K-12 Finance & Operations
It was a squabble over $2.9 million in property-tax breaks — small change for Exxon Mobil, a company that measures its earnings by the billions.
But when the East Baton Rouge Parish school board rejected the energy giant’s rather routine request last month, the “no” vote went off like a bomb in a state where obeisance to the oil, gas and chemical industries is the norm.
Even outspoken critics of the controversial program that redistributes money among school districts, acknowledge that they need it to avoid future school-finance lawsuits.
It’s time for education reporters to take back coverage of school funding.
Too often, news outlets rely on journalists covering state government to also report on money for schools, said Daarel Burnette II, a reporter for Education Week. But journalists on the education beat bring valuable context and perspective on how schools work and the impact of funding.
“This is within our wheelhouse as education reporters, so don’t forget that,” Burnette advised journalists in November during an Education Writers Association seminar on educational equity.
The journalist Dale Russakoff kept hearing the same word in her conversations with Arizona teachers during a reporting trip last spring for The New York Times Magazine. That word, she said, was “awakening.”
What’s in a Grade?
New data cast doubt on the connection between report card grades and academic achievement
Grades and student report cards provide parents with a picture of how their children are performing in school. New data, however, raises questions about just how accurate that picture is.
A pair of recent reports shed light on the connection, or lack thereof, between a student’s report card grades and their actual academic achievement.
Education reporters and progressive Twitter denizens are probably familiar with the graphic. Three people of different heights are trying to look over a fence. In one frame, labeled “equality,” each is given a box of the same height, leaving the shortest still unable to see over the fence.
In the other, labeled “equity,” each is given a box of different sizes so they’re at equal heights.
Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016)
Revenues and expenditures increased in public K-12 education for the third consecutive school year in 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016).
A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides information about State-level revenues and expenditures in the nation’s public K-12 education system for school year 2015-16. The report uses data from the FY 16 provisional National Public Education Financial Survey data file that state education agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia submit to NCES each year.
EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.
At the first Friday football game in the first school year since the school district in this East Texas town had been declared racially integrated — nearly 50 years after a federal court order — thousands of spectators dressed in forest-green Lobos gear filled the stadium anticipating a win.
Aleita Cook, 17, has never taken a class in government, civics or economics. In the two social studies classes she took in her four years at a technical high school in Providence, R.I. — one in American history, the other in world history — she learned mostly about wars, she said.
Left unanswered were many practical questions she had about modern citizenship, from how to vote to “what the point of taxes are.” As for politics, she said, “What is a Democrat, a Republican, an independent? Those things I had to figure out myself.”
There will be a new cast of characters overseeing state education policy in 2019—and many of them will be looking to shake things up to deliver on the many promises they made on the campaign trail in this year’s midterm elections.
New governors—many of them Democrats—are expected to propose ambitious budgets with new ways of funding their K-12 systems. The fresh crop of governors and state board members is likely to lead to big turnover of state schools superintendents in places where they’re appointed.
In addition to selecting top leadership roles, voters in at least 17 states considered 23 measures related to education on their statewide ballots this cycle — 16 of which passed, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. Measures considered by voters this year included:
What was the big takeaway for education in the 2018 elections? Sorry if this disappoints, but there just doesn’t appear to be a clear, simple story to tell. It was an election of seeming contradictions.
This was especially true in gubernatorial races, which matter a lot, given the key role state leaders play in education.
What Will the 2018 Election Results Mean for Education?
National Press Club • November 9, 2018
1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
No matter which way the 2018 elections go, one thing is clear: The outcome is sure to have big consequences for P-12 and higher education. Not only is control of the U.S. Congress in question, but 36 governors are on the ballot, along with 6,000 state legislative seats, seven state superintendents, plus countless local school board races.
It’s hard to overstate the potential implications for education in the 2018 elections. The reasons have less to do with the high-profile battle for control of Congress. It’s really about the volume of state-level contests in November.
In May, after massive teacher strikes shook up politics in a half-dozen states and thousands of teachers returned to the classroom fresh off the picket lines, a central question lingered: Was the “educator spring,” as the teacher walkouts were dubbed, a one-off event or just a taste of what’s to come?
School Board Races Heat Up Around Country
Often overshadowed, these local elections can have big consequences
While the election cycle spotlight typically focuses on state and federal movers and shakers, the outcomes of local school board races this fall could shake up education policies and priorities at the local level in many communities, with seats up for grabs from coast to coast.
When School Funding Isn’t Fair
What does educational inequity look like in Pennsylvania's schools?
(EWA Radio: Episode 180)
In recent years, multiple U.S. Secretaries of education, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, have called access to quality public schools a civil rights issue. At the same time, a growing number of states face court challenges to how they fund their K-12 systems, amid concerns that current approaches exacerbate inequities, particularly for historically underserved groups like students of color.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Unless otherwise noted, all Thursday events take place in Room 304 of The University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center.
How Much Do Charter Schools Cost Districts?
As charter school enrollment grows, researchers disagree on extent of financial impact and who's to blame.
It’s a refrain heard often in arguments against charter schools—they divert money and resources from already cash-strapped traditional public schools.
But determining to what extent that criticism rings true is anything but simple. Despite several studies, estimates of the costs traditional public schools bear as they lose students to charter schools are imprecise and vary considerably.
