Sunday, December 22, 2013

Seniority and Tenure Reform Not the Key to Developing Great Teaching

    The reform movement has given tremendous focus on how to get rid of "bad teachers."   For example, a Students First policy briefing, entitled Great Teachers for Every Child, a Matter of Social Justice,  is dedicated completely to the elimination of seniority systems.  The thesis of this challenge seems to be that we can develop good teaching by getting rid of older more experienced teachers who have practiced mediocrity while being protected by seniority and tenure.    If we could just get rid of these bad teachers, we could replace them with a new complement of highly effective teachers, the argument goes. 

Reform advocates commonly cite to statistics that show that students in classrooms taught by effective teachers do substantially better than students in classrooms taught by ineffective teachers. Reformers then assume that the gap in student performance between high performing classrooms and low performing classrooms can be completely closed  by replacing the ineffective teacher with the effective teacher who allegedly is waiting in the wings to teach as soon as the abolition of the seniority system makes jobs available for unemployed effective teachers.

    I'd like to suggest that if we believe in reform we ought to be focusing on how good teaching is actually developed and fostered.   I'm not suggesting that we ignore completely the issues raised by seniority and tenure.  However, I am suggesting that removing seniority and tenure is unlikely to work a significant change in the quality of teaching and learning.   If excellent teaching were a talent possessed natively by certain teachers and not by others, possibly we could reform education  by culling bad teachers and recruiting those with native teaching talent.  Or, if good teaching simply requires dedication and hard work then possibly it would make sense to threaten teachers with discharge, at which point the fear of losing their jobs would foster more effective teaching. 

But I believe that the most persuasive authorities are telling us that the development of good teaching requires something more systemic!   What if good teaching actually results when licensed teachers -- the product of schools of education -- are made part of an organization that systemically fosters good teaching by implementing research-based practices that grow great teachers and great teaching?!   If that is the case, it is likely that implementing seniority reforms and bonus systems will not effect the kinds of positive change that the reform movement projects.

    In his work on Effective Supervision  Marzano argues that effective teaching must be developed over ten years or more in an environment that supports professional development and excellence. He contends that many teachers are not realizing their full potential, because they are developing teaching skills on a hit-and-miss basis, without the effective support of their school, their peers and their supervisors.  Effective teaching, he argues, requires continuous, deliberate efforts by the entire learning community.    He explores five categories of efforts to develop teachers:
  •  (1) a well-articulated knowledge base for teaching, 
  • (2) focused feedback and practice, 
  • (3) opportunities to observe and discuss expertise, 
  • (4) clear criteria and a plan for success, and 
  • (5) recognition of expertise
Each of these five really depend, in large part, on the way in which the school and school system support effective teaching.  It is possible, then, that we are spending way too much time arguing about how to get rid of teachers, and not near enough time discussing how to reform schools and school systems so that they develop the good teachers that we need.

In Visible Learning, Hattie reports the results of years of study of compilations of education research.    He writes, "one of the fascinating discoveries throughout my research for this book is discovering that many of the most debated issues are the ones with the least effects."   It is understandable that changing the seniority and tenure systems would engender controversy.   The arguments on both sides have at least surface merit and I'm not posting here to advance the argument for either side.  I'm arguing instead that  if we genuinely want reform, we need to invest a whole lot more time in studying, understanding, and supporting transformation in the systems that actually produce great teachers.   Reforming the way that colleges educate new teachers is  only a tiny part of this problem.  The five components described by Marzano can only flourish in a school system that provides an organized collaborative supportive system of staff development fostered by outstanding leadership.   Organizations like Students First  must recognize that eliminating tenure and seniority is nowhere near being the most important reform to promote great teaching.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

School Collective Bargaining Basics Part I

    A new movement in Minnesota, focused on Minneapolis and St. Paul,  seeks to hold school boards accountable for the substance and procedure of collective bargaining, especially with respect to  teacher contracts.  The movement is driven by the perception that school boards have handcuffed themselves, and their management, preventing implementation of reforms necessary to improve public education.   At the center of that movement is the new organization, Put Kids First Minneapolis.     A Facebook page, Contract for Student Achievement, often contains dialog on the topic.     The emerging  concerns  focus on  the substance of collective bargaining agreements--their effect on school finance,  on working hours and learning time, on the ability to hire effective teachers, on the impact of seniority, and on the ability to replace ineffective teachers. But reformers also focus on the procedure by which bargaining agreements are conducted.   Should bargaining sessions be closed to the public during mediation?   Is financial reporting on the impact of  agreements transparent, or do public announcements  mask the full cost of agreements?  Do the  agreements  have "tails," which visit future financial consequences not fully understood?    At times the connection between the cost of these agreements and future program cuts is not fully explained, and that leads to the perception that labor agreements are contributing to the financial crisis in public education.   Finally, in certain districts, there is a concern that the  school board is  accountable to the very union with which they are bargaining,  so that the  fox is bargaining with  other foxes about the  chicken coop.

