Entries by Jim Stergios

Will the Guv hit a homer on charters or more ho-hum

The Governor is making an announcement on charters. He has taken a lot of heat on his opposition subsequent to the Boston Foundation report that clearly demonstrates their success. The question is whether he will come out and target attention on charters to the urban districts, which we believe should be the compromise, or whether he will come up with an unworkable finance scheme? If the latter, if he underfunds charters, then he is essentially making the argument that we should have a separate and unequal funding stream for charters. He doesn’t want to do that now, or does he? Remember: Ed reform in 1993 came out of a court case that insisted on a fairer use of funds for […]

The Great, The Good and The Bad of the Gov's speech to local officials

Today’s speech by the Governor before the Massachusetts Municipal Association was largely a very good one based on some very good plans. Kudos to the Governor. Let’s start with the Great, and, yes, there is also Bad. Great • The idea of requiring “each community to move all of your retirees to Medicare coverage and give you the option of extending your pension schedules within fiscally responsible parameters” is great. • The push to regionale “municipal services and other reforms around procurement and contract advertising” is great, but we have seen few details on the tools and incentives the state wants to provide. Pioneer’s own Steve Poftak was also at the MMA, presenting our recent study of obstacles and lessons […]

So you want European-style health care

Atul Gawande has a great piece in this week’s New Yorker on the many varied ways to get to additional, and even universal coverage. Sidebar: Great, with the exception of his high praise for Paul “Ugh” Krugman, who he notes “received a Nobel Prize in Economics in part for showing that trade patterns and the geographic location of industrial production are also path-dependent.” Fact is, the insight that technology and trade patterns were “path-dependent” was well known to Piero Sraffa, neo-Marxian economist and author of The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. Yes, I know such obscurities can only be explained by personal histories. Dark histories. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the man. To all accounts Piero was […]

NEA's largesse from their disclosure report

The Education Intelligence Agency‘s just released scoop, entitled “The National Education Agency shares the Wealth to the Tune of $11.7 Million,” gives you a breakdown of where all those teachers’ dues went. (Supplementing members’ dues is “a small percentage derived from advertising and other miscellaneous revenues” and “sponsorship funds from major corporations: $25,000 from Verizon, $67,000 from Target, and $71,000 from Hyundai.”) Keep checking in with EIA, as they will soon have further revelations from NEA’s disclosure report. An Education Intelligence Agency analysis of NEA’s financial disclosure report for the 2007-08 fiscal year reveals the national union contributed $11.7 million to a wide variety of advocacy groups, charities, and advisors. The total is about the same as it was in […]

Urgency on education

No increase in the charter cap. No urgency to put back into place an accountability system that Governor Patrick zeroed out in his first budget. No urgency whatsoever to do more than talk about the achievement gap. This is when criticisms about “just words” begin to make sense. We have seen great gains in education, but none of it is attributable to anything this administration has done. For they have not done anything but talk about education policy. Consider the difference between the Governor’s record on education, as we head into year three, and the urgency of Mayor Adrian Fenty, of DC, who has made change in education the number one priority of his administration. Perhaps the quickest way to […]

I hope I am or at least the Governor is misinformed

I have heard from folks who listen to the Eagan-Braude show on WTKK that Governor Patrick today was saying that he is not anti-charter. OK. Then, according to these listeners, he went on to say that his lack of urgency around raising the charter cap was a “red herring” or similar. Not OK. The calls from the Boston Globe, Lowell Sun, and many other places to raise the cap on charters comes on the heels of a great report done by Harvard, MIT and Duke for the Boston Foundation. Is this really the Governor’s line? He is right to say that there is a cap of 120 charter schools statewide and that we have currently 61. He is right again […]


A rather odd article by Jamie Vaznis of the Globe on charters and pilots. The Boston Foundation-commissioned study does exactly what Vaznis notes in the first sentence: “A new study indicates that Boston charter schools significantly outperform the city’s traditional schools, but raises new questions about the city’s experimental pilot schools.” But then he goes on to use most of the rest of the article to question pilots. A little more of the clearly good news about charters would have been helpful–and less story fishing. The story is very good–just so heartening as to our ability to address the achievement gap. By comparing students who got into charter schools by lottery against those who were not chosen by lottery, the […]