From state capitols to the U.S. Supreme Court, teachers are making headlines. Perennial issues like teacher preparation, compensation, and evaluation continue to be debated while a new wave of teacher activism and growing attention to workforce diversity are providing fresh angles for compelling coverage.
Huge contributions from tech titans, a STEM-packed curriculum, gadgets everywhere: Willie Brown Middle School was supposed to set the bar. Then it opened.
Aliyya Swaby: Texas Tribune’s Public Education Reporter
Beat Reporting: General News Outlets, Print and Online (Medium Staff)
Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky are on the picket lines this week, pushing for better compensation for themselves and more money for schools in their respective states.
These strikes come just weeks after West Virginia’s schools were shuttered statewide for almost two weeks in March, eventually sparking the legislature there to award teachers pay raises.
Such work stoppages are historically rare, but the teachers involved say they were necessary to force resolutions to months - or even years - of stalled negotiations.
In Wake of Parkland Shooting, Schools Look to Learn From Tragedy
Resources, questions to ask as schools reassess systems for identifying, helping troubled students.
How Does Your State Fare on the Education Week Report Card?
Nation overall gets 'C' grade; State leadership a factor in slow improvement, experts say (EWA Radio: Episode 155)
Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report offers a wealth of state-level data on students and schools, from academic indicators to equity in funding formulas. But how can reporters make the most of these numbers — and the state rankings — to tell compelling stories about their own local schools? Assistant director Sterling Lloyd and reporter Daarel Burnette join EWA Radio to discuss the national and state-by-state results. Which states made gains, which slipped behind, and why?
You file a freedom of information request with your local school district concerning financial data or a personnel investigation, but months later, there’s still no answer. What are the next steps, especially if your newsroom’s budget can’t stretch to cover the costs of suing for access? A veteran journalist and an expert on records requests offer strategies for success in making inquiries at the federal, state and local levels.
EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.
What is XQ and Why Is It Spending $100 Million to Reinvent High School?
Russlynn Ali discusses the foundation-backed 'Super School' project with journalists
At a gathering of education writers last week, the Emerson Collective’s Russlynn Ali walked not one but several fine lines, promising an “open source” ethos when sharing lessons gleaned from the group’s XQ Super School Project, but declining to commit the private philanthropy to transparency in its political spending and investments in education technology companies.
The Tax Bill: What Education Reporters Need to Know
Public schools and universities on edge over Republican plan for overhaul
The tax legislation congressional Republicans are rushing to complete has potentially big stakes for education. Critics suggest it will translate into a big financial hit for public schools and universities, as the rules for education-related deductions, revenue-raising bond measures and more are potentially tightened. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week and Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education offer a primer on the House and Senate versions of the tax-code overhaul, including key differences lawmakers still must hammer out.
In Chicago, where funding follows students, Tilden is one of more than a dozen shrinking neighborhood high schools that has been starved of resources, leaving students like Averett to prepare for their futures in largely empty buildings that can make dreaming big a daily struggle.
“Why should we go without because of our student body?” asked Averett, who dreams of attending college and pursuing a career in law enforcement. “I feel like it’s unfair. We should get the high school treatment too. But, you know, it is what it is.”
How well are America’s public school buildings and other facilities holding up? How much is the nation spending to build and maintain them? Is it enough? And just who’s bearing the costs?
Here’s some data to fuel that discussion gleaned from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, and a 2016 joint report from the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools.
Tight Budgets Force Hard Choices Among Child Care Providers
Funding constraints, high cost of quality leave early learning programs feeling squeezed
“An impossible equation.” That’s how Phil Acord describes the challenge of keeping afloat a high-quality early learning program that serves children from low-income families.
As the president of the Chambliss Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides around-the-clock care and education to young children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Acord knows well how difficult it can be for child care providers to simply keep their doors open each month.
When Cyber-Hackers Attack, School Districts Are Paying the Ransom.
Data security, student privacy, employee records at risk
From Georgia to California, school districts are facing a growing security threat: hackers. They target everything from employee payroll accounts to student records, and demand ransom in exchange for not taking advantage of sensitive information. Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal discovered that school districts are surprisingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. And many are opting to pay the ransom and not reporting the crime to authorities. Is your school district a target?
On a chilly winter morning in a tiny pocket of Silicon Valley known as North Fair Oaks, Everest Public High School is buzzing with energy. Out front, a tall, skinny teen jumps out of a black Porsche SUV; moments later, three young women in matching black hoodies stream out of the front seat of a Toyota pickup that’s filled with trowels, buckets, and a ladder.
Florida Private Schools Get Nearly $1 Billion in State Scholarships With Little Oversight, Sentinel Finds
Private schools in Florida will collect nearly $1 billion in state-backed scholarships this year through a system so weakly regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees, hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health records.
Reporters embarking on an investigative project should focus on a single, simple question and be relentless about answering it.
On the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse, attorneys representing Gov. Rick Snyder argued that the state of Michigan, which has been so intimately involved with Detroit Public Schools for almost 20 years, has no responsibility to ensure students in the district are taught how to read.
Tovin Lapan of The Hechinger Report visited Greenville, Miss., to examine how President Trump’s proposed budget cuts could impact rural school communities that depend heavily on federal aid for after-school and student nutrition programs. What does research show about the connections between connecting students’ eating habits and test scores?
