The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And so it begins

I've written about the budget crunch facing public schools, with the immediate iteration being kicked off by the subprime mortgage crisis. There were a couple of stories in today's ASCD SmartBrief that hinted at the types of responses we may start to see:

  • The LA Times has an op-ed discussing parents at an LA school passing the hat to make up for a $180,000 shortfall, raising $30,000 in a single night. "Get out your checkbooks, parents were told. All those wrapping-paper sales and pancake fundraisers wouldn't be enough. We could either pony up some hard cash, or see Ivanhoe's standing as one of L.A. Unified's best schools threatened."
  • An article in The State (Columbia, SC) shows another angle: a bill in the state legislature to ban the sale of snack foods is voted down because schools need that revenue. "Some Greenville high schools earn as much as $70,000 annually from vending machine sales, said Quentin Cavanagh, marketing and training specialist for Greenville County schools. 'None of (the principals) want to sell this stuff. But they need the revenue,' Cavanagh told the House panel."
Raising funds through available channels is a clear first step; but as the problem gets bigger, and stretches out into the future, It's going to take more - a lot more. Partnership people, get ready for the knock on your door, if you haven't heard it already...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Whither Education Week?

I just realized something.

One of the big features of the Business/Education Partnership Forum (a pro bono clearinghouse run by DeHavilland Associates) is the steady stream of news reports relating to business/education partnerships. Looking at the latest crop of articles, it struck me that we post almost nothing from Education Week: during the past two months we've posted just one article, and that one was only somewhat related to business/education partnerships.

Education Week bills itself as "American Education's Newspaper of Record," but despite that fact that there are tens of thousands of business/education partnerships out there (some have estimated as high as 100,000 or more), they write almost nothing about these partnerships. Same with workforce development, same with parental involvement. (There was actually an article a couple of weeks back about how demanding parents are, but that was (1) a rare feature, and (2) a negative angle.)

While they provide startlingly little coverage of the true customers of education (much less positive or productive coverage), there are pages and pages in each issue on government spending on education.

If you assume that organizations have to be responsive to their paying customers in order to survive and thrive, you have to acknowledge that in the world of education, government is the customer, since that's the entity actually writing the checks. And even for those individuals within the education system who do see the community as their ultimate customer (and there are many), they're forced into spending most of their time responding to the immediate paying customer (government) because that's the way the system is set up.

Education Week's coverage is the symptom; government as customer is the problem. Certainly one way to address this is to allow funding to follow children to the schools they select. But as I've said before, in the next several years the resource crisis hitting our schools will force communities to make up a larger share of the support mix, and that direct support will firmly plant the idea of community stakeholders as customers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Where's the outrage?

In the wake of a report on stunningly low dropout rates in several major cities, Nolan Finney, editorial page editor of the Detroit News, wrote an op-ed piece asking what would be done about Detroit schools' worst-in-the-country graduation rate of 24.9%:

Bulldozers ought to be rolling across Detroit, leveling public schools that are trapping children in poverty and ignorance.

An army of civil rights lawyers ought to be marching up the steps of the federal courthouse on behalf of students being denied their basic right to a decent education by a chronically incompetent school system.

No other response is adequate to the report that Detroit Public Schools graduates just 25 percent of its students. That news last week should have rocked this city with outrage.


Not another dime of taxpayer money should go to subsidize this failure. Nor should the future of another Detroit child be destroyed by a school system that will never get it right.

If a 25 percent graduation rate doesn't make Detroit parents angry enough to demand radical change from the education system, nothing will.

Well, at least somebody's outraged.

Unfortunately, he seems to be one of a select few: aside from a flurry of news articles published last week when this report was released, I've heard almost nothing about this new data, and certainly nothing along the lines of Mr. Finney's demand for real action. The Indianapolis Star, whose city schools saw a 30.5% graduation rate, wrote a mealy rally-round-the-troops editorial titled "Let's look forward to brighter education future"; the Cleveland Plains-Dealer, whose urban schools boasted a 34.1% graduation rate, wrote nothing at all.

Why is that? How can we, as a society, see systemic failure in these and other cities, and respond with a collective yawn?

I don't have the answer - but I can tell you that if we don't do anything, if we don't demand accountability and change, then those individuals perpetuating, enabling, or defending these failures have no incentive to change, the human costs be damned. If we can absorb reports like these with nary a word said, then we have proven to them that we're fine with what they're doing, and tacitly given them permission to keep doing it.

Is that what we want? Even if it doesn't affect your kids directly - even if you've got yours - is it really acceptable to allow this to happen to so many other children? Is it better to keep up appearances, not ruffle any feathers, than to demand dramatic change?

Where's the outrage?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

K-12 funding, squeezed from the picture

The image at right comes from today's Wall Street Journal (see the article Deficit hawks try, try again). Pay particular attention to the Medicare/Medicaid category, and remember that states pay close to half (43% to be exact) the costs of these programs. So this increase in federal obligations is going to be matched, almost dollar for dollar, by the states.

Why is this important to education? Because the vast majority of K-12 revenues come from state and local sources, and as commitments to programs like Medicare increase, less funding becomes available for education.

We've already seen Medicare grow from 8% of state budgets in 1985 to 22% in 2006, the first year it eclipsed K-12 spending. What happens when the program realy starts to take off, per the chart?

I've been harping a lot on finance lately, both on the blog and in meetings and presentations. I honestly don't think the majority of people working in or with the education system see what's coming down the pike. But it is coming - and I hope that people will begin to see that and prepare for it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tight budgets, rising costs squeeze states

Take a look at this article from on the current budget situation for state and local governments across the country.

I've written before about the coming resource crunch; I didn't mention inflationary pressures, since those can be short-term, but their point about problems in the bond market is well taken and important for these government entities.