The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, December 19, 2008

How NBPTS will kill public education

Over the past year, I’ve been making the case on this blog that local/state/federal government funding, which has historically made up nearly 100% of K12 revenues, will no longer be sufficient going forward, and that the system will need to look for alternate sources of support to avoid a major contraction (ie, significant cutbacks, layoffs, reduction of services, etc.). To remain viable, the system will need to look to various forms of stakeholder support, necessitating a shift to a collaborative, peer-based approach to schooling.

Which brings us to the latest news in the saga of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

For those of you unfamiliar with NBPTS, it is an organization that certifies teachers who successfully complete a screening process designed to identify effective educators. Founded in 1987, it has certified more than 70,000 teachers, most of whom receive annual bonuses or increased pay from their states due to their certification. There are millions and millions of dollars spent every year by the states on certification and teacher incentives.

It’s a great idea. There’s only one hitch: it doesn’t work. Research shows that certified teachers are no more effective than teachers who have not gone through the certification process.

What does NBPTS do with this research? Here’s what they don’t do: they don’t learn from it, retool, and figure out how to identify and certify truly effective teachers. Instead, they try to bury, discredit, or dispute any research that doesn’t agree with their assertions.

The latest attempt: a bad piece of PR called “Measuring What Matters,” in which a group of 10 NBPTS-certified teachers do their best to question the existing body of research, mostly by saying that available research measures effectiveness on the basis of independent assessments (ie, state tests), and that what they do – the superior value they bring to the classroom – cannot be measured using independent measures of student knowledge and skills.

They argue instead for “authentic” assessments, portfolios, and other components of a “multiple measures” model that are all based in subjective analysis of student work, assumedly by the same people responsible for teaching them in the first place. (I’ve written about grade inflation, and the need for independent assessment, here.)

It’s clearly detached thinking – but how will this mentality kill public education?

As I’ve said, public education is going to have to start reaching out to stakeholders (not government, but the rest of us stakeholders) for support. And if educators and administrators toe the line on this thinking – “we’re really good at what we do, but you can’t possibly measure it” – in the face of public awareness of poor K12 outcomes (dropout rates, remedial postsecondary rates, international comparisons, and more), the public will simply balk. They’ll be polite – “good luck with that” – but they’ll quickly realize that it’s pointless to invest in a system governed by this mentality, and walk away. The opportunity to find outside support will be lost – and public education will have to face the wrenching cutbacks it could have otherwise avoided.

I’ll close with a quote from Jim Collins’ “Good to Great and the Social Sectors”:

To throw up your hands and say, “But we cannot measure performance in the social sectors the way you can in a business” is simply lack of discipline. All indicators are flawed, whether qualitative or quantitative. Test scores are flawed, mammograms are flawed, crime data are flawed, customer service data are flawed, patient-outcome data are flawed. What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor. What do you mean by great performance? Have you established a baseline? Are you improving? If not, why not? How can you improve even faster toward your audacious goals?

To attract stakeholders, this is the kind of thinking that education will have to adopt – and definitely not the kind of thinking that involves arguing against independent outcomes data simply because you don’t like what the data represent.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Property taxes and education funding

According to The Lincoln Institute's recent report, The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma, approximately 30% of the average K12 budget comes directly from property taxes. And according to everybody else, property taxes are going to take a major hit over the next several years for a couple of reasons:

Earlier this month, the Mortgage Bankers Association announced that 1 in 10 homes were either delinquent on payments (7%) or in some stage of foreclosure (3%). Here's the chart for the past few years from USA Today:

And while experts expect this number to increase as unemployment increases and home values continue to fall, there's another ticking time bomb that hasn't gotten much attention: the Pick-a-Pay mortgages.

Most people know about the low-introductory-rate mortgages that allowed people to get into their homes cheaply before dramatically increasing monthly payments down the road. Most of those were scheduled to reset within a 2-3 year window, which means they've been resetting recently and will continue to do so over the next year or so.