When it comes to school district finances, the numbers aren’t easy to add up. But tracking and analyzing this information is a powerful tool to drive smart news coverage.
Veteran education journalist Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal shares tips and tricks for digging into district operating budgets and actual expenditures, as well as salary databases, overtime requests, check registers and credit card accounts, purchase orders, and more. Learn how to evaluate fiscal data that’s readily available and make the most of open records requests.
Lisa Miller, an associate editor at New York magazine, discusses her new profile of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Miller discusses the unwillingness of people close to DeVos to discuss her on the record — including current Department of Education employees — made this one of the most challenging profiles she’s ever written. What do we know about DeVos’ vision for the nation’s public schools that we didn’t know six months ago?
With enrollment in public prekindergarten programs at a record high, there is a growing emphasis on building stronger connections between children’s early learning experiences and the K-12 system. But bridging the divide between a sector that lacks a coherent structure and the more rigid K-12 system is a challenge rife with logistical as well as philosophical dilemmas.
A wrap-up of education news this week involving or affecting Latino students:
Big step for SUNY Albany: Havidán Rodríguez, a higher education leader in Texas, is the first Hispanic president of the State University of New York at Albany. “I am honored and privileged to have been chosen to serve as the University at Albany’s next president,” Rodríguez said.
There are few debates in education as fraught or as important as the fight over how much money to spend on schools — and where to spend it.
Whether a school has the cash to pay for such things as smaller class sizes, extra mental health staff or music instruction depends on decisions made by elected officials at every level of government, from the U.S. House and Senate to local school boards.
Chalkbeat Detroit reporter Erin Einhorn won an EWA award this spring for outstanding beat reporting. Her enterprising coverage included stories about the impact on communities when neighborhood schools are slated for closure, unconventional methods of filling Head Start staffing vacancies, and how many families struggle to find educational options for their children that are safe, high quality, and — just as importantly — accessible.
Nationally, politicians and others frequently tout Hartford, Connecticut, and its magnet schools as a model of school integration. But in reality, the city has a system of haves and have nots, as Vanessa de la Torre and Matthew Kauffman, reporters at The Hartford Courant, revealed in their 2017 series, “Hartford Schools: More Separate, Still Unequal.”
Cory Turner discusses the NPR education team’s deep dive into school vouchers, with a focus on Indiana, home to the largest voucher program in the nation. Among NPR’s findings: less than 1 percent of participating students transferred out of public schools that had been labeled by the state as low performers, and many students using vouchers were already attending private schools. With school choice as a centerpiece to President Trump’s education policy agenda, what does the evidence show when it comes to academic outcomes for students using vouchers?
Emma Brown of The Washington Post discusses President Trump’s budget proposal for education, with fresh analysis of the priorities and politics behind the line items. She also explains the prospects in the GOP-led Congress for the Trump plan. Overall, the president’s budget envisions deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget, even as he wants to step up federal aid for school choice. Which education programs are up for major cuts or outright elimination and why? How do some of the largest programs, like Title I aid for disadvantaged students and Pell grants, fare?
A recent Baltimore Sun series by reporters Liz Bowie and Erica Green offers a penetrating look at issues of race and segregation in Maryland public schools. The four-part project, supported by an EWA Reporting Fellowship, examines hurdles to school integration, community resistance to redrawing boundary lines, and how well-intentioned efforts to create more diverse campuses often fall short.
Dana Goldstein of The New York Times looks at issues of equity when it comes to PTA fundraising, and how those dollars are being distributed and spent.
When policymakers and advocates refer to education as “a civil rights issue,” fiscal equity is often framed as a piece of that equation. And in a landmark ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the state to address significant shortfalls in how its public schools are funded, citing low academic achievement by black, Hispanic, and low-income students as among the deciding factors.
The New York City Department of Education is investing $1.6 million to expand access to Advanced Placement courses for the city’s black and Latino students, the New York Daily News reported last week.
Education Week’s Mark Bomster (assistant managing editor) and Sterling Lloyd (senior research associate) discuss the 2017 “Quality Counts” report, which examines and rates state-level efforts to improve public education. This year’s edition features a special focus on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind as the backbone of the nation’s federal K-12 policy. How ready are states, districts, and schools for the policy shifts — and new flexibility — on school accountability, testing, and teacher evaluations under ESSA, among other issues? What are some story ideas for local reporters covering the implementation? Also, which states scored the highest on Education Week’s ratings when it comes to student achievement, equitable education spending, and the “Chance for Success” index? How can education writers use this data to inform their own reporting?
Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year.
With so much attention focused on the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voters could be forgiven for forgetting they’ll be asked to decide plenty more in November. And the stakes are high for K-12 education in state-level elections, including races for governor, state education chief, and legislative seats, plus ballot measures on education funding and charter schools.
Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.
The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.
See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.
Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.
Margarita is a four-year-old girl living in East Harlem. She speaks Spanish at home with her Mexican-born parents, is obedient, well-behaved and plays well with kids her age, younger and older.
Charter schools have grown at a rapid rate over the past 20 years as parents, activist groups, lawmakers and others look for alternatives to the traditional public schools.
Supporters say charters can offer the freedom to be more creative in the curriculum they provide to support a wider range of needs for students.
For education reporters, coming up with fresh ideas for back-to-school stories is an annual ritual. And if you’re balancing the K-12 and higher education beats, it can be an even bigger challenge.
