog of funding in the K-12 education budget that the state is still struggling to fill, on top of an $8.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills across state agencies.

A 2017 overhaul in the formula Illinois uses to fund schools put the state on a 10-year path to closing the more than $6.8 billion gap between what it spends on K-12 public schools and the projected cost of adequate school funding. In January, the state board of education asked for $15 billion in public schools funding.

“It’s a very teensy step and better an increase than not,” Wendy Katten with Raise Your Hand Action, a parent group advocating for public education, said of the increased funding for K-12 schools. “But that’s nowhere near the $7 billion that’s needed for basic adequacy, let alone the $2 billion needed for [Chicago Public Schools].”   

Pritzker’s proposed additions are modest, to be sure, but unions representing teachers in Chicago and statewide, as well as disability advocates, said any additional investment in education is most welcome.

“It’s clear that he understands the importance of great public schools and higher education and is committed to fulfilling the state’s responsibility to invest in them,” the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Dan Montgomery, said.

And the Chicago Teachers Union asked that Chicago Public Schools to use any extra state funding to lower class sizes and increase special education staffing.

“The increase in evidence-based funding over the statutory minimum recognizes that Illinois’ challenges with education funding equity are fundamentally rooted in the need to drive more resources to students, like those in CPS, who have suffered from decades of insufficient and unequal school funding,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said.

Chris Yun, the education policy analyst with Access Living, which advocates for people with disabilities, said she was heartened to see a bump for special education funding, noting: “Students with disabilities are often forgotten because the number is much less than general education students. We have a long way to go, but this is just step one.”

Pritzker told Chalkbeat in October that contributing more money to education would require solving the state’s longstanding budget woes. At that time, Illinois was expected to enter fiscal year 2019 with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. That figure has now more than tripled.

Its problems are compounded significantly by its pension responsibilities, making it increasingly difficult to allocate money to other needs, said Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

“The payments are jumping at levels our system can’t afford,” Martire said.

Pritzker on Wednesday said he would “smooth the pension ramp by modestly extending it,” which hints at a plan to push payments off further.

While Pritzker’s progressive taxation plan has a steady thrum of support from Democratic lawmakers, the measure has not yet passed the state legislature.

Pritzker acknowledged that his 2020 budget was built on a tax structure that he still considered regressive and said he hoped to change that going forward.  

“Not only is our tax system unfair, it’s also inadequate to solve our long-term financial challenges,” he said. “Make no bones about it, I choose to stand up for working families and will lead the charge to finally enact a fair tax system in Illinois.”

Cassie Creswell, a board member of public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Action, said the budget address was a positive indicator of Pritzker’s support for revamping taxation, but feared “the rates that will be proposed to make it politically palatable won’t make it the rate we need to fund stuff in the state.”

interview time

Four candidates left make their case before commission for open Shelby County Schools board seat

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Interim school board candidate Aubrey Howard presents before the Shelby County Commission.

Four remaining candidates for a vacated Memphis school board seat had their chance to tell the Shelby County Commission why they are the right person for the job on Wednesday afternoon.

They were the remaining viable candidates after six applicants were disqualified for living outside of District 2, the area the interim board member will represent in Shelby County Schools. Chalkbeat reported on Monday that six of the candidates live outside of the district. The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and will serve until the term expires in August 2020.

The four applicants are (We’ve linked to their full applications.):

  • Erskine Gillespie, an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank.
  • Althea Greene, a retired Memphis educator and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
  • Aubrey Howard, the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office.
  • Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Commissioners peppered the candidates with questions on big issues facing the district, including school choice, the budget process, managing the district’s aging buildings and underenrollment, and how they could improve the relationship between the district and the county commission, the funding body for schools.

In their pitches to commissioners, applicants touted their previous experiences with K-12 education, such as work with nonprofits and curriculum development, and their ties to Memphis schools. “I’m a product of Memphis schools,” was a phrase said again and again.

Most applicants expressed general support for charter schools, which have grown significantly in recent years in Memphis, but Gillespie said he believed “the influx of our charter school program is an issue that must be addressed.” McKinney sits on the board of a charter high school, and Greene and Howard said they had no issues with charter schools as a way to serve individual needs of students.

On the relationship with the county commission, Greene said: “I think it’s important that as a school board member, I’m at county commission meetings. And work as a bridge to educate children and give them the best education we can, and we know that costs money.”

Gillespie was asked by Commissioner Willie Brooks what he thinks of alternative schools, which serve students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional schools for behavioral reasons. There are several alternative schools in District 2.

“I think alternative schools are truly something necessary,” Gillespie said. “They can provide a trauma-informed response for our students.”

The questionnaire given to each candidate asked about TNReady, the state’s embattled testing system. Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs the education committee, asked Howard to expand on his answer that the test “didn’t work.”

“Those decisions about testing and teacher evaluations would be better met if they were local and not state controlled,” Howard replied. “For sure, the state wasted a huge amount of money with the companies they hired that failed us.”

Gillespie and McKinney described aging and often near-empty school buildings as a large issue facing the district. The interim board member would help analyze a massive district plan left by former superintendent Hopson that would consolidate 28 Memphis schools into 10 new buildings.

McKinney said the school board should be having regular conversations with the commission and the neighborhoods it serves on how demographic shifts have impacted the county, creating underenrollment in some schools.

“For the school board, those conversations need to be ongoing, so when it comes time to make a decision about whether or not to close a school, it’s not coming as a surprise,” McKinney said.

Three people from Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group, spoke in support of McKinney. The group’s leader, Sarah Carpenter, said he’s been a consistent figure in her neighborhood of North Memphis.

Shelby County Commission
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Commissioner Willie Brooks (left) asked candidates about how they would work with the county commission.

“I’m tired of people coming to our community when they want a seat and we don’t see them anymore,” Carpenter said. “Our children’s lives are on the line.”

Commissioner Edmund Ford, himself a former teacher, said after the interviews he would like to see an educator on the board.

“There were a lot of things I saw as a teacher, when I would go to the school board to ask for their assistance, that I would not receive,” Ford said. “Personally, I would like to see someone who has been there and done that.”

After hearing from the candidates, the commission voted to move the item to its Monday meeting, where commissioners will vote on a successor.

For more details, see our Twitter thread from the hearing.