Pick-a-Pay is a variation on that, allowing people to essentially choose how much they wanted to pay on their mortgages - including an option to pay only the interest, or even just a portion of the interest. As a result, people ended up buying much more home than they could afford, since they only had to pay some or all of the interest, never touching the principal. But as loan amounts increase (since the unpaid portion of each month's scheduled payment rolls back into the value of the loan), many of those will reset as well, but within a 5-year time frame.

Here's the chart from this MSNBC article:

So our foreclosure problems aren't going away anytime soon - which is not only a problem for generating property taxes, but also for the impact that foreclosures have on values for the rest of the housing market.

Falling home values
According to "Why home values may take decades to recover" in USA Today, home values nationally have dropped 19% from their peak two years ago (it's a bit higher - 22% - in an index of 20 major cities). It's scary to think that your $200,000 house is now only worth $162,000 - a $38,000 decline in just two years.

What's scarier, however, is to realize that it has further to fall if we're to get back to historical trends. Housing prices were stable (adjusting for inflation) from 1950 to 2000. Here's what it would take to get back to traditional levels:

So far, home values nationally have tumbled an average of 19% from their peak. As bad as that is, prices would need to fall as least 17% more to reach their traditional relationship to household income, according to a USA TODAY analysis of home prices since 1950. In that scenario, a $300,000 house in 2006 could be worth about $200,000 when real estate prices hit bottom.

Foreclosures and falling home values are obviously related: increased foreclosures will lower home values, and lower home values increase the rate of foreclosures (since it's easy for people to simply walk away from their homes when the owe more, perhaps substantially more, than their homes are worth).

And both have a major effect on property taxes and, therefore, on school funding.

So what do we do?

It won't help much to decouple school funding from property taxes. Revenue from all sources is down dramatically, and the funding capabilities of local and stage governments have been severely reduced as a result. Changing the source mix for school funding won't change the fact that revenues are down across the board, and that there are any number of uses for the money that does come in.

So it comes down to accepting that government funding, which has traditionally comprised close to 100% of revenue for schools in the past, can no longer be considered a sole source. Schools and districts must look beyond government coffers for support, and they must redefine what support looks like.

If they only look at support in the form of cash, they're likely to be disappointed: while some schools may be able to replace lost revenues from a particularly supportive local community, it is nearly impossible to replace significant portions of a $500 billion revenue stream with private dollars.

But if they look beyond the dollars and work to build a partnership-driven model of education, it will be possible (not easy, but possible) to build a vibrant network of supporters lending time, expertise, goods and services, hard resources, and even cash.

Again, it won't be easy - but it is possible. And given current circumstances, I don't know that there's any other choice.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tough times in education

According to a November 2008 report from the National Governors Association (link here):

Although we are only a little more than four months into fiscal year 2009, 18 states already have cut budgets by $5.5 billion. Most states are now re-estimating their budgets, but given the recent jump in unemployment and the substantial erosion in both income and sales tax revenues, the expectation is that the shortfalls for both fiscal year 2009 and 2010 will grow dramatically over the next several months.

Schools and districts are facing unprecedented challenges: reduced availability of resources on the one hand, increasing performance requirements on the other. And early indicators on both fronts indicate that nothing’s going to change in the near future.

In the face of reduced revenues, no one can blame districts for cutting spending, as painful as it may be. However, there is an argument to be made for an increased investment in partnership efforts, and it’s an argument that partnership leaders inside and outside the schools need to be making to district and community leaders.

When facing tough economic times, businesses do more than cut costs: they look for additional sources of revenue. Schools and districts need to do the same, looking beyond their primary source of revenue to find other sources of support, which could include not only direct financial support from the community but also in-kind contributions of time, talent, and goods and services.

And there’s a dual benefit: the outside expertise and support attracted through partnerships can be targeted in ways that help schools and districts meet the performance challenges they face. It’s a win-win – but it’s one that has to gain buy-in at the top levels in order to succeed. My holiday wish to all of you is that you get an hour of uninterrupted time with your superintendent to make your case. :-)