Getting in Deep: Immersing Yourself in a Difficult Education Story
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar
Award-winning Boston Globe journalist Meghan Irons shares lessons from her reporting on two complex stories about students and race: one on equity and campus climate at Boston Latin, the nation’s oldest public school; and another that looked closely at school desegregation 40 years after the tumultuous debut of court-ordered busing in Boston.
- Meghan Irons, The Boston Globe
- Denise Amos, The Florida Times-Union (moderator)
Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?
When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then-mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Dale Russakoff’s book tells the story of what happened next.
- Dale Russakoff, author
- Leslie Brody, The Wall Street Journal (moderator)
At the age of nine, Amalio Nieves saw his father die from gun violence in Chicago. And as a child, Nieves himself was robbed at gunpoint. Now he’s always thinking about his young niece Jordan and the year 2100 – when Jordan will be the parent of a child that leads America into a new, unknown century.
Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.
For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.
It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.
Cara Fitzpatrick was in labor when her husband – and colleague at the Tampa Bay Times – asked her “So what can you tell me about segregation in Pinellas County?”
The paper had just decided to do a large-scale investigation into the district’s schools that were serving predominately low-income, black students. Two years later, Fitzpatrick’s son is walking and talking and she and the rest of the team have earned a Pulitzer Prize for their series Failure Factories.
Update: On May 2, “Failure Factories” won the $10,000 Hechinger Grand Prize in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.
The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this year went to the Tampa Bay Times for an exhaustive investigation into how a handful of elementary schools in Pinellas County wound up deeply segregated by race, poverty, and opportunity.
As a regular feature, The Educated Reporter chooses a buzzword or phrase that You Need to Know (yes, this designation is highly subjective, but we’re giving it a shot). Send your Word on the Beat suggestions to email@example.com.
Word on the Beat: Equity
In the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that its new charter school law was unconstitutional, Washington lawmakers have approved a creative fiscal workaround that could allow the public but largely independent schools to remain open.
When we think of elementary and secondary schools, many of us picture students in classrooms taught by lone teachers, overseen by a principal. In reality, many adults work in schools other than teachers and principals. It may be surprising to learn that there are as many non-teaching adults as there are teachers in U.S. public schools. These adults play roles from supporting students with special needs to coaching teachers to community outreach to maintaining facilities.
For already struggling students in high-poverty schools, frequent turnover among their teachers – and an over-reliance on substitutes – can hurt achievement.
Faced with massive budget cuts in the wake of the recession, many Idaho school districts switched to a four-day weekly calendar. But more than seven years into the experiment, an investigation by Idaho Education News – lead by reporter Kevin Richert — found little evidence that the schedule change improved either student achievement or the fiscal outlook of cash-strapped districts.
John Merrow began his journalism career in 1974 with National Public Radio, and retired this summer as special correspondent with PBS Newshour. Along the way he racked up a slew of awards, broke big stories, and created a documentary production company.
One question that often comes up during state legislative sessions is whether it’s a waste of money to increase educational spending in large urban areas with high poverty and low student achievement.
“There’s a very pervasive view out there that money doesn’t have an effect on outcomes at all,” said Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, during a panel at the Education Writers Association’s October seminar on poverty and education.
Thousands of the nation’s smaller school districts struggle to get even the most basic Internet services, making it difficult to take advantage of the wealth of classroom technology that’s giving students more options for how, what, and when they learn.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much debated high school reforms, which included closing large, low-performing schools, opening new small schools and extending high school choice to students throughout the district. The school closure process was the most controversial of these efforts. Yet, apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.
State Capacity to Support School Turnaround
Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance
More than 80 percent of states made turning around low-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent found it very difficult to turn around low-performing schools. 38 states (76 percent) reported significant gaps in expertise for supporting school turnaround in 2012, and that number increased to 40 (80 percent) in 2013.
Last week the White House announced a new higher education experiment that will direct federal grants to some high school students who want to enroll in college classes.
The plan is to start small, with the administration offering $20 million to help defray the college costs of up to 10,000 low-income high school students for the 2016-2017 academic year. The money will come from the overall Pell Grant pot, which is currently funded at more than $30 billion annually and used by 8 million students.
Coming off a successful initiative to get legal driving privileges for undocumented immigrants in Delaware, a Latino activist group in the first state has now turned its attention to education.
In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).
Dale Russakoff, a longtime reporter for The Washington Post, spent more than three years reporting on what turned into a massive experiment in top-down educational interventions—with decidedly mixed results.
The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.
Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.
Webinar on School District Finance & Bonds
Bonding Over School Data: Finding District Finance Stories Through Bond Records
What’s your district’s financial outlook?
Often that’s a tricky question, requiring a lot of digging through multiple sources. But if the district recently issued bonds, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. That’s because the financial laws governing the bond market require districts to share a wide range of information (including details they may want to keep quiet).
Getting a read on the American public’s views on education is no easy task, made more complicated by just how much local schools vary. In a country with more than 13,000 school districts that enroll nearly 50 million students, a range of experiences and perspectives are to be expected.
Down in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times investigated what happened when a local school board drops integration as a priority, and why Pinellas County has become the worst place in the state to be a black K-12 student (at least in terms of academic outcomes).