For this reason, I thought it might be helpful to write a few posts on Minnesota's legal framework for collective bargaining.   Knowledge is power:   the better citizens understand collective bargaining, the more effective they can be in monitoring its course.  It will take a few posts to cover the subject effectively.

You can find the Public Employees Labor Relations Act, by clicking on the following link. Chapter 179A. PELRA was enacted in Minnesota in 1971, and amended on a number of occasions thereafter.   The law is not neutral on the topic of whether public bodies, such as school boards, should be receptive to public labor unions.   The  chapter begins with a declaration of policy as follows:

It is the public policy of this state and the purpose of sections 179A.01 to 179A.25 to promote orderly and constructive relationships between all public employers and their employees. This policy is subject to the paramount right of the citizens of this state to keep inviolate the guarantees for their health, education, safety, and welfare.......Unresolved disputes between the public employer and its employees are injurious to the public as well as to the parties. Adequate means must be established for minimizing them and providing for their resolution. Within these limitations and considerations, the legislature has determined that overall policy is best accomplished by: 
(1) granting public employees certain rights to organize and choose freely their representatives;
(2) requiring public employers to meet and negotiate with public employees in an appropriate bargaining unit and providing that the result of bargaining be in written agreements; and
(3) establishing special rights, responsibilities, procedures, and limitations regarding public employment relationships which will provide for the protection of the rights of the public employee, the public employer, and the public at large."
PELRA, thus requires public employers to "meet and negotiate" with representatives of public unions (sometimes called the exclusive representative).  But public employers are not required to "meet and negotiate" about anything and everything that public employees want to bring to the table.  For example, school districts need not negotiate about the District's overall  budget, or the curriculum, or teaching philosophy.   All of those are of great interest to teachers and principals, and properly run school districts involve employees in dialong on these issues. But those issues are not bargaining issues, unless the school district unwisely places them at issue.

The list of the things that public employers must negotiate is largely regulated by PELRA itself.   The employee section on the right to negotiate says:  "Public employees, through their certified exclusive representative, have the right and obligation to meet and negotiate in good faith with their employer regarding grievance procedures and the terms and conditions of employment, but this obligation does not compel the exclusive representative to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession."

The employer section tells us that PELRA is not designed to limit "inherent managerial rights:"  It says:
A public employer is not required to meet and  negotiate on matters of inherent managerial policy. Matters of inherent managerial policy include, but are not limited to, such areas of discretion or policy as the functions and programs of the employer, its overall budget, utilization of technology, the organizational structure, selection of personnel, and direction and the number of personnel.
For this reason, almost all collective bargaining agreements contain a management-rights clause which seeks expressly to make it clear that the agreement does not purport to limit management's rights, unless those rights are expressly restricted in the agreement.  Sone school districts, however, do meet and negotiate over areas of managerial policy.   When they do that, they are abdicating their responsibility to the public, unwisely, and neglecting the injunction of PELRA to respect the "paramount right of the citizens of this state to keep inviolate the guarantees for their health, education, safety, and welfare."    I'm not suggesting at all that employees shouldn't be consulted about managerial policy.  On the contrary, strong organizations listen to their employees and provide avenues for expressing concerns.   But they don't, and should not, limit their discretion to manage effectively.  The purpose of collective bargaining is to create a forum to negoatiate the terms of employment:  wages and hours, benefits, and other economic terms.

I'll try in future posts to provide some legal background and some practical information related to the ongoing discussion about the impact of collective bargaining on school reform.


See School Collective Bargaining:  House Research:
Contract for Student Achievement
Put Kids First Minnesota
Schmedemann, The Scope of Bargaining in Minnesota's Public Sector Labor Relations: A Proposal for Change, 10 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 213 (1984)



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Will a New Generation of DFL Leaders Put Kids First

Minneapolis school reform advocates are celebrating  a victory in Minneapolis, and they should be.   The victory elevated a number of democrats to the city council who seem to favor demanding concessions or cooperation from the labor movement in reforming public education in the the city.   Possibly this victory represents a change in the focus of the DFL, or possibly it simply means that the DFL is willing to tolerate education change agents in the elective council that has no powers to make that change.  But the tone of the dialog among DFL candidates in the Council race suggests that a change is occurring at the core of the urban DFL that's saying, enough is enough, we need to put kids first in the way we run our schools.  And if that happens in Minneapolis, possibly it could infect democrats at the legislature and in the Governor's mansion, and that would be a great step forward.  If these changes  results in change that actually works, then this could be a watershed moment in education here in Minnesota.   But its going to take a whole lot more than just electing the new generation of democrats to the City Council to make a difference for kids in schools.