If Kant had had a nose for public policy

Passed on by a friend with a mathematical appreciation for symmetry, and for that balance of responsibility and opportunity, in public affairs is a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal: I read with interest the president-elect’s appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Mr. Duncan may in fact be the right man for the job, but if the president-elect and his new secretary really wish to fix public education, they need only push through one change: It is hereby illegal for any member of Congress to send his or her children to any nonpublic elementary, junior or senior high school. What do you think? My guess is the whole system would be fixed over the weekend. Our friendly […]

Strengthening Standards-Based Education

The purpose of Pioneer’s policy brief is to spell out the successful standards-based reforms that have made Massachusetts the highest performing K-12 state in the country, and to suggest how the BESE and the 21st Century Skills Task Force can strengthen the state’s nationally recognized curriculum frameworks, student assessments, educator licensure regulations, and teacher subject area tests.

Results in on Teach for America

What kind of impact does the influx of young, motivated people (ahem, without formal training in our dear schools of education) have on student performance? A big thank you to the Urban Institute for looking into this question. From their press release (last week): Teach for America teachers may be new to the profession, but they are generally more effective than their experienced colleagues, finds a new Urban Institute analysis. On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers’ effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with […]

Patrick comes out for school choice!

Your Excellency, We at Pioneer were feeling as double-crossed as perhaps Bobby Haynes.  We were feeling it on school choice, knowing that you benefited from the school choice opportunity provided by the “A Better Chance” foundation to attend Milton Academy.  Bobby felt it on being double-crossed by the Doubleday deal, when you double-booked on the day of the casino vote.  He stayed on the Hill and earned himself the Speaker’s ire.  As someone who respects the free-market, I hope you got a good deal. Now, I know that it is difficult to come right out and say you are for school choice, so I think the sophisticated way you did it is just great.  According to today’s Globe, “an unspecified portion of […]

Benefit blowout

You are constantly berated for not saving money, folks. You overspend. You should put the money in bank accounts and let the government do all the borrowing to pay for the promises it makes to you. From John Goodman (and health blog HERE) is a neat packaging of Social Security and Medicare liabilities we are racking up… As John suggested in his email, read and weep. On Good Friday (when most people were off, including most reporters) the Administration announced that the following Tuesday during Spring Break (when Congress was in recess and everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere) the Social Security/Medicare Trustees annual report would be released. Apparently someone isn’t anxious for you to pay close attention to this year’s […]

Hope is not a strategy

The Great Beacon Hill Foodfight has now reached the Big Apple’s fishwrap paper of record. Big news in the New York Times is that Governor Patrick has lost steam, and that this may portend what an Obama presidency would be like. Discussing his loss on resort casinos, the Governor noted in an interview: “I don’t accept that we can’t get anything done because we lose one issue. Come on. People around here act like the only thing that happened last year was picking these drapes and buying a car. There’s a whole lot more.” Mr. Patrick noted the incresae in state spending on education (ho-hum), housing (did I miss something?) and 300,000 residents with health insurance under the health care […]

Teacher shortages

I love the Education Intelligence Agency. Click HERE to enter the dimly lit cavernous corridors of the Agency and read the full version of what follows. The topic is teacher shortages, and it is a great concern; but Mike Antonucci (the Education Spymaster) scopes out a brief history of the teacher labor market to ensure that we are thinking about the current shortage without hysteria: One would think that with all the technological and statistical tools at their disposal, school districts and state agencies would be able to make reasonably accurate predictions of enrollment and, therefore, hiring needs. However, in state after state we are seeing layoffs and marked competition for the job openings that do exist. In Florida, for […]

Floor falls out in California housing

On the LA Times blog today there is a distressing bit of news about the distressed California housing market. Home prices in the state, the blog notes, fell 26 percent (three times the national average) between February 07 and February 08! –Statewide, median sales prices fell by a stunning 26% in February, with home prices dropping at a rate of nearly $3,000 a week, the California Association of Realtors reports. Further, the CAR says the Fed’s interest rate-cutting campaign “will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market.” –In the San Fernando Valley, losing a home to foreclosure is now almost as common for families as buying a home. The L.A. Daily News: “During January and February, there were […]