Pensions are causing serious budget issues across the country, including Illinois. But issues around pensions go beyond the rising costs, and the session will explore those questions, too. How can reporters generate lively stories on this important (but potentially dull) subject?
- Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune (Speaker/Moderator)
- Chad Aldeman, Bellwether Education Partners
- Ralph Martire, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length.
Fifty years ago, the federal government enacted the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. The newest version of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, became law 13 years ago and has stayed in place ever since. On Thursday, a new version of the federal government’s most far-reaching K-12 education law moved closer to adoption. The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, one week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version, the Student Success Act.
News stories on school district budgets often stick to whether spending is up or down, whether employees received raises or not. So Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs helped attendees at the Education Writers Association National Seminar delve deeper into school spending and unlock the juiciest stories during a session in Chicago on April 20.
We quickly discovered two good reasons schools weren’t implementing mindset interventions: Schools didn’t know how to implement mindset interventions, and Schools didn’t know whether mindset interventions would work for their students. We had something important in common with them: We didn’t know either! To turn mindset interventions into something that schools could (and should) practically use, we first needed to develop a mindset intervention that schools could easily implement. We also needed to test whether this easy-to-use intervention was effective for various kinds of students.
Come budget time, school superintendents are first to say that teacher salaries take the biggest chunk of a district’s spending.
But even a glance at the pie charts and line items shows that public education is a big business, too — curriculum and technology, PowerSchool and iPads, and charter management fees, real estate transactions and school renovations can cost taxpayers millions for a single district.
Where exactly is that money going?
News of foundations and philanthropists partnering with school districts seems more and more common as states have struggled to provide adequate funding for K-12 education, while district leadership seek new avenues to give students an edge.
Two new national reports paint a grim picture of unfair and inequitable funding of public education across states, with schools serving the highest proportion of impoverished students most often on the losing end.
A program that pairs celebrities with struggling schools to develop their arts education is expanding to more large cities, The U.S. Department of Education announced today.
Known as the Turnaround Arts initiative, the $10-million effort pools public and private funds to teach music, dance and other arts disciplines at schools that are considered among the worst in their respective states.
That was fast.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced Thursday that it would restore funding to 40 middle school summer learning programs, just hours after New York City Council members and advocates protested those abrupt cuts that were made two weeks ago.
At a speech in December, Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, took the United States to task for the way it funds schools.
“Public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households,” she told the audience at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality, in Boston.
Need a state or national statistic? There’s likely a federal data set for that. From fairly intuitive and interactive widgets to dense spreadsheets — and hundreds of data summaries in between — the U.S. Department of Education’s various research programs are a gold mine for reporters on the hunt for facts and figures.
Back in December, reporter Lauren Foreman of the Bakersfield Californian sent an email titled “Banned from classrooms” to a group of education journalists.
“One of my district’s assistant supes told me today reporters aren’t allowed to observe classroom instruction, and parents aren’t even allowed to freely do that,” she wrote. Foreman wanted to know what policies were in other districts and how she ought to respond.
Despite previous reports that new teachers are ditching their professions in record numbers, new federal data suggest that a grand majority of novice classroom instructors are showing up for work year after year.
Eighty-three percent of rookie teachers in 2007 continued to educate public school students half a decade later, according to the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study. Ten percent of teachers left the field after just one year.
In a wide-ranging speech on educational opportunity, teacher quality, school funding and accountability delivered at the kickoff of the Education Writers Association’s 68th National Seminar, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner shared with reporters his vision for the future of education in the Prairie State.
EWA’s 68th National Seminar kicks off today in Chicago, and it’s going to be a fantastic three days of discussions, workshops, and site visits. The theme this year is Costs and Benefits: The Economics of Education. Be sure to keep tabs on all the action via the #EWA15 hashtag on Twitter.
A couple of recent stories highlight schools turning to online fundraising to provide students with everything from basic classroom supplies to long-distance field trips.
Nicole Dobo, who covers blended learning for The Hechinger Report, looked at how more easily accessible (and transparent) online sites such as DonorsChoose.org are giving teachers a way to make direct appeals for help:
Top journo tweets from #EWAChoice’s fourth Saturday session.
Top tweets from #EWAChoice’s third Saturday session.
Top tweets from reporters about the second Saturday session of #EWAChoice.
Top journo tweets about the first session of the second day of #EWAChoice.
Top tweets from #EWAChoice’s fourth panel.
Top tweets from “Eye on Denver” — the second session at #EWAChoice
Top Tweets from #EWAChoice’s first session
Grappling with achievement gaps between their rich and poor students, a growing number of schools and districts are resolving to add more minutes or days to the academic calendar, and Boston has emerged as a leader in this trend.
The United States spent $600 billion to fund public education in the nation’s K-12 schools in 2011, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education that captures the latest figures on national public education spending.
When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research
This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.
The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students.
The District of Columbia Public Schools could soon be making a large investment in the education of Latino and black males, who comprise 43 percent of the district’s student population and who historically tend to fall behind in reading and math, and have lower attendance and graduation rates.
President Obama’s address to Congress laid out ambitious plans for higher education reform. But there was scant mention of initiatives for elementary and secondary students.
Nearly 10 percent of K-12 students in the United States are not native English speakers. That’s 4.4 million children enrolled in school who have been identified as English language learners.