The danger is that the change that results from all this reform talk will not translate into changes that actually work for the young people whom the change movement is supposed to benefit.  Let me start with the gruesome facts regarding the impact of No Child Left Behind and other reforms that have occurred since 2000.   Contrary to media hype fed by some elements in the reform movement, reading and math scores for whites, blacks and Hispanics have risen modestly since 1970.   That's since 1970, folks, twenty years before the passage of No Child Left Behind.   And, contrary to recent breathless claims among some reform advocates, recent increases in scores have not outpaced the increases that occurred back in the 1970's.  National reforms, the testing, the anti-union movement, attempts at privatization, and all the rest, have not measurably improved the pace of educational improvement any more than what occurred decades ago.

 The introduction of charter schools has not worked on a global scale.   The introduction of futher competition in public schools has not worked on a global scale.   The evidence on the impact of charter schools and school competition is controversial, but the Minnesota's non-partisan study of charter schools conducted by the Office of Legislative Auditor does not support a claim that the system of charter schools is improving education on a global scale.   Traditional publics are doing as well as charters with the target population.  

I'm not suggesting that the evidence tells us that we are doing well enough.  Nor, am I supporting the folks who claim that we can't make quantum leaps in education until we eliminate poverty or drive out all racism.  On the contrary, I'm suggesting that the evidence is telling us that we haven't been bold enough, or persistent enough, because we've been barely scratching the surface in making the changes in teaching and learning that must be made inside schools.   Changing what we do in classrooms is so much harder than changing the ownership of schools.  Its easy (but very expensive) to lower class size, but its very hard to change the instruction that occurs in the class after class size is lowered.  Its relatively easy to create a bonus system to reward teachers who happen to have students who do a bit better than some other students, but that bonus system is unlikely to radically change the teaching that actually occurs in the classroom.  

I've just said that charter schools have not created global improvement in student achivement, but the introduction of charter schools has served a very important function, which is to create examples of what works.   Some charters are doing fabulously well.   I contend that they are doing fabulously well, not because they are charters, per se, but because they are making reforms in the delivery of instruction.   They are requiring that their teaching force use data in different ways.  They are implementing changes based upon the data acquired from test results immediately, instead of waiting until October of the following year to examine their MCA results, when it is far to late to use them.  They are extending the school day and extending the school year.  They are creating a culture that respects learning, and they are adjusting their teaching methods based on what is working with their students -- all of them.  They are trying new things, not because they are fads propagated by consultants with systems bearing their names.  They are trying new things because they make sense, and if they don't work, they are pitching them.   And, of course, when these ideas make sense, the union cannot stand in the way and block them.

Most of these highly successful charters are led by instructional leaders who are focused on making sure that every student's needs are addressed.   They are asking their teachers to use direct instruction, if it works for their students.  And, if it isn't working, then they are going to get rid of it, because they are running their schools based on results, not on preserving the status quo. If the emerging leadership of the DFL wants to learn from charters, it will insist that public schools take bold action to implement changes in instruction, in teaching approaches, in use of data, in collaboration among all professional staff, and by responding with agility to the needs of their students.    Unions need to clear the way for these changes; policy makers need to insist on them, because the lesson of this election is that the DFL is moving in a new direction.     That means that school leadership should identify any aspects of the labor agreement which stands in the way of implementing that bold action.  Not because unions needed to be busted to create reform.  There is just no evidence that kids are learning more effectively where unions are dismantled.   The goal is not busting unions:  the goal is to give management the ability and responsibility to implement bold changes in instruction, and to make the necessary changes in delivery of instruction, that the evidence tells us is required.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Collective Bargaining under the Microscope in Minnesota