School choice programs increase 84 percent in 5 years

No, not here, silly. In the rest of the United States! Do I have to explain everything to you?! Passing on bits of the press release from the Alliance for School Choice: Student enrollment in private school choice programs, which include school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit programs, has increased by 84 percent over five years, according to the School Choice Yearbook 2007… According to the book, there are 16 private school choice programs in nine states and the District of Columbia serving 150,000 children. Last year, legislators in 40 states introduced legislation to advance private school choice programs. The five states with the largest school choice programs are Florida (39,000 students), Pennsylvania (38,000 students), Arizona (28,000 students), Wisconsin […]

WaPo on Michelle Rhee and quality teachers

The keynote for this year’s Better Government Competition, which is focused solely on improving our educational system, is Michelle Rhee. In addition to a recent shakeup in the bureaucracy, she has been closing some schools. All very focused on improvement. Probably more important, as the WaPo notes, are hiring and retention rules for teachers. As noted in the Friday WaPo: Rules that put the interests of teachers ahead of the educational needs of children must be changed if Ms. Rhee is to succeed in transforming the system. The contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union, which represents some 4,400 employees, expired last fall. Neither side would discuss what’s on the table or comment on the progress of the talks. It’s apparent, […]

Fed corporate tax killing state competitiveness

One could sum up a report from the Tax Foundation as saying the equivalent of – the French are eating our lunch. And you know that is not good. We, for many reasons, including avoidance of indigestion, should be eating theirs. The latest report from the Foundation shows that nearly half of U.S. states tax job providers at a higher rate than any other country in the developed world. Counting the federal rate alone, the U.S. has the world’s highest corporate tax rate, but including average sub-national rates (federal plus state in the U.S.), Japan edges out the U.S. for the highest-tax location. This study breaks the tax down by state, adding each state’s corporate tax rate to the federal […]

Ouch from the Globe on state performance

The editorial page of today’s Globe takes up a favorite theme of Pioneer: the use of data to drive performance through measurement and benchmarking. On April 25th, you can see the cities working on this, at Pioneer’s Center for Economic Opportunity conference in Worcester. It promises to be a great event. Register quickly as the RSVPs are coming in early and strong. The Globe editorial highlights the Rappaport Institute’s good work on this subject, but it is also a rather ironic and tough statement on the Governor’s focus on “the rhetoric of hope” rather than the nuts and bolts of ensuring high quality services. Entitled “Together we can manage better,” it opens with what is possible and what other states […]

Michelle Rhee takes out the knife

From the Washingtonian.com piece on Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of DC schools, there is a quote that stood out from the rest of the piece as the primary dilemma that Rhee and Mayor Fenty are trying to stare down: “She’s got all the right ideas, a wonderful attitude, and she’s open,” says Mary Levy, an authority on school governance with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “I worry about her being undercut or overwhelmed.” It seems that Ms. Levy need not worry. Fenty and Rhee first sought authority from the D.C. Council to reclassify over half of the 700 non-union positions in the Central District Office, making them “at-will”–i.e., now she could fire them. And that […]

NYC charter to pay teachers more than lawyers

But the unions don’t like this idea. A proposed New York City charter school is to pay teachers $125,000. There is even thought of adding incentive pay for high performance. The idea is that the higher salaries will be made possible by becoming more efficient and by reducing the number of support staff. According to the Friday New York Times, the head of NYC’s principals’ union, Ernest A. Logan, called the notion of paying the principal less than the teachers “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” “It’s nice to have a first violinist, a first tuba, but you’ve got to have someone who brings them all together,” Mr. Logan said. “If you cheapen the role of the school leader, you’re […]

