Published Online: October 26, 2009
Published in Print: October 28, 2009, as Blogs of the Week

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POLITICS K-12

A Long Way Down

$16.5 billion.

That’s the total amount of money that 36 states will need to find, somewhere, to get back to their 2008 K-12 funding levels after stimulus money runs out. That amounts to about 10 percent of these 36 states’ combined budgets, according to my calculations of figures presented in a recent White House report on the impact of the stimulus package on education jobs.

This is the funding cliff that states and school districts have been warned about.

A recent report by the Education Department’s inspector general called attention to the problem, maintaining that the real effect of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund was to reduce a state’s own funding contribution to schools, rather than prod states to invest more in K-12 education. Even the IG, however, acknowledged this was allowable under the law.

States will need to replace this money at a time when the national economy is showing just glimmers of a recovery, and state tax collections are still tanking by record amounts.

Of course, when it comes time for states to write their budgets for fiscal 2011 and beyond, they have the ability to move money around, or rob other programs to help fill in K-12 budget gaps. But will there be enough to go around? Looking at the size of these gaps, probably not. —Michele McNeil


INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Culture Clash

School shootings are more likely to occur in states with a strongly rooted “culture of honor,” says a study published in the journal Psychological Science.

According to the report, societies exhibiting a culture of honor put “a high premium on strength and social regard in connection with one’s person, family, reputation, and property.” The Mafia comes to mind for me, but the researchers associated this cultural tendency primarily with Southern and Western states.

Researchers found that students from states deemed high on the culture-of-honor scale were significantly more likely than students from other states to report having taken a weapon to school in the previous month.

The study’s authors also found that incidences of school violence were more prevalent in the culture-of-honor states than they were in less-macho Northern and Eastern states. If educators and policymakers knew more about how cultural patterns play out in school shootings, the authors conclude, “society might keep the list of school shootings from growing at its present rate.”

More research, of course, is needed. —Debra Viadero


DISTRICT DOSSIER

Superintendent Smackdown

In a match-up between the schools chiefs in the District of Columbia and Baltimore, the opinion makers at the Baltimore Sun are betting on Andrés A. Alonso, Baltimore’s chief executive officer, over D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, his colleague in the nation’s capital.

Alonso, who came to the top job in Baltimore at the same time Rhee took the Washington gig, in the summer of 2007, is as uncompromising as his Washington colleague.

There are other similarities, too. Both leaders are minorities (he’s Cuban, she’s Korean-American) who are overseeing school systems that are overwhelmingly poor and African-American.

But Alonso’s approach, despite removing principals, teachers, and central-office staff he deemed ineffective, has been far less alienating than Rhee’s, who at times has seemed to delight in telling tales of teacher and staff incompetence and issuing bold statements about ridding the system of such people. —Lesli A. Maxwell


HIGH SCHOOL CONNECTIONS

Is This on the Test?

If your life includes a college-bound high school senior, you don’t need to be told that we’re in the thick of college-application season, with all its attendant worries. Here are a couple of good reading tidbits for you.

The first is a new report from ACT Inc. “The Condition of College Readiness 2009” is a snapshot of the graduating seniors in 2009 who took the ACT: what chunk of those students met the ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks and what their career and education aspirations were. It also examines trends in test-taking and scores over the past five years.

The other bit of reading worth checking out is a series of question-and answer posts from College Board President Gaston Caperton in The New York Times’ college-guidance blog, The Choice. In one answer, Caperton says that since the SAT tests what students learn in the classroom, no prep class can produce a big boost in scores, or replace years of solid classroom learning. —Catherine Gewertz

Vol. 29, Issue 09, Page 10

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