In the last several months, the education community, especially in the Twin Cities, has begun to talk about transparency in the collective bargaining process.  The footprints of this discussion may be found in the twin cities media in many places:
  • Beth Hawkins recent article in MinnPost:  "Samuels, coalition want the public at teacher contract talks"
  • Kim McGuire's Blog in the Minneapolis Tribune:   Minority leaders call for Minneapolis teachers union to reopen contract talks to the public  
  • Lynell Mickelson's Blog in MinnPost:  "MFT closes the doors again, making it seem both arrogant and out of touch"
  • A public letter from Superintendent Johnson of Minneapolis rebuking the teachers union for seeking a mediator to conduct closed negotiations: " I strongly disagree with MFT’s decision to shut the public out of these talks. 
  • An opinion column in the Minneapolis Tribune:  "Minneapolis superintendent needs your support in contract talks to enact the reforms that schools need."
  • An article in the Tribune reporting the walkout of teachers from the bargaining table in St. Paul:  "St. Paul schools end teacher negotiations"
  • Regular posts reporting on the course and content of negotiations on, Put Kids First, an  organization of progressives who became frustrated by their inability to influence the strategic direction of the Minneapolis public schools, because often their  proposals for reform were rejected as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.   Put Kids First frames the issue this way:   "Do our public schools exist first and foremost to provide kids with the best possible education with public dollars? Or to first provide jobs to adults, regardless of their performance or what students need?"
The recent publicity arises from the contention of reformers that table negotiations between the teachers union and district management should take place in the open, with observers monitoring the progress of those negotiations and reporting back to the public.   This contention, in turn, arises from a lack of trust that school board and school leadership  in many school districts are putting kids first in negotiations.  Every two years, reformers see management and labor disappear into some room and months later return with a collective bargaining agreement that allegedly puts the district in a straightjacket, preventing necessary reforms.   And, at times it appears that district budgets are set, effectively, by labor agreements that appropriate all new resources, and even more than new resources, to compensation agreements, forcing crippling layoffs and eviscerating the district's ability to purchase adequate textbooks, forcing the closing of schools, or increasing class size.

In a DFL-dominated political environment, as exists in Minneapolis and St. Paul, there is as well a perception that the two big-district school boards can't perform their trustee function as advocates for management, because their election depends primarily on party endorsements, and those endorsements depend in turn on labor union support.  And so, it seems often that the two parties who are going into the back room to make a deal are actually on the same side.   As a parent, I often thought of it this way:  who is in that room bargaining for the kids?    

Groups like Put Kids First are raising an extremely important issue:   the public schools are a public trust.  Their governance is a matter of the highest public importance.   The allocation of scarce resources among compensation, ongoing operational costs, and  school improvement is a matter that ought to be accomplished in public view.  A school board should not be able to make an agreement that forces a reduction in teaching force (thus raising class size) in the dark.   Too often in Minnesota, labor and management make a deal, the effect of which is to force undesirable or even crippling cuts, but the announcement of that agreement nowhere explains the consequences.    Indeed, many school districts intentionally separate the two -- the cost of the labor agreement and the consequent cuts -- in order to prevent the public from understanding the full import of the agreement that has just been signed.   The attention that organizations like Put Kids First has placed on the relationship between collective bargaining and school improvement has been a high public service.    

At the same time, there is danger that the politics of this issue will cause the discussion to deteriorate into an exacerbation of the perception that teachers are under attack, or that they are being scapegoated entirely for the achievement gap.   How then can we achieve the laudable goal of Students First, that we manage our school districts "first and foremost to provide kids with the best possible education with public dollars" while creating a supportive environment for professional educators?  This a question that we've thought about quite a bit here in St. Cloud, and I decided it might be useful to run a series of posts that explore this issue in detail.   I'm going to suggest the following:
  • That the elective process for school boards must assure that board members are nominated and elected based on their commitment to putting kids first.   Accomplishing that objective will require different solutions in different communities and is especially difficult when the DFL allows labor endorsements to drive candidate selection. 
  • That school boards should adopt and publicly communicate their bargaining objectives so the public can hold the board accountable for achievement of those objectives. 
  • That collective bargaining has a policy component and an operational component.   Collective bargaining at the table is operational, and it should operate within the framework of the board's bargaining principles or interests.  What is said at the table is far less important than whether the negotiators are operating within the framework of publicly announced principles, and whether the agreement is then publicly evaluated against those principles. 
  • That among these interests must be the principle that the board of education will not compromise away the resources needed to deliver quality education.   At a minimum, a board of education should never agree to fund compensation increases by making budgetary cuts.....Compensation increases should come from state appropriation increases, not from program cuts or class size increases.  
  • That in the case of prolonged bargaining, the public is entitled to periodic updates from the board of education reassuring the public that the board of education is maintaining faithful adherence to publicly announced principles. 
  • That school boards need to accept responsibility for the board's position, rather than placing the onus on the superintendent and other executive leadership.   In Minnesota, if a superintendent becomes identified as hostile to labor, it can damage that superintendent's career and destroy his or her relationship with professional educators.  Only if the board of education takes responsibility for the district's position, can a superintended be freed of the fear that putting kids first in bargaining will damage his or her career.
  • That the framework for collective bargaining in Minnesota needs to be improved, so that the law encourages school boards to conduct negotiations in ways that transparently put kids first.   
I'll have more to say about these issue in coming posts.   Throughout, my goal is to support the proposition that collective bargaining in Minnesota needs to be reformed or improved, while always maintaining respect for education professionals. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What can a School Board do to promote student achievement?

This is the first in a series of posts focusing on what a school board can do to create the conditions for improvement of student achievement.