The midterm election results have big implications for education, from Republicans’ success in retaking the U.S. Senate to new governors coming in and a slew of education ballot measures, most of which were defeated.
The widely watched race for California’s schools superintendent came down to the wire, with incumbent Tom Torlakson edging out challenger Marshall Tuck — a former charter schools administrator:
Today is a day off from school for millions of students as campuses in some districts and states — including Michigan and New York — are converted into polling stations for the midterm elections. To Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, that’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate democracy in action.
Despite the perception that federally mandated state testing is the root of the issue, districts require more tests than states. Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams. Click here for study.
After spending more than $3.5 billion on a program to improve chronically low-performing schools — only to see mixed results — the Obama administration is proposing major revisions to the menu of turnaround efforts that low-performing schools can undertake to qualify for funding under the program.
This week, Emily and Mikhail talk to Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post, who discusses her story (written with colleague Christina Wilkie) about the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s creation of Youth Entrepreneurs: a public high school finance course being used in schools in the midwest and south, which was designed to introduce students to free market theory and economics with a distinctly conservative point of view.
The idea has a simple, seductive appeal. Expand the things that work, cut short the things that don’t.
The notion, drawn from the investment world, has manifested itself in public education as the “Portfolio District Model.” Instead of managing stocks and bonds, school districts manage schools, creating or expanding successful ones, closing unsuccessful ones, focusing with zeal on academic results.
A year-long investigation into Michigan’s charter schools by the Detroit Free Press uncovered wasteful spending, cozy contracts, and missed opportunities to shut down long-struggling campuses, according to the newspaper.
So as the July heat kicks in, we started wondering about the whole idea. What, exactly, is summer school? How much does it cost? And, the biggest question, does it work? In a nutshell, we have no idea. “It’s been one of my pet peeves for years,” says Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge and information management at the nonprofit Education Commission of the States. She says there’s never been a push for anyone to collect data on summer school. As a result there isn’t really good information about any of those questions above.
Tenure reforms in NYC led to a substantial drop in the percent of eligible teachers approved for tenure – from 94 percent during academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09, the two years prior to the introduction of the policy, to 89 percent in the first year of the policy (2009-10) and to an average of 56 percent during the three subsequent years.
The vast majority of eligible teachers who were not approved for tenure had their probationary period extended. The proportion of teachers denied tenure changed only slightly, from two to three percent, following reform.
Conservative legislators committed to the idea that smaller government works best are passing tax cuts that they say help stimulate the economy. They are moving to make recession-era budget cuts permanent.
When it comes to having their voices heard, teachers overwhelmingly say they aren’t being listened to on matters of education policy at the state or national level.
At the school level, however, 69 percent of teachers said their opinions carried weight, according to the third edition of the “Primary Sources” survey by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was published Tuesday.
You may know that teachers make up roughly half of the education staff in school districts, but who are the other employees on the rolls? To provide a clearer picture, I broke down data from the U.S. Department of Education on district staffing to visualize this often-overlooked slice of the workforce.
One of the education system’s most powerful influences on student learning is often ignored — the school principal. Journalists frequently find it challenging to capture the complexities of the job. But the collection of coverage we’ve assembled underscores that this facet of the education beat is replete with interesting angles.
There are bad ideas, and then there are the seemingly indefensible ones. I’d argue that snatching back lunches from the trays of elementary school children whose parents owe the cafeteria money – and then throwing that food into the trash while the hungry kids watch — falls into the latter category.
The poll found that while only 37 percent of the public has “seen, read, or heard” “some” or “a great deal” about schools collecting, storing and sharing information, including age, weight and grades, 90 percent are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about private companies having access to student data.
For decades, children in Chicago had one of the shortest elementary school days in the country, and students were in class fewer days than their peers not only nationally but also in much of the developed world. Rahm Emanuel vowed in his successful 2011 mayoral campaign both to rectify the situation and to give Chicago’s kids a well-rounded education during their additional school hours.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, EWA’s Emily Richmond talks with Phi Delta Kappa’s Bill Bushaw about a new Gallup/PDK poll on attitudes toward public education. Watch it here!
The PDK/Gallup poll generated some media buzz, and when viewed alongside two other education polls released this week, reveals a populace that has an ambivalent view on the state of U.S. schools.
Catch up with news coverage of the polls’ results and responses from stakeholders below:
A new report highlighting the growing rate of poverty among suburban residents warns that traditional policies aimed at combating indigence aren’t designed to address the problem adequately.
K-12 Opportunity Gaps and Out-of-School Factors, The Educated Reporter:
While students are celebrating the start of the long summer break, there’s a significant tradeoff for the three months of leisure – on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. In this EWA Webinar, we examine how districts are successfully combating summer learning loss with high-quality programs and leveraging community partnerships to help pay for them.
How much of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on education? How does that education spending break down for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education? How much private spending is dedicated to education, compared to public spending? What is the link between higher education degrees and unemployment rates in the U.S. and other countries?
David Jackson and Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune talk about the 10-year reporting project that became EWA’s Grand Prize-winning project, “An Empty-Desk Epidemic.” The expansive story demonstrated how students in Chicago’s public schools racked up missed days of school even as early as kindergarten.
Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013 at Stanford University
Head to The Educated Reporter to read a guest blog by Jackson and Marks.
Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio talks about following a group of teachers, administrators and students going through a turnaround effort at a failing school in Denver. “Trevista” was awarded first prize, Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in Broadcast in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting. Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013, at Stanford University.
*Please note: Due to technical difficulties during recording, the audio in the first half of this video is distorted. There is nothing wrong with your speakers.
Technology Counts 2013—the 16th edition of Education Week’s annual report on educational technology—tackles how school districts are working to incorporate more multimedia into classrooms, upgrade online professional development, and do a better job using data to improve student achievement.
Every school budget tells a story—about a district’s spending plan, its priorities, goals, and financial health. The challenge is to wade through the jargon and numbers to unlock that story.
So you’ve managed to get your hands on all the records your school district keeps about its budget and spending. Now what? How can you turn a giant data dump into a compelling story for your readers?
In this EWA webinar, you’ll hear how reporters at the Dallas Morning News used public records to create databases of district spending and budget information, and how they used those databases to uncover everything from fraud and mismanagement to cozy vendor-employee relationships to the misuse of federal grants.
Elizabeth Laird, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Data Quality Campaign, provides an update on states’ progress toward collecting and using education data and reveals the type of data and related reports available from your states. She’ll especially concentrate on linking K-12 and postsecondary data to explore issues like college and career readiness, college remediation, and other topics.
Without a last-minute deal by lawmakers across-the-board reductions in funding to every federal agency — known as sequestration — will happen Friday. While public schools wouldn’t see most of the cuts take effect until the new fiscal year on July 1, education officials at the local, state and federal levels are warning of dire consequences for programs and services that assist the most vulnerable students.
The following facts help illustrate the state of educational attainment in the United States and the growing importance of education in determining people’s well-being. On many dimensions—lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and life expectancy, to name a few—Americans who do not graduate from high school or college are increasingly falling behind those with a college degree. This paper explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.
The Education Commission of the States is a nonprofit, nonpartisan commission that has worked since 1965 to enable states to exchange information, idea and experiences affecting education policy.
The Consortium for Policy Research on Education, University Wisconsin-Madison is a collaboration of seven of the country’s top research institutions. It studies education reform, finance and policy.
The Association of School Business Officials International is a professional association representing more than 5,000 professionals nationwide who work in various aspects of school business management.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonprofit organization that studies the impact of financial policy decisions at the state and federal levels.
The National Association of State Budget Officers uses research, policy analysis and education to advance state budget practices.
The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing state-level education leaders from across the country.
A decade-long push to promote summer schooling for students in Philadelphia has stalled. The budget crisis has caused the District to severely constrict its summer offerings.
Chicago is bracing for a critical vote by the Board of Education Wednesday: whether to shut down 54 schools. Conflicting figures are still flying, as they have through months of debate.
With the fiscal year 2013 budget and appropriations process now complete and the 2014 process just beginning, now is an opportune time to assess how federal education programs have been, and are likely to be, affected by these developments.
Even though 34 states and the District of Columbia have No Child Left Behind Act waivers in hand, many of them are still negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education over their teacher-evaluation systems—a crucial component if they want to keep their newfound flexibility.
Large-scale public school closures have become a fact of life in many American cities, and that trend is not likely to stop now. In a previous study, The Pew Charitable Trusts looked at a wide range of issues involved in the shuttering of buildings, including the impact on students. For this report, we focused on what happens to the buildings themselves, studying the experiences of Philadelphia and 11 other cities that have decommissioned large numbers of schools in recent years.
Arizona’s generous open-enrollment policy also poses challenges. Because children are free to go to school wherever they like, there is nothing that Tucson can do to keep its white students from leaving.
California embarked on an ambitious experiment in 1996 to improve its public schools by putting its youngest students in smaller classes. Nearly 17 years later, the goal of maintaining classrooms of no more than 20 pupils in the earliest grades has been all but discarded– a casualty of unproven results, dismal economic times and the sometimes-fleeting nature of education reform. To save money on teacher salaries amid drastic cutbacks in state funding, many school districts throughout the state have enlarged their first-, second- and third-grade classes to an average of 30 children.
For New York City, that means that it will not receive $250 million in aid, money that city officials said would result in midyear cuts and could affect school funding for school staff, technology and after school and arts programs. The absence of an evaluation means that the city will also not be able to claim up to another $200 million in state and federal grant money.
WBEZ plotted annual school closings and schools “turned around” since the 2001-02 school year when CPS began shuttering schools as a reform strategy. This sortable chart and map shows where schools have been closed or turned around (where the staff is completely replaced but students remain), what’s become of the old buildings and how well the new schools in those buildings are performing. The chart includes updated performance data from the 2011-12 school year.
There’s a wealth of information — and food for thought — in Education Week’s new report Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate.
These issues are moving to the forefront of the national debate. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer-winning package made clear last year, when it comes to issues of student safety and discipline, schools are struggling to balance policy against reality.
More than 200 school districts across California are taking a second look at the high price of the debt they’ve taken on using risky financial arrangements. Collectively, the districts have borrowed billions in loans that defer payments for years — leaving many districts owing far more than they borrowed. In 2010, officials at the West Contra Costa School District, just east of San Francisco, were in a bind. The district needed $2.5 million to help secure a federally subsidized $25 million loan to build a badly needed elementary school
Demographers and local officials say the reasons for this marked decline in student numbers are myriad: smaller families, graying communities, less new housing development, families moving out of the area. But its effects touch all aspects of schools, from the number of employees to hire to how many cartons of milk to order or buses to deploy, even whether to build new schools or close old ones.
