Saturday, February 14, 2015

New York's looking at Lawrence:now with a morning update

It appears that Governor Cuomo of New York is recommending to the state Board of Regents that they look at the Massachusetts receivership model for adoption. As Capital reports:
“Given the preliminary success in Massachusetts, a similar approach could be transformative in New York,” Cuomo top aide Jim Malatras wrote in a  letter to Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch that was released on Friday. “Therefore, we would like the State Education Department to further research the Massachusetts model by performing a comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.”
Note that what we're talking about here is the state takeover of Lawrence, which, yes, has certainly raised test scores. It's also a single 14,000 student district that the state has been running for two years. That's not what researchers would see as a good body of evidence.
It's also hugely more complicated than just the state takeover, which Capital itself did a good job of pointing out in its own coverage the day before. Most important, in my view, is the remarks from the Lawrence teachers' union president Frank McLaughlin:
Rather, schools are improving because they’ve been given more resources under receivership and because the city’s local government has stabilized after an era of corruption that ended with some officials being jailed, he said. 
“What’s receivership going to do?” McLaughlin said. “It’s certainly put us in the newspapers. It certainly has gotten [U.S. Education Secretary] Arne Duncan to come to town and pat us on the back. [American Federation of Teachers president] Randi Weingarten was in town, as was Governor [Deval] Patrick and a bunch of politicians. Lawrence is a better school system than it was three of four years ago, but … that’s for multiple reasons: We eliminated the corrupt government that was running the city, and we have more resources that are getting to the children."
As pointed out by no less than the New York Times editorial board, the main crisis in New York state public schools isn't going to be solved by receivership, because it's a funding issue (h/t to Bruce Baker for the link). Governor Cuomo has repeatedly refused to hear this, and I can't imagine that he's going to take this receivership opportunity as a chance to do so.
Massachusetts reformed its funding system 20 years ago, and, while we are overdue for a rewrite, New York has yet to do it at all. Pushing a receivership model whilst not solving this greater issue does a grave disservice to the children of New York.

It also misses what's critically important about Lawrence: it's never just about what's happening in the classrooms.

UPDATE: Last night, this came through on Twitter:

 Jeff Riley is the state receiver, thus superintendent, for Lawrence. When I posted last night, I was doing it based on my memory of comparing districts across the state that were under Net School Spending. So I went back to the DESE spreadsheets and double-checked. The full chart for Lawrence doesn't fit neatly in a blog post, so I put it over here. Here's the over/under required minimum spending, starting in FY06 and going through FY15:
Dollars Percent
Over/Under Over/
Requirement Under
-660,871 -0.5
-2,134,567 -1.7
-3,538,575 -2.6
-5,126,116 -3.9
-821,848 -0.6
94,681 0.1
-5,134,575 -3.4
-8,917,427 -5.4
1,287,562 0.8
690,393             0.4

The year that it goes from -5.4 of required spending to 0.8 over required spending is the year after the state took over. The city went from not meet its minimum obligation, thus underfunding the schools by nearly $9 million, to more than meeting that, funding the schools at $1.2 million over the minimum required.
So, while no additional funds came from the state with receivership (which I think is what Jeff Riley means above), yes, money matters, and yes, it did increase for Lawrence.

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