On Monday and Tuesday, our school board will be conducting a retreat primarily to discuss issues that can help us look at our board's role in supporting improvements in student achievement.   That has caused us to look, as well, at whether there is research that points to effective school board practices and attitudes that seem to make a difference in student achievement.   As it turns out, the National School Boards Association  and several other state school board organization -- especially Iowa's -- provide some excellent resources, and in today's post, I'm going to link to some of these resources and begin a discussion on what they are telling us.

Why are we spending time -- nearly two full days of time -- examining what our school board can do to promote student achievement?   Our school district has much to be proud of.   If you are a student who comes to us ready to learn there is really no better place to obtain an outstanding education.  We have a broad range of advanced placement courses, the broadest in central Minnesota.   We provide opportunities in science and technology, literature and the arts and music, and our top graduates are placed in some of the top colleges and universities in the country.   When you look at the test scores of our non-disadvantaged students, and compare them to similarly situated students in other districts, the scores of our students are comparable, and frankly the top students are exhibiting stellar performance, however you measure performance.    But in our school district, like many other school districts in Minnesota, there is a growing number of students, many with educational disadvantages, who are not thriving    Like those other districts, we need to do far more to attack the growing gap between the students who are succeeding in school and those who are not.    If we are going to help them succeed,  we need to try new strategies.   So what can we do as a school board to make a difference?

    As it turns out, there is a fair amount of research on what school boards can do, to make a difference.  Some of the best research on school board effectiveness comes from the Iowa School Board's Association's Lighthouse Inquiry.  Over a number of years, the Lighthouse Inquiry studied the activities and attitudes of school boards in districts where student achievement is improving, as opposed to the activities and attitudes of school boards in districts where student achievement is unacceptable and stagnant.   You can link to that  research here:  "Lighthouse Inquiry."       Another excellent resource can be found in an online publication by the National School Board's Association Center for Public Education, called the Eight Characteristics of Effective School Board, which is the summary of a number of studies on school board effectiveness.    The "Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards" argues that the research tells us that:
Eight Characteristics of an Effective School Board

1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8.Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf
  • Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision. 
  • Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels. 
  • Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.  
  • Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communication structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving goals.   
  • Effective school boards are data savvy:  they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement. 
  • Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.  According to researchers....effective boards saw a responsibility to maintain high standards even in the midst of budget challenges.
  • Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual intent. 
  • Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts.  
1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards#sthash.a8JgTFVw.dpuf
Eight Characteristics of an Effective School Board

1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8. Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf


1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8. Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf
  In 2007, our board of education adopted the national school boards association's Key Work philosophy of governance.   The Key Work governance philosophy seeks to promote effective practices described in the research.   But adopting these principles is one thing, putting them to practice is quite another.  "Effective school boards take part in team development and training...to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts."   One of the questions we are asking at the retreat is, "what should our board agenda look like" if we are actually implementing effective practices?  What should we be spending our board time on?  What information do we need, and how can we better inform our selves so that we can promote student achievement.   

Ok, Jerry.  That's well enough?  But those are just words:  how does a school board put those concepts into practice on a daily basis?     And how does one figure out which practices can actually make a difference in student achievement?   These are great questions.  I'm glad you asked them.   Let's talk about those questions in the next posts. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional

Welcome to JVonKorff on Education.    Beth Hawkins has recently posted an excellent article on Minnesota's school finance system and referenced this blogsite.    Over the last several years, I've been advocating to anyone who will listen that Minnesota's school finance system is deeply flawed and plainly unconstitutional.    I suspect that the MinnPost article will drive a bit of traffic here, and so I'm posting the following table of contents to some of the postings on this topic here.

The view that we take, here on jvonkorff on education is that Minnesota's constitution should be interpreted in a way that gives it meaning, but that the key to making that clause effective is to require the Governor and legislature to do their job by coming to grips with the cost of the mission that they give to local school districts.   I argue that the decision that comes closest to doing that is Washington's McLeary decision, and for that reason, I've devoted five posts to that decision alone.  

McCleary v State, Washington's Groundbreaking School Finance Decision
 McCleary v. State, Part I   

McCleary v State Requires Legislature to Base Funding on Actual Cost
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part II

McCleary v State and Determining the Cost of Education  Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part III

 McCleary v. State: what level of scrutiny is appropriate for legislative funding decisions Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part IV

Correlating the cost of education: fund the child.
Jvonkorff on Education  McCleary V. State Part V

Summary of Decision Network for Excellence
Washington Supreme Court Blog  

JvonKorff on Education, The Rose Decision 

Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part I

Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part II

Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part III

Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part IV

Monday, May 27, 2013

Will 2013 School Finance Legislation "Usher in A New Era of Excellence"

This is the third in a series on the 2013 K-12 education finance legislation.   In their book on "Doubling Student Performance"  Odden and Archibald warn that providing significant new funding to public education will not necessarily foster significant educational improvement.  They write:

"from assessing the research on the education system's use of new resources over time, Odden and Picus concluded that the education system, has used the bulk of new resources for programs outside the core instructional program -- not the best strategy if the goal is to dramatically improve student performance in core subjects.   .... From recent studies of use of funds after an adequacy-oriented school finance reform....it also seems schools and districts do not use new resources for strategies that we have concluded will have the largest impact on improvement in student learning, such as ongoing professional development with instructional coaches, tutoring for struggling students, and extended learning time"  Odden and Archibald, Doubling Student Performance.  