KARNES CITY, Texas—The school district in this ranching community has long been among the poorest in the state—and it remains so, local officials say, even though an oil boom has sent property values surging eightfold in the past two years. But that jump in value has changed the town’s designation to “property wealthy” from “property poor,” under Texas’ school-funding formula. That means the town can’t keep most of this year’s projected property tax of $20 million—up from $6.5 million last year—and must instead share the bounty with other districts.
Reform supporters come from both parties, and tend to push for charter schools and grading teachers in accordance with their students’ standardized test scores. In some states, like Connecticut, South Dakota and Idaho, voters dealt the movement a significant blow, pushing back controversial measures that would have ended an elected school board, abolished teacher tenure and instituted merit pay.
Based on the expenditures in the mid-range districts, an average cost per student is developed. Local school districts statewide are supposed to receive that average cost per student multiplied by their average daily attendance.
Today the district is split into three large school zones and children are bused widely within them. But since only 13 percent of Boston public school students are white, and only 22 percent are middle class or affluent, politicians have begun to speak openly about the supposed futility of busing as a school desegregation tool. In his January 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Thomas Menino vowed to end widespread busing, speaking romantically about the neighborhood school model. “Pick any street. A dozen children probably attend a dozen different schools,” he said.
Some of the education-related ballot items, like those in Arizona and California, are part of the perennial effort to obtain more financial support for schools and seek to help K-12 school systems recover in part from the Great Recession and subsequent economic stagnation. But other proposals—such as ones in Idaho and South Dakota—represent resistance from teachers’ unions and other groups to changes they view as antagonistic to public education, such as reduced collective bargaining rights or a bigger emphasis on standardized testing.
Chicago public school teachers returned to their classrooms on Wednesday but thorny questions remained over how Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the cash-strapped school system will pay for the tentative contract that ended a strike of more than a week.
“Even as the availability of data on K-12 education programs has exploded over the past decade, the American education system suffers from an acute lack of some of the most basic information about publicly funded programs for young children. Although, for example, pre-K often comprises significant investments by state and federal governments, in many localities it is difficult to determine how many children receive publicly funded pre-K services or to make fair comparisons between local programs.”
The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.
Eight years after California settled a landmark lawsuit promising hundreds of millions of dollars to repair shoddy school facilities, more than 700 schools still are waiting for their share of funds as students take classes on dilapidated campuses with health and safety hazards. California has funded less than half of the $800 million required by the Emergency Repair Program, which grew out of a class-action lawsuit against the state that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to settle.
This series of three special reports examines implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The first special report, Schools with Federal Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, looks at how states, districts, and schools are addressing challenges related to SIG staffing requirements.
Los Angeles school officials are fighting a court order, which took effect Wednesday, that would set aside more classroom seats for charter schools — even if that means traditional schools will lose space for parent centers, computer labs, academic intervention and other services.
Cutting school budgets is in vogue these days, but Pittsburgh is trying to save money this fall by approaching cost-cutting from a different angle.
The federal government’s website for tracking how stimulus funds were spent is a good resource for examining how the economic crisis affected schools.
This database “compiles state-level information on K-12 education from sources such as the U.S. Department of Education, Market Data Retrieval, and education policy organizations like the Education Commission of the States and the National Center for Educational Accountability.” A valuable resource for producing a variety of charts and graphs.
This report, published in 2012, concludes that “In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.
EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Crumbling school buildings can impede academic achievement, but what happens when the public votes down bond measures to upgrade the infrastructure? This series of articles looks at the impasse between school boards and the voters, and cost-saving tricks to fine tune the walls of public instruction. (The Journal News)
EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Of the many problems turnaround schools face, the intersection of finances and performance goals is often at the heart of what make or break them. Many of these schools face a dilemma: They need students to keep their budgets and staff intact, but find it tough to improve academics with too many low-achievers.
Newsweek and the Center for Public Integrity “crunched the numbers on graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts—from New York City to Oakland—which got windfalls from…four top philanthropists. The results, though mixed, are dispiriting proof that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education.”
When tis report was published, “millions of public school students across the nation [were] seeing their class sizes swell because of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, undermining a decades-long push by parents, administrators and policy makers to shrink class sizes.”
Reporters from 36 news outlets in 27 states spent nearly three months examining the impact of the historic influx of cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They found that the stimulus package’s long-term impact on public education is far from certain. Indeed, many of the resulting policy changes are already endangered by political squabbles and the massive budget shortfalls still facing recession-battered state and local governments.
EWA 2010 National Reporting Contest winner. This series details a 16-month investigation by the paper. The report “has turned up no-bid contracts, questionable property deals and supposedly self-supporting ventures that failed, lost money or drew formal complaints and lawsuits.” (Statesman Journal)
This 2010 report looks at how states distribute funding to school and districts during the start of the 2008 financial crisis.
Published in 2008, this five-year examination of K-12 school finance in the United States offers an in-depth examination of key issues. The group’s conclusion is simply put: “The bottom line is that education finance needs to be redesigned to support student performance.”
This paper offers and economic analysis of the research regarding how class size affects student achievement.