Education leadership but not here

Diane Ravitch, Sol Stern and others have criticized Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein for putting all their eggs into the “choice” basket. Frankly, there is merit to some of what they say – choice alone is not going to get it done. You need standards and accountability, including great curriculum frameworks and teacher testing, AND you need choice and the development of new supply (charters, pilots, METCO, university partnership schools, voc-tech schools and more). But the fact of the matter is, the unions will fight standards and accountability every step of the way. The proof of that is in the fact that where union strength is most entrenched in Massachusetts – in the urban centers – standards and accountability […]

Good on Alan LeBovidge

Back in the Amorello days of the Mass Turnpike, Tom Keane wrote a splendid little dissection of the Turnpike’s penchant for giving out toll collections to charities of Chairman Matt’s choice. As Tom noted at the start of The Kindness of Tax Payers in the Sunday Globe Magazine: In the waning days of his administration, as the wolves were starting to circle and friends were looking few, Matt Amorello, head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority until August, started handing out money. The Boston College Associates Program got $5,000, as did a community health center in the North End. In all, according to a report in the Globe, Amorello distributed more than $52,000 to charities in the first six months of […]

Eating his words

As noted last week, the Board Chairman S. Paul Reville performed a disservice to the parents and kids of Brockton, when he attacked a proposal for a new regional charter school at the last Board of Education meeting. It was the first time that the Board turned down a recommendation from the Commissioner of Education, whose department puts all proposals through a rigorous vetting process. Now, golly, I have intimated that the whole thing was rigged, given the bent of the Brockton Superintendent, the Governor’s Senior Adviser on Education Dana Mohler-Faria and the Governor against charters. I have received a couple of emails noting that I am pre-judging the decision. Uh, no. Just look back to a report issued in […]

Boom market for teachers in Denver

Next thing you know, it won’t just be the skilled workforce in the private sector. Soon, the teachers will be leaving! A crosspost from Mike Antonucci’s Education Intercepts: The autonomy movement in Denver is leading to a strange phenomenon: a boom market for quality teachers: Diane Kenealy interviewed for a teaching job at West Denver Preparatory Charter School on Jan. 9, received a job offer within 24 hours and accepted the position three days later. Compare that rapid hiring to this spring’s staffing calendar in traditional Denver Public Schools, which dictates principals can’t schedule interviews with teaching candidates until the middle of March. Even then, they can only talk to candidates already working in a city school. A DPS principal […]

Louisiana beat us

A follow to Meister Poftak’s post on the Grading the States report card released by Governing magazine and Pew’s Government Performance Project on the quality of governance in the 50 states. Just think about it: Last year Governing magazine splashed House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s face all over America for the work that he, former Senate President Travaglini and former Governor Romeny did in crafting the health care reform act. So much change, so fast. Governing rates Mass governance a C after a review of fiscal management, the use of technology, the state workforce, and infrastructure. (I understand the rating on the workforce – the grade must have taken a nosedive after I left…) Where do we stink? Well, we are […]

Debating biotech on NECN

Some improvements in the House version of the biotech bill resulted from the good work of Pioneer and other groups like the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. For Pioneer’s testimony click here, for a Pioneer op-ed in the Globe click here. That said, apart from the research components and some of the infrastructure funding, the bill still stinks, as I think came out in the back and forth on NECN’s NewsNight with Jim Braude. In retrospect there is a better answer to Jim’s query “If the bill is so bad, why is it getting the support of the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker?” I should have said something like the following: It’s borrowed money (a kind of funny money), […]

Slate on Guv Patrick and education

Picking up on Fred Siegel’s piece on the politics of hope and the reality of Governor Patrick’s moves to undo education reform (= giving in to special interests), Mickey Kaus from Slate asks Isn’t it incumbent on those prominent NEA-bashing neoliberal Obama supporters to explain just why his term as president won’t quickly descend into a Patrick-like interest-group quagmire? Jon Alter, this means you! And Charles Peters as well. … P.S.: Patrick could function as Obama’s wrang-wrang, Vonnegut’s term for a pioneer who by his bad example steers others away from a false course. Before neolibs go into a permanent campaign swoon, shouldn’t Obama send them at least a subtle signal that he understands this? Kaus then needles “Hope= casino […]