In the first two posts, I tried to put the funding this legislative session in perspective.   The basic formula increases are average.   The special education increases are modest, but welcome.  Districts will receive significant increases in the second year of the biennium, and for that, all of us are grateful.  In this third post, I want to begin to ask the question whether Minnesota will realize the promises offered by the authors of the 2013 legislation.   In a close-of-session press release,  the House K-12 Policy chair explained:

 "This is going to usher in a new era of educational excellence. Thanks to this bill, Minnesota is poised to reclaim our role as a national leader in education.” In addition to providing badly needed new dollars for schools, the budget includes reforms to student assessments and diagnostics, teacher licensure, and integration initiatives to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible."   .

In her close of session comments, Education Commissioner Casellius asserted:

This bill is one of the most comprehensive bills in a decade, directing nearly a half billion dollars towards early learning, all day kindergarten, special education and other critical needs.  Those investments, coupled with smart policy reforms, will help us close achievement gaps.....and better meet the neds of students in ways that will improve the quality of education in Minnesota for decades to come."

      Which of these visions will be realized in the next two years.   Will the modest additional increases in funding result in "a new era of educational excellence" as Representative Mariana predicted, or will the funds primarily be used for purposes which have marginal impacts on student achievement?  Now that the legislative session is over, school districts will begin their bi-annual collective bargaining sessions with teachers and with other bargaining groups.   In past bargaining rounds, many school districts have negotiated contracts which consume all of the funding increases provided by the state, and many have provided increases in excess of the state provided funding increments.  When that happens, the primary impact of legislative increases is to provide fairer compensation for education professionals -- a worthy objective, of course -- while ushering in significant cuts in our ability to meet student educational needs.

    The decision whether this year's school funding legislation will be historic, or an abject failure, depends upon decisions about to be made when school districts make decisions about how these new resources will be used.     Those of us who are committed to using that money to "usher in a new era of educational excellence" must maintain a public dialog on how the increases provided by the legislature will achieve that objective.  In addition, we must reexamine the use of our entire education budgets, to make sure that we are using those funds consistent with best practices.  We may disagree with some of Odden's strategies, but we must have a strategic dialog now to make sure that decisions are driven by an appropriate strategy.  You can link to Odden's positions on how school districts can use resources to improve acheivement by Here Clickng Here.    Other strategies may be appropriate in particular communities, but what will not work is the old paradigm.  The old paradigm begins with setting the school budget at the bargaining table, allocating most increased resources to pay and benefits increases, and cutting programs to bridge the gap between labor and management.  If we follow that course again this year, this year's education bill will not lead to historic improvements, but instead will result in historic failures.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Minnesota's 2013 Ed Finance Law, Part II-Special Education

This is the second in a series on the 2013 K-12 education finance legislation.  In the last post, I pointed out that the authors and governor have described the legislation as historic.  The House K-12 Policy chair explained: "This is going to usher in a new era of educational excellence. Thanks to this bill, Minnesota is poised to reclaim our role as a national leader in education.... In addition to providing badly needed new dollars for schools, the budget includes reforms to student assessments and diagnostics, teacher licensure, and integration initiatives to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible."   In that first post, I  provided a table showing the history of our basic K-12 finance formula.   I showed that the basic funding formula was increased this session at almost exactly the average percentage rate of increase that has occurred over the past 20 years.    The increase in the formula is neither historically high, nor is it by any means the worst. 

In this second post, we'll take a look at the funding for special education again in the context of one of the major challenges in Minnesota's school finance system--the ever rising special education cross subsidy.

Perhaps the best summary of this year's session on special education would be the following:
  • Legislative appropriations for special education are increasing during the next biennium, but not as fast as state and federal mandatory costs.  The effective increase in state funding in other areas will be blunted by increases in their unfunded special education costs.    
  • The State continues its practice of mandating significantly more special education services, delivered in a more costly way, than required by federal special education law, even as school district special education costs rise faster than their revenues
  • Recommendations from the Office of Legislative Auditor in a comprehensive report to the legislature so far go largely unheeded.   
  • There appears to be no present prospect that either Governor or legislature has any intent to take the kind of courageous action that would be required to address the rising special education deficit, either on the revenue or cost side of the equation.   Next year is a policy year at the legislature.   It would take farsighted, deeply thoughtful, leadership to make significant inroads in Minnesota's dysfunctional special education finance system.  
In short, this year's K-12 legislation does not in any respect represent an historic attempt to attack the problems in special education.   It is by no means the worst special education bill, in recent years, that would be the 2005-2006 biennium, nor is it the best...that would be the 2007 legislation.    The K-12 finance legislation provides increases in special education funding, but Minnesota school districts are still left with gigantic unfunded special education deficits, "cross subsidy" deficits which are likely to grow even larger in the next two years. 

