Miscellaneous notes on the transition to Arizona

June 30 is technically my last day as a faculty member at the University of South Florida. I’ve been unpaid for June and living in Arizona for a little over two weeks, and my official USF emails have dwindled to a trickle, mostly erroneous bureaucratic missives (TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION FOR SOMEONE IN A DEPARTMENT THAT YOU NO LONGER HEAD AND NO LONGER EXISTS IS READY TO APPROVE).1 At this point, keeping in touch with almost-former colleagues will require much more effort on my part. It’s definitely worth the effort.

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Notes

  1. Translation: grants are staying on old budget numbers until project-year end-dates, and some database table still identifies me as the accountable officer for those budget numbers. Fortunately for all concerned, such items have been handled without my involvement, especially since I no longer have access to the required financial subsystem. []

Another era of complicated state K-12 system lawsuits?

That’ll teach me to write last month about why no one is challenging Florida’s large voucher programs: by the end of the month, those voucher programs became part of an amended complaint filed by the lawyers in a “sweeping lawsuit” claiming Florida’s K-12 system is currently being run unconstitutionally (sweeping is the word used by the Orlando Sentinel‘s Leslie Postal). Then a judge in Alabama ruled that state’s new voucher program unconstitutional. Earlier in the month, a state judge in North Carolina threw out that state’s new law on teacher job security.

And then the Parental Unit of all State Education Trial Court Decisions: today, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a ruling in the trial over teacher job security, in which plaintiffs alleged that the job security provisions in California education law is an unconstitutional violation of that state’s children’s rights.

Are we in a new era of lawsuits targeting state education systems?

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Contradictory arguments about “teacher equity” and the missing market analysis

Bottom line for this long post: few people take labor markets seriously in education. I mean seriously, not ideologically.1 We need some work in market design for the hiring of new teachers and the issue of teacher skill distributions.

On May 13, Allyson Klein wrote a brief but illuminating Ed Week blog entry about the federal government’s silence on a promise to promote “teacher equity” policies, following up on a February article. Essentially, it looks like the Department of Education first promised its non-profit/advocacy allies that it would Do Something about unequal access to good teachers, and now is having problems figuring out how it can mandate that. (Important note: the statutory language on this is from No Child Left Behind. This is not particularly an Obama administration problem, except it’s just the latest administration wrestling with the issue.) As the Arne Duncan era at USDOE lurches towards its final act, we are likely to witness sotto voce pullbacks on a range of policies where there is not enough time to manage the bureaucratic or political waters. Klein called it “logistical bandwidth,” but it’s as much a matter of political “bandwidth” as logistical. This is life for an agency where political appointees commonly make a broad list of promises. At some point, there either has to be pullback on some items or the unaccomplished list becomes an al-dente test of political and administrative viability.2

I hope that in the case of teacher quality and distribution, this provides an opportunity for some new ideas to emerge before the Next Big Thing in either the Jeb! or Hillary! administration.

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Notes

  1. There is some very decent microeconomic work, but it is sparser than what you might think and misses some of the key market mechanisms discussed in this entry. []
  2. I.e., “you throw everything at a wall and see what sticks.” []

Graduations, honorary degrees, student protest, and advising students

Last week, I wrote an entry about William Bowen’s comments at the Haverford College graduation. I was there to watch my daughter graduate and kept my entry brief because spending time with family trumped any urge to pontificate. I’m back for my last week as a department chair at USF and wanted to follow up on some of the topics I mentioned last week, as well as respond to this morning’s argument of Michael Rushmore, one of the graduating students who wrote Robert Birgeneau some weeks ago.

  • The better speakers at Haverford this year. The publicity over Birgeneau’s withdrawal and Bowen’s remarks distracted from the other honorary degree recipients at Haverford this year, poet Elizabeth Alexander and Environmental Defense Fund head Fred Krupp. Alexander read one of her poems about nineteenth-century educator Prudence Crandall, and I will fully admit my bias as an historian of education in judging her as the best speaker.1

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Notes

  1. The birds on the green agreed: they were singing through the poetry reading. []

Brief comments on William Bowen and Haverford College commencement

 

William Bowen at Haverford commencement, May 18, 2004

William Bowen at Haverford commencement, May 18, 2004

Above, my view of William Bowen yesterday

At yesterday’s Haverford College graduation, one of the honorary degree recipients was William Bowen, former president of Princeton University and longtime head of the Mellon Foundation (from 1988 to 2006). He took the opportunity to talk about the controversy at Haverford over the granting of an honorary degree to former University of California Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Birgeneau was one of four named honorary degree recipients, and after he was named, several dozen students and faculty wrote an open letter to him asking him to accept nine conditions surrounding the use of law enforcement against Occupy protesters at Berkeley in 2011. Birgeneau’s response was dismissive (“I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks”), and he eventually decided not to come to graduation. Given Bowen’s stature in higher ed, his commenting on the controversy was both perfectly understandable and instant news in higher ed.

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