The total shortfall in special education funding, called the "cross subsidy" has grown markedly over the years.  The following table provides the history of the cross subsidy since 2002, and the percentage increase or decrease in the cross subsidy each year.  The last two years represent advance estimates.  We won't know the actual cross subsidy until after each of these years data is compiled.


Cross Subsidy  Increase %
2002 $367,000,000
2003 $397,000,000 8.17%
2004 $426,000,000 7.30%
2005 $462,000,000 8.45%
2006 $520,000,000 12.55%
2007 $598,000,000 15.00%
2008 $507,000,000 -15.22%
2009 $553,300,000 9.13%
2010 $539,950,000 -2.41%
2011 $546,200,000 1.16%
2012 $595,400,000 9.01%
2013 $613,900,000 3.11%
2114 $632,900,000 3.09%
2115 $653,500,000 3.25%

A couple of features from this history are worth mentioning.  First, the special education cross subsidy reflects the difference between total special education costs and the combination of state and federal special education revenues.   Second, the large special education cross subsidy increases experienced in 2006-2007 coincide with 4% formula increases passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Pawlenty for those years.   These larger than average basic  formula increases were thus partially financed by holding down special education revenues, while state and federal mandated special education costs continued to rise.  Third, during the 2007 legislative session, the DFL legislature --especially the Senate --rebelled against this trend and insisted on attempting to reverse the trend of ever rising special education cross subsidies. A stalemate over special education relief was broken with a compromise that reduced general fund formula relief in exchange for larger special education funding.   However, despite the effort in that one session, the special education cross subsidy has continued to rise.  

No Governor, nor either DFL or GOP caucus, however, has ever proposed to come even close to fully funding the state's mandatory special education district costs.   The shortfall derives from the longstanding practice of both parties and both branches of government to add new responsibilities to local school districts before fully funding existing responsibilities.  

The next table displays state special education revenues provided to local school districts in the two major funding categories, Regular Aid and Excess Cost Aid.  This year, the Office of Legislative Auditor presented the legislature with comprehensive data and a number of recommendations on special education finance.   Neither the Dayton administration and the legislature has not yet suggested that either intend to address the problems identified in a particularly courageous way.

Looking at these figures in isolation, it is impossible to make judgments about the special education funding component of the 2013 finance law.  That's because in Minnesota, we legislate without considering the cost of the services we fund.  Instead, we focus on the increase in revenues provided, not whether the revenues we provided are enough to do the job. 

Special Education Regular and Excess Cost Revenues 2002-20115

Regular Aid Excess Cost Total
2002 $507,000,000 $91,900,000 $598,900,000
2003 $490,000,000 $59,600,000 $549,600,000
2004 $513,000,000 $92,600,000 $605,600,000
2005 $552,000,000 $95,900,000 $647,900,000
2006 $559,000,000 $106,400,000 $665,400,000
2007 $528,000,000 $104,300,000 $632,300,000
2008 $667,000,000 $109,000,000 $776,000,000
2009 $717,000,000 $111,000,000 $828,000,000
2010 $609,000,000 $97,000,000 $706,000,000
2011 $749,000,000 $109,000,000 $858,000,000
2012 $768,000,000 $108,000,000 $876,000,000
2013 $856,000,000 $115,000,000 $971,000,000
2114 $916,000,000 $120,000,000 $1,036,000,000
2115 $965,698,000 $123,104,000 $1,088,802,000





Saturday, May 25, 2013

What's in the 2013 Education Finance Bill--Part I

Jvonkorff on Education has been on vacation, but now we're back.     This week, we begin a detailed discussion of the recently passed education budget.   What's in the budget?   Do the facts sustain the high hopes of its sponsors?    Shortly after the House passed the final version of the budget, the House DFL caucus posted the following description of the budget:

“The investments are strongly tied to meeting ambitious goals called for in the bill that include closing the achievement gap, raising high school graduation rates, achieving literacy for all students by third grade, and having all students acquire career and college readiness by graduation.......This is a historic bill that will open the doors of opportunity for countless Minnesota students,” ....“It invests in the kinds of proven tools like early childhood education that we need to close our achievement gap and build the world’s best workforce. This is going to usher in a new era of educational excellence. Thanks to this bill, Minnesota is poised to reclaim our role as a national leader in education.” In addition to providing badly needed new dollars for schools, the budget includes reforms to student assessments and diagnostics, teacher licensure, and integration initiatives to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible."
After signing the bill, Governor Dayton's blog described the bill as follows:

A Historic Investment in Education:  For the first time in its history, Minnesota will offer All-Day Kindergarten to every child in Minnesota.  We are giving thousands of children access to high-quality preschool and child care.  And we are freezing tuition for the next two years at the University of Minnesota and all MnSCU campuses and increasing student financial aid to make higher education more affordable for middle class families. With nearly a billion dollars in new money for education, this budget invests in every learner in Minnesota – from early education through higher education.  This new funding will help give our kids access to a world-class education and train the best-educated workforce in the world. This budget will also eliminate the school shift by the end of the next biennium.

Lets begin our review of the budget by looking at the history of Minnesota's general education basic formula in the K-12 budgets over the past years and comparing it to the basic formula in the new legislation .  The general education "basic" formula is provided to all school districts to spend largely as they wish on regular operations.  To calculate district revenues you take the number of students (weighted) and multiply by the formula allowance.   The basic formula is weighted based on the grade level of the students, so that the actual formula varies, and the total amount of revenue received by a district depends upon whether the district has more students in high school or elementary school.   School districts with smaller special populations (special education, poverty, English language learners, for example) push for budgetary increases to concentrate on the basic formula; school districts with larger special populations push for more of the money to focus on categorical aids, because typically the programs run significant deficits.  

Lets look today at the history of basic formula increases  and compare it to what the legislature has done this last session.

Here are the new formula increases for this session and the percentage rate of increase.  Keep in mind that over the years there have been some changes in the content of the formula, and so when we do comparisons, adjustments have to be made to attempt to report comparable numbers.   The reported percentages for this biennium don't track completely with the calculation of precentages for prior years.    A $76 increase in the formula, in prior years would have been reported as a 1.5% increase.   Presumably the elevated reported percentage comes from a change in the pupil weights which apparently produces more revenue for the same general formula dollars.

Basic Formula Increases (Dollar Increases and percentages)

New
2013-14 $76 1.75%
2014-15 $78 1.75%

Here are the historic formula increases and percentages.  Keep in mind also that it takes a smaller increase to provide a 1 percent increase in the earlier years than later.  

School Year Dollar Amount Percent
1992-93 0 0.00%
1993-94 0 0.00%
1994-95 0 0.00%
1995-96 55 1.80%
1996-97 0 0.00%
1997-98 76 2.45%
1998-99 79 2.48%
1999-2000 167 5.12%
2000-01 157 4.58%
2001-02 104 2.90%
2002-03 104 2.82%
2003-04 0 0.00%
2004-05 0 0.00%
2005-06 182 4.80%
2006-07 191 4.81%
2007-08 100 2.40%
2008-09 50 1.17%
2009-10 0 0.00%
2010-11 0 0.00%
2011-12 50 0.98%
2012-13 50 0.98%
Average 65 1.78%

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Referendum Votes Reflect Political Philosophy of Voters, Not Stewardship



Last Thursday, I testified on behalf of Representative Newton's levy extension bill.  The bill would restore Minnesota law to its former provisions before 1994, allowing school boards to extend operating levies by a vote of the school board.  

 During the committee discussion, an opponent of the bill suggested that school referendum votes serve the purpose of publicly verifying the stewardship of the school leadership.     I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest that, in fact, this is provably incorrect.  

In the following table I’ve listed some referendum votes:

District - per p
Year
Result
Mpls-   $2000
2008
Passed                                71.0%                         
Osseo      $285
2012
Failed 33,792 - 33,908         49.9%
St. Paul   $821
2012
Passed  78,692 – 49,303     61.5%
St. Cloud $555
2008
Passed  24,295 - 22,176      52%


I suggest that these votes are not reflective at all of which districts are the best stewards of money, nor which districts are doing the best educationally, but rather are reflective of the readiness of their citizens to support public education, regardless of any of those factors.   For example, the Osseo school district has been recognized as exhibiting stellar results in attacking the achievement gap, yet that district could not renew a small referendum. The loss of that referendum threatens to destroy the very programs that support these positive results. 

In many states, school boards are called trustees.  We school board members are, in fact, trustees.   It is our job to find efficiencies, to act as wise stewards of public funds, to hold our employees accountable.    The school board members that I know take this job very seriously.   The whole idea of representative democracy is that the public votes for stewards and gives them the power and authority to do their job.    One of the reasons that Minnesota’s school finance system is fundamentally broken  is that it gives board members the responsibility, but not the power, to do our job.